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My colleague Neal Polachek and I just got off the phone with the leadership team at the Australian publisher Sensis, who walked us through its half-year results ended Dec. 31. We continue to marvel at how successful Sensis has been at growing revenue across all  its channels, while most publishers around the world struggle to maintain equilibrium as the print business suffers steep declines.

Here are the key figures:

  • Total revenues up 8.5 percent, compared with 7.2 percent for the year-ago period. This includes results from the company’s fast growing Chinese operation (a story unto itself for another time).
  • Total White Pages and Yellow Pages print and online growth of 5.9 percent.
  • White Pages print growth of 11.6 percent.
  • White Pages online growth of 87.5 percent.
  • Total Yellow Pages (print and online) growth of 3 percent.
  • Online Yellow Pages and search growth of 21 percent.
  • Print Yellow Pages growth of 0.4 percent.

The weak link here of course is print Yellow Pages, but Sensis points out that the first half of its financial year is weighted to big markets while the second half is weighted to regional markets. Without giving any specific guidance, this seems to suggest a better second half and full year for print YP in Australia.

It’s hard to argue with these results, particularly in light of the bloodletting we are seeing in print in most regions. Sensis has been working for about two years on raising the level of execution across all aspects of the business — sales, marketing, production, customer support, distribution and so on. They have not left a stone unturned and they continue to invest in an effort to sustain these results. For example, the company increased its print distribution by 5 percent during the first half.

We’ve written extensively about the Sensis story in the past. What is clear is that so far at least, the company’s success is not a fluke.

If we see a potential weakness, it might be in the explosive growth of White Pages, which may not be sustainable over the long haul. Sensis has devoted a lot of attention to marketing White Pages, and to articulating its unique value proposition. it is also significant that White Pages is sold through a dedicated sales channel.

You have to tip your hat to Sensis. Time will tell how sustainable it all is, but for now at least, Sensis is the beacon of the global Yellow Pages industry.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. I echo Charles’ post. One of the themes that management shared was the notion that their sales people are trusted by the advertisers. This is something that publishers and media companies around the world will have to figure out if they’re to be successful as the local advertising industry transitions.

  2. Meeting the needs of a customer sounds like a pretty basic concept: and, viewing your sales channel as \your customer\ also basic. The yellow pages cultures that are failing are those that just don’t get this. Some are top down managed, arrogant, greedy, and some lack humanity and ethics. Rebuilding trust is very difficult in such an environment. I had several yellow page customers wait two years for refunds on publisher errors. In the meantime these customers were expected to renew with hefty rate increases. Also, one publisher I know conducts layoffs by bringing people into a large room and placing a piece of paper in front of each of them. The employees are told that if there is something on the piece of paper when it is flipped over they still have a job. Everyone has to flip at the same timne. A former employee with tears in his eyes told me how he was the only one in the room with something on his piece of paper, his entire department was fired. He said work for two months following was a living hell, then he got his blank sheet of paper. Many stories are not told because of loyalty to the industry. There are some very recent stories I can tell you that are too horrific for words. I agree Sensis is a beacon of hope but can their story have impact in such a dark place? I like to believe that good triumphs over evil.

  3. I’d like to see the human resources manual that recommends the blank sheet of paper method as a best practice for letting a large number of people go. Layoffs are sometimes, sadly, unavoidable, but it almost seems like it was done this way for the sick amusement of the people imposing the layoffs. Is it really that hard to consider people’s dignity? Why not make them all wear silly hats too?

  4. I would like to see an update for this post.

    My understanding is that Sensis is no longer defying the international trend, and is in fact now trending downwards quite rapidly.

    Sensis’ latest public report has their revenues down 24% for the quarter.

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