[PMP Marketing] Still in 'The Book?'

Features - Business Strategy

It’s the digital age, but old school advertising in the Yellow Pages still drives leads to pest control companies.

January 31, 2012
Kristen Hampshire

It’s the old standard for generating leads and advertising your services. And for decades, it was the only place to find a business’s phone number, unless you called a neighbor for a referral. The Yellow Pages is a century old, a geezer in the marketing world. Even so, social media and search engine optimization haven’t forced any sort of retirement for the tried-and-true business finder.

In fact, according to a survey conducted by the Local Search Association — the largest trade group of print, digital, mobile and social media — Yellow Pages is still holding its own, and it’s working hard to keep up with corporate culture’s push toward paperless and the general public’s love for Googling an answer (and phone number) for everything. Now the Yellow Pages has digital offerings like video and websites.

But surprisingly, the Local Search Association survey says people still use the actual book. Seventy-four percent of U.S. adults used a print Yellow Pages directory to find a local business in the last year. (Seventy-six percent used a search engine.) Even in our digital age, pest control companies’ marketing habits show an allegiance to the Yellow Pages — firms still feel like they have to show up to this party to be seen.

“Yellow Pages is still a very important medium for our industry,” says Tim Hulett, president, Hulett Environmental Services, West Palm Beach, Fla. “We are a big believer in it.” That’s because Hulett knows his average cost per Yellow Pages lead is about $40 to $45. That’s not bad, he says.

And the book is still filled with competitors, begging the question: Can you afford to pull your Yellow Pages ad?

The pest control services heading in Cincinnati, Ohio’s Yellow Book published by The Berry Company is 20-plus pages deep, and one of the ads generated 217 phone calls during a four-month period (that’s 54 calls a month), says Rob Schoenlein, a regional vice president for The Berry Company, Cincinnati, Ohio.

So, is Yellow Pages still the place for pest control companies to be if they want to get found by potential customers?

That depends on the rest of your marketing mix, says Gail Jordan, president, Jordan Consulting, Hebron, Ky., which provides Internet marketing services to businesses. Jordan worked for a Yellow Pages publisher for 30 years before starting her firm. “Yellow Pages is going to become a Plan B for those who have an Internet Plan A in place,” she says, calling Plan B website search engine optimization, utilization of social media, online video, pay-per-click and other Internet marketing tools besides YellowPages.com.

Sure, the Yellow Pages is online now, but the Web is a crowded world. And the reason Jordan says so many small service firms rely on Yellow Pages is just because they always have. Why change? “Yellow Pages is like any other security blanket,” she says. “It has been good to you in the past, but you aren’t sure how effective it will be to your future.”

Buy Smart

Ask the right questions before you invest in Yellow Pages Internet marketing.

Service companies of all kinds still rely on the Yellow Pages to drive leads and keep the phones ringing. “Service industries have been the major advertiser in the Yellow Pages industry,” says Gail Jordan, Jordan Consulting, Hebron, Ky.

As a former Yellow Pages rep, Jordan worked with multiple publishers and today helps businesses transition from traditional Yellow Pages advertising to Internet-focused marketing. (“No Yellow Pages publisher sees me as their friend,” she quips.) She says there is still a place for Yellow Pages, but you must be smart with your buys — especially when negotiating some of Yellow Pages’ online offerings.

Here are some questions Jordan suggests asking the representative you work with before you buy in to Yellow Pages Internet-based advertising.

Web site: If you are purchasing a website through Yellow Pages, find out who owns the site. “Ask when you will own the site, if ever,” Jordan says, warning that monthly fees keep the site up and running and, often, if a company decides not to continue this service the website is taken down.

Video: If you are purchasing video, find out who owns the rights. “If you don’t own it, will the publisher put a watermark on it?” Jordan asks. And, is it a “real video” demonstrating a product or service, or is it merely a pictorial slideshow? Find out exactly what you’re getting and who owns it.

Tracking: How will the Internet advertising be tracked? Jordan advises tracking it yourself through free marketing tools available on Google, Yahoo! and others so you can compare those statistics with Yellow Pages’ findings. “That way, you have an independent reporting tool that either supports what the publisher is telling you or challenges it,” she says.

— K.H.

The pest control firms PCT magazine talked to have a presence in the book, though some say they have decreased their spending on this advertising and are shifting their dollars toward their company websites or other Internet-focused efforts. According to PCT’s 2011 State of the Industry survey, 23 percent of respondents use Yellow Pages to secure new leads (word-of-mouth advertising was the highest at 57 percent). In 2011, 71 percent of respondents advertised in Yellow Pages.

