Technology: Launch power

Andrew Gordon profiles a quartet of tech product launches that worked

Andrew Gordon profiles a quartet of tech product launches that worked

Company: T-Mobile

Product: Sidekick II

Launch date: September 21, 2004

PR agency: Waggener Edstrom

Technology products don't get much more of a celebrity pedigree than T-Mobile's Sidekick II. The next iteration of the all-in-one wireless device - combining a mobile phone, e-mail, digital camera, and other capabilities - needed to make a debut as splashy and fabulous as the celebrities who coveted them.

T-Mobile and Waggener Edstrom decided to leverage that celebrity cachet. T-Mobile was a sponsor of the 2004 X-Games and hosted a star-studded party that enabled the company to put the new Sidekick directly into famous hands.

"This was just too good an opportunity to pass up," says Bryan Zidar, senior manager of media relations at T-Mobile.

Because the party took place nearly two months before the launch, T-Mobile kept media coverage rolling with previews and reviews that highlighted the hip factor. Even the strait-laced Wall Street Journal's review was headlined "How Hipsters Stay in Touch."

"We were concerned about getting consumers excited too early," explains Wag Ed account director Graham Crow. "We had to find ways to keep the fire stoked."

But instead of just putting the Sidekick on the market, T-Mobile focused on one store in Santa Monica, CA, where the very first ones would go on sale. T-Mobile teamed up with a local radio station to turn the store's first sales into an event, telling listeners that they would be the first owners of the Sidekick anywhere in the country, leading to more than 150 people camping out, which also generated media coverage. Recording artist Houston served as a celebrity cashier, and other celebrities also showed up.

And follow-up media coverage appeared in diverse outlets, from Maxim to InfoWorld.

"The message to the consumer is that this was the must-have device," says Crow. "Not only does it do all the things you want it to do, it's also the device you want to be seen with."

And apparently that was the case, as T-Mobile sold more Sidekick IIs in three weeks than it did during the first three months that the original Sidekick was available in late 2002.

Company: Fujitsu Computer Systems

Product: Primequest server

Launch date: April 5, 2005

PR agency: Eastwick Communications

To introduce its latest mainframe server, Fujitsu decided to take a risk and host a global product launch in the US, which it had never done before. But Fujitsu saw an opportunity to use this launch to establish itself as a serious competitor to IBM and Hewlett-Packard in the US, where its brand is not as strong as it is in Asia-Pacific, says Jennifer McKim, marketing manager with Fujitsu Computer Systems, the company's US arm.

"Americans love competitive stories," adds Eastwick Communications EVP Giovanni Rodriguez. "But Fujitsu has a more collaborative culture, not a competitive one. We had to get them to talk in a more competitive manner."

Top Fujitsu executives came to the Bay Area for the launch, demonstrating the company's commitment to North America. Eastwick positioned their attendance as a rare opportunity to hear company executives talk about the technology market, and Fujitsu's role in it, both globally and in the US.

"We were always nervous someone would pull the plug," says Rodriguez. "We felt they might be uncomfortable doing a launch here for the first time and presenting a much more competitive message than they were used to."

Also attracting tech and business media were the participating partners, including Intel, Oracle, Microsoft, and Red Hat. The latter two were of particular interest, as Microsoft and open-source software companies like Red Hat rarely see eye to eye on anything. But both spoke about Fujitsu's new server, which works with both Windows and Linux.

The tech trades covered the launch as hoped, and the business media gave Fujitsu the bigger spotlight it wanted, including a Business Week interview with chairman Naoyuki Akikusa, as well as an article in Forbes, both of which talked about Fujitsu taking on IBM and HP, helping lay the groundwork for the server's launch in June.

Company: Symantec

Product: Norton Internet Security 2005 AntiSpyware Edition

Launch date: April 18, 2005

PR agency: Connect PR

Consumers now have two new invasive computer problems to worry about: spyware, which surreptitiously monitors a person's online activity and gathers data; and adware, which triggers unwanted online advertising.

By nature, such threats emerge before there is a technology to combat them, so security software companies first need to launch an educational campaign before there is a solution, generating demand for that solution, says Colleen McKenna, director of consumer product PR at Symantec.

