I act as the Director of Marketing for one of my consulting clients, and every year about this time AT&T calls about their “Real” Yellow Page ad.  The protocol is that the sales rep sells, we agree on a package for the next 12 months, and then the sales rep calls a recording number so that my agreement to the proposal is formalized.

old phoneToday’s ritual went okay until we were together on the recording device.  The sales rep started reading the boilerplate contract which I would agree to at the end of his spiel.

But, wait a minute!  In his rapid-fire speech I heard some new wording, something like, “This contract is for 12 months and will automatically renew unless the client notifies AT&T in writing that the client wishes to Opt-out of renewal.”

I stopped him.

We have to opt-out in writing?? Huh?

I said that the rep and I had only talked about a contract for the next year.  I was happy to commit my client’s firm for a one-year period, but I the term had to end in 12 months. AT&T could sell to us again next year, if they wanted, but I didn’t want it to be our responsibility to talk to them next year before the renewal date.

At first the rep assured me that my agreement would only cover the next 12 months — apparently he wasn’t listening to himself, though.  Otherwise, he was being untruthful.  At any event, when I said into the taped line that I was happy to authorize the service for 12 months but for no further, the rep said he would have to check with someone on his end.

When he came back on the line he said that he could not alter the wording and we would have to accept automatic renewal.  I replied that we couldn’t place the ad now with  automatic renewal, and unpleasantness ensued.  (Him: “You’re telling me  don’t want your ad to continue after November, 2009?” Me: “No, I am not saying that. Please do not put words in my mouth.  I am not able to commit for period longer than 12 months.” Him: “You’re telling me want your ad to stop this November?” Me: …)

The bottom line is that I did not commit my client to a renewal of the ad.  Their ad will stop in November.  And, my client is okay with it.

The AT&T online ad costs $105/month and, even according to AT&T’s own stats, only 6 people clicked on the ad in the month of July.  That’s $17.50 a web visitor.  Moreover, nobody has told my client all year that they found my client on AT&T real Yellow Pages.

But, what a cautionary tale!  It sure makes me wonder if AT&T doubts the value of its own service:  can’t it stand an annual customer review of the online Yellow Pages’ cost effectiveness?