Southern West Virginia might not be a hot email advertising market, but string a few hundred little areas together — Central Louisiana, Logan and Champaign Counties in Ohio, and Peoria, Illinois — and perhaps you can develop a booming little ad-supported business.
That’s the idea behind StreetMail, a start-up founded by Bo Peabody, the brains behind homepage building network Tripod (which he sold to Lycos (LCOS) for $58 million in 1998). The company is hiring part-time writers in mall towns across the country, where they cook up weekly email newsletters covering everything from bake sales to fund raisers for local causes.
While others, like Microsoft‘s Sidewalk and Ticketmaster-CitySearch (TMCS) , have focused on local Internet plays, StreetMail’s emphasis is very different in that it largely stays away from markets that are well served by existing media.
“My very strong sense,” said Barbara Johnson, chief executive officer of the new venture, “is that most people outside large urban areas have not been served very well by the Net.”
Johnson hails from permission marketing pioneer Yoyodyne, where she served as chief operating officer before the company was sold to Yahoo (YHOO) in 1998. Prior to that, she was president of American Lawyer Media, a division of Time Warner (TWX).
The company is starting out with 62 different newsletters serving localities across the United States, and seeking out the same local businesses that are the lifeblood of small town newspapers and regional radio stations. Most are being targeted through telemarketing campaigns from StreetMail’s home offices in New York, but, in some places, the company has placed sales reps in the field.
“What we’ve done is pick several markets where we’re really throwing everything against the wall,” said Johnson. “We’re really experimenting in a lot of ways right now.”
Once the company reaches critical mass — after talking with agencies, Johnson suspects that’ll be when it serves 250 to 300 markets — it will be attractive to national advertisers, too. So far, only Land’s End (LE) has signed on, nationally.
So far, most of StreetMail’s subscribers have been culled through partnerships with 115 small ISPs, all of which are eager to have local content to offer to their user base.
Whether these folks will sign on in enough numbers to draw meaningful revenues remains to be seen, but the folks at StreetMail are optimistic.
“If we can create truly truly local content that people will want to read,” said Johnson, “we’ll have something that will serve advertisers as well.”