Hibu Hooks Up With Closely, Continuing Partnership Push

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Amid reports of a creditor takeoverHibu — formerly the Yell Group — has inked partnerships with Denver-based promotions startup Closely, as well as a U.K.-based payments processor Global Payments to solidify its local marketing suite for small businesses. The moves come four months into the debt-laden publisher’s rebranding efforts, marking the most aggressive move yet in the company’s push to create a new set of services for its fledgeling base of small business customers.

In late August, the company announced a similar partnership with Vantiv, a payments firm based in Ohio, to offer payment services to small and medium-sized business in the U.S. Hibu is making a big bet on packaged services model, which looks to sidestep sector-specific competitors like Square (in payments) and Groupon (in promotions) through a collection of connected offerings.

The partnership with Closely is a natural extension of the strategy and a healthy partnership for each side — bringing Closely’s social promotions platform to Hibu and the publisher’s massive scale to the startup. Closely, which was one of a handful of startups that looked to the long-tail early on in the daily deals craze, announced a similar white-labeling partnership with legacy coupon provider Entertainment Promotions in May.

“We know that a large base of small businesses are overwhelmed with choice and the pace of change, and prefer to work with a “solutions centered” partners that bring a range of digital marketing components together for them,” Perry Evans, CEO of Closely, told Street Fight in an email. “From day one we created our product to be readily integrated into solution packages the exact way Hibu is planning, so it’s not a new revelation.” Evans is a confirmed speaker at the Street Fight Summit next month in New York.

Closely has coupled its promotions-as-a-service strategy with its product Perch, a merchant-facing application that provides business owners with a feed of promotional and social activity from competitors within the local marketplace. It’s a smart pairing for the company as the merchant-facing app provides the brand relevancy in the SMB market that could be lost with a platform-only approach.

With consumer-facing companies like Yelp, Foursquare, Intuit, and eBay ramping up their merchant-facing products however, the number of potential marketing streams for small businesses is set to explode and the opportunity for startups – even late-stage ones like Foursquare – to gain market share will likely close quickly. The question for Closely, and other startups looking to go to market on the back of these local marketing dashboards, is how to remain competitive without direct access to its customer base.

As for Hibu, shedding roughly $3.5 billion in debt while rebranding is a tough task. But what makes the proposition even more daunting is that the company is structured to compete in a largely inert, commodity-driven market not the highly competitive, and quickly changing hyperlocal marketing space of today. With its window to retain its legacy customers closing, the partnerships are a smart and necessary way for the company to expand its product offering  though it might just be too late.

Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.