CAMPAIGNS: Product PR - SONICblue rides Napster PR wave

Client: SONICblue (Santa Clara, CA)

PR Team: Porter Novelli (Seattle)

Campaign: Making the Rio Grand

Time Frame: September 2000 to February 2001

Budget: dollars 25,000

SONICblue and its Rio division, maker of portable MP3 music players,

usually use PR only to promote new products. 'In tech PR, sometimes we

can get bogged down in the news and review cycle,' admits Wayne

Barringer, a vice president in Porter Novelli's Seattle office. 'We

wanted to look beyond that and see what kind of broader issues we could

tie our clients to.'

Last summer, Barringer began scouring the news for an appropriate,

high-profile issue related to Rio's products. Enter Napster.


When a federal judge ruled last year that Napster - a Web-based software

program that allows users to download copyrighted music for free - was

infringing the rights of musicians, Barringer, along with senior account

executive Rob McMurtrie, thought Rio executives would be well-suited to

comment on the litigation since they, too, had been sued two years

previously on similar grounds. 'We wanted to show folks we have some

expertise in this space and gain some exposure,' says Barringer.

Barringer also had his eye on Rio's competitors, many of which were

developing their own MP3 players.

When millions of users began to flock to Napster after last summer's

injunction which barred Napster from continuing to operate, McMurtrie

and Barringer knew they had found the wave to ride. 'There were over 60

million users trying to get their music for free while they could,'

McMurtrie says. 'It showed that this was a conflict that wasn't over and

we had better get on board.'


Barringer had Porter Novelli's Washington, DC office research the

consumer demographic attracted to Napster to find out what it thought

about copyrights and ownership. Conducted last August, the survey asked

more than a thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 35 whether

they thought the record industry was representing the interest of

artists, and also if they would be willing to pay for music accessed

through Napster. 'The striking thing was that more than 70% were willing

to pay for their content,' says McMurtrie.

'The feature of Napster that people really liked was not related to cost

but that they could (access it so) easily.'

In October, McMurtrie sent out his first batch of e-mails with survey

results to a list of 40 to 50 reporters from regional dailies, wire

services and technology reviews. The mailing, which held out Rio

executives as experts on the matter, was pegged to Napster's appeal of

the injunction.

(Barringer and McMurtrie had decided that the best time to approach the

journalists was at the next big development in the litigation.)

'We had eight to 10 callbacks,' says McMurtrie, which included Newsweek

and ABC Pitching the consumer angle, Porter Novelli repeated

the cycle twice more, pegged to another appeal in November and the

court's final decision in February. The pool of reporters pitched

increased each time, from 70 in November to over 100 in February.


Porter Novelli says Rio appeared in 16 print articles, including Time,

The Seattle Times, the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury News,

and was also mentioned in relation to the Napster debate on eight radio

talk shows. 'The real benefit to Rio is that we increased their brand in

a way that a product review campaign can't,' says Barringer. 'Such a

program can't bring the product to the consumers who aren't looking to

buy their products.'


Barringer says he and McMurtrie are again searching for other news

events to keep Rio's media profile high. McMurtrie says that technology

advances in the MP3 market will probably lead to broader campaigns on

behalf of Rio. 'We've broadened it more to issues surrounding MP3 in


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