Yellow Page Phone Book Advertising Strategies

  • Comments: 14
  • Written on: December 30th, 2008

The phone book advertising jungle can be complex and expensive to navigate – especially if you are on a tight advertising budget.  There are a lot of factors that go into deciding if the yellow pages is right for your company, and if so, the right way to do it.

I have been buying yellow page advertisements for more than 10 years, and this post is an accumulation of everything I have learned in the process.  Hopefully it will help you buy the right ad at the right time to grow your business.

The Annual Contract

Before you can beat the system you have to understand it.  Advertising in the Yellow Pages is an annual commitment.  You are agreeing to pay a fixed amount each month for a total of 12 months because phone books are distributed annually.

Be certain that you can pay the advertising bill in slow months because many times the company that publishes the phone book has an agreement with your telephone provider to bill your for advertising and phone service on one bill.  If you fail to pay the cost of the advertisement, your phones may be shut off!

How the Salesman Hooks You

Yellow Pages sales people get you in the door by offering you a deeply discounted price for your ad – usually 50% off or more.  This allows you to purchase a pretty good sized advertisement at a reasonable price.

Enjoy the value while it lasts because this is usually the single best value you will ever get from your salesman – its the freebie to get you addicted.  It also makes it impossible to compare your advertising budget to your competitors because you have no idea what their discount is, so stop trying.

When your annual contract is approaching its end, another sales man (yellow page sales people tend to work regions, so you vary rarely have the same one from year to year) will approach you to renew your ad.

When it is time to renew, you might be shocked that the price for the exact same advertisement has gone up 20-30 percent.  When you confront the salesman he will tell you that they did not raise your price, they reduced your discount.

Sensing your mounting disagreement with the situation the salesman points out that if you increase the size of your ad, you will be able to maintain your discount.

After all of the numbers are crunched, you will be looking at a 5-10% increase in price for a larger ad that might give better results or a 30% increase to maintain the same size ad.  Taking the better value, you will probably spend 5-10 percent more than last year and if the salesman is a good one, you will be happy about it.

How Big Should You Go?

Aside from figuring out how much you can afford to spend every month, the next most powerful question is how large of an ad should you purchase?

The salesman will show you all sorts of statistics that the larger advertisements get more phone calls.  Remember that from the salesman’s perspective the goal of your advertisement is to generate leads (phone calls).  How you convert those customers into profitability is completely up to you.

If you ask what your competitors are doing this year, the salesman will fall back on his strict ethical code of confidentiality (note sarcasm) and inform you that he can’t divulge the activities of your competitors.

Although maintaining confidentiality is admirable, this man is here to get a sale.  He is paid on commission.  He wants the biggest sale possible.  If he can keep you guessing about your competitors you might just buy a bigger ad because you are afraid that one of them might out spend you – after all, bigger ads get more calls, right?

Remember that you are not trying to take over the world with your yellow pages ad.  Never buy the biggest ads (double truck, full page, covers, etc) unless the discount is 75% or greater.  The only time you see these discounts is at the 11th hour when they have unsold inventory and they need to close SOMEBODY in those spots.  If you see these, move quickly because your competitors see them too.

Creating an Advertising Pattern

I am convinced that the multi-year approach is essential for small businesses who are venturing into the yellow pages for the first time.  This approach lets you start small, track your results (more on this later) and then grow your ad in a planned way until that growth ceases to bring you a larger financial benefit.

The first step in this approach is to start with an advertisement you know you can afford.  Because you are not going to buy the biggest advertisement, you will have room to increase it next year while maintaining your discount.

Next year when the ad man comes knocking, let him hit you with his best deal, see if it is better than your existing plan, and then execute in the direction that makes the most sense to your organization.

Keep doing this until the cost of the ad would be too great for your company to bear.  When that happens, drop down to an in-column listing.  This is the absolute cheapest listing available (usually under $100).  While you will see a decline in new customers that year, take that opportunity to refine your existing customer mailing list.  Use SMS text messaging, email, and direct mail to market compelling offers to your existing customers to offset the decline in new customer leads.

In the year that follows, you have essentially reset the clock to start increasing your ads again every year at the maximum possible discount.  While it is defiantly better to have consistent advertising from year to year, the multi-year approach gives you the most cost-effective result until you can afford consistency.

Buy the Online Thing or Not?

Most yellow page companies have realized that a growing population of consumers uses the Internet to find local businesses.  In response, many of them have added an online version of their directory that turns up near the top of many Google search result pages.

If you are a company who sells high ticket items that customers buy every few years, then buy the online component.  It gets you one more placement in the search results for your company and increases the odds you will get the call.

If your company sells smaller, less expensive consumables that get re-purchased frequently, your money is better invested elsewhere.

What to Include in Your Ad

While this can vary greatly from industry to industry, here are some basics that I feel give customers all of the information they need to do business with you:

  1. Your company name
  2. Your logo
  3. Your phone number
  4. Hours of operation
  5. Payment types accepted
  6. Website URL
  7. Address
  8. A compelling offer

The first seven items are pretty elementary and may or may not apply to your business.  But number 8 is the single most important and forgotten item.

