Book, online and tinker

The internet was meant to herald the demise of print-based directories, but they have held their own. Publishers have embraced the Web, but are working on improving traditional products as well as developing new ones, says Steve Hemsley

Necessity is the mother of invention, and in such a mature market as directory publishing there is constant need for innovation to avoid both buyer and advertiser apathy. Every business-to-business directory, for instance, has been created to meet the needs of particular industries. As these trades change and evolve, the publications that serve them must continue to develop too, or they risk becoming irrelevant.

One dilemma for publishers in recent years has been how to get the balance right between moving directories online, where their customers expect to see them nowadays, while retaining the traditional print versions for those who prefer to access information in a more traditional way.

Directories take a six per cent share of all advertising spend and the demise of the hard-copy version has been predicted for the past five years, yet print has more than held its own. In fact, only in the past couple of years have directory companies significantly increased the budgets for their online businesses.

Casting its Net

Reed Business Information makes no secret of its intention to move as far away from print as it can. Three years ago, just 20 per cent of its directory activity was online, but that is now 50 per cent and growing, as the company sees this route as the most effective method of communicating.

“The key for all publishers is to find better ways to put buyer and seller in touch with each other. I am not sanguine about the future of print directories, although some markets will probably always prefer a ‘hard’ version,” says Reed Business Information managing director Jerry Gosney. He cites the 176-year-old The Bankers’ Almanac as an example of one paper product that will probably always be available.

Optimising revenues

The change in publishers’ mindset has been prompted by a wider acceptance of broadband internet access among businesses and consumers. Plus, with the internet, there is an opportunity to raise revenue not only from advertising but by exploiting new areas, such as search engine optimisation.

The advent of the search engine has allowed online directories to persuade advertisers to pay extra for priority Web listings. Also, rather than competing against online directories, many search engines are doing deals with publishers to offer direct links to the heart of a directory.

Reed’s Kelly’s brand, which has been publishing industrial product and service information since 1799, was taken online in 2001. Since then, the number of searches on kellysearch.com has risen from 10,000 to 12.5 million a month. The number of companies it represents has also ballooned from 150,000 to 1.3 million and each business receives quarterly figures tracking the responses the site has generated. For Reed, the revenue from the site has risen steadily.

Online fillip

“Search engine optimisation has worked its way up the marketing ladder and subsequently given a boost to online spending. Advertising on online directories is still relatively small compared with other media, but it is heading upwards,” says kellysearch.com head of marketing Tony Millen.

One of his clients, exhibition solutions company Maxim Design & Display, claims kellysearch.com referred almost 5,500 people to its own site last year, which represented more than five per cent of all visitors.

Thomson Directories is another company hoping to maximise revenue from the search engine marketing industry, a business which Jupiter Research predicts will be worth £3bn by 2008.

Thomson wants to increase its WebFinder.com subscriber base by targeting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It launched WebFinder.com last year to help businesses to promote their websites and drive sales leads. The product was apparently the first search engine marketing tool to offer advertisers positioning on dynamically created maps.

WebFinder.com links to major search partners such as Freeserve, Ask Jeeves, Streetmap and Tiscali to capture a wide selection of search requests. Advertisers pick key words that reflect their business, such as “travel agent” or “holiday”, which become the hook to catch internet surfers on the search.

Keywords can be changed regularly to match promotions or events, such as “winter breaks” or “city breaks”, and an advertiser is only charged when a user clicks through onto its website.

Thomson Directories believes WebFinder.com will prove attractive to SMEs that can benefit most from the service’s flexibility and relative low cost, from 5p a visit. The payment-by-results system means search engine marketing provides a measurable return on investment, whatever the size of the company.

Healthy alternative

Thomson is establishing other partnerships: in April it announced a major coup when it secured the first directory partnership with the Department of Health and NHS Direct. New editions of Thomson Local come with a 64-page NHS self-help guide and by next April 18 million households will have access to the manual. This is a one-year deal but the company is confident the link will be extended.

