The difference between Yellow Pages and other traditional media

There is a significantly different way in which Yellow Pages companies’ worldwide view the Internet, mobile and all interactive platforms than the way that traditional media companies view them.

This difference just came to me today as I was attending the Borrell Associates Local Online Advertising Conference listening to the directories’ panel discussion that followed the newspaper, radio and television panels. Just to disclose everything, I’m an online guy first and foremost and I work for a radio group – I’ve worked for 3 actually in the past 8 years.

Yellow Pages’ view:

Yellow Page companies know for a fact their primary business today and historically, their print directories will disappear in the very near future – we’re talking a few years. They know this.

This creates for them an all too real sense of urgency to change their business model to one that will be profitable for them in the future. So they invest heavily in online, hiring top guns and buying promising start-ups. They’re tooling up now and planning to live of the web in the short term.

Just look to Yellow Pages Group’s activities over the last 12-18 months, same for Yellow Book and AT&T’s directory business.

Traditional media’s view:

Traditional media don’t know for a fact that their primary business is in danger. Some smart open-minded players do know this to be true, and some fear it to be true. However, most of them, the senior execs, do know the web is reshaping things, may actually change things for them for the worse somewhere in the future, but to them (and to everyone else including me) their principal media’s expiration date is not set in stone.

This creates a sense that they can actually hold the digital tide at bay or at the very least shapes it to so that it doesn’t hurt them too much. They have their blinders on. They are not neglecting the web or other interactive platforms. However they are focusing all their energy into adapting and squeezing out all possible leftover benefits from their principal media. They need to keep proving its profitability and future potential to their shareholders who also cannot believe that an end to paper is actually inevitable – broadcasting won’t go away, but will have to change to remain profitable in this ever changing world. Growth for traditional media varies from +1% to +3$ annually.

Another way of looking at this situation is that traditional media for the most part feel threatened by online and mobile. That puts them in a defensive posture because they know they have a lot to lose. So they defend their assets as though their survival depended on it. They fail to see that the ongoing change is inevitable, it is not theirs to control, nor is it the online player’s part to control either. It is a fundamental shift in how citizens consume and view media that is affecting all. Some say defiantly, “we’re different, this doesn’t apply do us.” They might as well be saying that gravity doesn’t apply to them. This worldview usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for such dinosaurs – keep in mind that the most efficient dinosaur is still extinct.

Consumers don’t care about media companies

They have no empathy to our (media companies’) difficulties. Keep this in mind. If such a paper, radio or television were to close, would they really be saddenend? No, some other player would pickup the slack and offer similar or better content to satisfy them. Media consumers evolve and adapt with technological advances at a pace that is their own – not the technology’s and not the media’s willingness to move foreward. Instead, we should all instead be better listeners to what their read changing needs are and adapt to meet them.

Online is predicted to grow between 15-20% until 2020. How big will it be then? Locally? Nationally? Traditional media own control or influence the most original content that people actually care for – it’s the media platform they don’t particularly care for. If their energy that’s put towards maintaining and attempting to grow their traditional media were put towards developing their online and interactive presence, they could probably beat estimates and grow by at least 20% annually.

Yellow Pages Group (Canada) grew by 100% between 2009 and 2010. They were, and have now consolidated their position, the number one (by far) online Canadian player (in total dollars spend in online advertising – behind Google, not a Canadian player).

If an old traditional media that renewed its content once a year in paper grew by 100% in 1 year online, while being the biggest Canadian player online, just try to imagine how a monthly, weekly, daily or as-it-happens traditional media could grow if it actually put its mind to that task alone?

There is an alternative for traditional media. They could instead be telling themselves, “hmmm ok, this sphere is growing much faster than ours is shrinking, maybe this is a different sphere that ok maybe overlaps our a little, but not completely, so let see what we can win here, what we can gain, how can we grow in this online world.” All the while, keeping an open mind, they must keep asking their users “what is it you want from me? what could I (the media) offer you that would be of real value to you and keep you a while longer?.”

So how did the Yellow Pages do it?

They recognize and understand what is happening to their media.

They understand why it’s happening.

They hire new staff to ensure the change they know they must perform happens.

They hire not as they see themselves, but as they know they ought to be seen.


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