Yellow Pages
Advertising Guidelines

Your Yellow Pages ad's job in the directory is to quickly and clearly show that your company has the quickest delivery, the widest choices, the finest quality, the most understanding staff, etc. Your Yellow Pages user wants information. Provide as much as you can — because the serious shoppers will read all they can before making a decision.

Buying space in the Yellow Pages is not really advertising — it is a directional message.  Your job with your Yellow Pages ad is not to inspire people to buy what you offer.  You are not trying to create a need or want, the directory users already have that and — that's why they are letting their fingers do the walking. Your Yellow Pages message now becomes the tip of your marketing iceberg.  All your public relations work and other advertising must now cause the directory user to say "I've heard of these people — I'll give them a call right now..."  Yellow Pages advertising is the last step before one-to-one salesmanship takes over.  

In many cases, the Yellow Pages take undeserved credit for many other cumulative marketing elements.  The answer to the question "How did you hear about us?" may come out "Yellow Pages."  But it will take probing to discover that your radio interview, your feature article, your direct mail flyers, your in-store displays and a few ads in your local newspaper all played a part.

Yellow Pages advertising can be the reminder message for the prospect who has forgotten about you, until that ad pops into view.  It's easy to be forgotten.  Yellow Pages are your last line of defense.

Your effort is not to get people to go shopping, but to get them to select you for a specific reason.  They have already decided that the car needs new tires, or the water heater needs replacing, or the wife needs a new watch.   What you have to do is show your points of difference.  

Reassure your prospects of your reliability.  Consider such statements as "25 years of service," or "Widget specialists in Chicago since 1955," or “Family owned and operated." 

Your dedication to service can also be shown with such elements as: "Free installation... training at no charge... free estimates... same day service... open 24 hours... Emergency service... Order by telephone... Open Saturdays and Sundays... Collect calls accepted... Call toll free: 1-(800) 321-1234... Rush orders handled at no extra charge," etc.

Avoid specific guarantee statements and actual prices. Too much can change over the year the Yellow Pages directory is in use (Not to mention the several months your ad awaits publication of this big book.) Most Yellow Pages will not allow specific prices or specifics discount percentages.  If you have proven numbers that help people see how big your are, use them: "More than 1300 installations each month...74 major brands in stock...

One of the biggest mistakes we see in Yellow Page advertisers is putting the company name anywhere but at the bottom of the ad.  Consumers have been trained to instinctively look to the bottom of the advertisement to see who the advertiser is. 
To put the company name elsewhere serves only to confuse readers.   

Another bit of foolishness we see is phone numbers in huge type sizes.  There is nothing motivational about a number.  It should be big enough to not be missed by a quick glance at the add.  And no bigger.

The Yellow Pages staff will design your ad for nothing — and that's exactly what it is worth: Nothing.  Don't have the people who throw the ads together for most of your competition assemble your ad.  Play it smart: have an advertising agency do it.  You will pay no more than the equivalent of another month's ad payment, but the investment in a strong, dignified ad should be well worth it.

Particularly if you select an alternate Yellow Pages directory, you could be victimized by inexperienced people designing your ad. 

Consider using actual photographs.  Reproduction of most Yellow Pages is good enough to create attractive images... 

Color can draw attention too, but only in the hands of a skillful, marketing based designer.  Don't sprinkle color around.  Use it for a single high impact element. Find out what other color ads might appear on the same page.

Regular phone company Yellow Pages do not allow ads to contain specific prices or superlative statements such as "The lowest prices in town... $10 per call" etc.

Don't wait until the last minute. Indecision is not the key to flexibility here.  It's just too easy to be pressured into a year-long marketing decision which will not make you happy. A Yellow Pages directory on deadline is not a pretty sight.  You can hardly expect attentive, creative support from a staff in a frenzy to get a two-inch thick book to print.

Because of the pressure of such a huge task, the staff still sets artificial deadlines for their own best interests.   If you put your ad to bed with your Yellow Pages rep a month ago and just now discover that you want an agency to design it for you, you may still be able to provide a camera-ready copy in time for printing.

Your first Yellow Pages consideration should be the official directory put out by your phone company. Even if other directories have earlier deadlines, get this directory handled first.  Don't skimp on the main book because the other directories have soaked up most of your budget.

Keep a file on your Yellow Pages ads and add your ideas to it throughout the year. As a good phrase comes to mind, jot it down and put it in the file.  Most importantly, listen to what callers are saying to you.  They may be spotting something that attracts them in your ad what you have not made prominent.

