18 December 2010
Guest Post by Ad Man New Year Uncertainty Like many of the older reps in the directory business, I took great pride in my work. This was not just a job to me, but a career in which I could hold my head up high and feel a sense of certain dignity when I identified my profession to my peers. Sadly, those days are now only memories. The demise of the yellow pages business by short-sighted iconoclasts has stolen from reps their sense of purpose and passion. Look at posts from small business owners on complaint boards. See the mistrust in your client’s eyes when you call upon them for repeat business. You will immediately know how little regard they have for your profession and moreover, if you are honest, you will have understanding and empathy for their feelings. Where you were once invited guests into their businesses welcomed for your imagination and service, you are now brazen interlopers they view only as thieves in the mist hell bent on stealing their hard earned money. You are the modern day equivalent of Tin Men, fly-by-night carpetbaggers to be avoided, despised and spat upon for your lack of ethics. How did such a great industry fall so hard, so fast? The answer to this question can be either complex or simple. You could point to changes in the way people access information and do a thesis encompassing all the possible permutations. You could also choose to look for the answer in a more pragmatic vein, one that simply says bad judgment is at the epicenter of the demise. I view the latter as the truth. Granted, the rise of the internet mirrors the demise of the print directory business for obvious reasons. It was an irresistible force of change and yellow pages were not an immovable object positioned to resist. A blind man could see this, yet executive management past and present stared at the new routes the information highway was taking and with eyes wide open ignored caution signs, choosing to stay the course of past experience even though it led to an obvious dead end. For this, amazingly, they were paid a King’s Ransom in compensation. Indeed, sometimes incompetence does pay. The yellow pages industry and especially Supermedia had it opportunities to reinvent itself. It could have embraced the internet with open arms and reached out to the visionaries that propelled the flow of electronic information, hiring them, giving them carte-blanch empowerment to effect change, encourage it and especially trail blaze it. What they did instead was take a modern technology and make it subservient to an antiquated one thus assuring its failure. If those in charge has simply said “let’s be the best internet information provider possible” we would not be having this conversation today. What they did was incredibly short-sighted. They chose to be aluminum siding salesmen, selling an inferior product at an inflated price and then walking away from those they harmed like gypsies on the run. The yellow pages sales representatives now enter the New Year wearing a Scarlet Letter of shame in the marketplace. They walk the streets viewed by businesses with disdain, much as senior citizens fear a visit from unscrupulous home improvement peddlers. Reps who were once honored, problem-solving consultants are now embodiments of their worst nightmares –product-oriented peddlers flagged by their customers as merchants of deceit. The questions that remains is singular: will this pattern of corporate behavior be the beginning of the end? Time will tell, and I venture to guess the wait will not be long.