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PhoneFree Hits Radio, TV to Build Database

PhoneFree.com, New York, a company providing free long-distance telephone service through the Internet, kicked off a direct response radio effort this week to build its database and support its e-mail marketing efforts. Cable TV spots are expected to begin airing Feb. 18.

The firm’s primary marketing vehicle, however, remains its viral marketing program, in which it asks those who sign up for the product to submit the e-mail addresses of six friends or family members who also might want the service. PhoneFree then sends e-mails to those people who have been referred by the current users. It also sends an e-mail newsletter every other week to its database.

“We tell people that the best way to use this product is to get friends and family using it as well,” said Geoff Hatheway, senior vice president of marketing at PhoneFree.

Hatheway said the company expects to distribute 150 million to 200 million e-mail messages this year. In addition to the e-mail marketing program, PhoneFree also has several sponsorships on other sites’ e-mail newsletters, including one with the World Wrestling Federation’s Web site, WWF.com, that has been particularly effective, he said.

The company’s revenues come from selling targeted banner ads placed at its site that are tailored to customers based on demographic information they provide, including age, income, interests and household size.

After testing radio ads in September in five markets, the company decided to roll out the campaign nationally for the final two weeks of the National Football League playoffs. Commercials aired on the Westwood One radio Network during the divisional championship games and the Super Bowl and have started airing in local markets. When the TV campaign launches next month, ads will air during cable programs that attract consumers likely to be Internet users.

Hatheway said the company might eventually use some postal direct mail and will explore the use of infomercials.

“We haven’t finalized all of our options in direct marketing, but we are going to do some other things,” he said. “Part of our plan is to do some DRTV, because it is a nice way to show how the product works, and you can’t really do that in a 30-second spot.”

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