Takeaways from Advertising in the Yellow Pages - Personal Injury Marketing Minute #5
Michael Morris is an Entrepreneur with an extensive background in sales and print advertising. In this podcast episode, Mike tells us how personal injury law firms used to advertise in Yellow Page style directories. See all episodes or subscribe to the Personal Injury Marketing Minute here: https://optimizemyfirm.com/podcasts/. Strategies included: Some verticals still use Yellow Page advertising Targeting specific areas, localization Full page ads, the front page and magnets Renaming a law firm or business to appear first alphabetically Understanding your target audience Call tracking Subdirectories and books sent to specific geographic locations How puppies and clean shirts helped advertisers Mike notes that personal injury attorneys could focus on their target audience and could focus on that audience’s key buying factors. For example, a law firm could focus on a cultural connection such as catering to Spanish speaking clients with a multilingual staff and advertising that both online and offline. Additionally, Mike points out that some potential clients are going to prefer an attorney who is local to them as not all clients will want to travel to meet them. Transcript: Lindsey: Welcome to the Personal Injury Marketing Minute where we quickly cover the hot topics in the legal marketing world. Before the days of Google, companies relied on phone books for advertising. If somebody wanted a locksmith, they would turn to the yellow book, and the first name to pop up was AAA Locksmith. Business advertisement strategies have developed over the years but it’s important to look at where we came from and see what lessons and techniques are relevant today. Lindsey: Michael Morris is joining us today. His years of experience in the sales and advertising world with a chunk of time spent mastery phone book ads. Michael, thank you so much for joining us today. Mike: Well, thank you. It’s great to be here. Lindsey: So tell me a little bit about yourself. You’ve had several jobs in sales over the years. What have you sold and how have you sold it? Mike: Well, you’re right. I’ve sold over the evolution of print advertising that morphed into the digital advertising. So I’ve done yellow page ad sales and for quite a while, that was very, very interesting, just learning all of the different aspects there. And I’ve sold just about every other form of advertising except for television. I’ve sold radio, I’ve sold SMS texting, print advertising, direct mail, all types of all different kinds of campaigns. It’s all geared on getting to the target audience which is really what all advertising online and offline is designed to do and to produce a return on investment for the customers that I work with. Yellow Page Ads in North Carolina: Lindsey: So what is your phone book advertising experience? How long were you doing that? How did that work for you? Mike: Yeah, I sold for several years. Yellow page advertising was a powerful, powerful multi-billion dollar industry and it’s still a multimillion dollar industry today. So I sold here in the Raleigh Durham area to small, medium-sized businesses, law firms, accountants, all types of verticals. And one of the most interesting things we’re seeing, that everyone had a need for more clients. Lindsey: Who doesn’t? Mike: And if they were so successful at more clients then what they would love is the ad for a tax write-off. So they were looking for advertising for one reason or the other. So I sold here in in the triangle area to hundreds and hundreds of businesses. And every kind of ad you can imagine, magnetic ads that sit on the front of the phone book to what we call the double truck where you open both pages and there’s full color on both sides. And there’s different ways that companies could be highlighted in the yellow pages directory even before they got to the AAA actual directory under the heading. So we wanted to get them on the cover, so there were lots of different ways we could. We could highlight people, try to get them their name and recognition and the key thing about the power of yellow page ads is that at that time, the distribution was extremely effective, and the penetration was huge because literally you got a yellow page directory on your doorstep, no matter what household you were in. If you were in an apartment, you got them down in a lobby, everyone got one, every unit. And so in a way it was like everyone had to be on Google or at least had the access to be on Google. It was interesting, I started, you get a kick out of this. I started to generate more business for the yellow page industry. I went to the yellow pages and there’s this group called BNI, Business Network International. And so I started a chapter. And I wanted a business attorney because we had no one as a business attorney in our group. I had one in Boston when I was up there. I said, “It’d be great to have a business attorney,” and so I went to the attorney section, under the A, and I went through page, and page, and page of personal injury, personal injury, personal injury, personal injury. And so that’s when it dawned on me, I was like, that’s the difference between growing up in a state like Massachusetts where there’s tons of regulations on companies. And so as a result, you don’t have the volume of personnel on the job injuries that you have in right-to-work areas. And that was the first awakening I had, intellectually, that the job market and the opportunity for personal injury attorneys in this market is huge. How Much Were Ads in the Yellow Pages for Personal Injury Attorneys? Lindsey: So you were talking about the different types and styles of advertisements that different companies can have in the yellow pages. Everything from the cover, the magnetic advertisement, to the full-page layout and partial page layouts. What did the typical phone book ad cost? Mike: That’s a good question. I would say no less than a hundred dollars a