Intermedia to Microsoft Hosted Partners: 'Don't Be a Sheep'

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Intermedia has launched a whimsical ad campaign that pokes fun at Microsoft's hosted-services partner program to encourage customers to partner with Intermedia instead of the software giant.

The ad campaign and accompanying Web site advise partners who are considering offering Microsoft hosted business-productivity services not to be "sheep" by "handing all of your customers to Microsoft."

Intermedia participates in a Microsoft partner program, but its campaign is in response to a different partner program Microsoft unveiled in July for its hosted business-productivity services -- a suite that includes Exchange Online, Office SharePoint Online, Office Communications Online and Office Live Meeting -- that should be available in early 2009. Microsoft also is selling these services directly to customers.

The issue that has especially irked partners and at which Intermedia's ad is mainly targeted is the fact that partners only receive referral fees to resell Microsoft's services to customers; they can't private-label those services and have direct relationships with customers, said Lisa Coleman, marketing manager at Intermedia.

"Microsoft owns the customer from a contract basis, and the channel partner kind of services the customer and supports them," she said. "It doesn't really own them in terms of the contract or the brand."

In contrast, Intermedia allows its 3,000 partners to offer hosted services bearing their own brand names using Intermedia's infrastructure, on which it offers business e-mail and collaboration services on hosted versions of Microsoft Exchange, Office Communications Server and SharePoint.

To promote its private-label program, Intermedia is inviting people to "brand your own sheep," according to the campaign. Clicking on those words on the campaign Web site brings people to a Web page with a photo of a sheep on which they can write whatever they want using a drawing tool.

Intermedia also lists on the site what it considers benefits to its program over Microsoft's. According to the site, Intermedia offers "a long-term profitable partnership" while Microsoft offers a "one-time customer acquisition channel." Intermedia also points out that with its program, partners own the customer, while with Microsoft's, the software vendor owns the relationship.

Partners also get a "monthly recurring revenue" if they go with Intermedia's program, while receiving "minimal referral and recruiting fees" with Microsoft's program.

The campaign first ran in magazine ads earlier this month but has now expanded to the Web site, Coleman said.

Coleman added that while Intermedia certainly prefers that partners sign up for its hosted-service program rather than Microsoft's, the company has a "great partnership" with Microsoft. "We work really closely with them," she said. "A lot of our business relies on our partnership with Microsoft."

Microsoft was not available for immediate comment about Intermedia's campaign on Wednesday.

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