Category Archives: Editors Corner

Why Advertise in the Yellow Pages? It’s All About the CURER Factors

Small business owners (SMB’s) are very busy people.  There is inventory, payroll, taxes, paperwork, scheduling, customer service, and yes, many even take the garbage out.  You can’t blame them if they sometimes haven’t studied advertising and marketing trends.  Which is why Yellow Page industry sales reps can be a big asset to their business.

We asked Jacqui Ponkey of Genesis Publisher Services, a company that provides sales training and support services to a number of publishers, what core values does Yellow Pages have which should make it a preferred advertising source for most SMB’s?  She immediately educated us on the CURER value factors:

“C” as in Circulation

Every home and business in the area receives the book free each year.  Can any other media beat that?  Circulation covers both the primary and secondary distribution that many publishers provide to new incoming residents and businesses in the book scope.

Those not interested in the print books can opt-out.  So far, opt out percentages have been in the low single digit ranges in most communities.

Every rep should be fully versed in the number of copies distributed, where, and when.

“U” as in Usage

The latest research does show that even if overall usage has been trending lower, we are still talking about 7 out of 10 adults using the printed or online Yellow Pages at least once a year.  Many business owners will question this fact given the perception that “everyone” uses the Internet or their mobile phone. But, if that was true, how could call tracking ads be showing a 10+% increase in call volumes year over year?  In an economy like this, with high gas prices, buyers want to know if a product or service is available BEFORE they venture out to get it.

“R” as in Results

While we could argue about how many people use the books on a regular basis, one Yellow Pages fact not in dispute is what happens when a buyer does pick up the book – 78% make a purchasing decision and take action.  Surfing the web can be cool, and I love flipping between multiple TV channels, after a leisurely ride home from work listening to the radio.  But none of those media are as good an information source when I am ready to make that actual buying action as Yellow Pages.  These other media are great if you want to be distracted for 45 minutes often on a tangent that has nothing to do with the original search parameters.

“E” as in Economy

Bottom line for SMB’s – its all about return.  And this case we are talking ROI – Return on the Investment made in their advertising program.  Can 70+% of SMBs be that dumb if they are at least renewing their Yellow Pages program each year?  If it wasn’t working for them, why would they continue to spend money on it?  Studies continue to show that print advertising programs are generating AT LEAST $10 for each $1 spent.

“R” as in Retention

It may sit on a shelf or a corner table for most of the year, but while that is happening, it uses no electrical power, doesn’t require any special connections, and is full portable ready and waiting for the customer is ready to buy.  What other media has a shelf life of a year (or more), and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week including holidays?


These are the core values of Yellow Pages.  They are the facts, and they are not in dispute.  Are you sharing these with each advertiser (or potential advertiser) you are talking with?


Why Facebook Will Kill The Yellow Pages

Actually, those of you that know me, have probably already figured out that this is a leading, bogus title.  Even if this is the latest, hottest, newest, most exciting thing from Wall Street, I seriously don’t think Facebook is going to make a dent in the local advertising.  Why?   Because there are already some serious clouds forming in its over-hyped empire.

Now don’t get me wrong – I enjoy some of the info sharing with widely dispersed friends and family that Facebook can bring.  I just don’t see this as the local advertising nirvana that it is being made out to be by some.

By the time you are reading this, Facebook will have completed its initial IPO stock offering, and with a final price at $38 a share, it should raise about $18.4 zilllion (ok, billion), becoming the second-largest U.S. IPO ever.  That’s a lot of cash no matter what you think of their business model.

Facebook is also one of the few profitable Internet companies to go public recently — it had net income of $205 million in the first three months of 2012, on revenue of $1.06 billion. In all of 2011, it earned $1 billion, up from $606 million a year earlier. That’s a far cry from 2007, when it posted a net loss of $138 million and revenue of just $153 million.

But at these kinds of valuation levels, the expectations will be huge.  And as we know in the Yellow Page industry, everyone will be gunning to take a piece of their pie.  Therein lies the rub.  So let’s look at the cracks already appearing in their armor.

Problem, #1 – Expectations require results, big results

To meet these over inflated expectations, Facebook will need to cook up new streams of revenue that indicate a future beyond its current revenue model of just advertising. Last year, advertising represented 85% of Facebook’s revenue of $3.7 billion. At its IPO, Facebook will likely be valued at about 100 times its current profit, meaning it must fuel growth by somehow figuring out how to squeeze a lot more value out of its 900 million users.

For example, their latest revenue test came a week or so ago when the company began charging users in New Zealand as much as two New Zealand dollars ($1.53) a post to ensure that their own friends see what they write. The service, dubbed “Highlight”, seems contradictory to Facebook’s long-standing pledge, emblazoned on its home page, that the site is “free and always will be.” The service is similar to one for marketers, called “Reach Generator”, which Facebook introduced in February, for brands to pay per “fan” to reach those users 75% of the time with marketing messages.  Naturally, some users have been puzzled by Facebook’s fee to make posts show up more often. Maybe they just need to add an asterisk to that free pledge.

A Facebook spokesman was quoted as saying that the company constantly tries new features. “This particular test is simply to gauge people’s interest in this method of sharing with their friends,” but declined to say how the experiment was going.

