The Real Problems with the Yellow Pages

Editors’ Note: We got this great anonymous post from a graphic designer who composes ads for the Yellow Pages in response to our story “19 Ways to Maybe Save the Yellow Pages.” We thought it was very helpful in understanding the situation. It’s a sad commentary on how private capital, greed, stupidity and mismanagement have ruined a once-great institution, the Yellow Pages, and companies like R.H. Donnelly (NYSE: RHD) and Idearc (NYSE: IAR). The writer thinks we made him the reason for the trouble, but it’s a lot larger than him. We thought it was so telling we posted as its own story.

yellow pages cover Hampton RoadsFrom an Anonymous Reader

I found this blog after a particularly challenging day at the local phone book factory, where I have the dubious pleasure of creating the so called ‘junky’ and ‘unsophisticated’ ads. Pull up a chair and invite your readers in to set a spell, because I’m going to blow your little minds with what I have to tell you. Heck, they may even figure out who wrote it, haul me in and fire me for what I’m about to tell you. After the last three months of this idiotic publisher’s brand of handling operations, I could care less. Small business owners deserve to know the truth about why the ads look the way they do and why they get the ads they do.

And guess what… it has jack all to do with the poor souls who have the job of putting these together. So lets get a few facts straight, shall we?

  1. These are not magazine ads, direct mail ads or any other form of print ad that seeks to create a need. The need is already there, if someone is scanning through the book. What these ads are is informational advertising. They are meant to give as much information as the space allows and can include everything about that business. So what happens is that the small business owner usually crams their ad with as much info as possible, egged on by the salesperson (or, excuse me, marketing expert *rolls eyes*). Cramming tons of text and maybe a photo of the owner’s service truck, because that is what our design-challenged business owner and sales rep want, is not the greatest recipe for a nice-looking ad. You want a pretty ad?
  2. The graphic designers are not the ones designing the ads. Oh, I know what my job title is, but let’s face it… I’m not a real artist. The company took away that title after our latest round of owners purchased us and started to whittle away at our morale. I am a graphic designer, which in YP terms means I’m a glorified paste-up monkey. If I deviate from the layout that the salesperson has sketched on the copy sheet, I get into trouble. If I make a suggestion to a salesperson that something won’t fit, I’m told to shut up and do the work because the customer wants it that way and what the hell do I know? If the layout is unreadable or if the text is misspelled by the salesperson or the owner, I have to write copious notes that are attached to the ad in our CRM system (see the rant below) as to why I chose to do something, or had to do something that deviates from the copy sheet. Sometimes the salesperson doesn’t get back to me on an ad until the day that the damned thing ships to the printer and I’m forced to try to figure out how to do an ad with flawed instructions, poor quality originals (see the rant below) and no support. Sometimes the instructions are simply ‘be creative’, which is shorthand for the salesperson being lazy. When I do design something, risking being disciplined for taking the time to produce a nice looking ad, it gets sent back through the system because it isn’t ‘what the customer wants to see’. Thanks to the sales rep’s ignorance or laziness and their inability to at least give me some kind of direction, more time and money are wasted on a redo and the customer has to wait for a proof. so if you don’t like your ad, bitch at the salesperson since our company uses them as poorly trained creative directors.
  3. Do you have any idea of the kind of pressure the designers are under? We have to produce a large number of ads per day and are held accountable for a quota, just like any other artist in a mass production print facility. I’d love to sit down and take a day to design the perfect ad for one of our customers but our operations structure doesn’t allow me to do that. I do what is on the copysheet to avoid being charged with an error or hit with disciplinary action and move on to the next ad. If there is one thing I want to impress on small business owners, it is this: if you give the salesperson vague instructions about what you want to see and can’t give me a decent logo or a photo or something proprietary to make your ad stand out, don’t be upset when I typeset your name and use a clip art photo in your ad. I have to make my numbers or I’ll be fired and given the substandard tools I have to work with, it takes all of my time during the day to get this done. I have worked through breaks, lunches and have stayed late to try to make my quota and make shipments, since I need the paycheck. You want something special? Hire an agency, because the graphic designers at the phone book factory are given no time to actually design. If you don’t like it, take it up with the head of the company. They sure as hell aren’t listening to the artists about ad quality.Oh, and you try to spell everything perfectly in an ad building program with substandard spell checking and no proofreaders. After ten hours of staring at a computer screen, no breaks and no lunch, you tell me how well you performed. I won’t even go into the program used for incolumn advertising. It is the most worthless piece of coding I have ever had the misfortune of using. The person who developed it should be taken into an alley and kicked, it’s that bad. The company that foisted this off on us should be sent packing.
