If there is a rushing vortex of death looming before your very eyes, what are the chances that you’re going to keeping heading in that direction? I mean, willfully choosing to be sucked into the great abyss of nothingness?

I’m willing to bet that you’re going to do everything in your power to make it to safety. You wouldn’t rush headlong into something you know is a disaster — but every year you place your business in that predicament with a sloppy, half-done ad in the Yellow Pages that is virtually guaranteed to blend in with your competition. It leaves me, quite frankly, stunned.

Here are six reasons a poor Yellow Pages ad is the worst marketing investment you can make:

  1. A huge chunk of your marketing money is spent there.
  2. It lasts a year. So a bad ad makes its mistakes daily for a year, all while you pay.
  3. You’re vying for the most disloyal audience.
  4. You’re huddled up with all your competition at once.
  5. Yellow Pages shoppers have among the lowest closing ratios.
  6. They price shop the most.

Open up your Yellow Pages and look at the "sameness" among the advertisers in almost every section. They’re using the same junky graphics we’ve seen for years. You may think all that "free" design work is a good deal. It’s not. Especially if your ad isn’t pulling the quality and quantity of buyers you’re paying to attract!

The implications of careless Yellow Page spending are astronomical:

  • In Yellow Page Advertising alone, HVAC contractors spend $275 million dollars a year.
  • HVAC contractor spending is ranked 21, but the return in leads is ranked 66.
  • 77% of contractors spend over half their budget in the Yellow Pages.
  • 81% of contractors rank their own Yellow Page ads and lead quality as “fair” or “poor”.

Got it? You’re in the top quarter of spenders, but in the bottom third of results.

Think about who was selling you the Yellow Page account. You probably assume that they are trying to help you build a bigger and better ad to attract customers. Wrong. In case you didn’t know, Yellow Page reps work on 100% commission.

In addition, in most cases they won’t receive any commission money if the customer’s ad does not increase in size from the previous year.

Even if you purchase the same size ad as last year, the price is more than likely to increase 7-10% so the sales rep may still receive some money. It’s like the Pied Piper luring your advertising dollars straight into his own wallet.

The rep’s song and dance really has nothing to do with the quality of your ad — the reason the ad is performing poorly is NOT the Yellow Pages fault, it’s the ad — pure and simple. Sure, you can yell at them for designing it, but they’re also designing almost all the ads for the entire book (including your competitors), so how in the heck are they supposed to make YOUR ad a winner?

The best way to fight back against the ultimate ad budget-eating expense is knowledge about how a good ad actually works. Think of your Yellow Page ad like a car. Pretty much everyone knows how to drive one, but how many people know how to build one that will work?

Advertisements must be carefully crafted; their elements meticulously designed. Not doing it right is asking it to break down on the side of the information highway while motorists fly by without asking if you need any assistance.

The Yellow Page ad is just like any other all-purpose ad. We forget this because it has risen in status as the ultimate expense, the necessary evil, and the granddaddy ad of them all. People — it’s still just an ad, and it works the same way as any other ad.

Here's five tips to Yellow Page ad success:

  1. Always use a Headline. The most powerful YP ads entice and identify with prospects through common problems, or a hopeful solution, but they always have a clear benefit, stated concisely in the form of an attention-grabbing headline. Your company name is NOT a headline, nor is how long you’ve been in business. Maybe this will help.
  2. Remember the target of the ad. (Hint: It is NOT you.) It’s the prospect. It always is, always has been and always had better be. Always put the customer’s benefits ahead of your greatness. Rule of thumb: Say "you" and "your”" four times more than "us" or "we," and you’ll be okay.
  3. Give specific, measurable benefits in clear sentences. Be specific, measured, and clear. Speak in terms that precisely benefit the prospect. It’s not, "We’re fast and reliable." Yawn. It’s "93% of our service calls are handled in the same day." And please, whatever you do, don’t use the worn-out phrase, "For all your plumbing needs" or I’ll send the ad police to your house.
  4. Reduce your prospect’s risk. If you have guarantees and don’t advertise them, why do you have them at all? Are they secret? Your guarantees tell prospects that you care enough to put their concerns first. It proves you’re committed to satisfaction and quality (without using those worn-out words).
  5. You must list a Call to action. A good YP ad — no matter how simple it seems to you — must give clear instructions on what you want the prospect to do. Ask, or tell, your prospects what to do next to gain the benefits. Assume nothing. Spell it out.

Want a winning ad? Well for National Yellow Page Ad Makeover Week, August 5-11, 2007, you’ll be able to send in your ad for a free critique, plus ways to double your Yellow Page leads. Simply fax your ad with a request to 334/262-1115 or e-mail it to ypads@hudsonink.com. With our free critique and free report, you can get more leads, even with a smaller ad.

Doing your yellow page ad right can pay huge dividends for years, but doing it poorly can squander the potential of your largest marketing investment. Remember, when you’re spending as much as you are for YP space, it needs to pay you back.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink a contractor marketing firm. You can get his free marketing newsletter by faxing your letterhead to 334/262-1115 with the request. Plus, you can get a free Yellow Page critique by faxing it to the same number. Call 800/489-9099 for more marketing info or visitwww.hudsonink.com.