ADVERTISING in the telephone book hasn't been the same since the early 1980s when AT&T was forced to break up into competing independent phone companies. Once the Yellow Pages published by the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. was the only game in town. But in recent years a competing volume has been marketed by Donnelley, which combined forces with Southwestern Bell to produce The One Book. Others publish smaller, localized versions of the Yellow Pages.
Business owners trying to decide whether to advertise in the various telephone books should understand the options available.
C&P, a Bell Atlantic Co., has three directories in Baltimore -- one for the city, and two suburban books that divide the metropolitan area into east and west.
Donnelley combines listings in one volume. However the contents may vary because some businesses limit their ads to books distributed nearby. Discount rates are available for those who prefer limited distribution.
The directories that compete with C&P obtain the business names and phone numbers from C&P, which owns the information. Federal regulations force it to "rent" the information to competitors upon request.
Both C&P and Donnelley provide each business with a free listing in the alphabetical, white-page section of the book that serves your area. Donnelley also provides a free listing in the yellow section.
If your business is in Essex and you want to appear in the C&P directory on the west side, it will cost you about $6 to $7 a month for the white pages and an equal amount for a listing in the yellow section.
Beyond the basics: To make your company stand out, you can pay extra for bold print. C&P charges from $10.50 to $11.25 a month for bold print in either the white or yellow sections. Donnelley's charge for bold listings in the white and yellow parts of its One Book amounts to a few dollars less than the charge for the same treatment in all three C&P books that cover the metro area.
To call even more attention to your company, you can buy ads in the yellow sections or discount coupons for customers to tear out of the directories. Ads that appear in the listings columns are cheaper than display ads, which appear somewhere else on the page, or even on another page. Display ads permit more creativity in the message because you have more space to appeal to customers. A small quarter-column display ad starts at about $75 for each C&P book or $191 for The One Book.
Alternatives: C&P has a directory called "Business to Business" that is the only major book of its kind distributed only to businesses throughout the metropolitan area. The cost for a listing is $13 per month. Appearing in this directory could be ideal if your business primarily sells to other companies. It may not be a good idea if your company is oriented to consumers because the volume is not delivered to residences.
The One Book has an audio text feature called The Talking Yellow Pages. Participation costs about $50 a month. When prospective customers see your company in the book, they dial a number using a Touch-Tone phone. When they enter your business' code, they hear a recorded message. Donnelley will help you with this message and even furnish an announcer to record it at no additional charge. If you prefer to record it yourself, you can do so at a studio in Philadelphia.
Your staff may not be aware that a customer has already heard your company's marketing pitch in the Talking Yellow Pages. Remind your staff to ask callers if they heard the recording. Also familiarize your employees with its contents so they are prepared to offer details or close a sale immediately.
The decision: Look at your company's marketing plan before make choices As you consider appearing in one or more phone books, think about your would-be customers. Where do they live and work? Are they likely to turn to a phone book to identify a vendor? For example, a grocery store can expect to attract shoppers from within a five-mile radius, while an architectural firm draws from the entire metropolitan area. The architect may need a bigger presence in the Yellow Pages than the grocer.
Feedback: As with most areas of marketing, it is difficult to measure the worth of Yellow Pages advertising. To help you make an assessment, ask customers why they contacted your business. Also record the collection of any coupons. At the end of a year, you should have a better idea of the benefits.
The bottom line: Determine where your potential customers are located and select the book or books that match the geographic requirements at the best price. Closely analyze the total costs versus the possible impact before you sign up with anyone.
Patrick Rossello, president of the Business Consulting Group in Towson, is a member of a number of local advisory boards. His column appears on the first Monday of each month. Send questions or suggested topics to him c/o Money At Work, The Evening Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.