How to Fire Up Your Yellow Pages Ad
Business Side

By William J. Lynott

Originally published in Massage Bodywork magazine, February/March 2003.
Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

In late 1999, Associated Bodywork Massage Professionals and the American Massage Therapy Association joined forces to lobby Yellow Page publishers to stop inappropriately mixing legitimate massage therapy listings and so-called "escort" services. While that effort has helped change the quality of listings in some cities and states, it's not news to you that we still have a long way to go.

Although many massage professionals continue to be reluctant to use Yellow Pages advertising, the risk of being confused with illicit listings has diminished in many areas. If you're among those practitioners already using the Yellow Pages or thinking of doing so, you probably know that Yellow Page advertising can be a powerful business builder in the massage and bodywork profession.

Unfortunately, Yellow Pages can gobble up all or most of the tight advertising budget for practitioners who do use them, and too many of those advertising dollars are wasted on poorly designed ads.

Because Yellow Page advertising forms the heart of many small business owners' marketing efforts, it is especially costly when a massage therapist or spa owner gets stuck with a one-year contract for an ineffective ad. One can pick up the Yellow Pages in most cities and find columns of ads that are wasting precious dollars instead of generating profits.

"One of the most common Yellow Pages mistakes is allowing sales reps to make important ad decisions," says Doug Berdie, Ph.D., author of the highly regarded Yellow Pages Report ( "It's not that they don't know their business, they do," he says. "But you should never allow yourself to forget that your Yellow Page rep is first a salesperson."

Yellow Page publishers pay their sales reps on the amount of advertising revenue they generate -- period. It doesn't take much imagination to recognize that it is in a sales reps' best interest to get you to place the largest ad she can sell you.

That would be okay if larger was always better. However, studies such as "The Yellow Pages Report" have shown that isn't the case. One of the most common misconceptions, says Berdie, is that bigger ads get disproportionately more response. That is, an ad twice as large as another will get more than twice as many calls. "This is simply not true in most cases, despite what some Yellow Pages reps might claim."

Berdie's research indicates that ads as small as a quarter-page, or even an eighth-page, can be as effective as full-page ads provided they are skillfully designed.

This is not to suggest that ad size is not important. All things being equal, a big ad will garner more response than a small ad. In the real world, however, all things are seldom, if ever, equal. A well-designed small ad will outperform a poorly designed large ad every time.

You can make your next Yellow Pages ad more effective by avoiding these common mistakes:

Don't make your business name the dominant feature of the ad.
Seeing your name or your company name in large headline type spread across the top of your ad may be an ego boost, but experts agree that, in most cases, it's the wrong thing to do. "What you offer to your clients, not who you are, is the point you must make in your Yellow Pages ad," says Berdie.

Your headline has perhaps one or two seconds to grab your prospect's attention -- one or two seconds to direct the reader's attention away from the other ads offering the same services you offer. Your company name, no matter how fond of it you are, isn't going to do the job.

If you offer a specialized technique, impressive credentials, extensive experience, or another selling point, tell that to your prospect in the few seconds allotted. Otherwise, your prospect's eye will move on to the next ad before you can blink yours.

Don't try to cram too many words into the available space.
Advertising pros know that plenty of white space around advertising copy can measurably increase the impact of an advertising message. An ad that is too busy may turn people away. Don't try to be cute or fancy. Tell your prospect how he or she will benefit more from your service than from your competitor's. Feature the strong points of you and your business and try to see your ad from the viewpoint of a prospective client who will benefit from your expertise.

"Question each item in the ad," says Berdie. "Ask whether it gives the consumer a specific reason to call you." If the answer is 'no,' either cut out that item and substitute something else that does, or save money by paring down the size of your ad.

Experts know if your ad is too complicated or tedious, prospects won't bother to read it. Today's shoppers are busy, impatient people. You should take that into consideration when creating your ad.

