Rethinking Newspaper And Phone Book Advertising

by Matt Giovanisci March 6, 2012 10:49 AM

Matt GiovanisciHave you fallen into a marketing trap? What is a marketing trap? 

A marketing trap as something you are comfortable with; something you’ve been doing for years, and come to find out isn't working anymore.

Maybe your a business still advertises in the newspaper or the phone book. The truth is, these forms of media are on the verge of death. Why? The Internet.

It is much easier for a customer to Google the nearest pool store or the best pool cleaning service than to look it up in a phone book.  They can get reviews and recommendations from friends without ever calling or speaking to anyone in person. The phone book will never give them these tools. It’s just a list. It won’t even tell them how close your business is to them. 

What if someone just moved to the area and bought a house with a pool. Who do they trust? How do they find out if you’re the right business for them? They don’t read the newspaper and use the phone book to look for ads, that’s for sure. They’ll ask around and jump on the Internet for help. Maybe, they’ll ask friends on Twitter and Facebook. It’s just the direction the world is moving.

That’s why you need to seriously reconsider your print marketing strategy this year.

Newspaper Advertising Days Are Numbered

I’m going to flat out say it: Get out of the newspaper! They are too expensive and no one reads the ads. However, if you insists on sticking with it, there are some interesting things about the newspaper that I’ve learned over the years of marketing for a local pool company. For one, all your ads must be in color. If you are still running black-and-white ads, forget it! No one is looking. They also need to be small in size, but big in content. They need to be clear and directly to the point. 

People don’t browse through the newspaper looking for ads that jump out at them. You want to be on a page that people will actually read. That way, you are more likely to get someone's attention. If you have a full-page color ad and the reader is not in the market for a pool or spa, they are going to skip right over your ad to get to what they want to read.

The point is, if someone is reading an article and all of the sudden you present them with a bright, colorful half-page ad, they are more likely to take a brief look. “Entertain your family and friends with an in-ground pool for as low as $199 a month.” Even if the reader wasn’t thinking about a swimming pool, you might have piqued some interest. Bear in mind, however, that they ad should have one central point and not be littered with coupons.

Phone Book Advertising Days Are Over

I have personally talked to a lot of people about how they use the phone book, and the answer I hear most is, “I recycle it, immediately.” I wasn’t surprised. Keeping around a giant booklet is pointless when customers have a computer or a smart phone. In fact, one third of the adults in this country own a smart phone. That’s like have a phone book in your pocket, at all times. The only reason to keep a phone book is if you have kids that have trouble reaching the kitchen table.

However, if you insist on advertising in the phone book, then I have a few ideas that might really help. First, don’t advertise products in the phone book. No one shops in the phone book. If you offer a service, such as pool cleaning or hot tub repairs, then it might be worth getting a listing or an ad in the phone book under the appropriate heading.

The same rules apply in the phone book as they do in the newspaper. If you want to be seen in the vast cluster of ads and listings, you need to stand out. Simple, colorful, and to-the-point ads work best. 

Test, Test And Re-Test

There was a time you could spend $5,000 on a full-page ad in the Saturday newspaper and people would flock to the stores. But those days have passed.

If you are going to advertise in the phone book and the newspaper, at least go about it the right way and test the effectiveness of your efforts (by the way, you should be doing this with all your marketing efforts).

How do you test to see if your ads are working in these forms of media? We have to get creative here. So, let’s start with the newspaper.

Your ad is going to have a few ways they can contact you, so you must measure each opportunity. If you put a phone number in your ad (duh), then you can use a company like and purchase a phone number specifically for that ad. With a Grasshopper number (about $10 a month), you can track every call made on it to your business.

If you put your website address in the ad, which you should, make it a special address. For example, you could have an ad that says, “Above Ground Pools Starting at $999.” Then, build a special page on your website about this campaign and have your new URL be

If you’re website is integrated with Google Analytics or some other type of data gathering software, you’ll be able to track how many people visiting that URL directly. 

You can also track your ads by adding a coupon or telling the reader to bring in the ad to get this special offer. This will allow you to track how many coupons came through the door. 

With these three methods there is no reason you shouldn't have a pretty accurate overview on how well the ads are doing. What you want to do is take that count and measure it up against how many people could potentially see your ad (impressions) and how many of those people actually turned into customers (conversions).

