Repositioning Student Advantage
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Holmes Report
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Repositioning Student Advantage

Student Advantage had been traditionally known as a college student membership company, and the media remained unaware of the scope of the company's college-oriented media and commerce offerings and its tremendous potential in the online college market.

Paul Holmes

 

Cone became Student Advantage's PR agency of record in October of 1999.  Student Advantage had been traditionally known as a college student membership company, and the media remained unaware of the scope of the company's college-oriented media and commerce offerings and its tremendous potential in the online college market.  Cone was charged with brand and message development and repositioning the Web site and the company to the interactive, local, business and consumer trade media.

Student Advantage faced a number of challenges in its quest for category dominance: the online college market was a crowded category without a clear leader; the company was shifting from being solely offline to providing integrated online/offline services; and the media environment was inhospitable, with no reporters covering the college beat and limited interest in the category outside of the back-to-school window.  

Through the course of the year -- and particularly during the back-to-school window -- Cone conducted a strategic media relations program that propelled Student Advantage from an unknown online player to the undisputed category leader.  The campaign resulted in substantial coverage for Student Advantage, including more than 400 million media impressions.  Forbes called Student Advantage the "Yahoo of academic portals" and Reuters described the company as "the AARP on steroids."  This comprehensive media relations campaign increased Student Advantage's visibility, broadened the awareness of its scope of services and cinched its position as the leader in the online college market, supporting the company's goals to attract members, advertisers, site traffic, mergers and acquisitions opportunities, and investors.

SITUATION:

When Cone's relationship with Student Advantage began after the back-to-school period in 1999, the client faced a number of challenges that prevented it from achieving adequate levels of visibility and media coverage, especially within the Internet trade and business media.  These challenges included the following:

Despite the fact that the company was 8 years old, Student Advantage had not executed the primary work needed to create a compelling PR campaign, including the refinement of its brand positioning and the creation of supporting messages.

Although Student Advantage received significant media coverage around its June 1999 IPO, the company failed to sustain this momentum into the back-to-school period in 1999 and beyond.

The online college market had become a crowded category with many niche companies that siphoned off coverage from larger organizations. 

Student Advantage was operating within a challenging media environment – the bar was raised for hard news, and the emphasis was on companies proving their "path to profitability."

OBJECTIVE:

Make Student Advantage the clear and undisputed leader in the college market, positioning the company to meet its goals for new customers, partnerships, acquisitions, and investors.

STRATEGIES:

Create and deliver consistent positioning and messages about Student Advantage that differentiated the company from competitors and clearly positioned it as a leader.

Overcome low category awareness and position CEO Ray Sozzi and Student Advantage as industry innovators with key influencers and media.

Gain recognition by and coverage in local Boston media to support recruitment and employee morale.

Capitalize on category coverage in the back-to-school period, and expand coverage beyond this window.

In the arena of dot.com shakeouts and failing IPOs, position Student Advantage's steady progress to targeted media.

TRADE EXECUTION:

Brand positioning and message development for Student Advantage, including message guide, brand architecture, and media kit.  

Strategic media relations program to overcome low category awareness and position Student Advantage as the industry leader and a dot.com survivor.  This included a media/analyst tour, proactive media outreach and online relationship building, and entry into industry awards.

Media relations around Student Advantage’s announcements and initiatives, including quarterly earnings, consumer initiatives, and acquisitions and partnerships.

RESULTS:

Message development created framework to help media understand scope of SA.  

Secured and conducted 12 media and analyst meetings for tour, including Forrester, Jupiter, Reuters, Christian Science Monitor, Inc., Bloomberg, Industry Standard, Yahoo! Internet Life and others.

Generated over 150 placements, garnering more than 400 million impressions in 12 months, including the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, CBS MarketWatch, Boston Globe, Boston Business Journal, NYTimes.com, Parade Magazine, Forbes, Fox News, CNBC, CNNfn, Chronicle of Higher Ed, and many others.

Achieved recognition for Student Advantage and CEO Ray Sozzi through major industry awards, including Boston Business Journal’s “40 Under 40,” Inc.’s “Technology In Innovation” and Deloitte & Touche’s “Fast 50.”

Capitalized on newsworthy trend of college debt to generate coverage of SA Cash initiative in the Boston Globe, Fox National News and 13 affiliates, Dow Jones Newswires, The News Tribune, WMEX-AM and others.

Leveraged relationships for CollegeClub acquisition to generate placements in USA Today, boston.internet.com, C/Net News.com, Digital Coast Daily, LocalBusiness.com, CBS MarketWatch, San Diego area media, WBZ radio and TV and others.
Achieved outstanding accolades for Student Advantage in the media, with outlets calling Student Advantage the "Yahoo of academic portals" (Forbes, August 2000), "the AARP on steroids" (Reuters, March 2000), and the "Death Star" for competitors and an established industry leader (Boston Globe, June, 2000).

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