The problem is that Facebook already has a reputation of fast and furious product introductions that don’t always stick. For example, it abandoned a major 2007 initiative called “Beacon” that sent data from external websites to Facebook, and a 2011 effort at selling daily deals, similar to what Groupon offers.

Problem # 2 – The return on their advertising sucks

As I’m sure you heard, General Motors has announced it is withdrawing its advertising on Facebook because it just wasn’t seeing the results they expected. GM currently spends about $40M on its Facebook presence, with about $10M of that for advertising. But GM isn’t the only company to see weak results for its Facebook ads: Wordstream estimated that Facebook ads have an average click-through rate of just 0.051%. That’s barely half the 0.1% rate typically seen for Internet ads, and a small fraction of what Google has (0.4%). Moreover, analyst noted that Facebook’s 6.5% Q/Q revenue decline in seasonally weak Q1 compares unfavorably with the 1% increase posted by Google’s display ads for the same period, and that from a much larger base.

Problem #3 – Most advertisers have no idea how to use Facebook to their advantage

If you do a quick Google search you will see a whole rash of stories on this.  Given the experience the Yellow Page industry has with SMB’s, where those marketing a range of products often see sales calls now running 2 to 3 hours, why would we think that these same SMBs would understand Facebook seamlessly?  And the bigger question is that if they struggle with this newest, hottest of internet sites, what does that say about the future of social network advertising?

Problem #4 – Users don’t trust the site

One benefit of print Yellow Pages has always been its huge trust factor amongst consumers.  For Facebook, a recent global survey by the digital marketing agency, Greenlight, revealed that a full 30% of people ‘strongly distrust’ Facebook with their personal data.  Additionally 44% confirm they would ‘never’ click on Facebook sponsored ads, and 31% indicated they rarely click on them.  That kind of distrust and lack of interest in Facebook as an advertising vehicle does not bode well for Facebook’s advertising programs.


We’ll have to see what the future holds but the early signals aren’t showing me any indication that Facebook is a platform to connect buyers and sellers.  To communicate and share with others, yes.  But to find local products and services?  Not yet.  Not even close.


10 Reasons Why The Yellow Pages Still Work (well)

Lest you think I was being supremely creative with this title, I have to give credit for the concept to Steve Averill who writes the OCBizblog blog which he claims is “…an award-winning (?) small business marketing blog boasting more than 5,000 followers most of whom are located in Orange County, California….” Boo-ya for him.  His most recent missive was 10 Reasons Why The Yellow Pages is the Drunk Uncle of Advertising.

Now normally I would chalk commentary like this up to someone who really doesn’t understand how small business advertising works and just move on.  But his comments were far too tempting to ignore.  So let’s have some fun and test his 10 Reasons to see how if maybe, just maybe he has things a little backwards:

1. He just shows up one day on your doorstep unannounced.  Yes, the print Yellow Pages is free, doesn’t require any power, any special connections, any technical expertise to operate, doesn’t attract spam email or viruses, and when the newest version arrives, the old version can be fully recycled.  Should I keep going on this one, as it isn’t even a fair fight?  I guess in Orange County they don’t get email spam or bogus text messages like those that I do now.  Steve:  you’re missing the excitement of all of the neat things inside that book.

2. He talks a big game.  True. By why?  Distributed free to every home and business, vs. at best 80% penetration of broadband in US (note: key word is “adoption”, not exclusive use of Internet and nothing else). For advertisers, Yellow Pages has an ROI for advertisers of at least 10 to 1 (CRM Associates research).  If 70+% of businesses in the print directory are at least renewing each year, but 50+% of online advertisers are churning year to year, which one really works better for SMB’s??  As our esteemed Vice President would say, yes, Yellow Pages is a big ___ deal.  Really big.

3. He’s always asking for money.  I’m a little puzzled with this one.  Is he suggesting that buying Google Adwords is free for advertisers?  How about getting that Internet connection to begin with?   The average household pays about $150 for a first time connection fee for broadband services and then monthly fees ranging from $50 to $130 depending on how much data you need/use.  And all of these hi-tech gizmo’s cost:  ____.  Fill in the blank based depending on which device(s) you get.  All I know is my cell bill, with my new iPhone hasn’t been under $100 a month since I got it..For users, it seems to me that it’s the other way around.

For advertises, they know right up front how much a print Yellow Pages ad is going to cost.  When they start spending money in the online world, they really don’t know how far they will need to go to bring in the level of business leads they need.

4. He’s completely unreliable.  Huumm.  Also not sure what the point is here.  Where does he think most of those listings you find on the Internet come from?  Perhaps if he looked at the Yellow Pages he would know.  And how do those listings get to a printed telephone book?  Each publisher reviews and scrubs them for accuracy.  Most books are then scanned/rekeyed to create those databases you encounter online.  So help me.  Define “unreliable”.

5. He’s old.  So’s my wife, but that doesn’t mean I have ditched her for the flavor dejour.  If he’s complaining that Yellow Pages has a 150 or so year track record working with a very diverse range of small/midsized businesses to help them bring more leads to their doors, well, go ahead and complain.  New is not always better.

