Monday, November 24, 2008

Yellow Pages Association Response Shows Lack of Leadership, Vision

If you haven't already heard, The Wall Street Journal published an article last week titled: "Yellow Pages Faces Extinction." The headline should pretty much give away the subject, and sure enough, the Yellow Pages Association is back in defense mode. We've argued before that the YPA needs to take a more aggressive approach as an industry leader, as opposed to constant "no I'm not" mode, and reorganize the priorities of their sales force.

In this email sent out to YPA members and past attendees of their conferences, the tone is essentially: 'We tried to talk them out of running the article, they didn't call us back. You must remember these reporters are all young and they don't use the Yellow Pages.' Below is an excerpt:

Key Take-Aways: We must never lose sight of the fact that most reporters in this space are young, fresh grads from Gen Y or the Millennial generation. In order to resonate, we must speak their language and challenge their assumptions.

- Steel’s perspective on the business is not very dissimilar with other young, urban-dwelling reporters and analysts who don’t use the print Yellow Pages. She is very much up to speed on new media and its new entrants. From her perspective, the fragmented nature of the IYP space in light of this emerging competition is problematic for the Yellow Pages -- hence the direction of the article.

Here, at MerchantCircle, we've never argued that no one uses the Yellow Pages and we've also never argued that it doesn't have value for many local business owners. Where there should also be no argument, is that the Yellow Pages faces a decreasing consumer and audience base. We can quote different studies all day long on decreased usage and ad spending in print directories, but all it takes is some common sense to realize that more and more searches are taking place through personal devices. Even though the Yellow Pages has taken a multi-tiered approach to their advertisements, with digital offerings, their strategy is inherently flawed.

In the article, Emily Steel writes:
Analysts say yellow-pages sales teams face an inherent conflict. While they are pressured to sell both print and online ads, Internet ads are often a third of the price of the print product. The top priority for the sales teams often is to sell the print book first, then sell the digital products.

Even if online revenues were growing at a faster clip, analysts are cautious about the prospects of online-only directories. Yellow-pages ads are the only form of advertising many small businesses buy, and the online ads are typically sold in conjunction with print listings, Mr. Simonton says. That means that if businesses aren't buying the print ad, then the online ad disappears too.

It's hard to get a YP salesman to 'flip the script' when they know the majority of their profits will be made by selling the print ad. These are salesman that have been very successful in the past. Asking them to refocus their efforts and make less, is not an easy proposition. We have hundreds of thousands of merchants who have dealt first-hand with these salesman.

"I got one response from that $400 ad - I was really disappointed. I tried the Yellow Pages, and I think they still have value, but they charge too much," said Gary LaChapelle, owner of Maury's Kung Fu in Worcester, MA.

"The reason I don't do Yellow Page ads anymore is because I personally don't look at Yellow Pages at all. The ads were expensive and I wasn't seeing a difference in customers. Most people search on the internet, so it's important that they can find me," said Barbara Joseph, owner of Arrow Gift Shoppe in Morgantown, WV.

Rather than try and fight it, the YPA should take a proactive effort and introduce a campaign that would generate a headline of: 'The Yellow Pages Attempts to Reinvent Itself.' This will allow them to continue to plug the value of print yellow pages, as well as show the leadership they are taking in a space of emerging mediums that they are most qualified to lead. Anytime a new product or medium is introduced, put out a new press release about how YP salesman are incorporating it into their interactions with merchants (even if it hasn't happened yet). Control the discussion, especially with what journalists love. NEW.

Here's a lesson in Public Relations 101. If every journalists is saying something about you on terms that are not to your liking, you create your own terms so that you can control the conversation again. By simply repeating, 'no we're not' - it's not going to get the job done.

Kevin L.
Community Relations


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