Case Studies

News + Creative Guerilla PR = 2 Million Subscribers Within First Year

By late summer 1998, several free Internet service providers had already gone under. But four guys in Canoga Park - with the backing of Bill Gross and Idealab's Incubator fund - were getting ready to launch NetZero with a novel business model: they were creating a virtual network, rather than building their own. Their goals were modest - they wanted 20,000 subscribers by the end of the year. They were relying almost entirely on public relations - there would be no advertising.

Edge helped launch the private company at ad:tech NY in October 1998, landing a feature story in the Los Angeles Times Business Section (above the fold with a photo) on launch day. All of the key industry trades covered the launch, as well. And the coverage - much of it surprisingly supportive, given the recent history of the sector - continued.

Along with an aggressive stream of news documenting the company's fast growth, Edge employed guerrilla tactics to maintain the publicity momentum. Around Christmas, Edge sent a NetZero stocking stuffer to key media - a "gift certificate" for $250 in free Internet access (roughly a year's worth of Internet access from competing providers). Since NetZero's service was free, the gift certificates were essentially worth nothing - but the clever tactic garnered attention from television news outlets in markets across the country.

By spring of 1999, NetZero had roughly 1.5 million subscribers, far exceeding the company's initial goals. On its first anniversary it hit 2 million and took out its first ad - a four-page, full-color insert in Adweek that summarized the company's story of achieving rapid growth without any advertising up to that point.

Even while the industry - and the media - still viewed the free ISP model with skepticism, Edge and NetZero were able to achieve the company's business objectives by coupling an aggressive hard news campaign with creative guerilla tactics.

A brief postscript: As NetZero grew and went public, the company moved to a few different, more traditional PR agencies. But in the spirit of working smarter, not bigger, NetZero returned to Edge for another productive go-round.