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Yellow Pages Advertising for Sign Shops

Get the most cost effective Yellow Pages advertising possible

By Fran Finley

Nowadays Barry Maher is gaining fame as an inspiring, informative and often hilarious keynote speaker. His new book, Filling the Glass: The Skeptic's Guide to Positive Thinking in Business has been dubbed a "must read" by business experts like Arizona Diamondbacks owner, Jerry Colangelo, and cited by Today's Librarian magazine as '[One of] The Seven Essential Popular Business Books.'

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  • Few people realize that Maher is also the author of the book, Getting the Most from Your Yellow Pages Advertising, and that he conducts workshops on Yellow Pages advertising at conventions and trade shows across the country. According to TIME, "Barry Maher has helped thousands of small businesses get the most cost effective Yellow Pages advertising possible. [He's] easily the most widely respected speaker, consultant and writer on the subject."

    We spoke with Barry Maher at his Santa Barbara, California, home.

    Does Yellow Pages advertising really work for sign professional?
    Does it work or can it work? It certainly can work. But if you don't pay attention to a few key rules of Yellow Pages advertising, it could well become nothing more than a monthly donation to the directory company.

    Can't you rely on your Yellow Pages sales rep for any help you need?
    Sometimes the rep can be part of the problem. Too many Yellow Page ads are thrown together in the few minutes the salesperson has left after he or she finishes trying to sell you a bigger ad. The unspoken assumption is that what you put in the ad is far less important than the size you buy. That's 100 percent wrong.

    Content is critical. And so is the image the ad projects. If your ad looks dated and disorganized, potential customers will feel that your business, your skills and your signs may be just as dated, just as disorganized.

    Your goal should be to have the best ad under any heading you're in. At the very least you want have one of the best ads there. Ask--no, insist--that your directory publishers develop an ad that justifies the cost. If they can't do better than standard Yellow Pages block lettering, cluttered and jumbled layout and 1950's clip-art, you can and should have the ad produced yourself.

    Okay, so you need a great looking ad. What about the content?
    Obviously, content is another key. And that starts with the most important copy in the ad. Which is not--let me repeat, NOT--the name of your business.

    Your Yellow Pages ad is competing for attention with five or 10 or 20 other ads, all offering the signs. The first piece of copy that readers see--the headline--has to be powerful enough to drag them away from those other ads, and get them reading yours.

    Is Sigmond's Signs and Banners really likely to do that? Or 21st Century Signage? Sorry, but the average business name--unless the reader is already familiar with the company-has as much selling power as . . . well, as Barry Maher. I've been in business for 15 years now. I've worked with over 300 different companies. Not one of them ever hired me because they liked the name, Barry Maher.

    Most of the people who look at Yellow Pages display ads are shoppers. They're looking for information to help them decide what business to contact; they aren't seeking a specific business by name. Never use your company name as your headline unless that name is truly the most important selling copy in the ad.

    Give them your strongest selling point--the single piece of copy they're likely to care about most. Then you can tell them your name.

    Clarke Systems Architectural Signage Systems Wayfinding ADA

    What other copy should you include?
    You have to give potential customers all the information they need to decide to contact you: be it about image, market niche, products, services, pricing, quality, reliability, experience, speed, expertise, hours, location, service area, credit available, additional features--whatever it might be. One business I know even includes, "Tagalog spoken."

    So you should use every bit of the ad space you're paying for?
    Absolutely not. If your Yellow Pages ad is difficult to read, it isn't going to be read. Your ad is competing for visibility and readability with every other ad under the heading. That means you've got to hone your copy, then hone it some more: until you can provide all the information directory users want and need in an ad that's so uncluttered and inviting that reading it becomes automatic.

    What about visuals--like drawings and photos?
    Nothing can turn a mediocre Yellow Pages ad into a great one faster than the right illustration. It can be even more of a grabber than the headline. Far too often Yellow Pages ads have no illustration. Or one that's far too small to command attention, or too hackneyed--from too many appearances in too many bygone directories.

    If your picture isn't worth a thousand words, find one that is. If your ad looks second rate, people will assume your signs will look the same way.

    How about ad size--is bigger better?
    You can waste a small fortune buying more Yellow Pages advertising than you should. And you can lose just as much buying less than you need. The bad news is that ad size is important. All things being equal, bigger ads get a greater response. They also get the best placement--closest to the front of the heading. And placement can be even more important than size.

    The good news is that all things are seldom equal. The biggest ad under the heading is not always the most effective. And a well-designed, visually appealing ad can make up for a lot of size, especially under a smaller heading where all the ads are on the same page or two. It's much more difficult of course to compete with ads on an earlier page. That page may never even be turned.

    No matter what, always consider placement when you're deciding on ad size. Have your sales rep show you where the size you're considering would fall in this year's directory. That should give you an approximate idea of the position--relative to the competition--you'd have next year. Sometimes going up a single size and spending just a few more dollars will move you much closer to the front of the heading. Sometimes you can cut back in size without losing much at all in the way of position.

    What about using color?
    Red, blue, green, white knockout, full color: all are eye catching. All are expensive. If the money you'd be spending is approximately the same, you're far better off significantly improving the size and placement of your ad than the color.

    Nowadays some areas are covered by several competing directories. Should you buy ads in all of them?
    Perhaps the surest way to waste money is to advertise in a directory no one's using. Or, for that matter, to advertise in a well-used directory under POWDER PUFFS or ANIMAL EYES-ARTIFICIAL, or any of the hundreds of other Yellow Pages headings where virtually no one ever looks.

    It costs to list your company in the phone book and you're not sure who you're marketing to. Listing your company in the Buyer's Guide is one great way to market your company to a target-specific market. List your comapny and let the world see you! While you're at it, consider placing your company logo that will allow you to stand out in the crowd.

    Sign up now:

    Always make your sales rep prove value--especially when you're considering an independent (non phone company) directory or a questionable heading. If he can't, don't put any real money there: no matter how many of your competition you might see. You may be just repeating their mistake. Instead, if the directory or the heading seems worthwhile, try something small: perhaps even a simple in-column ad alphabetically under your name, or even just a listing. Then track your response--survey your customers to discover how they discovered you--and next year you'll have your own proof. One way or the other.

    What do you think of buying an ad in the white pages?
    If your customers are looking for you alphabetically in the white pages, they will find you. And call you. You don't have any competition in the white pages. A bold listing is sufficient.

    I only recommend alphabetical white page ads in very specialized cases. If you're Syracuse Signs and you're in the midst of seven white pages of businesses starting with the word Syracuse, you do need something beyond a bold listing to help your customers find you. Or perhaps you're Sophisticated Signs and Select Sign Service usually falls on the same page, and you want to siphon off a few of their calls. Or maybe you've got information you need to impart to reduce unnecessary calls.

    Otherwise . . . put the money in the Yellow Pages.

    What's the single biggest Yellow Pages mistake you've ever encountered?
    Actually the biggest mistake was a very small mistake. Just one little extra space. So an ad that should have read, Dan Hadley, therapist read, Dan Hadley, the rapist.

    Some sales reps and publishers don't like to send out proofs even on display ads. Proofs cost money and often create additional work. Always insist on a proof. If you're ever tempted not to, remember Dan Hadley.

    This article is adapted with permission from Fran Finley's forthcoming book, "Ask the Experts: How to Promote Your Business." Expert Barry Maher can be found on the web at or reached at or 805 962-2599.

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