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
"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.