6. He thinks it’s 1982 and yellow is a fashionable color.  Ok let’s compare: a Yellow Pages rep walks in the door of a local business and identifies that are from an established provider of local print and online Yellow Pages, a recognized product that businesses have been spending money in year in and year out.  The rep and publisher contribute to local community efforts like the  Little League, his kids probably babysit for some of the business owners kids, and the rep buys products because he lives in that same community as that small business.

The other option is a rep from XYZ Local Search Daily, who’s been in business for maybe 10 minutes, only sells products for which he can’t guarantee anything such as consistent first page Google results, has to explain an alphabet soup of acronyms so the business owner understands what he is buying, and in reality, has the same services that could be bought from the next guy through the door.  Which one do you think has a higher  trust level beginning their conversation??  I think Yellow is a beautiful color, combined with some black it is a powerful combination.

7. He thinks all the information he spews out is meaningful.  I have to agree with Mr. Averill on this one.  I don’t need a fencing company each year.  But I did need one last month.  Where did I look for local company?  In the print Yellow Pages.  I’ve never had a problem with my garage door opener.  Ever.  Until two weeks ago.  Where did I look for local company?  In the print Yellow Pages.   In the past two weeks, I haven’t used the print Yellow Pages.  Not once.  Tomorrow?   Not sure what the next need for a local product or service is going to look like.  And while that phonebook is sitting idely by for two weeks – it hasn’t used any power, attracted no viruses or spam, and is still ready to go a moments notice.

If there are upwards of 4000 potential headings in a print Yellow Pages, I’ll bet most people wouldn’t need more than a handful of them in a normal year.  But do you know when you’ll need the info in the other 3995 headings next??

8. He thinks television is technology.  From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Time Use Survey — 2010 Results:  Watching TV was the leisure activity that occupied the most time (2.7 hours per day), accounting for about half of leisure time, on average, for those age 15 and over.  So if you watch TV is this guy implying I’m stupid?  Or I guess if I don’t have the latest hi-tech device I must be 90 years old.

9. He thinks shouting is advertising.  A print Yellow Pages has no audio button, so…??  However, I have visited a number of websites recently that feel compelled to blast me with a video the second I reach the site, a video I didn’t ask for, that I can’t stop until it runs fully, and with an audio level that seems to be at about 100 decibels.  I think that would classify as worse than shouting.

10. He’s a big fat waste of space.  At the recent Local Search Association conference (the Yellow Pages Association for you old timers like me), research showed that the results on the call tracking lines in the print Yellow Pages were up at least 20% year over year.  Seems like someone is using those books and turning those walking fingers into phone dialing so they can buy local products and services..


Sorry Uncle Yellow, but that’s the way it is.  Sorry, Steve Averill, you don’t get it.  There are more information sources these days, no argument there.  Heck, I sit in front of two compueters all day long.  But I’m not using those to shop locally.  Surf for info, a little social networking (but don’t tell my boss please), email (far too much of it), and a whole bunch of other things.  But not buying locally for a product or service I don’t know a lot about.

Steve, my friend,  there is still time for you to retrieve that book from the recycle bin (kudos for at least doing that).  Check it out. You will find some pretty amazing stuff, even things like coupons that can help you save money.  We understand your ignorance, but we won’t hold it against you….


Don’t believe what you are reading about the spinoff of the AT&T Yellow Pages…

As you are all know by now, AT&T recently reached a deal to sell a majority stake in its Yellow Pages operation to Cerberus Capital Management.  The deal for 53% of the unit was reportedly valued at about $1.42 billion ($750 million in cash and a $200 million note).  Once completed the transaction will result in the formation of a new entity, uncreatively titled “YP Holdings LLC”, with Cerberus having management control.

Within minutes of the announcement, I start seeing all kinds of negativity directed at the business with comments like “unloaded”, “distressed”, “apocalyptic”, “another large telecom is hanging up on printed directories”, “Phone books are obsolete”, and on and on.  I of course, disagree totally with these comments of doom and gloom.  And let me tell you why:

Print yellow pages are still a cash-generating sales machine.  The AT&T Yellow Pages operation brought in $3.3 billion in revenue last year.  Let’s compare that with the results from one from the darlings of the internet which was supposed to be a Yellow pages killer, Yelp, which only eked out $83.3 million.   Surprising Yelp has a market capitalization of $1.39 billion, which would put is just below YP Holdings. Going further, the other Internet star in the space, Angie’s List, is also valued well below the AT&T operation, with a market cap of about $870 million.

Print Yellow Pages are declining, but they won’t die.  At least not for a very long time. Even the Associated Press noted the situation. Print Yellow Pages are not like their fellow traditional media friends — newspapers, which have seen a loss of $27 in print for every digital $1 gain (source).

As a recent ADP association release noted, Yellow Page advertising continues to deliver the most calls at the best rate out there.  They reported that Bloom Ads, Inc. a full service advertising agency located in Woodland Hills, CA conducted a two year test for one of their large regional insurance providers. The test utilized unique call tracking numbers for ads appearing on broadcast, out of home and in print yellow pages.

