ANA: Yellow Pages Neglects Advertisers' Needs

Public Letter Blasts Directory's Billing Practices, Accountability

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The ANA Telephone Directory Committee is fed up with the Yellow Pages industry, and it's letting its fingers do the talking.
Neg Norton
Neg Norton

The committee, which deals with issues pertinent to the 3,000 national advertisers that use phone books as an ad medium, penned an open letter publicly lambasting the Yellow Pages Association for not addressing the concerns of its marketing partners. Among its complaints are the association's failure to provide syndicated audience measurement and circulation auditing, as well as its billing practices.

The letter states that the Yellow Pages are "approaching a crossroads as it relates to national advertisers." A number of those advertisers feel neglected and are upset with its lack of fundamental accountability metrics and its other questionable practices.

Feeling ignored
Part of the committee's anger stems from the fact that the Association of National Advertisers has been asking the YPA to act for some time now -- six years ago it issued a position paper on the need for third-party telephone-directory usage -- and feels its concerns are falling on deaf ears. National advertisers spend $2.3 billion in the Yellow Pages, a $15 billion industry.

"We have brought these issues to the attention of the Yellow Pages publishers and respective trade associations, and we felt that progress is just not being made," said Bill Duggan, exec VP at the ANA. "So we thought we should go a little more public with the concerns the committee has."

The lack of syndicated audience-measurement research is the equivalent of advertisers trying to buy TV time without the benefit of Nielsen ratings, Mr. Duggan said, and the absence of circulation auditing, which the ANA issued a white paper on in 2005, doesn't allow confirmation of the number of directories that are actually delivered.

Working on it
Neg Norton, president of the YPA, said its goal is to meet the needs of its advertising partners. He acknowledged that it has a long way to go, but doesn't agree with everything the ANA is griping about.

"We have invested some hundred million dollars as an industry over the last six or seven years in metered ad testing for both local and national advertiser. ... It's the most effective way to help a client understand what they are getting for their money from Yellow Pages," Mr. Norton said.

But Mr. Duggan said the most egregious practice is the way publishers of the Yellow Pages bill advertisers. When the life cycle of a directory has to be extended for a couple of months, advertisers are billed for those extra months. Most directories are out for one year, but occasionally a new one won't be issued until February or March of the following year. Mr. Duggan said this raises a number of issues other than billing, such as old phone numbers remaining in circulation and new ones not being advertised.

"The volume of those extensions and cutbacks has dropped dramatically," Mr. Norton said, "and a goal is to drop them down completely."

And another thing ...
Companion books, the digest-size books that arrive a few months after the big book, are another source of aggravation for the committee and national advertisers.

"[Yellow Pages] publishers require national advertisers to have an ad in the secondary book, while local advertisers have an option," Mr. Duggan said. "The term for this is forced bundling, and it's a somewhat vile term, but they use it. We want them to give national advertisers the option."

Mr. Norton said he could not comment on forced bundling as it's the publisher's decision. But results from the YPA's metered ad tests, which track calls made to phone numbers in Yellow Pages ads, show that "on average the companion book gets 40% of calls of the traditional book, so that's 40% of additional volume. ... There is considerable value there," Mr. Norton said.

Mr. Duggan agreed the Yellow Pages offer advertisers valuable services—such as call tracking, which allows advertisers to monitor how much business their ads are generating. He also said the directories have a chance to become a larger part of the mix by making the changes the ANA has suggested.

"Changing these things would generate more interest from other advertisers and provide them with a seat at the table," Mr. Duggan said. "In our view, it would put them in the consideration set."

Weighing costs, benefits
Mr. Norton said he was unsure whether meeting the ANA's demands would benefit the YPA.

"That's been the $64,000 question: Will there be more business? I don't anyone has demonstrated that there would be," he said.

Mr. Norton said the only way to work this out is through dialogue. Both sides are scheduled to meet at this week's Yellow Pages Association Conference and Exhibition in Las Vegas.
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