Charles Laughlin and Neal Polachek of BIA Kelsey talking about their survey of Yellow Pages CEOs:

Some quotes from CEOs on where we are today:

  • “Conserving cash has replaced growth.  Advertisers have reduced spending at a rate we’ve never seen before”
  • “Print usage has dropped significantly.  Nobody talked about usage in the past because sales were based on inclusion v. ROI”
  • “There is an oversupply of classified ad options – too many books”

Kelsey is forecasting that the industry is $30B with 10% coming from digital.  Digital will continue to grow it’s share

Advertiser volume has decreased from 3.7MM in 2006 to 3.4MM in 2008 while average account value has increased from $2,701 to $3,250 in the same time period.

EBITDA margins have droped from 45% in 2004 to 43.5% in 2008.

Europe has the largest share of revenue from online with 25% in 2008.  North America is at 10.4%.  15% avg global share from online.

Where we’re headed:

  • We will grow our share by “reaggregating the consumer”
  • We will sell leads rather than products
  • Price per call is a leading model going forward
  • The cost structure is fixed with declining revenue – how do we change this?

What to look for?

  • “Out” Models:
    – Revenue by product channel
    – References as a usage measure
  • “In” Models:
    – Subscription v. Performance
    – Leads & conversions
    – Profit per advertiser
    – Customer satisfaction

What to Look for:

  • Performance & Fee based blended ads
  • Transactional services
  • Big shift in recruiting and training sales reps
  • Increase in specialists on sales teams
  • May reps will struggle with the transition
  • Channels get smaller
  • Technology supplements core channel
  • Outsourcing will increase

Neal steps up to the plate with a wee bit of local wisdom:

The 3 P’s of selling marketing services to SMBs:

Presence – Can the SMB be found?

Performance – Can you deliver leads?

Permanence – Can you retain and maintain the account?

Not sure I heard any prescriptions here but this was a good tee-up for what’s going on in the industry.

Share This Story!

About Author

21 Response Comments

  • Tim Cohn  September 22, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    Appreciate the insight into selling and servicing SMB via the three Ps.

  • Alex McArthur  September 22, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    Bummed I couldn’t make it this year. Thanks for passing on the highlights.

  • Barry Byers  September 24, 2009 at 6:30 am

    Thanks for the info on yp. As a former owner of a national yellow page agency, I often advised clients to bail out of print after testing numerous ads in numerous headings and directories.

    Every client fought me on it because the product had worked for them for so long. Eventually they all listened and put me out of business:).

    Most are now working directly with publishers on a cost per call basis. All tell me that the number of phone calls received from print has reduced dramatically.

    On the digital side, ridiculous pricing from publishers makes the cost per click/call unreasonable. Then again, they have to make money.

  • Chris Silver Smith  September 24, 2009 at 7:17 am

    I’d be interested in hearing any anecdotal mentions of how organic performance is going with the major IYP sites. Do internal metrics support the Google Trends graph that indicates a significant drop in traffic this year?

  • Andrew Shotland  September 24, 2009 at 9:05 am

    I didn’t hear anything about this Chris. AT&T for one seemed to be pretty bullish on their seo.

  • Mike Stewart  September 24, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    AT&T seems to have been very bullish on seo efforts. Including the addition of recently. I think it was a huge addition for them. I wonder why mobile was not addressed and specifically what the industry plans to do with distribution. Cutting costs typically means reduced distribution. I don’t think companies can print the paper for any “less” money. Cost savings might also come from reductions in force and moving the business from a new sales focused model to a client focused model to some degree. I hope this is the longterm plan at least in my opinion. Bad debt and making sure they monetize all references to the product should be the focus for the industry.

    I don’t give that much credit to Google searches for “yellowpages”. I think consumers are grasping on to Google’s push for better local content and searching “Product/Service” & “Geography”. Hopefully the industry can catch the wave and find ways to show the client that they are the original “experts” in local search.