Scheduling your Yellow Pages means not letting directory sales reps drop in on you until you are completely prepared to discuss your needs with them.  Many sales reps can provide you with helpful information—but never forget that they are commission sales people, not objective marketing consultants.

Almost every business can benefit from Yellow Pages advertising.  Studies show 90 percent of the adults who refer to the Yellow Pages take some action upon their use of the directory: they call, visit or write at least one of the businesses listed.  Half of the users make a purchase within 48 hours.  About three-quarters of Yellow Page users report looking at more than one ad. 

People use the Yellow Pages because they are specifically looking for something.
What do your customers do?  Is your field one of those that receives frequent Yellow Page user attention?  Is there a lot of advertising in your category?

One of the odd  aspects of "Yellow Pages" is that the phone company does not own that title.  Anyone can use it and a lot of Brand X outfits do. Even that great "Walking Fingers" logotype is not the exclusive property of anyone. The rights to the name and the symbol were lost years ago.

Today there are several different types of Yellow Pages. There proliferation causes much confusion as to which directory is "the real Yellow Pages." Someday, the way we use Yellow Pages may change, but the book produced by your local telephone company is far and away the leader.  Just as the face of television is being changed by cable TV, someday there may be some strong second buys in the directory field.  Right now, it calls for caution and study.

The metropolitan book most of us are most comfortable with is called a core directory or a system book. It covers what ever area the phone company considers its boundaries.  With few exceptions, this is the book to be in.  The core book, based upon use is still the best buy.  People have been in the habit of using that book for decades and people do not change habits easily.  Another book at half the price is no bargain if the majority of the population is not accustomed to using it. 

One of the strong points of the official Yellow Pages is that new phone users are given a book as soon as their instruments are hooked up.  None of the non-phone company Yellow Pages publishers can make that claim.  Since new residents are forming new buying patterns and learning to count on the Yellow Pages, this immediate delivery is a strong plus for many advertising businesses.  The official book goes to every home and business with a phone--plus hundreds or even thousands of phone booths.

Another advantage of the phone company's directory is that if you close your business, you can stop paying for your ads.   If you sell your business, the new owner can either pick up your phone number and the Yellow Pages ad payments, or drop out.  The independent companies usually get your entire payment as the book goes to press.

Obviously, businesses have needs which do not apply to most consumers and publishers in many areas have issued books cataloged this way.  One drawback is where to draw the line on listings.  Certainly, consumers would not need to hire an advertising agency, but both consumers and businesses need information on rental companies.

"Why pay for coverage in the entire greater metropolitan area when most all of your customers come from your immediate neighborhood?" So goes the saleman's pitch for one of these smaller, locally focused directories.  The first question that comes to mind here is: "That's nice—but exactly what percent of phone users faithfully use this book, as opposed to the real Yellow Pages directory that the phone company delivers?" 

For nearly all businesses, the people who live or work closest are the most likely to become customers. So, if you can be provided with proof that a local area Yellow Pages directory attracts the people you want, it could be a good buy. Recognize that the numbers involved will be smaller than with a core directory. However, you may be able to capture more business or sell more minor services or products.

One of the advantages of neighborhood books would be that you could offer free delivery or free pick-up and know that your customers will not be 20 miles away on the other side of the city.

All sorts of minority groups have been the focal point of these directories. We have seen such books as "the Filipino Yellow Pages," "The Christian Yellow Pages," along with book for Hispanics, blacks, older Americans, gays and so on.   Once again, the real value of such books is determined by your learning exactly what percentage of exactly how many people actually use the directory faithfully and frequently.  

When does the book come out and when does the publisher want your money?  Remember, with the phone company's Yellow Pages, you pay your ad space bill right along with your month-to-month phone use bill. With some Brand X directories, you may be asked to provide at least a deposit months before the book is scheduled to come out. So if you are shelling out several hundred dollars, you will want some iron-clad understanding of just who you are doing business with.

With any directory, you will want to know how the books are distributed.  Horror stories abound of dumpsters being filled with these publications as minimum wage delivery people bail out of their responsibilities.

• When does the directory come out?
• What is the real deadline for camera-ready art?
(which is the only way to give any ad to any publication)
• What deposit is required and when?
• How is the directory distributed--and is there on-going distribution throughout the year?
• Can users get free replacement copies conveniently?
• Can circulation figures be proven?   Find out how many books are printed, how many are immediately distributed and how many are held back for distribution during the year. A certain percentage of those printed may never fall into the hands of potential users.

