Vonage stresses choice in battle with Verizon

HOLMDEL, NJ: Vonage launched a national campaign this week to raise awareness of the importance of consumer choice - and introduce the potential consequences of its patent fight with Verizon into the public discourse.

HOLMDEL, NJ: Vonage launched a national campaign this week to raise awareness of the importance of consumer choice - and introduce the potential consequences of its patent fight with Verizon into the public discourse.

The "Free to Compete" initiative came in the wake of an ongoing legal battle between the Holmdel, NJ-based VoIP service and Verizon. On May 3, a federal appeals court denied Vonage's motion for a new trial. Vonage can appeal the jury verdict on June 25.

The effort is, in part, "transforming [this] from one company suing another to a bigger public-policy issue," said Nick Kalm, president of Reputation Partners, Vonage's corporate PR firm. The issue merits consumer attention, he said, because when competition is stifled - in any industry - there is a clear "negative impact on pricing and choice."

 To "get the word out in a grassroots way," Kalm said, Vonage has responded with a mix of media relations, online outreach, and even guerrilla PR.

Developed with the assistance of the company's consumer PR partner, Weber Shandwick, and direct response/online marketing firm Respond2 Communications, the effort centers around a Web site packed with facts about the patent litigation, a consumers' right-to-choose petition, and a feature allowing users to e-mail their concerns directly to Verizon.

In addition to business- and tech-media relations, PR elements include significant outreach to online telecom forums and bloggers. Since the campaign launch, "tens of thousands" of visitors have come to the "Free to Compete" Web site, Kalm said, many via links posted on the sites of longtime Vonage enthusiasts.

There are also event-driven initiatives to rally support. Last week, for example, outdoor audience members could be seen waving "Free to Compete" banners on CBS' The Early Show.

"A unanimous jury of four men and four women found that Vonage infringed on three US patents," said David Fish, Verizon executive director of media relations, via e-mail before the appeals court ruling came down. "Vonage remains free to compete using legal means. It's difficult to predict how much a PR campaign could obscure these facts."

Though PR can't directly impact legal proceedings, it "hopefully can influence the court of public opinion," Kalm said.

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