Let your fingers do the walking: How Yellow Pages reinvented itself

Yellow Pages CEO Pedro Gomes [Courtesy]

Let your fingers do the walking. This catchy advert from yesteryears comes to mind when one hears of Yellow Pages. The firm was one of the most vital business listing directories during the analogue era.

Even though in some advanced markets such as the UK its print edition has been cancelled, Yellow Pages is still alive and in business, especially here in Kenya.

It can, perhaps, offer a case study to enterprises on how to adapt to changing times through digitisation and innovation.

Yellow Pages Kenya is now a “full-service digital agency” cutting across print and digital services. It has branded itself as a solution provider to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) offering website development, social media management and email marketing services. 

Rich database

Having been in business in Kenya for the last 30 years, the firm leverages its rich database of over 100,000 registered businesses on its various platforms.

Yellow Pages CEO Pedro Gomes told Enterprise that the firm is anchored on three pillars: The iconic label, database and its sales team.

“One of our biggest annual investments is to update our database, which now includes extra features such as geocodes, payment methods and photos of services and products among others,” he said.

The firm offers for free the circulation of its 300,000 copies of its directories printed annually for the various markets it operates in including  Angola, Sao Tome, East Timor, Mozambique, Cape Verde and Tanzania.

Gomes, who describes himself as “yellow to the bone”, predicts that the print edition will continue to exist for the next five to 10 years although the rise of social media and Google has reduced the demand for printed directories.

“We still have a strong relevance in all the markets that we operate in,” he said.

Also in its print offering are tourist guides, with the firm producing 100,000 copies annually to help market Kenya. 

Yellow Connect 

Gomes also has pinned big hopes on his sales reps — over 50 of them — who he describes as focused and goal-oriented.

“What they give us is the knowledge from the market. They not only call clients but also meet them one on one. We then use such personal relationships to build partnerships and not only sell their products and services,” he said.  

As part of its business growth, the firm launched Yellow Connect, a service that helps SMEs grow their brands, both digital and analogue. At least 1,000 firms have been onboarded to this platform.

He says the biggest challenge for the business at the moment is with distribution owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. Most firms also began working remotely, cutting the demand for their directory.

Yellow Pages clients include the government, SMEs and corporates such as telcos, banks, insurance and law firms.

In Kenya, they have around 5,000 clients. Their aim is to grow the number based on a subscription business model.

The firm has heavily diversified to stay alive, expanding its product offering to meet modern demands for business advertising needs.

The move online

The firm’s digitalisation began internally with first strengthening its workers’ digital skills and then moving most of its services online. The directory has also since moved online.

Now Yellow Pages is helping SMEs take advantage of the online space to grow their businesses. 

One of the biggest challenges for SMEs, notes Gomes, is lack of manpower, with most entrepreneurs hacking it themselves. 

“You find it’s the owner doing everything, they may have skills but can’t do the job in a very professional manner. What we’re doing is enabling entrepreneurs to have time on their hands to concentrate on their core business,” he said.

Hence, through Yellow Connect they help such small businesses with things like social media management and growing their online brand. 

Gomes, however, said the transition online for most SMEs has been slow, pointing out that it might have been faster before the pandemic. 

“The pandemic brought so many uncertainties in the economy. The extra cash would have been invested in moving online but a lot of SMEs don’t have such a luxury and have to be careful where they put their money,” he said.

Tough decisions 

Since he arrived in Kenya, Gomes has had to make some tough decisions to ensure the survival of the iconic brand. He said anything touching on jobs is quite sensitive, having been first tasked with a turnaround plan. 

He found a firm that was not well digitally-skilled and departments were unbalanced. However, staff that were laid off received good compensation and others were placed in jobs. 

Looking at the current crop of workers, he says their priorities are hard to pin down. And it is difficult to understand their drivers such as money, stability or progress.

“They have so many opportunities, ‘if this firm doesn’t fit my dreams I don’t have to be here,’” he said.

Generation Z (born after 1996), who are complete digital natives, and millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) are changing the modern workplace, from their interaction with authority to their dress code.

“Yellow Pages has managed to have employees who’ve worked there since its inception. This serves as a symbol of the firm’s longevity and also as a testament to how well it treats employees,” said Gomes. 


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