CMGI revamps MyWay mission

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What a difference seven months makes. When CMGI announced the debut of portal MyWay.com in October, it said it hoped to make the site the most popular destination for consumers seeking personalized news, information and services.

With Arnold Communications hired to handle an account as large as $35 million, MyWay was prepared to saturate the market with TV, print, radio and online ads to help the site reach its goal of 5.5 million users by January.

All that's now changed.

Arnold's creative work, which hyped the site primarily as a consumer play, surfaced in February only to be pulled after a few weeks. CMGI has since repositioned the portal as more of a business-to-business play and ad spending won't reach the $25 million to $35 million figure MyWay originally outlined for the Boston ad agency.

TOP EXECUTIVE LEAVES

In early April, MyWay President-CEO Jeff Cunningham, who was also president-Internet media at CMGI, departed to become chairman of the board of ilife.com, a North Palm Beach, Fla., provider of online personal finance resources. Robert Alperin, senior VP at CMGI, stepped in as interim MyWay CEO while the company seeks a successor.

In addition, at the end of April, MyWay cut about 10% of its staff, 27 people, due to the business-model shift.

Bill White, CMGI exec VP-marketing and corporate communications, said MyWay always had a b-to-b component and the recent advertising and employee changes merely reflect a readjustment of MyWay's ratio of consumer-focused and business-focused offerings.

"We wanted to move to two key areas of focus: major ISPs and wireless [portal development]," Mr. White said.

`EVERYTHING'S ON HOLD'

The shift has left Arnold "in limbo," said Tim Davies, group media director at Arnold on the MyWay account. "We are still working with them, but everything's on hold" since the consumer TV and print campaign was cut "short so they could reevaluate where they want to go [with MyWay]."

Mr. Davies said the campaign ran about a week or so; MyWay VP-Marketing Bruce Murray said the campaign, which he considered a test, actually ran about three or four weeks.

"We were satisfied that the campaign was sound," Mr. Murray said. Even so, "We have chosen to hold off from the sizable spending that otherwise would have been associated with it."

Advertising promoting MyWay as a b-to-b play has been running in trade magazines, but wraps up this month.

CMGI, which also owns AltaVista Co., appeared to be developing a double-portal strategy when it launched MyWay to expand ways for advertisers to reach consumers. The portals were positioned as separate entities with "distinctly different audiences," Mr. Cunningham said at the time. But those different audiences were never clearly defined; MyWay also integrated AltaVista's branded search technology.

LOSS OF $272.2 MILLION

In March the www.myway.com URL had 1.5 million unique visitors; CMGI's combined traffic for www.myway.com and www.altavista.com was 13.5 million, according to Media Metrix.

CMGI doesn't release financial data for MyWay; AltaVista lost $272.2 million on revenue of $50.9 million for the quarter ended Jan. 31.

"We all are clearly looking toward profitability across the operating company," Mr. White said. "[But] these moves are not related at all," he said in referring to the layoffs and the switch to a b-to-b model. He termed the layoffs "a redeployment. We made available dedicated resources within [human resources] to help them find jobs at other CMGI companies," but some have left altogether, he said.

MyWay now will focus on selling portal services to larger companies such as BellSouth Corp. and FleetBoston Financial Corp. instead of smaller affiliates, Mr. White said.

SEEING THE NEED IN B-TO-B

According to Media Metrix, the top portals during the month of March were Yahoo! with 47.6 million unique visitors; MSN.com had 37.4 million, AOL.com had 32.2 million; Lycos, 28 million; Go.com, 21.2 million; Excite, 17.5 million; and AltaVista, 12 million.

MyWay was formerly Planet Direct, which sold portal services for smaller Internet access providers.

Mr. Murray said CMGI revamped MyWay as soon as it realized the need for more business-to-business offerings.

"We see the demand on the b-to-b side to be extraordinarily great," Mr. Murray said.

Copyright May 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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