Will the Three Major U.S. YP Trade Groups Become One?

I’m here in San Antonio, Texas, having caught the tail end of the Association of Directory Publishers meeting, and now the Association of Directory Marketing’s event. One of the many questions floating around the U.S. Yellow Pages industry is whether the existing three U.S. trade associations will merge to gain efficiencies and, perhaps more critical, to create a common industry voice to deal with a growing list of challenges. A common voice might make it easier to combat a bad PR image that doesn’t seem to be getting better, and to articulate a consistent value proposition for Yellow Pages.

Two of the three groups, the Yellow Pages Association and the ADM, appear to agree. The ADP, however, does not seem as eager to go along, at least not before a list of demands can be met.

At the ADP event, President Larry Angove told his membership that the association’s view is the industry is “best served by one voice,” but it sees no reason to re-engage in talks about a merger until a set of conditions are met. These include direct engagement of the leaders of the major U.S. incumbent companies in discussions about the merger, a more Democratic voting system (one member, one vote versus proportional voting) and a commitment to engage in an industry marketing program.

I spoke with YPA President Neg Norton about this, and he said he believes many of these conditions can be met or fairly negotiated, but the idea of an industry ad campaign is a board decision that cannot be committed to in advance of a merger.

Realistically, the capacity to fund a larger marketing campaign wouldn’t appear to be there among the biggest industry players, facing high debt loads and low share prices, even if there is a demonstrated need to promote Yellow Pages.

For its part, the ADM seems to be interested in pursuing the merger. ADM head Herb Gordon told his membership that the association “remains open” to the merger. The ADM may feel some urgency to merge because of the recent resignation of TMP Directional Marketing, the association’s largest member, accounting for an estimated $250,000 in dues. Gordon did tell his members that the TMP loss will require the association to tap its reserves, but the ADM remains “sound financially.”

Combining the trade groups seems to make sense, particularly as the industry faces a declining core product and the prospects for some consolidation over the next few years. While the merger seems inevitable, it will only happen if the ADP’s concerns can be addressed. Merging just the YPA and ADM would primarily benefit the ADM membership, most of which already belongs to the YPA. The participation of the ADP is necessary for the full rationale for the merger to come into play.

Update 11/06/08: I learned today that our initial estimate of $250,000 for TMP’s ADM dues was high. The correct figure is closer to $150,000.

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