DIRECTORIES: Rich sources - Printed directories are stronger than ever, while new-media formats are guaranteeing their digital future. So who needs glamour, asks Robert Gray?

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 unsung.

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

yellow paper.

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.

Seizing share

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

word ’database’

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

information sources.’

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



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