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What local media could learn from yellow pages

Borrell Associates’ latest report contains some valuable insight for local TV stations and newspapers on how the yellow pages companies are quickly figuring out how to transition online, especially in sales. As you can see in the graph, yellow pages have substantial local sales teams.

“Of all local media companies, yellow pages publishers have been the most successful in moving toward digital sales, averaging about 14 percent of their gross revenues from online sales this year. By contrast, the online contribution for most local newspaper, radio, cable and TV competitors is less than 5 percent of gross revenues,” reads the report. “Yellow pages publishers have spent the past three years transforming their massive on-the-ground sales forces into marketing consultants who can meet their customers’ demands both in print and online.”

So what’s working for them? First, they’re more accustomed to selling at a lower price point and to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). As you can imagine, commissions play a big role in this. (The age old question for newspapers and broadcasters is how to incentivize your sales team to sell a much less expensive product than print ads and TV spots. Usually, commissions are tied with minimum online sales goals which ensure continued employment at the company.) But the biggest advantage is yellow pages and local directories facilitate purchase decisions — they’re where you go to research something to buy. Newspapers used to fill this role, and TV sites have never filled this role. As a result, as a SMB, buying a “paid placement” type text ad associated with a user search makes much more sense than buying an aimless banner on a newspaper or TV site. It provides context, a word I’ve written about frequently here on Lost Remote. And for advertisers, better return for the money. Finally, another advantage for yellow pages and directories is they’re not afraid to forge reselling agreements with companies that traditionally may be considered their competitors — something that newspapers and TV stations are hesitant to do.

The takeaway for newspapers and local TV stations? Create innovative products that help people make better local purchase decisions. Build audiences around these products using your traditional promotional platforms. Leverage your sales relationships and feet on the street to sell them. Partner where you’re weak. And add self-serve advertising into the mix to help lower your cost of sales. Of course, the trick is identifying and executing on an “innovative product” that fills a unique local need.

The Wall Street Journal has a good story on the Borrell report, and PaidContent has a summary for those of you without a WSJ subscription.

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