Article Date: 2/1/2005

Smart Yellow Pages Advertising
If you must advertise in the phone book, then follow these guidelines.
BY SUSAN M. ABRAMOVITZ, Contributing Editor

Advertising in the Yellow Pages may seem logical, but is it the right way to spend your budget? This article will address phone book advertising because these ads represents the largest promotional expense for many optometric practices. Yellow Pages ads are expensive and the costs increase yearly, possibly depriving you of the budget to market in more effective ways.

Is the media effective?

In response to the question, "Why did you choose this specific optometrist?" a recent American Optometric Association (AOA) study of patients cites Yellow Pages advertising as the least popular answer with about 2% of the respondents mentioning it (AOA Public Image Survey, AOA News, Dec. 13, 2004.)

According to the Yellow Pages Integrated Media Association, use of the Yellow Pages peaked in 1995 at 19.5 billion references before beginning a sharp decline that continues today with just under 15 billion references. The decline relates to many factors, most significantly, the Internet, which is readily available in homes and in businesses. People are increasingly using the Internet as a first reference, even for local services. To compete, traditional directory publishers are developing Internet Yellow Pages with local searches. Still in their infancy, these directories are usually incomplete and unreliable.

Know the product

Many cities have multiple directories, but the local phone company directory is the most dependable. A variety of imitators, neighborhood books and special-interest (e.g., religious) directories are numerous and sometimes use deceiving names such as "Yellow Book." Many are full of inaccuracies and omissions. Spot check them and look for local businesses that have closed or moved to see if the information is current. Look up your own company.

Invest in ancillary directories only if the demographic and geographic profiles match your needs. Request a copy of last year's directory and ask questions such as, "Who does this directory serve? How do you distribute it? How many do you distribute?"

A common ploy of crooked companies is the Yellow Pages invoice, often bearing the "walking fingers logo." They may look like bills, but they're actually solicitations, often for nonexistent directories. Before you buy directory advertising through mail solicitation, ask your local Yellow Pages publisher if it's affiliated with the soliciting company. If not, check with local and state consumer protection agencies to see whether anyone has lodged a complaint against them. Visit or for more information on bogus invoices.

What to buy

What do you do when a Yellow Pages salesperson calls you?

► Verify that the rep is from a local phone company. If not, then end the conversation.

► At the minimum, accept the complimentary listing of your name, address and phone number. At the maximum, order a one-inch box ad in the listings (about 1" high x 1.75" wide). This should cost around $100 or less each month. Include:

► Don't fall for high-pressure tactics that elicit fear. You've heard the arguments: Your competition has a bigger ad and will get a better placement unless you buy an even bigger ad.

► Don't let the sales rep talk you into special placements and listen carefully for the "free the first year" clauses because next year, you might get trapped into a large payment for something you don't want.

► Get everything in writing and don't sign anything until the ad proof looks exactly as you specified.

Marketing makeover

As reported in OM's January 2005 issue, Ideopia, Haag-Streit USA and Boucher Communications, Inc. (publisher of OM) will offer an optometrist a marketing makeover. Read the sidebar at left for details.

Ms. Abramovitz is president of Ideopia, a Cincinnati ad agency.


Winner and Contest Summary

Dr. Scott Mann, of Christiansburg, Va., is the winner of the Extreme Makeover Contest. Ideopia will work with Dr. Mann to design and implement a marketing program and every month, Optometric Management (OM) will chronicle the results. Our goal is to develop a sustainable marketing program that Dr. Mann and OM readers can use to grow their practices.

Dr. Mann has been in practice since 1986. His practice has two locations and three optometrists and a staff of 12. In the past, Dr. Mann has advertised in the Yellow Pages, used direct mail and Val Paks, along with internal marketing to patients. His results have been marginal.

In February, Ideopia will visit Dr. Mann's offices and develop a marketing plan to establish goals and direction. In the following months, we will execute the marketing plan and report on the progress. Our quest with this contest was to find a "typical" practice that shares similar problems and goals with the majority of the entrants. Many of these problems can be fixed with marketing, many others cannot. Entries came from all 50 states and 85% of the entries included the following:

Common Problems:
Attracting new patients
Patient retention and loyalty
Differentiating practice from the competition
Eliminating the need to compete on price
Achieving greater patient satisfaction

Common Goals:
Attract more private-pay patients
Increase referrals
Increase revenue for each visit
Increase net income
Grow optical business
Upgrade equipment, especially high-tech equipment

With the exception of Yellow Pages advertising, less than 2% of the practices that entered the contest market consistently, with 88% reporting that results of previous advertising were "a waste of money" or "poor."


Optometric Management, Issue: February 2005