The results were pretty solid:

  • Print yellow page ads drove on average 55% of all calls at a cost per call of under $30.00
  • Television & Radio generated approximately 40.5% of all calls at a CPC of approximately  $160.00
  • Outdoor represented an average of 4.5% of the overall calls at a CPC of over $300.00

AT&T completed a shrewd business move.  I am admittedly not a financial guru.  But just take a closer look at the structure of the deal – AT&T didn’t sell the entire operation, so with 47% ownership, the cash generated from Yellow Pages will continue to roll in, it is now has a minority business stake so they no longer need to publicly report numbers, and they got nearly $1 billion in cash to use in their other operations.

The folks at Cerberus aren’t dummies.  As The Boston Globe pointed out in 2010, Cerebus has a history of quietly buying struggling companies and then selling them at a profit: “They range from the Alamo and National rental car companies, both of which it sold to Enterprise Rent-A-Car, to plasma medicine company Talecris Biotherapeutics, which it took public in an initial public offering.”  Cerberus isn’t perfect as they also invested in Chrysler and GMAC which needed government bailouts.  However, do you really think they would invest that kind of cash in a dead-end business??  Not.


The best summation I can offer you comes from an unlikely source – David Lazarus from the LA Times: “Sometimes a deal looks so screwy, you’ve got to wonder what they’re thinking — such as a private-equity group buying a majority stake in AT&T’s Yellow Pages division. This is the age of Google and Yelp and Groupon….”  Check out the video:  And don’t listen to the doom and gloomers…


Editors Corner — Yellow Page Industry Strategic Predictions for 2012

New Year’s is always a traditional time to sit back and reflect on what was and what will be.  It’s also the time of year where pundits feel compelled to offer their predictions for the coming year.  I’ve always thought this process to be a bit silly as they have no real impact on actual business strategies, and usually are just meant for a couple of minutes of shock value. 

So let’s tweak the process a little to offer some more strategic predictions on several key macro areas that I think should be the focus for successful companies in 2012 in the Yellow Page industry – suppliers, publishers, and CMRs alike.  I believe it comes down to these five basic things.

1.  Be sure to know where you are starting from

To know where you are going, you need to start with exactly where are we.  Looking back, it seemed to me that 2011 was both one of the most difficult and most rewarding years I’ve witnessed for this industry in some time.  Why so difficult?   Businesses of all sizes spent 2012 hunkered down, frustrated and skeptical about where the economy was going.  If something had to be cut, rightfully or wrongly, it was usually the advertising budget.  At the other end of the spectrum, consumers watched every penny to stay afloat, so by definition, they were doing less shopping and being more deliberate, doing more detailed research when they are ready to buy. 

Why so rewarding?  Because I also think some reality finally set in.  Online and mobile technology has wonderful potential for the future.  But it doesn’t come to life without comprehensive, accurate, and timely local data.  Who has the most complete set of that data now?  Not Google.  It’s the publishers.  And with each sales call, they can build a more and more detailed database.  As publishers rediscover that they have a database of incredible, unique core data, many of them will begin to address how they can leverage those assets, independent of getting too hung up on platform. 

A “Yellow Pages” can be in a book format, something running on your mobile phone, or searched online.  But at its most basic element, it’s all about the data, not the delivery mechanism.  I believe that is the starting point that the industry seems to have lost in its pursuit of new revenue streams.  No one, no other media industry, has a source like this.

2.  People – who’s rowing the boat?

Over the holidays I got to visit Asia and made a little detour to visit a major publisher there.  Their number one business issue?  Not the migration from print to digital products.  People.  Finding people who can sell in a solution provider mode, not just take orders.  That sentiment has been echoed across the globe with every company I’ve talked to.  Merge that with a very unhappy workplace where different HR experts have indicated that upwards of 40+% of your team is ready to bolt immediately should the job market improve, and you have the makings of a huge mess.

Right now, there isn’t a lot of positive energy in many companies in this industry.  Case in point is a major publishers like Dex One talking about changing out up to two-thirds of their entire team. To be successful, all companies in the industry, especially publishers, will need to find a way to identify, recruit, and compensate their people, especially their sales teams, in 2012.  It will be an uphill battle.

We’ll have a lot more on this in a coming article.


3.   Products – and your strategy is??

One easy prediction to make is that this year the economy will be better than the last few.  All kinds of opportunities are out there. But for which products?? 

Some macro level info to start from:  experts believe that weighed down by flat incomes and slow job creation; there is little chance that U.S. consumers will increase spending significantly this year.  One recent projection was a forecast for 2% growth in consumer spending in the first half of the year, compared with the estimated 3.6% increase in the fourth quarter of 2011.  But when those consumers are ready to spend, they will need that high quality local business information that only this industry can provide.

You’ve all heard that everything digital will be the rage again next year.  Digital advertising will make up more than 20% of all ad spending in 2012 and will account for half of all growth, predicts ZenithOptimedia.  In the Yellow Pages world, the BIA/Kelsey and Simba groups are both suggesting that 2011 will see a slower decrease in print revenues and a faster increase in digital revenues, but with print still being the predominant revenue generator at this point.

What keeps print going??  Things like natural disasters help.  And disasters will again occur in 2012.  For example, this past October, when an unseasonal snowstorm hit the Northeast from New Jersey to Maine, call tracking supplier Telmetrics found that local consumers flocked to their phone books to find a wide variety of important business services.  Call volumes shot up more than 18% across the region as a result of the storm, with Connecticut seeing a nearly 47% increase.  

