Yearly Archives: 2006

TrueLocal Head Jake Baillie Leaves

It is the end of the year, and the executive turntable is spinning a little faster. Today, it was TrueLocal Head Jake Baillie’s turn to announce his departure. TrueLocal,
a spin-off from GeoSign, provides unique, local company URL information for Internet Yellow Page and others. The company has hired an executive search firm, and will likely turn to a seasoned sales, data and organization person.

Baillie says he is leaving, along with several other members of the 36 person company, to launch an incubator company funded by GeoSign head Tim Nye. “My strength is in growing a business,” he says. Baillie adds that TrueLocal is meeting its goals, but he can’t see running it as it becomes an enterprise with hundreds of employees.

The company, in fact, has embarked on an effort to break free of its dependence on licensing its data. It is currently attempting to sell local advertisers directly. For the past couple of months, it has been working with a 3 person telemarketing firm that has sold several hundred ads on a test basis. Just last week, Baillie apparently decided to upgrade the effort and has advertised, via LinkedIn, for a VP of sales. “In 2007, our entire growth plan revolves around our marketing department,” he noted in the ad.

One thing that remains totally unclear is what has caused TrueLocal’s traffic to plummet over the last 30 days, per Alexa (which isn’t always very accurate). Alexa found that the traffic has fallen from 380 per million to 80 per milion. Baillie’s said he was surprised by the Alexa data.

Greenman Steps Down as RHD Digital Head

R.H. Donnelley Senior VP of Digital Strategy Innovation and Products Simon Greenman confirmed today that he is stepping down and likely to be replaced by Sean Green, 36, who was promoted to VP of Strategy and Business Development in October. Greenman says that he basically declined to relocate from Denver to RHD headquarters in Cary, NC. After a brief sabbatical, Greenman says he will look for new executive positions in the business. He can be reached at sgreenman@gmail.com .

“It’s been a wild three years, starting on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange,” says Greenman. We just launched a new site, and really helped position Dex and RHD as true local search players that can keep adding the right features.”

He noted that his tenure had a number of notable highlights, including the introduction number of “groundbreaking SME products, including Dex Web clicks and deals with Google and Yahoo and the acquisition of Local Launch” to accelerate online sales. RHD’s acquisition of Dex – and its appreciation of Dex’s progressive innovative nature –in itself was a highlight, he says.

Looking forward, however, Greenman says that RHD and other publishers have their work cut out for them. “Publishers are well-positioned to become local search providers. But they’ll need to become much broader, with classifieds, promotional information and service directories. They’ll need to become more consumer-centric, with social networking, merchant recommendations and other features.”

Internet Still Lags as Word of Mouth ‘Engine’

The Internet, email and instant messaging are great ways to jumpstart word of mouth “conversations.” But just four percent of word of mouth conversations (which are just short of a “lead”) are ultimately passed off via email, and three percent are passed off via Instant Messaging. Another one percent start the discussion via chat rooms and blogs. By contrast, an overwhelming 70 percent of conversations occur Face to Face and 19 percent occur over the phone. (Face to Face is “local,” right?)

The research comes from The Keller Fay Group, a unit comprised of veterans from Roper polling and other firms. Keller Fay surveys 100 consumers a day, seven days a week – 36,000 consumers every year — on the types of communication they use for word of mouth communications. The age range is 13 to 69.

Keller Fay’s Jon Berry says that the Internet is a “really important source of what people refer to” when they are talking about buying something – a good precursor activity. “It is right up there with television,” he said. Actually, it is a little short of TV: Eleven percent to nine percent.

While Internet channels don’t really compete with more traditional channels for the actual decision making, online review sites and other types of consumer sites are beginning to register fairly significantly, he added. Even “Gen Y” consumers (i.e. born after 1983) use other means of communication more prominently than the Internet. But for them, the ranking is much closer. While the majority of Gen Y word of mouth conversations are face to face (63 percent) or over the phone (17 percent), they are using text messages and IMs at triple the volume of the total market.

Btw: anybody know of a good heat/ac man in north San Diego?

Adicio: The ‘Un-Yahoo/Monster in Recruitment

Newspapers have always been a pied piper kind of industry, where everyone follows the lead of a few influentials. Right now, the pied pipers are whistling for the recruitment partnerships offered by Yahoo HotJobs or Monster.