  4. Speaking of agencies, I know most of them would turn up their dainty noses and shudder at the thought of creating something so base as a YP ad, but with the economy the way it is I expect to see more of the mighty scrounging for any work they can get. So do yourself and me a favor and either get the print specs for the product you are buying from your salesperson (and they do have the specs, they just don’t follow them half of the time) and give them to your agency or designer, or make your agency get it and use it before you pay them. I can’t tell you how much of a bitch it is to get in artwork from an agency and find that it is the wrong size/wrong color mixes/typos/wrong format of digital file, etc. Because then I have to send it back to the sales person and tell them to have it resubmitted correctly. If the salesperson is well-trained, then they go back and get something we can use, which will cost the small business owner for every rework that agency does. That will hit you in the wallet. If the salesperson is a typical salesperson and lazy/ignorant/new/clueless/afraid to call you back because you might change your order, they’ll tell me to use what they gave me or ‘recreate as best you can’ (a direct quote). Which means that you have just wasted your money, because I’m going to have to redesign your agency supplied ad, per our company’s policies. And not only does this take a great deal of time and effort on my part, as we are using Adobe software that is two versions older than what is current, but we also have specific print specs that are meant to get the ads to print on paper that is a couple of steps in quality above a paper towel. Give me a digital file meant to print on that nice glossy magazine stock and the ad will look horrible. So not only have you wasted money on an ad that won’t look like what you purchased from the agency, it will vary in quality as well. Depending on the artist, their attitude at being treated YET AGAIN like a five-year-old by our salespeople and our management, we might just find a way to flatten the artwork, make a note that blames the salesperson for being such an idiot in accepting what you’ve submitted, dump it in and move on to the next ad. Because that’s what the company has told us to do. I was there and I heard management say that we weren’t to spend too much time on the ads. So don’t blame us if the ad doesn’t resemble what you bought from the agency. We ‘do the best we can’ with what we are given on a daily basis. Sorry our ability to cope with the crap your agency sent isn’t up to snuff.
  5. If you don’t get a proof, or if your ad isn’t perfect, you have no one to blame but yourselves, the salespeople and the craptastic system we use as a CRM database management system. Some genius at the C-level a couple of owners ago contracted one of the worst manufacturers for it and it has made our lives hell ever since. Face it, when a system crashes on a daily basis, is counter intuitive to the creative process and actively leaves holes on the pages at shipping time, you’d think the morons that run this show would have gone back to the CRM company and complained. Oh no, that would cost money, getting the things that weren’t included because someone in legal was too stupid not to make sure the contract included them. So operations has to scramble to find workarounds for all of the problems that this underachiever of a system throws at us.And if you contact your salesperson the day the damned book goes to press with changes or to send back signed paperwork, don’t be surprised when your changes don’t get done. We don’t send out proofs after 14 days to the day that the book extracts, because there isn’t time to get a paper proof to you and back with changes. Any .jpg files sent out as proofs look wrong because the colors are off, thanks to the crappy CRM system. Oh, and if you do want to make changes, you have to do it through your overly busy sales rep, since they laid off all of the customer contact people that did that work. They also fires a good number of graphic designers in a ‘realignment’ so those of us who are left are overworked. Good luck making your wishes known four days past extract. I’m rooting for you, really. If you buy advertising, it is up to you to make sure you get what is needed to make the ad to the rep in time to get your ad in the book. This last minute business is what causes most of our claims. You’re a customer and we love you, but we aren’t short order cooks and the system doesn’t do well with stuff rammed through at the last minute.
  6. Morale here is low. Really low. Snake’s belly low. In the past ten years we’ve been worked to the bone on mandatory overtime, we’ve watched a smarmy telecom executive tank our then parent company and force a sell off of the directory, lost what we had in our 401k’s thanks to not being able to move the company stock we were forced to take into something safer before the crash of 2001, were sold off to an LBO that gutted the company and forced a barely working CRM system on us in preparation to sell us off yet again, had our work outsourced to India in preparation for the next contract talks, had small privileges and kindnesses taken away from us one by one until we found ourselves working in a forced sweatshop where we got no words of thanks from sales, management, the customers or the investors and we’ve watched our stock price fall like a meteorite, going from 60 a share to 27 cents a share. We have been de-listed from the NYSE and now the news is that the executives are expected by Wall Street to declare bankruptcy at some point because our company is overleveraged. So forgive us if we are spending more time these days figuring out how to find a way off of this sinking barge than we do caring about a product everyone has written off as obsolete and worthless.
  7. Why should we invest our time and creativity in a product that no one, not even the management or executives care about save in a sales capacity? It is hard going into work every day knowing that no matter how much effort you put in, how much you try to care about doing a good job for the poor customers who are buying these ads or how much you try to get around the real obstacles that management has put in place to keep us from making our numbers, the business may very well fail due to events beyond our control. And to tell you the truth, I’m sick of taking the blame for the mismanagement around here. I’m sick of people calling what I do ‘junky’ – that ad is someone’s livelihood and if it were up to me I’d give then an agency’s attention. If it were up to me the salespeople would be selling, not doing something they have no talent for such as ad layout, and the company would make every effort to communicate deadlines to its customers in exchange for a guarantee of a real proof. We’d put more emphasis on keeping and satisfying customers, rather that just churning ads out as fast as possible. But then, I’m only an ad designer, considered overhead and therefore worthless in the eyes of the brainless C-level trash back East who are busy doing everything they can to destroy what was once a great company.

Once the company has declared bankruptcy our contracts will be null and void and they can offshore the prepress function just like every other YP company and print provider has done. Yup, you guessed it – your ads will be made by people who don’t even speak English as a first language. I’ve seen what we get back from the overseas vendor – it’s pretty bad. I’ve had to fix plenty of their stuff. but hey, it means your ads will be cheaper, now doesn’t it? And you won’t have to worry about having those terrible, talentless Stateside ad designers to pin the blame on anymore.

Reread our post 19 Ways to Maybe Save the Yellow Pages

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