This is another theme we will cover in future articles.  Yes, you need to be in digital, but it’s not time to give up on print yet.  Remember, it’s just another delivery mechanism.


4.  “Show me the money value…” – Value and service as the new differentiator

During my holiday travels I had the occasion to experience both US and international airlines.  It wasn’t even a fair comparison.  On the international flights, the carrier did a lot of little things to impress me and express how much they wanted my future business:  things like provided eyeshades, ear plugs, even a spare toothbrush, while managing to keep my wine glass full the entire time.  Domestically, it was get your rear end in the seat, here’s a bag of peanuts, and give me your wallet so we can gouge you for each piece of luggage checked.  When I have the need to fly next, which type of airline do you think I will use?  And given it was their peak season, why wouldn’t they hand out free cookies or something just to pretend they are happy tp have your business, that they want the whole experience with them to be pleasurable, and to have you back again soon?  Nope.  They didn’t even try.

Given that all advertising expenditures will be tight this year, and that publishers will be providing a wide smorgasbord of products, what will differentiate them from the 30 other guys walking in the door trying to get that small business to spend their advertising money?  Simply said it will be the one that can demonstrate the true value of their product, value seen from the eyes of the recipient not the provider, and then execute on what they promise.  You have to be able to justify why that business should be spending money with your company.  You need to find something they aren’t doing in their current ad program that will help generate more business contacts for them.

Keep in mind that our customers now have a choice.  They can remain our happy and loyal customers, because we’ve exceeded their expectations.  Or they can become our competitors’ customers because our competitors have exceeded expectations — while we haven’t.


5.  Planning is nice, but you need to execute your strategy.

Strategy and planning are important, very important.  A totally necessary component for success.  But strategy without execution is useless if nothing ever happens.  Execute!

If you are managing a team, you need to get your troops engaged in the plan.  Engaged people are not interested in leaving.  And they also aren’t afraid of tomorrow — they’re not afraid of change.  Engaged people try harder, do more.  They’re anxious to move, to succeed.  Their energy is infectious.  They’re the positive face of your brand and your company.  They’re your company’s most valuable ambassadors.  They’re the secret weapon for success as they execute your strategy.  Are you doing everything you can to get them engaged?

Also, let’s get personalWhat’s with you next year? How will you be better as a person and at what you do for a living? What will make you better?  Where is your focus? This is another area we will be writing on in 2012.


Welcome to 2012.  Put on your seat belts and get ready for a wild ride…


Editors Corner: The End of An Era

The announcement yesterday that Joe Walsh has resigned as CEO of Yellowbook (U.S. division of UK-based Yell Group) after 24 years with the company certainly marks the end of an era.

We first interviewed Joe for a YP Talk article back in December, 2004 (link to full interview) just as the first Internet based products were starting to
arrive.  If you had an opportunity to spend a few minutes with him, you very quickly understand how he was able to orchestra the growth of Yellowbook from a very small independent publisher in Long Island into a billion dollar independent publisher with a significant presence in most major U.S. markets.

We noted at the time that Walsh’s Yellow Pages career was a textbook Horatio Alger story. He started as a sales rep for a small service directory company in the Washington, DC area in 1982. He joined Yellow Book in 1987 where he quickly rose to become CEO in 1992. Walsh acknowledged that he closely studied people who are top achievers. By 1992, he had changed the company’s focus to entirely Yellow Pages and started on the first of a string of acquisitions buying a series of small books in New Jersey from Gannett Company. In 1999, the company was sold to British Telecom, where BT agreed to provide a $1.8 billion dollar war chest for further acquisitions.  Within two years, Yellow Book had acquired over 30 publishers. In June, 2001, the directory services (Yell Group) were spun off from BT and acquired by the private equity groups Apax Partners Ltd. and Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst. In July, 2003, Yell was listed on the London Stock Exchange following a successful Initial Public Offering (IPO). In January, 2004, Apax Partners Ltd. and Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst sold their remaining holdings
in Yell.

Walsh has instrumental in Yellowbook’s efforts to growth through the acquisition of smaller independent publishers, sometimes at sales multiples that raised eyebrows.  And while acquisitions of any type will always result in a few ruffled feathers when the acquired company is transitioned to the “Yellowbook way”, by and large, the company became highly proficient at completing these mergers in a relatively seamless, efficient way.

Most recently, Walsh was one of the first industry leaders to sense the need to transition the company again, but this time from a predominated print focused company into an operation that will generate an increasing share of its revenues from digital and non-traditional products in the future.  Other major publishers have followed, all with mostly mixed results to this point.  As a result, Walsh could arguably be considered one of the most impactful leaders ever in the Yellow Pages industry.

I believe Walsh’s departure marks the end of an era as the major players in the industry are now mostly being led by executives who have little to no roots in the industry, as was the case for the better part of the industries one hundred plus year history.  The industry is definitely in unknown, uncharted waters now, with captains that really may not understand how their ships run or even agree with their primary current engine, the print Yellow Pages.

Some industry watchers believe this was not a big surprise, given the changes being floated by Yell’s new management team.  But the reaction of some of the Yellowbook people seemed to be the opposite.  Netherless, Bob Gregerson, who will assume the CEO spot on an interim basis, has very big shoes to fill as he pushes the company reinvention rock up a very steep hill.

