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Greenback Student U

New Environmental Web Site Targets College Market

By Van Smith | Posted 3/5/2008

Canton-based writer Trish Smith's e-mail asking for City Paper coverage was optimistically chipper. She wanted someone to write about a new web site she writes for, GreenStudentU.com, and predicted it "will be a valuable resource in spreading the mission of environmental awareness" to "today's students." She urged City Paper to "contact my managing director, Robert Rex," who is "one of the main forces behind the conception of the site," which is meant to introduce students to "a wide variety of global environmental issues."

State records show that Rex last spring brought Green Student U's creator, a company called OTOnetworks LLC, from Massachusetts to Canton's Emerging Technology Center, a Baltimore Development Corp. office park specializing in creative tech-based companies. When Rex filed the corporate paperwork, he wrote not that his company's purpose is to help spur positive change in the world by spreading environmentalism among students, as Trish Smith suggested. Instead, he wrote that "the purchase and resale of advertising media" is OTOnetworks' business.

OTOnetworks is a part of a Boston-based holding company, One to One Interactive, which describes itself in a press release as a "marketing services, technology, and media company that aims to deepen the connection between brands and their customers by deploying state-of-the-art and cutting-edge digital marketing techniques." The other two One to One companies, OTOi and OTOlabs, focus on digital marketing and marketing technology, respectively, the press release continues, and OTOnetworks focuses "on the creation and distribution of niche digital media channels to provide marketers with performance based customer lead and acquisition opportunities."

The same day Smith sent her plea for City Paper coverage, One to One announced its latest product: ionMX 3.0, an e-mail marketing program that, the press release explains, "will allow marketers to simultaneously test the response rates on various subject line and message body combinations to a subset of the target audience. This will allow marketers to fine tune their message and create to ensure the maximum return for their efforts." In other words, One to One's latest breakthrough may help spammers make better spam.

Thus, Green Student U isn't simply Trish Smith in Canton, trying to breathe life into the environmental movement by energizing students. Rather, Green Student U serves One to One Interactive, trying to make money by serving businesses that want to reach and keep markets--in this case, students, who are favored targets for marketers, given their access to credit and proclivity to spend.

Marketers' access to the college market can be greatly aided with personal information about students, like their contact information at college, their major field of study, and their school-related extra-curricular activities, such as athletics and academic societies. Such information can be useful in tailoring marketing appeals to particular interests and is available by request from public universities in Maryland. Prince George's County Del. Ben Barnes (D-21st District) has introduced legislation to allow state colleges and universities to say no to those requesting such information for commercial purposes. On Feb. 27, House Bill 689 had a hearing before the House Health and Government Operations Committee, and it awaits a committee vote.

"We actually don't" mine students' personal information from public universities and colleges in Maryland, Smith explains in a follow-up e-mail. "But I read up on it, and it sounds like a good idea."

Instead, Smith says she's getting the word out about Green Student U the old-fashioned way: by reaching out to environmentally active campuses and by seeking press coverage. This, she hopes, soon will bring Green Student U some revenues--it is, after all, a for-profit enterprise.

"Having only been live [and online] for one month now, we have not yet reached the mass required to attract advertisers," Smith says. "But with our rapidly growing user base we will begin seeking advertisers in the coming months."

In a Feb. 29 e-mail to City Paper, Rex wrote that OTOnetworks intends "to sell advertising" on "a network of sites, all of which provide information meant to help students navigate their college experience," that the company is building. So far, in addition to GreenStudentU, OTOnetworks has also started the web sites StudentFinanceDomain and StudyAbroadDomain.

City Paper asked Rex some follow-up questions intended to get at the core purpose of One to One's network of student-related sites: "Don't you also want to build access to the high-spending student market for your corporate clients? Helping students navigate college helps One to One help its clients, right?" But Rex declined to respond.

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