    Do you folks believe that “competition” has helped or hurt the industry? Too many books…. is it still an issue? How can the industry improve the product going forward to retain users?


  • Barry Byers  September 25, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    My feeling is that competition is killing the industry. In Canada, YPG trademarked the term Yellow Pages and has dominated YP for years. Without competition (the market is to small), their well trained and embedded sales staff have been able to sustain print advertising to a great degree.

    Fragmentation in the US is unbelievable and the YP brand has been diluted. More importantly, the major YPs still think in print time and don’t take search seriously enough.

    At a recent presentation to YP agencies, a very knowledgeable YP researcher gave us some numbers on YP local startegies, when I asked how they compared to local search, he stated that he didn’t have any info on local search to compare. The entire audience groaned.

    They might think of rebranding it so it doesn’t end up being “something your parents used to use.”

  • Lawrence Johnson  September 25, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    While the 3 Ps are patent, my marketers’ backbone was calling for a fourth “P”.

    I would suggest that Neal underscore the importance of the “Public” nature of an SMB’s online presence: publishers are learning that SMBs are indolent in disclosing the basic information about products and services that would make their presence more engaging; they are weary of private business activities moving into the public space (such as dealing with consumers voicing complaints and filling reviews; and allowing for the self-service of traditional back office operations such as fulfillment and order processing), and most importantly engaging in social media. We can aggregate theses considerations under the “Public” monicker.

    There. We reinvented the four Ps.

  • Andrew Shotland  October 2, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Unfortunately with the economy and the plethora of local SEM/SEO/IYP guys hitting these SMBs up we can add a fifth P – “Puzzled” – and perhaps even a sixth – “Pissed Off”

  • Custom Vinyl Banners  October 27, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Considering the way things are today, i am not shocked to see that changes in practices for SEO/SEM will need to be made in order to keep up with our clients and businesses.

  • Mike Stewart  October 27, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Andrew you are correct to some degree on the last “P”. Sure they are going to get pissed off… but for years the YP Industry and NewsPapers have been buggin local SMBs. Very seldom do they get a call from a “sales” consultant who can actually fulfill what they “sell”.

    Eventually the folks that want to remain a dominate player are going to start working with local agencies who offer services at an affordable price, the reason LOCAL SEO is still untapped. It is allot of work that takes time to produce results and a great ROI vs a little bit of work and a quick return.

    Local SEO agencies are growing out of the woodwork. Industry experience in what the big publishers are doing and what is not working is a huge asset.

    My post in SEPT was a few days before I was “let go”.

    Cheers folks,
    Mike Stewart

  • Andrew Shotland  October 27, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    Welcome to the club Mike!

  • Mike Stewart  October 28, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Andrew and Mike,

    Are you two aware of the pricing for search marketing from the IYP companies? Just a few facts to share:

    Budgets of 2k per month have an additional management fee of 700.00 per month. A talented PPC campaign manager is capable of managing up to 20 accounts per month. The IYP company had campaign managers on “Gag Order” managing well over 100 accounts. So what exactly does the client get for the $700.00 per month? For the longest period of time it was the wonderful Taxonomy of the yellowpages… you fellas know how terrible that is!

    650 + 350
    1500 + 600
    3k + 800
    5k + 1k

    Cancelled and paused campaigns and clients stuck with credit and collection issues on the management fees.

    The companies claim sales of 3800 when a client is only paying the company 800 in fees for so-called “management”.

    Thankfully the Google LLA is going to kill em! They don’t care about clients… just sales sales and more sales.

    Yellow Pages and Internet Marketing have virtually NOTHING in common from a fulfillment perspective. Too bad the business model has not changed since the days of Bell Atlantic/GTE and Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages.

    Time to put YP in the grave or hold the companies more accountable for what they are “selling”.. All we have to do is sit back and watch,, and many many others. Reputation management is going to hurt the company long term. The hay-day of yellow pages did not have a “bathroom wall” to read about stories of account failures and client issues.

