Gannett Buys Planet Discover

U.S. newspapers have largely maintained the artificial line that separates their classifieds from Yellow Pages. And vice versa.

There have been a couple of minor Yellow Pages acquisitions over time (Hearst with White and Affiliated; Gannett with Hometown Directories and years ago, Space Coast Directories). And newspapers have launched half-hearted “business directories,” basically filling a YP slot on their home page. But up to now, newspapers haven’t made much effort to integrate their content and promotional power with the directional, getting ready-to-buy power of Yellow Pages. They have largely watched as Google and Yahoo have begun to redefine, and lowered the barriers to entry, of local search.

That changed today, with Gannett Digital’s purchase of Planet Discover. Founded in 2001 and based in the Cincinnati suburbs, Planet Discover has pushed hard to bring vitality to local search by integrating Yellow Pages listings on the same page with newspaper display ads, classifieds and news.

To be certain, its first efforts with McClatchy’s Star Tribune in Minneapolis and others were awkward, highlighting the news archives (and the traditional schism in newspapers between editorial and sales). More recent launches, such as WickedLocal for Enterprise Newspapers in the Boston suburbs, have downplayed the news and played up other, more relevant search content.

Talking with the President

The LocalOnliner talked to Planet Discover President Terry Millard after the deal was announced. Millard says that PD will become a separate unit of Gannett, like PointRoll, maintaining existing vendor ties to McClatchy and others. The company currently serves 40 newspapers.

PD is also likely to continue to develop vertical search services, such as travel, which account for less than 15 percent of the company’s revenues. “We’ll probably be broadening that,” says Millard. The company has grown from 13 employees to 28 over the past two years, but Millard wouldn’t predict whether it will add more staff. His team, however, plans to stay in place.

What has largely set Planet Discover apart from other local search vendors has been its efforts in custom publishing, as newspapers have struggled to add value and context to local advertisers. In the past, custom efforts have proved disastrous for other vendors, such as Zip2, who couldn’t make them scale and took their eye off the ball. In Planet Discover’s case, however, it turned into a better, all-around product.

In fact, the company has been providing custom services to several Gannett papers, including The Tucson Citizen/Arizona Star, The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. It wasn’t until late last year, however, that Gannett got to experience firsthand how Planet Discover worked, as the companies partnered to provide a services guide for ShopLocal, a joint sales-oriented venture between Gannett, Knight Ridder and Tribune.

Gannett’s Dan Donaghy was overseeing Gannett’s end. Donaghy had firsthand experience as a vendor when he was a senior VP with Classified Vendors. Before that, with New York Times Digital, Donaghy oversaw a very problematic installation of New York Today with Zip2. Today, he reports to Gannett Digital President Jack Williams. “They understood it. They really got it,” says Millard.

To Millard, the company’s acquisition by Gannett provides strong opportunity that could go beyond firing up Gannett’s 110 newspapers and, possibly, various TV and radio stations. He notes there are three kinds of content that Planet Discover is using: Traditional newspaper types of content; Yellow Pages content; and aggregations of content from users, calendars etc. The value of aggregation is just now getting appreciated, he says.

How much synergy comes from other Gannett properties and investments remains to be seen. PointRoll, ShopLocal, Cars.com, Careerbuilder and Topix each have local content, and “if it gives us more access to local content,” they’ll will be highly beneficial, he said. “It is the local user who drives the traffic.”

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