Living on the Edge: How a small agency turned internet scarcity into a client opportunity
Living on the Edge is a weekly series exploring how small agencies have overcome adversity and applied creativity, ingenuity and hard work to solve a business problem. This first installment is about how a Kansas shop helped kids continue learning virtually during the coronavirus outbreak and turned it into a win for a client.
I have a five-person agency called BowerComm in Hutchinson, Kansas (I boomeranged to Chicago agencies and came back 10 years ago to live on the family farm). By Sunday, March 15, we’d decided to work from home due to the coronavirus outbreak, so we started that week with a Skype status meeting. Two of us live on farms—17 miles from the nearest McDonald's, to give you a sense of “ruralness”—and we realized we were going to run out of hot-spot data in short order. And what we have out here is 10-12 mb/sec, at best.
This led us to an idea for our client IdeaTek, a local broadband provider whose mission is to bring better access to rural areas. (Unfortunately, they don’t offer service where I live!) During our status call, we could see an emerging need for drive-up WiFi parking lots. People in our situation were going to need access, and the places that usually offer it (libraries, coffee shops) were closing. So, we pitched the idea to them right after we got done with our meeting—and they started talks immediately about how to implement it.
Little did we know that the next day, Kansas would be the first state to cancel “normal” school for the remainder of the term. School districts—which were mostly all on spring break—started scrambling to take learning online in a place where up to 25 percent of students don’t have home internet access beyond a cellphone.
Our idea, delivered at exactly the right time, meant that IdeaTek was able to host a conference call for the schools and communities they serve on Wednesday. By Wednesday afternoon (March 18) they had a beta parking lot site. And by Sunday they had nine free public WiFi parking lots in five communities. The tally stands at 22 locations as of March 27.
We helped IdeaTek get the word out with a press release, social media and landing page over that first weekend, freeing them to handle the flood of inquiries from schools, businesses and residential customers concerned about having access.
Two days ago, I maxed out my Verizon jet pack 15 GB allotment, meaning it was throttled to 600 kb/s (impossible to send anything at all). Today, I maxed out my parents’ jet pack. Fortunately, no one is at our office, so it appears I will be working from there alone until my data plan resets … assuming my babysitter doesn’t fall victim to COVID-19 quarantine. Clearly Disney+ is out of the picture for entertainment at home.
Do you have a story to tell about how your small shop overcame adversity and came out stronger? Click here to learn more about out new series and to find out to enter our Ad Age's Small Agency Conference & Awards.