For the last few years I have been unhappy with the lackluster results of my phone book advertising; it just wasn’t bringing in the kind of business my other marketing efforts were.  This was also with me being in both major books, Verizon and the Yellow Book.  At the same time, I had been reading and hearing about how much more successful Internet and Web marketing schemes have become, and as a result I have, in the last year, ramped up my web presence significantly, while cutting back on my phone book ads.

The first sign that there was “trouble in paradise” (i.e. that the phone book was not the “gotta have” advertising for lawyers) was when Verizon sold the rights to its phone book to Idearc Media (you don’t sell the cash cow while it is still giving milk).  I also realized that I myself was not using either book.  If I was looking for a product or service, I would Google it; if I was trying to nail down an address for someone (or some business) I already knew about, I would use yellowbook.com, switchboard.com, or superpages.com.  But then, when I market, I am not looking for the person that already knows me; they will find me no matter what.

The next sign was Idearc Media filing chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 31, 2009, in the Northern District of Texas (Case # 09-31828-BJH-11, for those of you interested).  Now as a bankruptcy attorney I know the difference between a chapter 11 reorganization and a chapter 7 liquidation, so I am not sounding a death knell here.  Many businesses have successfully emerged from chapter 11.  However, this does come under the category of “this can’t be good.”  From what I have read, this situation was brought about by a huge amount of debt inherited from Verizon and not a cash flow crunch (although one blogger linked the filing to “tanking sales”), so the company may well regain its health once it restructures.  On the other hand, as one blogger put it, perception is everything:

“In this headline driven world, everyone is going to hear only that the yellow pages is bankrupt. And everyone will think they ran out of money because no one is using it anymore. Then people will think they now NEED to use the internet to get information when making a local purchase decision. Then the yellow pages will be bankrupt for real.”

Even if this is a temporary setback for the company, the stigma of the filing, in this fast-paced tech world, may well make it more difficult for it to get back on its feet.

It is still my belief that people are going more and more towards Google and other web search engines to find businesses, rather than using the phone book, and that even if Idearc survives, it is only a matter of time.  This should spur all of us on to a better presence on the web through vibrant web sites, blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter streams, if we haven’t done so already.  We need to be ahead of the tech curve on our marketing if we are going to succeed.

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