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Yet another ad medium: freefone

At the recent AAAAs conference in New Orleans, RBR/TVBR met with Peter Volny, VP or freefone, a standalone free phone complete with its own video ad display. In this two-part series, we ask Peter about this service.

Who are some of your advertisers?

Well we're actually just starting to sell advertising now but we do already have contracts with Bell; Cincinnati Bell; Lexmark, Special Olympics.

How does the Freefone model work?

Freefone is a public courtesy telephone and digital video advertising system with a full range of motion and sound. Freefone allows users to make free local and toll free calls. Advertisements appear in a 8 minute continuous loop, with the sound muted during phone conversations.

The eye-catching Freefone terminal is 24" by 37" with a 15" video screen. Designed by Watt IDG Inc, one of the world's leading retail design firms. Freefone's professional appearance compliments its host surroundings, while highlighting the message of advertisers.

Freefone installs the telephone in selected high traffic locations at no charge to the host location. Freefone covers all operating expenses and provides all maintenance.

Freefone drives increased customer satisfaction resulting in higher revenue and more return visits for retailers. Universities and Hospitals benefit from complimentary service for everyone on site.

Not only is there no cost but Freefone is a brand new source of revenue (profit) from shared advertising revenues for host locations.

Furthermore impulse purchases, driven by Freefone advertiser's brand messages, close to the point of sale, increase revenues. Customer service representatives appreciate Freefone because it stops all requests to use the telephone at the customer service counter.

Freefone distributes the commercials directly to the units via the internet which allows complete flexibility geographically. Commercials can be changed almost instantly and at no additional cost to the advertiser.

Will you be offering long distance via VoIP soon?

While this is interesting we have no immediate plans, because the local call offering is already proving to be so attractive to users.

What is the current distribution?

We currently have over 300 installations in universities, hospitals, malls and several different types of retail stores and restaurants.

Tell us about the company's management and history.

Freefone Inc. launched in September 2003. We have spent the past 18 months testing Freefone in many hundreds of different locations to ensure completely effective and trouble-free operation, and in evaluating usage patterns.

David Parkes is the President and CEO. Prior to launching Freefone, David served as President and CEO of Sprint Canada, Canada's fastest growing provider of competitive long distance services; Look Communications, Canada's largest independent internet service provider; Telespectrum, Canada's largest call center outsourcing firm. David entered the telecommunications industry as a founding executive of Cantel Inc., Canada's largest cellular provider.

Patrick Palmer, VP Business Development, is the inventor of the Freefone concept. A native of Houston, Texas, Patrick's unique entrepreneurial style has been featured in major national publications including, USA Today, New York Times and Dallas Morning New. Prior to joining Freefone, Patrick attended the University of Texas at Austin, and owned and operated Advanced Research Technology (ART), a successful computer hardware manufacturer.

Gerry Marshall, V.P. Operations, previously served as Vice President of Operations for Cogeco Cable, responsible for management of all customer support initiatives. As Senior Director/General Manager Customer Delivery of Look Communications Inc., he led the national management of all aspects of Installation and Customer Service related activities.

Stephen Ghigliotty, Director of Programming, manages the web-based systems that provide all of the content for Freefone's advertising partners. Previously Stephen worked as Director of Interactive for Saatchi and Saatchi Advertising Canada. Earlier, he served as a Senior Manager of the Hosting Solutions Group at Nortel Networks. Stephen has also worked as an analyst for Anderson Consulting's (now Accenture) strategic services.

Peter Volny, VP Marketing (US). With extensive experience in advertising, marketing, and public relations, Peter offers his extensive insight into new business development to Freefone's U.S. expansion campaign. Prior to joining Freefone, Peter was the President and CEO of Griffin Bacal Volny (GBV), a top 50 Canadian marketing and public relations agency. He led creative teams, which won several international awards including the award for the best TV commercial in Canada. GBV was acquired by Omnicom, the industry's largest holding company. Peter was raised and educated in Sydney, Australia, but now resides in Scottsdale, AZ. He has been published in several magazines as a columnist and has served on the boards of several advertising industry associations.

Frank Lederer, VP Sales (US). An expert in leading communications companies through critical start-up and rapid growth, Frank has been recognized for capitalizing on new product development and growth opportunities. Frank began his career with Maclean Hunter Publishing in Toronto and has experience directing and managing multi-million dollar publishing operations. Frank's entrepreneurial background consists of several senior level positions including, Executive Vice President of Rogers U.S. Publishing, Senior Vice President for the Medical Economics Company, N.J, and President and CEO of Thomson Healthcare.

Can you talk about the kind of usage numbers you're seeing?

Virtually all locations have exceeded our forecasts with some that are absolutely amazing. Universities and malls for instance are exceptionally high with many cases of over 700 calls PER DAY! In fact we had to install a 3-5 minute time limit on the length of the calls in universities When you consider that there are only 1440 minutes in a day and that out average call is about a minute and a half you can see just how incredible the usage really is. Mall location traffic is also very high with many Freefones completing over 300 calls per day, there with no time limit.

How do you provide quantitative numbers for agencies and buyers?

We have actual traffic counts from all of our locations. We measure the exact numbers of calls made every day, including the length of each call. We supplement this data with on site observations of waiting lines etc.

What sort of local and national advertiser clients work best with Freefone?

Quite frankly the prospect list is huge but is also largely dependant on the locations. For example in universities we very effectively reach that very hard to reach student demographic. Here we are targeting as advertisers a very broad variety of prospects such as Apple and Dell, Pizza Hut and Dominos, Pepsi and Coke, Visa, US Army, US Marines, most of the car manufacturers, Old Navy and Levis, Blockbuster, Verizon and Cingular, car insurance companies, and the list goes on...after all it does seem that every marketer wants students. And then add to those national advertisers all the local advertisers.

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