Making the Most of Yellow Pages

Self-storage owners frequently complain about the high cost of advertising in the Yellow Pages. Yes, the cost is higher than for other media. The reason is the Yellow Pages delivers a much higher rate of return than other forms of advertising. Here are some statistics:

  • Of the thousands of Yellow Pages headings, storage ranks No. 115 in terms of use.
  • There were 20.7 million references under the storage heading in 2002.
  • Of the Yellow Pages shoppers referencing the storage heading, 66 percent had no specific business in mind.
  • Yellow Pages advertising exceeds the reach of other marketing used by self-storage owners.

A targeted, cost-effective Yellow Pages program should yield a maximum return on investment (ROI). Following is a step-by-step guide to maximizing your advertising dollars.

Choose Directories Carefully

The availability of 6,000 U.S. directories issued by 250 publishers makes the task of selecting the books that will deliver the best ROI a confusing and painstaking task. Do your research to determine directory use. Get tear pages to see what your competitors are buying. Know your service radius, and be sure the directory covers it adequately. Finally, allocate your ad spend per book accordingly.

Buy the Right Size

Is bigger always better? How important is placement? You first need to know how ad placement is determined by the publishers.

Display ads are typically placed in order of ad family (size), with the biggest ads always first. Placement within the ad family is determined by seniority. The first advertiser to buy an ad in a particular family will always remain in first position within that group, provided the ad is continually renewed. The occasional exception to the priority-placement rule is the case of some smaller publishers that put color ads in the front of an ad family, giving priority-placement to advertisers who spend more. Always check with your publisher on its placement policy.

In-column ads are listed alphabetically under the heading. Look at your competitors ads to see how they are buying. Consider a few different sizes and determine where each would place you; an ad smaller than your competitors might still place you on the same page, or it might put you several pages behind. Then its a matter of deciding on the right investment in that book/heading.

Are Enhancements Worthwhile?

At one time or another, almost every Yellow Pages advertiser has been advised to buy ads with color or white knockout (white background). The rationale is that studies have shown ads with these enhancements get a better response. We wont dispute those statistics, but be aware nothing is that black and white!

Enhancements can increase ad rates by as much as 40 percent above less costly black and yellow ads. We have tracked ads over the last 15 years to determine whether color or white knockout delivers enough of an increased income to warrant the additional expense. While a facilitys call counts may increase, they typically dont increase sufficiently to boost ROI. That doesnt mean enhancements should never be used, but they must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Do you need color or white knockout to stand out on a page? Is there an occasion when revenue is more important than ROI? Know what you want your Yellow Pages advertising to deliver, and make your decision accordingly. But making the ad look prettier isnt a good enough reason to invest in high-cost enhancements.

Consider Multiple Headings

The storage heading is a crowded one, and everyone has to jockey for position. You can maximize your investment by also running ads under other headings. Do you sell boxes and packing supplies? This is a less popular heading, so a smaller ad at a much lower cost will pay for itself in sales while introducing new customers to your facility.

There are many more headings that provide a similar opportunity. Talk to your Yellow Pages sales rep to find out what possibilities exist. We are not suggesting you replace your ad in the storage heading with a complementary one, but that you use other headings to subsidize your larger storage ad. By doing so, you can rent 3 percent to 6 percent more units every month, at minimal expense, while getting exceptional return.

Get the Best Price

All of the Yellow Pages publishers have some kind of discount or special-opportunity programs. Some may have 15 to 20 different ones. Look at your options to determine the best type of program for yourelative to that directory and the specific headings. Each one must be considered on its own merits. Beware of bargains that can cost more down the road.

For example, a publisher may tempt you with an attractive rate for stepping up the size of your display ad. The following year, it may move to full rate. If you decide you dont see the value in paying the full rate and want to resume your original ad size, theres a catch: You lose any seniority position you may have gained in your original ad family and drop back to last place. So do your homework. Know when a deal is a dealand when its not.

Say the Right Things

Ad copy, design and layout are critical components in making the phone ring. Know what your customers are looking for and make sure your ad tells them you have it or can do it (depending on the nature of your business). Make a list of what differentiates you from competitors and feature those copy points in the ad. Design the ad so your customers eye is drawn first to the copy or graphic that is most important as a sales tool. Finally, remember that your customer wants the convenience of location, so make a map a prominent part of the ad.

