CAMPAIGNS: Branding - Colorful CEO wins Relativity publicity

Client: Relativity Technologies (Cary, NC)

Client: Relativity Technologies (Cary, NC)

Client: Relativity Technologies (Cary, NC)

PR Team: Porter Novelli Convergence Group (Chicago)

Campaign: Leveraging Legacy Systems and CEO

Time Frame: May 2000 - Ongoing

Budget: dollars 170,000

Relativity Technologies, a small software firm that helps company's upgrade and integrate their out-of-date and often disparate business applications, had lofty goals: to bring national attention to its capabilities and its CEO. So the company hired Brian Pitts, director of media relations at the Chicago office of the Porter Novelli Convergence Group, to get coverage in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week and Fast Company.



Strategy

Pitts, a part-time newspaper sportswriter, along with Lisa Goldbaum, Relativity's director of marketing and IR, and a former editor at Forbes.com, had an ambitious strategy: to pitch exclusive stories to each reporter instead of parlaying Relativity's tale to everyone.

The pair claim to have had two hidden weapons. First, Relativity CEO Vivek Wadhwa respects publicity so much so that he crafts company policy with the idea that it will make good copy. Second, Pitts and Goldbaum say that because they have experience as journalists, they know who to pitch, and how to stoke the story.

'It's very different (for reporters) when you have people like us - journalists - who can say, 'Here's the story and here's how you should be covering it,'' Goldbaum says. 'The story may not have anything to do with the product, but the company gets coverage.'



Tactics

Pitts and Goldbaum aimed for reporters at large, national daily papers, major business magazines and technology publications. Delving into what Goldbaum calls Pitts' 'vast and mind-boggling' Rolodex, the pair began a hard-driving, highly targeted media outreach last May. 'We don't send out hundreds of media kits and spam e-mail,' Pitts explains. 'We don't throw a bunch of media kits down the stairs and see which ones stick.'

Instead, they tried to generate 50 or 60 different stories, some that had nothing to do with the company's technological side. For example, 'Give Us Your Wired Elite,' a feature in US News and World Report last July, focused on Relativity's diverse and highly skilled employee base.

And a Wall Street Journal article singled out Wadhwa's quit-smoking program, in which he pays the costs associated with quitting smoking for his employees, and throws in an extra dollars 1,000 if they are successful.

While chatting with Business Week's Chicago bureau chief, Joseph Weber, Pitts suggested Wadhwa for a major trend story on the economic downturn.

Wadhwa became the lead source for the piece, which appeared in December.

It helps that Wadhwa is eminently quotable and opinionated, says Pitts.

'He can be counted on to say something outlandish and outspoken, but right on point.'

Business Week isn't the only publication that likes what Wadhwa has to say. Computer Reseller News quoted him in three separate articles, all published during the same three-week period.

Pitts and Goldbaum also took care not to be 'too technical' with business reporters.

'I know from being a reporter that if you're afraid of the technology, the story won't get written,' says Goldbaum. 'And I know how to deliver a message without getting into technical terms.'

Relativity also has been able to get indirect press by way of its clients' coverage. In fact, this type of attention means so much to Wadhwa that he often writes into clients' contracts that they must agree to talk to the press. Wadhwa told the US Air Force, an early client, that most people see government institutions as slow-moving, and that therefore their relationship with Relativity is great PR. The thinking convinced it to seek media coverage.



Results

Relativity received 83 million impressions in nine months - most of which appeared in top-tier business publications and trades, says Pitts. 'We've gotten unheard-of exposure,' Goldbaum concurs. And sales have increased as a result.



Future

Fast Company will run a seven-page profile of Relativity this spring, and the company plans to file an initial public offering this year. Pitts is altering his tactics in reaction to the economy: he'll hook tech publications with stories about how to cut IT spending in the next year.





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