a look at the Top 25 Things Vanishing from America: The Yellow Pages


Great article regarding the decline of print yellow page usage……

Top 25 Things Vanishing from America: The Yellow Pages

Have you seen a study of Yellow Page usage from a source other than one connected to the Yellow Pages industry?

I would love to see a discussion from the publishers of the phone books. I for one am not that impressed with the sources the industry uses to get data on usage.  They assume that folks use the phone book on average of once per week.  Which is far from fact. Not difficult to produce these numbers when you can phone survey 9,000 folks in rural America where the print usage has not declined as significantly. The large former phone company publishers have all but abandoned the rural areas of the country (for the sake of profits) and permitted independent publishers to flourish in these smaller communities.  These are the places in America where one can believe a person MIGHT use the book 51 times in 52 weeks.

Consumer perception is that “Nobody uses the Yellow Pages anymore.”  Advertiser perception is that the value proposition is not the same. The publishers perception is that they need to milk every last drop out of the usage and hope that they can keep up with search engines who are dominating local search. I have a strong feeling the regardless of sentiment towards the industry due to unwanted saturation distribution, the usage numbers are likely in the middle of these opinions. In the meantime, publishers are lowering rates, to fix the value proposition, as advertisers are realizing that the business model for print yellow pages does not have the same value it once did (gotta love the double double trucks or 4 page ads). What does one expect as they had a monopoly and every single year raised advertising prices while attempted to justify it with an “increased distribution, cost of delivery, and yellow paper (the paper doesn’t start out yellow.)  The solution for yellow page publishers is to move to a leads based offering. Sort of the same value proposition that Google offers with Paid Search marketing. How much are these “leads” going to cost going forward? What is a lead? If a lead is a phone call, then what does a duplicate lead cost? The problem is that it is impossible for them to generate the margins of old in new media. Yellow Pages margins of old that allow them to pay fat commissions to sales reps, 6-figure marketing salaries and 7-figure executive compensations.

If your yellow pages ad rep doesn’t offer you an increased position in the phone book for the same cost, I would recommend finding someone to help negotiate the rate of your ad. Otherwise I suggest you spend your money elsewhere and get a better return on your investment without the risk involved in yellow page advertising. The problem with the industry is that the monopolies of old allowed them charge whatever rates they felt they could justify. If the ad was poorly designed or unsuccessful for any reason the company did not adjust the advertisers bill. Now the yellow page organizations are taking the same approach of old to internet marketing by forcing clients to pay for management fees for pay per click regardless of whether or not the client is receiving clicks from search engines. Don’t expect to be able to cancel your contract with the yellow pages for paid search campaigns. The is another significant issue with the business model in my opinion. They might have been able to justify the monthly fees if they actually took the time to consider new ideas like the Ecordia Content Optimizer (a SEO tool for on page content optimization than can utilized on I-Care, the Superpages Web Developement Team, created client sites) and going to new options for web development such as freelance open-source CMS designs that you do not have to farm out to India and clients don’t lose in the event they have a spat with Idearc. Another idea I recommend is purchasing IAC’s ServiceMagic.com brand. Should be easy to accomplish since they already have copied ServiceMagic’s ServiceGuarantee and rebrand it the SuperGuarantee. Or how about they also consider changing the model from a sales model to a consultant model? Is this the direction the company is going in? Nope! Instead of looking to offer better service, they are planning to increase the sales intensity, while doing little to fix the client offering, fulfillment, and knowledge of “media consultants”. I used to tell my clients that the problem with ReachLocal was that a sales rep builds your campaign. The problem with yellow pages is they are used to working with you 1 to 2 times per year and don’t offer much beyond the company offering. The problem with SMLocal is that your sales rep is the one that you deal with and after the sell the clients typically make the choice of not being involved in the creative process of landing page optimization and site design. This is a must for paid search marketing to work. Along with incorporating website analytics and other common sense approaches to search engine advertising.

I am sure that Idearc will move further along in leveraging the Inceptor Search Marketing purchase with the potential to also change the name again to Inceptor or some other clever word combination or term that is not synonymous with debt and bankruptcy failure.

What has my curiosity going is why did Scott Klein let Briggs Ferguson, the former CEO of CitySearch.com, who is the current President of Idearc’s Internet Division (he replaced Eric Chandler, who left the organization to pursue other ventures) go this week. Now that Briggs is no longer with Idearc, are they planning to get new blood in or just lower salary expenses? Was Scott Klein unaware of the fact that IAC had the ServiceGuarantee and was this punishment for failure to disclose such a costly “marketing” mistake? It has also been announced that Sandy Henjum, one of Idearc’s Area Presidents and person responsible for Marketing and Transformation, is retiring in December. {I will be the first to compliment her and state that she doesn’t look even close to retirement age}. I have a hunch that is has more to do with heading jumping her husband’s paving business in the Greater Dallas Yellow Pages (my favorite local phone book.)