month. Lindsey: Wow. Mike: That was pretty much just a single line listing. Lindsey: And what about the higher end? Mike: Up to upwards of 200, $300,000 a year. I would say across the board, people were still getting a return on investment. And pretty much that was the driving point. From my standpoint, I was always an ethical salesperson and so I just always saw myself more as a consultant. As I came into talk with the business owner, “What are your needs, what do you need to make? What kind of return do you need to make this work for you?” And so it really didn’t matter what kind of vertical they were in. What was the competition like? What were their competitors doing? How were they being…? What factors were driving business in that vertical? And so actually the more I knew about a vertical, the more expertise I could advise them to put into the ad placement, and then of course, ultimately a lot of companies had to chose to rename their companies with more toward the beginning of the alphabet to try to dominate. Attorneys are Now Using SEO: Mike: The great thing about online advertising is that’s done behind the scenes through search engine optimization now and it can still put yourself in a more prominent position and you will find a business online. And especially now during COVID, that’s really the primary area. People are going to be searching for services online and knowing where they are and how they can access them. Lindsey: Sure. It’s definitely a very different marketing strategy when you’re moving online and it’s all content-based as opposed to being the A1 dry cleaner, and different strategies for different eras. And it’s interesting to look at the evolution of how those strategies work. And I know that phone books still exist. I know that I get one every so often on my front porch. So what types of companies are still using phone book ads? Mike: Well, a lot of companies still, a lot of the verticals. I would say pretty much every vertical is still using them. Probably the only vertical that would shun it is probably internet advertising. It’s still a viable vertical, I’m totally a believer, but I just think you’ve got to understand the market, understand what you’re trying to accomplish. In some sense, you may get even a higher return on investment because the relative number of advertisers in yellow pages has gone down. So you can get more of a prominent position in a full-page ad for instance for the price of what used to be a quarter page back in the day and so those kinds of opportunities exist, but you have to really understand how your buyer is buying. And that’s the key. And if you don’t track that, it’s really hard to know. In 2021, Some People Still Use Phone Books: Mike: In some cases with the yellow page ads, we’d put a tracking phone number on it so that you would actually be able to know how many specific phone calls you got from that ad. And that’s one way to really demonstrate the value. Online, that can be done in landing pages and other ways too but really, really focusing on your return on investment because powerful SEO, it will more than pay for itself, same with powerful and effective print advertising. It’s just a question of what your target audience is doing and what that return on investment price point will look like for you and the analysis at the end of the day. Lindsey: Right. And people are obviously still using the yellow book because it still is coming out, and it’s still a very powerful tool for the market that is relying on that. Localization and Print Advertising: Mike: Because fundamentally the yellow page directories have all of the key information, business location, the physical location, the phone number of key contact information, the key list of services, those same things are completely germane to online search. So the listings, the local directories are still the core part of every online advertising campaign. So people still need to buy local. They want information locally if they can access especially for certain kinds of services. You can’t go online and ask Amazon to fix your lock, you need a local locksmith, right? So that localization is still the best in the world, at least best in the country here in the United States. It’s definitely still the yellow page directory that has it down to the zip code, they know exactly what street it is, what unit it’s in. It’s one of the aspects of print advertising, you couldn’t miss print, the suite number for instance. So the detail of that is pretty powerful. And as it shifted to online directories, those are still powerful. So there’s still the aspect of the yellow pages down that’s sort of ambidextrous now. They have the print element, but they also have the online local directory element, which in some cases is as if not more effective in a local market when people are searching online for your services. Lindsey: Absolutely. Yeah. That hyper-localization is definitely an important key in development marketing component. And I know there are other local directories that… So a friend of mine from another networking group owns a copy of N2 Publishing or owns a branch of N2 Publishing for Abbington Life. And I know that there are magazines out there that they’re not necessarily yellow books but other magazines that specialize in local print ads that are hyper-localization geared towards specific neighborhoods. And if you’re looking at apex or carry on on a small local level, you can target a specific neighborhood because the neighborhood that I live in versus the Prestonwood neighborhood are going to be two different socioeconomic demographics that probably need different services. I’m guessing that on some level can be incorporated into the yellow book strategy as well if you’re able to pinpoint down exactly where your target market is coming from. Mike: Yeah. In fact, the that’s another aspect of how, at one point, the trend in yellow pages was to have sub-directories by niche or geographic areas. If you had your general Raleigh