Today’s Strategic Imperatives For Directory Publishers

Sebastien Provencher posted a great article on his Where Local Meets Social  blog on earlier this week.  We are posting it here in its entirity….

Today’s Strategic Imperatives For Directory Publishers

Yesterday, I gave an interview to the Globe & Mail about Canada’s Yellow Media / Yellow Pages Group, the incumbent directory publisher and my former employer (I worked there from 1999 to 2007). Even with the challenges they’re facing, I’m still a fan of the company (and of the industry in general) but the interview gave me the opportunity to put in writing what I think are the core strategic imperatives today for any directory publisher, not just Yellow Media. The list won’t surprise anyone in the industry but it’s always good to remind ourselves what they are.

  1. Change the culture. “Internet culture” must truly permeate every aspect of the organization. Concepts like speed of execution, innovation, quick iterations, coopetition, risk-taking, failing fast must become second nature (other people on Twitter & Google+ suggested “internet culture” also meant constant learning, openness, willingness to help each other out, adaptability to constant change, sharing, crowdsourcing, diversity, immediacy, learning, and expectation of access)
  2. The sales force. I believe the sales force is now the major asset of all directory publishers and this sales force needs to be able to sell print directory products as well as a variety of online products   including third-party ones like Google AdWords or Facebook advertising.  This means recruiting and training are critical success factors. I use to believe the brand was a major asset but not anymore.
  3. Reinvent the Print. I still believe print business directories have legs and they won’t die tomorrow (and by the way, stop it with      “Yellow Pages are dead” please, nothing ever dies, it just becomes niche).  Even I still use the neighborhood book once in a while. But the book needs to be reinvented to become more locally relevant, more about the consumer.  As Francis Barker (SVP at Dex Media at the time) said in 2004 at a BIA/Kelsey conference, print books design should be influenced by online local search patterns/usage. I’ll add that they now should be influenced by mobile local search/discovery apps. On a related note, book distribution in apartment and office building should be improved to avoid the PR disaster pictures like this.
  4. Continue investing in the Web. Beef up your dev and product management team, invest in R&D, try things. Facebook has shown that you can continue innovating even when you have huge consumer usage and ad  revenues.
  5. Focus on mobile. The Web is extremely fragmented and some players like Google and Facebook have managed to capture gigantic market shares. There’s probably a bigger opportunity to support the franchise by  focusing on mobile and launching various vertical apps. Directory  publishers need to invest and build up their mobile team and technology.
  6. Get serious about social media. I’m obviously biased because of the work I’m doing on Needium, but the time for experiments in social media is over. This is serious business now both from a consumer and an advertiser point of view.

Am I forgetting anything???


No you didn’t Sebastien.  Very wise words.  Nice blog.   I would like to pile on a little.

On the sales force, I was more than a little disappointed to hear senior level people from several major publishers trashing the capabilities of their current sales team at the recent BIA/Kelsey conference.  The message to them is wake up – you’re not really seeing what these people can do.  With a little more consistent direction, management support, and clarity on exactly what you want them to sell, they can do wonders.  Don’t sell them short just because
someone has been selling print products only for some time.  Trust me, there are a ton of other industries that would love to grab these sales pros, and they will if you don’t start paying some attention and appreciation to them.

On mobile, it’s clearly the big opportunity going forward.  I am not as
convinced on most social media, as I don’t view that as a place where people
want to be inundated with advertising.   The reason many people have gone to Facebook for communication is they get less spam than from email.

On print, agree totally with Sebastien.  Maybe the better way to look
at it is why does a print Yellow Pages have to have 4000 headings to be successful??  Wouldn’t a couple of key service guides, in addition to a full suite of digital products provide the same results for advertisers?  There are certain things for which digital is a slam dunk.  But then there are a host of other products and services, especially in headings I may not be as familiar with that print still works well.  And I still insist it’s quicker and easier to find many thing in print than online.   At least for now.

But in total, nice job Sebastien.

3 responses to “Today’s Strategic Imperatives For Directory Publishers

  1. Very good article. Especially enjoyed the add on about the sales teams. Question for management to ask themselves, is when was the last time they actually made a sales call and interacted with a customer.

  2. Runyon,
    This morning!
    All the best to you! You will always be a Yellow Pages Leader!
    Bill Sweeney

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