Big bang marketing without the big bucks

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SMEs on a shoestring could learn something from one of Australia’s most respected marketing gurus, Kidspot chief executive Katie May. She reveals her secrets for big impact marketing to EMILY ROSS.

By Emily Ross

Katie May
SMEs on a shoestring could learn something from one of Australia’s most respected marketing gurus, Kidspot chief executive Katie May. She reveals her secrets for big impact marketing.

When it comes to marketing, tall Texan Katie May has an unrivalled perspective and pedigree. May has managed the mega marketing budgets at Phillip Morris and has worked with blue-chip Booz Allen Hamilton before joining the online revolution in the late 1990s to be part of a tiny, ambitious, low-budget start-up job website called Seek.

May steered the Seek brand to the big league and earned herself a place on the Seek board. Throw in an MBA and a sterling reputation, and May is in a marketing league of her own.

This month, her own start-up, children’s directory turns two. Kidspot’s latest Nielsen//NetRatings figures (September 2007) record 344,000 unique visitors per month. The site carries classified ads for more than 4000 clowns, tutors, nannies and activities, and 13,000 people subscribe to the daily newsletter.

May started Kidspot with Dani Gurrie in October 2005. Together they invested $30,000 before teaming up with founding chairman of Seek Irvin Rockman, who backed the business. In February 2006 there was a round of capital raising and there are now six investors in the private company, who all sit on the board. May’s team of 20 includes recruits from, Family Circle and NineMSN.

A month after the Kidspot launch there were 15,000 unique monthly visitors to the site. Initially May’s marketing priority was getting advertisers on board, so she focused on offline exposure.

She spent the majority of the launch marketing budget on radio advertising, search engine marketing and advertising on supermarket checkout divider sticks at Woolworths and Safeway. “We needed the radio otherwise a lot of advertisers wouldn’t have even taken our calls,” May says.

Listings increased as small businesses saw the value of being part of a directory rather than relying on their own website. Many had their own websites but no traffic. “Now it is a lot easier because they trust us,” says May.

High profile mainstream advertising has been part of the Kidspot marketing campaign. In August 2006, Kidspot put ads on prime time television (during Grey’s Anatomy). “It was important for us to be seen,” says May. Grey’s Anatomy was going to have more impact than a morning television slot. “If we were asking advertisers for a 12-month commitment they needed to know we were leading the space,” she says.

May also used growth charts, background about the board and the people behind the business to boost advertiser confidence. She had to have answers to the “are you going to be around in 12 months?” queries.

May’s business model evolved as advertising agencies began to ring Kidspot looking for display advertising space. Soon Kidspot’s display advertising was booked out. “It was such a dumb problem to have,” says May. The site was reworked to add extra content to accommodate more display advertising. Display revenue is up 40% in the last six months as cinemas, car companies and scholarship funds tap into the Kidspot demographic.

Some of Katie’s greatest (cheap) marketing hits

  • Exposure of the Kidspot brand to every Woolworths and Safeway shopper for 12 months — for just $5000. Page arranged for Kidspot ads on every grocery divider stick in the stores.
    Value: The Kidspot sales team could tell advertisers the brand was being promoted to mums in a prime location, great exposure that promotes brand awareness and gives potential advertisers confidence in the brand.
  • Rather than paying for an expensive exhibitor’s stand at prime parenting event Parenting Australia, May worked a contra deal with the exhibition host. In return for promotion through the Kidspot website, Kidspot was able to promote the brand at Parenting Australia events. One key strategy was offering free t-shirts for the first 200 children at the expos. As part of a six-month contra deal with Parenting Australia, the Kidspot brand was all over the top exhibition of its kind in the country for the cost of 200 t-shirts ($4 per shirt.)
    Value: Piggy-back on the biggest parenting exhibition for nix.

  • Can’t afford a billboard? Why not wrap a building? May had two floors of the Seek office building at the beginning of St Kilda Road, Melbourne wrapped in lurid pink Seek branding for $5000 per month, a fraction of the price advertisers were paying for space on top of the building (between $25,000 and $30,000 a month).
    Value: Exposure of the brand to hundreds of thousands of commuters everyday at bargain basement prices.

Katie May actually loves billboards in the way some people love chocolate or the Geelong Football Club. You can see it in the way she talks about outdoor advertising, and how she snatched a cheap deal on signage at Melbourne’s Telstra Dome when she was at Seek.

This month Kidspot secured a prime spot in North Sydney for six weeks that will see the brand in the faces of many of the media buyers the company needs to impress enough to put Kidspot on their buying lists.

The transition from marketing director to CEO has been positive for May. The role means less time for marketing, a lot more on sales, capital raising and learning to deal with boards. But May is thriving.

After leaving Seek, she moved back to Austin, Texas and has been commuting to Melbourne two weeks out of six since the Kidspot launch. May and her family then moved back to Melbourne, and she is clearly thrilled to be spending less time in the sky and more in the Kidspot office.

Despite an offer to sell up Kidspot, she is not interested in selling the business. Says May: “I’m just interested in building it.”

Katie May’s permanent marketing priorities

It’s all about getting the traffic then building the brand. “I don’t want to be a slave to Google for the rest of my life,” she says.

  • Make really, really, really good friends in the area of search engine optimisation (SEO). “Buy them a bottle of scotch,” says May. “If you get that (SEO) wrong, you will have to spend a bomb to get it right. Build your web pages in ways that are easy to index, have good page titles, key words for each page, all the links you need to boost your Google rankings. Get the basics right and you’ll do fine. We invest in it every month.”
  • Try and cut a deal to reduce search engine marketing costs. To avoid those 15% commission fees on search engine marketing, try and negotiate a deal to grow the fee as you get the results. Kidspot buys 100,000 keywords (some keywords cost 1c, others a lot more), often buying expensive keywords for a day or so, then concentrating on cheaper, related search terms.
  • Build links. Use contra to build links, affiliates and online partnerships.
  • Get outdoors to build the brand. Billboards are the best way to build a brand, May says. “Experience and research tells me this works to build a brand,” she says.
  • Cultivate word of mouth. “Everything we do, we ask ourselves ‘Can we get word of mouth?’. Anyway to get people to send information about us on to friends and colleagues, we do it — and it’s free.”

Marketing on a shoestring

  • Go for distressed advertising space. “You get 80% off easy,” says May.

  • Always go for maximum impact; if that means less frequency, that is fine. “It is about taking a leadership position,” says May.

  • Contra – make it work for your business and maximise marketing opportunities.

  • Pay for advertising by the month rather than in a scary lump sum.

  • Research doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Listen to customers. They will tell you what you need to know. And keep testing your products/services yourself and encourage staff to do the same. Use message boards and find good survey participants through friends and colleagues and tap into their knowledge.

  • Do surveys through The service allows you to create surveys, invite participants and analyse results for $75 for three months.

  • Get clients to link to your website. Offer gifts and incentives to generate valuable links.

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