CAMPAIGNS: JUDGE AND JURY - Freeserve has a guaranteed PR success due to its consumer appeal. The natural curiosity of the media and the public has given Freeserve a ready-made PR vehicle, says Matthew Wood, managing director of Joe Public Relations

As a PR man who is involved everyday in what consumer brands are doing on the internet and watching its relevance to the consumer masses grow, I fully appreciate the buzz surrounding the Freeserve success story - in many ways it’s driving itself. But those PROs and, indeed, most of the general public who do not share my sentiments might well wonder what the fuss is about.

As a PR man who is involved everyday in what consumer brands are

doing on the internet and watching its relevance to the consumer masses

grow, I fully appreciate the buzz surrounding the Freeserve success

story - in many ways it’s driving itself. But those PROs and, indeed,

most of the general public who do not share my sentiments might well

wonder what the fuss is about.



The same was probably true a few months ago for the Dixons directors

who, as Freeserve was preparing to launch, probably didn’t really take

that much of an interest in the internet. But a million customers later

and a soaring share price, it was suddenly on top of their agendas - and

those of the media - and had CEOs from all over the country reaching for

the phone and doing the same.



Now there are over 160 ISPs, most of which are aimed at consumers,

trying to grab a share of the 12 million internet users in the UK, and

at the same time grow the market.



But the hype continues for Freeserve for a number of strong reasons: it

pioneered free internet access; its unexpected success got everyone

talking about the web; the Dixons brand name makes consumers more

comfortable with the internet; huge distribution capabilities and big

budgets have strengthened its leading market position; and it has

captured the imagination of the City, analysts and other internet

businesses with its highly successful flotation.



The timing was also key. Six to eight months ago, one of the main

challenges for any PR consultancy representing a consumer internet brand

was convincing the popular media that businesses like Amazon, Yahoo!,

AOL et al, were worth writing about. But, all of a sudden, we had live

internet chats on the Big Breakfast with George Michael and the debate

over whether the internet can be corrupting, and before we could click

our mice, most of the adverts we saw on TV and in print were footnoted

with a web site address.



The increasing relevance of the internet to consumers helped PROs

convince the media it is worth writing about. This, in turn, drove the

market, which generated more relevance. And when an internet service has

a household brand name behind it, such as Dixons, Tesco, the Sun and now

the Mirror, you can multiply that relevance by ten. Add a successful

flotation and the reaction is phenomenal.



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