There are definite merits in working with Yahoo or Monster. By doing so, newspapers gain access to their tools, national networks, and overall sense of momentum. But Adicio (formerly CareerCast), the “last” independent recruitment vendor and network, argues that newspapers shouldn’t give up their autonomy by going with a pure play.

It is a myth that newspapers can’t have state-of-the-art tools and participate in a meaningful national network while retaining their independence, says Terry Baker, Adicio’s VP of Business Development. Baker’s position, not surprisingly, is that newspapers are taking the risk that Monster or Yahoo may end up holding all the cards five years down the line if they make a “partnership” pact with them today.

Baker also suggests that the ROI of working with Monster or Yahoo pales compared to licensing a private label solution – but only if the papers are willing to invest the marketing dollars to really make it work. Many of the newspapers that are attracted to the insta-dollars of a national network are basically “also-rans” in the local recruitment business, says Baker.

Adicio has a national network too, and Baker suggests it has good numbers. It includes the “largest” job sites in 15 of the Top 20 markets. The company also offers flexibility in pricing so that jobs can be priced differently depending on a mix of local/national, and by category.

But “if you are a newspaper without a local position, it doesn’t really matter what happens nationally,” says Baker. “Those looking to focus on the national market are typically third or fourth in their own markets. They deal from necessity; they lack alternatives.”

Full Disclosure: The Kelsey Group and I are jointly judging a Best Practices contest for Adicio, although we have no strategic role with the company.

Washington Post Co. Bails Out of B2B

If newspapers are to grow, they’re going to have to leverage their local, regional and national credibility to reach into advertiser segments where they don’t have much of a presence today. This means B2B and SME.

But somewhere, it is written that newspapers can’t do B2B. After flirting with job fair services (BrassRing), and vertical pubs, most newspapers have stopped looking beyond their traditional lines of business. The most they’ll consider are new slices of traditional vertical markets (“Entertainment,” “Home Improvement”)

This week we have a new case study, as The Washington Post Co sold off of its Post-Newsweek Tech Group to 1105 Media in Chatsworth, CA. The division includes FOSE Government Computer News, Washington Technology, Government Leader and Defense Systems. Also included is FOSE, the annual information technology convention.

For a decade or more, the 80-person division had successfully leveraged its parents’ blue chip status in the capital to sell ads and booth space to major contractors like Boeing and Lockheed. Until 2005, the division performed strongly, regularly surpassing earnings estimates by as much as 30 percent.

More recently, however, the division suffered high levels of staff turnover and had execution problems. Worse, the division started to fall off the Jack Welch standard of being #1 or #2 in every marketplace (and Jack Welch and Warren Buffett are the two business thinkers that matter most at The Post Co.).

One longtime Post Co. executive that I talked with said that the move didn’t surprise him at all. Despite all the noise of being ready for the Internet and Web 2.0 etc., “B2B is risk management, and newspapers don’t understand what that is all about,” he said. “B2B publications are started and closed all the time. They don’t have 100 year traditions. Basically, newspapers don’t do product development.”

HopStop Pushes Transit as ‘Urban MapQuest’

The power of road mapping and directions sites like MapQuest and Yahoo Maps is now being channeled by HopStop, a New York-based startup providing the same type of complete info for walkers and subway and bus strap holders in major cities. In addition to standard mapping and direction info, the site hosts city guides and enables users to share tips on construction delays, rate various lines, and so forth.

The ad-supported site is being financed by IDT Ventures, a VC firm. It launched in January 2005, and has been syndicated on a co-branded basis to The New York Post and AM New York. It now claims 750,000 unique visitors per month – 95 percent in New York.

The site has had some agency support for nearby businesses and urbanite brands, and its advertiser roster now includes Wachovia Bank, The New York Times, Volkswagen and Dewers Scotch. Wachovia, for instance, uses the site to promote a $50 metro card to customers opening new accounts at branches next to subway stops. In addition, Amex is using the site to promote its InNewYork imprint.

While the site has been designed as a destination site, its information is also being licensed to local companies, such as Real Estate brokerages, who can use it to provide directions to potential buyers. There are currently five customers paying $25,000 each per year for licensing rights, including Coldwell Banker and Corcoran (a New York Real Estate powerhouse).

HopStop recently extended to Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Chicago. Soon, it will add Philadelphia, Atlanta, and suburban transit systems in Maryland, New Jersey and Long Island. The site also has international aspirations, and is planning launches in London, Paris and three other non-U.S. cities.

