Paper Thin

Circulations for print directories are shrinking as advertisers use more up-to-date online products. To maintain their ad earning power, publishers must offer Web-based services.

In the advertising mix, directories have many advantages over other media. Their packaged accessibility, coupled with the fact that consumers use them when they are ready to make purchases, maintain their advertising earning power even when other media are suffering losses. For the first time, however, directories face significant competition from online directories.

Following a massive surge in activity a decade ago, directories are no longer a runaway growth medium. But they are increasing their advertising share at roughly the same rate as advertising in general, says media consultant Harold Lind, who conducts long-term advertising revenue forecasts for the Advertising Association.

“The big question is how the rise of classified advertising on the Internet will affect the basic classified medium, which includes directories. To date the Internet has made little impact on directories, which had a good year in 1999, growing a little faster than advertising as a whole and quite a bit faster than most press and classified advertising.”

Lind believes the Internet offers significant opportunities for directories. “Online products don’t share the weakness of directories, which is that they appear once a year or less. However, there has been little work done in this area. It is a complex business to work out a pricing structure for more frequent updates. It is not just a case of saying that those who advertise in a directory can also appear on its website. Not many directories offer, for a fee, to change your details on the website any time you like.”

Directories will always have inherent value to advertisers because they harness consumer needs, says managing director of Hollis Directories Gary Zabel.

“Directories – hard copy or website – will continue to be attractive to advertisers because they deliver a highly targeted audience and are used in an active manner. The user has to make the effort to search for a service or advertiser, whereas advertisements in other media simply wash over their intended targets.

“Directory publishers own valuable content, and usually have a respected brand name which has earned a reputation for quality and assurance over a number of decades. They make it easy for users by gathering, sorting and filtering information. This researching and refining exercise has a value that users will continue to pay for.”

Zabel says Internet search engines have posed little threat so far. “Search engines generally leave visitors tremendously unfulfilled. For example, I searched recently for press guides and the top selection was for the Acme trouser press company.

“Directory publishers can use the Internet to offer new services to advertisers, exploiting the searchability and frequency of update opportunity.”

Hollis now offers Web updates of its annual PR guide, and includes a recruitment advertising facility in this package, says Zabel.

“The brand name attracts users. We have become a portal for the PR industry, offering job listings. This means we can compete with media such as trade magazines.”

But circulations for traditional print products are shrinking, says BRAD Group publishing director Catharine Pusey.

“This trend has to be because of electronic directories. It is a question of how far that will go before advertisers wonder whether they have got the right audience.

Tapping new markets

“At BRAD, we have electronic versions of our data and the traditional monthly print directory, and we run advertising sales across all products. The Internet version of BRAD has opened up the new business markets, which are no longer interested in print products.

“Publishers which don’t manage to get onto the Web, or onto CD, will reduce what they offer to advertisers.”

Online directory products’ big selling point is that they are more up-to-date, notes Pusey.

Accurate updates

“With our print version there is a five-week lead time between closing the database and publishing the book. With the online version, they get yesterday’s update, so it is more current.

“The efficiency of the Web has resulted in people demanding more. They get access to a database on the Web and they immediately look up their own company entry, and if you haven’t included information that they know to be recent, your credibility is affected.”

Interest in directory advertising is waning in certain sectors, says Jane’s Information Group global advertising sales director Gina Dawkins.

“My experience in defence markets is that directory products are becoming a less attractive medium to advertisers. Less than half use directories, whereas little more than five years ago, 80 per cent did.”

The defectors are attracted by the possibilities in e-business marketing, says Dawkins. “Publishers have to find online solutions for advertisers and ways of packaging hard copy with e-business.

“At Jane’s, we have several options for online advertisers and are constantly looking for new advertising models to integrate into our range of electronic products.

“The main message, though, is that if you want to attract big money from the more savvy advertisers, you have to invest in the advertising delivery mechanisms and the appropriate audits, because without these, you simply will not get the cream.”

Thomson Directories marketing director Kendall Gordon says the key to directories’ consistent advertising success is simple – they make telephones ring.

“Even in a recession, where other sectors of the advertising community move backwards, companies are reluctant to cut their directory spend, because that is the key to people continuing to make contact with them,” says Gordon.

