Directories are the publishing industry’s Cinderella. While all the
glamour belongs to racy novels, glossy magazines and news titles that
break juicy stories, the contribution of directories usually goes
They are functional information sources and most people barely spare
them a second thought.
Yet in the information age it is inevitable that information sources are
more important than ever. The pounds 860m disposal of consumer publisher
IPC Magazines by corporate giant Reed Elsevier in January 1998 reflected
its strategy of concentrating on business and professional information,
supplied by directories such as Kellys, Kompass and The Banker’s
At the same time, competition is hotting up in what can broadly be
termed the telephone directories sector, although this niche is
expanding all the time.
In October 1997, Freepages relaunched itself as Scoot. Its new corporate
identity was created by design specialist Wolff Olins and was supported
by a pounds 10m advertising drive. The relaunch saw the five-year-old
service ditch its yellow telephone logo and adopt a punchier name and
more distinctive visual identity as a means of differentiating itself
from its rivals.
The loss of the word ’free’ will also make it easier for the company to
charge for future services.
Research found that awareness of the Freepages name was ’desperately
low’, concedes Scoot corporate communications director Miranda
Scoot was chosen as a replacement in part because it is a relatively
neutral name well suited to use in many countries.
This was an important consideration as Scoot, like many others in the
directories market, intends to become a pan-European service. It is
already up and running in the Netherlands and Belgium through a joint
venture with Dutch media group VNU, and aims to be in nine European
countries by the year 2002.
Scoot is unique in the marketplace in that it does not offer print-based
directories. Its information, on more than two million businesses, is
available through a Freefone number, via mobile phones, the Internet and
a CD-ROM that can be updated online. Longer term, it aims to be at the
forefront of information provision through digital TV.
Scoot has introduced very strong branding values to the market. Given
its youthfulness and commitment to new technologies, Scoot has
positioned itself as a young and funky brand. This was arguably the only
sound option open to it, as it would have been folly to challenge the
dominant player in the marketplace, Yellow Pages, on its own
The colour of money
’The use of Yellow Pages is higher than it has ever been,’ says its
strategic development director, Paul Fry. ’The competition is not
eroding our usage.’
According to Fry, the current usage rate is approximately 140 million
per month. And the annual turnover of the Yellow Pages business is about
pounds 400m, which equates to a hefty chunk of the entire directories
Yellow Pages benefits from the prominence of a global brand, although
this position is somewhat fortuitous as it is owned by different
companies in different countries. In the UK, it is part of BT and its
strategy is, says Fry, to offer products ’addressing all sectors of the
Aside from the eponymous Yellow Pages, the company offers its Business
Pages product aimed at users in the commercial sphere, the
operator-assisted Talking Pages, Web site Yell (now claiming four
million page views per month) and a database marketing operation.
’We always see the market as more than directories,’ says Fry. ’We
simply connect buyers to sellers. In that sense the local press is in
competition with us.’
As the overwhelming market leader, Yellow Pages has sought to position
itself as an integral part of consumers’ lives. Since the famous and
much-parodied ’JR Hartley’ TV campaign broke in 1983, the emphasis has
been on connecting with the public’s emotions.
This approach has been continued with the current Life campaign, where
black and white footage of emotionally resonant events coupled with
wordplay is used to convey the breadth of contact information available
from the product.
’The brand values are the same in all the advertising we have done,’
says Graham Brown, vice-chairman of Yellow Pages’ advertising agency,
Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. ’Warmth and approachability in caring and
helping is fundamental to Yellow Pages.’
Thomson Directories, which was bought from telecoms company US West by
its current management in June 1997 with the backing of venture
capitalist 3i, has positioned itself as having a very local offering. It
publishes directories that cover smaller geographical areas than Yellow
According to senior marketing manager Kendall Gordon, Thomson has been
enjoying ’double-digit’ annual sales growth. Recent redesigns have made
the product easier to use and one area of differentiation from Yellow
Pages is the introduction of ’added-value white-out’ capabilities for
advertisers, enabling them to use white as well as black in ads on its
As well as its brand name and more local positioning, the third key area
of differentiation from Yellow Pages is the blue covers of Thomson’s
This has been exploited in an advertising campaign on radio and 48-sheet
poster sites through agency Barnett Williams Partnership, using the
slogan ’The answer comes out of the blue’.
