A New Breed Of Yellow Pages Ad
Magazine-Quality Spreads Stand Out
In A Crowded Phone Book
Since opening his solo family law boutique just over a year ago, Vancouver attorney Lorne MacLean has accomplished the seemingly impossible: By simply changing the design of his Yellow Pages ad, he increased his firm's already significant profits by more than 200 percent.
MacLean, who has been practicing divorce law for 20 years, has had to hire two associates to keep up with his new office's burgeoning workload, and he was recently feted at the Legal Marketing Association's annual meeting in San Francisco with a special award recognizing his "most innovative" ad campaign.
So what's his revolutionary secret? Believe it or not - simple good taste.
In a phone book increasingly clogged with garish, mega-size ads battling for attention, MacLean's ads are an oasis of white space and elegant graphics. And Yellow Pages users love it. By refusing to compete with the shrieking ads of his rivals, MacLean has effectively eclipsed them all.
"When I first decided to do this, I was wondering, 'Gee, is this going to be too high brow? Is it going to go over the heads of the typical Yellow Pages clientele? Will it really work?'" said MacLean. "But now - with clients and marketing experts alike telling me, 'We love your campaign!' - I realize it was money well spent."
Ross Fishman, the marketing expert who helped MacLean achieve his advertising coup says a similar approach can help other firms maximize their Yellow Pages investment as well.
'Give Me Something Classy'
MacLean doesn't affect a holier-than-thou attitude toward the more crass lawyer ads in the phone book. After all, he was right in there with them until last year.
In fact, MacLean's former firm - a six-lawyer divorce boutique
he founded in 1983 and left in 2002 - was one of the first to take advantage
of the Yellow Pages when
"Yeah, I guess we didn't have the most sophisticated logo or image," MacLean admitted with a laugh. "However, it did appeal to a certain market segment that was looking for an extremely aggressive lawyer. The bulldog wouldn't attract the more sophisticated client - and probably would, in fact, turn them off."
That was OK with MacLean. He figured high-end clients probably weren't combing through the Yellow Pages for a lawyer anyway. And - not being a professional designer - he didn't have the skill to do much better.
"My partner and I came up with our ad campaigns by ourselves, always in-house without going to a professional," he said. "So they were your typical lawyer Yellow Pages ads - packed with a lot of information and text, not a lot of white space, and no photographic imagery, other than maybe a few stock photos."
When MacLean decided to go out on his own last year, he wanted to attract "more upscale, more sophisticated, higher-net-worth individuals." So he researched different marketing and ad agencies, deciding along the way that such a clientele could be attracted using Yellow Pages ads. Eventually, MacLean stumbled upon the website of Ross Fishman, a legal marketing expert based in Highland Park, Ill., who has developed a reputation for original branding strategies and print-ad campaigns.
MacLean called Fishman, and - after a brief telephone conversation - decided to take a chance and hire him.
"I had no preconceived notion for the ad, and no direction for Ross other than, 'Give me something classy and upscale,'" MacLean said.
Fishman, in short order, came up with a slogan - "We can't protect your heart but we can protect your rights" - and four storyboards that became the centerpiece of MacLean's winning campaign. Each featured black-and-white wedding photos, reminiscent of a New York Times society page wedding announcement, and with a brief, confessional-style story.
"We created a two-page spread for the Yellow Pages, where the firm had historically received a significant percentage of their business," Fishman said. "It's a graceful design that resembles a wedding invitation, and stands in potent contrast to the cluttered, heavy-handed shrieking of most Yellow Pages advertisements."
Not only was the ad's appearance radically different from the norm; its underlying philosophy was different as well.
"The ad focuses more on the client, rather than on what a great law firm we are," MacLean explained. "It shows the real, human, emotional side of the divorce practice. Instead of talking about the law firm, it puts the reader in the shoes of the [people in the ad], which is a powerful strategy. It evokes a powerful, emotional response that generates calls."
The size and placement of a Yellow Pages ad - along with language, color, and design - remain key factors in its success. (See "Yellow Pages Ads: Are They Really Worth It?" and "How To Design An Ad That Works," Lawyers Weekly USA, Oct. 20, 1997; Search words for LWUSA Archives: "Bowden" and "Frost").
But a creative approach can almost always make an ad stand out, Fishman said.
