Issues Management: Event wins Philips leadership role in debate over RFID

Philips is one of the top suppliers of computer chips used in Radio Frequency Identification systems (RFID), a technology used to help trace communications from devices like cell phones.

Philips is one of the top suppliers of computer chips used in Radio Frequency Identification systems (RFID), a technology used to help trace communications from devices like cell phones.

Early last year, some advocacy groups became vocal about privacy issues surrounding the technology, causing many in the RFID industry to become wary of the press. However, the industry also faced important legislative issues. In a bid to help strengthen its position, Philips enlisted the aid of The Hoffman Agency to craft an issues-management campaign to help the company become a leader in the discussion.

"As a non-American company, Philips just doesn't have as much natural share of mind in Washington, DC, as an American company," says Lou Hoffman, president of the agency. "They intend to be a tier-one player" in the RFID marketplace, he adds.

Strategy

"We realized we needed to be proactive in bringing all involved groups together to discuss the implications of RFID technology from both an industry and consumer perspective," explains Graeme Slattery, Philips' director of brand communications, via e-mail.

"Essentially, we needed to set the record straight on the capabilities of RFID technology and clearly illustrate that it holds significant benefits for consumers and the industry at large. As the clear RFID market leader, we felt it was up to us to initiate the discussion."

"The idea of taking it to Washington, DC, originated from the Phillips side," Hoffman adds.

The strategy centered on reaching government officials and organizations, so the team decided to host a "trigger event" in the Capitol as a way of introducing Philips to key constituents and officials. To make sure the event had prestige, the team decided to host it at the National Press Club.

Tactics

Using the panel at the event as a door opener, the team contacted key government officials at both the state and federal level to secure panelists and introduce the issue, and to start building that key presence even before the event took place.

"It was one of those true instances where the team consisted of both Philips folks and agency folks," says Hoffman of the effort. "You start at a certain point of time and you get enough critical mass that there is a tipping point," he adds, pointing to the team's success at securing a top-tier panel that included Massachusetts state senator Jarrett Barrios, business leaders, and policy leaders, among others. In addition, the PR team created a website, www.rfidindustryevent.com, to promote it and targeted key media with the story.

Results

Forty people attended the event, with a cross section of legislatures, media, and other key influencers. More important, the event served to introduce Philips executives to key contacts and to start relationships that continue to flourish.

"In particular, by illustrating our leadership by organizing and promoting the National Press Club forum, we now have a seat at the table representing the industry perspective at state and federal RFID discussions," says Slattery.

"We're really pleased with the results, but I'd have to say this is like painting the Golden Gate Bridge - it never ends," says Hoffman.

Additionally, Hoffman says that where he had to pitch Philips in RFID stories before the campaign, he is now solicited by media covering the topic.

Future

Philips continues to expand the relationships it began in DC. And The Hoffman Agency is busy working on other programs for the client. "Aside from the typical product stuff, we have a number of campaigns in place dealing with their executives and executive elevation," says Hoffman.

PR team: Philips (Amsterdam) and The Hoffman Agency (San Jose, CA)

Campaign: A Voice of Reason on RFID Technology

Time frame: February 1 to August 31, 2004

Budget: $165,000

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