    Media Planners vs Sales Reps is the direction they need to go. This is coming from the only 3 time President’s Award winner at Idearc Media in the Texas Region. Sales is not the problem. Confidence in what the reps are selling and whether promises will be delivered was. This is why I am no longer “Selling”.

    Unfortunately Wall-Street looks at numbers and not J.D. Power and Associates / Malcolm Baldrige / BBB Ratings or other factors of client and consumer satisfaction. How can consumers be satisfied with an industry that believes they have the right to litter doorsteps and distribute via saturation (more phone books printed than citizens in the US) and pricing tactics that do not focus on rewarding loyal paying clients but on “new sales”. { a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush }

    That is my Rx for the Yellow Pages from the “sales” perspective. As far as business model…..

    It sucks! How can you be a internet vertical without CONTENT. They should have worked with independent web developers but built a business on content creation with writers etc…… Like, Chiro-Web, and other content based websites.

    Cheers folks!
    Mike Stewart

  • Andrew Shotland  October 28, 2009 at 8:40 am

    Mike you are turning me on with all this YP bashing. I think I may want to have your baby.

  • Barry Byers  October 28, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Wow, lucky I live in a civilized country like Canada! Just kidding, I am with you Mike.

  • Mike Stewart  October 28, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Sorry Andrew…. not trying to bash. I believe what I have said (MY OPINIONS) to be true based on my experiences.

    I don’t think enough Local SEOs exist. If the larger lead providers (like the IYP companies) were held to a higher standard it would help the internet progress forward. Just imagine how many lower income consumers we could provide internet access to if taxpayers no longer had to pay for phone book waste.

    Too many issues exist in the industry that are not being addressed due to “corporate earnings”.

    The fight between Main Street and Wall Street has to begin somewhere. It just happens that I have spent 10 years at Verizon and Idearc and still remember the days my mom was a sales rep at GTE Yellow Pages. I have come to the conclusion that competition in YP is what has helped devalue and kill YP. They could have done something about it years ago but corporate greed prevented it. Verizon put the nail in the coffin when it spun the company off with 9.1 BILLION worth of debt. It should have stopped taking YP money and investing it in other ventures years ago. Now it is hurting the Verizon brand since advertisers still think that Verizon is in the phone book business… .maybe they deserve that?


  • Mike Stewart  October 28, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Andrew, btw…

    I love your summary:

    What to look for?

    * “Out” Models:
    – Revenue by product channel
    – References as a usage measure

    * “In” Models:
    – Subscription v. Performance
    – Leads & conversions
    – Profit per advertiser
    – Customer satisfaction

    The issue is how do you increase or retain revenue, provide a return to shareholders, while at the same time providing a tremendous ROI to clients?

    Customer satisfaction and subscription based products are not in the “Business Model” of the Yellow Page industry.

    They are no longer the authority for local product and service information. The title has been stripped from the Yellow Pages….. I think Google and Yahoo have finally won over average computer using urban Americans… next up ……. Rural Americans who are new computer users!

  • Andrew Shotland  October 28, 2009 at 9:33 am

    Don’t worry about bashing here Mike. Isn’t that the point of being a blogger accountable to no one but himself and his readers?

    While in general I am in agreement with your insider analysis – which is awesome btw – I still think the “Yahoo/Google has killed the YP biz” is perhaps not the best way to look at the issue. The way I see it Y/G and the Web in general have created the infrastructure which will allow smaller, more agile competitors to chip away at the YP model. I am thinking about the Yodels, ReachLocals, Webvisibiles, etc. and thousands of small agencies & website developers who are starting to get control of large amounts of SMB marketing budgets in aggregate.

    The challenge for any incumbent biz during a major shift in consumer behavior is when do you decide to eat your own lunch?

    Your question of “how do you increase or retain revenue, provide a return to shareholders, while at the same time providing a tremendous ROI to clients?”lies at the heart of the issue, because in the past the industry could always take ROI for granted.

