When search engines first became a massive landscape for businesses to spread their brand, they worked on a national and global level.
Major companies flocked to the market and took advantage of its mass accessibility to increase SEO and become even larger. No such options were practical for the little guys.
Stephanie Hobbs, marketing communications VP at the Yellow Pages Association (YPA), the largest trade group for the print- and digital-media industry, sticks up for those little guys just as much as the major companies. Admitting that sometimes it's better for the YPA to be in the Plumbers' Journal than The Wall Street Journal, she takes pride in knowing that, like politics, all networking is local.
In 2004, Hobbs helped launch the YPA's Local Search Guide at localsearchguide.org, an online "who's who" of the local search engine industry. The guide, now partnered with comScore, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and The Kelsey Group, features profiles of local search engines, viewpoints, and a search business glossary.
This year, however, Hobbs has helped the YPA solidify its online position. In April, she helped secure the guide's first two paid sponsors: eStara and Superpages.com. The Local Search Guide is currently undergoing some SEO and design improvements which will be complete in late November. A full redesign is planned for 2008.
"From a PR perspective, we were always in the hunt to run an online search directory," Hobbs explains. "When I came [to the YPA], it became clear that a local search guide was needed. This is a way to identify the players in the market and in the industry."
Hobbs' foresight has been honed over a career that began in the 1970s, when she worked for C&P Telephone Co. In 1991, she moved to Bell Atlantic, which merged with GTE, and later became Verizon. Dodging six downsizes and two mergers, Hobbs landed at the YPA back when the print directory was making money and there was little regional competition.
Few Yellow Pages publishers existed at the time, "but real visionaries realized it wasn't going to stay the same," she says. "I came with an eye toward going online."
Hobbs leads efforts to coordinate local, national, and global search engines, from Google to Autotrader.com. Updated company profiles highlight the activity of local search engines. So, for example, a small car dealership in Kalamazoo, MI, can boost its visibility and ROI by linking up with Autotrader.com, rather than investing more into SEO efforts with Yahoo. That dealer can then monitor the activities of Autotrader.com, and if it sees a partnership or link with another auto-dealer search site, it can approach that site for even more exposure.
"Mostly, we provide a space so people can see what's going on," Hobbs says. "This is an issue of commerce, deals, opportunity." The site issues periodic surveys and employs the help of The Kelsey Group to perform research.
The results, Hobbs says, have been extraordinary for guide participants. "We've managed, on a very modest budget, to garner across the board for this industry over a billion media impressions," she reports.
Jean Young, president of Young & Associates, the YPA's AOR, says Hobbs' ability to get people to think of the Yellow Pages as something other than a thick book that lands on your porch was essential to YPA's online progress.
"The very first thing that I noticed is that she's savvy, perceptive, [and] informed," Young says of Hobbs. "It's always exciting to work with someone who very quickly sees the scene."
Hobbs continues to take a modest approach and focuses on the collaboration.
"Honestly, I'd be silly not to discount luck in the process," she says. "But if you can partner with the right people and tell them what you want to accomplish, you should be able to work in partnership with anybody."
VP, marcomms, Yellow Pages Association
Director, external comms, Verizon Information Services
Director, media relations, Bell Atlantic Directory Services