Yellow Media Inc. made a long distance call to recruit its new chief executive officer, turning to France in its bid for a leader who can help the company make the transition from printed phone books to digital directories.
While the Montreal-based company still makes the bulk of its revenue from print advertising, it restructured earlier this year to focus on its digital products and convert more of its existing print customers to comparable online advertising packages.
Julien Billot will leave his top position at Solocal Group, France’s Yellow Media equivalent to take over the for the departed Marc Tellier. In France, Mr. Billot increased his company’s digital share of revenue to 63 per cent, which is among the highest in the industry (Yellow Media was at 41 per cent at the end of the last quarter).
“We wanted somebody who had been through this and is up to speed,” said chairman and interim CEO Robert MacLellan. “There is some urgency – this is a dynamic industry that is changing very quickly.”
Part of the company’s restructuring was saying goodbye to long-time chief executive officer Mr. Tellier, who left the company shortly after arranging a controversial restructuring plan that saw the profitable company reduce its debt by about $1.5-billion as lenders swapped debt for shares in the company.
Mr. Billot is expected to take advantage of the breathing room afforded by the lower debt to push more of its customers toward digital products.
“The business objective of the company is the same – having a new CEO doesn’t change that. We want to stabilize the decline in print and grow our online business and get more consumers to use the product digitally,” Mr. MacLellan said.
Mr. Billot takes over a company in transition – like many companies that rely on advertising to survive, Yellow Media is seeing a sharp drop in the amount companies are spending in print. Its digital revenue is increasing, but not at the pace needed to replace the money lost in print.
In its second quarter, the company posted a $50-million profit, down from $65-million a year ago. Revenue was down 15 per cent to $243-million, largely because of lower print revenue (digital revenue made up $98-million of that total, an increase of almost 10 per cent from a year ago).
“Digital revenue growth is currently unable to offset print revenue declines. This is principally due to a decline in the acquisition of valuable advertisers, and challenges associated with migrating print revenues from larger advertisers towards digital products,” the company said as it reported the results in August.
Mr. Billot, who plans to move his family to Montreal to take the job, said in a statement that “Yellow Media holds an iconic brand in Canada and has already entrenched itself in the Canadian digital marketing landscape. It’s an exciting period in this company’s history and I’m looking forward to working with the board, employees and all other stakeholders to further the company’s digital transformation.” He was unavailable for an interview on Monday.