Sharpen Your Image

Yellow Pages publishers have graphic-art departments that design ads at no charge, but their sheer volume of output usually results in a cookie cutter design. They provide that service to everyone. They get the job done because they must, not because you are their client and they are looking out for your best interests. If you want your ads to stand out, have them designed by a Yellow Pages professional. It does make a difference, and that difference is in the response to the ad, i.e., how many times the phone will ring.

Track Your Success

How do you know how many potential new customers a Yellow Pages ad is providing? You can drop a code into an ad saying mention code 1234 for a discount (free gift, etc.), if that type of advertising is appropriate for your business. Then you have to be sure employees keep a phone log in which they record all business the code generates. A word of caution: Dont use this code method if it doesnt translate to something special for the customerthen it becomes about your needs and not customer service.

You can train employees to ask callers how they found you. Again, this also requires employees to diligently keep call logs. If customers indicate they found you in the Yellow Pages and you advertise in more than one book, you still arent tracking the performance of a specific ad/directory.

The only way to accurately test the effectiveness of an ad is to buy a special phone number that forwards to your main line. Then every call is tracked by where it originates, time of day and length. Not only is this valuable to track the ad, it may help you improve customer service. If you discover a large number of calls come in before you open or after you close, you may want to adjust your hours to accommodate customer needs.

Internet Yellow Pages

Statistics show users of Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) are more likely than the average U.S. adult to have a computer in their homes and be online subscribers. The number of print shoppers outnumbers IYP shoppers by about 2 to 1, but the margin diminishes regularly. As of July 2004, there were more than 58 million references to IYP, including all of the major IYP sites, such as SuperPages, and Yahoo Yellowpages.

Depending on the range of your storage locations, you may choose anything from a national campaign to one that is directory-specific. While IYP usage patterns are the same as those of print, IYP tends to bring in more new customers due to its out-of-region scope. For example, a potential customer is moving to a new city or state and knows he is going to need storage, but he doesnt have access to a Yellow Pages directory covering the relocation area. An IYP reference will give him what he needs to take the next step and make the call.

IYP is priced similarly to print Yellow Pages in that premium positions cost more but get more visitors. However, even a lower-tier position can be enhanced by the addition of a website icon or an icon that leads the shopper to your print ad; and this enhancement may only cost an additional $200 to $300 per year. When used correctly, IYP gets cost-effective results.

How do you know if you are using the best IYP publisher? Consult an expert who places advertising with all of the IYP providers. That way you get unbiased guidance leading to a decision that is right for you, not the publisher.

Address Diverse Markets

Dont rule out directories that address diverse markets, especially if they can give you an edge over competition. For example, the fast-growing, multibillion-dollar Hispanic market is one that should not be ignored by storage owners. In general, Spanish-speaking Yellow Pages users:

  • Have no business name in mind before referencing a Yellow Pages heading.
  • Are 11 percent more likely than their English-speaking counterparts to make a purchase using the Yellow Pages.
  • Are 43 percent more likely to be new customers to the business where a purchase is made.
  • Have a high level of consumer loyalty.

If a Hispanic Yellow Pages directory covers your service radius, it is in your best interest to consider placing an ad. Not only can it bring in new business, it may be a strategy competing facilities have yet to uncover.

Winning the Yellow Pages Game

You probably still think Yellow Pages advertising rates are too high. But bear in mind that no other medium has a one-year shelf life and is referenced only by people who have a buying decision to make. The Yellow Pages is not a source of entertainment or news; its a resource for new customers to find you and make a purchase.

Yellow Pages advertising is the best game in town for self-storage owners. You choose how you wish to play. You may elect to use the services of a specialist that knows the industry and understands how to maximize advertising dollars, or you can deal directly with publishers. As long as you buy the right ad in the right directory at the right price with the right copy, you will get the right ROI; and isnt that what its all about?

Curt Ogieglo, vice president, and Sue Weinman, senior account executive, represent the Yellow Pages Division of The Michaels/Wilder Group, a specialized advertising agency incorporating three divisions: Yellow Pages, Internet and Recruitment Advertising. Based in Phoenix, the award-winning firm is celebrating its 15th year of business thanks to a loyal client base that includes hundreds of self-storage owners and managers. For more information, call 800.423.6468; visit

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