In the cards Featured

10:05am EDT July 22, 2002

What was once sold to consumers at gas stations and convenience stores is now a hot marketing item for mainstream businesses. Prepaid phone cards are being used by Fortune 500 companies and small firms alike.

"They are a great promotional tool," says Edward Miller, vice president of corporate sales for IDT Corp., a global telecommunications provider. "As a giveaway, it is a good product that has good perceived value in the marketplace. Everyone has an interest in using long distance, so it makes it universally appealing."

The cards are often given away as appreciation for business to customers or vendors, but can be creative marketing tools as well. They can be personalized with the company logo and given away at trade shows, or included with the purchase of a product. Companies can also personalize the voice-prompt that greets callers using the cards.

"The welcome message can be from the company president," says Miller. "It might say, 'Thanks for attending the trade show. The next 10 minutes of long distance are on us. If you are in town, stop by one of our stores.' It can be a great advertising tool."

The cards are a way to increase your brand exposure and create brand- awareness for new products. A card promoting a new product might be included with an existing product.

"People aren't going to throw out a 30-minute phone card," says Miller. "They are going to hold onto it. They can also become collectible. You get long-term exposure as the customer carries the card around with them. Many cards are rechargeable, so can be picked up again and again."

The cards are becoming more sophisticated as marketing people find new ways to use them. A business might give away the phone cards, then have an automated menu that lists specials on products or services when the person calls in, or may just play a brief message on a new offering.

The use of the cards can make a small company appear much bigger and help project a positive image.

Obviously, not everyone will use the cards. The utilization rate depends on the type of promotion and where the cards are handed out. Those given out at large trade shows where people might receive four or five other phone cards might receive a lower utilization rate than those packaged with another product. Companies issuing the cards can usually keep track of what percentage of the cards are used so you know how many people heard your message. Phone-card companies, knowing that not all cards will be used, factor that into the price.

Costs can be as low as 10 cents a minute to 25 cents a minute, depending on how many cards are being purchased and how many minutes of long distance are on each one. Charges can also be set as a flat rate or have a higher first-minute connection fee that can also affect prices.

With phone-card purchasing, the more complex the program and features, the more expensive the program will be. The more cards that are purchased, the cheaper the per-unit rate. Runs of 500 cards are a good minimum to start with, though smaller runs can be done, but expect to pay more.

Cards can include an expiration date of one month to six months, depending on the client's choice.

They aren't limited to standard business-card size, and actually don't even have to be cards.

"Anything that can have a phone number and a PIN on it can be used," says Miller. "It could be on a baseball or a product's wrapper."

If only phone numbers and PINs are needed to print on your own products, turnaround time is about two to three weeks, but if the printing of cards is included in the project, then expect four to six weeks.

Cards can also be used for internal promotions and rewards. A salesperson can be given a card for calling the office, or a $100-card to use for the entire month. It would be recharged for the subsequent month.

"It's a good way to keep control of long-distance costs," notes Miller.

For more information, go to www.idt.net.