"You've already invested five or six figures in the Yellow Pages," he said, referring to lawyers who buy full-page ads. "For slightly more, you can make that investment work for you, and gain a substantial new influx of profitable clients and customers. There is a direct correlation between the strength of the ad and the amount and quality of clients that respond to it."
Even though Yellow Pages reps design ads for free once a lawyer buys the space, Fishman says this is a self-defeating practice for advertisers.
"Most companies can't afford six-figure creative work, so when a Yellow Pages sales representative offers to do it for free, it seems like a good deal," he said.
The downside is that this produces an ocean of "free" ad designs that look like all the others with the ubiquitous courthouses, gavels, globes, American flags, handshakes and scales of justice. The monotonous effect, is more a matter of Yellow Pages economics than lazy in-house designers.
"A Yellow Pages rep needs every one of his advertisers to get an equal amount of business," Fishman explained. "Using similar ads ensures that every advertiser in each category gets roughly the same number of calls, so they all sign up again next year - with an even bigger, or more colorful ad. If one ad were to start getting all the best calls in the 'Lawyers' category, the competitors would be furious at their rep."
In this crowded field, Fishman said a less cluttered ad stands out dramatically. (The front page of the Red Jackal Ads website dramatically illustrates this by placing one of his designs in a field of typical Yellow Pages lawyer ads.)
"Open areas, called 'white space,' gives your eyes a visual break and make the ad easier to read," Fishman explained. "Readers flip past cluttered ads; they're too hard to read. A great ad one, stops the readers on your page; two, demonstrates that you understand them and that you represent people like them; and three, persuades them to pick up the phone and call you. If you've created enough interest, your ad needn't answer every possible question; specifics can be answered when they call."
Many of Fishman's ads are black and white; and this is also part of his overall strategy.
"Great creativity in black and white is much more effective than a big, colorful, bland ad," he said. "If budget is a consideration, cut back on the amount of color you use and allocate that money to better ads."
The value of Yellow Pages advertising can be enhanced by echoing its look, message, and feel in your other advertising vehicles.
MacLean was already an established divorce lawyer when he approached Fishman, and he bought a custom-designed, comprehensive advertising campaign for his business - including "image" ads for local-circulation business journals, and glossies such as Vancouver magazine to raise his visibility among upscale readers and potential sources of client referrals. He paid about $20,000 for the whole package.
But the lynchpin of the campaign is the Yellow Pages ad. It's responsible for about 75 percent of his new business, with the remainder being generated by lawyer referrals and from his website.
MacLean's website (www.bcfamilylaw.ca/) reproduces his ad graphics; an mp3 plays a woman's voice reading the text from the ad. It also fills in the detailed specialty and contact information left out of the "open space" ad - plus the history of the firm, biographies, a monthly newsletter, and a few special features such as a calculator to help users figure how much child support they can expect to receive (or pay).
"The Yellow Pages ad has done very well on its own," said MacLean. "But there's a certain synergy in the fact we link it to our website, which has been redesigned to look like the Yellow Page ad. Now they both work together."
This "branding" strategy is further underscored by the firm's letterhead and business cards, both of which feature graphics from the Yellow Page ad - a strategy that definitely wouldn't work with more typical lawyer Yellow Pages ad fodder.
"I'm a heck of a lot more proud of our ads today than I was when it was just a bunch of text jammed in there, bragging about how wonderful we are," MacLean said.
"It's a much more understated, much more confident approach to marketing our practice," he added. "One lady told me, 'You almost make getting a divorce look fun!' And at least the nice images don't make it look horrible. It's more of a soothing, appealing image for a time of personal crisis."
MacLean said he doesn't worry much about the competition stealing his thunder by creating elegant-looking Yellow Pages ads of their own.
"Around here at least, lawyers aren't very bright in terms of marketing," he said. "Maybe they're just too busy being lawyers; maybe they're just a little bit lazy; or maybe they don't want to spend the money. But they'll end up costing themselves a lot more by not spending the money. That's a lesson I learned firsthand."
Ross Fishman's newest marketing venture is Red Jackal Ads (www.RedJackalAds.com), which licenses ready-made, exclusive-to-market Yellow Pages ads at a cost of $5,000 to $15,000 per year, depending on the lawyer's location and market size. The ads are pre-designed both for general practices and for a variety of popular Yellow Pages specialties such as personal injury, divorce and family law, and criminal defense.
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