Critical shift in direction

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Looking at changing U.S. demographics and ethnic consumers' spending, Yellow Pages publishers are changing the look of their traditional tomes.

"Marketers are just starting to see the shift and the value in ethnic spending," says Robert Mandl, marketing manager of True North Directory Services. "The major national clients have just started to react within the last year."

In Chicago last fall, Ameritech Corp. distributed 106,000 African-American-geared directories and 215,000 Hispanic-geared ones. The books included information targeted to the groups.

For instance, Sears, Roebuck & Co.'s Home Central division placed an inside-cover ad in Ameritech's Hispanic directory that boasts, "Se habla Espanol."

"Advertising in a Spanish-language Yellow Pages is a very effective way for Sears to communicate our services and products to Hispanic customers," says Gilbert Davila, VP-multicultural and relationship marketing.

The African-American directory includes a guide to Kwanzaa that explains the origins and traditions for the holiday, profiles of past leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X, a calendar of African-American community festivals and a listing of locally elected African-American officials.

Its bilingual Hispanic directory, which has two covers (Spanish on one cover and English on the flip side), includes information on immigration, local soccer leagues and Hispanic festivals. It also includes Spanish-language profiles of such Hispanics as Latina founder Christy Haubegger, singer Gloria Estefan and Aida Alvarez, the administrator of the Small Business Association.

"Advertisers have identified the need [to reach ethnic consumers]. We want to make sure we are there to fill that need," says William Baker, senior director of SBC Directory Operations, a division of Ameritech parent SBC Communications.

With 13 states of coverage under its belt since the Ameritech merger, the unit has one of the largest operations in the industry targeting ethnic groups, Mr. Baker says.

"We have 12 [ethnic] directories, and by 2001-2002 there will be nearly 20 directories," he says.

SBC has eight culturally enhanced products in Southern California and four in Chicago targeting African-Americans and Hispanics.

In Detroit, SBC is launching a directory targeted to the Arab community. BellSouth produces directories in Florida for Caribbean and Latin American users, one for the gay community and another for Greek Americans.

Although many phone companies are relatively new with producing ethnic directories, a number of independents have been serving their markets for at least a decade.

For instance, there is a nationwide Black Pages USA published by Thomas-McCants Media and Chinese Yellow Pages by publisher ASM Inc.

But more independents are also joining the ring. In May 1999, Mazel Publishing rolled out the Jewish American Yellow Pages in Detroit.

Yellow Pages Publishers Association has conducted industry usage studies to identify how various ethnic groups use phone directories. In its study "Yellow Pages Usage Among Spanish Only Speaking Consumers," YPPA found 89% of Hispanics are familiar with the traditional Yellow Pages, but only 2% refer to them on the average day.

In a similar study of the African-American community, YPPA found that 97% of African-Americans are familiar with the directories, while 15% on average actually use one daily.

The Asian population was deemed too small for a study.

Although there is growing economic power among ethnic groups, says Steven Osinski, VP marketing for New York-based TMP Worldwide, "for the most part [Yellow Pages advertising] is a hard sell to advertisers."

TMP continues to produce studies to show the validity of specialty publications, Mr. Osinski says. For example, last year TMP placed ads in a number of ethnic directories for a handful of wireless clients.

Each ad was assigned a dedicated phone number for tracking calls. One out of 10 calls resulted in a sale, which is considered a great return, says Mr. Osinski.

Dennis Fromholzer, a YPPA consultant, says there is no single formula for success when it comes to ethnic directories. "There is no one-size-fits-all. It is a new frontier."

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