Competing in the local online ad arena is an increasingly daunting proposition, and Citysearch intends to pull out the big guns this year. The IAC/InterActiveCorp company just opened a new sales office in Atlanta, and intends to nearly double its sales force, bolstering its troops on the inside, outside and national front lines.
The firm expects to have 180 people in the new location when fully staffed by June, according to Travis Fore, VP local sales at Citysearch. “It’s very easy to recruit good sales people there,” said Fore, noting the benefits of having a sales team on the East Coast to complement those based in L.A. Citysearch has had outside sales people based in Atlanta for years, said Fore, who was just promoted from his role as senior director of sales for the company. The new Atlanta sellers will call prospective clients across the country, and individual staffers will focus on specific advertiser verticals.
“[Citysearch’s] goal is to double revenues,” said Matt Booth, SVP program director interactive local media for research firm The Kelsey Group. “They’re literally putting a stake in the ground and saying we’re going to make a run at the local advertising space…. It’s a pretty big bet.”
Fore declined to quantify revenue goals, but did note, “Our goal is not to stay where we’re at; we want to gain market share.”
In addition to courting small- and medium-sized business advertisers that are beginning to spend online, Citysearch, which offers categorized business listings, ratings and reviews in hundreds of U.S. cities, also must win over online yellow pages advertisers. Online classifieds offerings are competing for those same dollars, too.
While Citysearch also battles against search engines for online bucks, newly-hired CEO of IAC Media and Advertising Peter Horan hinted the firm would connect its own Ask.com search platform and other local media offerings. “The idea is to bring together a lot of the search and local and advertising properties in one place and create some really compelling solutions,” he said in a recent interview with ClickZ News.
To compete in this converging online local media market, said Kelsey’s Booth, “It will take someone with a large deployed sales force.”
Fore told ClickZ News, “We’re definitely going to be opening new sales offices this year.” The firm will also boost outside and national sales staff.
According to May 2006 Kelsey Group data, 28 percent of small and medium businesses bought Internet yellow pages (IYP) ads in July 2005, up from 24 percent in June of ’04. Just 8 percent spent on Web city guides in July 2005, down from 11 percent in June 2004. While eight percent of advertisers surveyed plan to increase their IYP spend, none intend to put more money towards city guides online.
Sites like Citysearch also have a ways to go to catch up with search and IYP traffic. Search engine usage rose from 55 percent in 2005 to 59 percent in 2006, IYP dropped from 27 percent in ’05 to 25 percent in ’06, and city guide Web sites remained static at 18 percent between 2005 and 2006, falling from 21 percent in ’03.
“It’s such a competitive marketplace,” Fore said. But he’s banking on what he calls Citysearch’s “sweet spot” between IYP and search. He points to the firm’s variety of ad offerings as an advantage over more typical long-term IYP contracts, including pay-per-click, pay-per-call, flat fee-based pricing and long- or short-term contracts for sponsored listings.
When it comes to search, he expects Citysearch salespeople to better serve smaller businesses that don’t react well to Internet ad jargon like SEM and SEO. Taking a cue from YellowPages.com, where both Fore and fellow sales exec Neil Salvage hail from, Citysearch places much emphasis on training sales staff to understand the needs of the business owners they deal with. “It goes back to training our reps to understand that business much more than understanding online advertising,” said Fore.