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Next week I will be moderating a panel discussion at the Yellow Pages Association conference in San Diego featuring national companies that spend tens of millions annually on Yellow Pages advertising. The hour-long panel (Monday, April 27, 11:45 a.m.) was put together by Telmetrics, a leader in the call measurement space.

To prepare, I’ve been chatting with the panelists to gauge how they view the performance of Yellow Pages and other media choices. I wanted to know where they stood on their Yellow Pages investment.

In general, these companies are strong supporters of print Yellow Pages and indicated they have no plans to stop using the print product to generate leads. However, some of the panelists say they are reevaluating their level of Yellow Pages spending for reasons that range from changes in corporate strategy to a diminishing return on their Yellow Pages investment.

Panelists Represent Core YP Categories

The panelists represent heart-and-soul Yellow Pages categories: Chris Borrink is director of product development at Allied and North American Van Lines; Pat Vihtelic is marketing manager at Progressive Insurance; John Vitagliano is VP of marketing for Meineke Car Care Centers (not just for mufflers anymore); and Elizabeth Young is director of marketing and customer service at ARS/Rescue Rooter. Moving, insurance, auto repair and plumbing. These are some sweet-spot categories.

A common denominator for all the panelists is that they measure as much of their advertising as they possibly can and have a mathematical justification for every decision they make. Still, some reported that they have to deal with a perception problem among many of their local dealers, who perceive the obsolescence, true or not, of Yellow Pages and push back against the amount of investment in print Yellow Pages.

Young says Rescue Rooter, which is reevaluating Yellow Pages cautiously based on its performance, would be pulling back more aggressively if the local dealers, not corporate analysts, were calling the shots. She adds that this is largely “emotional” and based on the dealers’ perceptions of performance rather than analysis of performance.

Both Vihtelic and Vitagliano said their emphasis on Yellow Pages is shifting not because Yellow Pages doesn’t perform but because shifts in strategy have elevated the importance of other marketing methods.

Progressive is moving from a dealer-oriented model to a centralized model, which has shifted the emphasis to its brand advertising, which drives consumers to “” to search for competitive bids on insurance rates. Yellow Pages plays a role, but not to the degree it once did.

At Meineke, Vitagliano says the company is putting more emphasis on repeat customers, which means more investment in marketing programs designed to build relationships with existing customers (think e-mail marketing, direct mail, etc.) than in traditional media like Yellow Pages.

These strategic shifts are out of the publishers’ control. What publishers can control is the level of flexibility, creativity and transparency they can offer their national customers. These are the issues we will explore on the panel.

More Key Takeaways

  • Internet Yellow Pages sites are not getting very much traction with these national advertisers for a number of reasons, including difficulty in placing orders, lack of transparency and in some cases poor customer service. One of the advertisers pointed out that ServiceMagic makes requested changes to its online programs within 48 hours, while similar requests take the IYPs weeks to fulfill.
  • Many of the panelists feel Yellow Pages publishers could do more to make the print product more appealing and relevant to consumers.
  • Feelings were mixed on pay for performance as a pricing model, with some strongly in favor and others expressing skepticism that they would have to pay for all calls regardless of quality.
  • Seniority-based placement can be a barrier for some advertisers that are willing to pay a premium to jump to the front of a category, but won’t spend anything if they launch a new location and their ads will be placed deep in the heading.
  • National advertisers are only beginning to explore new opportunities like social networking, mobile search and so on. There is a clear opportunity for CMRs to do more to help their clients navigate the new media landscape, and clients will not wait forever for the CMRs to step up. As one of the advertisers said, “We are challenging our CMR to be more search-centric.”

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