December 19, 2014 / Fall 2014 / Marketing

Face lift: Taking senior ads from drab to fab

Written by Kathy Beers

Moms and dads toil over photo albums for hours. They search old hard drives in hopes of recovering the one photo that sums up the “awkward years.” Parents give over their precious memories and tearful words so you can create a “Senior Ad.” Now it’s up to your staff to create a beautiful page and keep those parents coming back for more.

Yes. It’s a pain. No one will disagree that the task of taking a hodgepodge of family photos and making sleek and sharp-looking ads can be a bit overwhelming.

Why do we do it anyway? Depending on school traditions, parents may expect it. They’ve bought space for all the older brothers and sisters, and it’s finally junior’s turn. But the best part for you is that ads can be big money makers. More money means fancier cover options for your yearbook or extra items you may need like cameras and zoom lenses, distribution day T-shirts, or even summer yearbook camp.

So let’s start with tips for selling more ads.

1. Start early – We begin to advertise the previous spring by placing fliers describing senior ads inside the yearbook of every junior.

2. Summer sales – During summer senior photo appointments, we set up a table for the parents to browse while waiting. We show past yearbooks, open to the ads, and give them all the information on ad sizes, prices and our website.

3. Color posters – In the fall, we put up poster-sized copies of our fliers near the attendance office and anywhere else parents might see them. These posters cost about $6 each.

4. Go to where they are – We put fliers on the seniors’ cars and walk the stands at the first few football and volleyball games handing out info to 

5. Newsletters – Our administration sends out a digital newsletter every week, so we make sure to include our deadline dates and contact information.

6. Social media – We use Twitter and Instagram to promote ads for students, and we post the information on our Facebook page for the parents.

7. Custom mailers – Walsworth created gorgeous color brochures personalized with some of our ads from the previous year, and mailed them to all of our senior parents.

8. Ask the Booster clubs – We were thrilled when our cheerleaders and drill team seniors bought a page each last year. And we were ecstatic when the band boosters bought a full spread! We don’t give discounts to those groups. They have money.

9. Teachers’ kids – I offer a free quarter-page ad to any teacher in our school who has a graduating senior. They can upgrade if they want. It’s good PR, and the teachers are always so thankful. They become our biggest supporters, and you can never have too many.

10. Work for it – I offer a sales deal to my yearbook staff seniors. For every four pages of ads we sell, they get $5 off their own ads. It makes them spread the word among their classmates and keeps them talking about ads. Last year, all my seniors earned free quarter-page ads.

11. Pretty ads make for more ads – Even if your ads were ho-hum last year, take some of those photos and redesign them with a new style. Show those off to let parents know what they can expect.

Tips to improve ads

Our staff works so hard to make a beautiful book. I don’t want the beauty to stop when readers get to the ad pages, so I do not allow parents to make their own ads. My staff decides on the fonts, look and style of our book at summer camp. We don’t want it spoiled by parents putting tiger stripes and tractor stickers on their photos or using the dreaded Comic Sans or Curlz fonts!  So we make it clear on our handouts that “pre-made ads” or “photo collages” are not allowed. If someone tries to upload one online, we simply send them an email reminding them that we do not accept pre-made ads and ask them to please send us the images.

Something else we won’t allow is to show kiddos in their birthday suits. No matter the age, we say “swimsuit areas must be covered.” This keeps our sweet seniors from being totally humiliated because Dad thought his baby had the cutest bootie ever. As I always say, “The last thing I want is to end up on the news over something that could have easily been avoided.”

When it comes to the design, think of each ad as its own spread. It needs a headline and a dominant photo. The senior’s name is the headline and the dominant is the prettiest photo their parents gave you. We try to use the nicest-looking senior photo that matches the shape of the ad. This is a formal ad, so we like to include the student’s middle name in the title. Then in the personal message they can use Robert Scott Frederickson’s nickname: “Dear Bubba….”

Use a unique but readable font for the name. If you used a special font in your book or on the cover, this is the place to bring it back. Cluster all the other photos on the ad but make them much smaller while cropping out any empty space. These are the accents. You can arrange them on a colored bar with the opacity turned down a bit, or overlap them and add a white outline and small drop shadow for some depth. Whatever you choose to do, be consistent. All of your ads should have a similar style and should change a little each year to fit the style of that book.

This past year, we used the colored bars. We chose the color based on the photos they submitted. We matched their college ball cap, the color of their eyes or their hot pink shoes. We also added the initial from the first name to make it even more personal. Look for design inspiration in magazines or on Pinterest. Be careful not to go overboard on the artistic stuff, and remember: it’s all about showing off the senior and making the family proud.

Once the ads are finished, we email them back to Mom and Dad to be sure names are spelled right and the text is free from typos. They don’t get the final version of the ads. We overlay everything but the text with the word PROOF typed diagonally with the opacity turned down. (It may seem odd that we just gave them back their own photos with a watermark on them, but we have a really good reason – more later.) We ask them to check spellings and tell us of any major design problems, such as, “that isn’t my child,” but explain that, with so many ads, we are unable to make minor design changes on every ad. Only a couple of parents each year ask us to rearrange something.

We try to get the senior ads submitted on the first and second deadlines. That helps us get ahead and save some other pages for the later deadlines.

Tips to make more money

During our down time in April, we come back to those senior ads. This time we email out a simple form letter letting parents know that their senior yearbooks will be out soon, and we know they are looking forward to seeing their printed ad. We offer to print them a poster-sized copy of their child’s ad to display at their graduation party and to serve as a keepsake. They can’t do it themselves because, remember, the copy we sent them was watermarked and with low resolution.

Last year we charged $20 each for the 16×20-inch posters. We sold about 60 of them and profited $14 each after having them printed. There’s an easy $840!

If the ads are made in InDesign, just set up a new page in the 16×20-inch size and copy and paste your ad pieces into it. Just a few spacing adjustments, save it as a .jpg, and then upload it to a photo-ordering site. (Thanks for the awesome idea, Mike Taylor!)

After offering the ad posters for the last two years, we’ve had numerous parents ask us to make matching posters for their past grads so they could have a matching set to display in their homes. “Sure!  That’s another $20, please.

Our parents are happy with their senior ads. There are always one or two who would have liked to have done it themselves so they could cram 30 images onto the page or use their favorite plaid background. But 98% of them would not know where to begin to create an ad and are thankful we were able to take their favorite photos and a few sweet words and turn them into something beautiful.

We are still a young school, but we already have a great start on our tradition of fabulous ads. We take the time to do it right and keep our satisfied families coming back for more.

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Kathy Beers

Beginning her 20th year in education, Kathy Beers has taught photojournalism and yearbook at Timber Creek High School in Fort Worth, Texas since the school opened in 2009. Prior to that, she was the yearbook adviser and art teacher in Indian Springs Middle School in Keller, Texas. She guides her students in class and at summer workshops to push the boundaries in theme and design. Her staff has won numerous awards, including a CSPA Gold Medal and Walsworth Gallery of Excellence.