What You Say In Your Ad Means Everything

One other factor to consider is the ad itself. Yes, the newspaper and phone book are pretty poor places to advertise, but if your ad sucks, then it will really be poor. If you have a great ad, it may bring in some business. The key is to always test your ads. Speculation won’t help here. Get some real numbers for yourself and keep improving your ads. This works across all mediums including billboards, online banner ads, search engine ads, and even paper fliers or handouts. 

I would love to hear the feedback on the you results you find with your testing. Feel free to email me and enlighten me on your findings. My email is:

Matt Giovanisci is the creator of Swim University ( and has over 15 years of experience in the swimming pool and hot tub industry. He is also an award winning web designer and has been featured on Martha Stewart Radio as a pool & spa care expert.


Matt Giovanisci is the creator of Swim University and has more than 15 years of experience in the swimming pool and hot tub industry. He is also an award-winning web designer and has been featured on Martha Stewart Radio as a pool and spa care expert.

Comments (3) -

3/6/2012 4:11:58 PM #

Great article Matt, however I think that you just caused about 75% of the pool & spa industry to have a heart attack :o)

I have been saying the same things you mention in your article to folks in our industry for over a decade, and quite honestly, much of our industry still favors the "old ways" of advertising - which ultimately is kind of a waste of time, effort and money in the year 2012.

Of course we do sell internet advertsing, so we are a bit biased, but most of the advertising sales people spend 90% of their time trying to convince our industry that the Internet is here to stay and you absolutely MUST have a very well thought out, online marketing strategy to succeed in business these days - especially during this never-ending recession.  However our people are continually hit with the very objections that you discuss so well in your article.  We hear a lot of "we only do print ads", or "we only do phone book advertising", or "we tried the Internet 10 years ago and it didn't work for us". WTF?  And these comments are coming from some of the biggest pool & spa manufacturers in our industry - and they really, honestly believe those things.

On a final lighter note, I was speaking to the marketing manager of a large company within our industry (name withheld) last week, about placing some online ads on our site, as well as some other industry niche sites we work with.  This otherwise inteligent, pleasant person, actually told me "we're not interested at all, because we feel that all this Internet stuff is just a flash-in-the-pan."  Really?  I tend to think they may be wrong.  But I wished them the best of luck with their $5000 one-time only newspaper ad, and their $1100 month phone book ad as well.

I guess you can lead a horse to water......blah, blah, blah....

Anyway, thanks again for saying these things in your article.  Our industry needs a huge wake-up call concerning marketing on the Internet, if we all ever expect to get out of this recession alive :o)

Daniel Harrison -

3/9/2012 6:46:53 AM #

I have found running an ad in the local Newspaper to be very successful. We attempt to monitor
How people have heard of us and they sometimes they will say the local paper or periodical more times than not. I believe in using the Newspaper and local area home magazines and weekly papers. A good amount of target buyers still read the paper and use it as it's resource. Yes, the internet has arrived but It still has a long way to go. My results and data show only about half of the 45-54 demographic use the internet and little of the 55-64 demographic use the internet to find us. We covet both of those demographics,
the interesting note and point from the 55-64 demographic is the factor isn't that that don't know how to use the computer, it's they view the internet as unmonitored and scammed filled and they believe in the many years of success from the Brick and Mortar of Marketing (print media) which is not perceived as a telemarketer or some kid in his underwear. i believe it's a blended combination of marketing for success.

I have also found a better level of individuals applying for a position within our company who come through the newspaper rather than the internet.
I believe the internet is a great marketing tool and Aqua Pool Dealer maximizes it. The internet is only one piece if our Land | Air | See marketing pie.
1.) Land - Door to Door, Direct Mailer, Signage, etc.
2.) Air  - Radio and TV  
3.) See - Customer's Surfing the sea of the internet.

Some (not all) of the internet applicants and potential customers are tire kickers and use up a lot our phone time. We always try to listen to the tire kicker and find what he actually wants and try to offer a product or service to him.

My opinion is a marketing combination

I agree with What You Say In Your Ad Means Everything!
Great article Matt!

-Jim DeBerry
follow me on twitter @AquaPoolDealer

Jim DeBerry

3/9/2012 4:56:03 PM #

I agree with Jim about using multiple media outlets whenever possible -  and when budgets allow.  In this economy radio and TV are certainly great, but often too costly for many smaller companies.  But as with all advertising - doing something - anything - is better than doing nothing.  So if you have a good sized budget, a proper mix of newspaper, TV, radio and web ads would be the best scenario.  But if you have a limited budget, the Internet often gives the best ROI and 'bang for the buck' for many companies, from what I have seen :o)

Daniel Harrison -

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