CAMPAIGNS: PlaceWare locates the perfect spot to raise its exposure

PR Team: PlaceWare (Mountain View, CA), Trainer PR (Danville, CA), Euro RSCG Middleberg (New York) and the Robin Randall Group (Chicago) Campaign: PlaceWare's Times Square virtual office Time Frame: August-November 2002 Budget: $3 million

PR Team: PlaceWare (Mountain View, CA), Trainer PR (Danville, CA), Euro RSCG Middleberg (New York) and the Robin Randall Group (Chicago) Campaign: PlaceWare's Times Square virtual office Time Frame: August-November 2002 Budget: $3 million

With corporate travel budgets still tight, more companies are relying on innovative ways to meet, leading to rapid growth in the relatively young web-conferencing sector. PlaceWare was one of the first companies to enter this space back in 1996, but soon found itself fending off more and more competitors. "With so much recent and rapid growth, there hasn't been much clear leadership or vision in our industry," says Janice Kapner, PlaceWare's senior director of branding, demand generation, and PR. "What we have is an emerging sector, without one company being seen as the clear leader." While PlaceWare had done the typical media and analyst outreach within various verticals, its PR needed to make a bigger splash. PlaceWare CEO George Garrick and VP of worldwide marketing and strategy Dustin Grosse recognized the issues and opportunities facing the company. They decided to back up major PR efforts with the funding to make PlaceWare the leader that the web-conferencing sector lacked. "We didn't have years to build a brand," says Kapner. "We had to get creative and out of the box really quickly." Strategy PlaceWare had already devised an ad campaign to run concurrently with the PR initiative. But the genesis of the PR campaign came from the billboard PlaceWare had planned for Times Square. Kapner explains that the PR campaign had to put PlaceWare in front of media from various verticals - such as hi-tech and entertainment - at the same time. And it also had to show how PlaceWare's services let any company bring people together no matter where they were. Tactics PlaceWare created a virtual office on the small platform in front of its Times Square billboard. The idea was that if you can conduct a web-based conference call from above Times Square, you can do it anywhere. PlaceWare hired the Robin Randall Group to find speakers to conduct conference calls from the new office, Euro RSCG Middleberg to promote the business-oriented speakers, and Trainer PR to promote the entertainment-oriented speakers. "We had our CEO launch the campaign with a press conference from the billboard," says Kapner. "We had almost 400 participants - including press and analysts - on that call." Other speakers included the screenwriter for horror flick Ghost Ship, Mariah Carey's agent, and representatives from companies including Hewlett-Packard, Sybase, and Butterball. "We had talks on everything from how to write your own novel to the state of advertising," says Kapner. "This is a service that will go mainstream, just as e-mail did. We wanted to show how easy it is to use for any industry. We knew we would catch buzz. It's like having a stage in the center of Times Square. You can conduct a meeting from anywhere at any time, and you don't need to be a hi-tech guru." Allyson Wyles, senior account manager with Trainer, asserts that the drive worked because it allowed PlaceWare to pitch the same story to different media. "We could go to The Hollywood Reporter with an interview with [Ghost Ship writer] Mark Hamlin, and pitch the same interview to Wired from the perspective of a hot screenwriter using technology," said Wyles. "This let us educate different media about PlaceWare." Results PlaceWare found its way into 53 articles in a wide variety of media outlets, including Internet World, InformationWeek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, ABC.com, CNET Radio, The Hollywood Reporter, NBC News, and Forbes.com. The media coverage generated 153 million media impressions, from in-depth articles on PlaceWare's services, to mentions in entertainment titles. "That generated a lot of brand awareness," says Kapner. "In our fourth quarter last year, we gained the highest number of new customers ever - 740 - in one quarter." Future Kapner wants to continue with high-profile and creative web-based seminars and conferences that will attract the media and potential customers. And there is a bit of recent news that will certainly help: Microsoft announced in January that it intends to acquire PlaceWare.

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