ANALYSIS: Client Profile - EMC’s PR pros prove storage can be sexy - EMC is the undisputed leader in data storage, but how do you make the media care about something so bland? Rebecca Flass follows EMC’s meteoric rise from just another tec

Data storage isn’t exactly a fascinating topic, but for some reason, it’s a story that the press can’t seem to get enough of today. With an increasing number of Internet companies in search of storage to service their e-business demands, many business publications are forecasting that the industry will continue to explode. And in the confusing technology landscape, where nearly every company claims to be the leader in something, EMC is one company that can truthfully call itself the undisputed leader in its category.

Data storage isn’t exactly a fascinating topic, but for some reason, it’s a story that the press can’t seem to get enough of today. With an increasing number of Internet companies in search of storage to service their e-business demands, many business publications are forecasting that the industry will continue to explode. And in the confusing technology landscape, where nearly every company claims to be the leader in something, EMC is one company that can truthfully call itself the undisputed leader in its category.

Data storage isn’t exactly a fascinating topic, but for some

reason, it’s a story that the press can’t seem to get enough of today.

With an increasing number of Internet companies in search of storage to

service their e-business demands, many business publications are

forecasting that the industry will continue to explode. And in the

confusing technology landscape, where nearly every company claims to be

the leader in something, EMC is one company that can truthfully call

itself the undisputed leader in its category.



But in 1995, it was a different story for EMC. At the time, storage was

considered a peripheral technology, and EMC was known as a hardware

company selling into a declining mainframe market. Its annual revenues

were just over dollars 1 billion, and its stock was flat. That was also

the year that EMC decided to build its first dedicated corporate PR

function, aimed at educating the world on the importance of information

storage technology.



’Our challenge was not just to create a brand or increase the visibility

of EMC,’ says Mark Fredrickson, director of corporate

communications.



’We had to first establish the relevance of the category.’ To do that,

EMC began talking about storage as the place where information lives,

and added a personal touch, positioning it as more central to customers

than computers. This tactic separated EMC from its competitors and

quickly established EMC as a leader.



An unlikely giant



Today, EMC’s annual sales are more than dollars 6.7 billion. Its stock

rose more than 80,000% during the 1990s - the highest single-decade

performance in the history of the New York Stock Exchange - and recently

hit an all-time high of dollars 130 a share for a market capitalization

of dollars 133 billion.



This makes EMC, not exactly a household name, one of the 20 largest

companies in the US - ahead of Pfizer, Dell, Home Depot, Coca-Cola and

Time Warner.



The growth of EMC’s PR department has mirrored that of the company

itself.



In 1997, EMC set up a global PR operation with 25 agencies reporting

into EMC’s Hopkinton, MA headquarters.



As the company beefs up staff by 4,000 worldwide over the next few

years, 10 of those positions will be on the PR team, which hasn’t lost a

member in the past five years, Fredrickson claims. The new positions

will include a corporate PR director, public affairs manager,

international PR manager and Web writer. But smile-and-dial types need

not apply. Fredrickson says the company is not interested in

’stereotypical, perky PR people.’



EMC also views its PR agencies as employees, informing them of future

plans and giving them quarterly goals. The company has worked with the

Porter Novelli Convergence Group for about five years. While Fredrickson

admits that EMC has relied more on its internal PR team, as it has

better access to senior management, he says PNCG has been an important

part of EMC’s success. To create a close-knit PR structure, one member

of the agency’s five-person account team spends one day a week on-site

with EMC counterparts.



Although it seems that most corporate PR heads are itching to have a

direct report to the CEO, Fredrickson reports to Ron Slate, VP of global

communications and head of EMC’s marketing function, and feels that’s

the way it should be. ’Involving the corporate marketing organization in

hi-tech companies has never been more important in a strong, robust

corporate communications function,’ says Fredrickson. He adds that CEO

Mike Ruettgers is only 50 feet away, so their relationship is like a

’virtual direct report.’



While EMC’s online pressroom reads like a dream come true, with numerous

business press hits, it wasn’t always that way. Even when the company

was generally accepted as a leader, it was a story that the business

press wasn’t interested in.



EMC set out to find ways to tell its story outside of the context of

technology to get the media hits it coveted. The company decided to have

its customers tell the story whenever possible by talking about their

experiences building their business around EMC’s technology. ’In recent

years, more EMC customers publicly told the world how they built their

business on our technology than all our other competitors combined,’

boasts Fredrickson. Working closely with the IR team, EMC also began

telling its financial story, making comparisons to IT giants like

Microsoft, Intel, Cisco and Oracle.



Another component involved drawing attention to CEO Ruettgers, who

Fredrickson says was ’one of the most successful CEOs in the world, but

not the most well known.’ While Fredrickson admits that it took some

convincing, the effort has paid off - Ruettgers gave more than three

dozen major speeches last year, including a slot at the World Economic

Forum last spring, and landed on 15 magazine covers, including

BusinessWeek. And Ruettgers is not blind to the job the PR team has done

- he tells PRWeek that ’it’s actually been one of the real strengths of

what we do. They’ve done a wonderful job of looking to raise the PR

profile of the company. ’



Not all members of the press fell in love with the story, however, and

Fredrickson says that EMC’s East Coast base may be part of the

problem.



In particular, he says that Red Herring - a favorite read of the C-level

crowd - wouldn’t give it the time of day. Therefore, EMC launched an

educational mission last summer that not only caused Red Herring to take

notice, but also led it to do a 45-page special report with a dozen

articles on storage.



Even when competitors try to take a swipe at EMC’s lead, it hasn’t

phased the company’s PR department. In July, IBM launched an enterprise

storage server, known as Shark, which was touted as an ’EMC killer.’

However, the product has been riddled with problems, and Fredrickson

says it’s actually had a positive impact on EMC, particularly since it

has drawn more attention to the entire market.



A friend of the press



Along the way, EMC has also captured the respect of the reporters it

works with. ’We know journalists don’t generally love PR people, and we

know we’re not going to change the world, but being seen as turning

requests around quickly is important to us,’ says Fredrickson. ’We don’t

have a negative relationship with a single journalist who follows the

company, and not a lot of companies can say that.’



Reporters polled by PRWeek agreed with that assessment. ’If you compare

what EMC does with other computer companies, it is probably one of the

best, both in terms of responsiveness and level of sophistication,’ says

Paul Judge, deputy editor of BusinessWeek Online. Another journalist

adds, ’They’re good. There are plenty of companies I don’t like to deal

with, and they’re not one of them. They’re pretty accessible, and they

make their executives relatively accessible.’



While some people might think that the PR pros at EMC have an easy job,

Fredrickson says it’s not all a breeze. But he can’t help feeling a bit

smug: ’When you’re with an organization that’s winning, and your stock

goes up and news is good, it makes it a joy to come to work.’





EMC



PR chief: Mark Fredrickson, director of corporate communications



Corporate PR team: Dave Farmer, products and services PR manager; Rick

Lacroix, PR program manager; Dana Lieske; international PR manager; Gil

Press, director of corporate information; Peter Schwartz, director of

executive communications



External agencies: Porter Novelli Convergence Group in the US (five-year

relationship); 25 agencies internationally



PR budget: Under dollars 10 million globally



1999 financials*



Sales: dollars 6.7 billion Net income: dollars 1 billion



*Source: Hoovers Online.



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