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What happened to the Yellow Pages earlier this year?

In April of this year there was an earthquake in the yellow pages industry.  This seems like old news as we’ve been talking about the dramatic decline in printed yellow page usage and the surge in online local search, but the fact that these two events occured in April 2011 is striking.

April came in with a bang with the news that TMP Directional Marketing was closing up shop.  This was a big deal and sudden by their own admission.  See the news to clients letter posted on their website.

“We know this is all happening very quickly and wish we could have provided you with more notice. Unfortunately, an unforeseeable perfect storm of events has hit our company. Industrywide declines in the rate of print usage have significantly reduced our revenues. At the same time, we are contending with substantial debt obligations. Unfortunately, this combination has severely limited our ability to refinance- leaving us no other responsible choice but to wind down operations.”

What ensued was an interesting and active discussion in social media as to the cause.  Was it due to a dying media platform?  Other YP competitors?  Failure to adapt?  Others stood up for TMP and the yellow page industry as having solid ROI and many active markets.  80% of the comments reinforced the notion that incumbents like TMP didn’t move fast enough to their new business model (i.e. selling online with offline).

Doesn’t the question “Are print yellow pages dead?” miss the point.  No smart advertiser wants to be among the last ones clinging to a declining media platform.  There is a tipping point past which printed directories or any other media will go…and then it ceases to be truly relevant — whether it merely exists or not.
With everything said, it was hard to refute that the arrogance of an industry raising rates 2-3% annually in the face of declining usage is not a great business practice.  After the announcement, some of the former TMP exec’s are coming together as 2nd Act Local Marketing.  Catchy name.  Stay tuned.

The second tremor that was less of a shock was that the Yellow Pages Association is no more.
The Yellow Pages Association is now the Local Search Association. This industry group  unveiled the widely anticipated name change at its annual conference in Las Vegas this month. The logic behind this dramatic move is the association’s members are repositioning themselves more broadly, and less directly as “directory publishers”, therefore their trade group should naturally reflect that fact.

After years of putting on a brave face, it was time to “reposition”.  Only time will tell whether the name change was cosmetic or real.  As we all know by now, local search with Google, mobile and social platforms is hot and getting stronger as more of us convert to smartphones with better browsers.

Lest we be arrogant, “Repositioning” isn’t just for yellow page folks… it’s for everyone.  Every major advertiser, dealer network, interactive and traditional agency needs to reposition based upon consumer’s growing use of online content.  We’ve been feeling tremors and sudden jolts now for years and its time we all pay attention.

About Shawn Macedo

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