“For small businesses in particular, directories perform well in all four areas of the AIDA model (attention, interest, desire and action). Most people who pick up a directory already have an intention to buy, and go on to select one of the suppliers in the directory and make a purchase.”

Thomson sees its Web version, Thomweb.co.uk, as complementing its paper products, says Gordon.

“Our approach is to allow advertisers to get online seamlessly by providing a variety of advertising packages. This means advertisers’ offline print directory ads are also available online.”

Happy co-existence?

AllAdvantage.com managing director for northern Europe Robert Glasgow believes new media will not eclipse traditional directories. AllAdvantage.com, which describes itself as an infomediary, works by allowing consumers to download a free viewing bar, after which they choose whether to receive ads made available to them by AllAdvantage.com while they surf the Web.

Despite the radical possibilities for advertisers that such a system offers, Glasgow maintains it would be inaccurate to suggest that traditional advertising methods are becoming obsolete.

“The Internet should be seen as a complementary tool that aids offline forms of marketing. Online targeted advertising targets a precisely defined audience with ads relevant to their interests and lifestyles. The balance between online and offline advertising is parallel to print and electronic media: although the Internet is popular, it has not replaced publications.

“The Internet is an additional communication medium, often used by the same people who read magazines.”

The figures tell the most reliable story when evaluating the strength of print directory advertising, says AP Information Services managing director Alan Phillips.

“Almost all our directories this year have exceeded their targets. Our original target for the third year of our new directory, International Pension Funds and Advisers, was £175,000 and we’ve already reached £115,000 in the first year.”

The company will move into online advertising in time, he says, and admits the flexibility of online products will bring welcome relief from listing crises caused when companies merge, are bought out, or change their names and adjustments cannot be made to the printed directory in time.

Whether in print or online, directories must take account of the many new services they can offer to their advertisers and users if they are to maintain their impressive performance of the past few years.

Perhaps the most important guiding principle, says BRAD’s Pusey, is that there are no short cuts to enhancing products and services. “You can’t get away with putting a database on the Web and only updating it once a year.”

Although the established directories can look forward to continued growth over the next few years, those that are already making realistic adjustments to the new demands posed by the Internet will soar ahead. In the process, they will radically redefine the way people use their services.

The DPA Awards

The DPA Awards, organised by the Directory & Database Publishers Association, is now in its eighth year and took place on June 29.

This year the awards, sponsored by Polestar Scientifica, doubled in size to six awards – including Champion Directory 2000. A new category of marketing beefed up the print, CD-ROM and Internet directory categories.

The print award has been divided into two – one for a new edition of a directory and one for an entirely new directory.

Directories – in whatever medium – are judged on standards of completeness, editorial content, aims, ease of use and design, production and value for money. In total, there were 82 entries this year, the highest number ever.

The DPA Print Directory – New Edition

Winner:ÂJane’s International Defence Directory, published by Jane’s Information Group

Highly commended:ÂCrawford’s Directory of City Connections, published by AP Information Services; The Interior Design Handbook, published by Cheerman; Offshore Oil & Gas Directory, published by Miller Freeman Information Services

The DPA Print Directory – First Edition

Winner:ÂDesign Handbook, published by The British Design Initiative

Highly commended:ÂNational Parks Europe, published by The Endat Group; Directory of British Universities, Colleges and Schools, published by Hobsons

The DPA CD-ROM Directory of the Year

Winner:ÂMunicipal Year Book CD-ROM, published by Newman Books

Highly commended:ÂWillings Press Guide CD-ROM, published by Hollis Directories

The DPA Internet Directory of the Year

Winner:ÂD&B MarketPlace UK (www.dnb.com/UK), published by Dun & Bradstreet

Highly commended:ÂAMMO (www.ammo.co.uk), published by AMMO

The DPA Marketing Award of the Year

Winner:ÂPrinting Trades Directory, published by Miller Freeman Information Services

Highly commended:ÂPub Industry Handbook, published by Quantum Publishing

The DPA Champion Directory of the Year

Winner:ÂD&B MarketPlace UK, published by Dun & Bradstreet

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