The Yellow PagesMaking the most of your advertising

The Yellow Pages
Making the most of your advertising

By Michael Zervas

Recent changes in the Yellow Pages industry have left advertisers with a bewildering array of choices. Currently there are more than 7,000 directories available to advertisers. There are now more than 200 publishers, and the average directory has more than 2,500 headings to choose from. Yellow Pages advertising has grown so much that in 1990 revenue topped $8.9 billion, making it the fourth largest advertising medium behind newspapers, television and direct mail. Understanding consumer attitudes toward the Yellow Pages and what they expect from them will help you to develop an effective campaign. Also, capturing a demographic profile will help to determine if this is a good medium to use in your advertising mix. In 1996, Mediamark Research Inc. compared the profile of adult media users of Yellow Pages, newspaper, radio, magazine, outdoor and TV. Yellow Pages users are better-educated, more affluent professionals who move more and, therefore, are less familiar with services and products offered in their area. Similarly, a 1996 industry usage study conducted by Statistical Research Inc. shows several useful statistics. (See sidebar.) A review of the Yellow Pages industry coupled with this information will give you a good start on developing an effective Yellow Pages campaign.


Although there are numerous Yellow Pages publishers, they all fall into one of two categories. Utility publishers produce directories directly for telephone service providers. US West, PAC Bell, Bell Atlantic and BellSouth are examples. Independent publishers produce directories that are not associated with a specific telephone provider. Many of these independent directories publish books that are geared to a specific geographic area or target market.


There are several different types of directories. Utility or core directories are published by the area telephone company for their specific service area. Suburban or neighborhood directories serve a smaller, more centralized area already covered by a larger directory. Conversely, an area-wide or overlay directory encompasses a larger area made up of multiple smaller directories. Either the neighborhood or overlay directories can be published by utility or independent publishers. Finally, there are the business-to-business directories that target the buying needs of business consumers. This is in contrast to consumer directories that target the residential buyer. Adding further to this confusion are the companies that send out solicitations designed to look like bills. Many of these solicitations sport the "walking fingers" and are construed by the recipient as a bill for directory advertising. However, in most cases, these directories are never published or are distributed to areas well outside the pull of a particular self-storage facility.

Buying Ad Space

Prior to meeting with your Yellow Pages representative, do some research on your own customers. Customers use Yellow Pages at two different points in their buying decision: first, when they call you to check on prices, availability, hours, etc.; second, they may never call, but they may take down the address printed in the ad and just show up. In either case, you should ask your customers how they heard about you. On the phone, ask them which ad they responded to, and in which book. Track these results to get a better idea of which of your ads is drawing the most response. Next, do a zip-code survey of your existing customer base. Chart on a zip-code map (available at map specialty stores) which areas provide most of your customers. Compare this analysis to the directories available in your marketplace, making sure you spend your money in the book that reaches your market area. Consider, though, where your competition exists and if there are not quality competitors in parts of the market you'd like to attract, then consider advertising in directories that serve those specific markets.

There are several questions you should ask any publisher before committing to a space purchase. First, ask where the directory is distributed. It will do you no good to buy advertising in a directory that is charging you to reach people outside the area from which you can pull customers. Remember, most people are looking in the Yellow Pages because they want a convenient, cost-competitive place to frequent. How many copies of the directory are distributed and to whom? Determining the number of people you reach with a directory will allow you to derive the cost of reaching those people. This number is now an objective tool to measure and compare against other directories in the area. Understanding who you will be reaching--large populations of college students, primarily businesses, older resident, etc.--will help in determining the work of the book. It will also help later in designing your ad. Ask about the availability of discount and special pricing programs. Initially, a directory may not appear to be a great buy, but if you are able to negotiate a better price, it may have more value. Specifically, there are several programs you should ask about, including step-up programs, heading-based discount programs, and first-time buyer incentives. Step-up programs offer a certain ad size and charge for the next smaller size. Heading-based discounts periodically have special pricing for specific headings. These and other programs are often available, but sometimes aren't brought up by the local representative. Review the heading of the book in question to determine what your main competition is doing. This will help determine what size ad to buy. Yellow Pages ads are placed front to back from largest to smallest. If, for example, there are a lot of half-page ads, but none of them are near your business, perhaps you can buy a smaller ad and still be listed ahead of your main geographic competitors. Also, in reviewing the headings, you may uncover different headings on which your competition is not capitalizing.

1996 YPPA Industry Usage Study

  • Nine out of 10 adults used the Yellow Pages in 1996.
  • 63 percent of references were to display ads.
  • The average display user looked at 5.1 ads.
  • 87 percent of users purchase or intend to purchase a product/service from a business in the Yellow Pages.
  • 44 percent of users who contacted a business in the Yellow Pages were new customers.