“The NHS came to us to see if we could get involved in some way in the reprint of its guide. About 500,000 were distributed through locations such as doctors’ surgeries and we suggested it would reach even more people if the guide was distributed with our directories,” says Thomson marketing and strategic development director Kendall Gordon.

In January Thomson expanded its LocalPlus initiative, which encourages those advertisers that tend not to use directories, such as theme parks, as well as national advertisers such as insurance companies, to use its products to target local markets. The new editions also include large town centre maps, while Web addresses have been added to the A-Z of the businesses section.

All these changes were introduced following a consultation lasting 18 months with advertisers and consumers. Around 50 focus groups generated feedback on how the Thomson Local looked and how easy it was to use.

Yellow peril?

Rival Yell is also in no mood to stand still despite the success of its existing products and its brand. In April the company appointed former Boots director of strategic marketing, Ann Francke, as its chief marketing officer. Francke has more than 20 years’ experience in product development and she reports directly to Yell chief executive John Condron.

Between them they have overseen a number of important innovations in recent months. One notable decision they took was to increase the number of editions of Business Pages from six to nine, with three new books serving the South-west and Wales, southern England and east England. There have also been a number of design changes, including printing the directories on white paper rather than the usual red tint so that companies can advertise in colour.

Yell has also extended its partnerships with various trade associations by taking the service online. Consumers searching for particular companies or tradesmen on Yell.com are directed to members of the selected industry bodies. Yell insists it scrutinises the membership criteria of these organisations and continues to monitor standards.

New leaves

“We are always looking at innovative ways to attract new advertisers and retaining those we already have. We must enhance the directory constantly so it is used more often as an information source, and so that advertisers remain convinced our products are still effective in generating sales leads,” says Yell head of external relations Richard Duggleby.

In the business-to-business directory sector there is always a need to introduce new products, whether on- or offline. Most new directories are linked in some way to a company’s existing brands and associated with markets that the publisher has a good knowledge of.

Freeman Publishing, for example, which produces controlled- circulation titles such as Freeman’s Guide to the Property Industry, launched European Property in February after identifying a demand for information and contacts to help companies invest in commercial property outside the UK.

The 900-page print version will be published annually initially, but the information, which includes economic and demographic data, political overviews and lists of property service providers in 31 countries, is updated daily. This means the move to take the directory online from September should be a smooth one.

Ideas for new products often come from analysing reader and advertiser feedback at exhibitions or from focus groups. However, one effective way for a publisher to assess whether there is a gap in a market is to keep a close eye on changes to legislation or regulations affecting specific industries.

New port of call

For instance, when changes were made to the International Ship & Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code) last July, Lloyd’s Register-Fairplay reacted quickly by launching online Sea-Sentinel.

The code now requires shipping company security officers to gather information on any potential threats affecting the ports where their vessels might call and to put in place protective measures. Sea-Sentinel is a directory source of security and risk information at more than 8,200 ports and terminals.

For publishers the trick is to ensure their established directory brands remain fresh while at the same time spotting market opportunities for new products that will not cannibalise existing revenue streams. Whether this is online or offline, their advertisers and buyers expect them to remain resourceful.

Directory & Database Publishers Association Awards 2004 The DPA awards dinner and presentation were held at the Royal Bath Hotel, Bournemouth on June 10. Now in their 12th year, the DPA awards are judged on the standards of completeness, editorial content, aims, ease of use, design, production and value for money. The winners are:

Print Directory of 2004:

Winner – RIBA Product Selector, published by RIBA Enterprises

Highly Commended – External Works Compendium, published by The Endat Group

E-Directory of 2004:

Winner – www.warc.com,

published by World Advertising Research Center

Highly Commended –

BANKERS-almanac.com,

published by RBI Search

New Launch of 2004:

Winner – Sea-Sentinel, published by Lloyd’s Register-Fairplay

Highly Commended- European Property, published by Freeman Business Information

Highly Commended –

foresightnews, published by

The Profile Group (UK)

Marketing Campaign of 2004:

Winner – Global Market

Information Database,

produced by Euromonitor

Directory & Database Publisher of 2004

Winner – William Reed

Directories

Highly Commended – Hemming Information Services

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