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Michaels/Wilder Group

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Q: If a self-storage owner or manager wants help placing his Yellow Pages advertising, what should he look for in a consultant or agency?

He needs to find a consultant/agency that focuses on helping him establish proper buying strategies. Anyone can place Yellow Pages ads. The key is helping clients determine the right way to buy relative to their specific product or service. Most companies are spending too much or not enough. The idea is to prove value, either way.

Some people get caught up with agency discounts or the fees associated with Yellow Pages consultants. One bad buy, an ad placed at full rate (not taking advantage of publisher discounts), missing a directory with revenue-generating possibilities, or having too much presence in a directory that doesn't work--all these things can more than consume any savings associated with a point or two in agency discounts.

Are there any common mistakes made by self-storage owners when placing Yellow Pages advertising?

There are three mistakes commonly made. The first is evaluating the Yellow Pages heading relative to ad density instead of the positioning of an owner's particular competitors. Most everyone knows a facility's return on investment increases if its ad is in front of those of competitors. However, buying the largest ad you can afford is not always necessary.

For example, if the first three ads in the section are full pages, followed by five three-quarter page ads and two half-page ads, and the owner buys a full-page ad, he will be the fourth ad in the heading. Many times, we find our client's competitors are running half-page ads, and if they buy a three-quarters page ad, they would be positioned in front of their competitors and spend thousands of dollars less doing it. It's important to isolate the players with whom you really compete and buy accordingly.

This brings me to another common mistake. It's not always necessary to be the first ad relative to your competition. In the above example, for instance, running a half-page ad would put the owner in third position. The idea of the Yellow Pages is not necessarily to get the first call--it's to get a call period. The Yellow Pages don't sell your product; they make your phone ring so you can sell your product. Studies show that people reference three to four ads when purchasing self-storage, so why not pay half as much per call compared to your competition? There are several other variables to consider when determining your desired position; but, in general, this is the philosophy that should be used when you start.

The third mistake we commonly see is owners not knowing the return on investment for all their placements. Everyone pretty much knows the main directory they need to be in, but is being the first ad returning you more than being in second or third position? The deregulation of the directory industry created many more options from which to choose. Where do you spend your money? If you listen to the publisher representatives, they all claim to have the lion's share of the market. We know that can't be, so how do we decide? Lots of testing.

Empirical data is always more effective when making buying decisions than guessing or remembering. Many companies place ads in directories other than their main one out of fear. They don't want to miss any calls. The problem is, in many cases, we find they are paying three or four times as much per call, even though the ad is much less expensive. One of the hardest things to do is to show a client, through testing, that although he is getting calls, he is paying too much for them. That money can return more by increasing advertising in directories we know work or by spending it on more traditional advertising mediums.

When discussing directories, we often hear owners say, "I think my advertising in that book is paying for itself." There are two problems with this statement: "I think" is one, and the other is ... Well, I don't know about you, but if I invest my money, simply getting it back at the end of the year is not acceptable. I want to make money, not break even. The opportunity cost of these kinds of expenditures may be another proven method that returns 8- or 10-1 on your money. It isn't as big an issue with clients who have unlimited budgets, but we don't have any of those.

What advice do you have for storage owners creating their own artwork?

The most common mistake a company makes when designing its own Yellow Pages ad is not using white space. Yellow Pages advertising is different than any other medium in that your competition is right next to you. According to studies, you only have six to seven seconds to capture a reader before he moves on. If your ad is not eye-catching or is hard to follow, the consumer simple shifts his eye a couple of inches over to your competitor's ad. Because Yellow Pages ads are frequently too crowded, white space is terrific way to make your facility's ad stand out. So your first mission is accomplished--the prospect has noticed your ad. Now, because it's not all cluttered, he can focus on your competitive advantages, which should always be highlighted.

Self-storage is a geographically sensitive business. Large, clear and detailed--not cluttered--maps are important, especially for those potential clients new to the area. The first thing many people look at when referencing a storage ad is where you are located. The use of local landmarks--schools, malls and large retail chains--is also very helpful. This allows the customer to quickly identify if you're in his area. Once he has qualified you as a prospect, he will proceed to evaluate the rest of the content of your ad and, hopefully, call.

How important are the Yellow Pages to self-storage owners?

There are some exceptions, but I think it's safe to say the Yellow Pages are, by far, the most effective advertising medium for this industry. Most stores get 65 percent to 75 percent of their new revenue from the printed and online Yellow Pages. When prospects have an immediate need, the Yellow Pages are where they go. They aren't going drive around town looking for a storage facility or wait for a direct-mail piece.

But the Yellow Pages presence necessary for each facility varies according to occupancy, location, how long the facility has been open, what kind of traffic and signage the store has, and how many competitors are within its service radius. Many of our clients are in an acquisition mode. For them, it is very important for us to evaluate potential markets with respect to what it will cost to compete there.

For example, if a client is thinking about purchasing or building a store in a competitive market, we may advise him that, unless he has some economy of scale, his Yellow Pages cost will be too high. Some markets are so saturated that a client may need to purchase an existing store just to obtain the right positioning in the Yellow Pages.

How do you suggest that storage owners integrate their traditional and online advertising?

Storage is a perfect fit for the Internet. When people are moving, they often don't have access to the Yellow Pages or other advertising in the area they are entering. The Internet allows them to research self-storage facilities before they move. Of course, websites with store fronts allowing potential clients to actually rent space online are even more attractive because they allow customers to check off one of the many items on a moving to-do list.

My first suggestion is to get a website up there. People have a tendency to spend too much time trying to create their website. Hire a professional to design it. I say this because the structure of a website plays an important role in its promotability. If a site is not search-engine friendly, it will not rank well when prospects search. Sites need to be easy to follow and visually appealing, but it does no good to have an attractive site if no one gets to see it.

Site promotion is a whole different discipline than site design. Regardless of who designed the site, the promotion and marketing of it should be left to a professional. For example, there are dozens of online Yellow Pages sites out there, but the use of these sites varies dramatically relative to geographic location.

There are a lots of traps out there. Get some help to avoid them or you'll end up spending too much for the wrong advertising. Online Yellow Pages are relatively inexpensive. Most online campaigns cost less than $1,000 per year per store. Once search-engine optimization and registration and online Yellow Pages placements have been addressed, there are a number of different ways to promote a self-storage site, such as building link popularity and pay-per-click advertising.

I suggest taking website promotion one step at a time. The whole idea of the Internet still intimidates a lot of people, but it shouldn't. With the proper guidance, it's really pretty simple. Leave the technical aspects to a professional, and think the marketing through as you would with any other medium. Ask yourself if it makes sense and if you can prove its value as you go.

Michaels/Wilder Group is a full-service, integrated, marketing and advertising agency. The company provides three critical types of advertising that can give self-storage facilities a competitive edge: Yellow Pages, Internet and recruitment. Unlike traditional agencies, Michaels/Wilder concentrates on these vital areas, creating a powerful and strategic resource for clients that result in new opportunities and greater profits. For more information, call 800.423.6468 or visit

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