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Yellow Media plans to hire 200 more employees and grow digital revenues

MONTREAL - Yellow Media will hire about 200 more employees this year and try to increase advertisers as the directories publisher continues to transform itself into a digital company.

The Montreal-based publisher of the Yellow Pages spent 2013 increasing its digital revenues and reducing debt and ended the year with net earnings of $31 million or $1.11 per share in its fourth quarter.

"If you want to find growth in revenues you need to first find growth in your advertising base," new chief executive Julien Billot said in an interview Thursday.

Yellow Media said digital revenues represented 45 per cent of total revenues in the fourth quarter, up from 38 per cent in the same period in 2012.

Billot said 20 per cent of small- and medium-sized businesses advertise with Yellow Media, but noted that the 80 per cent who don't represent a big opportunity for the company.

Total advertisers stood at 276,000 as of Dec. 31, compared with 309,000 at the end of the same period last year.

Billot said he wants Yellow Pages to become a brand of choice for consumers searching for information about businesses or products on their computers, but also increasingly on smartphones and tablets.

Yellow Media competes with big search engines Google, Yahoo and Bing as well as small companies providing similar services.

Billot said he will hire 200 employees to help the company adjust to the needs of the digital market. Last year, the company also hired about 200 people, mostly engineers, to help with its digital transformation.

Yellow Media wants to increase its digital revenues to 50 per cent but not at the "expense of killing print," said Billot, who began his job on Jan. 1 and comes from France's Solocal Group, an advertising and information company.

Print directories are still being used in Canada, although less so in big urban markets like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, he said.

Print revenues dropped to $130.6 million in the quarter, decreasing 20.7 per cent compared with the same period in 2012.

Yellow Media has already expanded from business listings to digital services, including producing videos, building websites and Facebook pages for small- and medium-sized companies. That's a long way from its beginnings in 1908 when it printed its first directory and was still part of Bell Canada.

The transition to a digital company has been difficult at times for Yellow Media. The company had a major financial restructuring over the last year and a half, cancelled its dividend and sold some of its assets. The company also cut about 10 per cent of its workforce, mainly in jobs related to print directories.

Chief financial officer Ginette Maille told financial analysts that Yellow Media's net debt stood at $533.1 million at the end of the quarter, down from $781.7 million a year earlier.

In its financial results, Yellow Media's net earnings of 31 million compare with $821.9 million or $29.24 per share a year ago when it posted a major one-time gain. Otherwise, Yellow Media would have recorded net earnings of $27.6 million for the quarter.

Quarterly revenue was down 10 per cent to $238 million due to fewer advertisers.

Yellow Pages also owns for finding businesses and people;, a shopping deals site, and, a restaurant and nightlife site. The company has also launched its Yellow Pages mobile app for smartphones.

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