At a time when a significant number of the industry’s top publishers are struggling financially, a slew of municipalities are pushing required opt-on/opt-out legislation for the printed products, and a substantial economic downturn/weak recovery has small businesses keeping a tight grip on their advertising expenditures, one would expect the annual industry conference from the Yellow Pages Association to be a somber gathering with lots of doom and gloom. Yet, that wasn’t the case at the April 15th – 19th event held in Las Vegas. It was certainly not an overly exuberant crowd of about 375 attendees, but one that overall was more optimistic than those who attended last year’s event.
Association Name Change
First, the association has made a bold move to rebrand itself as the “Local Search Association,” Association President Neg Norton indicated that the name change has been under consideration for some time and that “no one on the board [of Directors] thought we should keep doing what we are doing.” The association’s press release noted that:
The Local Search Association represents the best local search marketers in the world. We will continue to serve our long-time Yellow Pages members as well as the ever-expanding universe of companies that connect local buyers and sellers through digital advertising, social networking and mobile platforms.
The obvious question is whether the name change is purely cosmetic, or does it truly represent a real shift in the association’s mission, and why. The association is rumored to be after some name players such as Microsoft and Google. The association’s press release provided some other insights on the name change:
In the past decade, our industry has evolved from a coalition of companies that publish print directories into a collective group of integrated local search hubs – both in print and online. Because we’re expanding on our original mission of serving Yellow Pages publishers, the Local Search Association is pleased to have these new members – CityGrid, MerchEngine, Kudzu, Telnic Limited, Kenshoo, Thrive Analytics, deCarta, dotMobi, VendAsta Technologies and NO PROBLEM, because they face many of the same opportunities and challenges as our traditional member base.
Given that recent association research indicated that while nearly 70% of US adults still use the printed version of the Yellow Pages directories on a regular basis, the Internet and fast growing mobile web are certainly drawing increased usage. As a result, the association thought the time had come for a re-focusing of sorts that presents the Yellow Pages as more than just print and a readily available online local search tool.
Joe Walsh, the President/CEO of Yellow Book, and now the new association board chairman (who would have thought that would have happened just 5 years ago) commented that “our new brand reflects the transformation of Yellow Pages companies into integrated marketing and local search solutions providers, and better positions us to attract new members.”
Marc Tellier – YPG – “At the apex of transformation”
Among other notable presentations at the conference, one of particular interest was a discussion with Yellow Pages Group CEO Marc Tellier. He said the “the next three years will bring more change for the Yellow Pages industry than the past three.” Given the rocky performance of the industry during this extended economic downturn, such a predication was sure to make more than a few attendees uncomfortable. Other comments from Tellier included:
- That small/midsize businesses (SMB’s) are an “overwhelmed and underserved” group.
- When he started some ten plus years ago, 51% of sales force contacts were premise/face to face. Today, that has increased to 76%
- Based on the full suite of products YPG is selling, the potential market for YPG in Canada is four times that of just the traditional Yellow Pages market
- The CMR segment needs to consolidate. Leading CMRs have “invested in research and product knowledge, while small CMR shops often do not.” (The recent implosion of the largest CMR – TMP, was a hot topic in the hallways at the conference)
- Investment is critical, that YPG has been more aggressive than other directory organizations. And bucking the trend of many publishers, that outsourcing is not his preferred route.
Neg Norton – Association President – A busy time at Association
In Norton’s presentation, he provided a number of compelling stats on changes in the local advertising marketplace:
- Mobile advertising will grow from 15% of the online advertising market to more than 60% in 2015 (Borrell Associates).
- Nearly half of SMBs report using Facebook for their business (BIA/Kelsey research), and another 19% use Twitter.
- Social networking sites now account for more than one-third of all online display ad impressions according to Comscore.
- More than a third of SMBs increased their use of links and ads on social media sites over the past year, and nearly half planned further increases over the next year
- And when you add all of that up, of most importance to the industry — 56% of small businesses who will spend on search or social media advertising in 2011 will need help with some aspect of the campaigns (American Express)
No one can deny the statistics Norton covered on the growing use of mobile products:
- GPS capable handsets grew 16% year over year and now represent 73% of total US mobile users.
- Smart phones grew 54% and now reflect 28% of total US mobile users.
- Nearly 70 million people in the U.S. owned smart phones in February 2011 an increase of 13% from the preceding 3 month period.
While these are alarming changes, Norton noted that all of these changes represent a tremendous growth opportunity for the industry. Norton also provided a status on the usage of Yellow Pages:
- In 2010, print and internet yellow pages together generated 16.6 billion searches versus 16.9 billion in 2009, a reduction of less than 2%
- Print Yellow Pages usage declined 8% from 12 to 11 billion in 2010
- IYP searches increased 15% to 5.6 billion.
- The average IYP searcher conducted 4.9 searches during December 2010, a 12% increase from a year earlier
New Board of Directors:
The conference also brought the election of a new board of directors for the Association. Elected publisher representatives include:
- Peter McDonald, SuperMedia
- Scott Brubaker, Berry
- Jose Gutierrez, AT&T
- Alfred Mockett, Dex One
- Joe Walsh, Yellowbook.
- Marc Tellier, Yellow Pages Group – International Director
CMR representatives are:
- Chris Cummings, Marquette Group
- Norm Hagarty, DAC Group
- Sharon Sweeney, Fairway Group
- Kathleen Decaire-Aden, SMG Directory Marketing
Bill Dinan of Telmetrics is the Associates board representative.
Environmental issues continue to be a big item on the Associations agenda. Norton talked more about efforts in San Francisco, to stop new opt-in legislation. The Association was joined in a unique coalition fighting effort by 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.
Norton highlighted industry successes in recycling rates. Last year, according to the EPA, directory recycling rates improved from 22% to 35%. This represents a dramatic shift in both source reduction and recycling rates.
In our next article, we will cover presentations from other speakers, what we found at the conference from the industry suppliers, and those companies recognized in the annual Industry Excellence Awards. Stay tuned.