Newsletter Archive - Editor's Corner
Let There Be Peace in Yellow Pages
12/20/2007 - Maybe it’s the start of the holiday season. But sometimes, things you read about the world of advertising just don’t add up, at least not for me. When they don’t, it seems to rub off on Yellow Pages and furthers the view this is not a real or useful advertising medium. Is that true?
Data Point 1: Borrell Associates released their 2008 Outlook: Local Online Advertising report. There was little surprise in that a company that makes their living from selling reports like this would estimate that next year’s total local ad market will reach an impressive $12.6 billion in spending. Breaking it down further, Borrell said $5 billion will come from local search advertising. Another $1.3 billion come from the local online video market which would be something like triple what it was in 2007.
Now many would-be pundits (and some very highly paid ones also) think that is some really bad news for Yellow Page publishers because as the report notes:
“Next year will be a perplexing one for local media companies trying to tackle the Web. Most yellow pages publishers, cable companies, newspapers, radio stations and TV stations are still pinning their hopes on their traditional sales reps being able sell online ad packages. But there is increasing evidence to support the idea that a greater investment in an independent online sales force will be necessary to continue the growth these properties have enjoyed for the past few years.”
This brings me to my favorite question: When was the last time anyone from Google or whatever.com made a sales call to a typical small business? Have any of them ever had to spread out the promotional information on the hood of a car as the guy who owns a local brake repair shop crawls out from under it to discuss his businesses marketing needs?
And a separate sales force for just online? I think the jury is still out on that one. That brake shop owner is way too busy to talk to every media rep that now walks in his door. In the Raleigh, NC area where I am, that would now total 7 Yellow Pages print reps, 3 newspapers, about 6 radio stations, and 4 TV outlets, and for good measure let’s also include the PennySaver, Apartment Magazine, or Auto Trader reps too. No wonder the Boy Scouts or Little League can’t get an audience to discuss contributions to their fund raising efforts.
Print Yellow Pages, advertising in general, isn’t easy. The industry just makes it look so. And unless there has been a sudden overnight beaming down of technical and marketing knowledge, the average SMB needs help in sorting through all the options in both traditional media and the new hi-tech stuff with someone they can trust, someone who will be accountable for what they suggest, someone they know is going to be around six months later. And that would be whom?
Data Point 2: Recent research from MarketCharts.com/TMP really surprised a few people with how successful Yellow Pages advertising still is in a world supposedly driven by the almighty Internet. Some key findings from that study:
- 82% of online local searchers follow up offline, via an in-store visit, phone call, or purchase; of these searchers, 61% went on to make purchases.
- Traditional advertising triggers branded online searches:
- Between 60% and 90% of searches for heavily advertised categories such as pizza, insurance, banks and financial institutions were branded
- 30-50% of keyword searches were general in nature for low-branded categories, including Auto Service and Home Services.
- A majority of local searchers - 60% - first go online for conducting a local search:
- 30% of searchers use general search engines, such as Yahoo or Google.
- 17% use internet yellow pages (IYPs)
- 13% use local search sites, such as Citysearch.
Data Point 3: When we interviewed the new Kelsey Group CEO Neal Polachek following his worldwide pilgrimage to meet media executives in Europe and Asia (click here for interview) it wasn’t long after that the Kelsey Group issued their estimates that local is really global, and would add up to some $134 billion in Yellow Pages, Classifieds and Internet advertising by 2011. That’s a lot of cheese.
So what conclusion can one draw from all this? Several I believe:
A new definition of “Local”. “Local” is whatever is in arms length to me when I need to find something (speaking in terms of “I am trying to buy something”). Sometimes it’s going to be Internet, especially if I’m at my desk at work because that screen in front of me is “local”. Sometimes it’s going to be through the print product, particularly if I’m in a hotel and don’t know the area – that book in the night stand is going to be as local as it gets. It might even be on my new mobile phone if I can actually remember which of the dam buttons I need to push, and of course, assuming I have a decent enough signal where I am to be able to reach all of this neat stuff that will help me.
An example of how my new definition works – I buy a hot new cell phone. I need a new car holder/cradle so when I’m driving around I can reach the phone easily and it is in clear view. Since the phone is so new, the cellular retailer doesn’t have anything. Grab the print Yellow Pages and call several other stores – nothing. On to eBay where I find what I want – it’s actually being sold by a company in Hong Kong. Cradle ordered and delivered to my door by FedEx/UPS. As far as I’m concerned that entire transaction was “local” to me – local to the online access I had at my pc, local to receiving the product at my front door.
I think the mistake with the old definition of local is that is a measure based on the advertiser, not the consumer. That advertiser needs to be positioned to be “local” to me.
Who is going to collect all that really great information about these businesses, make sure it’s current, it’s correct, and prepare it for redistribution across this emerging range of platforms and outlets? Print Yellow Page operations people tell me that historically over 75% of all advertising requires some change/addition/deletion each year. Business lists alone have a 25%+ churn rate. And that’s on a product that is only published once a year. Add on all the neat things you can have an electronic/Internet based ad platform which in theory could be changed ever minute, and you have a lot of things that need to be taken care of. I don’t think self-provisioning is going to work for the masses. It’s just too much work, there are just too many variables (how often should I update my website?).
The sky is not falling Yes, there is a divergence from the printed products underway. Changing positions, yes. But not falling. Did you notice that the stars change position every night too? A small publisher in major metro suburban market recently told me he is perplexed by all the reports that print product usage is shrinking quickly. He said every one of his ads with call tracking on it has shown an INCREASE in the number of calls, not a decrease. Note that is ALL the ads. Someone has to be using these books.
Career opportunities are still abundant for print. If things are so bad for print, why am I hearing stories from publishers in even the most rural areas that their top sales reps are making over $170k this year? Yes, they have to work to earn each and every dollar of that, and no one ever said Yellow Pages is sexy or hip. But does that sound like a business about to crumble? The addition of an Internet/mobile/local search group of products can only make the opportunity sweeter. So why aren’t we telling more people about how they too can make a really good living in this industry?
Yellow Page publishers are not going to just sit idle as their print advertising business changes. We have very intelligent people in this industry. It would be very easy to present an argument that the Yellow Page industry and its products have been the cornerstone of the economic growth that North America and many other parts of the world have enjoyed of late. SMB’s are the primary drivers of commerce in most developed nations. To achieve that business growth, those SMB’s need someone to help them identify the best place to promote their products and services, a place with verifiable ROI returns, something that they know works, and yes, please remind me occasionally to update it. Yellow Page companies are still the best suited group to fill this need. Of course others may be filling that role too. But print Yellow Pages also doesn’t have advertising from every business in it now. We’re not going to get them all in the future.
So let not your heart be troubled. Believe in yourself. Believe in your chosen profession. Instead, take time to enjoy the Holiday Season because next year is going to be an interesting one.
Merry Christmas and best wishes for a safe, Happy New Year to you and your family.