Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Yellow Pages Arrived Today: The many marketing lessons I learned from the Yellow Pages.

Not many of you know this but I started my career as the Yellow Page Marketing Analyst for Rochester Telephone way back in 1987.  Now given that at the time I was completely clueless how the Yellow Pages were created it was a bit of a challenge, but it really was a learning experience that taught me a great deal about how to do marketing.

My first year my total responsibility was Marketing the Rochester Telephone Yellow Pages, at the time a 25 million dollar revenue stream for the company.  I worked for a woman named Carol who was Assistant Director and was on a team with Mary (who did white pages) and our admin Gilda who was the only person who could actually type anything in our office since we all shared a single Wang Computer.  Having come from Grad School where we all used Macs I was frankly stymied by the Wang, but I had to learn how to use it when it became clear that I needed to generate many reports.  Imagine in those days it would sometimes take a week to do a single memo. Every word would be sweated over, my boss would have to approve it, and they would also be revised 5, 6, 7 or 8 times.  It was a slower paced world. I even lived close enough to work to walk back and forth every day - arriving sharply at 9 and everyone leaving at 5.

From these women I learned many things:

 - To be careful on the details - a typo changing $.50 to $.40 could mean the loss of 1000's of dollars in revenue and huge costs if contracts had to be reprinted because of it. 
 - That you shouldn't always listen to people when they critique your work - they may have been doing it wrong and you are getting it right - so stand up if you believe in something.  I did a business case for a new product that was not only accepted (after being disparaged by one of my peers) but was held up to him as an example of how to write a business case. 
-  That being innovative and trying new things may not always make you money but it can save your business.  We launched the talking yellow pages - one of the first in the country. It made us no money but it actually delayed another competitor from entering our marketspace.
-  Take risks whenever possible.  In later years I created a completely different kind of phone book cover in our Lancaster market with beautiful Amish quilts on the cover. It actually increased our phone book usage - ours was too pretty to put in a drawer.
-  Never keep a vendor just because they've always been there - you can't let the cost of change factor into a decision - in the short run change can cost you money but in the long term it can completely change the game.  Our VP taught us that when we made a proposal and had included those costs.  It was really eye opening.
-  Listen to the customer - if you don't address why they are unhappy you may lose them- something the vendor we let go of was slow to learn.

-  I learned how to take care of your team by how they all treated me. When I broke my foot the three of them rallied around me. Mary drove me to and from work each day, Gilda helped me get my lunch from the cafeteria every day and Carol made it so I could work from home for the first two weeks when my foot was so swollen it had to be elevated above my head.  On a side note - it even justified us getting the very first laptop ever seen at the company.  I can show you the laptop - I saw it at the Tech Museum on exhibit - weighed about 50 lbs I think.

- I also learned something about assumptions. I learned that when setting up a meeting it would be good to brief the CEO on all the participants if you can so that  the CEO won't assume the tall blond 20 something woman  in the back wasn't the wife of one of the male executives but in fact the person doing the detailed financial analysis of their bid.  The CEO of a multi billion dollar company actually asked me if my boss and I were going to enjoy going shopping while the men worked.  I was a bit nonplussed but our VP said no Jerri and Carol need to stay since they are the ones making the decision.  I'd never seen a man go pale quite so quickly before. I'm sure they all wondered if that played into their losing our account.   I'll never tell.

All these memories came flooding back today as I brought in the new AT&T White and Yellow Pages. I was shocked at how thin the book has become. It has about 1/4 the listings the yellow pages had 11 years ago when I first moved here.  Really sad.  It's less than half the size of the first phone book I ever did.  Yes I still have that phone book with me - it represents a lot of marketing lessons for me and I'll treasure it for ever.

One last great joke.  My mom had called while I was working on the book and told me the phone book had arrived.  I asked her if it was a talking yellow pages(meaning a book that had numbers in it that you could call for horoscopes and soap opera updates). There was a long pause then Mom said, "Well I threw it in the closet and it didn't say anything."  And yes I LOL'd.

1 comment:

Search White Pages said...

The yellow strip really adds a lot of flavor/character to the model. A sign of his cowardice ways perhaps; a yellow streak. Great work and glad to see that your blog is still alive and kicking.