Yearly Archives: 2007

My Favorite (Local) E-Cards

Thanks for all the holiday cards, and good wishes. It is kind of inspiring that many companies are donating to some wonderful charities. It makes me glad to work with such thoughtful people.

Here are my favorite e-cards. In my book, Zillow and AdMission probably win ‘best card.” You can play AdMission’s melting snowman game with the family….get your kids started on an advertising career.

But I also really like the artwork from JD Power and YP Association. The card from Internet Broadcasting rocks out, too. Literally. While the local card from MediaSpan really swings. And the card from Yell Publicidad is also a kick.

Some of the e-cards don’t come directly to me, but I like them anyway. Our good friend Kathleen Pierz got a great one, full of Christmas data, from Insight Express.

AnchorFree WiFis Local Stores and Services

anchor-free-logo.jpg AnchorFree, an ad-supported WiFi service, says it is seeking to add additional verticals to its hotel and coffee shop strongholds. The company, which has raised $6 million, and already has 10,000 locations and 5.4 million user sessions a month, wants to serve locations “wherever people wait,” says EVP Mark Smith. “Auto dealerships, restaurants, doctors waiting rooms….”

Smith notes that the company also serves 15 airports via its partners, and 26 marinas and yacht clubs. It is also looking to enhance its retail presence, and is installing a “few new outdoor shopping malls in the Bay Area” – a segment also targeted for localized cell phone advertising – perhaps an adjacent business — by Nearby Now.

The key to the company’s business model is to install routers in heavily trafficked locations – location owners are responsible for arranging their own data connections. The routers cost $37 and installation is roughly $100. Smith says it generally takes just a few months of advertising to earn back the sunk costs.

This assumes, however, that locations have at least 10,000 page views. The average coffee shop gets about 7,500 page views, so break-even takes longer. Meanwhile, the average hotel gets over 100,000 – with some getting many multiples above that.

While AnchorFree has aggressively launched, it is in a competitive space. It also can’t require location owners to provide the service for free; it can only recommend it. But the service is differentiated by the appeal of its advertising, says Smith. Other companies only provide advertising on the landing page. AnchorFree has ad spaces built into every page, and can even deliver a multipage ad series.

The ads on the network, however, are not especially local. There is a heavy dependence on national ad networks, remnant ads etc.. Looking forward, Smith says he definitely wants to see more local targeting. The company is currently in discussions with local media companies to act as resellers. Since locations are precisely targetable, a flower seller in Rockefeller Center, for instance, could theoretically buy an ad for the three block radius.

CallGenie’s Durance: ‘Voice and Data Truly Intermingled’

callgenie2.jpg has bet heavily on building a voice search platform for telecom carriers, Yellow Pages publishers and other providers of ad supported directory assistance. Now the 150 person company, partially owned by YPG and just listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, has enhanced its mission with a series of acquisitions. These include BTS Logic, an international directory assistance company, and Phone Spots, which delivers advanced mobile data services tied to Yellow Pages and DA searches – including advertising.

“Voice is the ultimate user interface,” says CallGenie CEO Mike Durance. “But data is important as well. Our goal is to deliver content and targeting information that reflects our users’ lifestyle. Together, these assets are more powerful.”

With the acquisitions, Durance says the company has moved from being “just” a voice enabled Yellow Pages solution to a much more dominant mobile search company. “The applications are truly intermingled with a broad reach,” he says, noting that the company now provides 31 different services, including paid 411, information portals, vanity yellow pages numbers, vanity newspaper numbers, and classifieds.

While CallGenie is looking in new directions, its core business – Enhanced Voice Directory – continues to build. AT&T said yesterday that its directory assistance in the nine-state BellSouth region will launch a business category search product in 2008 using Call Genie’s EVD.

Idearc’s Media Savvy Board

idearc-logo.jpg The battle for IYP (and local search) supremacy hinges on a number of factors. One of which is likely to be the acquisitions of lateral properties (i.e. RHD and Business.com).

So — we note with interest that former AOL chief Jon Miller and former Primedia chief Tom Rogers are on Idearc’s board, presumably to help evaluate growth strategies, including acquisitions for Idearc (and SuperPages.com). Miller is speaking at the Yellow Pages Association convention in April.

Miller, who joined the board in June, wasn’t especially focused on local at AOL, but brings a rich background to the table. He previously an ecommerce leader for IAC, and has just formed Velocity Interactive Group, a venture fund that provides financing for seed, early stage and growth companies. According to Paid Content, the fund invests “as little as $100,000, as much as $30 million.”

Rogers was an original board member, dating from Idearc’s spinoff from Verizon in 2006. He was responsible for the big bet on About.com when he was at Primedia, and had been a longtime exec at NBC, where he ran NBC Interactive, among other things. Way back when, he made the deal with Nynex’s Big Yellow for NBC Interactive Neighborhood (Big Yellow gave way to Superpages.com) With Miller and Rogers together, it makes you realize that Idearc is on a real growth mission.

Idearc, of course, isn’t the only YP with online media bigwigs on its board. New York Times Digital Head Martin Niesenholtz is on the board at YPG.

BooRah Gets Ambitious

boorah.gif BooRah, the Bay Area restaurant review site, has raised some seed funding from Storm Ventures and other investors (amount undisclosed), and plans to use the money to grow beyond its roots as a tech vendor for alternative newsweeklies. The “new” BooRah will continue to work with alternative newsweeklies, but it intends to create a more robust platform so that it can also share content with Internet Yellow Pages, newspapers, and city guides.

