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Mar 11 2005
SBC Takes Aim at Competitors in New Ads
A story this week on talks about a new ad campaign from SBC that tries to restore the mystique of printed Yellow Pages while setting SBC Yellow Pages apart from competitors �� referred to only as the ��Different Book�� in the new campaign.

We haven��t seen the ads yet, just the description provided in the Adweek story. But it appears SBC has spared nothing. The spot from GSD&M in Austin, SBCDO��s longtime agency, follows a fairy tale motif and is directed by Francis Ford Coppola��s son Roman (no doubt trying to catch up with his sister Sophia). The ad features a voiceover from veteran character actor Roscoe Lee Browne.

Aside from the spot��s production value, there a few things here worth noting.

First, SBC��s newest efforts reflect a general trend toward investing more in promotion of the printed Yellow Pages. Publishers worldwide tell us that they are spending more these days, in most cases as a direct response to competition.

SBC��s decision to call out the ��Different Book�� also reminds us of the tactic used by Yellow Book (not the ��Other Book��) of using broad humor and images to convey the sense that there is only one option available that can be relied upon to provide complete, accurate and relevant information. In the spot, for example, a dog owner using the ��Different Book�� mistakenly arrives at a veterinarian that caters exclusively to cats.

And some comments from the people behind the campaign, as quoted in Adweek, are also revealing. Jonathan Silverstein, an account director, said the ads were trying to bring back a sense that the Yellow Pages is a ��magic book.��

He says: ��They were great at one time �� you got everything. But almost like a fable, something bad happened. Something needed to be corrected.��

Silverstein also acknowledges that the success of SBC��s competitors was top of mind as the spots were created. ��They needed to make a statement, remind people that there is a choice and a quality difference.��

Blog: Global Yellow Pages Blog
posted by  Charles Laughlin at  08:35 | permalink | comments [2] | trackbacks [0]

Mar 10 2005
Fear and Backslapping in Las Vegas
Greetings from the Mirage Hotel. I am sitting here staring at Steve Wynn��s enormous signature on his new Vegas strip hotel, poring over my notes from the first general sessions at the Yellow Pages Association annual convention, halfway into its first day.

We heard a lot of cheerleading about the Yellow Pages, but much of it was backed with data and thoughtful arguments. What, if not a trade association, is going to find the glass-half-full way of viewing things?

The morning��s basic talking points to the YP faithful were: Usage is stable; heck, even young people are using the printed Yellow Pages; investors love us; but let��s not be complacent since we have to make sure we optimize our online opportunity if we want to succeed long term.

As an aside, could we please declare a moratorium on the whole ��every threat is also an opportunity�� cliché?

Here are some interesting tidbits from this morning��s speakers:

Outgoing association chair and Dex Media CEO George Burnett hinted that there may be some bumps on the path toward adopting an industry-wide syndicated usage program, which has been in development for months with the general expectation that a program would roll out this year.

In his remarks, Burnett said the industry has made ��real progress�� on syndicated research, but added with some emphasis that a lot of work remained and that Dex was committed to making sure that ��all references regardless of platform are included.��

Later, on a panel on national Yellow Pages issues, Ketchum Directory Advertising President Gene Daly drew scattered applause when he remarked that the increasing complexity in competitive directory markets, ��points to the need for syndicated research,�� and expressed some fears the effort may be stalling.

Finally, also on the national panel, Kathy Geiger-Schwab of the Berry Co. made this remark, responding to a question about which competitive media are most vulnerable to a competitive attack from Yellow Pages: ��The distraction of going after brand and direct marketing has prevented us from conducting an all-out assault on the Internet.�� Amen.
Blog: Global Yellow Pages Blog
posted by  Charles Laughlin at  12:07 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

Feb 20 2005
Eniro Tries to Right Its Ship

Eniro is a very progressive directory organization operating in several very progressive markets (including Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland) as well as some developing markets like Poland and Russia. It is probably fair to say that the company made too early a transition from a print company with an Internet business to an Internet company with a print business, particularly in Sweden, its largest market. Eniro has paid for this with a dramatic drop in Swedish print revenues.

New CEO Tomas Franzén (there for less than a year) quickly grasped the problem and went into full turnaround mode. The full results will not be known for another year, but he deserves credit at least for generating a lot of activity that appears pointed in the right direction. Eniro has redesigned its Yellow Pages product, retrained its sales force, adjusted compensation to stop motivating the wrong behavior, and it has attacked inefficient processes that led to sky high rejections rates on new contracts.

In some respects, Sweden, given its position as an early adopter of new technologies, is positioned to be a canary in the coalmine for the eventual erosion of printed revenues. But Eniro had proved a poor early warning system to date, since many of the declines were the result of self-inflicted wounds and came much earlier than necessary.

