CAMPAIGNS: Hi-Tech PR - Unisys blasts past for present's sake

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

Budget: $17,500

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

one-car garage.

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

Unisys businesses.

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