CEO Eric Moyer says the four person company has been limited by its previous focus, and is now undergoing a makeover to aggregate more content from across the Web, while adding a level of user-friendliness. “We’re building a tech platform from user generated content,” he says.

BooRah’s five star rating system, for instance, will still be available to its 12 existing affiliates. But otherwise, the ratings are being simplified to “Boo” or “Rah” votes. And users don’t need to directly vote, either. The site’s computers will semantically review user comments to sense whether users or positive or negative about a place. In doing so, BooRah begins to resemble other “semantic” review companies, such as Marchex’s OpenList and UrbanSpoon. But Moyer says it will be different.

“I do not believe that either OpenList or UrbanSpoon generate ‘votes’ by analyzing the text of reviews. This is unique to BooRah,” he says. “I believe their ‘votes’ are just user clicks on the voting buttons, and are entirely separate from any reviews they display. BooRah combines both elements (voting ‘clicks’ and analyzed reviews text) into a single overall score.”

The home page is also being reworked, and will now feature contextual ads from the likes of ValPak.com and Restaurant.com, in addition to the latest reviews. “The ValPak and Restaurant.com deals and ad units provide examples of how we combine ‘offers,’ reviews content, and ratings in a single ad unit to generate better conversions from local business sponsored listings and ads,” says Moyer.

Clear Channel, DMM Teamup for Online Video

clearchannel.jpg Radio has virtually been a non-starter for local online sales, but a new video initiative by Clear Channel Radio, the nation’s largest chain with stations in 80 U.S. markets, might ramp things up. The video initiative, using Denver Multimedia (DMM) as its video producer, provides radio advertisers with the option to produce 30 second or 60 second videos.

DMM President and CEO Bob Kennedy says that Clear Channel has been testing the video offering in the Denver market. “They test everything in Denver,” he says. “They like it because it puts a face to their advertisers’ voice.” Kennedy anticipates that Clear Channel will take the program nationwide within six months.

In addition to Clear Channel, Kennedy says that DMM has a number of Internet Yellow Pages offerings in the field, where it competes against vendors such as TurnHere and EZShow. For instance, he notes that the company has signed to provide videos on a national basis with SuperPages, and has conducted tests with Yellowpages.com and Yellowbook.com.

To me, the video networks seem like they are pretty much the same, and there aren’t high barriers to entry. They vary based on costs; length of site visits; whether they incorporate stock footage; and the extent they work with advertisers on extras, such as V-SEO.

But Kennedy, whose company has an extensive history in the infomercial business, says there is more to building a video production network than meets the eye. DMM competes hard on price, with reseller prices typically ending up in the $1,500 to $2,000 range (although there is a wide variance). It has also been aggregating a national network of high quality videographers that must submit expert quality videos before they receive training for standardized performance levels, including tight 14 day deadlines that are tracked via customized software.

Wedding videographers are ideal recruits to the DMM network, says Kennedy. “They are used to working with lots of different light levels and also tend to have high quality cameras.” Roughly 15 to 20 percent of DMM’s videographers are Wedding pros. Others are agency moonlighters, while others are recent college graduates. But they must be pros. For instance, DMM doesn’t consider videographers seeking to submit music-and home videos.

For now, Kennedy says he has been doing well working with resellers. But the company intends to add to its product offerings in a few months with a direct model that will include a host of solutions for small businesses, including the ability to distribute on multiple platforms for one price. Currently, advertisers need to pay a premium to “own” the copyright, which would let them place their videos on multiple platforms at will, which is clearly the way that online video is moving. The company also has a deal in place with Mixpo to provide its value-added, “actionable” video services to DMM offerings.

Catzilla Focuses Search Efforts on Autos and Real Estate

Auto dealers and Real Estate Brokers (and agents) are increasingly contending with mission creep for their Web needs that require them to have two or more Web sites. Part of the problem is the requirement to conform to standardized requirements. For instance, Ford, Toyota and Nissan dealers have a number of mandated requirements.

At the same time, local staffs are seeing to create an edge for search; put in promotions; manage services; and add multimedia features such as TV commercials, audio spots and images of inventory. Ultimately, any expectations that SEO-smart “microsites” can do it all may be unrealistic.

“It is a two website business,” says Catzilla CEO Alan Gunshor. “People need to get used to it.” Gunshor’s nine person company does search optimization and creates guaranteed click packages for Google, Yahoo and ValueClick — an interesting third player that really delivers, even if you work with them on a “blind” basis, says Gunshor.

Catzilla has been selling for 18 months and is specifically focusing on Autos and Real Estate at the local level. The idea is that if it can crack the code for such intense verticals, other verticals, such as healthcare, legal and weddings will fall into place going down the line.

But Gunshor says that Catzilla can’t allow itself to focus on the particulars of a dealer, or a broker. “We’re not into microsites. We are paid to confer a lead, so every link is designed to do that.” The company is currently working with 30 advertisers, mostly in the Bay Area, but also some regional and national plays. The average spend is about $5k per month.

According to Gunshor, the company has reduced spending by 35 percent for some advertisers. At the same time, it has been boosting leads, in some cases, by 50 percent. The differentiator, he says, is that advertisers “own” Catzilla’s lead generation process, rather than seeing “their” leads go to multiple sources – a situation he calls “rampant” among third party sites.

In 2008, the company hopes to expand to other local markets. City managers are being initially hired for Los Angeles, with plans to add Chicago, Detroit and New York later in the year.