Directories aim at local targets

Paper directories are seen by many as old-fashioned when compared to their online counterparts, but for many small or local businesses they offer a vital link with customers, says Nathalie Kilby

Despite the fact that directories account for six per cent of UK advertising spend and that the sector is worth £850m a year, the sector is not perceived to be a very exciting one when it comes to the paper version – with marketers tending to pay more attention to online listings.

A listing in a paper directory is not going to get pulses racing, but directories are a medium that many businesses simply cannot exclude from their marketing activities – especially small companies with a local focus or niche operators, which often have smaller marketing budgets that have to go as far as possible.

For many small businesses the primary source of attracting customers is via a directory. Practical Car & Van Rental is based in Birmingham and runs a franchise business with 160 outlets nationwide. A spokeswoman for Practical says that for the company and its franchisees, about 70 per cent of business is generated through directory listings. Practical organises a central advertising policy, while the local franchises handle their own listing.

The spokeswoman says: “Without a listing in a directory, our business would certainly suffer. We deal with Yellow Pages’ national team and the franchisees liaise with their local representatives. We do advise our franchise-holders on how to make the most of a directory listing, but we allow some autonomy on the design of the ads.”


Interflora, the flower delivery network, is another business for which directories are an essential media channel. Interflora has advertised in the Yellow Pages for over a decade and also runs ads in Thomson and BT Phonebook, as well as the 118500 and 118247 telephone services.

Interflora head of brand Lyn Davies explains that the network advertises nationally and its members advertise in their local area. She says: “Our members often have their individual ads designed for them, either by a designer or by the directory owner, but they also ask us for input. We do have guidelines as to how the trademark is used and they have to comply with these. We used to run black and white ads in every Yellow Pages directory, then we adapted our strategy two years ago to include varied sizes in each book with colour creative content.”

Yell and Thomson use a similar approach to helping clients make the most of their entry. At Thomson, irrespective of the ad size, the salesforce is briefed to ensure that advertisers are aware of the components that ensure an effective listing. Sales reps meet the client and together they sketch a rough version of the ad.

Thomson marketing director Kendall Gordon says there are six essential components that are the skeleton of any ad. These are: what is run at the top of the ad; whether the ads will have an illustration and how relevant that image is to the product or service; relevant copy points to “sell” the services; what logos should appear, including any trade associations to which a company may belong; ensuring there is space and not too much information in the ad; and what type of border the ad is to have. Naturally advertisers can create their own executions, but Thomson offers all its advertisers a helping hand should they need one.

Yell customer marketing manager Lisa Bradley explains a similar policy: “Our sales reps advise clients on what to have as the headline, good use of images and, most importantly, good use of space – too many people try to cram too much text into their ads. They also discuss the content of the copy included and what type of border to use.”

Bigger is better with directory listings, but colour is now the main method advertisers use to catch people’s attention. Bradley says that users are six times more likely to call a colour ad than a mono one. She says advertisers using colour entries see the number of calls they receive rise by up to 42 per cent year on year compared to a mono entry.


Thomson has 163 directories, and of these 159 offer full-colour advertising. According to Thomson’s research, colour has an undeniable impact. As Gordon explains: “Eighty per cent of people looking in a paper directory are more likely to call an advertiser with a colour ad, citing the fact that it is ‘eye-catching’ as the main motivation for this. About 80 per cent think that colour ads look better, while 70 per cent say they call companies with bigger ads and 66 per cent call the largest ad.

“We tend to think of directories, especially print versions, as a ‘directive’ medium as opposed to one that stimulates. Traditional ads stimulate and create desire for a product, whereas when people use a directory, they already know what it is that they want and are merely looking for further information: contact details and services on offer. However, while people may know what they want to buy, be it a product or service, they may not have decided which company to use until they look in a directory, so therefore it is essential that a directory ad stands out.”

Both Thomson and Yell run regional directories, and knowing the target market is an important factor in creating any ad. A local focus is the modern mantra in directory advertising from Yell to Google, and you can’t get much more local than MyMag. Launched as a one-woman, single-edition operation three years ago, this local, monthly directory has grown from one book to a franchise operation of more than 500 in just 18 months, with over 450 people working on the brand.

This is a different concept for a directory and most of the franchises are run by mothers from their homes. The directories are produced on a home computer and according to the company each franchise is making about £2,000 clear profit a month. Advertisers can take out an eighth-page to a full-page, full-colour ad – and these can be a one-off entry or a repeat listing, an option that most clients are taking.


Nigel Botterill is managing director of MyMag, and it was his wife who launched the first edition. He says: “I have a background in financial services marketing and had my doubts about how well the idea would work. MyMag is a local directory with a local focus. It is a hybrid of Yellow Pages and a parish magazine, yet most editions of MyMag have a professional look despite the parochial nature of the directory. They are A5-sized, have card covers (so they stay in good condition) and the inside pages are printed on high-quality paper.”

Most advertisers in MyMag are local businesses, but it boasts international and national brands as clients. Botterill explains: “Advertisers include Land Rover, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s – it’s not a national initiative; the local management of these companies decide on whether to advertise in MyMag, often promoting local offers or deals.”


The success of MyMag has been phenomenal. Botterill says that word-of-mouth encouraged its growth and that he never imagined it would take off in the way that it has. MyMag now operates in six countries, including France, Spain and Australia, and is soon to launch in the US. “I went to a conference in the US recently and gave a speech explaining the concept of MyMag. At the end of the conference I was presented with an award for innovation. It is a great testament to its success and the belief my wife had in her idea,” he says.

Clearly the design of an ad, the use of colour and the type of border combine to make a directory listing stand out – yet size matters. A nicely designed, creative ad may look good, but if it’s not of a substantial size, according to directory owners, consumers’ eyes are unlikely to linger.

That said, MyMag has clearly found a niche, and this success is not necessarily the result of how well designed the ads inside it are, but how relevant they are to the target market. The directory giants have woken up to this need for a local and targeted directory, but as MyMag’s Botterill says: “It’s local from a national perspective, as opposed to being a local directory for local people.


Directory and Database Publishers Association Awards 2005

The DPA awards dinner and presentation were held in London on June 7. Now in their 13th 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 as follows:Publisher of the Year

Winner AP Information Services

Highly Commended Executive Grapevine International

Directory of the Year – Business

Winner The Production Guide, EMAP Communications

Highly Commended Interior Design Handbook, CMP Information

Highly Commended Shots Directory, Emap Communications

Highly Commended Training Managers Yearbook, AP Information Services

Highly Commended UK Police Directory, Professional, Managerial & Healthcare Publications

Directory of the Year – Consumer

Winner The Jersey Directory, Jersey Telecom

Innovation of the Year

Winner, Reed Business Information

Best Marketing Campaign

Winner Genesis, EMAP Communications

Digital Product of the Year

Winner Hoover’s Online, D&B/ Hoover’s UK

Highly Commended, Reed Business Information

Highly Commended, The Endat Group

Service Provider of the Year

Winner Scope eKnowledge Centre, nominated by Reed Business Information (RBI Search)

Printer of the Year

Winner The Lingfield Press, nominated by

Advertising Sales Team of the Year

Winner Kingston Communications (Publishing Services)

Subscription Sales team of the Year

Winner AP Information Services, Data Sales Team


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