Now that Eniro is improving its operations and looks to be on the road to stabilizing its print revenues in Sweden, perhaps it can once again become a harbinger of the future course of printed directory usage and revenue. For now, the company deserves credit for attacking its problems aggressively and, it appears, with measures that are customer focused.

Blog: Global Yellow Pages Blog
posted by  Charles Laughlin at  16:58 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

Feb 16 2005
Private Equities Get ��Amarillas�� Fever
I recently noticed a press release on the merger of two relatively obscure publishers of Spanish-language Yellow Pages directories. The acquiring party is Hispanic Yellow Pages of America, backed by the private equity fund called Hispania Capital Partners LLC. The fund��s purpose is to build a Spanish-language directories business, and one of its chief backers is Verizon Communications. Other similar financial players have emerged to pursue this niche.

Do we think they will be successful? Yes, but only to a point. Too many of those supporting this business model read too much into the demographic data. Yes, a larger share of Americans will be of Hispanic origin in the coming years. This doesn��t automatically translate into a parallel Yellow Pages universe conducted in Spanish.
Blog: Global Yellow Pages Blog
posted by  Charles Laughlin at  10:31 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

Feb 8 2005
Is Sensis the Next One on the Block?
A report in Australia��s The Age newspaper citing unnamed sources within the Australian government says the spin-off of Sensis Pty. Ltd. by its parent company Telstra is in the works. The story was posted on on Feb. 8.

Within the same news cycle, Telstra issued this brief statement in response to The Age story:

��With respect to the speculation in today��s Age newspaper in relation to Sensis Pty. Ltd., the Telstra Board continuously monitors and reviews the company��s businesses. However, the Telstra Board has taken no decision to sell Sensis Pty. Limited.��

Ben Bradlee, the legendary former editor of the Washington Post, might have called this statement a ��non-denial denial.��

According to The Age, the public float is expected to take place ahead of the government��s auction of its remaining 51.8 percent stake in Telstra. The story suggests Sensis would command in the range of A$10 billion (about US$7.5 billion), which would amount to roughly 15 times 2004 EBIT, a rich multiple to be sure, but we would expect the company to go for a premium valuation.

We have long seen Sensis as one of the top operators in the global directional media industry. This is particularly so because of its efforts over the past few years, under recently departed CEO Andrew Day, to build a diverse product mix designed for a future that is not reliant on print revenues, and after improving internal processes and customers satisfaction levels to enable the company to execute on a broader media strategy.

What do you think? Is Sensis worth such a high multiple? How will the float change the direction of the company? And what, if any, reverberations will there be around the industry if The Age has this story right?

Blog: Global Yellow Pages Blog
posted by  Charles Laughlin at  11:30 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

Feb 2 2005
Competition Picks Up Steam in the UK
Britain��s Guardian newspaper reported today that British Telecom plans to spend up to 10 million pounds �� about US$18 million �� promoting its BT Phone Book product this year.

This represents a significant upping of the ante by BT, which spent 3 million pounds last year, as it completed the full rollout of 171 combination White Pages and classified directories. BT, which once owned the market leader Yell Group, now has made it clear that it intends to snatch away market leadership from its former subsidiary.

This seems a tall order given BT has perhaps a 10 percent market share today, and that Yell��s Yellow Pages is a ubiquitous, well-managed brand in the UK. However, BT is also a powerful brand, and the company doesn��t lack for resources. We think ambitions of parity are at least some part bravado, but a sufficient commitment of resources and solid execution could conceivably result in a significant share shift.

Adding to this ratcheting up of the competitive intensity level in Britain is the steady emergence of Trinity Mirror. The regional newspaper chain successfully launched a classifieds directory in Edinburgh, Scotland, last year, and is trying to repeat its success in Glasgow, a more challenging market. Now the UK has an apparent fourth major directories player, making it one of the most competitive markets in Europe.
Blog: Global Yellow Pages Blog
posted by  Charles Laughlin at  11:18 | permalink | comments [2] | trackbacks [0]

Feb 2 2005
My Breakfast with Condron
Last week, I sat down for a breakfast interview in London with Yell Group CEO John Condron at the Connaught Hotel, a power breakfaster��s power breakfast spot.

Over his porridge, Condron talked about the state of the business today, and what makes his company tick. A few of his comments would make for good motivational posters (if such a thing as a droll motivational poster actually existed) in the conference room at any directory publisher around the globe:
��If you hire mercenaries, you get a mercenary organization.��

��This is a simple business made complicated by people who really don��t understand the basics.��

Not once did he use the word ��paradigm.��

Blog: Global Yellow Pages Blog
posted by  Charles Laughlin at  11:08 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

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