A Distributor Asks: I have been faced with the same problem over and over for the past 10 years: How do you design the perfect “professional” ad for print media? I think we all do a great job at interactive and social media, but it is very difficult to come up with a truly classy magazine ad or flyer. Any ideas would be appreciated.


When I used to design ads for clients (newspaper ad sales) we always started the meeting with the question, “”What is your intent for this ad?” I also ask my promotional product buyers the same question about the product they are looking for: “What is your intent for this product?”

There are different types of advertisements.

General branding advertising: to let the public know who you are and what you sell.

Specific targeted messaging advertising: when you’re trying to sell some inventory or service immediately or advertise an upcoming sales season or event.

Get the point?

There is no one great ad.

So you could start with a signature ad that:

  1. Includes your business name with all pertinent contact information including website, phone number, address, etc.
  2. Includes images of promotional products
  3. Includes a message, such as an upcoming sale, inventory clearance, seasonal item, etc.

You can build the ad [in a template] so that the center is changeable for each ad to keep continuity.  Change the message of the ad every three, six or 12 months, or whenever you feel the time is right.  Our business has definite cycles, know them. You’ve been at this a while so I’m sure you’re doing the right stuff. This is just my basic information, not to be considered profound marketing ideas.

Glen D. Eley


Eley Imprinted Products


Trust a professional. If you’re venturing into print for the first time, and you don’t have a professional on staff, then I recommend hiring a graphic designer or an advertising/marketing firm, depending on the scale of your print marketing. One ad for a magazine or a flyer design could be handled by a freelancer.

I know many wonderful secretaries, assistants, friends of friends, managers and bosses who feel they are tech savvy and can create a “classy” advertisement. Artwork and files that look fine on the screen and the web do not translate well to print (most of the time). It’s the same when translating a design from an 8.5-inch by 11-inch flyer to a three-inch by two-inch coupon to a full-page newspaper ad. Find an artist with a portfolio showcasing previous print ad campaigns they’ve worked on. If their designs appeal to you, then discuss your company with them and how you want to be portrayed. Also, let them know who your target audience is, and exactly where the ad will be featured. They may not be familiar with a promotional products magazine. Is this a one-time sales ad promoting a specific product, or a campaign promoting your business as a whole and spread out over several months? All of this affects the final ad and your answers allow the artist to create the most classy, professional layout and design promoting you.

Melissa Timko

Advertising Director


PPAI 113978


For the best print ad, get professional advice or help. There are enough options now that it doesn’t have to break the bank. But if you choose to do it yourself, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Before you design the ad, ask yourself, “What am I selling? What is the purpose of the ad?” Remember that it’s best to limit the number of messages in any one ad.
  • For any element you include, ask if it adds value to the reader or if it could persuade the reader to buy or do something.
  • Messages in the ad shouldn’t all be at the same level of importance. One main headline that engages the reader and a graphic that supports the message or engages the reader is all that you need.
  • Make sure the ad includes benefits for the intended
  • Always have a call to action. There should always be a trackable element (such as a unique webpage, phone number, promo or code) to track ROI and show if the cost of the ad is worth it.
  • Visually, ads are best when they are simple and clean. White space is your friend. Organize the design elements of the ad so it’s like a visual line that leads your eye through the message.
  • Always provide high-quality ads and images to the publication printing your ad, and know that 300 dpi is standard print magazine resolution. If an ad is poor quality, it sends an unintended message to the audience about your business.

Sarah Dodd

Marketing Manager



Why not partner with a distributor that has print design capabilities? Our company employs a full-time graphic artist. We design print ads for our customers and we also design print ads for the customers of other distributors. The distributors are charged a discounted rate and they bill their client. We will sign a non-compete if necessary, but we will not go after an end user that one of our associates has us design for. Why bite the hand that feeds you?

If you don’t trust the distributors in your area that have design capabilities, you may be able to find a freelance graphic designer to do the work for you. Since there is less print ad design happening, you can expect to pay more for these services. If you are insecure about your customers, be sure to choose a graphic designer who will not pursue your clients.

H.A. Gross


Plaza Printers

PPAI 612893


If you have an engaging message that resonates with an audience you’re most of the way there. The challenge is most folks try and cover every aspect of what they do and therefore the messaging becomes diluted and irrelevant. My suggestion is to come up with one solid point that will resonate with some: e.g. creativity, your sourcing capabilities, packaging, print, what can be done with inks, embroidery, mixed media etc.—you may also want to talk about measurement, ROI and ROO (return on objective). This way you’ll be targeting your message to a pain point of a few and get better results. Two other things—imagery is powerful, use it. And outsource. I found a couple great sources in industry vendor I.D.E.A. Custom and an online service called UpWork. Good luck, and remember, make the ad about your audience and make sure it’s relevant.

Cliff Quicksell, Jr., MAS+

Director of Marketing


PPAI 218870


First of all, “perfect” is a problem. Seeking it is a great way to stay stuck. The best ads I have seen, regardless of the medium, have three things in common. They communicate one very simple message with unmistakable clarity, they are consistent with the company’s brand, and they are clutter-free. The average eye time for an ad in print media is under five seconds.

Mark Twain’s sage advice certainly applies: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

David J. Hawes, MAS+

Brand Architect


PPAI 266141

Reasonably Priced Resources

If you decide not to do the print ad design work yourself and you can’t find a freelancer, here are a few resources to consider:

  • SAGE ArtworkZone.com
  • Fiverr.com
  • Stocklayouts.com
  • Admedic.com

Do You Have An Answer?

A Distributor Asks: Someone referred me a possible client and asked if I pay a referral fee. Nobody has ever asked me for a referral fee before and when I refer business to people I never ask anyone to pay me. Do other distributors pay referral fees? If so, how do you calculate what that should be?

What’s Your Answer?

Email answers along with your name, title and company name by February 17 to Question@ppai.org for possible inclusion in an upcoming issue of PPB magazine.