ANA’s Open Letter to Publishers Cites Research, Audit Concerns
The Association of National Advertisers Directory Committee has used a very public method to challenge North American Yellow Pages publishers to do more on research and transparency. The committee issued an “open letter” today urging directory publishers to expand syndicated usage research, commit to audit circulation, end directory extensions, and stop the “forced bundling” of primary and companion directories. The ANA Telephone Directory committee is made up of a who’s who of large national Yellow Pages advertisers, among them ServiceMaster, Allstate, Ford, Enterprise and Domino’s Pizza.
Many of the issues the ANA raised in the open letter are perennial complaints that national advertisers have about directory publishers. And many of the gripes are legitimate. We agree that Yellow Pages needs to be seen as a medium that is measured and accountable. What seems new is the use of an open letter and press release, clearly intending to shame publishers into taking action on their agenda.
However, not all the arguments the ANA uses hold water. For example, the ANA compares directory extensions to a magazine publisher failing to publish an issue and billing the advertiser anyway. While we won’t offer a blanket defense of extensions, this argument ignores the basic differences in the roles the two media play. A directory that sits in the home an extra month is still a useful resource for the homeowner when the washing machine breaks down. A magazine tends to be much more perishable.
We believe syndicated research plays an important role in helping advertisers decide among competing players. However, the real momentum in research should involve more precise call measurement and ROI data. Similarly, calling for circulation audits strikes us as fighting last year’s war. Certainly, publishers should audit their distribution (a more accurate term than circulation), but the ultimate measures of value have to be the number of calls the publishers can generate across all distribution channels — print, online and mobile — and ROI.
The ANA represents a significant portion of Yellow Pages advertising, and its issues need to be heard. However, its open letter might have had more impact had it acknowledged how measurement is changing — from establishing usage share to measuring actual calls and clicks.
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Perhaps national advertisers are unaware of one of the best kept secrets in the Yellow Pages
industry. An independent, comprehensive syndicated Yellow Pages ratings service has existed
since 2004. Directory Share Ratings (DSR) provides consumer usage measurement for all
Yellow Pages directories and uses as its primary building block ZIP Code usage, the share of
households within each of the 30,000 residential ZIP Codes that use each directory
distributed within each ZIP Code. Thus, DSR usage can be measured for any advertiser’s
unique market area by combining ZP Code usage ratings.
DSR has noted a structural shift in directory usage during the past several years. Five
years ago the average household received 3 directories; today they receive on average 5
directories. The usage pie however remains constant at 100%. The inevitable conclusion,
individual directories are no longer earning the large usage shares that they once enjoyed.
We now see companion directories earning substantial usage shares, but at the cost to their
affiliated core directories. We’ve seen independent directory publishers gain share through
effective marketing programs. We’ve seen foreign language directories making inroads into
the more traditional utility directory shares. We also see greater competition amongst the
traditional utility companies as they extend distribution into competitors markets.
What this means to all advertisers, both local and national, is that a static directory
program will can only lead to receive fewer calls and a reduced ROI. The directory that
enjoyed a 60% share rating and delivered 100 calls per month may now receive a 40% share
and 66 calls. Where will the advertiser find those missing 34 calls? Only by expanding
the reach of their ads can the advertiser hope to maintain or increase call volume.
How can the advertiser determine reach? DSR is currently the only unbiased (read
un-sponsored) usage ratings service available to all publishers, agencies and advertisers.
Then why is DSR an industry secret? All stakeholders acknowledge that the Yellow Pages
industry is in need of measurement and accountability. DSR provides the measurement that
in turn can provide accountability to all advertisers.