Java’s PR Campaign About Meshing Timing and Control


In promoting the official launch in October 1996 of Java Enterprise Computing, Sun Microsystems Computer Co. recognized early on that cyberspace was key to its $1 millionplus, PR campaign rollout that began last fall. And its PR was based on a simple equation: timeliness meshed with control of the messages surrounding Java's capabilities. The $7 billion Mountain View, Calif., company, with the help of BursonMarsteller, sought to control how, when and where news about this new chapter in network computing was released. And the Web allowed Sun to do just that. The launch included focusing on the Java platform as a way of shifting from a "desktopcentric model" to placing the emphasis on networks and servers as well as the promotion of Sun's JavaStations, the software and hardware pairing linked to Java computing. "Our PR mode for Java was to cool the press hype and to control the information on the street, and one of our major PR vehicles was the Web," said Burson Marsteller's Michael Fay, manager of BM client services in New York. Fay was one of about 500 people (including Sun's inhouse staff and BM employees) who worked on the Oct. 29 launch. "Everything about this PR campaign was based on education - not just hype - and the online community gave us the perfect place to promote Java," Fay added. "We wanted to focus on the intellectual underpinnings surrounding the big buzz about NC and we wanted to release information pieces at a time." "We approached the PR surrounding Java very differently than we had with previous campaigns," agreed Suna Kneisley, Java station PR manager. "We grounded our PR on this being a paradigm shift (from the desktop to the network) and we decided to build on some very key relationships - with the media, with the analysts and with the business market." But for SMCC that was no easy task. Ever since those in the computing industry got a whiff of this new computer language in the Spring of 1995, it's had a life of its own. Sun Gets Online with Java PR For Fay and Sun staffers, the World Wide Web was used in several key ways. Several weeks before, during and after the premiere of Java, Sun's Web site, http://www.sun.com: Had current press releases about Java and the applications designed for it, which were released in stages; Identified industry partnerships; Was promoted in Java advertisements in The Wall Street Journal and USA Today with plugs that listed the company's URL so customers and investors would be tempted to access the site; Was the primary venue for the lengthy White Paper penned by VP and Chief Java Architect Guy "Bud" Tribble; and Included testimonials from customers, such as business execs at CSX Corp., Jacksonville, Fla., and BT, United Kingdom, using Java. The Web site had more than 1 million hits within the first few weeks of the launch. And it gave those working on the launch, and the PR surrounding the launch, a place to explain the Java phenomenon - and even to debunk myths, if needed. "There were so many misperceptions about Java, about what it was and what it wasn't," recalled Sheryl Ross, PR director for SMCC. "Part of our challenge was educating people, mostly those in big corporations, about what Java enables you to do...Generally when many people spoke about Java [and the press wrote about Java] it was a vague concept. We wanted people to realize Java isn't just about applets and animation." Those promoting Java knew that among the messages they had to get into the marketplace was a key one: Java programs can run on any kind of computer. "With this launch, we tried to speak in terms that everyone could understand," Ross recalled. "We focused on our business customers and we wanted them to understand the ways they could use this." SMCC's PR campaign was anchored on having technologicallysavvy business execs embrace Java. Part of its early PR efforts included organizing an analysts' tour in the summer of 1996 during which Sun plugged Tribble's White Paper. The analysts were a way for Sun to reach its core audience: CEOs and entrepreneurs. "The product group knew early on that our focus was getting to big corporations to show how cost effective and beneficial Java is in a corporate environment," Kneisley said. And they also wanted business execs to know that the average cost, per desktop, of installing, maintaining and upgrading Java technology is about $3,500$,6000 - compared to the estimated PC cost of about $7,000$15,000. SMCC communicators realized it was crucial that corporate leaders not only speak and read about Java, but understand the technology, Kneisley added. Hence, the writeonce, runeverywhere phrase which has become the Java mantra. On Nov. 11, 1996, just several days after the official premiere, Fortune ran an article headlined: "Sun's Java: The Threat to Microsoft is Real." "Java was about entrepreneurs and about enterprises," said Ross. "And we stayed true to our vision that this was not a consumer message...We had an extremely tough time with the press because so many reporters approached it from that consumer perspective and what it was about was business computing infrastructure." At the height of the buzz surrounding Java, an average of about 40 stories or broadcasts about Java were published or aired every month, and the coverage is still coming. Right after the launch, more than 175 articles appeared in newspapers, magazines and trade journals. (Sun, Suna Kneisley & Sheryl Ross, 415/9601300; BM, Michael Fay, 212/6144559)

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