Tech PR: Wind River shows off its involvement in Mars missions

NASA wasn't the only organization with a lot riding on the recent missions to Mars.

NASA wasn't the only organization with a lot riding on the recent missions to Mars.

Wind River, a Bay Area company that develops operating systems for embedded computing devices, once again had its technology in the latest Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. Wind River also had provided technology for one of NASA's last successful trips to Mars, the Pathfinder rover. Recognizing the enormous enthusiasm that would greet the successful rover landings, Wind River was determined to make sure the media did not overlook the company's vital involvement in making NASA's dreams a reality.

Strategy

Wind River and Bite Communications decided to build media interest not just when the rovers landed, but in the months prior so that when the mission was deemed a success, the media already would value Wind River as an expert source. But the company also recognized that while people are fascinated by space exploration, they aren't necessarily as tantalized by the underlying technology that makes it possible.

"Aerospace is about 25% of our business," says Wind River director of PR Kathleen Shanahan, who worked with Alissa Vasilevskis, the Wind River senior PR specialist, and Bite to develop the strategy. "The first idea was to plant the seed that we are going to be there on Mars. The technology that is in the rovers is the neurological brain of the project. So when people thought of the technology, we wanted them to associate that with Wind River."

The company and Bite also decided to target a wide range of media, from science and technology to general interest and local media, which would help associate Wind River with the Mars missions, as well as attract a broader audience to the company's brand.

Tactics

"Early on, we established ourselves as a resource for reporters," says Kate Kerkstra, the Bite senior account executive. "We sent reporters updates on the progress of the rovers. When Wind River announced its earnings, we even tied that to the Mars rovers."

Bite provided reporters with an in-depth interview with Mike Deliman, Wind River's lead engineer on the rover project, which was geared toward the average reader, but also included in-depth technology details for the engineering-minded. Deliman also helped put a face on Wind River's efforts. Wind River and Bite placed bylined articles, provided the media with monthly updates, sent e-mail "factoids" about the trip through space, placed speakers at industry events, and held developer-internet seminars on the need for reliable embedded technology in aerospace and defense projects.

Wind River also released a statement in support of President Bush's recent comments on a new policy on space exploration, and secured briefings with business, trade, and government press to showcase Wind River's involvement with space exploration today and into the future.

Results

A plethora of media outlets covered Wind River's involvement with NASA, including NBC; Reuters; NPR; business, trade, and IT publications; some local newspapers; public-sector publications; and even a local rock radio station.

The heavy media coverage attracted visitors to Wind River's website in droves, particularly after the rovers landed. In January, the number of unique visitors to the Mars rovers section of Wind River's website skyrocketed 6,444% over visits in December. The average visitor spent two minutes and 45 seconds perusing the site, while those who read the articles and interviews on Deliman spent nearly five minutes at the site.

And while Wind River cannot attribute the rise in its stock price to the attention the company has received over the rovers, the stock price has increased approximately 40% since December, and has outperformed the Nasdaq by about 30%, and both the Dow and S&P 500 by about 22%.

Future

Wind River and Bite are continuing with media outreach for the rovers program, particularly now that Spirit and Opportunity have landed successfully and are sending back riveting pictures and information.

PR team: Wind River (Alameda, CA) and Bite Communications (San Francisco)

Campaign: Mars Isn't Alien to Wind River

Time frame: June 2003 to present

Budget: $20,000

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