“I don’t think Yellow Pages will ever go away,” says Kevin Clark, founder of Critter Control, with 132 locations throughout the country. “It will always be a part of our marketing plan, though to what extent? That varies as data comes in and shows us what marketing efforts are most effective.”

How many is enough? Some pest control operators admit a sort of love-hate relationship with the big yellow book — or books, plural, to be accurate. In many markets, there are several Yellow Pages produced by different publishers representing companies like AT&T, Verizon and other telecommunications firms.

“That’s the thing that’s frustrating,” says Bobby Jenkins, president, ABC Home & Commercial Services, with locations in Texas and Florida. “You have the main book and satellite books and competing books…”

Compared to four years ago, the Yellow Pages is a less prominent part of ABC Home & Commercial Services’ marketing plan. Jenkins decided to cut the company’s Yellow Pages full-page display ads down to a 2-inch column presence. “I was very nervous about pulling the trigger and getting out (of the larger ads), but since I have done that, my business has continued to grow in spite of tough economic times,” Jenkins says. “I don’t think you have to be in the Yellow Pages by any means.”

But Jenkins isn’t quitting entirely. He’s just focusing on other lead-generation efforts, such as e-mail marketing, radio, television and working with a direct marketing firm called Research Local. “Years ago, you had to be in the Yellow Pages, and you needed a strong presence,” he says. “But I think they overcharge for the value.”

Jamie Ogle, president, Lloyd Pest Control, San Diego, Calif., feels like Yellow Pages has somewhat of a monopoly in the hard-copy world of getting found. He’s “not a fan,” but he’s in the book, even if he’s spending 40 percent less than he was a few years ago.

“The consumer is less predictable today, so having coverage in all different types of media, from online to broadcast to Yellow Pages, is an important part of our marketing strategy,” Ogle says.

Meanwhile, Yellow Pages is giving its customers marketing diversity these days as it has evolved into the digital arena. Schoenlein, who has worked for a Yellow Pages publisher for 30 years, has watched the local search publishing industry adapt to customers’ demand for a book and Internet presence. Publishers sell websites to companies, and offer video and listings on YellowPages.com and other local search directories. “You need to be in both — you need to have a presence in the Yellow Pages and you need to be in the digital space, as well,” Shoenlein says. Regarding how the company measures traffic on its sites, “it’s not just the clicks anymore,” he says. “We focus on the leads — an e-mail that gets sent to you from a potential client or a phone call.”

The fact is, Yellow Pages are smaller books these days. But they’re wider in scope because they’re also online. “For the last 100 years we have connected buyers and sellers — what is changing is how we do that,” Schoenlein says.

And if you’re loyal to the book, you could score less expensive or free presence online or a larger display ad for less money, Ogle points out. “It depends on the game Yellow Pages is playing — they’ve been giving us pretty good discounts if we increase our ad size,” he says.

Randy Hulett, the marketing director for Hulett Environmental Services, works with a consultant who helps the company buy Yellow Page and other media more efficiently. “Our sections are still getting traffic,” he says of pest control service listings. “We are able to buy more for the same dollars, or books are starting to give away four-color and other elements and they’ll ‘comp’ those into our agreement to keep us.”

In the Mix. Pest control companies have a strong presence in Yellow Pages and their online directories, ranking 36 out of 501 in an analysis of the top published Yellow Pages headings in a 2006-2010 industry usage study by the Local Search Association. Pest control ranked 37 in Internet Yellow Pages headings during that same time.

It’s a key lead generation tool for companies, but it’s not the only one, nor is it always the best one. Clark says Yellow Pages brought in 26 percent of Critter Control’s leads in 2010. Twenty years ago, Yellow Pages brought in half of the company’s leads. Today, Internet brings in 50 percent of the company’s leads. All of this information is tracked through the company’s CRM software.

The same trend is occurring at Hulett Environmental Services, where a two-year Web project to improve the site and drive more traffic was completed last year.

Still, Yellow Pages is an important part of the marketing mix. “We get so many calls from our Yellow Pages ads, we couldn’t afford to not be in them,” Randy Hulett says.

And who knows at what point people pick up the phone to call — after watching a T.V. commercial, hearing a radio advertisement then finding the number in the Yellow Pages? After going directly to the book? After reading their favorite magazine, seeing a billboard and then searching for the phone number on the Internet?

An effective marketing program pings prospects from all angles.

That said, companies like Hulett Environmental Services and ABC Home & Commercial Services are spreading marketing dollars beyond the Yellow Pages to drive new business.

“We are always looking at different options, and we (recently) launched our new site (bugs.com) which helps capture more leads at a lower cost,” Randy Hulett notes. “What it all comes down to is cost per lead.”


The author is a Cleveland-based writer. She can be reached at khampshire@giemedia.com.