Client: Unisys (Blue Bell, PA)
PR Team: BSMG Worldwide (New York)
Campaign: 50th Anniversary of the UNIVAC, the world's first commercial
Time Frame: June 14, 2001
All it takes is two new pop-up windows to appear for each one you close,
or a monitor that freezes only when you haven't saved your work to
assure you that we're witnessing only the beginning of the computer age.
And for better or worse, we have Unisys to thank for all of it.
On June 14, 1951, Unisys unveiled the world's first commercial computer:
the Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC). It weighed eight tons, ran on
vacuum tubes, and was housed in a room the size of a
Retail price: $159,000. The UNIVAC had several famous uses,
including a prediction of Eisenhower's win in the 1952 presidential race
(which wasn't a big stretch considering Stevenson only won nine
While we have the UNIVAC to thank for ushering in the computer age,
Unisys bravely decided to kick it around for all the problems computers
have caused - or made possible.
Celebrating an anniversary isn't a unique PR tactic, so Unisys' PR
manager Steve Holzman and VP of marketing communications Guy Esnouf came
up with another idea: rather than tout the invention as the
accomplishment it's commonly known to be, 50 years after the UNIVAC hit
the market, Unisys offered an apology.
In promoting the company's current products and services (especially its
Cellular Multi-Processing server technology, which evolved from the
UNI-VAC's design), "we wanted to get some more interest in the
anniversary, and tie it into our current offerings rather than tie it
into our heritage," says Holzman. "UNIVAC led to a whole string of
consequences, some of them favorable, some not."
Holzman and Esnouf approached BSMG Worldwide to help with the
"We were excited they wanted to be creative, which is hard in the b-to-b
tech market," explains Jill Shea, group manager at BSMG. "There are so
many anniversaries, this just seemed like a creative way to celebrate
Shortly before June 14, 2001, several outlets and key tech trades
received balloons bearing the message "I'm sorry." Anchoring each
balloon was a can of SPAM, along with a release listing the top 10
problems the UNIVAC caused (among them: giving SPAM a bad name).
"Reporters were excited," says Shea, who emphasized the importance of
thinking strategically about who would get the packages. "We focused on
those we knew would be interested, and it turned out to be a great intro
for broadcast programs."
The Fox News Channel, ABC, and CBS ran coverage throughout the day on
June 14, and CNN ran segments on 10 different programs. In all, 40 radio
and TV stations mentioned or ran stories on the UNIVAC's 50th
anniversary from June 14-16. Over 25 national and regional newspapers
ran stories as well, including Investor's Business Daily, The Denver
Post, and the Houston Chronicle. The story also found an international
audience in The Sydney Morning Herald.
"It certainly doesn't hurt to get our name out and be recognized as an
innovator," says Holzman. "It reinforces the message our sales force
takes to the customers." Shea also adds, "They got great feedback from
As agency of record, BSMG is continuing its work with several other