Dell reaps rewards of Axim leak before Comdex debut

ROUND ROCK, TX: Dell's desire to enter the PDA market with a roar at Comdex was somewhat muted by an overeager and anxious media.

ROUND ROCK, TX: Dell's desire to enter the PDA market with a roar at Comdex was somewhat muted by an overeager and anxious media.

The company acknowledged months ago that it would jump into the handheld market, pitting the top computer company against PDA stalwarts Palm, Sony, and Handspring.

But Dell kept a tight lid on the details, determined to wait until Comdex, the huge hi-tech trade show in Las Vegas in late November, to unveil the Axim.

But apparently the lid wasn't tight enough. An internal document detailing the Axim was leaked to handheld-enthusiast website PDAFrance. While Dell hoped to tantalize and tease with few details, the document revealed everything from the size of the Axim's screen to the software on which it runs.

Numerous other websites picked up the story, including CNET and ExtremeTech.

The print and broadcast press weren't far behind, ultimately forcing Dell to lift the embargo two weeks before Comdex.

"This was no different than any other product launch," said Jess Blackburn, senior communications manager for Dell's desktop and notebook products.

"We typically give briefings under embargo. But what was so different this time was the widespread level of interest in the product itself. It made it very difficult to keep things quiet. There was so little information left to tell that we lifted the embargo early. So much information had leaked out that it really wasn't fair to the media that were adhering to the embargo."

Before Comdex, or before Dell had the chance to lift the embargo, dozens of media outlets such as Reuters, Forbes, ABC, CNN, and InfoWorld reported on the new PDA.

Despite the widespread news coverage, more than two dozen media outlets still attended an invitation-only launch event that Dell hosted at Comdex.

And a week after Axim's long-awaited, yet anticlimactic debut at Comdex, the press was still writing about it. The San Francisco Chronicle, MSNBC, and PCWorld, along with numerous local, foreign, and niche media, wrote about the Axim after Comdex had closed down and left town.

"We've been able to maintain momentum," said Blackburn, who told CNET last month that he didn't know how the leaked documents made their way to the internet. "The Axim has been one of the biggest stories out of Comdex. Sales have been very brisk, which is the whole point of PR - to help drive sales of the product.

"I've joked with people that if we had planned (the leak), we would have had a brilliant strategy for all the buzz it created. But we worked hard to keep as much information contained as we could."

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