For those of you who do not know who she is:

a quick soapbox moment:

I hope this rumor isn’t true. It would be a shame if someone at the top of the organization who personally played a role decisions to terminate others (my former manager, my temporary new manager, my former Regional Vice President, and countless others from the “Old days” who had a clue about the feeling on the street for what our clients felt about our company and the decisions that the company made over the years)

  • Accounting Fraud
  • Saturation Distribution
  • Crony Hiring Practices
  • Corporate Indulgence (company private jet, events, trips, etc)
  • Sentiment of Management
  • Union Troubles
  • Unfair Work Environments
  • Credit Manipulation
  • Deceptive Pricing Policy
  • Harassment
  • Collections Problems
  • Lack of Sales Fulfillment & Accountability
  • Customer Relations
  • SEC Questions

and the worst sleazy sales tactic ever:
**-Working with clients competitors and sharing private company information or helping folks compete-**

and most of all: The history of ignoring good advice by smart employees who were more loyalty to the success of the company and industry than the crony folks the Verizon and Idearc put in place. This is why you can Trust in Google, but not Trust in Yellow Pages anymore.

My mother was an employee of GTE Yellow Pages. That’s how I joined the company just 3 months out of High School. After 9 years and 3 months I can say the company went completely downhill. The reason was not because of folks like my mother or myself. It was because the folks at the top of the organization.

I have a serious amount of respect for many people in the organization. Folks who are ethical, knowledgeable, and always puts the best interest of clients first. I assume this is a common trait of folks who grew up working in small honest family operated businesses (I myself worked for my Grandmother as a kiddo in her old feedstore in Royse City  & Emory TX, at one-time known as, Abney Feed and Ranch Supply.)

It seems as though folks at the organization may finally be getting tired of making excuses for the decline of print. Maybe that is the reason the individuals at the top of the organization are also starting to vanish? It was obvious to me that the folks at the top of the organization are only concerned with low hanging sales fruit. Idearc sales reps are now required to make 40+ phone calls per day, sell 70 dollars in monthly billing per day, track every lead and opportunity in SalesForce.com, while the company turns away from being a boutique internet marketing agency and resorts to what I consider the equivalent of McDonalds.

Today’s internet marketer needs to stay ahead of the competition. Be Innovative. Be Creative. Be Bold. Leverage social media. Leverage Brand and Reputation. Leverage Verticals. And find a local search marketing expert to stay on top of it all.

Being a sales professional at GTE and Verizon Yellow Pages used to be the dream job. Reason for it was the margins. The margins and competition is also the reason the industry is having the problems it has moving forward as a local advertising agency. What do you expect after treating your clients like shit for so long? What do you expect after telling them you are not going to adjust bills for errors you caused? An ad agency does not focus on selling a product. An ad agency does not focus on bargain shopping for the cheapest advertising deal in town. An ad agency does not hold an axe to his client and use scare tactics to sway the clients decision on whether the investment is one that is going to be in the best interest of the business. This kind of treatment and lack of innovation deserve the fate of Polaroid.

Is the yellow pages vanishing? Yes. At what pace? Remains to be seen. It all depends on how fast they react and address the industries competition issues. Now that they have cheated employees, shareholders, pension plans, retirees, etc with crony corporate accounting decisions it remains to be determined if the lack of a debt burden will save the 3,000 sales reps from a dismal future. The only folks to blame for the doom and gloom is the folks in charge of directing the company into the future. The folks that neglected creating a long-term strategy in favor of earnings and cronyism.

I hope the company allows some of the more talented “media consultants” who take the time to learn more advanced offerings in internet marketing to utilize these talents. Unfortunately this will likely not be a plan for the future. America’s small business advertising consultants need to plan to make the transition into local boutique agencies soon. Let’s see if they can learn the ropes of search marketing and small business advertising beyond what Idearc and the yellow pages industry offers (which I must say is very limited.)

Here is a great article from a former employee (and one that I must say I have the utmost respect and admiration for as a local search marketing expert and guru) Top 25 Things Vanishing from America: The Yellow Pages

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2 Responses to a look at the Top 25 Things Vanishing from America: The Yellow Pages

  1. Jack M. Wolfson says:

    Mike Stewart is knowledgeable, accurate and through, I would add that the decline is MUCH WORSE for the printed “let your fingers do the walking” then even Mike states. Only 1 in 10 United States citizens from age 16-90 still rely on yellow pages as their normal source to look up businesses in 2009. There are WAY TOO MANY phone books and print companies trying to spend your precious advertising dollar. Merchants get more bang for their buck with Smart Phones, Internet, Radio, Direct Mail, Electronic Billboards and some local newspapers!
    Hal Jay of WBAP AM Radio 2 weeks ago said it best, “of the 10 things going away the fastest – only snail mail was ahead of yellow pages as far as decreasing in popularity”. In 5-6 years yellow pages will only bee seen in the Smithsonian Museum!!

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