Open up a copy of the Yellow Pages and you’ll find hundreds of ads for attorneys – everything from simple listings of a name and phone number to full-page, full-color spreads.
But some of the biggest advertisers say they’re reconsidering whether it’s worth it. Diminishing returns and a shift in the caliber of client generated by ads have them questioning if there’s a better way to spend their money.
“I could pull out of the Yellow Pages today and not feel any pain,” said bankruptcy lawyer James L. Miller. “I couldn’t have said that five years ago.”
Traditional phone book advertising used to produce half of Miller & Miller’s business. Now it’s only about 10 percent. Five years ago, the firm used 70 percent of its marketing budget on phone book ads; now, about 30 percent of its marketing budget goes to phone book ads, including a full page in the AT&T Yellow Pages. Miller declined to disclose a dollar amount.
Personal injury lawyer Jerome A. Konkel said his firm, Samster, Konkel & Safran, invests more than $10,000 a month on phone book advertising. A two-page spread in the AT&T Yellow Pages alone runs the firm $6,000 each month, Konkel said.
“There was a time when you could justify the cost for the name recognition,” he said. “I’m not sure it has that panache anymore.”
The firm has seen a precipitous decline in both the quantity and quality of business generated by phone book ads.
While Konkel said the advertising still “makes the phone ring off the hook,” only about 10 percent of those calls translate into paying clients, often with atypical cases.
In the last year, he said the volume of calls from people alleging food poisoning have grown considerably. But most aren’t worth pursuing because they involve minor and temporary injuries making any significant recovery difficult.
“Without question, our commitment to advertising in the Yellow Pages will be dropping drastically in the next two years,” Konkel said.
The same is true for Michael D. Leffler of Action Law Offices, who said the firm plans to eliminate phone book advertising in the next “three-to-five years.”
Leffler and others do say that in the short term, the ends still justify the means. He said that for now, the firm is still getting enough return on its investment in the phone book.
“Eventually, there comes a breaking point, but we haven’t reached that yet,” Leffler said.
The personal injury firm has been advertising in the Yellow Pages for a decade and Leffler is hesitant to surrender the ad space to the competition.
“Once you give it up you don’t get it back,” he said. “I’ve noticed some firms have dropped their ads and tried to come back, but they don’t have the same placement.”
Pitman, Kyle, Sicula & Dentice runs ads in three different Yellow Pages and uses separate phone numbers to track the volume of calls received from each. The system allows the personal injury firm to identify how many prospective client calls it receives from its ads in the Yellow Book, AT&T Yellow Pages and the Super Pages.
Partner Howard S. Sicula declined to reveal the volume of calls the firm receives from each book, but said advertising in the phone book is still worthwhile.
“We still believe it has value,” he said. “But it’s just a piece of the puzzle. You have to make sure you are diversified and looking at all sources for where to put your advertising money.”
In an effort to help with diversified advertising and remain attractive to advertisers, AT&T Yellow Pages salesperson Tera Delashmet said that the company has packaged online search capabilities with print ads to increase exposure for businesses.
She said the company partners with different search engines, such as Yahoo, to broaden the audience for advertisers and stay relevant.
“We are in a point of transition as far as trying to figure out our demographics,” she said.
The AT&T Yellow Pages offers search optimization through partnerships with Yahoo and Google and also a “Flex Bundle” plan which allows businesses to divide their advertising between online and traditional print.
A “platinum” online package, which includes premium placement on YP.com, a link to the firm’s website, banner graphics and a slogan costs about $225 per month.
Miller said cross-selling has helped soften the blow of getting less bang for his buck and companies are more willing to negotiate price than in the past. He was able to upgrade a three-quarter page ad to a full page and also get another full page of space without spending much more than he had been before.
But he also admitted that his own stubbornness keeps him coming back year after year, despite the diminishing returns.
“Advertising in the phone book for many lawyers is just habit after so many years,” Miller said. “We’ve had great success with Yellow Pages ads and each year the sales reps come in and create a sense that there’s more value than maybe there really is.”
Jack Zemlicka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.