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Businesses Look Closer at Web Conferences

Web and audio conferencing service provider Raindance Communications Inc. has seen business rise 30 percent since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Louisville, CO, company said it has registered more than 1.3 million communication minutes a day since Sept. 11. It was only six weeks ago that Raindance recorded its first million-minute day in four years of operation.

“When you look at where those minutes are coming from, obviously we didn't sign up 1,000 customers overnight,” said Paul Berberian, CEO of Raindance. “What happened is [that] our existing customer base, that's 1,700 customers, is actually using our services more frequently than they have in the past.”

On a million-minute day, the company hosts about 5,200 meetings. Now it is closer to 6,000 meetings a day.

Berberian, a Persian Gulf War veteran, noticed a similar surge in phone conferencing after that conflict in 1991. The U.S. Air Force was a heavy user of that medium. But this climate is different, he said.

“The freedom that [people] had traveling has been restricted, whether it's because of the increased security measures or whether they may have a greater concern of getting on a plane,” he said. “We're seeing people use our service as an alternative to what they have considered was a one-day business trip.”

Many marketers almost across the board have clamped air travel restrictions on employees. Tech consultancy Aberdeen Group is suggesting video as well as audio and Web conferencing instead of travel to meet with its consultants. Also, it is promoting its Aberdeen e-Learning Web service for training sales executives, plus Webinars and online conferences.

“We understand that travel has changed significantly,” Thomas Willmott, president/CEO of Boston-based Aberdeen, said in an e-mail to clients. “And fast-paced travel – with dozens of presentations in week-long, multi-city tours, has been a cornerstone of high-tech selling and marketing for more than a decade.

“Specifically, new travel policies and stricter airport security are likely to reduce our ability to meet face to face,” he said.

Given the current mindset, Raindance has developed a marketing campaign in newspapers, weekly business publications, direct mail, telemarketing and e-mail that starts this week.

“We're already getting a pretty good surge with customers, so the goal's to help get our name out in front of more people who can learn about what we do and what services we have,” said Mark Calkins, vice president of marketing at Raindance.

Henry Gill Advertising, Denver, handles the account.

Understandably, a time of national mourning requires delicate marketing.

“We don't want to get too close to what happened [on Sept. 11],” Calkins said. “But the theme is basically, 'Hey, in the past you were going to have meetings that were on the road; [now] you need to look at the other options.' So, it's kind of a travel theme without being too direct.”

E-mail will play an important role. Like other marketing tactics, it will target sales, marketing and human resources executives. About 15,000 prospects will be e-mailed, followed by phone calls.

Clients include companies in business and financial services, manufacturing, software and hardware, and telecom marketers and networks. To wit: H&R Block, Honeywell, AppGenesys, Franklin Covey, Oracle, Iomega, Cox, Ericsson, Microsoft, Charles Schwab, Cisco Systems and Sun Microsystems.

Other Web broadcasting companies report similar surges in business. In a National Business Travel Association survey taken one week after the attacks, 88 percent of corporate travel managers said their firms planned to increase the use of video conferencing, while 58 percent would reduce travel.

Streaming media providers and analysts say the already-growing Webcasting industry can look forward to long-term profitability. Jupiter Media Metrix expects marketing-related Webcasting to grow to more than $1 billion by 2003.

Yahoo Broadcast, the Web broadcasting service of Yahoo, reported a tremendous surge in traffic.

“We saw dozens of companies call us that had large sales meetings and conventions planned, and have decided to look for alternative ways to accomplish that,” said Jim Lewandowski, vice president, business and enterprise services for Yahoo Broadcast.

He attributed the surge not only to “people's reluctance to travel,” but also to the expense of air travel.

“Travel is such a high discretionary expense for most firms,” he said. “Before last week, as the economy was turning down, people were looking more closely at their travel budgets to begin with.”

Christine Blank contributed to this article.

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