Expert Advice on Yellow Pages Advertising

January 2, 2008

7 Min Read
Expert Advice on Yellow Pages Advertising

In May 2007, Bill Gates predicted that the death of the Yellow Pages would occur over the next five years for the under-50 crowd. But based on statistics from independent third-party studies conducted by respected research companies CRM Associates and Knowledge Networks/SRI, Id say Gates report is greatly exaggerated.

Case in point: In 2006, the Yellow Pages Storage heading listed 26 million references nationally. Studies of the top 300 Yellow Pages headings are conducted by third-party research firms every year, and Storage continues to remain in that list; in 2006, it was No. 107. In fact, the use of this heading in print Yellow Pages shows a 7 percent annual growth. Whats more, the majority of Yellow Pages users for the Storage heading are between the ages of 25 and 49.

This is not to say the Internet is not effective in drawing new customers. Statistics show that 6 percent of new storage customers are lured through local Web searches; but 72 percent still come from print Yellow Pages. Yes, the Internet search numbers are growing, but print is still the first and foremost way to attract prospects.

Pump It Up

Well leave the topic of Internet directories for another day. Right now, lets talk about how you can pump up your facility call volume to achieve the industry average of a 3-to-1 return on investment (ROI). If you havent yet set your marketing budget, note that the average Yellow Pages print expenditure per property is 6 percent of total annual revenue. Some spend more, some less; a lot depends on occupancy level.

What elements should you consider when developing your print Yellow Pages marketing plan?

  • Directory selection 

  • Ad placement and rate negotiation 

  • Design, layout and ad copy 

The Yellow Pages publishing industry has become highly competitive. Gone are the days when consumers received only one directory. Now, most people receive a primary (or utility) directory published by their local phone carrier. They also receive one or more secondary directories. The largest and most well known is the Yellow Book. Still, more than 200 other directory publishers operate locally or regionally.

Choosing Directories

The primary/utility directory has the highest market share 99 percent of the time and is, therefore, the directory in which you invest the majority of your Yellow Pages dollars for that market.

Heres how to proceed:

  • Contact the directory advertising department, and it will assign you a local sales representative. First, ask for studies conducted by third-party (unbiased) research firms to ensure the directory has the highest market share.

  • Ask which ZIP codes are covered by the directory delivery area.

  • Ask for tear pages (the actual pages for your heading from the current directory) and look at what competitors are doing. Storage advertisers have a distinct advantage over those in other industries: Youre not competing against everyone in the heading, only those within your service radius.

  • Follow the above steps for each directory covering your service area.

Determine Size, Placement and Rates

Once youve inspected tear pages and competitors placement, choose an ad size that promises a good, competitive position. Your best negotiating tool is knowledge, so heres a key piece of information: Yellow Pages ads are placed first by size (largest first) within an ad-size family, such as full pages, half pages, quarter pages, etc. Also, seniority wins.

For example, the first advertiser to buy a full page will always own the first full-page position as long as he continues to renew his ad. The same will hold true for the second, third, fourth position, etc. If you buy a full page, yours will be the last full page listed in the next issue unless another advertiser orders a full page after you.

Request the appropriate rate, along with prices for enhancements such as color or white knockout (background). Sales reps always try to sell the biggest, most enhanced ad for commissions and quotas. They will use statistics showing that enhanced ads get more calls; they wont tell you the highly inflated cost could greatly reduce your ROI. Avoid enhancements unless page design indicates your ad might be lost without them.

Now ask about discounts, especially if youre a new account. Ask whether newcomer discounts are ongoing or if they gradually disappear, dropping by some percentage point each year. That way, you can estimate your actual costs for subsequent years, keeping in mind that publishers will increase rates by about 2 percent to 5 percent annually. If youre a current advertiser, ask about discounts for upgrading your ad size or enhancements.

Elements of Design

You only have about 30 seconds to attract a prospective customer, so your ad needs to be concise, persuasive and uncluttered, yet engaging enough to catch attention and complete enough to answer questions quickly. First, grab the readers attention with a humorous graphic, tag line or unique special offer. Next, address what is important to the storage customer:

Location. First and foremost, people want a convenient location. If youre in a metropolitan area, location (not just city name) should be displayed prominently. For example, if youre on a well-known street, display the cross street or landmark. Consider including directions, such as Right off Highway 1, Jones Drive Exit. And be sure to feature a simple map in the ad, using landmarks if possible.

Call to action. Every customer likes to get a deal; make a special offer, but dont make it too specific in case you want to change it. For example, you might want to say A Free Months Rent but follow it with Call for details so you can change it. Or, you may say Special Offer: Call for Details to drive inquiries.

Accents. Consider using a starburst or boxes or color to draw the eye and initiate calls. Emphasize features that differentiate you from the competition. For example, are you the only one, or one of the few, that can boast climate control as one of your competitive advantages? Be careful in the number of features you advertise, though, because using more than three makes the ad look jumbled.

Graphics. To draw attention to your ad, photos will be most eye-catching and are more contemporary. The use of line drawings may say old fashioned, leading consumers to believe (often incorrectly) that your facility is out of date, both in style and technology. Clip art (heaven forbid!) doesnt even enter into the design vocabulary.

Copy points. The best way to know what your customers want is to ask them why they came to you and like storing at your facility. Theyre probably very interested in things like security, gate-access hours or office hours. Use copy points for these features.

Yellow Pages publishers will provide ad design for you as a free service. But keep in mind they have no vested interest in making your ad stand out above your competitors. When evaluating your ad, ask the following questions:

  • Does the headline grab attention?

  • Does it list specific products or services?

  • Does it use keywords, such as guarantee, best value, largest selection, etc.?

  • Does it anticipate the users questions and answer them?

  • Does it make it easy to contact the business?

  • Does it feature the advantages that set this business apart from competitors?

Making the Most of It

To get a leg up on the competition, you have to be smart about your Yellow Pages print advertising. Do your homework: Know which directories cover your facilitys service radius. By being an informed consumer, youll be in a better position to get the best rates from publishers. Finally, understand the elements of design that make for a successful ad.

All of the above will help get your phone ringing. If youre not getting at least 72 percent of new customers from print Yellow Pages, then youre either lucky enough to be in an area where drive-bys draw new customers, or youre missing an opportunity to achieve an average 3-to-1 ROI through this medium. 

Sue Weinman is a senior account executive representing the Yellow Pages Division of The Michaels/Wilder Group which is an advertising agency that specializes in Yellow Pages, Internet marketing and recruitment advertising. Based in Phoenix, the award-winning firm works with hundreds of self-storage owners, operators and managers to increase there markeing capacity. For more information, call 800.423.6468; visit

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