For long time industry veterans such as myself, this truly does feel like the end of an era where the industry’s future business direction was clear and leadership was a personable,dynamic lot with deep roots in the business.  Between environmental battles, the heavy push to convert to digital products, and significant overall changes in the media advertising world in general, perhaps Walsh was again a visionary with the statement he made in an email sent to Yellowbook employees:

“…Now is therefore the right time to hand over to someone who can lead our company into the next stage of its life…..”

If someone at Yell/Yellowbook knows what that next stage looks like, give me a call, as this change seems contradictory.  As Walsh noted in our 2004 interview:

“…I think it is vital that people win. It’s vital that your people succeed. Because if they don’t, it is not their fault, it is the leaders fault. You either picked the wrong hill, or didn’t have the right plan, but taking that responsibility is very important. I describe it in management development courses with the regional managers or conferences with the reps that we view the business structure as an inverted triangle where the people who touch the customers, the sales reps and the managers are at the top, and the guy running this company, me, is at the bottom. For everyone in between, their job is to allow those people making commitments to the customers to over deliver, to remove
obstacles, to speed the process along. I view my job as providing clarity, removing obstacles, and letting the folks doing the real work everyday get their job done…”

I’m not sure that job descripotion had changed much.  For Joe Walsh, I don’t think this will be the last we hear from him.  Winners don’t quit, they just find new challenges.  Both Walsh and Yell/Yellowbook will now have the chance to pursue those new challenges…


How Steve Jobs Impacted The Yellow Pages Industry


The recent announcement of Steve Jobs death, while not totally unexpected given his battles with cancer, was still very sad, disheartening news.
Millions have hailed him for his vision, his innovation, his genius, and for leadership in developing products and services which will continue to influence
our way of life and the way we work for many years to come.  He will be badly missed.

How big is his passing?  Tributes to Steve Jobs began flooded social networks Thursday immediately after his death, with some Apple fans posting images and videos of themselves and the Jobs-inspired products they use. Jobs’ Stanford commencement address in 2005, where he openly discussed the reality of
dying became one of the most viewed YouTube videos that day with 1.5 million viewings.  And on Twitter, shortly after his passing was announced, there were 6,049 posts per second on the subject, topping the 5,008 after the reported death of Osama bin Laden.

After having some time to digest this sad news, I’ve come to realize that even the Yellow Page industry has been affected by this giant.  Our industry is a technology user and the wide range of products Jobs championed at Apple have had a major impact on the industry.

Let’s start with the original Mac PC platform.  The graphic artists in our industry swear by it even to this day.  Its capabilities have allowed our industry artists to create millions and millions of good looking, creative ads which help advertisers present their business to buyers in a superior fashion, well beyond anything they could have created.  Ask those artists whether they would be willing to give up their Mac or their first born, and most will hesitate to answer quickly.

Most recently the development of the iPhone or iPad – have completely altered the ways our industry connects local buyers and sellers.  It has been less than 4 years since the iPhone was first introduced.  Can you even remember a time when we didn’t have such a wonderful mobile device?  The App Store opened even more new ground, and now, just about every Yellow Page publisher offers a mobile app.

A little less than two years ago, had you been asking for this next new technology — a tablet/PC/something more iPad.   The device was wildly popular from the onset with 300,000 iPads being sold on their first day of availability. By May 3, 2010, Apple had sold a million iPads, half the time it took to sell the same number of iPhones.  During an October, 2010, conference call, Jobs revealed  that Apple had sold more iPads than Macs for the quarter.  In total, Apple sold more than 15 million first generation iPads prior to the launch of the iPad 2.  There appears to be no end to the growth of these devices as competitors have jumped in with their versions.  And the impact to the Yellow Page industry?  Some publishers now have their salespeople across the country relying on them to facilitate the entire sales experience, everything from prep to completing contracts with their advertisers.  A more robust Yellow Pages experience will also follow for these powerful devices.  The possibilities appear to be endless.

Beyond just the devices and services, let’s not forget how Apple under his tutelage has also seen a meteoric rise in stock price, rising some 53%
in 2010 only.  If you have money in a mutual fund, most likely you also owned some Apple stock through the fund and have profited.

While it may be time to say goodbye, it’s also time to say thank you Steve Jobs.  Steve, we are already missing you…….

Do Advertisers Know Who You Are??

In June of 2007, we ran the following article on the YP Talk
website:  Do Advertisers Know Who You Are?  We think many of the key points we made in this article are still true.  Sections of the article follow:

Quick question: Can you remember the name of the sales rep that
you bought/leased your last car from?? Based on my highly unscientific survey,
less than 10% of the people I talked to could remember their name, and this is
for one of the largest expenditures you will probably make other than your
home. Yet, I know our sales rep’s name very well – he’s Phil Mckinney.

