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She's got you cornered

You'll be seeing a lot of one St. Petersburg lawyer this year. In fact, she'll be there whenever you call.

By JEANNE MALMGREN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Plunk. Your brand-new St. Petersburg telephone book just arrived at the front door.

You grab it. You look up your own name.

As you flip the pages, something leaps out at you. A picture of a smiling woman with long blond hair. There she is, on Page 57. And 390. And 614. Even Page 811, above Zwozdiak and Zytkiewicz.

This woman is on every darn page of the phone book!

She's Jeanette Secor, attorney at law and savvy advertiser. You'll be seeing her often in 2001. Every time you open the White Pages, there she'll be, offering to help you settle accident claims or handle high medical bills, pledging to "end any confusion about your rights."

Who is this woman and why is she reaching out to touch everyone? It's a tale of marketing and mistakes, bad luck and good negotiating.

Since the Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that lawyers have a First Amendment right to advertise, they have peddled their services in print and on the air. Sitting in tufted leather chairs, they drone about nursing home neglect and uninsured motorists. In the Yellow Pages, their four-color, full-page ads jostle each other like growling pit bulls.

Secor stands head and shoulders above the crowd -- literally. Beaming out from a 2-inch-square box in the upper corner of the White Pages, she's impossible to miss.

"I've got to send one to my mother!" she exclaimed last week as the first of 324,000 St. Petersburg phone books hit front stoops all over the city. (Delivery continues through the first week of June. If you don't receive yours by then, say the folks at Verizon, call 1-800-888-8448.) Secor, 35, graduated from Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport. She has practiced personal injury law in Pinellas County since 1991. Her main office, on First Avenue N, has a contemporary gray and black waiting room furnished with off-white leather sofas and a painting of dolphins by Secor.

Her business card features a flattering photo. She uses the same picture in all her ads, an office photo snapped on a "good hair day" by her secretary. She considers it her logo.

"I think it's important," she said. "It lets people see that you look friendly and approachable. They're more likely to call you."

Secor believes in the power of phone book advertising. She estimates that one-third of her clients come to her that way. For several years, her ad graced the back cover of two local independent phone directories, the Valley Yellow Pages and the Alternative Yellow Pages, a publication aimed at gays and lesbians.

Lawyers are the major buyers of full-page ads inside Verizon's Yellow Pages (the company won't talk about the cost). As in many businesses, phone directory advertising rates are "flexible," meaning they can drop if the buyer purchases several ads. Neither Verizon nor Secor wanted to discuss how much she paid for her ads.

The coveted back-cover position, a slick, full-color ad for either the White or Yellow Pages, usually is occupied by a lawyer. Secor made a bid for the back cover of the 2000 St. Petersburg GTE White Pages. Her ad representative told her she would have it. When the book came out, she was shocked to see that her ad wasn't there. She complained, but nothing could be done. The phone book was already printed.

When it came time to purchase advertising for the 2001 directory, GTE, now Verizon, tried to make amends. In addition to her two regular full-page ads in the Yellow Pages, she could have extra coverage in the White Pages at a reduced rate.

Verizon suggested a horizontal "banner" ad that runs across the bottom of the page. Nope, Secor replied. I want a square box. That way I can use my picture. I always use my picture.

Okay, Verizon responded, we'll put your box in the upper corner of every sixth page. This position, called a "corner billboard," is something new in the world of the White Pages. Verizon began selling it late last year. Secor would be the first person to have it.

(A Tampa law firm, the Kennedy Law Group, purchased the corner billboard in the Clearwater White Pages, which compose the back half of the St. Petersburg edition and the front half of the Clearwater edition. The firm's ad, the same size as Secor's, is highlighted in yellow but doesn't have a photo. It advertises Kennedy's Largo office. No one else bought the corner ad throughout an entire directory, said Verizon spokesman Bob Elek.)

Sounds good, Secor said, to the every-six-pages proposal. With one little change: What if I buy every page?

"I was just kind of joking," she recalled. "It was almost like a dare."

Verizon, to her amazement, made the deal.

And that's why you'll see Secor for the next year, every time you look up the number for Bo's Quality Roofing. Or Mid Peninsula Seafood. Or your Aunt Doris.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then Secor's nearly 1,000 pictures say a lot. Unfortunately, on some pages they say the wrong thing.

Secor wanted the ad to list addresses for both her St. Petersburg and Clearwater offices. On a proof Verizon sent her, she added the Clearwater address. But the correction was never made. The ad in the phone book lists only the St. Petersburg office.

Then there's the matter of the ad's content. Verizon offered Secor several versions, all having to do with personal injury law. Secor wanted the ad to say the same thing on all 809 pages. She wrote a slogan: Accident Victims, Do You Need Help? Call Me & End Any Confusion About Your Rights.

"I worded it carefully, so it would be approved by the (Florida) Bar," she said. "It shouldn't make any false promises."

When the phone book came out, Secor was astounded to see that some of her ads contain a different slogan. High Medical Bills? one version asks. If You've Been Injured I Can Help Recover Your Money.

"Oh, noooo!" Secor said when she saw the ad last week. "This is going to get me in trouble. The Bar wouldn't have approved this."

Verizon spokesman Elek said, "We understand that there is a mistake that has been made, and obviously if it's something we did, we're going to make it right." Looks like Secor might be on the front cover of the phone book next year.

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