Ask your sales rep for specific prices about the ad sizes you are considering. With each business telephone number you get a plain vanilla, tiny type listing.  For a bit more you can have it bold faced. For more yet you can add a few lines to create an in-column ad. You reach the bunny slopes of display advertising with what the Yellow Pages people call a trademark ad. Your ad is still in the alphabetical column, but it has been beefed up with your company logo. About the only selling  message in such ads is the line at the bottom that says "for information phone..." or for service call..." 

This is not to say that listings in the alphabetical section of the Yellow Pages are not important. These small messages can pay off far beyond their  few words for three reasons. First of all, some people don't know exactly what they are looking for as they look through the directory. Your key message here can pay off, as in: "Open 12 hours a day in Downtown Bugscuffle."  Second, you need the column listing for those shoppers who remember your name and are looking for your address and phone number. And finally, a sharp message in your column can pull in a few of the people who were looking for another company at the time.

In the end, your Yellow Pages budget comes down to spending what it takes to get the business you need. You can't simply use a percentage of your gross business to set your budget.  As long as your investment in advertising brings you more than a dollar profit, keep at it.

The average business spends about 4 percent of its gross sales on advertising, but so what? Are you average? Or, as is more likely to be the case, there are several circumstances that make your situation different from average.  Even zeroing in on more specific statistics helps only a bit.  Retail advertisers spend less than this. For example, hardware stores typically spend just over 2 percent. Office products spend about one and a quarter percent.

As with all advertising, size and impact increase together. However, a half page ad written and designed by skilled marketing communicators can grab readers better than an ad twice the size that is assembled by the Yellow Pages staff.

Bigger ads have the capability of grabbing proportionately more than smaller ads.  That means, at least in theory, the bigger the ad the less the cost for each customer the ad generates.  Ad reps know this, but they often blow a lot of smoke about how much more effective their big ads can be.  Make them prove any such statistics. And take a close look at any figures your are provided. Remember — these are commission sales people. The bigger the ad you buy, the more they make.

The big ads in the Yellow Pages can pull in the indecisive directory users.   If a shopper does not have a specific business in mind, the bigger ads will be seen first, and thus have the chance of getting someone involved in its message.

Connected to the size of the ad is its placement in Yellow Pages. So if you buy a bigger ad, you are most likely also acquiring a better place in the directory.  All things being equal (which they rarely are) ads on the top half of the page and toward the outside of the page get more attention. This being the case, the Yellow Pages people are going to be courting you with better placement along with bigger size.

So important is placement to advertisers that most Yellow Pages offices have a set ranking of who gets the best locations.  It goes something like this: Ads of the same size are ranked by the seniority of the advertiser.  If you have bought that quarter page ad for ten years, you will always stay ahead of the company that sprang up two years after you and uses the same size ad. Unless that company buys a bigger ad. In that case, the increased ad size gives the advertiser a priority just behind the seniority listing.

Yellow Pages people don't think much of any advertiser that reduces the size of an ad.  In that case, that advertiser's placement priority drops to nearly the lowest ranking considered.  So as long as you are keeping your display ad size or increasing it, the directory people will treat you sweet. If you cut back, you lose your date of rank and fall into Yellow Pages purgatory.

If as much concern went into the strategy and creative thinking of Yellow Pages ads as go into this concern for placement, the competitive picture would be a lot different. A strong ad will grab the eye anywhere on the page.  And a weak ad in the upper outside of a page is not going to magically attract all the shoppers.

The size ad you buy in the directories depends on what your competitors are doing.  You only need to be a bit larger than your competition to stand out. If in a particular category, no competitor is running an ad larger than a quarter page, you don't need to go to a full page, just the next size larger than a quarter page.

Size is the first thing Yellow Pages users see, so it is important. If you can, be bigger than the competition.  Failing that, make sure your ad has more impact than your competition.  You have only past issues of the annual directory to guide you.  Your sales rep probably does not know what the final layout of the pages of your category will be. If he or she did, you might not be able to learn of it anyway.  So your Yellow Pages ad strategy, like so much in marketing, is largely guesswork.

The one size display ads we would avoid is the single column display ad—if it is not placed alphabetically where people might look for your business. Most of these are about two and a half inches high.  If they are not in the alphabetical columns, such ads are too small to get a powerful position, and they are too easily shuffled to a lower, obscure corner of a page.  They lack the advantage of being alphabetically listed and also lacks the power of a larger ad. The smallest display we recommend is at least two columns wide.

