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Where do you go when you want to find African American content on the Web? If Patrick McElroy has his way, your destination will be www. EverythingBlack.com an Internet directory that boasts over 2,000 African American Web site listings. McElroy is the president of the Freedom Group, an Atlanta-based Internet consulting firm and owner of EverythingBlack. Ironically, McElroy started out designing Web pages for others.
“The Freedom Group started out as a Web design company focused on building sites for African American businesses,” says McElroy. “We got a lot of resistance from black companies that didn’t believe there was a place for them on the Web.” In response, McElroy and partner James Harris decided to build a place where African Americans could come and congregate. Launched in February 1997, EverythingBlack is one of the most comprehensive black-oriented directories on the Web. But, like many other newly launched advertising-driven Web sites, it has yet to turn a profit.
“Large advertisers are spending 90% of their ad dollars with a handful of mega sites like Yahoo and Excite while the rest of us are basically fighting for scraps,” explains McElroy. For black-oriented sites the problem is compounded because many advertisers don’t believe African Americans are a substantial portion of the Net audience. “I had a conversation with some white friends of mine who worked at an advertising agency and couldn’t be convinced that there was any merit to buying space on black Web sites,” says Harris, chief technology officer of the Freedom Group.
Shortly after that conversation, the duo mounted an e-mail campaign to prove that there were 1 million black Internet users. Introduced at the same time as the Web site, the drive spanned four weeks and eventually netted only about 80,000 responses, a far cry from their goal. McElroy, however, was encouraged by the findings. “We did a lot of things wrong in terms of the technology, but we were able to capture demographic data on black Internet use that wasn’t available anywhere else,” he states. For the first time someone was able to provide information on household income, education, gender and other information regarding the Net’s black constituency.
McElroy and Harris’ insistence that the Net was ripe for black-targeted marketing efforts was validated late last year by two different studies conducted by the Commerce Department and Vanderbilt University that put the number of African American Internet users at 5 million and 6 million, respectively. But by then the Freedom Group’s focus had changed. “Rather than rely on advertisers to recognize the value of our market, we’re beginning to move to a marketing model that places value on the quantifiable constituency that we have,” says McElroy. “Not every company wants to reach 30 million surfers. Many will do just fine with an extra couple of thousand customers.”
To test their marketing concept, EverythingBlack negotiated the rights to develop a How Stella Got Her Groove Back screen saver and offered it for free, along with audio clips from the movie to visitors. Over 5,000 screen
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