Why do I know Phil’s name even some 3 years since we last did business with him? Sure, Phil is a nice guy with a very understandable southern drawl. He attends church regularly every Sunday. Overall, he seems to be a very
upstanding citizen. But it’s not his personality that has me remembering his
name. It is more because every 3 to 4 months, I get a letter, post card or a
phone call from him just to say hello. Sometimes it acknowledges a birthday or
anniversary. Sometimes it may have a line or two about new models that have
come out. Overall, it is a totally low pressure sales approach which is solely
intended to keep his name fresh in our memory. And it works. Whenever we get
one of his handwritten notes, it makes us chuckle; another note from Phil has

When I asked Phil about this program, he acknowledged there is a system that the dealership has been using that prompts him to reach out to everyone on his list of former buyers about every 90 days. The beauty of this program is it keeps
him in touch with the over 4,000 former clients he has worked with. He
indicated repeat buyers are his primary earnings opportunity and this
consistent follow-up has kept him successful for over 21 years in car sales.
“You can make a living on new business that may come through the door, but not
a very good one.” This follow-up program requires about 6 to 7 hours on average
a week of his time.

This led me to wonder about Yellow Pages sales. If a car sales rep needs to keep up this level of customer contact for purchases that happen on average every four years, does the typical Yellow Page advertiser know their reps name?? At worst, they get a visit at least once a year. In another very informal, unscientific
survey, I asked the last 10 local advertisers I did business with if they could
name their Yellow Pages rep. You should know that in this market, there are at
least 4 different Yellow Page publishers calling on these businesses. The most
recent book canvasses were just completed within the last 6 or so months. The
results from my survey were a little depressing – only two thought they might
remember their names, and one did ask for which publisher (indicating they
knew the names of more than one publisher rep).

I’m hoping that this 30% result is just an aberration of my most recent contacts.
Given that car sales reps probably rank right at the bottom of the food chain
of people we admire, you would think that Yellow Pages reps would come up a
couple of notches higher. This is even more important at a time when industry
research has shown the beginnings of a clear transition from print only to
print and online advertising. Yellow Pages lifeblood has been its long term,
trusted relationship with local advertisers. While I still believe this
industry is the best positioned of any media to work with small/mid-sized
businesses to help them develop and implement a marketing program that works
best for them regardless of the media, how the heck is that going to happen when they don’t even know who the name was of the last rep they just talked with??????   What are publishers doing to keep the benefits of their products fresh in the advertisers mind? And where is a coordinated industry campaign that reminds both users and advertisers of the benefits of working with your Yellow Pages, both the print and online versions?

If I’m wrong about this, drop me a line ( and tell me what your team is doing to stay in touch with its client base.

In an update since we wrote this story, Phil has since retired.  Now who am I am going to buy my next car from???  For the millions of small to midsized businesses that rely on Yellow Pages for their advertising programs, who are they going to call to get help with their next advertising program???

Are we surprised San Francisco Board of Supervisors Passes Jobs-Killing Ban on Yellow Pages??

It’s official – BIA/Kelsey reports that the mayor of San Francisco has signed the jobs-killing, opt-in legislation which uniquely targeted print Yellow Pages products.  Ok, time for the industry to spring into action.

Step 1 – get the lawyers working and let’s see a bunch of lawsuits that go after
this thing.  As Local Search Association (formerly Yellow Pages Association) President Neg Norton, said in a press release “From day one, we committed to addressing the city’s waste reduction goals, but neither the Supervisors nor the Mayor would let us be part of the process.  What’s most frustrating is that, behind closed doors, many in the city government admit that the arguments and statistics used to support this ban were questionable at best, but for political reasons, did not feel they could oppose it. This leaves us little choice but to pursue legal remedies to this harmful ordinance.”  City of San Francisco – see you in court.

Step 2 – join a boycott of the city.  In this recent post about the decision coming out of San Francisco, I called for a boycott of the city of San Francisco and here’s why:

In the effort to fight this an interesting coalition formed which included groups such as Valley Yellow Pages, AT&T, Seccion Amarilla, the IBEW labor union, The Utility Reform Network, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, ADP association, Chinese Yellow Pages, Rainbow Pages, and other local consumer advocate and business groups. All of them had the same message – IF YOU PASS THIS LAW IT WILL COST JOBS AND HURT SMALL BUSINESSES, HINDERING THEIR EFFORTS TO COST EFFECTIVELY PROMOTE THEIR BUSINESSES. Can all of these groups be wrong?? Not likely.

So other than lawsuits (which are unavoidable), what else can the industry do?? I suggest an all-out boycott of the city of San Francisco. In effect let’s opt-out of city. That means no conventions there (LSA, Kelsey Group, and ADP can you hear us), no personal travel there, no doing business with anyone in the city area, etc. – and then letting the 10 city Board of Supervisors who voted for this legislation know we’re not coming to their city to spend money.

The San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau says that in 2010, San Francisco hosted 15.9 million visitors who spent $8.3 billion during their stay – that’s more than $22.8 million a day. That makes tourism one of our most important industries for the city. As a result, visitor dollars generated over $485 million in taxes and fees that support The City’s “…general budget, health and safety, arts and cultural organizations, recreational facilities and low-income housing.” This also means that visitor dollars supported about 67,122 jobs in the hospitality and tourism industries, or put another way, about $1.88 billion in local payroll (excluding tips).

An industry wide boycott including family and friends should put a little dent in all that don’t you think??

