REDWOOD SHORES, CA: Louis Borders last week launched his first business venture since the collapse of Webvan, the online grocery store whose saga was one of the most spectacular failures of the dot-com era.
The publicity strategy this time around was much different than that during the boom times. There were no billboards or blimps bombarding the public with the name of his start-up, KeepMedia, an online archive of magazine content. In fact, Borders, who owns the bookstore chain that bears his name, didn't even hire a PR agency.
"It was our explicit decision that we didn't need PR to get publishers excited about this," said CEO Doug Herrington. "We wanted to save the PR piece for consumer exposure."
Among its fewer than 50 employees, the company has several media-industry veterans who have connections with reporters, Herrington said. These contacts resulted in stories in The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press, among other high-profile outlets. The coverage zeroed in on Borders' entrepreneurial biography, something for which the KeepMedia staff was prepared.
"There is a little bit of baggage," said Herrington, who was a marketing executive at Webvan. "There's hardly been a reporter that we've talked to that didn't want to talk about Webvan and lessons learned there. From a PR standpoint, I think we've used that to our advantage in the sense that we said, 'Hey, we have learned a lot of lessons.'"
The lessons have been applied in several fundamental ways. First and foremost, KeepMedia isn't paying up front for content. Instead, it shares subscription fees with publishers, with the rate depending on page views.
Yet this still means the site must find readers, something that experts say is by no means