Remember that your yellow page advertisement is designed to generate leads.  If you don’t have a compelling offer in your advertisement you are assuming a lot of things:

  1. A customer is in need of your services
  2. That customer has no relationships with other providers of similar services
  3. That customer has no friends to refer him or her to a provider
  4. That customer will use the yellow pages
  5. That customer will randomly decide on your ad and call your number

Instead of relying on such an improbable scenario you can use a compelling offer to boost your odds of succes.  For example, if you are a plumber you might offer a “first visit free” coupon within your ad.  This accomplishes a number of stunning things:

  • It assures that customers WILL call you instead of a competitor
  • It generates word of mouth.  The customer you help will someday know someone who needs a plumber.  They are sure to mention your free offer
  • It helps you build a customer list for future re-marketing efforts
  • It steals customers and revenue from your competitors by taking their current customers

Obviously you need to formulate an offer that you can afford to give, allows you sufficient opportunity to up-sell other needed products or services, and most importantly is compelling to your target customer.

**note** Place a dotted line around your compelling offer to make it look like a coupon.  Studies show that a dotted line around an offer increases response rates by 25% because we are conditioned to look for coupons our whole lives.  If the yellow page doesn’t make you remove it, try to slip the phrase “present coupon at time of purchase” in small font at the bottom of the coupon.  This forces customers to cut your coupon from the page and that destroys one of your competitors advertisements on the reverse of the page (6)

Tracking Your Advertising Dollars

You will never know how well the yellow pages is working for you unless you track your results.  You must ask your customers how they heard about you.  If your compelling offers are clippable coupons, this makes life very easy.

If not, make sure you charge for your compelling offer on every invoice and then coupon it off.  That way you can search in your invoicing program to see how many compelling offer discounts you have provided and that will tell you how many new customers you have generated.

There are other ways to track the results of yellow pages advertisements, and the most popular of these methods should be avoided at all costs.

DO NOT use a metered phone number if the yellow page company offers it.  A metered phone number is a special number that forwards callers to your real phone number.  The phone company then sends you a monthly report on the number of calls you received through the metered line.

This is a bad idea because at the end of the year you almost always lose your metered number.  That means that people who use the old phone book, or those who wrote down your metered phone number somewhere will get a disconnected message when they try to call you next year.

Additionally, if you did get a metered number you will notice that the summary page on your report shows you received a huge number of calls.  But if you mine down into the data, you will find that many of those calls are from repeat callers. Additionally, there is no way for you to measure IF those callers actually converted into customers, and if so, how much they were worth.

Is Yellow Page Advertising Worth It?

There is no answer to this question that works for every business.  To help you decide if it is right for you, add up all of the money you will spend over the year on the yellow pages.  IF you committed that money to some other advertising vehicle would it generate better results?

The Yellow Pages are great for some businesses and worthless to others.  If possible, get your hands on a the phone books from previous years and look at the progression of the advertisements in your industry.

Do advertisers who go big one year, go missing the next?  Are your competitors advertising consistently year after year (a sign of stability) or are they playing the system as suggested in this article?

I own a computer repair business and I can tell you that our yellow pages advertisement offered a free hour of computer repair labor to new customers and it brought in about 1,250 new customers ( in a market of 250,000 people) in 2008 at a cost of about $8.00 per converting customer.

You can’t beat that cost in ANY medium.

  1. Jim Williams
    Jim Williams said on December 30th, 2008 at 8:06 am

    Interesting story about the phone book advertisements, and another good point. Sometimes the ad guy may offer you a second listing under an alternate heading (for example, your large ad may be under computer repair, and then a standard in-line listing under computer sales). Qwest Dex made the mistake of giving me a second listing under Internet Service Providers (I do web hosting) and I got calls for several years after the fact asking about my dial-up/DSL plans (which I didn’t have). So also be sure to stay on that sales person to make sure you are under the correct header!

    This also brings up another good point. Just because a new phone book comes out every year, doesn’t mean people throw their old phone book away. There will be customers that will find your larger ad because they still have last year’s phone book (I know this from experience), so it may not be so bad to do that one year in-column listing to reset the clock.

  2. Thor Schrock said on December 30th, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    Great points, Jim. You can also buy more time by adding another in-column ad in the final year. Because you are increasing your advertising ($25 a month in Omaha) you maintain your discount which might be worth substantially more.

  3. Ryan said on September 3rd, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Great overview, thank you for sharing this. I am just entering this world and so far have experienced the same situation. I am now better prepared to take the next step. Thanks!!!

  4. Philadelphia Life Coach said on April 9th, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Thank you for this information. Everywhere I read says that old media, like the yellow pages, are dead. It still has to be working for some people, who no one would be using it.

  5. Thor said on April 9th, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    You would think that, but lots of business owners are intimidated. If they pull their ads completely and they are wrong, they are hosed for the year. Also, sales reps make a big deal about your competition taking “your spot” if you drop out.

  6. Breckenridge realtor said on July 29th, 2010 at 11:43 am

    We have used Yellow pages in the past and have just found it a complete waste of money, I can understand the value for tradesmen, but other industries people just seem to look online these days instead. I can honestly say I don’t know that many people who actually keep them anymore and don’t throw them out.

  7. p90x said on January 21st, 2011 at 1:32 am

    Some great tips Thor, thanks so much for sharing. Do you think these strategies would still work in 2011. I know you wrote this post in 2008. Anyhow thanks again.

    – Robert

  8. Texas hunting said on March 25th, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    Thanks for your advise in buying, same as what I experienced I haven’t buy any yellow page advertising and it’s quite important now a days for contacts and communications.

  9. Anvelope vara said on May 31st, 2011 at 2:46 am

    Endeed one of the best method to advertise. You are good man. Thanks.

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