    And while there is plenty to criticize about how the big YP publishers have managed for short term results (like a lot of other industries these days) I have yet to hear anyone come up with a good solution for how they would have done things differently.

    To your point though I guess creating better products and improving customer service would have been a good place to start.

  • Mike Stewart  October 28, 2009 at 10:23 am

    a fewDifferent strategies:

    -Verticals & Distribution sites
    *example: create
    * encourage consumer involvement like YELP
    *create an online forum for discussion
    * VP video distribution (not the retarded YP channel idea)
    * create Facebook and other social media sites

    -Offer analytics with all websites (umm DUH!)

    -Create a” content based” web development model

    -Streamlined processes for Online Sales (e-Commerce)
    – Get involved in local advertising seminars and events

    -Advertising sales on FIOS/TV
    -“Media Consultant” retention and focus on paying media planners for leads generated vs sales.
    -Distribution via Subscription
    – Put customer service in the hands of media consultants and focus on peer reviews and councils vs “customer relations departments”
    -End the DOUBLE DOUBLE DOUBLE TRUCK philosophy and cease providing FREE Listings. Display ad only solutions. Focus on the top level advertisers instead of the one size fits all model
    -Radio Ad Sales partnership
    -become a Media buying agency
    -Break up the business into smaller specialized “Divisions & Regions”
    -Mail Books
    -Change distribution to quarterly or semi-annual vs annual
    -Track all calls and stop sending leads to non paying competitors
    -End sales fraud
    -End fraud in accounting principles.
    -End Executive crony hiring practices
    -Promote from within
    -Partnering with other advertising solution providers
    -Client confidentiality agreements
    -Sales ethics
    -3rd party surveys to ensure ethics compliance
    – Re Scoped Directories & customizing the product (no more one size fits all methodology)
    -ReMonopolize the industry to some degree
    -put limitations on saturation distribution
    -stop using stats from 2006 for YP usage
    -Syndicated Research for the Industry (as they all asked for in the infamous Yellow Book Lawsuit)
    -Have yellow page reps dedicated to one client but able to sell books from all publishers. In other words turn sales reps into accountable local ad agencies, responsible for driving the best value to clients. Spiffs and bonuses to reps from clients vs. simply based on “making a sale”

    And most of all….permit folks to gain knowledge and educate themselves on the industry. They seem to be intimidated with creating competition when employees become too “educated” with common internet marketing principals vs the “Rate Card” and product suite the companies offer.

    Just off the top of my head…..

  • Curtis  November 6, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    This is good stuff. I used to work at AT&T as a “Search Engine Marketing Specialist”. I left because I wasn’t happy with the way a large corporate company like AT&T was trying to get involved with SEM and trying to “mass produce” search products that aren’t meant to be mass produced!

    My job was to visit advertisers with the sales reps and explain search engine marketing and sell AT&T’s SEM products, which included pay-per-click marketing and advertising.

    Day in and day out I watched as advertisers would drastically reduce their print dollars in order to move it over to the internet.

    I think we have a long way to go in order to educate advertisers on how to market online. I always encouraged them and explained to them that Pay-per-click advertising is just one form on online marketing and that they need to make sure they are properly balanced with other methods such as blogging, social media, local online directories, Google Local Business Listings, etc.

    As we watch the print diminish, we should encourage advertisers to get more diverse in online marketing.

    At the same time, there is still a large portion of people that use the Yellowpages. I never,ever encouraged clients to pull COMPLETELY out of the Yellowpages. I encouraged them to allocate their budget across all channels including print & internet, with more emphasis on the internet marketing channel.

    It will be interesting to see how long the Yellowpages will last. I am not sure if it will completely go away, but I think we are seeing the beginning of the end for the Yellowpages as we know it.

  • Andrew Shotland  November 6, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Thanks for the comment Curtis. Always great to hear from someone who has been on the front lines.