Media Relations: Page One recruits sponsors to drive Linux conference

With controversy over Linux reaching a fever pitch last year, thanks in part to SCO Group's lawsuits against companies that used open-source operating systems, media interest was fervent.

With controversy over Linux reaching a fever pitch last year, thanks in part to SCO Group's lawsuits against companies that used open-source operating systems, media interest was fervent.

So was interest from the tech community, with many firms supporting free, open-source operating systems such as Linux. SCO contends that using Linux violates copyrights and intellectual property rights, as Linux uses part of the Unix code, which the company claims to own.

Even as the debate over open source raged, Matt Asay, director of Novell's Linux business office and open-source review board, was frustrated by Linux trade shows that were not providing forums to help accelerate the understanding and adoption of Linux. So he decided to take matters into his own hands and launch his own conference in San Francisco: the Open Source Business Conference 2004.

"Open source is changing the way the IT industry works," Asay asserts. "Nobody has the right answers - not Novell, not Red Hat. We need something like this, to focus on how you build business around open source."

Strategy

Asay hired Page One PR one month before the conference to promote his endeavor, with three goals in mind: to get the media to talk about the business viability of open-source technology, to register 300 attendees, and to attract $200,000 in sponsorships. Realizing it had a small window of opportunity, Page One decided to marshal as many PR resources as possible from the firms that were either sponsoring the forum or had keynote speakers attending, says agency principal Lonn Johnston.

"Instead of us trying to get in touch with hundreds of people, we asked each of the companies involved to get in touch with hundreds of people," Johnston says. "There were more than 80 participating companies. So our first week was intensive contact with all of the sponsors and the companies the speakers came from. We reminded them of their sponsorship or speaking opportunity. What we found is that a company will sponsor or send a speaker, but the marketing and PR people don't know about it."

Those companies speaking or sponsoring included Novell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Veritas, Oracle, Microsoft, Computer Associates, Silicon Graphics, and Wind River Systems.

Tactics

Many companies responded positively to the outreach campaign and initiated their own media relations efforts, which helped publicize the conference and their particular involvement. Page One also engaged the media directly, and encouraged participating companies to spread the word to their sales and channel partners.

"There wasn't a generic pitch," says Johnston. "Everything was tailored to each publication and writer. We put everything into a context that was useful to them. We knew a writer at Fortune was taking at look at the legal issues surrounding the SCO Group, so we presented the conference in a context that would be helpful to him."

Results

Thanks to Page One's media outreach efforts and its ability to convince many of the participating companies to wage their own media relations campaigns, the conference drew more than 600 attendees - double what Asay had hoped for. The show also attracted about $750,000 in sponsorships, $450,000 of that in media sponsorships.

The overall media campaign generated more than 85 articles before, during, and after the show, reaching about 21 million readers in all. That coverage will help frame the Linux debate for months to come.

"PR was so critical to the success of this event," says Asay. "Thanks to the media blitz, more than half the registration came during that last month."

Future

Page One provided Asay with a report on the show's success and polled reporters and analysts to get feedback, which will help shape future shows. Asay hopes to conduct the show more than once a year and is looking at other locations, including the East Coast, Europe, and Asia.

PR team: Page One PR (Palo Alto, CA)

Campaign: Open Source Business Conference

Time frame: February and March 2004

Budget: $30,000

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