During the past four years, the Eastman Kodak Co. has been making the transition from a traditional film company to a digital one.
Kodak's launch of inkjet printers allowed the company to not only enter a new market, it also offered an opportunity to use PR in a way it never had before.
During the past four years, the Eastman Kodak Co. has been making the transition from a traditional film company to a digital one. Susan Tousi, director of research and development for Kodak's inkjet business, vividly remembers the moment when her department began taking a new direction.
It was shortly after current CEO, Antonio Perez, joined Kodak in 2003 as president and COO. In a meeting, he proclaimed that the inkjet printing industry "has been operating on the same business model for 20 years, and it's time for a change." The model he was referring to was the standard practice of the industry's leading companies selling low-cost printers, but hitting consumers hard with pricey ink refill cartridges.
Tousi says this business model makes the industry unique because it's the best customers who "have gotten the worst deal." So Kodak set out to change that by introducing its EasyShare All-in-One (AiO) line of printers and low-cost ink cartridges in February.
But launching a new line of printers wasn't the only challenge for Kodak. By introducing a printer that is slightly more expensive than similar products, and offer-ing ink cartridges at half the price of its competitors, Kodak basically turned the industry model upside down. And like most companies looking to shake up an industry sector, Kodak relied heavily on PR to get its message out.
Erin Foster, director of worldwide PR for the consumer digital imaging group, says the launch of the inkjet business was an opportunity to signify how different Kodak has become. But Foster points out that not only did the business model and product represent a change, but also, with PR sharing the lead, so did its marketing platform.
"Every single part of that launch was done very differently," she says. "In every sense of the word, we didn't follow a traditional marketing model. PR had a lot of input into the development of the marketing plan, the timing, how we went to market, and how we took the story to market."
The line launched in Europe and the US simultaneously.
Foster says the biggest divergence from the company's normal marketing scheme was making the campaign "completely viral for the first 45 days before anything else went above ground" and relying on PR for the first 60 days in lieu of any other marketing tactics.
"It was a lot of talking with consumers online and consumer groups, which was the most valuable because of the feedback," she says. "Those discussions built the basis of our campaign."
Going in, Kodak knew the "points of pain" for consumers - high cost of ink, low quality of printed documents, and time it took to print - which were confirmed via discussions on Inkisit. com, a site Kodak created for the campaign. Foster says Kodak's PR plan and proposition to consumers was to address those issues and heavily promote the low-cost ink.
Esty Pujadas, partner and director of the global tech practice at Ketchum, Kodak's AOR, says playing on those points helped position Kodak in the marketplace.
"What we were introducing was not just the printer, but the fact that the ink cartridges were half the price," Pujadas explains. "That's what resonated."
Foster notes that the response from consumers proves its industry model was something they were waiting for.
"We got hundreds of calls and e-mails to our hotline thanking us," she says. "They were saying: 'Someone finally listened to us. After 20 years, someone finally cracked the ink cartel.' Can you imagine someone writing that in an e-mail?"
A toned-up strategy
Pujadas says Kodak agreed to take a risk with its communication strategy, launching at a nontraditional venue and using integrated viral tactics "with an irreverent and humorous tone to relate to consumers and differentiate itself."
Along with Inkisit.com, which features comedic viral videos, interactive games, and a print-cost calculator, Kodak used a number of pre-launch and post-launch tactics to promote the printers and ink. Before the launch, Kodak spent weeks speaking to consumers online and at Best Buy, its exclusive retail partner.
Kodak employees visited stores on weekends to ask consumers what they looked for in a printer. Foster calls it "intelligence networking" and says the complaints they heard validated its strategy.
The US launch event, held in NBC's Studio 8H in New York, was a Saturday Night Live-type skit called "Kodak Live!" and drew nearly 100 members of the media. Hosted by SNL alum Molly Shannon, it featured Perez speaking about the market focus, products, and ink value proposition, along with a musical performance by cover band The Nerds.
There was, and continues to be, media outreach with consumer titles, technical reviewers, hardware reviewers, and analysts. "We fractured the media in multiple ways so we could speak to many sides of each publication," Foster says. "We also spoke to bloggers and in online chat rooms." She adds that Kodak is also talking with scrapbooking associations and consumer advocate reporters "to get their point of view."
Tousi says Kodak will accelerate and refresh its PR efforts going forward. It recently sponsored D: All Things Digital and the World Innovation Forum. "We'll continue to hold major press events as we expand into Europe," she adds.
Tousi notes that the inkjet printer debut was more than a product. "It was actually news because we were entering a $50 billion industry and completely changing the value proposition and business model," she explains. "So this was news that carried, and we got a lot of good use of PR in getting our message out."
From a consumer story to a business story
Key points for the EasyShare AiO launch:
Kodak was in the midst of its transformation from a traditional film organization to a digital organization
The company entered a new market whose leaders had been established for nearly 20 years
Kodak turned the industry's longtime business model on its head by reversing the platform and offering ink cartridges for half the price of its competitors
The company addressed consumer grievances that had gone unanswered for two decades