Sun to consolidate $10m PR work with 'reverse auction'

SANTA CLARA, CA: Sun Microsystems is placing its $10 million US PR account up for review, looking to winnow its stable of US firms from five down to two.

SANTA CLARA, CA: Sun Microsystems is placing its $10 million US PR account up for review, looking to winnow its stable of US firms from five down to two.

Sun issued a request for information (RFI) last week to 13 agencies, including its five incumbents: Bite Communications, Chen PR, Citigate Cunningham, Fleishman-Hillard, and Ogilvy PR. Fleishman currently handles corporate communications, while the other four work on various business units

Four of the five confirmed their intention to respond; Fleishman declined comment.

Karen Kahn, senior director of worldwide PR, declined to say which other firms Sun was considering. She did say that any agency selected can't work with IBM, Hewlett-Packard, or Microsoft, Sun's main competitors.

"We're not doing the review because we're unhappy with any of the agencies," said Kahn, adding that the last full-fledged review was three years ago. "We're doing a review because we have changed as a company and want to take a look at what our needs are now."

Because Sun has several complex business units, consolidating to one agency would not be realistic, she conceded. Two agencies would be ideal, she said.

After pitches are heard, the tech giant intends to conclude the search with the controversial "reverse auction" process, in which firms compete to submit the lowest bid online.

In what Kahn called a "dynamic bidding" process, the agencies will have one day toward the end of the review to submit bids in an online marketplace. The lowest bid - though not the bidder - will be continually displayed, allowing agencies to compete downward.

"This is not about picking the lowest bidder," said Kahn. "This is about streamlining the negotiating process, which can sometimes take weeks or months."

Kahn said she'd be looking for a mix of attributes: "world-class" tech PR experience, as well as experience with crisis communications, issues management, and Fortune 500 companies. She also seeks firms that have worked in the vertical markets Sun serves, from telecomms to retail.

Responses are due March 11, and Sun will select five finalists. A decision is expected by the end of April.

Helping Sun with the review is Lois Kelly, co-founder of Foghound, which helps companies assess their needs to improve performance.

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