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Yellow Page Advertising for Lawyers – Where Have All the Calls Gone?

I get calls every week from lawyers saying they’re not getting calls anymore from yellow page advertising. They don’t want to continue wasting their money, but they’re afraid to stop advertising and lose their spot. They want to know what’s going on and what to do.

Apparently, lawyers are not the only ones. In his article “Quit wasting money on Yellow Page advertising” by Peter Fernandez, D.C., a yellow page, print advertising and practice management consultant for chiropractors, Dr. Fernandez answers the question, “Why has advertising in the Yellow Pages changed from one of the best ways to advertise to one of the worst in just a few years?”

Additionally, Dr. Lynella Grant, author of “Yellow Page Smarts Snags More Callers” in her article “Yellow Page Advertisers: Your Calls are Going to Decrease – Here’s the Remedy” states, “Response rates to Yellow Page advertising are declining. There’s no getting around it, traditional Yellow Pages are in trouble. Fewer people use them every year. Even the best-pulling ad in the section isn’t getting the number of callers or sales it used to. At the same time, the monthly cost to maintain your same-size directory ad keeps going up.” “Some (like contractors and lawyers) are declining more steeply than others.” “Advertising only in the Yellow Pages is no longer a safe bet”. Read Yellow Page Alternatives:  Reach Buyers Online and Off by Dr. Lynella Grant.

Since 1976 through the 1980s, yellow page advertising was very effective. Why? The Yellow Pages and classified newspaper ads were virtually the only place a potential client could find a lawyer advertising; there were very few lawyers advertising on TV; the internet was unavailable to the public; there were fewer lawyers advertising in the yellow pages; until the Bell system breakup in 1994, there was only one yellow page book; and the cost per household was less than it is today. Today, all of these factors have changed and the combination has substantially reduced a lawyer’s return on investment from yellow page advertising.

There are now several county-wide yellow page telephone books for each county. If that’s not bad enough, there are also several competing village or community yellow page books. Most people keep only one yellow page book and throw out the others. I get two yellow page books and noticed that I keep the last book dropped off and throw out the one that came before it. Some people even keep using old books and throw out the new ones. Even if someone has two or three yellow page books, it is highly unlikely that they will look in all of the books. If your ad is in only one book, it may not be in the one that’s used!

To ensure that your ad is seen, you need to spend even more money to advertise in all of the yellow page books in your county. If you do business in more than just one county, you need to advertise in a lot of yellow page books. But, if you’re losing money from advertising in one yellow page book, your losses may be compounded by each book you advertise in.

Advertising fees for yellow page books has risen dramatically over the years. Yellow page publishers have been losing advertisers and revenue to competing yellow page books, TV, and the Internet, yet they must still print and distribute the same number of books. Faced with loss of revenue, rising printing, distribution, sales and overhead costs, yellow page publishers have had only two methods of increasing revenue. The obvious one was to substantially increase advertising fees.

Less obvious, yellow page phone book publishers uncovered new real estate to sell in their yellow page books creating even more competition within the books and diverting consumers from traditional inside page advertisements. Advertising is now available on card stock with a tab protruding from the telephone book; the front cover, back cover and spine of the yellow book; and even Post-it Note® style stickers glued to the front and back of the yellow page book.

It has long been recognized that the first few pages in front of your category produces many more calls. Now when a lawyer is advertising on the outside of the Yellow Pages book, Yellow Page users don’t even need to look at the first page in the category. Ironically, this method of increasing revenue is doing more harm than good to the Yellow Page books. By placing a lawyer on the back cover and another on tabbed card stock, the publisher is diverting business away from the 30 or 40 other lawyers in the attorney section and rendering the entire category useless.

The proliferation of lawyers advertising on TV has also diverted callers from yellow page advertising, particularly callers hurt in an accident and particularly those with serious injuries. Since upper income clients usually know a lawyer to contact when they need one, most callers from advertising are lower income. Since personal injury lawyers charge a contingency fee, this is one of the few areas where a low income client is attractive to a lawyer advertising on TV. Consequently, the majority of lawyers advertising on TV are personal injury lawyers. Callers with serious injuries are usually in bed either in the hospital or at home where it is difficult or not even possible to gain access to the Yellow Pages or the Internet. Lying in bed, it is much easier to call one of the lawyers advertising during almost every TV show.

Why else have lawyers rushed to advertise on TV?

With the return on investment disappearing from yellow page advertising, lawyers are looking for alternatives. Advertising in two or three yellow page books in just one county is now too expensive and is enough to advertise on TV. A lawyer purchasing a full-page ad in two yellow page books in each county of the New York TV market, would probably spend over $540,000 per month with the largest lawyer advertising budget in New York. Rather than advertising in two or three yellow page books, more and more lawyers have been advertising on TV.

Other factors making TV advertising more effective than yellow page advertising has also attracted more lawyers to TV. Although TV advertising requires a larger monthly budget, it is more cost-effective resulting in a lower cost per call because TV reaches many more people. Unlike yellow page phone books where a lawyer’s advertisement appears next to 20 others, television gives advertisers momentary exclusivity because only one television advertisement can be seen at a time. While new Yellow Page advertisers will be placed at the back of all the other lawyers, there is no preferential order given to advertisers in TV advertising and advertisers are usually separated so that two lawyers do not appear one after the other. Additionally, TV broadcasters do not have the ability to sell preferred advertising, devastating to other advertisers, such as on the cover of the yellow page book.

As more lawyers advertise on TV, the usefulness of the Yellow Pages is further diminished. One only needs to turn on the TV for a few minutes to see a lawyer advertisement.

There still are reasons to consider advertising in the Yellow Pages. 1) Yellow page books are appropriate for lawyers who are not interested in retaining clients residing more than 30 minutes from the lawyer’s office; 2) A small advertisement in just one yellow page book will require a smaller advertising budget then TV advertising; 3) Lawyers with large advertising budgets on TV may want to extend their reach and augment branding on TV, radio and billboards with advertising in the Yellow Pages.


  1. Law firm yellow page advertising not working and on decline
    Though promoting lawyer television ads, the Lawyer Advertising Blog, published by Attorney Phillip Frankel, had some interesting things to say about the decline of law firm yellow page advertising. I get calls every week from lawyers saying they’…

    Trackback by LexBlog Blog — 10/19/2005 @ 9:24 pm

  2. Continuous traffic is the first step toward increasing sales and expanding your base of shoppers. You must advertise to keep pace with your competition. Advertising can generate hype traffic now and in the future.

    Comment by archy — 9/27/2006 @ 10:13 pm

  3. Advertising in the yellow pages pays off if you have an effective message in the first place. If you could stand out from the multitude of personal injury lawyers screaming “call me now here my 800 number I’m the best!”, then you’re on your way to that perfect client.

    Comment by Tom St. Louis — 5/10/2009 @ 2:50 pm

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