Unlike Scoot, Thomson takes the view that although it is prudent to give
new-media offerings, the printed directory still has a healthy
’The classified directory marketplace in the UK is underdeveloped
compared to other markets such as the US and Benelux,’ says Gordon. ’We
see the printed directories sector as continuing to be buoyant.’
Directories may not be glamorous but they can be extremely
Since 1992 more has been spent on advertising in printed directories
than in consumer magazines.
According to figures supplied by the Advertising Association, in 1996
directories attracted nearly 6% of all advertising expenditure, which is
a greater share than the outdoor/transport, radio or cinema sectors
Moreover, directories accounted for 10.8% of all press advertising.
There are about 90 members of trade body the Directory & Database
Publishers Association (DPA), which have a combined turnover of pounds
1.2bn, about pounds 700m of which is generated by advertising.
However, all directory publishers are involved to a greater or lesser
extent in exploiting their databases, hence the recent adoption of the
into the DPA’s name.
’A high proportion of members consider the term ’directory publisher’ to
be too restrictive a description of their activity,’ says DPA chairman
Alastair Graham. ’It does not reflect the realities of the late 90s
when, for most directory publishers, their core activity is the
compilation and exploitation of a commercial database, whether by
printed directory, CD-ROM, online or the Internet.’
These advances in technology are opening up new opportunities for
directory publishers. ’The ability to deliver information electronically
gives you a whole new set of possibilities,’ says Les Kelly, Miller
Freeman Information Services group publishing director.
Kelly is responsible for 24 directories, including the Conference Blue
and Green Books and film and TV production directory The Knowledge. In
the case of the latter, which is available on CD-ROM as well as in
printed format, the new technology allows advertisers to use moving
images - something especially appropriate for reaching those seeking
information on the television industry.
To illustrate the potential, Kelly gives as an example an underwater
cameraman who advertised with not only a conventional written entry but
included clips of his work beneath the waves as well. Kelly also
believes there will be increased demand for pan-European information to
be delivered electronically.
Life in the old dog
That said, paper-based directory publishing is not going to be swept
away overnight. Michael Bullard, managing director of Trade Service
Information, which produces directories for the electrical and video
industries under brands such as Luckins and Videolog, says that the
shift toward new media has not happened as quickly as he had
anticipated. Even so, the majority of new clients now ask for new-media
Gary Zabel, managing director of Hollis Directories, which produces such
books as The Hollis UK Press & PR Annual, Willings Press Guide and the
Advertisers Annual, is convinced that hard-copy format directories will
be around for the next decade. But this is not deterring media owners in
the sector from investing heavily in electronic publishing.
’New technology is a double-edged sword,’ says Zabel. ’It does supply
new opportunities but it also requires a lot of investment. Very few
publishers are yet recouping this investment in new delivery mechanisms.
But you’ve got to be there.’
Indeed, even such august titles as the Reed-owned Kellys directory,
which next year celebrates its 200th anniversary, are now available on
It also plans to launch a Web site in November. According to Reed
Business Information group marketing manager Richard Price, customers
are moving away from paper products.
Demand for electronic delivery has inevitably been driven by computer
hardware penetration. Research about four years ago found that a mere
15% of Reed’s customers had CD-ROM drives; today the figure is 85%.
’With electronic directories, users are able to interrogate the data
more effectively,’ says Price. ’In this format, directories have taken a
step forward. They have become productivity tools rather than just
Well-established brand names remain as important as ever, hence the
decision to migrate Kellys and other products into new-media formats,
rather than creating new names.
Where there have been big changes is in the need for publishers to adopt
some of the back-end procedures of IT companies, in the form of customer
service helplines to support users who encounter technical problems.
These are fascinating and optimistic times for the directory
New technology has brought added dimensions to their products while
market appetite for directories appears bigger than ever. Miller
Freeman’s Kelly concludes: ’The demand for information is almost