We’ve addressed this challenge by making use of Wi-Fi. Everyone has a laptop with a wireless card, so that they can take advantage of wireless access points around New York City. Since we’re a virtual company and everyone works out of home offices, we need the flexibility to be able to move around as we collaborate on different projects. On some days, I might work out of my home. On others, I might work on a project with other staffers at someone else’s home office. So we have wireless “hot spots” in everyone’s home office to allow us to do this.
While we’re on the road, we can access the Internet at other hot spots around the city. There are public nodes in Bryant Park, various Internet cafes and other public areas, sprinkled around the city. Starbucks also provides wireless access (for a fee) from any of its T-Mobile enabled coffee shops. When we’re on the go in between meetings and need to catch up on email or pull files from our web-based intranet, we seek the closest access point and head for it.
Tim McHale and I were heading back to New York one night from a client meeting in Denver and we had about two hours before we could board our plane. Thankfully, AT&T Wireless had set up an access point right there in the terminal. The access was free during that month – I believe it was part of a promotion – and Tim and I were able to catch up on email, surf the web and make the best of what would have been unproductive time had we not been able to get online.
Most media planners know that business travelers are a hard audience to reach efficiently. We typically pay exorbitant CPMs for in-flight magazines and airport signage to reach them. Demand for these narrowly-targeted media opportunities is always high, as anyone with a media target of corporate executives should at least have these opportunities on their consideration list. Sure, there are plenty of other ways to target business travelers and upper-level executives at corporations, but most of them are pretty expensive. The audience is tough to reach due to their consumption habits, so we pay dearly to get a message in front of them.
Wireless access can be the next big media opportunity to address business travelers. I’m surprised that a large ISP hasn’t decided to hook up every airport in the country with Wi-Fi. A similar opportunity exists within business districts in urban areas. Access providers could give access to these businesspeople for low or no cost, in exchange for the permission to interject a commercial message or two during an online session. Businesspeople would see it as a valuable service that keeps them in touch with the office and turns useless travel time into time that they can work. An ISP providing this kind of access can open up yet another channel to reach this valuable audience. Everybody wins.
Okay, so I’m a little biased. I’d like to see a corporate sponsor hook up hotspots at the New York airports, and maybe provide some more free nodes in midtown so I can get my email in Central Park. But Wi-Fi is a proven technology that is only just beginning to experience popularity. A corporate sponsor or two could bring it to the masses more quickly, and kill two birds with one stone by opening up a new way to reach business travelers and corporate executives. Maybe this column will inspire an MBA student somewhere to write a business plan.