WhitePages works to ban printed phonebook

John Lusk, VP of marketing at WhitePages, explains that consumers and advertisers were confused about the difference between Whitepages.com and the printed phonebook.

Client: WhitePages (Seattle, WA)
Agency: BuzzBuilders (Seattle, WA)
Campaign: Ban the Phonebook
Time Frame: August 15 – September 15 (and ongoing)
Budget: about $8,600

John Lusk, VP of marketing at WhitePages, explains that consumers and advertisers were confused about the difference between Whitepages.com and the printed phonebook.

“We had to differentiate ourselves from this antiquated method of housing data,” Lusk says. “We have more than 24 million unique users each month. Given our extraordinary reach, [we could] make a difference [by] educating people on the fact that they just don't need the printed phonebook. It would benefit society, the environment, and us in that we're the best alternative.”

Lusk's research revealed a waste associated with the phonebook (annually, about five million trees are needed to publish; recycling costs $17 million; and 165,000 tons of books go into landfills, it found). He says state laws requiring phone companies to publish and deliver phonebooks is one of the biggest obstacles.

“Ban the Phonebook” (BTP) was designed to differentiate WhitePages, create awareness of the waste issue, educate consumers on alternatives, encourage them to sign a petition to get phonebooks on an opt-in basis only, and ultimately influence opt-in state legislation. BuzzBuilders provided PR support.

Strategy
The campaign will unfold in at least three phases. Lusk says this first phase, which began in August and ran through September, focused on driving waste issue awareness through grassroots online efforts and limited media relations.

“We wanted to build a grassroots effort and drive it from there,” Lusk explains. “We also wanted to see if there was enough interest from consumers to actually sign an online petition.”

An in-house survey revealed that most consumers (nearly 75%) were unaware of waste issues. And, 81% percent were willing to embrace opt-in programs. “The survey gave us unique data to populate [campaign] content across mediums,” Lusk says.

Tactics
Banthephonebook.org was created as a one-page site that includes facts about the waste issue and a call to action to sign the petition. The site is “sponsored by” WhitePages but not linked to WhitePages.com, which draws 24 million unique users a month. Lusk wanted to focus on the cause and get it established first.

“We may [link the sites] going forward,” Lusk adds. “Because of our reach, putting anything on Whitepages.com is ‘going big.'”

A Facebook page was created and linked to Banthephonebook.org. Lusk says WhitePages employees (about 131)* use Twitter and LinkedIn to communicate about the campaign. A blog was established on Whitepages.com.

Michele Mehl, partner at BuzzBuilders, explains that NPR and a local NBC TV affiliate were targeted for their broad reach. The team also reached out to environmental outlets with “well-trafficked blogs and tweet content,” according to Mehl.

Results
As of September 29, nearly 16,000 people had signed the petition, and Facebook fans totaled 3,842. Lusk says the campaign has garnered 550 mentions on social media outlets. Mehl adds that total audience reach is “in the millions.” Outlets covering BTP include NPR, Grist.org, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Representatives from two states approached Lusk about working together to educate consumers and drive legislation.

In early September, Maroon 5 musician Jesse Carmichael voiced support of BTP on the band's blog and linked to banthephonebook.org. A link was also posted on the band's Facebook page, which has 537,264 fans.

This phase far exceeded Lusk's expectations in terms of consumer response, media pick-up, and interest from state legislators. Though it's not yet calculated, Lusk believes ROI is “astronomical.”

Future
Phase two is underway. BuzzBuilders will continue working on the campaign. Lusk says goals are developing advocacy group relationships, targeting specific states, increasing media outreach, and using Whitepages.com to promote BTP.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed WhitePages number of employees as 1,100. That was incorrect. The total number is 131.

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