Designing Your Ad

There are two goals to always achieve in designing your ad. One is to make your ad draw attention away from the competition. You can do this by the creative use of design elements. The second is to tell the prospective customer the information he wants to know. Remember, the majority of people who are using the Yellow Pages have made a decision to buy. They are only trying to decide where. First, let's discuss the key sales elements successful Yellow Pages ads should have.

The Basic RASCIL Factors

Reliability. Show years in business, association with a well-known company, trade association memberships, etc.

Authorized Sales Service. List brands that customers will recognize and trust.

Safety and Protection. Mention licensed, bonded, insured or similar protection factors.

Completeness of Information. Assure the customer you can supply what he needs. Describe special facilities or kinds of customers served.

Illustration. Help tell your story with artwork. Add to the attractiveness of the ad. Catch the customer's eye with art.

Location. Tell where you are located, how to get there and what areas you serve.

SPECIAL Factors for Retail Stores

Size of Ad. As ad size increases, attention and choice behavior increases.

Phone Numbers. List additional telephone numbers that will help indicate close proximity or size of operation.

Expertness. Show the length of years in business, professional titles, individual expertise, personalities, firm size, major clients, etc.

Clarity of Presentation. Achieve the right balance between the amount of information and the size of the ad.

Individual Product Types. List the number of different types of products carried.

Amount of Information. Show as much different information as possible within the confines of the ad. The more topics of information the better.

Location by Area Description. Give specific information to help customers find you i.e., a map, district or region, proximity to public transportation, or a well-known landmark. When you have decided on the sales elements to be contained in your ad, the next step is to consider the actual design of the ad. As mentioned earlier, the goal is to have your ad jump off the page. The following are a few ways to accomplish this:

  • Banner: Utilize this element to reinforce your name or to draw the reader into the ad. Do not repeat the heading of the directory in the banner of the ad. Too often, ads will have a heading as their banner. The reader (who has turned to this section) knows what they are looking for. They are trying to decide where to buy. Use a short headline that promotes some aspect of your business that is unique.
  • Illustration: It is proven that an illustration or photograph will draw the reader's eye. Incorporating an illustration or photograph can only help your ad stand out in contrast to ads that only utilize black type on yellow paper. Remember to have your artwork created professionally, and to keep it simple. Complex artwork usually does not reproduce very well and may end up making your ad less appealing.
  • Copy: Earlier, we talked about the sales elements that your copy should discuss. Now is when you should address how the copy should work from a design standpoint. Keep your copy points succinct and easy to read. If the customer cannot find the information easily and quickly, he will turn toward your competition. Remember, this is the only form of advertising where your competition is right next to you. Also, position the copy so that the reader's eye is pulled down on the page to the phone number. And make sure that the phone number is large and easy to read. Finally, limit the number of type styles used in the ad. Too many styles can make the ad appear jumbled and more difficult to read.
  • Miscellaneous: Other techniques for creating an attention-getting ad are utilizing reverses (the design is yellow type on a black background instead of black on yellow), drop shadows (whereby the object in question is given a background shadow to simulate the effects of depth and dimension) and starbursts.

Does Red Get Read?

In designing your ad, many publishers will offer the use of an additional color (usually red, but sometimes blue or green) to add contrast to your ad. However, there is a premium for this color, usually in the neighborhood of 35 percent to 50 percent of the total cost of the ad. In most cases, the money is better spent on purchasing a larger ad. Independent studies have shown that color in an ad does not increase the likelihood of a business getting a call. In some cases, it actually decreases that chance. And when you consider that most directories are organized from largest to smallest, it is better to spend money on a larger ad (therefore moving to the front of the heading) instead of buying a smaller ad with color in the back of the section. Your goal is to get your ad seen before your competition's.


Monitoring the results of your Yellow Pages placement is vitally important. By knowing where your customers are coming from, you will be able to objectively measure the return on your Yellow Pages investment. As the years progress, you will be able to use this tracking information to measure changes and improvements in your ad design. New directories may be tested and compared with other forms of media. Tracking can be as simple as asking the customer how he heard about your site, or as sophisticated as a dedicated line whose number only appears in one directory being used to track all incoming Yellow Pages calls. Regardless of the method employed, the only thing you can do wrong in tracking is not to do it.

Michael Zervas is a partner at American Ad Management, a national ad agency specializing in Yellow Pages, recruitment and Internet advertising programs. He can be reached at (800) 423-6468 or [email protected].

Five Vital Statistics

  • 81 percent of consumers agreed they start at the beginning of a heading when they do not have a firm in mind.
  • 70 percent of consumers agreed they usually look at the larger ads in the Yellow Pages when they are not sure where to make the purchase.
  • 66 percent of all consumers viewed businesses with large ads as having an established reputation.
  • 76 percent of consumers said the Yellow Pages often influenced them to contact a business they had not considered before looking in the Yellow Pages.
  • 83 percent of advertisers agreed that Yellow Pages reach customers not reached by other media for people already in the market to buy.
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