Friday, February 13, 2009

Thoughts on Yellow Pages Advertising

Here in California we have the Yellow Pages published by AT&T (sort of the official "Yellow Pages"), and we have a slew of competitors. The biggest of those competitors is a company called the Valley Yellow Pages.

Yesterday a sales person from the Valley Yellow Pages stopped by our offices. His visit reminded me of how obnoxious that company's sales people can be. It also got me thinking about the value, or lack thereof, of the yellow pages.

The sales guy from Valley Yellow Pages introduced himself to our receptionist. She offered that we had no need for his services. He then asked for the person in charge of our advertising and marketing. My office is next to our lobby. Without getting out of my chair I told him "no thanks, we are not interested." He responded, "Your losing half your customers without us." I then told him "that approach is why we don't do business with your company. Thank you for stopping by." At that point he finally got the clue and left.

This hard sell is repulsive to me. It is designed to plant the seeds of panic and paranoia in the customer. This is the same company that ten years ago came to my office and convinced me to buy a substantial ad at a very low price. When contract signing day arrived the salesperson arrived with his "sales manager" in tow. The sales manager explained that the ad price I had been quoted was in error. The actual price would be roughly three times higher. Appreciating that I was being subjected to the old bait and switch that you run into when trying to buy a car, I pulled the plug on the whole deal. Infuriated (I am talking about the woman actually yelling at me!) the sales manager gathered her belongings and then said this to me on her way out the door: "You will be out of business in six months. Good riddance to you!"

These two interactions with the Valley Yellow Pages justifiably turn me off to that company. They also give me pause to reflect on the value of yellow pages ads. There are many firms that do benefit from their ads. My firm was never one of them. We have had ads in the past. And we have tracked the return on our investment. The ads never paid for themselves. In fact, they never even came close! I learned that the people that turn to the yellow pages for a divorce lawyer are usually bargain shoppers who cannot afford me, or who aren't worth the trouble when it comes to getting paid.

Mine is a high end practice representing high worth individuals. Now after twenty years in practice I am in the luxurious position of getting most of my clients by way of referral. We don't even have an ad in the yellow pages. We have one line listing name and number in the AT&T Yellow Pages (just that costs $55 per month!). All the other books: forgetta bout 'em. That does not mean that we don't market. Our web page is a significant source of business. This blog could be taken as a form of marketing. We have invested in a logo and branding strategy. I write articles, and speak at seminars. The best business generation tool for me though, is still the tried and true meet and greet. I attend as many meetings of various bar associations as I can. I get involved with activities in my community (and in particular get to know as many parents at my childrens' schools as possible). I do a lot of handshaking on the golf course (and yes, there is a return). I call and e-mail friends, former clients, and other lawyers to see how they are doing. I stay in touch, and I stay in sight. Face recognition leads to name recognition, and vice versa.

My experience tells me that I am the product people buy. People send business to me because they have drawn a favorable impression when meeting me. Colleagues send me business because they are impressed with my skills and ethics. Satisfied former clients refer business to me. Adverse parties impressed with my work refer people to me! Being a good lawyer is what keeps my practice humming. Marketing is still crucial. But for my practice the smart money is not spent on yellow pages advertising. I would love to get comments from other family law lawyers.

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

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