Nikki A. Rovito responds:
I have struggled with this issue as well. The lawyers at our firm are bent on needing listings in not just one phone book, but in every phone book printed by anyone who ever distributes anything that even remotely resembles a phonebook. (I think you get the picture.) The worst thing about this was that a full third of the marketing budget was going toward phone book listings and that was just for the listings-not even for display ads. That just seemed wrong. So rather than having our firm blindly investing in every phone book, here is what I did.
Using the distribution areas and some cultural knowledge about which books have been around and used in my area, I narrowed it down to three books only. Although there is some crossover between them, the firm needs all of these books to get the full distribution to our market.
In 2005, the "Attorneys-Lawyers" heading ranked as the sixth-highest category in a study of the most frequently referenced print Yellow Pages headings. For Internet Yellow Pages, "Attorneys-Lawyers" ranked ninth-highest. Source: 2005 Yellow Pages Industry Usage Study, www.ypassociation.org.
In addition, I called up the marketing partner at the personal injury firm that has the full-color double-truck spread in each book and asked why they do it. Those ads typically cost tens of thousands of dollars per month. I figure anyone investing that much money has got to be a raving fan and will be likely to at least share some information. Note that by calling a personal injury firm, I was able to eliminate the threat of competition with the managing partner because my firm does not do personal injury law. As it turned out, this strategy worked really well for me.
I had a great conversation with the managing partner, who provided some insights on which books to invest in-and he also told me he had developed a "formula" for measuring the effectiveness of the ads and that they more than pay for themselves. He declined to share that formula with me, but he did share a lot of good information and research that he already had on the different books. You might get some great help by making a call or two of your own-and at the very least, you could get an opinion on the books and their value from someone other than a sales rep.
Another tip for you is to put a tracking number on each book. Your local phone company should be able to set you up with an RFC (remote call forwarding) line. The number dumps directly to your main number and there are no delays, clicking, static or anything like that. It really seems to be working for us. The cost is minimal (a monthly fee plus toll and taxes-roughly, my bill is between $30 to $50 per line). I plan to do this for a year to determine whether or not there is any tremendous value in the phone books. The numbers listed in the different phone books are completely unique. They do not appear in any other marketing of the firm, not our Web site, not our cards, nowhere but that phone book.
Here is what I've learned so far. I purchased the RFC numbers when the books were going to print in June, but the actual books were not distributed until October. So from June through September, the phone numbers were entirely unpublished. Well, guess what? From June through September, I averaged 30 calls per month. Lesson number one: This is not a foolproof system. However, after the books were distributed, my calls jumped up to 130 per month. This helped me to understand why the personal injury lawyers had to develop a "formula" for measuring the effectiveness of the ads. Also, the phone company can report a number of calls to you, but it cannot (at least not in my area) isolate the phone numbers that originated the calls, or the length of the calls, or anything like that. Lesson number two: You are going to have to get creative to figure out how to determine the true value here-if there is any.
Lastly, there's another tactic that a number of firms use, although I admit that we only recently started to implement it: On our client intake sheet, we ask how the person first came to hear about our firm and list a number of options for them to check off. I list the phone books by name and also list "generically" Yellow Pages and White Pages. I am surprised at how often people actually check a specific directory as opposed to just Yellow Pages.
I hope this helps and gives you some ideas to start with.