Directory Advertising for Small Businesses

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If you are looking at taking an ad in a directory then there are a few points you should consider before entering that process.

First things first and a point that is overlooked: this type of advertising is ‘directional’, it’s needs driven. When someone picks up a directory there is a very high probability that they have made a decision to make a purchase. A directory is going to help them make a choice between the visible alternatives.

phone_directory If you are not in that directory, then you are not going to be in that selection process. A decade ago, that may have been the case, but with the rise in online searches for local businesses, that theory is slowly being eroded. The caveat here is that a huge amount of purchasing decisions are still being made using print directories as a reference point something that simply cannot be ignored.

Without travelling down that road of where people actually make their final decision (print or online), let’s just assume that you are going to or are looking a putting an advert in a directory here are a few pointers worth keeping in mind.

Correct medium?

Firstly, is a directory the medium for your business? Don’t be told it is, find out. Have a look at your relevant section -who is advertising there and are you main competitors there? If not should you bother. Don’t be lead by the nose that, because none of the competition is there, you will have the section to yourself! I would find that particularly cold comfort when the phone is not ringing.


Your first point of contact will be your Directory Sales Representative (or Executive). Directory reps are very well trained and (should) follow a structure in this sales process. This process is very much the same for each directory, allowing for a few regional differences. This is a well planned and well oiled machine and it is there for one real reason – for you to close.

Stay in Control! Don’t get me wrong, a good rep, a rep who is in the business for the long haul, will want you to do well out of his or her directory. It means that if you do well you will most likely renew your ad the following year and become a good (handy) customer.

The point I am trying to make is that you are in control, you have the budget and you have to know what you want. You have to remain in control. Reps sometimes try an somewhat intimidate customers, they blind them figures, statements, ‘facts’ – all in the hope you will be caught in the headlights and sign.

During this meeting should a rep make a statement of ‘fact’ like "you are guaranteed to get 100 calls from this particular advert" ask them for that in writing before you sign!

Finally, it would be my proposition that you don’t sign on the day, ever. If you hear a line like ‘ oh, we’re closing that section this evening’ say fine, you won’t be advertising. And I would be up front to a rep,as an opening salvo I would say that you won’t be signing today – it might that a different tone.


Size primarily depends on two factors; firstly your budget and secondly what the competition is doing. The budget is self-explanatory, you pick the largest ad that you can afford and stick to your guns on the budget. When it comes to competition study the field closely If the largest ad is the section is a competitor with a quarter page – what’s the point of you taking a full page? The size difference is excessive. If you want to be first simply take a half page.


You will get the line that colour is more effective and you will get the research to back that up. Colour is an attention grabber there is no doubt about that. But a colour ad is only effective if its one of the only colour ads on a page of black and white ads. If it’s on a page of colour ads, it’s not going to be at all effective. Many of the “studies” conducted use a colour ad on a page of black and white ads. That’s like shooting fish in a barrel and it’s really is not that conclusive. If you are buying a full page I would question the ‘added impact’ of colour. What more impact can you make on a full page, you have the complete attention of the viewer. In that case it’s then down to image.

Some directories look for nearly twice the money for a colour ad over the same size black and white one. For my money I would prefer to have a larger ad than a nice shiny colour one. I would have to say that in some classifications its practically mandatory to have a colour ad because of your business, florists for example are nearly always in colour and it will make a much better impression. In other classifications, in my opinion, it’s a complete waste of money. Using colour in a furniture removal or waste disposal ad is , I think, difficult to justify.

Your advert

It’s such an important aspect of the process there is a post dedicated to this topic alone. So many businesses spend an inordinate amount of time negotiating the deal and little or no time in the advert.


Close the deal If you have concluded a successful deal, give yourself plenty of time to tie up the loose ends. If you are told that you will see a proof of your ad in a week  then you can be guaranteed that its going to be two. Give yourself plenty of time. If you are giving over graphics, logos or pictures to a directory make sure that they are high resolution and a decent quality. Remember, you are stuck with this advert for a year, its your ambassador in the directory for 12 months. A low res grainy picture in your ad will be a poor reflection on your business. Don’t sign off until you are completely happy with the copy and the layout.


A great line used by advertisers either not wanting to renew or trying to get a deal is ‘we didn’t get a response for the ad’  – but how do you know. The response mechanism in the advert is your main switch telephone number which is printed everywhere! Say you spend ?10,000 on an ad, would good insurance for that money not be to spend, say ?200, on getting either a dedicated Freephone or Low Call number, only to be used in the Directory ad? You can monitor the number of calls to that dedicated number and at least at the end of the year you would have the exact response rate for the ?10,000 investment.

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