Sue Weinman of Michaels Wilder Inc. advises self-storage operators to take advantage of the downturn in the economy and negotiate better deals with Yellow Pages advertising reps. By no means should marketing come to a halt for self-storage owners during tough times. Instead, the budget for Yellow Pages should be evaluated and delegated wisely.

February 17, 2009

4 Min Read
Self-Storage Yellow Pages Advertising in Troubled Times

How many times have you heard the Yellow Pages aren’t used anymore ... that it will be an extinct medium in five years? And how many times have you heard those who track Yellow Pages advertising on a regular basis say, “If you cut your Yellow Pages budget without measuring the response and return on investment (ROI), you’ll be throwing out the baby with the bath water”?

Let me begin by acknowledging the relationship of self-storage and advertising in the Yellow Pages has shifted. Yes, things are different. In a nutshell, the days of “if you build it, and advertise it in the Yellow Pages, they will come” are gone.

Usage of Yellow Pages directories by consumers seeking storage may have dropped, but not nearly as dramatically as Web-bloggers and Internet-dependent techies will have you believe. Let me clarify this in numbers: 20 years ago you may have gotten 85 percent of new customers from Yellow Pages. Now the average is closer to 60 percent. More important, the average ROI is still about 3 to 1. As an average, that means some directories and/or markets may not even deliver a break-even; others may bring in a 6-to-1 return. The only way to know conclusively is to measure the performance of an ad with call tracking.

Then and Now

In the old days of Yellow Pages advertising, the publishers would charge full rate, rarely offer discounts, and those rates would go up at least 5 percent every year. Advertisers might not have liked it, but they grudgingly paid whatever was necessary because the medium delivered.

Now publishers are offering discounted rates and many are investing in phone numbers that track the ad performance in order to prove value to the advertiser. They are providing these phone numbers free of charge, along with a monthly (or even online real-time) tracking report. As a storage owner or manager given the responsibility to protect a very large investment, it is incumbent upon you to know what marketing and advertising programs work.

Enter Into Negotiations

You can take advantage of this climate of economic alarm and misinformation by negotiating with your Yellow Pages rep. Don’t count on getting the same size ad at a renewal rate lower than you are currently paying because that rarely happens. However, you should ask YP reps to put their money where their mouth is by providing a free tracking number to prove the value (or lack thereof) of an ad.

Ask for a larger ad at the same rate as the current one; ask for free ads in the same heading if there are a lot of ads in that book. Statistics show that a second ad farther back in the heading delivers excellent returns.

Another suggestion: Ask for free color and/or a white knockout to make the ad “pop.” You will likely be much more successful today than you would have been 10 years ago negotiating for free color for your ad. Statistics show that color ads do get more phone calls than those in black and yellow. On the other hand, the price of color is so high that you could end up with more calls yet a lower return due to the highly increased cost.

During this strapped economic dip, you would be surprised at how much more quickly publishers will offer free color enhancements if you maintain current advertising. Here is something else that can boost call volume: Ask for a “print-Internet” bundle. Some publishers will give you a free dollar-for-dollar print match when you buy their Internet Yellow Pages program. A number of your customers are using the Internet to search for storage. All of the Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) sites partner with major search engines, so you may get double exposure–whether your customer is searching through an IYP site or a search engine.

Don’t Come to a Halt

Studies conducted by the American Association of Advertising Agencies have tracked advertising spending during every recession and tallied the results. “Those who reduce spending usually lose market share and sales. Furthermore, they then take longer to recuperate than those who maintained their level of spending,” studies conclude. “The bottom line? The advertiser who does not cut back can move ahead during the recession and afterward, capturing share from those who, hesitant and unsure, do cut back.”

Needless to say, you don’t want to bring your advertising to a complete halt. Moreover, rather than sitting back and complaining about the economy, the savvy storage owner will look for opportunities to outdo the competition. It may mean working a little harder to find those opportunities, but working smarter is really the key to thriving during downtimes.

Sue Weinman is vice president, Yellow Page Services, of Michaels Wilder Inc., an advertising agency specializing in Yellow Pages, Internet marketing and talent recruitment for the self-storage industry since 1989. For more information, visit

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