Low Budget Drives PR Innovation

In the spring of 2001, software maker Expertcity laid out a challenge for its PR team: draw massive attention to the firm's flagship product, GoToMyPC, but with a modest budget. That meant no glitzy launches or expensive events. Instead, the goal would be to get the media interested and get trial product in the hands of the target audience of media, telecommuters and business travelers. It's Coming ... EVP Laura McCormick led a three-person corporate communications team as they aggressively pitched the product, which allows users to access material stored on their computers from anywhere via an Internet connection. The team knew the media was skeptical of technology product launches and realized that seeing would be believing. They wanted to put the product in the hands of technology thought leaders and writers, thereby creating credibility in the eyes of executives, especially telecommuters and business travelers. To build excitement among technology media, the PR team sent handwritten cards to leading technology journalists. The cards included cryptic messages like, "It's coming," with no details. Then came another series of email and snail-mail messages to the press ("It's here!"), in which the team announced media availability of the beta version, which could conveniently be downloaded off the Web. At this point the team also started talking to analysts at the top research houses in order to raise their awareness of the new technology. At launch time, McCormick and her colleagues knew a media event was in order and what better time and place to do it than the big PC Expo trade show in New York? Trouble was, the promotional budget was not sufficient to allow for a booth at the show. Fortunately, the firm ShowStoppers was already planning to hold a press reception in conjunction with PC Expo. "It's like a little trade show just for the press," McCormick explains. By becoming a sponsor of the ShowStoppers event for about $6,000, Expertcity would get maximum bang for its buck. "We could be in New York, and we would be able to leverage the presence of a lot of the most important technology media, without the expense of holding our own press conference." Expertcity professionals offered one-on-one demonstrations at the ShowStoppers event. In anticipation of the formal launch at PC Expo, McCormick also gave The New York Times an exclusive early look at GoToMyPC. The Times ran a positive story on the front page of its technology section. The exclusive did cause a few glitches, however, when McCormick and her team tried to get other dailies on board, leading them to the conclusion that they should have pitched other pubs more aggressively to start with. In a further bid to reach the target audience, Expertcity showed its product to leadership of the International Telework Association and Council, a trade group for mobile workers. The association gave GoToMyPC a major award for outstanding telework technology, "and that gave us great credibility," McCormick says. The tragedy of Sept. 11 brought PR to a screeching halt for many tech companies, but McCormick recognized it represented another side to the telework story. "People need to be flexible in where they work, in cases where there is a major workplace disruption, and GoToMyPC could give them that flexibility," she says. The PR team spent about $20,000 hiring a production company to conduct interviews with executives in lower Manhattan who used GoToMyPC when they could not get to work in the wake of 9/11. Over 100 news segments resulted, including a segment on NBC's "Early Today" and on Fox-TV's primetime news magazine. GoToMyPC also put out a press release offering stranded workers free use of GoToMyPC for a month. Results In the end, the team generated coverage in The Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, The International Herald Tribune, CNN, eWeek, TIME, PC Magazine and others. With a downloadable product, it was easy for the PR team to chart results, and they saw firsthand the power of the press. Although the company won't disclose the number of downloads, within three days after the Journal story ran, for example, the number of trial downloads by consumers jumped by 350 percent. McCormick says the results of the PR campaign helped to drive approximately 50 percent of revenues for the GoToMyPC brand. GoToMyPC generated roughly $5 million to $7 million in sales during the launch period in the first year. Campaign Challenges Challenge: Giving an exclusive. McCormick knew that giving an exclusive to The New York Times could hurt her with other major dailies, and, in fact, she found that The Wall Street Journal was almost ready to blow her off. "Initially it was a bit of a sell to get that appointment with them after the New York Times story had already run," she says. That "sell" was a nuts-and-bolts affair, equal parts patience and persistence. Ultimately, McCormick says, it was the technology itself that generated interest at a paper whose readers fit squarely into the technology's target market. Solution: "Persistence and honesty." In the end, The Journal's Walt Mossberg ran a positive piece on GoToMyPC after The Times' piece ran. In retrospect, she says, it might have made sense to court The Journal more aggressively at first, before granting the exclusive. "We did reach out to him, but perhaps we did not reach out strongly enough," says McCormick. (Contact: Laura McCormick, 805/690-6435, laura@expertcity.com) Campaign Stats Timeframe: January 2001 - December 2001 Budget: $140,000 for the year. VNRs took up a significant chunk of the budget; the New York launch also was a major expense, including invitations, media gifts, travel, etc.

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