How to Know If a Print Ad Is Good

CPE (cost per exposure) gives you a true figure of how much it will cost you to get in front of the consumers you truly want to see your message.

The largest local businesses I have ever worked with have staff to take care of all of the marketing in the business. If you are able to hire someone to do this, good for you. But if you are earlier in your journey of success, then the task falls on you to do your research, since marketing is a necessity for business. For some, that sounds like a horrible, loathsome process. Don’t fear, it can be much easier than it seems.

Spend fifteen minutes a day doing your research. Ask around, use search engines, look for magazine racks around town, find publications you like who appeal to the consumers you want to reach. Contact them and ask to have a sales representative come meet you and discuss options with you.


Quick note: Some salespeople can be very pushy. They think their job is to manipulate you to separate you with your money. Don’t let them. A sales meeting is an interview, both for you and for the publication. 


Once you have the basic information, ask the rep a few basic questions.

  • Who makes up the readership?
  • How often and how many copies are published?
  • How many copies are picked up at the end of the publication period?
  • What is the geographic distribution?
  • What are the primary price points?
  • Do I get a discount for bulk ordering? (either by a longer contract, multiple ads, or paying in advance)
  • What are the measurements of your ads?

Be sure you get cold hard facts of this data. A quarter page ad is not useful. Five inches by six inches is. And don’t be afraid to ask for clarity if you don’t know the answers. That is what a good sales rep is really there for.

With this information, you can calculate a very simple cost per exposure (CPE). First, subtract any eighth page or thumbnail ads. Those are worthless and will not give you any exposure that the consumer’s brain will actually notice. Take the remaining options that fit into your budget and apply the CPE formula to each: total cost, divided by issues, divided by total square inches of the ads, divided by total viewers (copies picked up times 2.5).


This number should be in the fractions of cents each time. If you don’t get that, you plugged in something wrong.


CPE gives you a true figure of how much it will cost you to get in front of the consumers who you truly want to see your message.



The Murfreesboro Pulse is printed monthly, with 9,000 copies being printed and around 1,000 copies recycled at the end of each month. The half page ad is $3,400 for 12 months. It measures 10.25″x5.6″, or 57.4 square inches. The quarter page is $825 for 3 months. It measures 5″x6″, or 30 square inches. So for a half page, you pay $.0002 CPE ($3,400/12/57.4/20,000) or $.20 for every 1,000 views. For the quarter page, you pay $.0012 CPE ($2,200/3/30/20,000) or $1.20 for every 1,000 views. You can see the much better deal associated with the longer run half page versus the short run quarter page.

Using this method, you can also put multiple publications side by side and make an educated decision on which ads will be best worth your marketing dollars. Compare multiple options, ask for discounts and make decisions to fit with your overall marketing plan. That’s how to know if a print ad is good.

When have you tried print advertising in the past? Comment below and share.