How to Get & Prove Print Ad ROI

How to Get & Prove Print Ad ROI

Most people flip through the pages of magazines and trade publications looking for entertaining articles, insightful features, captivating photos or enlightening graphics. But not Chris Penhale; he seeks the ads.

You see, the co-owner of Adventure Marketing Solutions is a marketing strategist and a rabid consumer of marketing content. Like any good marketer, Chris is always looking for inspiration for the next great marketing idea… as well as examples of bad ideas that are destined to fail.

Chris recalls one occasion when he was traveling and picked up an airline-provided magazine to kill some time. He came across an ad targeted toward owners of steel roof buildings that “made zero sense” not necessarily because of the content but the strategy behind it. He thought, “Ok, perhaps ‘Tom the small business owner’ who had a steel roof building would happen to be on a flight, pick up the magazine and call the company. But does that seem like good ad spend?”

Most marketers worth their salt could recognize that an ad campaign like this — one left almost entirely to chance — is a waste of money. The odds of the right customer seeing the ad and then taking action by researching the company or contacting it for more information are slim. And even if they did, attributing the lead to the print ad would be nearly impossible without a proper data-capturing mechanism in place — a somewhat difficult challenge in the print media sector.

But don’t write off print ads just yet. They can be valuable marketing channels for companies provided they meet the following conditions:

  • The print ads are relevant to the right audience
  • Measurable actions can be attributed to the print ads

This article provides insight into how your company’s print ads can meet these conditions. You’ll learn how to strategically target your ideal customers with ads that contain mechanisms that can tie them to sales. Now, read on to find out how to get and prove print ad ROI.

How to Get Print Ad ROI

Getting print ad ROI can be boiled down to a pair of essentials:

  1. You must reach the RIGHT lead on the RIGHT channel with the RIGHT message
  2. Your ad must grab attention and compel the reader to act

Let’s dive a little deeper…

Accurate Targeting

The right lead, right channel, right message mission should be applied regardless of the medium. The right lead, in any circumstance, is a decision-maker or purchase influencer who has either a problem that your business’s product or service could solve or an opportunity to improve their own business by utilizing your product or service. In short, don’t target every person or company in your industry. Target just the ones that are directly tied to the purchase decision and have a high likelihood of actually becoming a customer.

The right channel, with regard to a print ad, is the magazine, trade publication, newspaper or newsletter most utilized by your ideal customer. To maximize ROI, don’t advertise on every possible print media. Place your ad in only the publications most likely to yield response. Yes, you should consider CPM, the cost per thousand impressions. But you should also consider engagement. Which ad spend would you consider better, one that is seen by 1,000 and acted upon by 10 or one that is seen by 500 and acted upon by 20?

The right message is one that resonates with the decision-maker or purchase influencer you’re targeting and gets them to act. In order to create that type of message, it’s important to know about your target audience. Who are they? What problems do they face? What do they value? To answer questions like these, you need to create personas.

For more on the targeting process, click here.

High-Quality, Conversion-Centric Graphic Design

You can do an excellent job of selecting publications for your print ad, getting inside the minds of your ideal customers and creating perfectly worded messaging. However, if your graphic design quality is low, your chances of success are low as well. That’s how important it is to have high-quality graphic design.

Potential customers who haven’t seen your brand before will formulate their initial impression of your business based on the design of your ad. If your ad is too simple, too over the top, too clichéd or just plain uninteresting to them, they’ll move on quickly and not give you a second thought.

If your ad design grabs and keeps attention, great. But that’s just the first step. The next is to achieve the objective of getting the reader to take some kind of action by incorporating at least one and possibly multiple calls to action (CTAs). The CTAs can elicit either a micro conversion or macro conversion — a small victory or big victory. A micro conversion might be a visit to your website or a download of a content piece. A macro conversion is a quote request submission or a phone call to a sales rep.

Great design balances message and purpose. It looks good on paper but also educates and inspires. You need to achieve both for quality print ad ROI.

Graphic Design

Tactics to Prove Print Ad ROI

How do you measure the effectiveness of a print ad? You can’t account for every prospective buyer’s behaviors when they see your ad. Some may immediately act, but others may take a picture of it or rip it out and save it for later. The prospect could visit your site by keying in a URL, but they could also do a Google search for your business name.

Whatever the circumstance, you’ll never be able to account for every lead that sees your print ad or have an indicator of every behavior they took with regard to their buyer’s journey and your company’s place within it. However, thanks to digital innovations, there are a variety of simple tactics you can implement that will help prove print ad ROI with a greater degree of certainty than ever before. The following are some of the most common and effective tactics.

