Negotiate Lower Advertising Prices With Unsold Inventory

Radio and TV stations set advertising prices, they manage their inventory (advertising time) much like the airlines. When a flight takes off, the airlines want to make sure every seat is filled and they get the most money for each seat. Empty seats mean lost revenue and an oversold situation means they priced their seats too low.

Radio and TV stations have a limited number of commercial units to sell within an hour or program. Some radio stations have the flexibility to add units if they sell out, but be careful of these stations. If there are too many commercials that run in a break, listeners, or your potential customers get impatient and start tuning out, and may not hear your commercial message.

The radio and TV stations’ goal of course, is to sell every commercial unit available for the best price they can get in order to maximize their revenue. There are high demand seasons, weeks, days and times they charge their highest prices. For instance, the weeks from Thanksgiving through Christmas you can expect to pay through the nose. The week after the New Year is when sales managers are willing to cut deals.


Because radio listening tends to drop on the weekend, you can get good rates. You won’t reach as many people as during the week, but you can buy a lot of spots and get good frequency.

The best deals in radio can be negotiated for spots that run Monday and Tuesdays. Because retailers get most of their sales on the weekends, spots that run Wednesday through Friday are in the highest demand. If it makes sense for your business, you can ask for as much as 25% off average rates if you run on Monday through Tuesday. This is a great deal because the amount of listeners you reach is about the same as Wednesday through Friday, but you’re getting spots at a much lower price.

If you combine with a weekend schedule, a Saturday through Tuesday schedule can really stretch your dollar and still get good results.

Evenings have the lowest number of listeners on most stations, but these listeners tend to be loyal. If you don’t have the budget to run during prime time, one option might be to run a spot an hour in evenings. This is often the most negotiable time slot. Whatever rate they quote you, ask them if they can take 50% off. They may not give you half off, but they’ll probably come back a rate lower than what they originally quoted you, or offer to throw in some free spots.

One way to get a low rate is by asking for a preemptible rate. This is common in TV where many local commercials get bumped out by national commercials.

You can schedule your spots to run in prime dayparts, or if you want an even lower rate you can broaden your daypart to 6 a.m. to 7p.m. where you’ll still run in prime time, but gives the station more flexibility. If the station sells out, your commercial will not run. Because radio works more effectively with good frequency, you can tell your AE to keep an eye on the inventory for you. If a week looks like it’s going to be really tight, they should cancel all of your spots for the week. Otherwise, if too few spots run, it’s virtually a waste of money.


Television runs a little differently than radio. Network TV programs are scheduled to run at set times. They can’t make a show shorter or longer according to how many commercials are sold, so TV stations MUST fill all slots during a commercial break. They can’t have dead air.

Therefore, many stations offer package rates on unsold inventory. For instance, if you agree to pay a specific dollar amount every month, they will guarantee that you’ll receive a minimum amount of commercials as well as get slotted in programs that have not been sold out. There are some months where this really pays off, and other months where you’ll get what you pay for. Just be sure to scrutinize your invoice to make sure you’re getting your fair share of prime programming. Another way to take advantage of a TV station’s unsold inventory is by telling your AE the target demographic you want to reach and ask her to contact you if they want to unload these spots at a low rate. Many of them would rather sell it to you at much lower rate than give it away for free.

If you decide to do this, keep the station’s rate card on hand so you know what the regular rate is. When your AE calls you, respond quickly and give her an answer on the spot, if possible, even if it’s a no. If you’re easy to work with and give them the courtesy of a quick response, you’ll be the preferred advertiser to deal with and you’ll be rewarded with more opportunities to take advantage of good deals.