Telephone directories follow a clear structure, page after page. But while the alphabetically sorted classic tomes may be well ordered, getting them to the users can be a challenge. In addition to what is already a short production phase, many of the directories printed at Mohn Media every year go to faraway countries, such as Mexico. And however well the logistics have been planned, if a hurricane threatens the shipping route, the Directory Division team must look for a solution quickly.
Finished! Frank Ziegengeist ticks off the last item on the shipping checklist. Some 100 pallets of shrink-wrapped phone books are ready for their long journey. They are loaded into containers, which first go overland to Bremerhaven, where they are hoisted on board a cargo ship. Then they take 14 days crossing the North Atlantic before finally arriving in Veracruz, Mexico. The customer “Sección Amarilla” collects them from the harbour and distributes them. Mohn has been producing large numbers of phone books for the Mexican customer for three years. While everything runs like clockwork on site these days, Frank Ziegengeist is always a little nervous when he sees the freshly printed directories leave the yard in Gütersloh. After all, there is little he can do to make sure everything goes well with the journey to Mexico – however well he has planned the logistics. One particularly worrisome aspect is the weather. He still vividly remembers the situation two years ago, when a hurricane played havoc with his plans.
The cargo ship got into some difficulties due to stormy seas. Initially, the colleagues in Germany had no idea. It was not until the unloading of the containers at Veracruz was not notified as expected that it became clear there was a problem. When the news reached Frank Ziegengeist, he immediately picked up the phone and contacted all the relevant interface points until he knew which harbour the ship had been diverted to and when it would arrive. He immediately got together with his colleagues Wieland Bethlehem and Meike Bühlmeier to prepare a new transport schedule and he notified the customer. For Victor Manuel Sánchez Bernal, Vice Director of Operations at “Sección Amarilla,” this hands-on mentality is precisely the reason why he decided to collaborate with Mohn Media. He knows that Frank Ziegengeist and his team will move heaven and earth to keep to agreed delivery deadlines.
German workmanship complemented by reliability and punctuality is highly valued overseas. It does make Signor Bernal smile, though, when he receives the schedules from Gütersloh, meticulously worked out down to the smallest detail. But that’s what they are like, the Germans – and a good thing too, since time is usually short when the directories need to be printed. Many thousands of books must be produced for the Mexican customer within five days. The printing presses in Gütersloh then clatter non-stop, through day and night. To make sure that coordination works smoothly despite the time difference, the team uses technical assistants.
Accuracy and punctuality are important to our customers. Consequently, we try to find a solution for every problem – and we manage it!
During the hectic production phase, the smartphones of Frank Ziegengeist and his colleagues ding several times a day. Together with their Mexican customer, they created a WhatsApp group for keeping up to date with the latest developments. As soon as the first few pages have been printed, Wieland Bethlehem takes a photo on his mobile and shares it in a group chat. The feedback from across the sea comes back almost instantly – at least if it’s after four in the afternoon German time. Because then it’s nine in the morning in Mexico, when people are just starting their working day. While the smartphone is very helpful for coordination purposes, it also represents the greatest competition for the classic phone book. The reason being that apart from photos and apps, it usually contains a large amount of phone numbers in its memory – or allows people to find numbers with a few taps of the screen using the right search term. That said, the classic phone book has not actually gone out of fashion. Roughly half of all Germans use the print version and telephone directories are still popular abroad as well, particularly in South American countries. Frank Ziegengeist keeps in regular contact with most of his customers there. Not least due to the fact that he speaks five languages. Besides German, he can engage with customers confidently in English, Spanish, French or Russian. Learning languages always came easily to him. Consequently, he decided early on that he would make use of his talent and travel the world.
Frank Ziegengeist has seen a great deal of the world in his time. He even left Germany behind entirely for seven years, moving to Barcelona in Spain to work for the Bertelsmann company Arvato. While the pull from his home country did eventually bring him back, he was not yet ready to give up on travelling. But he had no idea that he would end up exploring the world on account of phone books. When he started in the Directory Division at Mohn Media in 2008, he initially only travelled to neighbouring countries, such as Poland and the Czech Republic. But then he thought to himself: there’s got to be more scope. He phoned around for days, developed new phone book concepts with his team and, over time, was able to convince more and more countries to give Mohn Media a chance. Today, freshly printed address books are shipped out from Gütersloh almost every week to up to 15 countries around the world. Frank Ziegengeist has already travelled to many of these places with his colleague Wieland Bethlehem because having face-to-face meetings with customers is actually often essential. There are times when the two pass through several time zones within 35 hours. While the two colleagues are fighting jetlag, Meike Bühlmeier holds the fort and coordinates the day-to-day activities. That’s proper teamwork.
Everything under control
Working together over the last few years has produced a very close-knit team. Each of the trio knows precisely what they have to do and what matters. While German thoroughness may sometimes evoke amusement abroad, it is precisely what customers are looking for. The shipment for Mexico has hardly left the yard when Frank Ziegengeist and Wieland Bethlehem go into the production hall. The printing presses are rattling loudly as the latest edition of the Maltese telephone directory is being printed. Almost 60 percent of the inhabitants of the Southern European island state use the phone book – so accuracy is important. Frank Ziegengeist takes a look at the current print result through a thread counter. He nods. “Looking good,” he says to his colleague. In four days, the books will be loaded up and their journey will begin. But even though the destination is not as far away as Mexico, Frank Ziegengeist is glad when he hears that the books have arrived in the harbour. Then he knows that everything went smoothly once again.
Once Mohn, always Mohn – that goes for me and my colleagues. We are a well-rehearsed team, and that comes through in our work.
Year in which Mohn Media printed the first telephone directory for Mexico: 2016
Number of times Frank Ziegengeist and Wieland Bethlehem have visited Mexico: 3
Air-line distance between Gütersloh and Veracruz: 9,284 kilometres
Time for a container ship to travel to Mexico: approx. 14 days
Countries that Frank Ziegengeist has visited on Mohn Media’s behalf: 15
Do you love printed phone books as much as we do?