One of the gimmicks used to add to the profits of the Yellow Pages publishers has been added colors in ads.  Adding red to your ad, for example, can add 50 percent or more to your bill. Use proven, professional help in designing your ad with a second color.  Since it costs so much extra, the temptation is to sprinkle the color around. The color needs to be placed so it has a powerful effect on the eyes scanning the page. Strong solid black can be just as eye-catching as red. Because of the problems of print-through on some papers, some Yellow Page publishers may require large solids to be screened at perhaps 80 percent. This should not affect your design, if it is required.

It is important to realize that if your ad is the only one on a two-page spread that uses a second color, it can be effective. If it is only one of several with added color, the effectiveness will be much reduced—and your added investment wasted. Can you find out if your ad will be the only one on its page using color—maybe.  It would seem unlikely that your sales rep could find this out and even more unlikely that he or she could guarantee this as a condition of your using a second color.

In Yellow Pages where other colors are available, several colors are usually a waste of money.  Green and blue lack the  punch of red. With the thin newsprint of most Yellow Pages directories, you are limited in the ability of colors to build impact.

Unlike ads in newspapers and magazines, there is an extra level of planning needed in Yellow Pages advertising.  You not only need to decide what your marketing message in the ad will be, but under what listing categories the ad will appear.

First of all, does the category make sense?  If you have a problem finding where your products or services should be listed, chances are your prospects will face the same confusion.  For example, professional speakers are listed under lecturers.   Perhaps this avoids confusion with stereo speakers, but top speakers and trainers don't call themselves lecturers.

Who is advertising in the category you are considering?  The amount of advertising you would buy depends of how much your competition is investing.  If some of your competitors are missing, it might be worth finding out why.  Collecting past issues of Yellow Pages directories can give you a historical perspective on who has expanded, reduced or died off.

Recognize that the purpose of your ad is to turn away unqualified prospects, as well as to attract good ones.  How you phrase your message could result in hundreds of nuisance calls. If you want to avoid these, put the extra effort into your copywriting.

We believe that full page Yellow Pages ads are an affectation of publisher's greed, rather than a tool having any marketing sense.  Few advertisers are making full use of the communication opportunity they now have with their quarter page and half page ads. Doubling the size just keeps the viscous competitive one-upsmanship between advertisers going. 

Not every advertiser in your category is really competition.  Some firms will be too far away. Others will have a specialty that you don't offer.  If you have a specialty, make sure it stands out. If your business attracts people from the immediate area, be sure the name of that neighborhood stands out in your ad.

The alphabetical advantage in Yellow Pages listings seems so appealing to some retailers that their companies take on some odd ball names.  For example, we know a fellow named Greene who has a driving school.  Greene is not far down the alphabet, but that's not good enough for Mr. Greene. 

Not even Bob Greene's first name is close enough for him to be happy. No, his firm is listed as A-Bob Greene Driving School.  And we can assure you that his nickname is Bob, not A-Bob.  There are even worse examples of trying to cut to the front of the Yellow Pages' alphabetical line. We have all seen the A-absurdities. AAA, AAAA, AAAAA, etc.  

Large regional or national companies get the benefit of discounts (or advertising agency commissions) on multiple directory display ads.  Such advertising usually calls for a company to advertising in three or more states, or be in 20 or more directories.  Obviously, this is big business.  There are advertising agencies who specialize in handling such accounts and they make their money on the traditional 15 percent commission provided.  Such commissions are not provided for your local directory, as they are for magazines and radio and television stations.

The basic look to all your messages should be the same.  The message in the Yellow Pages ad is not the same.  The people looking at your ad are already convinced they want what you can provide.  The ad's job is not to give them reasons why--they came up with the reasons before the flipped open the Yellow Pages.

The best assurance for a high-impact ad is a dedicated advertising agency that understands your business. You might sale money going directly to a graphic designer, but the risk of missing the key marketing ideas in your ad are greater. 
Avoid what is called pub-set in the advertising business. That's short for typesetting by the publication and its the lowest form of marketing communication. No one at any publication can have any one advertiser's best interests at heart. There is just too much work to do and too little time.

If we can help you — please contact us
If you have any questions about the material above,  or on any aspect of marketing communication, we welcome an opportunity to speak with you.


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