PR team: A Plus
Campaign: To increase the CompuServe customer base
Time scale: Ongoing since October 1995
CompuServe is the largest e-mail and Internet service with a worldwide
customer base of 4.3 million and 225,000 customers in the UK alone. Its
UK growth rate is 10,000 new customers per week, a level the company is
looking to maintain in the face of competition from the rest of the
To reach potential customers outside the traditional ‘techie’ customer
base by creating and publicising consumer interest stories on the
In the run up to Valentine’s Day, CompuServe’s agency A Plus picked up
on the story of Victoria Vaughn and Joseph Perling who planned to stage
the first Internet wedding on 14 February. The agency alerted the
national and consumer press to the wedding which took place in a virtual
reality meeting place on CompuServe - the respective partners, priest
and guests all being located in different parts of the US.
A Plus also leapt upon a love by e-mail story which Channel 4’s Love in
the Afternoon picked up through a local paper, about a Felixstowe man
who met his American fiancee via CompuServe.
The Valentine’s Day love story complemented CompuServe’s well-worn
formula of organising personality interviews over its network, where
members ‘talk’ on-line with stars such as Michael Jackson and Tom Hanks.
Since being hired in October 1995, A Plus has organised an interview
with Mick Jagger which used multimedia for the first time, including
video pictures and audio sound bites as well as text. The agency also
organised daily interviews during the London Film Festival, with guests
including animator Nick Park.
A Plus has also initiated Internet stories in other consumer press, such
as the March issue of Good Housekeeping, which will include a feature on
The Internet answering questions such as ‘what is a service provider?’
Valentine’s Day newspapers included plenty of Internet stories. The
Virtual Wedding and CompuServe had a half column in the Daily Mail and
was covered by the News of the World and Reuters. Radio 5 and the Press
Association attended and covered the Virtual Wedding. The Jagger
interview was the most successful CompuServe public relations event yet,
appearing on TV in the US and several Pacific countries.
A Plus gained a feather in its cap with the success of the Jagger
interview, but has little else to show so far, except for two love
interest stories handed to it on a plate.
CompuServe will have to sell itself increasingly as a gateway to the
whole Internet, rather than in terms of its private network services.
Its advantage over most of the competition, is that it is probably the
best-known Internet brand name, and one of the best-packaged.
If CompuServe wants to distinguish itself from the competition for the
general consumer audience, A Plus may have to tackle issues such as ease
of connection (where CompuServe performs well) and cost of participation
(where it has made great improvements). These are the two major barriers
to the Internet for ordinary people.