Make the advertising dollars you spend on Yellow Pages ads count.

If you're like me, when you travel you reach for the Yellow Pages in the hotel in the city you are in and scan the advertisements — just to see what the contractors' advertisements look like. I am curious as to whether their ads are better or worse than mine. What I see usually surprises me and disappoints me at the same time. Most of the ads I see won't effectively sell service and repair jobs.

What do your ads look like? Do they sell jobs?

You need the answers to those questions. Yellow Pages advertisements typically represent one of the largest — if not the largest — expenditures in your budget. It is not unusual for service and repair businesses to spend $60,000 a year for what often amounts to their major source of new business.

For $5,000 per month those ads had better be producing a substantial amount of business — that's big money. Businesses that buy ads in more than one section of their Yellow Pages book or buy ads in multiple books may pay several times the price of a single ad in a single book.

What surprises me is not that service and repair business owners spend the money that they do on Yellow Pages advertisements, but the fact that they often skimp on the ad design. It's not the space in the book alone that brings in the customers. Successful ads have to draw the potential customer's attention to the business that placed the ad. Plus, a good ad has to persuade the Yellow Pages shopper to call the business for service work.

After spending all that money on an advertisement, or several ads, why go the cheap route when it comes to designing an ad that has customer appeal? That is false savings. It's like buying a car with no wheels; it doesn't work.

Sure, you can get someone at the Yellow Pages office to throw some clip art together with your business's name and phone number, but how are you going to compete against the professionally designed ads that appear right next to yours?

The reason I know what works and what doesn't is because we have tracked ads for decades. If you are not tracking the performance of your ads, you may not even know if they work or don't. You may renew an ad that is not even paying for itself. We drop ads that don't bring in revenue and profits.

Return On Investment

Without professional-looking ads your business will not get a return on your investment in advertising. If you spent $60,000 on a truck and it broke down all the time, you would be upset. You would be losing your return on a substantial investment in your business.

Any asset you invest in should bring a return to your business or the investment is a waste of money. Advertising is no different. You can't take a chance on such a significant investment. Seeing what happens and then changing the ad later when it doesn't work means you have thrown away the amount it cost. An expensive way to do business. Before you invest, plan for results.

There are proven ad design concepts that consistently produce good results. These design concepts have been tested — by real businesses — to produce customers. They grab the customer's attention away from other ads and persuade the person looking for a service and repair business in the Yellow Pages to call the business with the magnetic ad. Often that is easy because most of the ads you see today are not that appealing to customers.

To maximize your return on your advertising investment you need to: 1) understand what makes a good ad; 2) hire the right ad designer; and 3) track the ad performance.

Ads That Draw Customers

Knowing some of the general concepts of ad design can help you assemble the ingredients for an effective Yellow Pages ad. Not that you should design the ad yourself, mind you, but an awareness of the key elements will help you guide the ad designer.

Where you place the name of the company and even the owner's name make a difference. In some ads you will only see the name of the business at the bottom of the ad in small print — sometimes the phone number is there, too, also in small print. How is anyone going to remember your business name if it is in tiny print at the bottom of your ad?

The same with the phone number. They need to be prominently displayed: The name should be near the top of the ad and the phone number (we put them in a box) in large print farther down the ad.

Tests also have shown that the name of the business owner (I also recommend a picture) will increase the effectiveness of the ad. A graphic showing a clean, modern truck with an attractive sign gets potential customers' attention, too.

You can tell an ad is designed by an amateur if all the elements are centered or evenly spaced. That's not an eye-catching arrangement. Some graphic creativity needs to be evident for the ad to draw customers.

A successful ad has a consistent look and feel about it, so the elements come together in an aesthetically pleasing way. The artist will tell you it flows together so the message is clear: "Here is a trustworthy business that will respond to your service and repair needs in a timely manner."

Constructing the ad piecemeal — placing the name here, the phone number there, maybe including a brand logo or a long bullet list of services — just won't work anymore. You can spot ads that are clearly professionally designed and those that are not. So can your potential customers.

Brand Your Image

Just as national brands use a consistent image for brand recognition (like McDonalds' golden arches) you can use a consistent look to fix your business's image in potential customers' minds. The sign on your truck, your Yellow Pages ads, brochures, handouts and other advertising should uniformly represent your business.

For example, we always include a graphic image of a stopwatch with the tag line "60 minute service" attached to it. The font that we use for the business name on our truck signs is the same in our Yellow Pages ads, and for that matter, the same as the one used in the name tags on the technicians' uniforms. Whenever you see the Maio name it looks the same.

Brand identification is not reserved for Fortune 500 companies. Regardless of the size of your company, build in brand identification. That identification begins with a consistent font, a consistent "look and feel" to your ads. You want customers to remember the name of your company and recognize the image anywhere.

After you are familiar with some of the key ad design concepts, you need to select a professional ad designer. I should say a professional Yellow Pages ad designer. I learned the hard way. I tried using regular graphic artists — in fact, many different ones — until I realized that Yellow Pages ad design is a specialty.

When you select your ad designer, look for someone who has designed at least 250 successful Yellow Pages ads. Ask to see a portfolio of ads. You will be able to tell whether the ads look like they will attract your attention away from the other ads in the Yellow Pages in your same category. If the ads don't look like they will grab your attention, go elsewhere.

Tracking & Positioning

I can't tell you everything about Yellow Pages ads in one column, but I need to mention the position of the ad in the book. How effective is the ad going to be if it is located on a page following all the other ads in your service and repair category? No one will see it.

Try to get some idea, and assurance, from the company producing the book as to where your ad will appear. Generally, there is a seniority approach to positioning ads, with the companies that have advertised previously going first. Check out how your Yellow Pages publisher will position your ad.

I suggested tracking the performance of your ad earlier. No matter who designs your ads or which book they appear in, you will not know if you are getting a satisfactory return unless you track your ad performance.

Only by recording data can you keep track of the ads that pay for themselves and those that don't. Eliminate the ads in the books that don't pay, or negotiate a lower rate so the ads are profitable.

It only makes sense to use professional techniques to get professional results when it comes to your advertising. Don't spend your precious resources on advertising on a hit-or-miss basis.

I'll be looking for your ads.