Competing for multi-billion dollar federal contracts - and not
seeming too greedy when it wins - is a delicate balancing act for
Lockheed Martin. Thom Weidlich talks to the tech behemoth's PR team.
In January, technology giant Lockheed Martin announced a new
mail-sorting system called BioMail-Solutions, which detects the presence
of anthrax and other biological hazards.
Lockheed's media approach to that story epitomizes the balancing act in
which it must engage when speaking to the outside world.
"We had to work carefully on how to position the announcement," says
James Fetig, director of corporate media relations.
"In a company like ours, there are upsides and downsides to every
opportunity that comes by because, in orders we receive, nine dollars
out of every 10 are the end product of the public policy process," he
explains. "There'll always be a negative push from some constituency. In
the case of homeland defense, a company like ours has to be very careful
not to be seen as greedy."
The BioMailSolutions system, which is designed to develop consumer
confidence in the mail, will, according to Fetig, position Lockheed as a
leader in homeland security. But, he adds, "we did not send out invites
to financial and business media to cover this development as a business
story, because they'd want to hype the revenue potential and benefits to
shareholders. The fact was, the benefits in those areas were relatively
minor for a $25 billion company."
Based in Bethesda, MD, Lockheed Martin is probably better known as the
nation's largest military contractor, with its main competitors being
Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics. In addition to
developing products like fighter planes, the company also manufactures
satellites, space equipment, air-traffic-control systems, weather and
radar systems, and mail-sorting equipment.
Fetig, with a three-member team in corporate media relations, sets
Lockheed's media relations strategy, and oversees its corporate
identity. But, as he puts it, the "nitty gritty" of the PR, especially
product work, is done at the business-area and company level. Lockheed
has about 40 operating companies under four business areas: systems
integration, aeronautics, space systems, and technology services.
Each business area has a VP of communications. Overall, there are about
120 people engaged in media relations, internal communications,
community relations, and marketing communications - especially marketing
that focuses on the media (such as trade shows).
Lockheed has no PR agency of record, but at times uses outsiders for
executing projects. Fleishman-Hillard handles much of its international
Speaking volumes to various audiences
The company's main audience is the government but, as Fetig points out,
that's a complex organization. Members of Congress are interested in
what the company does, as are Pentagon leaders, the scientific
community, its corporate customer base, activist groups that are
critical of its work, and, of course, Wall Street.
"We receive a great deal of media and public interest," Fetig notes. "We
have approximately 30 pages of clips per day, year-round, either
directly involving us or of direct interest to us."
He says the company views advertising and PR as complementary, and has
equal respect for both disciplines. They are both housed in the
communications department (Fetig reports to SVP of corporate
communications Dennis Boxx).
In October, Lockheed (with Northrop Grumman and BEA Systems) beat out
Boeing in a fierce and high-profile battle to win the 20-year, $200 billion contract to build the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Sam
Grizzle, director of program communications and media relations for the
aeronautics division, says one of the keys to the victory was the "fly
before you buy" program.
Basically, the test aircraft was virtually the same as the one Lockheed
would build, while the company's competition was still making design
For the PR campaign, Lockheed relied on outbound media contact,
briefings at air shows, and press trips. "It was a huge contract, so you
can imagine the PR war that was going on," says Robert Wall, senior
Pentagon editor at Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine. "Every
time the competition said something, the other team would try to rebut
it. They were pitching every angle. Maintenance, design - there was
nothing too arcane."
Bold media strategy
Grizzle says Lockheed spent a lot of time planning its strategy for the
selection announcement. In a bold move, it invited media into its
auditorium in Fort Worth, TX (where the aeronautics division is based)
to watch the announcement, which was piped in live from the Pentagon.
That way, he says, "the media are there when it actually happens, and
can get their own video and observe the expressions on the people's
But what if they lost? There was a strategy for that scenario, though
Grizzle declines to go into detail. Company execs, however, were
prepared to talk that day about winning.
Pete Harrigan, VP of communications in Lockheed's systems integration
business area, says one of his jobs is to get communications to work
closer with business development and upper management. For example, the
company (with Northrop Grumman) is competing against Boeing and Science
Applications International on the US Coast Guard's Deepwater Program to
replace its aging ships, helicopters, airplanes, and other equipment. A
decision is expected by mid-year.
"We came up with a plan that includes media relations, formal
announcements, attending trade shows, customer contact, and
congressional outreach," says Harrigan. "We want to help build awareness
among key constituents as to why the coast guard needs the program, and
then to position Lockheed Martin as the best supplier. We do that by
working with our business development and technology people to identify
areas where we think we have advantages."
As for the coast guard's needs, Harrigan says, "We're trying to ensure
that Congress and other decision-makers understand the urgency of
updating the coast guard's fleet. Some of the messages are that most of
the coast guard's equipment is older than the people who operate
Lockheed is making strides to put more emphasis on PR. Last summer, it
launched a Communications Leadership Development Program in which four
entry-level people are rotated every six months into doing media,
internal communications, marketing, and community relations work.
Participants also attend special seminars. Four more employees will
enter the program this summer, and the company is looking to expand it
Fetig says big ongoing stories for the organization are earnings,
homeland defense, the defense budget, and the over-capacity in the
industry. "Beyond that, it's always product performance," he says. "For
example, with fighter planes there are always challenges on cost growth
and the number of units. Congress and the press pay close attention.
That's because we make things that are high-profile."
SVP corporate communications: Dennis Boxx
Director of corporate media relations: James Fetig
Director of media initiatives: Selection pending
Manager of issues management and communications: Meghan Mariman
Coordinator of public inquiries: Bernice Lawson