To my eyes, the site looks kind of rough and it isn’t always easy to get acceptable results, especially outside of New York. And “subway” directions don’t translate to Washington D.C., where it is the “Metro.” But the 10 person team is constantly working to improve things.

HopStop Founder Chinedu Echeruo, a former Wall Streeter, said he was inspired to start the site because as an immigrant to the U.S., he found that city transit systems can be indecipherable. The value of online transit info is important to everyone, but people from foreign countries or other cities benefit as much as hardcore locals. Consequently, HopStop is available in nine languages (including Swahili).

While most users go in via desktop, Echeruo says that mobile access is essential to the site’s future. Currently, site features are available via Blackberry, SMS and voice recognition (1-888-2Hopstop).

In addition to HopStop, other transit sites have recently launched. Yell.com, for instance, provides transit info for 30,000+ train stations in the U.K. Urban Mapping, the provider of neighborhood info for AskCity, and soon Verizon SuperPages and Yellowpages.com, is also branching out into transit sites. Many transit systems, like Los Angeles and San Diego have developed transit info systems of their own.

Ian White, the founder of Urban Mapping, said he is bullish on transit info. But it isn’t as easy as it looks. “Semantics really matter” in doing transit searches, he said. “You’ve got three-four standards for each system; different routing; timetables. Some system define things in terms of frequency (of trains and buses). Others define in terms of arrival times.

“Taking all this stuff is really, really messy,” said White. “And transit systems don’t have a culture of sharing. And routing is just one component, along with spatial. For instance, where do you get out when you are at West 4th St? There are four exits – but none let you get out exactly at West 4th. We’re working on it.”

IAC Dances Fine Line With AskCity/CitySearch

IAC’s Ask.com rolled out AskCity this week in a bid to use IAC’s content to differentiate itself from Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL. The site, which succeeds AskLocal, proves to be an excellent local research tool and effectively integrates listings, reviews and other content from IAC sites such as CitySearch and evite, as well as non-IAC sites (It is a little weird, however, that AskCity is not the URL, but rather a sub-site within Ask).

Remarking on the launch, Ask CEO Jim Lanzone, in an interview with Om Malik, noted that “local is very important in search. It’s a top five category for us” represents 10 percent of all Ask searches. With the addition of IAC’s proprietary content, Ask can really present a human element that competitors like MSN and Yahoo aren’t doing. “Our research showed that they rely too much on maps and gimmicks like fly-overs, have limited content, require too many steps to transact, and have a lack of coherence between various the local products they’ve all created,” he said.

Still, AskCity’s launch raises a series of logical questions. Won’t the launch of AskCity cause significant cannibalization from CitySearch? Isn’t it time to rollup CitySearch? While one is a “search engine” and the other a “destination,” isn’t that becoming a fine line, circa late 2006?

The answer is “no” on all of the above, per Scott Morrow, CitySearch’s Exec VP of Product and Marketing. Morrow noted that the origins of both sites “are just different. CitySearch is a media and publishing creation. It is a leading directory and content company in local. And it leverages the SEO value of the content.”

Unlike Ask, which ultimately remains a search engine, CitySearch is all about “exploration and decision support,” said Morrow. “We do have a search functionality, but it is not core to what we do,” he said. Just this year, in fact, CitySearch outsourced its search functionality to FAST Search and Technology.

The proof that IAC has long-term plans for CitySearch would be the launch of a major marketing plan. It has been years since CitySearch spent significant money on marketing. Morrow says it is coming – although don’t expect to see any SuperBowl ads. “We are gearing up for a massive consumer launch with a focused, targeted marketing campaign,” he said.

In the meantime, he says that AskCity should be seen as symbiotic with CitySearch. “It provides more exposure and leads to advertisers we are signing up,” said Morrow.

I like what Morrow has to say. And really, it wouldn’t make any sense for CitySearch to throw in the towel at this point, given Ask’s experimental status, and CitySearch’s extensive relationships with Ask competitors, including a local “powered by” relationship with MSN, a lesser, “non-powering” tie with Yahoo, and informal ties with Google.

CitySearch also has a developing local sales operation under the direction of Neil Salvage. It also features IYP, a user-generated content platform, and an editorial staff.

For sure, all this could be re-orged. And certainly, one imagines that IAC head Barry Diller has decided that Ask’s potential is many, many times larger than CitySearch’s. But for now, IAC is apparently intent on synergistically developing the two sites.