You are here

When did you last use a printed directory?


(Example for illustration only)

A few days ago, I got a call from a man who told me he had late availability in his trade directory, and wondered if I would be interested in advertising with him. Being a Scotsman, and always fond of a good deal, as well as recognising a simple technique for getting cold calling sales people off the phone, I asked him to send me details in an email, and said I'd give him a decision by the end of the day.

Then it rings a bell...

Nothing unusual or startling in any of this - but when I got the email, something rang a bell. Yes, this was the same company who had a few weeks previously contacted my Head of Sales, who had forwarded their standard sales email to me, along with his assessment that he didn't think it was worth our while, but I might want to check it out for myself, and make my decision.  My decision then had been to say no - I considered it a waste of money, paper and ink to place an ad or listing in a paper directory - notwithstanding that it would be delivered to over 3,000 "senior decision-makers" in the oil and gas industry in the UK. Are there any junior decision-makers whose determinations should concern me? 

All that had changed with this new approach was that our directory-toting friends had not managed to get enough space filled to make optimum economic use of the page plan, so thought they'd try ringing round a few cold leads with their time-proven 'last-minute cancellation' story, and a hefty discount. Unfortunately, it was still too expensive, even when they offered a free listing on their website (normally £149). Nobody visits their website - a fact that was easy to establish with a ten-second visit to

Now, again, there's nothing to startling about this, unless you are concerned about how many trees are pulped to make such directories, but it did set me thinking - how many directory publishing companies are there out there who still use this vintage business model?

  1. You create trade directories in a vertical or niche market
  2. You may use an existing directory (or last year's) to find prospects for the new directory
  3. You offer people a free or 'enhanced listing', and sell as many adverts as you can to companies too rich, too busy, or too lazy to work out the economics for themselves.
  4. You probably also offer an online listing because you are, after all, a tech-savvy go-ahead publisher. 
  5. You then post these directories out to the same people who have agreed to be included in the directory, and you publish your directory online. You might even have a half-decent search facility for it, and you might even send Google a sitemap of your content. 
  6. Often, as an economy of scale, you will run directories in half a dozen or so verticals such as oil and gas, nuclear, power, rail, road infrastructure. 

It's a legitimate business model (as long as the directories actually get printed and shipped as contracted with the advertisers) and of course, nobody likes to think should be left off a list, do they? But I live in an age where I take my Yellow pages and Thomson's directories to recycling as soon as they arrive. I use the search box in my browser to pinpoint almost everything I'm looking for - from software companies to domestic plumbers. When social networks like LinkedIn let me find niche operators and individuals, and online directory sites are a dime a dozen, how long can this business model last?

Here are my questions to you:

When is the last time you advertised in, or received business from a printed trade directory? And did that directory come to your attention from anything other than a cold, or at best, a name-qualified sales call? How many printed trade directories do you actually use on a regular basis? More importantly, when is the last time you pinpointed any business as coming from such a directory? I'd really love to know...