Company Taps into College Scene - Part II
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Reporter@Large addressed vertical portals and Student Advantage's opportunity within the space in Part I. For Part II, Reporter@Large had an exclusive interview with Student Advantage, Chairman, President and CEO, Raymond Sozzi, Jr.
Reporter@Large: Can you give us an idea of what Student Advantage has been about since 1992?
Sozzi: Absolutely. STAD's core mission was specific to a marketplace, college students, but it was general in terms of the breadth of services and the role we wanted to play in that marketplace. Very simply, our core mission was really to enhance the higher education experience.
Now you didn't really hear me talk about offline/online, or being an infomediary/portal. The business plan that went into play seven years ago was media independent, so to speak. It was about establishing a relationship, aggregating people and community, building affinity with that community and acting as an aggregation point for services and information that were uniquely relevant to that audience.
Reporter@Large: A strong membership base within an information business. Seems like an ideal Internet play.
Sozzi: Well, you talk about businesses that were made for the Internet... it's tough to find a better example than Student Advantage. What the Internet gives you is an unbelievably efficient way to communicate with people, to house information and to make that information readily accessible. The Internet fosters a tremendous amount of interactivity with a membership base. It was really a gift for us. There is no better development that could have happened for Student Advantage as a business than the Internet.
Reporter@Large: Can you shed some light with regard to STAD's offline vs. online strategies?
Sozzi: Sure. The membership program wasnt necessarily an offline product vs. an online product, except that seven years ago, we were communicating through traditional media. We were producing newsletters, sending out direct mail, and a lot of people were calling our in-bound telemarketing lines. So our reach to consumers was in print, telephone and face-to-face.
Reporter@Large: The Internet has obviously changed that.
Sozzi: The membership program itself has evolved in such a way where now the majority of our renewals are done electronically. Students can enroll conveniently at StudentAdvantage.com, instead of the traditional mail or phone. Students no longer have to call our customer service lines for membership information. It can all be housed at StudentAdvantage.com, convenient for members and obviously much more cost effective for us.
Reporter@Large: So we've seen an evolution with regard to the membership program.
Sozzi: We wanted Student Advantage to be to the college market what AAA is to automobile owners and what the AARP is to the senior citizen community; an institutional product, brand and resource that is really the standard for that particular demographic.
Our goal is to have nearly every college student, if not every college student, become a Student Advantage member because its truly an institutional product and resource. The evolution really started on the commerce side as students were joining for access to our exclusive discounts.
Reporter@Large: I assume STAD is able to leverage its membership base in order to negotiate these exclusive discounts.
Sozzi: Exactly, and there are really two dynamics. One of them is "hey, we've got a lot of people who spend a lot of money, and we can either direct them to you or to someone else." In that sense, we're really playing a role of an agent and advocate on the behalf of our membership base. The dynam