Business Transformation Top of Mind for European Publishers

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I’ve just spend two days attending the Yellow Pages Today event in Milan, Italy, where publishers engaged in a very compact program that focused on “Repositioning the Yellow Pages.” The event was really about how directory publishers have to transform their organizations in order to have viable businesses in five years and beyond.

It was clear that different publishers have different senses of urgency based on conditions in their markets, and perhaps based on their own internal culture. I spoke with Yellow Pages Group-New Zealand CEO Bruce Cotterill, whose focus is currently on improving basic execution and improving customer satisfaction. From there he will turn his sights to longer-range strategic objectives.

Cotterill’s market is not seeing as dramatic a shift to online as some of the others represented at the conference, though he understands that eventually it will. Other markets, like Belgium, the Netherlands and the Nordic markets, are experiencing a very dramatic shift. Cotterill’s challenge, nine months into his tenure, is to make a legacy monopoly culture much more customer focused. He also is committed to defending his print business, while others at the conference have moved beyond defending print to focusing on creating a much stronger online business. None of them is necessarily wrong; they just face different conditions on the ground.

Mathias Hedlund, who leads all online efforts at the Swedish publisher Eniro, spoke Wednesday and outlined how his company is building more products that extend the brand further and further away from the Yellow Pages core, into search, social media, B2B and so on, with an emphasis on building a robust database and driving transactional revenue. Eniro is making a clear transition from a print dominant business to one where print is an increasingly secondary distribution channel.

One of Eniro’s many initiatives is a new online Yellow Pages platform that combines “evolutionary” and “revolutionary” components. The evolutionary element focuses on making search more relevant by category, for example, using map-based search for hairdressers but not for plumbers. The “revolutionary” piece involves building a different kind of directory on a much richer content database that brings together reviews, products and brands, and is far more intuitive than the current model.

On the second day, Eniro’s Oscar Berg made some notable revelations about how far Eniro has moved down the path of discreet mobile monetization. This year, the company began selling discreet mobile profile pages to advertisers in Norway (they had previously been bundled with online), and will expand that program to Sweden in January. Berg, mobile manager for Eniro Initiatives, said that 20 percent of the online customers adopted the new discretely priced mobile profile pages, and the company was able to increase the rate in August after launching it in the second quarter.

Berg also made a case for why so much development effort has gone into the iPhone, versus the broader mobile Internet market. He said that iPhones account for nearly 40 percent of Eniro’s mobile search traffic, and weekly sessions among iPhone users are almost three times those for mobile Internet users.

Simon Greenman from European Directories followed Hedlund and similarly outlined how EDSA will focus on a broad range of products and distribution points and monetization methods.

EDSA has been making a number of alliances and investments built around extending well beyond the Yellow Pages brand. These include Tupalo.com, a social media site; and Werkspot.nl, which handles requests for bid for home repair and improvement projects in the Netherlands.

Greenman detailed a pretty complex ecosystem that publishers have to engage in. But he boiled the challenge down to three simple categories — do you have the right product mix, can you make complexity simple to the advertiser, and can you demonstrate value?

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