United Strikes Lead-Generation Deal With Weather.com

United Airlines looks to build its database through a deal with The Weather Channel's weather.com to promote its weekend getaway airfares, specials and vacation packages.

The Chicago-based airline targets frequent fliers for the effort, which begins Oct. 1. Weather.com, Atlanta, claims one-third of its 14 million unique monthly visitors are frequent fliers.

“It's a low-cost way for them to build a database of names of people who like to take last-minute trips,” said Paul Iaffaldano, chief revenue officer at weather.com.

The deal marks the first time that weather.com endorses products and services to site visitors. The site will be compensated per lead generated for the corporate partner on a cost-per-action basis.

Visitors have to register on weather.com's home page. That data will be relayed to United. Based on the information and interests details visitors supply, United will pitch them tailored offers via e-mails.

To boost sign-ups, weather.com will inform the 1.1 million users of its Desktop Weather application and 800,000 newsletter recipients. Banners on the site also will draw attention. At a later stage, the deal may be promoted on The Weather Channel, Iaffaldano said.

“Advertising is our main source of revenue, but direct marketing will be our fastest-growing source,” he said. “It's true of the industry, too, so we're part of this major trend.”

Exact terms of the agreement were not disclosed, nor was the duration.

The deal is one of several ways United is trying to use the Internet to fill seats in a sluggish economy. The country's second-largest passenger carrier after American Airlines, United has suffered heavily since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks after business and leisure travel fell. There are fears that the employee-owned airline may file for bankruptcy.

“The whole industry is under quite a bit of pressure, and the pressure is that they have an abundance of seats, planes, pilots and capacity, but the demand for travel has not fully rebounded from pre-9/11 levels,” Iaffaldano said.

Weather.com is discussing similar deals with companies in pharmaceuticals, automotive, gardening, travel clubs, magazines and sporting goods.

Following this feature of seeking registrations for news and offers directly from third parties, weather.com will debut another service in November. It will promote offers directly via e-mails from the weather site on behalf of its advertisers.

Such direct messages will include news of product launches, promotions and co-branded messages. Of special interest will be the new cross-promotion of its parent Weather Channel. The site will debut a specific Weather Channel Insider newsletter for a behind-the-scenes look.

“What we've been doing so far in our e-mail messages is weather reports,” Iaffaldano said.

Of course, weather.com risks that consumers may not respond favorably to offers it endorses on behalf of advertisers, but Iaffaldano is confident its endorsements will carry credibility.

“The reason why is because our users understand that we will carefully select both the companies and the offers that will be presented through the registration process and outgoing e-mails,” he said.

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