Edelman salvages instant messaging for AOL deal

WASHINGTON: Edelman PR built two coalitions and mounted an aggressive media campaign in order to make 'open' instant messaging (IM) one of the conditions of the AOL/Time Warner merger.

WASHINGTON: Edelman PR built two coalitions and mounted an aggressive media campaign in order to make 'open' instant messaging (IM) one of the conditions of the AOL/Time Warner merger.

WASHINGTON: Edelman PR built two coalitions and mounted an aggressive media campaign in order to make 'open' instant messaging (IM) one of the conditions of the AOL/Time Warner merger.

The issue of IM was not even on the map a year ago when the merger was first announced, according to the agency.

In its decision to approve the merger, on January 12, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set down conditions that the company must work towards to make its IM system compatible with other systems, such as Yahoo!.

Edelman was retained by CMGI, an Internet development company, in March 2000 to help lobby for the merger to be conditional upon AOL opening IM up to the competition.

'If you go back to last year, some of the tech press were writing about IM, but it was really a tech trade issue,' said Jennifer Curley, Edelman's VP for tech policy. 'CMGI hired us to get AOL to open up instant messaging and we used the merger to do that.'

The agency and CMGI created two coalitions called Free IM and IM Unified, with about 50 companies coming together to speak out about the issue.

Microsoft, Prodigy and Yahoo! were among the members.

Coalition members were tapped as spokespeople on the issue, although Margaret Heffernan, CEO of iCAST and Ross Bagully, CEO of Tribal Voice, were most often on the front lines. Both companies were operating companies of CMGI, and developed IM products. Tribal Voice was later acquired by CMG Ion, while iCast is currently winding down operations.

Microsoft had developed software to get around the AOL block, but AOL fought back. CMGI and Yahoo! had similar problems trying to get around the AOL wall.

Now FCC has mandated that AOL must take some steps following the merger towards opening the system.

But the result of Edelman and CMGI's efforts was not an unqualified success, according to many press stories. The Associated Press reported that a joint statement by Microsoft, AT&T and other companies following the decision complained, 'AOL's stranglehold on instant messaging will remain intact for now, and consumers and competition will continue to suffer as a result.'

Curley acknowledges there is much work to be done. But she said this experience has been 'the perfect example of what PR can accomplish in the tech policy arena.'



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