1. Vanity URLs

A vanity URL is a simple, easy-to-remember URL that is commonly used to redirect URLs from one location to another. They are useful, especially for use in print, when the destination URL is a long one and for trackability purposes using Google Analytics.

For example, if one of the objectives of your ad was to send people to, you could set up a vanity URL such as to redirect to the proper webpage while providing readers with the convenience of a URL that isn’t so long to type out or difficult to remember.

What about instances where you just want to send someone to the company homepage? isn’t too bad to type and can be remembered. However, it doesn’t provide you with a way to connect website visitors to the ad. If someone just keys in your primary web address, Google Analytics will classify the traffic as direct, which is no help when it comes to marketing attribution.

This situation is where UTMs come in handy. You can learn all about UTMs by reading this article. But to keep it short for now, the main takeaway is that the combination of UTMs and a vanity URL will accomplish the goal of simplicity for the reader and helpful data for you, the marketer.

To illustrate this process:

The link with the UTM is shortened with the vanity URL and redirects to

It’s a complicated-sounding process that’s actually pretty simple to implement, and it’s convenient for prospective customers and a valuable data-collection tool for your marketing team.

2. Vanity Phone Numbers

Implementing vanity phone numbers is another way to prove print ad ROI. A vanity phone number is similar to a vanity URL in that it directs leads to your company while simultaneously capturing helpful data.

A vanity phone number is different than your primary company number and is associated with a specific marketing tactic — in this case, a print ad in a specific publication. A different vanity number would be used for each different ad campaign and publication.

When someone calls, the call is routed to a designated employee (usually a customer service rep or salesperson). The exact data collected may vary based on which call-tracking company is utilized, but it may include:

  • Incoming call totals
  • Call durations
  • Call recordings
  • Flags when predetermined keywords are mentioned
  • Integration with digital marketing efforts

3. Coupon Codes

Coupon codes not only provide an incentive for people to buy now but also insight into which marketing tactic is providing ROI. When a reader sees the ad and coupon code and then enters it into your eCommerce platform or mentions it to a sales rep, that’s data that tells you how many sales the ad brought in.

4. QR Codes

Using QR codes in print ads is a similar approach to utilizing vanity URLs/UTMs. The difference with QR codes is that readers scan the code using an app on their phone to access the destination URL as opposed to typing it into their web browser. The QR code system still captures the performance data while saving the user keystrokes.

5. Ask in Person or Via Form Fields

Another tracking option, albeit likely less reliable, is to have customer service reps or sales reps that take incoming calls ask the caller how they found out about the company or offer. On the digital side, this can be accomplished by adding a field onto quote request, “contact us,” or landing page forms that ask, “How did you hear about us?” The challenge is that employees may forget to ask or the lead may not be able to provide a clear answer because they saw many different marketing tactics or forgot because they didn’t immediately act.

Marketing ROI Toolbox

A Print Ad Example

Now that we’ve shared insight into how to get and prove print ad ROI, let’s take a look at a real-world example.

The ad below is one we created for PolyJohn to promote their products. The ad was created for the March 2020 issue of three different trade publications that all are distributed to PolyJohn’s ideal customers. Here is a summary of the elements incorporated into the ad to get readers to act and help PolyJohn’s marketing team measure ROI:

  • Whimsical Design — The ads of PolyJohn’s competitors are all fairly similar and simple, containing product images, descriptions, contact information and not much else. To help PolyJohn’s ad stand out, we incorporated a colorful, seasonal design, creative headline and copy that promoted products while staying within the St. Patrick’s Day theme.
  • Calls to Action — In addition to contact information, the ad features two calls to action. The first is a prompt to register for the portable sanitation industry’s PSAI Tradeshow and look for PolyJohn. The second is a prompt to download one or both of PolyJohn’s guides — the product guide or buyer’s guide.
  • ROI-Tracking Tools — We used the vanity URL/UTM approach for trackability. In this example, the vanity URL is used to redirect and track traffic to PolyJohn’s homepage coming from the PRO Monthly publication. Different vanity URLs are set up to track traffic from the other two publications. Also, on the guide download landing pages and, there are form fields that ask “How did you learn about our guide?” with each trade publication being listed among the options.
PolyJohn Print Ad Example


Even in the 21st century, print ads can be effective marketing tools if you prepare and execute them properly. And even though tracking ROI on them may not be as straightforward as other tactics, enough tools are available to give you a pretty good estimate. Follow the tips in this article, and you’ll be on your way to print ad marketing mastery.

Have additional questions about ad design or measuring ROI or want to learn even more? Call us at 815.431.1000 or submit this form to contact us.


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