Don't rush your ad's design.
The first job of a sales rep is to sell you a bigger ad. Once that's out of the way, there's not much motivation for them to help you design an effective ad. Most Yellow Pages ads are built quickly on the assumption that the size of the ad is more important than its content.

In truth, content is critical to the effectiveness of your advertising message. You're paying big money for your Yellow Pages space, so you should insist the publisher of your directory design an ad that justifies the money you're spending.

Avoid cluttered ads that depend on clumsy-looking block lettering and dated artwork. This is especially important for a practitioner anxious to avoid confusion with ads for illicit services. Unless you're satisfied your ad is the best one under your heading, you should consider hiring a graphic designer to produce it for you.

When you're satisfied your ad is just right, be sure to ask for a proof. Some publishers are reluctant to furnish proofs; it's an extra expense for them and often results in more work when the advertiser spots something that needs to be changed. But it's your money. Remember, once your ad is published, you have to live with it for a full year.

Don't forget you need more than words to capture the reader's attention.An illustration in perfect sync with the text of your ad can lift it from mediocrity to attention-grabbing stardom. That old chestnut about a picture being worth a thousand words may seem trite, but it's true. Many of your competitors' ads will have illustrations or graphics that are so trivial and overused that they detract from the ad's effectiveness. Time spent finding or creating just the right illustration for your ad will be a wise investment.

Don't believe adding color is always worth the extra cost.
Modern technology makes it easy to splash your ad with reds, greens, blues, even colors with exotic names. The result may be an ad that looks pretty, but that's not what you're paying for.

Says Berdie, "In some settings, color actually detracts from the effectiveness of the ad." This is not to suggest color has no place in Yellow Pages advertising, only that it is an expensive luxury you should consider with some caution. If the use of color under your headings is rampant, a black-and-white ad may prove to be a profitable attention-getter.

Don't forget to track your success.
So how can you tell if your Yellow Pages ad is well-designed and effective? Ask yourself, "Why should a prospect pick out my ad instead of one of the many others on the page?" If you can't come up with a quick answer to that question, you need to take a hard look at the ad's design.

Readers looking under your headings are searching for something specific. Try to determine what the most important considerations are and make sure your ad addresses them. If your ad doesn't provide the information your prospect is looking for, they'll move on quickly.

"Most of the time, when people go to the Yellow Pages, they've already decided they are interested in the service," says Berdie. "At that point, they are simply trying to decide who to patronize. Many advertisers waste lots of space and money on ads designed to convince the reader to buy the product or service, a decision that the reader has already made," he says. "Instead, your ad should be showing them why they should visit you and not your competitor."

Once you've committed to an ad, monitor the results you get. "There is no way for you to know whether an ad is paying its own way if you don't keep a close eye on the results," says Berdie.

Many successful service providers ask each new client why they selected that firm. Then they tabulate the results carefully so they can compare advertising dollars directly against results. Getting this information from customers who call or come in takes only a few seconds. You'll find most customers happy to help.

And there's another plus -- asking a client for that information makes a good impression and gives an air of professionalism. Keeping track of where each new client comes from (Yellow Pages ads, newspaper, referral by a client or a friend) may provide results that will surprise you. Many professionals who do a thorough survey over a sufficient period discover Yellow Pages produce a smaller share of their new clients than they thought. If they have been in business for a while, most new clients come from -- you guessed it -- referrals.

That's a point you should remember. Every dollar you spend to keep your clients happy is an investment in the world's most powerful advertising -- word-of-mouth.

Finally, avoid the temptation of putting all your advertising eggs into the Yellow Pages basket. "Yellow Pages are only one part of the marketing mix," says Berdie. "Every advertising dollar should be spent where it will get the most return."

William J. Lynott is a former management consultant and corporate executive who writes on business and financial topics for a number of consumer and trade publications. His latest book, Money: How to Make the Most of What You've Got, is available through bookstores. You can reach Lynott at or through his Web site,

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