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Get More Green from Your Yellow Pages Ad

THIS WHOLE YELLOW Pages thing bugs me. If youre a Yellow Pages ad sales rep, you probably wont like this column, so Id recommend you turn the page or go make a sandwich. If youre a contractor, this column probably wont be great news either, which now makes me wonder why CONTRACTOR is even printing it. Oh, well, Im going to just say it anyway. As plumbers, your Yellow Pages ad is probably draining

THIS WHOLE YELLOW Pages thing bugs me. If you’re a Yellow Pages ad sales rep, you probably won’t like this column, so I’d recommend you turn the page or go make a sandwich. If you’re a contractor, this column probably won’t be great news either, which now makes me wonder why CONTRACTOR is even printing it.

Oh, well, I’m going to just say it anyway.

As plumbers, your Yellow Pages ad is probably draining you when it should be pumping profits. And you end up in marketing hot water as a result. (If I use one more plumbing analogy, I’m going to blow a valve.)

Here’s why ...

Studies show that 77% of contractors invest more than half their marketing budget in the Yellow Pages. Unfortunately, this investment often reaps a poor payoff, averaging a dismal 24% of plumbing sales (just 13.4% for HVAC). So, for half your marketing money, you may get a quarter or less of your sales. Not good.

But we know the traffic is there. Plus, YP shoppers are buyers. (More than 50% buy within 48 hours.) The problem with your lead count is the ad. And the reason is fairly simple: You can’t stand out by sameness.

Throughout the Yellow Pages, contractors are paying good money for bad ads that blend into one bland mass. “But that’s where my customers find me!” says the brainwashed contractor. (If your customers are going to the Yellow Pages to find you, you have a Customer Retention problem. We’ll cover that in a future column if you write to Publisher and Editorial Director Bob Miodonski and tell him you can’t live without this information.)

But who’s to say customers will even notice your company among all the clichés, starbursts, pictures of service trucks and cartoons of dripping faucets that fill the section?

(Oh, the outhouse and the overflowing toilet are always real crowd pleasers. These rank at the very bottom of attraction among your primary target group of females.)

For the amount of money invested, and the length of time the ad runs, plus the fact that you’re seen next to every competitor you have, your ad must stand out. In reviewing and creating thousands of Yellow Page ads per year, I’m convinced that here’s how to make that happen:


A headline is the most valuable part of the ad — worth 80% of your ability to pull leads. But be warned: Your company name is NOT a headline. “Since 1972” isn’t either. Instead, give a clear and concise statement of meaningful benefits to your customers that speak to their wants, not yours.


Make sure your ad paints a direct, logical route to your phone number. Try this: Draw a tic-tac-toe board through your ad. Number spaces 1-3 across then all the way to 9 in the bottom right.

Spaces 1-3 are the most valuable by far; that’s where the headline goes. Then, eye pattern studies show the viewer’s eye goes quickly on the diagonal back through the ad, (3,5,7) stopping, we hope, at something interesting, then landing on No. 9, which is surprisingly next in value to the headline space.

This is also known as “Z-pattern” advertising. Your ad should look like a small magazine article with “pods” of interest that entertain, instead of confuse. How? Like so:

Benefit blocks

Put the benefits of your offering in an easy-to-find lineup, not scattered all over like a broken dish. Remember, DO NOT tell me what it is; tell me what it does. That’s the only way customers attach value. You tell them what it is and you invite comparative shopping. Tell them what it does and you solve problems, which is nearly 100% of the reason they’re in the Yellow Pages under “Plumbing” in the first place.

No bragging allowed

This is a tough reality. Naturally, you may feel that if you’re paying for the ad, the point is to say all sorts of wonderful things about yourself. Nope, that’s what everybody else thinks and does, to the yawning disinterest of consumers.

But here’s a little secret: People only care how your qualifications serve them. Therefore, the subject line becomes “You and Your.” Therefore, it’s not “We have 24 hour service ...”; it’s “You get 24 hour service... .”

You’re paying a fortune for your Yellow Pages ad. It is supposed to produce leads, not showcase your vans, silly graphics or spout innumerable sentence fragments. So tell your prospects “why” they should call using the personal language of “you” to pull them into the copy.

Does any of this really work?

We’ve designed Yellow Pages ads based on these principles for years. And a few small changes in a Yellow Pages ad can translate into dramatically different results.

For instance, not long ago, we rewrote an ad using our formula. We dropped from four colors down to one (bringing some immediate savings), while using the same size ad in the same book. After making a few simple adjustments, this new ad outperformed its predecessor by 566%!

Sometimes, we make more dramatic changes, as in the case of a plumbing contractor in the Chicago area. He’d had a full-page ad for years — and paid $39,600 for the luxury. During the last six months the ad ran, his lead count was 272, which is not bad. Actually, a $72 cost per lead is quite good. But he wanted better, so he reconfigured his strategy.

He made the dramatic decision to drop his Yellow Pages ad size. Not to a half, or to one-third, but down to a dollar bill size ad! He also shelved the full color ad and went with black and white. (We had to talk him into this part.)

From this cut, he saved a whopping $21,870. We advised that the savings could more than pay for a series of “rifle shot” postcards over the year with much better results than the YP had been doing. Thus, he’d get more name recognition, keep his customers out of the Yellow Pages and generate a more predictable lead flow.

Yet the main goal was to drop his cost per lead. (That’s what Direct Response is about.) So the actual number of YP leads could drop — while he multiplied them with other more lucrative marketing — and he’d still come out ahead. But we weren’t prepared for what happened.

His lead count went up.

Over the equivalent six-month period, his leads increased to 324! This dropped his cost per lead to an absurd $27. So he pockets nearly $22,000, gets more leads, can invest more in Direct Response for acquisition plus get proactive about customer retention with the savings. You think this helped his business? All it took was a little shift in thinking, beginning with the following action ...

Step out in faith that your business will not “die” if you spend sanely in the Yellow Pages. We advise in the 24%-45% range of your TOTAL marketing budget, depending on your level of aggression and sales mix. Your leads will not evaporate if you create a “different” ad from your competitors. This should help you ...

Two free things you can get for suffering through this article:

Free Marketing Budget Calculator

Based on thousands of contractor profiles, these multiple-choice questions help you “connect the dots” for how much you should spend in each form of media, with each message, according to your company profile and goals.

Just send a polite request to [email protected] or fax on your letterhead. You won’t believe how fast you can figure your budget.

Same goes for ...

Free Yellow Pages Ad Critique

Just fax your Yellow Pages ad to us at 334/262-1115 with your polite request, and we’ll send you a one-page critique telling what’s broken and how we’d fix it. This could save or make you a fortune.

(Due to the volume of ads we receive, do not wait until your Yellow Pages ad deadline to send it!)

Your marketing is an investment. If it doesn’t pay, either yank it or change it. The same looking ad with the same layout and message is not going to get different results. Get creative and use the techniques we described or get a free critique.

Make your Yellow Pages ad pay you for a change!

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. For a free marketing newsletter, contractors can fax their letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115 or call 800/489-9099. Visit for other free information.

TAGS: Marketing