CORPORATE CASE STUDY: Cisco takes an open approach to reinforcing its brand

Cisco Systems' own news service tells analysts, the press, and anyone else who logs on just about all there is to know about the company - all for the sake of building trust and credibility.

Cisco Systems' own news service tells analysts, the press, and anyone else who logs on just about all there is to know about the company - all for the sake of building trust and credibility.

At a time when the press, politicians, and everyone else is screaming for candor and honesty in the corporate world, Cisco Systems has long been using an open communications tool to publicize its operations. News@Cisco is a multimedia channel featuring exclusive content from the internet infrastructure firm's own news staff, ranging from stories about engineers and innovators to radio programs and video footage of executives such as CEO John Chambers. "Our primary mission is to educate and inform our audience," says Claudia Ceniceros, director of corporate communications. "The site also helps us reinforce our brand. We are here to inform, as well as advance our point of view. Our job is to maintain credibility with the press. And the more credible we are, the more trusted we are." News@Cisco succeeds in two arenas. First, it recognizes the nearly limitless capacity of the internet as a resource for information. Secondly, by throwing open its doors to the media, analysts, investors, or just the curious, the company is showing its roots. "Developing News@Cisco was important because openness is core to our culture," explains Gretchen Vogel, PR manager at Cisco. "Our internet technology transforms business, so we looked at how we could transform our own media channel, with original video, radio, and feature articles." Information for everyone The site is a virtual treasure trove for investors, reporters, and analysts, who can access radio programs on transitioning to IP telephony, read about how CIO Brad Boston uses IT to improve efficiency, or watch a video on how Sprint and Bell Canada used Cisco's internet business solutions group to identify new services. "We are very open, candid, and honest with our communications," says Vogel. "It provides the consistency of messaging. A lot of PR forgets that the 'P' in 'PR' does not stand for 'press.' It's 'public.' There are so many other audiences we work with." As a global technology heavyweight, Cisco fields inquiries from all sectors. Providing as much information as possible to its multiple audiences online has helped the company reap significant cost savings. A 15-minute phone call costs Cisco $24 in training, wages, and infrastructure costs, while disseminating the same information on the site costs the company just 22 cents. It also gives Cisco leverage in placing more stories in the press. For example, a story on News@Cisco about Lufthansa using Cisco's Aironet wireless LAN technologies to create the first onboard broadband data networks for commercial airlines generated press coverage from reporters who browsed it. "When it first came out, the media loved it because it's basically self-sufficient," says Michael Prichinello, VP of RLM PR, which represents FeedRoom, a company that makes the video and interface on News@Cisco. "Cisco gets inundated with press calls, and sometimes it's hard to manage that. In a big business, when you have so many calls, you have to prioritize. Of course, when The Wall Street Journal calls, that call will get returned. But this helps so that smaller media aren't excluded. It provides greater access, and lets journalists take as much as they need - probably more than they'll ever need." Rick Smith is one journalist who benefits from Cisco's openness. As managing editor of localtechwire.com, a daily subscription-based web publication covering the local business of technology, he finds News@Cisco provides access once enjoyed only by the biggest names in business media. "It's a great tool for any journalist," says Smith. "It provides a wide variety of resources from radio sound bites to online video. I've always found the Cisco people to be very approachable and cooperative." Ceniceros describes the site as a base of information. "I hope people view it as a resource," she says. "We want to keep it credible and fresh." Explaining what Cisco is Cisco clearly subscribes to the old marketing adage that if you don't define yourself, others will do it for you. By providing as much information as possible, on everything from John Chambers' speech to the National Governors Association to Cisco's philanthropic work, press and analysts walk away with a clear picture of what Cisco is and what it stands for. "I use it heavily to work with about 1,500 industry analysts," says Jim Harper, senior manager of analyst relations at Cisco. "I send out a monthly newsletter, which points right back to News@Cisco. They like it because it's not just press releases. It's a multimedia library with a wealth of audio and video on demand. If an analyst is interested in optical networking, they can easily find more than they can use. It puts our key engineers and innovators out for the whole world to see. Instead of getting information from a fluffy press release, it comes straight from the engineer. This really pushes internet communications to its limit." Since News@Cisco launched in November, the number of monthly page views has skyrocketed from 13,000 a month to more than 1 million a month in May, when visitors streamed audio and video programs 50,000 times. One regional PR division at Cisco found that News@Cisco interviews with Chambers, following quarterly earnings reports, satisfied the needs of half of press inquiries. And a featured video about the company's fellowship program helped CNN craft a story. The hi-tech community is starting to catch on, albeit a bit slowly. Agilent recently launched News@Agilent, patterned entirely on News@Cisco. "Before we did anything, we looked at a lot of companies' websites, and most just had bios and press releases," says Muoi Tran, managing editor of News@Agilent. "But News@Cisco is so much more like a news site. And they have had a good relationship with us. They've been quite up front with us about it." Setting a precedent Ceniceros says she would love to see News@Cisco become the industry standard. "We share how we do things on the internet," says Ceniceros. "It's not proprietary. We would love for other companies to do this. "It's so difficult getting information from companies, especially large companies, even when news is breaking," says Smith. "Cisco is very reliable. They aren't trying to mislead you. They provide exactly what journalists need, which is a great place to get information." ---------- News@Cisco SVP of corporate development (News@Cisco executive sponsor) Dan Scheinman Director of corporate PR Claudia Ceniceros Manager, corporate PR (News@Cisco Editor) Gretchen Vogel Director of technical marketing Jim Grubb Manager of technical marketing (News@Cisco Publisher) Thomas Wyatt External PR agency Applied Communications

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