The company issued its internet security report, as it has done for the past four years, to provide the media with hard data that shows the threats that exist, including spyware and adware.

"Once you can [show] a journalist that there is a problem, then you can talk about the problem," says McKenna. "It's not just about launching a product. It's a whole educational campaign."

Connect PR and Symantec showed the invasiveness of such online threats by visiting certain groups of websites, such as news or children's sites, for an hour, and then examining the PC for spyware and adware.

They found that sites visited by children were targeted more heavily by spyware and adware than many other sites, says Connect partner Mike Bradshaw. Symantec used that data to educate the press and consumers about the problem, how they could protect themselves, and how Symantec was working on a solution.

Symantec took senior-level executives on a media tour to talk about trends and risks in internet security, and also hosted roundtables with the media.

"We didn't want to just give information to the editors," says Sherri Walkenhorst, a senior partner with Connect PR. "We wanted to create a dialogue."

When Symantec launched the beta version of its anti-spyware and anti-adware software, consumers broke the company's previous 30-day beta download record in just two days.

"We really raised awareness from a consumer perspective," Walkenhorst says. "People realized they had to have a solution. And Symantec took a leadership role in addressing that."

Company: Veritas

Product: Windows Data Protection software suite

Launch date: January 18, 2005

PR agency: Edelman

As Veritas prepared to launch its Windows Data Protection software, it saw an opportunity to further cement its reputation as a leader in the data-protection storage software market.

Yet Veritas had to contend with the media's interest in the company's recently announced merger with Symantec, which threatened to over- shadow the product.

"The other challenge was, how do we communicate that this is more than data backup?" says Michael Hakkert, director of corporate communications.

The best way to reach all audiences - distracted by news of the merger - was to create a singular, unified message that also would work in all other marketing collateral, including advertising.

Veritas and Edelman settled on "Gold Standard" to describe both the new product and Veritas' position in the market. The press kit came in a round tin that looked like a gold medal, which held gold chocolate coins, medal-shaped badges, a gold Veritas pen, and gold USB flash drive. All attendees of the launch at New York's Essex House received gold medals as event badges.

The Gold Standard theme was used in all product, customer, and partner messaging. Before the launch, which more than 100 national and international media and analysts attended, Veritas sent the software to product re- viewers, held more than 80 media and analyst briefings, and secured testimonials that aligned with the Gold Standard mantra from partners and customers, who also attended the event.

On launch day, more than 10,000 people visited a special website designed for the new product. The consistent Gold Standard message carried across all channels and was reiterated by partners and customers to the media and analysts, helping convey the merits of the new software suite.

"Ninety percent of the coverage touched on that theme," reports Edelman VP Mary Ann Gallo.


Home of the tech launch

When it comes to finding the latest and greatest tech products about to descend on the market, journalists, analysts, and investors look no further than DEMO, the 15-year-old tech trade show that's all about new products. And as executive producer, Chris Shipley has seen it all.

PRWeek: What are you trying to do with DEMO?

Shipley: My goal with DEMO is to cast a wide net, to look at as many companies and products as possible. I want to showcase [technology] that [is] significant and market-changing. Some years there's a great enterprise focus, such as middleware, because that is where the market is. The market has shifted toward consumer products, and then the pendulum swings back.

PRWeek: How has the show changed?

Shipley: The result of the market downturn is [that] we're seeing far better companies, and by better I mean more well-suited to grow in scale. They are forged by a difficult economy and are doing a lot with a little. They're talking with customers more and understanding what the market wants. We're seeing more software development than hardware development. And we're seeing products that work across your life, technology that reaches deep into life at home and at work.

PRWeek: What works at DEMO?

Shipley: Showing the product. All the PowerPoint slides and market analysis pale in comparison to showing the product. To capture someone with this product, you need to show how it's going to change your life. Then you have an opportunity to talk about the founders' background. But you have to grab someone's imagination first.

I've seen people take the stage - not necessarily at DEMO - to talk about the shipping logistics of the product, but not the product itself. Certain types of products will grab attention easier than others - a gadget that make you say, "Wow, cool." It's easy to say that piece of middleware pales next to the booth that takes your [clothing] measurements. But sexy is in the eye of the beholder. Software that can save millions of dollars and cut integration time is equally sexy to someone.

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