Ironic that just this week  I received this email from a young entrepreneurial
gentleman in San Francisco:

It’s with great enthusiasm (hi-fives) and passion that I am launching Daily Secret, San Francisco – your daily dose of inside scoop secret stuff happening in the awesome city of San Francisco. You are receiving this first secret because I believe you have a love of SF whether you live here or just visit on occasion.

Here is what I sent him back:

Not interested thank you.  Please remove my name from your distribution list immediately .

Given that the city politicians have decided to pass job killing legislation requiring opt-in print Yellow Pages, while not addressing any of the other 99.7% of the other products that are in the typical  municipal waste stream, I and other industry professionals will be boycotting the city and anything to do with it.
That means no conventions there, no meetings there, and no personal travel to
the city.   If the city wants to allow one small group to drive its agenda for purely political reasons, fine.  If that’s what you and the other residents want, ok.  But it also means I don’t have any use for your  city either.…

Now normally one would assume that this is just unusual behavior
by the city and some rouge local government officails.  But maybe not.  I’ve had several people suggest to me that this was already a city that appears to be located somewhere on the other side of the twilight zone.  How can  I say that?
Just check this current news out:

Tales of the Red Tape #11: Circumcising Principle in San Francisco (blog)

From the city that has already banned military recruiting, plastic bags, cat
declawing, new billboards, ATM fees, citywide phone book delivery,
Styrofoam takeout boxes, officials’ travel to Arizona, and fast-food toys,
there now comes a ballot measure to outlaw the circumcision of minors. Should the initiative prevail in November, the subject snip would become a crime punishable by a year in jail or a $1,000 fine.

Circumcision?  Seriously?  Is this the most important the Board of Supervisors needs to worry about??

Let’s just boycott the whole scene and let them know it’s a two way street here.  We will get you additional information on how to contact the council and Mayor in a follow-up comment.

In the interim, are you with me??

Time to Opt-Out of the City of San Francisco

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved in a purely procedural second and final vote Tuesday legislation which requires residents who want a phonebook to request a copy (aka an “opt-in” program) and blocks any mass distribution of books.  The effort has been championed by board president David Chiu who has already announced plans to run for mayor .  Now he has his environmental green card stamp to begin his run for higher office.

The law doesn’t go into effect until May 2012, and while I don’t have an specific knowledge of what’s next, I am willing to bet you will see much more legal action filed by publishers against this new law should the mayor not veto it.

What’s most disappointing about this whole effort by the city is how short sighted and fundamentally stupid it is.  In a statement released after the vote, His Eminence Mr. Chiu said  “…this legislation reaffirms San Francisco’s nationwide leadership on environmental policy.”   Seriuously??  If that was the case, what is the city doing to remove things like newspapers, cardboard, plastic bottles, and baby diapers from their  waste stream, all items which cost them significantly more to process than phone books.

The city government also seems very short sighted that the mass distribution of a directory was the only way to ensure all local residents received key information on disaster planning, what to do in times of crisis, and even contact information for all city agencies.  This from a city which has a long history of nasty things called earth quakes.

In the effort to fight this an interesting coalition formed which included groups such as Valley Yellow Pages, AT&T, Seccion Amarilla, the IBEW labor union, The Utility Reform Network, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, ADP association, Chinese Yellow Pages, Rainbow Pages, and other local consumer advocate and business groups.  All of them had the same message – IF YOU PASS THIS LAW IT WILL COST JOBS AND HURT SMALL BUSINESSES, HINDERING THEIR EFFORTS TO COST EFFECTIVELY PROMOTE THEIR BUSINESSES.  Can all of these groups be wrong??  Not likely.

The industry has pointed out time and time again its successes in improving recycling rates and providing a simple, efficient opt-out program for those that really don’t want books.  As a result, last year according to the EPA, directory recycling rates improved from 22% to 35%. Wonder what the newspaper recycling rate is, or how about the cardboard that is used in the packaging of nearly everything you buy.  The efforts by the Yellow Pages industry represent a dramatic shift in both source reduction and recycling rates.   All accomplished without any government intervention.

There is some hope for San Francisco.  Supervisor Sean Elsbernd opposed the bill (thank God). He has said he believes the legislation is illegal and he worries about the impact on businesses – finally, someone gets the message.  Now the bill moves to the Mayor for signature.  Given his record, I’m not hopefully he will veto it.

So other than lawsuits (which are unavoidable), what else can the industry do??  I suggest an all-out boycott of the city of San Francisco.  In effect let’s opt-out of city.  That means no conventions there (LSA, Kelsey Group, and ADP can you hear us), no personal travel there, no doing business with anyone in the city area, etc. – and then letting the 10 city Board of Supervisors who voted for this legislation know we’re not coming to their city to spend money.

The San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau says that in 2010, San Francisco hosted 15.9 million visitors who spent $8.3 billion during their stay – that’s more than $22.8 million a day. That makes tourism one of our most important industries for the city. As a result, visitor dollars generated over $485 million in taxes and fees that support The City’s “…general budget, health and safety, arts and cultural organizations, recreational facilities and low-income housing.”  This also means that visitor dollars supported about 67,122 jobs in the hospitality and tourism industries, or put another way, about $1.88 billion in local payroll (excluding tips).

An industry wide boycott including family and friends should put a little dent in all that don’t you think??

Are you with me?  Say NO to San Francisco