New Tools, New World

Earlier this week, my colleague Charles Laughlin posted an entry about the beginning of the YPA annual conference titled “YP Industry Pledges Counteroffensive.” That headline pretty much captures what was an upbeat event that attracted 600 attendees. As YPA President Neg Norton told the industry, “the root of the problem is a belief that we are going away.” The fact is that both the print business and the electronic piece suggest otherwise.

Norton said that industry membership is 462 companies, a new record, with 57 new members in 2007. The YPA, along with the ADP, is working hard on environmental guidelines to educate people that “Yellow is green.” He went on to talk about the 90-day communications plan designed to help people understand the value story and other industry strengths. There are six key elements to this plan, which is still in development.

  • Continue to meet with the financial news media
  • Approach B and C counties to tell success stories that will bolster local business
  • Release the metered ad study that will prove return on investment
  • Complete a small-business omnibus survey
  • Release the global usage study
  • Get the industry’s message across through op-ed columns

Today, the YPA sent out a note inviting people to become friends of the Yellow Pages and receive an RSS feed so that we all have the facts and figures at our fingertips. Norton spoke about Yellow Pages as an industry in transformation where its members had a choice between managing the decline or investing in the future. One example of a company that had done the latter is Australia’s Sensis. In a presentation made by COO Carol Johnson and General Manager Jo Lynne Whiting, along with two of their sales colleagues, they made it clear that the customer is at the top of the pyramid for their $2 billion revenue business, which we calculate makes Sensis the sixth-largest directory company in the world. While the business declined 2.8 percent in ’07, it is up 4.9 percent in ’08, and Johnson indicated that she expects better results at year-end.

The Sensis team put together 10 revenue recommendations, which they followed religiously starting with the elimination of all discounts and the need to train, train, train the sales force to tell the value story. Initially, customers didn’t believe that they would not discount and some were angry. But Whiting said that after one year, customer satisfaction and value for the money are both up 12 percent, and employee satisfaction is +8 percent over last year. They praised the work done by Dennis Fromholzer, who they hired as a consultant to help them build information-rich ads that are the No. 1 usage driver.

Two of the most popular panels ran consecutively. Frank Jules, president and CEO of AT&T A&P, gave his first speech at a Yellow Pages event and made it clear that AT&T, like Sensis, is investing resources, distribution and advertising in its largest markets. The company purchased Ingenio, a pay-for-performance corporation, and is offering new products like video ads, Hispanic directories and gatefolds. Video was the highlight of another highly rated panel that followed. Moderated by the CMO of Newsforce, Dana Todd, the focus was on new mobile and video tools and how adoption drives usage and usage in turn drives adoption.

Finally, two significant industry awards were given out. Dorothy Talkington, senior VP of national at Ketchum, received the Stuart Stanze individual contribution award, and Denny Payne, former CEO of AT&T A&P and YPA chairman, received the YPA Lifetime Achievement Award. These two winners were the exclamation points on the Industry Excellence Awards, whose winners can be found on the YPA Web site.

The industry faces greater challenges than ever before, but it is refreshing to hear its leadership admit those and outline a plan that can help get the message out to the various Yellow Pages constituencies that this is still a very strong business. Never before has Yellow Pages faced economic uncertainty, a generational shift, environmental issues and a slow but certain transition from print to digital. We believe the industry is up to the challenge.

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