CAMPAIGNS: Public Affairs - Pitching in by not pitching product

Client: Identix (Los Gatos, CA)

PR Team: Blanc & Otus (a Hill & Knowlton company)

Campaign: Airport Crisis Response

Date: September 11, 2001 - ongoing

Budget: part of contract

Identix, a biometric fingerprint identification technology company, had

only retained Blanc & Otus on August 31. Agency and client had not even

met for a strategy session prior to September 11, but after the

hijacking incidents occurred, media calls began coming into Identix in

part because the company's technology is used for employee security

checks at Logan and Dulles airports, among others. B&O was immediately

called in to help craft a short-term response to inquiries, as well as a

long-term strategy in the wake of a national tragedy.


B&O brought in crisis communications expertise from Hill & Knowlton.

Once together, the team decided the first priority was to craft a

holding statement to answer incoming media inquiries. Initially, it

needed to be clarified to the media that the company's technology was

not involved in any screening of passengers or flight crews, but was

used to do background checks on airport employees.

At the same time, the team decided to offer an understanding of

biometric technology and its potential for more security uses, as

enhanced security measures would be a point of media and regulatory

discussion for some time to come. "The message needed to explain to

people how it was being used, but also teach how it could be used in

ongoing security applications," says B&O VP Rebecca Hurst. "And to say

that the company was committed to working with airports and airlines to

make that happen," she adds.

But the company and PR team were careful to ensure that they were

offering expertise in the area of biometrics without focusing

exclusively on Identix's product. The company's CEO and other key

executives needed to be available for broader discussions on security,

but they were keen to underscore the fact that they were a resource for

journalists and regulators, and were not aggressively pitching their



On the day of the attacks, the holding statement was distributed to

outlets that called with questions. By day two, the company was already

getting more-detailed questions, and the team offered more background

information about the company.

In what became the third phase, Identix CEO Bob McCashin was offered as

a spokesman on biometric fingerprint technology, along with Grant Evans,

EVP of global strategies, and CFO Erik Prusch, who handled all

business-related inquiries.

"It was targeted, but really respectful at the same time," Hurst said.

"We were really seen as a media resource."


Coverage was widespread in the days after September 11, and focused more

on the range of possible technological solutions than specific products

and features, which was considered, under the circumstances, to be a

success. Broadcast coverage included ABC's World News Tonight, ABC

Radio's Cyber Shake, NBC Nightly News, CNNfn, and CNN Headline News.

Print coverage included The Wall Street Journal, the San Jose Mercury

News, The New York Times, and USA Today.

Since September 11, a number of media reports have focused on companies

that have executed clumsy campaigns, perceived as capitalizing on a

national tragedy. To date, none of the articles have included Identix in

their reviews of insensitive companies.


As PRWeek went to press, Identix and B&O were awaiting the results of a

Harris poll they had commissioned about attitudes toward security

technology and privacy. The results of the poll will be packaged with

contact information about independent biometric technology experts.

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