Duelling directories settle domain squatting stoush as Yellow chief steps down

It’s been an unusually exciting week in the world of business directories: first came news the NZ Post-run Localist was suing Yellow. And now Yellow Pages Group chief executive Bruce Cotterill has stepped down, although the two events are said to be unconnected.

Localist chairman Sam Knowles said the case was brought because of perceived breaches to the Fair Trading Act after Yellow purchased domain names and Google Adwords such as localists.co.nz, local-lists.co.nz, localists.org.nz and a host of others. And on Tuesday Cotterill described the pending court case a publicity stunt. But the two parties reached a settlement today, with Yellow agreeing to hand over ownership of the contested domain names.

There have been plenty of high-profile cases of ‘domain squatting’ overseas, but is basically unheard of here in New Zealand. Recently, global daily deal behemoth Groupon was forced to launch as Star Deals in Australia because of some seemingly dastardly tactics by a company called Scoopon. It’s not a particularly good look for a respected brand like Yellow to be engaging in these seemingly underhanded tactics and, to rub salt into the wound, it’s only succeeded in bringing more attention to Localist, which took a more direct approach with its billboard campaign late last year.

As for Cotterill, who was brought in two years ago as Yellow’s debts mounted, he said in a statement the major focus during the past 12 months was to get the debt load reduced, “while at the same time growing our business, our people and our client relationships and ensuring we met our profit expectations during a tough time for the economy”.

With more than $1 billion of debt written off recently, the major lenders sworn is as new owners and a new board of directors (Scott Pomeroy, chairman Andrew Day and former MediaWorks chief executive Brent Impey) in place, Cotterill said the time was right to move on.

Pomeroy will take over until a suitable replacement is found, but he told the Herald there was no rush and he could stay in the role for a year or two.

Yellow, which was valued at $750 million after being bought for $2.24 billion in 2007, has been on a mission to modernise the product offering of late. And the group, which reported a $143 million profit before tax and interest in the year to June 2010, is certainly splashing plenty of money to try and get there, with the Yellow/Yahoo!7 partnership, the commitment to recruit one hundred new sales staff, a host of new digital enhancements and a few acquisitions like group buying website www.groupy.co.nz, which are all part of a $40 million investment in the business.

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