Tag Archives: RHD

YPA 09: Dave Swanson,RH Donnelley; Chris Cummings, Marquette Group

Keynoting at the Yellow Pages Association Convention in San Diego today, RH Donnelley CEO Dave Swanson acknowledged “the worst local media environment this country has seen since the Great Depression.” But YPA’s outgoing chairman also noted that “the will to live in our industry is very strong.”

“We’re moving from sellers of advertising products to partners in advertiser growth,” he said. “We’re learning how to price value more accurately across a wide range of geo-verticals.”

Swanson warned that solutions are “not just about innovation.” He noted a recent conversation with an RHD salesperson who complained: “’We’ve spent so much time learning to build effective digital profiles, we’ve forgotten how to build print profiles.’ We cannot forget the basics,” said Swanson.

Swanson’s comments were followed by Incoming Chair Chris Cummings, CEO of Marquette Group – the first time, incidentally, that YPA has been chaired by a CMR. Cummings’ ascension is especially noteworthy given the ongoing merger talks between the YPA and The Association of Directory Marketers, a CMR organization.

“I like our space,” said Cummings. “We know what ads work. More importantly, the advertiser knows.” Cummings added that Yellow Pages have made tremendous strides in recent years to provide accurate accountability for their advertising via call measurement and other means – something that newspapers and other local media generally lack.

Vertical SlowDown? Teresa Lawlor on Vertical Challenges

The development of verticals is an obvious growth strategy for newspapers, Yellow Pages, search engines and as standalones. The Kelsey Group projects that verticals and classifieds will make up 25 percent of interactive local revenue by 2012.

But nothing happens overnight. And at this point, still early in the game, there have been some initial disappointments with vertical results.

Teresa Lawlor, a consultant who specializes in vertical development and a former VP of Marketing for Media News Group (and before that, with DexMedia), has lived through a number of vertical startup efforts. She has learned that it is going to require a lot of patience, determination and luck.

“I definitely think there is a slow transition toward the verticals being the next big wave,” says Lawlor. “The opportunity is there. It has the potential to build audience, engagement, loyalty, partnerships and new revenue streams. But it requires a commitment to spending some time working out what verticals will be most easily and profitably leveraged, building community around them and hiring staff…. a little more open-minded about change and risk.”

Newspapers, in particular, are “scared to take the plunge because they don’t have the mindset, nor the personnel that know anything about this stuff. But I truly believe that this is the first step toward direct marketing for the newspapers ,” she says.

Yellow Pages are in a similar boat. “When I was at DexMedia (now RH Donnelley) about six years ago we were just bringing on verticals (health, auto, b2b, wedding, legal, dining, travel). It was a great idea – partnering with Edmunds.com, OpenTable, etc. to try to get a piece of the transaction and revenue share and introducing new products.”

But Lawlor notes that it was doomed to failure. “It failed because of changed leadership, but also largely because we didn’t integrate – the content wasn’t integrated with the listings and the self-serve piece. So users never saw them and we had so many legacy data issues and conflicts with the sales force around self-serve advertising and the low price point of online products vs. print. Sound familiar?” she asks.

Lawlor still believes the rise of verticals is going to be a critical part of the future. But getting them started in a time of crisis is going to be all the harder since there is less patience in tweaking things, looking at the analytics and getting them right . “Being a change agent in an industry that is treading water is a very challenging thing and takes time,” she says.