Analysis: Client Profile - Learning to speak PR at Texas Instruments - Technology pioneer Texas Instruments once treated PR as a foreign concept. But it’s no surprise that as the company slimmed down to improve the bottom line, public relations to

If the hi-tech industry were a society ball, Texas Instruments would stand out as the grand dame in a roomful of debutantes. But to Wall Street, the electronics pioneer is once again a sweetheart blushing with profits.

If the hi-tech industry were a society ball, Texas Instruments would stand out as the grand dame in a roomful of debutantes. But to Wall Street, the electronics pioneer is once again a sweetheart blushing with profits.

If the hi-tech industry were a society ball, Texas Instruments

would stand out as the grand dame in a roomful of debutantes. But to

Wall Street, the electronics pioneer is once again a sweetheart blushing

with profits.

Goodwill abounds at TI, especially since the company unveiled new chips

last month to make cell phones and Internet devices run faster and use

less energy. Its stock jumped over dollars 170, a four-year high, with

profit margins projected to reach 25% this year. And TI’s PR team played

no small part, opines analyst Will Strauss, president of Forward

Concepts in Tempe, AZ: ’The technology is so esoteric that otherwise

(Wall Street) wouldn’t understand the significance.’

Today, TI plays gracious host to reporters. The company generally

responds well to inquiries, makes top management and engineers available

and aggressively promotes itself and its products. But those who knew TI

back when recall the company’s days as, at best, a media wallflower.

TI’s history stretches back to the wildcat oilfields of Texas. Founded

in 1930, the company used reflection seismology to find black gold.

World War II brought military radar and electronics contracts. Through

the 1950s and ’60s, TI introduced groundbreaking gadgets like integrated

circuits, transistor radios and hand-held calculators. By 1980, TI

employed nearly 90,000 people and had its fingers in everything from

missile guidance systems to toys. But it didn’t have its finger on the

pulse of public opinion.

Who needs PR?

Quasi-military secrecy influenced by defense contracts, combined with

technological arrogance and a distrust of reporters, made PR a foreign

concept. TI didn’t feel much need to communicate with reporters or

investors because it reaped financial bounty from products that sold

themselves, explains Stan Victor, a 13-year TI communications veteran

who left in 1998 to start his own consultancy. ’They had a corporate PR

person whose job was to not communicate to the media,’ Victor says. TI

didn’t go out of its way to coddle customers, either; it expected them

to faithfully buy the technological marvels it produced.

The company took employee relations more seriously, publishing an online

newsletter as far back as the ’70s. Individual product divisions

sometimes practiced good media relations, too. ’However, if a bad quote

appeared in (trade publication) Electronic News and was attributed to a

TI manager, the feeling was that that manager could get fired,’ Victor


Financial information was released at annual shareholder meetings, and

reporters were assigned escorts who handed them sealed envelopes at the

appointed time. Rob Lineback, now editor of Semiconductor Business News,

recalls the confrontational mood of one such meeting: ’I was told to

leave my tape recorder, camera, guns and knives at the table.’

Top management began to realize the need for improved communication

after a few fiascoes, such as the decision to stop producing home


The effect on TI’s stock grossly outweighed the business segment’s


Chairman Mark Shepherd and CEO J. Fred Bucy didn’t understand why stock

prices fell so far, so they hired PR legend Chester Burger to assess

TI’s communication needs.

Burger’s team recommended creating a corporate media relations office,

and Jerry Junkins did just that when he became CEO in 1985. Junkins hit

the editorial board circuit, landing on the cover of Fortune in


TI’s external communications improved in noticeable increments, Lineback

says. But even into the early ’90s, vestiges of its secretive past


’You always did feel like you were dealing with the dark star,’ says

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Ramstad. ’You never quite knew what

the defense business was doing for its bottom line.’

Winds of change

TI’s fortunes began waning in the mid-90s. As stock prices dipped, the

company found itself a disparate conglomerate in a sea of hungry,

single-minded competitors. The company broke itself down to build itself

back up. With Junkins at the helm, TI sold off business units, acquired

companies that complemented its core strengths and entered joint

ventures. After Junkins died suddenly in 1996, new president Todd

Engibous accelerated the process. In 1997 alone, TI bought three

companies and divested itself of nine divisions, including its defense

operations. The company put most of its eggs in the digital signal

processor (DSP) basket, a move that has paid off, with TI now owning 47%

of that market. DSPs are the engine for wireless phones and other

digital devices, analogous to the microprocessors in PCs.

While TI’s overall workforce shrank to about 33,000, its internal PR

staff has bulked up to 90, with more hires expected. The communications

function reported to the chief legal counsel for several years but was

consolidated in ’98 under the leadership of Terri West, SVP of

communications and IR. Her division oversees IR, PR, employee

communications, marketing communications, advertising, speech writing

and Web development. Environmental PR and public affairs - including

government relations - are handled separately by SVP Win Skiles.

Also in 1998, TI hired Golin/Harris as its first ever agency of record.

Previously, the company jobbed out projects to Temerlin McClain and

other firms, a practice it continues on a smaller scale. G/H works

closely with TI on all US media relations activities. Worldwide media

relations director Donna Coletti says most programs are developed

in-house but implemented jointly with G/H. The agency even used its

relationship with TI as the foundation for new Dallas and Houston

offices in ’98. Golin now employs about 20 people in Texas and has

expanded to serve other clients.

’Our goal in life is to support the businesses,’ says VP Jean Wilkinson,

TI’s worldwide communications manager. Not surprising in a company run

by engineers, TI places a heavy emphasis on PR research. ’We are really

using the research to show management our results,’ Coletti says.

Tangible results

Those results have been impressive of late. Indicative of its more

trustful attitude, TI confidentially briefed several key customers,

analysts and trade journalists in advance of its February chip launch

and used their responses as testimonials. The PR team far exceeded its

goal of attracting 5,000 customer participants to its Webcast

announcement. Timely follow up resulted in key placements quoting

Engibous and other executives.

The PR campaign also served as the launch pad for TI’s first

business-to-business TV ad campaign, a dollars 20 million effort. ’They

are pretty confident about who they are right now,’ the WSJ’s Ramstad


Still, TI and its PR team have their work cut out for them. Lucent and

Motorola are teaming up to develop rival chips, and Intel is building a

stronger market presence. But for now, Texas Instrument’s image,

reputation and profits are riding high, and its dance card is full.


PR chief: Terri West, SVP of communications and IR Internal staff: 90

employees worldwide

Corporate PR leaders: Jean Wilkinson, VP and manager of worldwide

communication; Ron Slaymaker, VP and manager of IR; Donna Coletti,

director of worldwide media relations; Gail Chandler, manager of

corporate strategic communications; Win Skiles, SVP of public


External agencies: Golin/Harris (since April 1998) and project work with

other agencies

1999 financials: dollars 9.47 billion revenue, dollars 1.4 billion net


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