Negotiating Ad Rates: Completely out of my depth

As a massage therapist who works out of her home or comes to you, I have very few venues for advertising. Magazines and pay-per-click websites like Citysearch are priced for spas that charge more and have multiple treatment rooms. Other find-a-massage websites, with or without a monthly fee, just aren’t that well-known.

As such, the bulk of my clients find me through craigslist, which is riddled with drawbacks. First, it’s just not smart to rely on one source of advertising for 90% of your new clients. Second, 2 months ago craigslist started charging $5 to post to the Erotic Services board, so the hookers have switched over to Therapeutic Services and tripled the posting traffic in my category – I get lost amongst the illiterate spa spam ” Preet Asian young girl relieve you stress” and hooker crap “Sexxy bodyrubb by caramel godess”.

So this morning, I got an email and a follow-up phone call from someone at a reputable hotel a few blocks away. According to him, they get a lot of requests for massage therapy but don’t have an on-site spa. I thought he was a concierge, but it turns out he’s selling advertising for their in-room directory of services. It’s published annually and a quarter-page ad runs $465, but he said he’d give me half a page for that price – all this before I even had a chance to process that he wasn’t a concierge. I agreed to stop by tomorrow morning and discuss this over coffee. Hey, I’m all about free coffee!

Problem #1: How do I know they get many – or even any! – requests for in-room massage therapy? I would need 4 hours of massage obtained through this source to break even on the expense, and a year to do it…doesn’t seem impossible. I think I can solve this one by stopping in tonight and asking the concierge on duty. I just need to figure out my best approach for this.

Problem #2: I have no idea how to negotiate. My only exposure to the advertising industry was as the office manager for half an ad department of a magazine. They had an official rate card, but always operated at a discount from that, and it depended on the category, e.g. car ads paid close to full-price, fashion went for about 30% under. He’s offering a size upgrade, I want a price downgrade. I don’t have a clue what’s reasonable and what isn’t in this context or this economic environment.

Problem #3:  I’ll need to engage the services of a graphic designer to put together the ad. I’m great with words, not so great with visuals, and terrible with Photoshop. I need to figure out what that service goes for, and if it’s a lot, try to barter.

I like the idea of expanding the hotel outcall segment of my business because:

  • My fees for this are higher for outcall – yay, more money!
  • Clients tend to want this during the mid-late evening when my incall biz quiets down
  • Should I decide to take on some form of normal employment, I’d still have evenings free to do this for extra income
  • There’s less competition because most legit female MTs avoid new clients after 8pm (but remember, I’m The Ninja Masseuse, so I’ve mitigated those concerns)

If any of my beloved readers have tidbits of useful info to share, please don’t be shy with the comments!


7 Responses

  1. I had a couple ideas for you:
    1. If you haven’t got reviews by your customers on, give it a shot. There are loads of people whose business has been built using Yelp. Ask some of your regulars to do a review, and then maybe give them a half-hour of free massaging.

    2. Claim yourself in google local listings. If someone searches from your area for, say “massage therapy”, you will show up with a map to your address.

    3. Try adwords with a geographic filter. You can filter it so that only people with in X number of miles from you see it, that way you only pay for ads that are highly qualified.

    As far as the 1/2 page ad…I don’t know. It seems like the guy is desperate. I’d definitely try to work him down to a lower price, assuming you want to do it at all. You could offer him $150 for a 1/4 page. See what he does. *shrugs*

  2. Oh, please. He’s just trying to make his quota for ads.

    What you need is a kickback system with the concierge, multiple concierges actually.

    If he really thinks these ads can sell for you, he should be willing to give you references, and maybe even let you do a limited run (less rooms, less time, etc.) at a significant discount.

  3. I have a suggestion that’s not responsive to your post but it’s always been nagging at me. My company’s health insurance is administered by CIGNA and they offer a service called Healthy Rewards. Through Healthy Rewards, they offer a list of massage therapists that are willing to provide up to 25% discount on their regular massage therapy prices. I’ve taken advantage of this service once or twice. I’m not sure how you get on their approved service provider list and I’m not sure whether you’ll get many referrals this way, but it’s worth a shot. CIGNA’s tel# for Healthy Rewards is 800.870.3470. Good luck!

  4. do you track where your current clients get information about you from? By asking every client that comes in how did you find out about this service you will soon learn what is the most effective advertising. I do this with every client and soon found out that for me, a small ad in the yellow pages and word of mouth from several people was that main way people found me. I cancelled everything but the yellow pages as I knew it was cost effective from my tracking.

    Once you have tracked it for a month then you can focus on the most profitable sources. If you go for the ad just do the small one. If the concierges are the best source then market to them, could arrange to meet them and offer them a complimentary massage, offer ending in 14 days so they have tried your service.

    also when you do any advertising or brochures ( I print mine on the computer) use questions that potential clients can say “yes’ to, don’t just list your quals and services. it gets a much higher response rate. eg Are your muscles in knots after a hard day at the office? Finding it hard to relax after work. … then you solve their problem.. phone Kate for a…

    to get the best questions just listen to what your clients say when they first come in and turn it in to a question.

    sorry to go on, I think marketing is a really important but often overlooked part of small business.
    all the best with it!

  5. Wow Kate, it’s so interesting that you posted on this challenge because my new start-up is designed to solve just this problem. I want to create a site that helps service providers like yourself find clients. My goal is to make the site searchable by neighborhood (better for big cities like NYC and Toronto) and to make it interactive, so prospective clients can contact all the providers in their area en-masse via an on-site email or messaging system to get quotes or other questions answered more quickly. It would be free for clients and dirt cheap for service providers. Still just in the basic planning stages here but please keep us updated with your thoughts and needs in this area. Good luck to you!

  6. I have no experience so I don’t have much advice but I do think you are on the right track. Find out from another source how much biz you might expect and try to get a reduced rate on the smaller ad. Dog has another great idea, make an arrangement with the concierge. This could be lucrative, I imagine tired, stressed travelers would go for a massage.

  7. Cathy – thanks for the input, I really should look into all three of those. Hm, how popular is Yelp?

    Dog – concierges can be funny creatures, and I’ve met up with a few. Nothing ever came of those intros… I think maybe I handled the situation wrong from the outset? Plus, some concierges have a strictly enforced ethical code…never know to whom that applies. As for the limited run – I checked, not an option. I’d be in the room directory, which has three sections…Hotel Services/Amenities, Useful Numbers (e.g. airlines), Local Businesses. I’d be in that last part. It’s put out annually, and the only current “competition” is the overpriced and very smelly Chopra Center.

    Kat – I don’t do medical massage, which is what you need amongst yoru qualifications to pass muster with insurance companies. Plus, their provider application forms are like 45 pages long. Blech.

    Louise – yes, I track how I get my clients. It kind of freaks me out how Craigslist-heavy it is. I appreciate the other tips!

    SaverQueen – good luck with your site. I like the messaging system idea, it will set you apart from similar sites, the only one of which I’m familiar with is the overpriced Citysearch.

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