“Hate” is maybe too strong; how about “intensely dislike.” That’s better.

Statistics show that 75% of contractors spend over half of their entire marketing budgets in the Yellow Pages. Worse yet, this results in just 13.4% of HVAC sales.

I’m no math major, but spending over half and getting back 1/7th in sales doesn’t sound wise. So why do I love to intensely dislike the Yellow Pages? Because fixing this problem frees up cash for more rewarding marketing campaigns. It forces creativity and results.

But first we must ask, “What’s the problem with your Yellow Pages ad?”


First, it’s not a problem with the medium. The YP is the book of choice for tens of millions of “demand-service” customers daily who snatch open the book and choose their target. Nearly 10 million shopped the YP for replacement systems last year.

And it’s not that they don’t buy. Over 50% of YP shoppers buy within 48 hours.

And you’re certainly not underspending. Heating-cooling contractors rank ninth in overall spending categories.

The problem is not your competition, or that you don’t have enough logos or starbursts in your ads. The problem with your ad is the ad. Even though you rank ninth in spending, your results aren’t even listed in the top 150 categories.

Specifically, the problem is the ad’s message and layout. The poor, underpaid YP ad designer composes six to 10 ads a day. You think your HVAC business gets special treatment by an expert in your industry? Hardly.

Your YP ad should convey loud and clear benefits via a headline (not your company name) and be focused on prospect’s convenience, value, and comfort gained. Nothing else. Forget the penguins, igloos, trucks, Eskimos, and condensing units. Think like a buyer, or blend into the sea of sameness all of your competitors are also swimming in.

The next big area of ad concern is how much you spend there. The YP is a fabulous place to get leads, but overspending here is rampant and risky.

The one-minute Yellow Pages spending formula: Take the amount of your business mix that is “service” volume (example: 30%). Multiply that by 110% (example: 30% x 110% = 33%). Do you spend less than this and still have good business growth? Good for you!


Most HVAC contractors overspend by thousands on the wrong message. (We’re paid $8,000 for a two-day consult to figure this out. Take notes and don’t tell anyone.) The average HVAC marketing expense vs. sales is 3.4%, but this is miserably low for companies on the grow.

High-growth, aggressive companies spend 8% to 10% on marketing and achieve fantastic results. Moderate-growth companies spend 5% to 7% to earn nice, steady, new customers while fully massaging their customer base. Conservative companies should spend 3.5% to 5% and, if done right, can squeeze significant sales and leads.

Oh, I can hear it now: “I want aggressive results from a conservative budget!” Don’t we all? Look, marketing is responsible for virtually all of your incoming leads and resulting sales. Isn’t it worth getting 10 to 20 times your money back?


Please understand, I’m not paid a penny by media. These figures come from our “HVAC High Performance Marketing Plan,” which dissects media and spending for HVAC companies. So, after Yellow Pages spending, consider:

Direct mail — About 21% of the moderate budget. Spread it among:

  • Letters — Mostly spend on direct response for replacements, remainder on retention, new homeowner, and referral request letters.

  • Postcards — Use as “infill” for service leads. (We’ve got six service postcards that produce hundreds of tuneup leads, which yield maintenance agreements, which also lead to equipment sales. Don’t ever short sell a tuneup campaign.)

  • Internet: Another no-cost media. Be fresh, entertaining, and, above all, have a way to capture

    e-mail addresses or you’re goofing up big time. Sell using information.

  • Newsletters — The best marketing investment by far, and worthy of 8% of the moderate’s budget. Professional newsletters sent two to four times a year to check-writing customers is an incredible bargain. Do not make this a pure sales piece or it’s going in the trash. Be informative and use “psychological sales triggers.” See our website for more details.

  • Newspapers — About 25% of the moderate budget. For your ad message, spend about twice the amount on a direct response message than image or TOMA (“top of mind awareness”).

  • Radio — About 10% of the budget; high degree of memorability if you repeatedly pound your message. Only do direct response here if you have a “sister” campaign in print.

  • Telephone: Most don’t call this a media, but let me ask you, through what device do virtually 100% of your leads funnel? Have polite professionals use a singular greeting and be able to “sell” appointments, “fix” complaints, and know how to traffic calls. This is a no-cost media that can kill you if it’s done wrong.

    Television — About 4% of the budget unless you’re buying really cheap cable. Same advice with radio. Don’t try to be funny unless you are funny. Be professional.

    Alternative: Billboards, church bulletins, van signage, etc. This is almost all TOMA. I rarely recommend billboards (worthy of 4% of the budget).

    Your media and message work as a team to boost leads, image, credibility, and perceived value. The right marketing can result in massive leads, sales, and profit — if done right.

    Get a plan. Plug in the right ads. Then listen to your phone and cash registers ring.

    Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. You can receive his free marketing newsletter by faxing your letterhead to 334-262-1115 with the request. Plus, you can get a free Yellow Pages critique by faxing it to the same number. Call 800-489-9099 for more marketing info or visit www.hudsonink.com (website).

    Publication date: 06/24/2002