Office.com Takes On Media Giants

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Winstar Communications Inc. went head-to-head with established media giants such as Reuters, Bloomberg and Dow Jones & Co. when it launched Office.com Nov. 1.


The start-up, which targets buyers in small to medium-size businesses, has none of the natural advantages of its entrenched media rivals.


"These guys are up against major powerhouses and business-to-business players in the commerce world," said Jim Nail, senior analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA. "They're biting off a big nut here."


Indeed, competitor activity never stops. Dow Jones Interactive and Reuters Business Briefing on Nov. 8 renamed their 6-month-old Dow Jones Reuters Business Interactive joint venture Factiva, accompanied by a site relaunch to factiva.com. An ad campaign breaks early next year to promote the changes.


"We undertook our rebranding program to differentiate ourselves from our competitors and to define ourselves as a leading player in the global information services market," said Michele Lally, vice president and director of marketing at Factiva, which is based in New York and London.


Factiva claims 1 million paid subscribers worldwide, promising them accurate information from the resources of its parent companies. This is close to the focus of Office.com, except that Office.com focuses more on businesses of less than 500 employees.


Internet visitors will be lured to the Office.com site through a TV, radio, outdoor, online and print media campaign aimed at small- business consumers. Ads in trade print and outdoor media have already begun. The consumer leg starts December 1.


Winstar is also working with CBS to create a co-branded TV or radio program with MarketWatch.com, also a CBS company. No date has yet been for the introduction of such an effort.


"What was a wide open space six months ago is becomingly incredibly crowded," said Jeffrey S. Cutler, senior vice president and general manager of Office.com. "And secondly, we're faced with the challenges of building a brand from the ground."


Mindful of its challenges, Office.com will parlay its new relationships with news and e-commerce vendors, while leveraging the media strengths of CBS, which has a one-third stake in the effort. Knight-Ridder/Tribune, CBS MarketWatch.com, Multex's Market Guide, the U. S. Small Business Administration and the pay-per-view Dun & Bradstreet Corp. are key content providers.


Based in New York, the site will combine content, community, communications and e-commerce services covering 136 industries and 10 professions.


"A lot of sites today are too general and we're trying to come in from the opposite end," said Cutler. "We want Office.com to represent the place where people come online to work."


In-house research by Winstar, a broadband communications provider, showed that small and medium-sized businesses are dissatisfied with the scattered information and e-commerce resources on the Internet.


Initial e-commerce partners include MasterCard International, stamps.com, RoweCom, OfficeMax.com, barnesandnoble.com and Hello Direct.


Technology partners include CommTouch, which provides free e-mail addresses to online registrants, and Blue Barn Interactive, which manages Office.com's chat rooms.


The company aims to draw revenue from advertisers and category sponsors, and commissions from e-commerce sales of products, services and information. Charter advertisers include MasterCard, OfficeMax, ebank.com, AT&T Corp. and NetEarnings.
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