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I’m here in Athens this week at the European Association of Directory Publishers’ annual congress. Nice line-up of speakers thus far, many of whom are echoing the themes that we heard emerge at The Kelsey Group’s DMS 08 conference last week in Atlanta.

European Directories CEO Cornel Riklin was one of the keynote speakers to open the event today. Among his key messages to the group of mostly European directory publishers and vendors was not to look at their businesses as just print or online, but instead to view them as focused on generating leads for their advertisers.

Riklin used a variety of statistics from his company’s operations in eight countries to make the case for his overall key messages, which included the following:

  • “Our business is lead generation.”
  • Strategy and execution: Good execution can grow print usage/stabilize print growth, and aggressive strategic direction can grow online.
  • Directory publishers can compete effectively: Strength and differentiators are the sales force and multimedia product offerings.
  • Consolidation will strengthen the industry.

Riklin followed speakers that included David Smith, economics editor for The Sunday Times, and ABN AMRO’s Julian Moore, who painted a less than positive view of the global economy and media industries. Riklin, however, shed some light on how his sales force of 2,500 and total employees of 5,000 are executing on his key messages in eight diverse countries (and Gibraltar) that achieve revenues approaching 800 million euros and EBITDA of about 300 million euros.

Riklin allows print operations to be run locally while online is run from the center or corporate side of things. He sees daily how competition is increasing in key markets such as the Netherlands and acknowledges that “the industry is under siege.” He remains incredibly upbeat about the industry’s prospects even in an environment that he believes has experienced a polarization of share price performance and overall financial performance of directory publishers around the world. Riklin concludes: “It’s all about execution.”

The CEO’s vision includes a 50-50 distribution of revenues by 2011 between print and online and overall revenue growth. In an effort to achieve such growth he has rolled out a more specialized sales force that offers more packages or bundles and does so aggressively. He echoes sentiments we heard at last week’s DMS ’08 conference that get to the heart of a consultative or one-stop-shop multi-product sales approach. Consolidation, too, is part and parcel of his plans, although there were no hints of the publisher’s next target. European Directories, of course, has its hands full as it integrates its most recent acquisitons — Ditel in Poland and Gouden Gids in the Netherlands.

Riklin’s presentation was followed by U.S.-based Local Insight Media CEO Scott Pomeroy, who provided a similar message about his company’s “relentless focus on execution.” As the company’s chairwoman, Marilyn Neal, noted during her presentation at DMS ’08 last week, Local Insight Media is one of the few major publishers in the world experiencing print revenue growth. Pomeroy, too, cited economic forces, but noted key differentiators for his company such as its investment in and management of its sales force. Local Insight Media is trialing new ways of doing business, such as pay for performance, and working with new digital platforms that help set it apart.  

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