Yellow Pages Struggles To Find Agency Media Buyers
Yellow pages can be said to have a dual "CMR" problem: the advertising is bought by certified marketing reps, not agency media buyers; and the advertising isn't ranked by Competitive Media Reporting, or any other rating service, which makes it more difficult for agencies to buy.
This very issue was the subject of a session at the Simba Yellow Pages 2002 and Beyond conference, which concluded yesterday in New York.
Yellow pages is one of the top five leading media categories, with $14.4 billion in revenue last year, yet it "segregates itself from the media planning world," according to Ira Friedman, president of DMI Services, a member of the session's panel. "If yellow pages wants to get on the table it has to position itself as a tool for agencies to have returns," he said.
Speaking of returns, Erwin Ephron, a media consultant, said the fee and buying structure used by certified marketing reps differs from agency rates and is too small for agencies. Fees of 2 1/2 to 3%, which the yellow pages pay, makes them undesirable for agency media buyers who "can't afford to plan them," he said.
Rich Notarianni, director of media planning at DDB Worldwide, was the agency spokesperson at the session, saying among other things that agencies focus on "creative, innovative sexy things" - things not immediately associated with yellow pages.
Another problem for yellow pages is "a lack of consistency in naming units, which is a hindrance to buys," Friedman said. Each yellow pages publisher offers his own specific units, which means there is no standardization, making agency buys almost impossible. The lack of named units also relates to the reporting problem. If the advertising was rated, it would have consistent units agency buyers could focus on.
The session didn't just cite problems yellow pages have in selling to agency media buyers; it expressed hope for change. In the world of cross media and mega media campaigns, which are more popular today, yellow pages have a place. "You can't use TV for everything, you need a media mix," Ephron said. "There is a place for yellow pages." Notarianni said advertising's goal of "managing customer contact" makes yellow pages a potential buy. Matt Centofanti, director of business development for SBC Directories Operations, a yellow pages publisher, said the increasing use of yellow pages for national advertising would be of interest to agency buyers. Yellow pages don’t have to be a purely local medium. Also, new forms of yellow pages advertising, including cover ads and inserts, create opportunities for "frequency and recency," according to Ephron, which agency buyers value.
At the end of the session, Friedman offered the brightest ray of hope, saying the industry plans on launching a web site that will be used to plan, review and make yellow pages buys. Friedman didn't say what the site would be called, who would sponsor it or when it would go online. But the idea seems to be a valuable one, because it will enable agencies do something they've never done before--buy yellow pages advertising.