Durham or Central North Carolina, then you had an apex subdirectory. So you could cross-sell that same ad and the same content in multiple directories. So yes, the specialization was higher when it was more popular. A lot of that’s consolidated now because it’s just not price-effective and cost-effective and the return isn’t as effective because the usage is in the size it used to be. How Often Were Phone Books Released? Lindsey: So how often are they changing out the yellow books? How often does a new copy come out? Mike: Well, that’s a good question and it depends on the market. If you’re in a market that does still have the sub-directories, you’re going to see more than one, you’ll see one probably every six months so probably stagger it. So you get the local then you’ll have six months before you think about it and then you get into the general. So, so there’s usually a 12 month commitment period that you’re paying into before you see another ad. So it’s at least a 12 month cycle. They may be selling shorter cycles now, at least while I was there, we always hold in 12 month cycles. And it was on the contract to repeat if you didn’t decline it. So it was constant Auto Debit, and people got very used to that kind of investment in an advertising. Best Phone Book Ads – Puppies and Clean Shirts?! Lindsey: So here’s kind of a fun question. What is the best ad that you have ever seen? Mike: First of all, let me explain. What makes an ad effective is that it gets people to take action and it calls them to do what you want them to do, right? So you want them to call you. So puppies were always a big hit just in general. They weren’t always the most effective, but they were effective in this market, and it’s not very market-specific. In Texas, we had an ad that literally said, “Our men come with clean shirts.” And so in the course of a day that the plumber would see six new clients a day, three to six, and you imagine the heat of Texas, it was hot, sweaty. So they would actually change their shirts out. And believe it or not, for the housewife who was the typical target audience was, well, a six-figure type domestic engineer who was at home but their husband may have been making millions in this particular community. Mike: What mattered to them was that the person who came was presentable, didn’t smell like the last sewer system that they were cleaning out, and to be invited into a seven-figure house to look at Sub-Zero refrigerators and plumbing systems and so forth. What they wanted is someone that they felt like they could go in their house [inaudible 00:14:39], not be dirty. And that ad by far outsold every other gimmicky ad and it was subtle and nobody ever did it, because who knew that the trigger for so many women? But that was what it was. And they felt like the sky was coming in with the always has clean shirt. And it’s also a little bit unusual, right? It’s sort of like the barber who has the clean floor, that’s the one that doesn’t get the business. You sometimes think, “Well, that may not really work.” Mike: In the service industry, it works so well. The guys, they made hundreds of thousands of dollars, ultimately millions of dollars from that ad. And no one stepped up to do the same thing so it also created a unique niche and a differentiation factor for the plumbing business and ultimately made us a lot of money. Takeaways for Personal Injury Attorneys and Digital Marketing: Lindsey: That sounds so subtle but so powerful. What a great idea. So what takeaways would you have for a personal injury lawyer who is developing their marketing campaign? What lessons could you take away from the phone book industry? Mike: Well, I’ll tell you. And like I said, when I came down, I looked and saw the competition. So I think the key is the target audience that you’re trying to reach. So if you’re trying to reach, let’s say construction workers here, right? Massachusetts, everything’s unionized, construction workers were rarely ever get injured. Down here, I remember the first month there were like three people that were, what’s it called, buried alive or something? I was like, “What?” I was reading the news, and this was when newspapers were around too. “Wait. Died? Died in a construction site? Does that happen?” So , where would somebody who’s being injured look for your products and services and what are the key buying factors that they would need? And so if they are in this market, at least the years that I was doing yellow pages, a good amount of the workers were immigrants. And so from that standpoint, having language that has a cultural connection, a cultural empathy, would be able to connect those kinds of Hispanic Americans to potentially pull the trigger for you over their competition. Niche and Locality are Factors for Potential Clients: Mike: So having a Spanish component, can be a Spanish receptionist, but also advertising that both online and offline, because that might be the differentiation that you need to set yourself apart. And that would give you a whole demographic. And then the secondary thing we mentioned it earlier is local. I would think a personal injury attorney, it was one of our biggest advertising verticals here in the triangle, the locality. If you’re injured, you don’t want to travel for. You might still take a phone call, but if you’re going to go into an office and be seen, and fill out paperwork, et cetera, you’re going to want it to be local. So the more you can have localized offices present in your target area for the people that are getting and experiencing those injuries, I think the better off you’ll be. So I would emphasize the locality and I would emphasize communication and connection. Lindsey: That is fantastic. Those are great points. So thank you so much Michael, it’s been a pleasure having you with us today, and those are some very subtle and powerful takeaways that I’m sure everybody can incorporate into their marketing strategy. So thank you so much, Michael. I hope you all have a great day.