CORPORATE CASE STUDY: PR helps plot Lexmark's strategy for printer market

In its ongoing effort to take a larger part of the market from HP, Lexmark's b-to-b PR team is guiding the company's move away from tech talk, to showing what it can do to help businesses.

In its ongoing effort to take a larger part of the market from HP, Lexmark's b-to-b PR team is guiding the company's move away from tech talk, to showing what it can do to help businesses.

Lexmark doesn't suffer from delusions of grandeur about its place in the printer world, where Hewlett-Packard is king of the hill. But that doesn't mean the scrappy challenger from Lexington, KY isn't optimistic about its chances of knocking HP down a few pegs. In 2002, HP had 50% of the inkjet-printer market and 52% of the flatbed all-in-one market, while Lexmark had 19% and 36%, respectively, according to Gartner Dataquest. But Lexmark threw HP and the tech world for a loop when it announced it would partner with Dell to have the PC giant sell its printers. While Lexmark has quite a bit of work ahead if it wants to catch up to HP, partnering with the PC leader to take on the printer leader shows the company means business. And in an effort to take a larger piece of the printer market, the company's communications has taken a big-picture approach, emphasizing the value of Lexmark's printers to companies' goals and bottom lines in lieu of "speeds and feeds" and other tech jargon. The company's printing solutions and services (PSS) division - or b-to-b division - has embraced this in earnest, as it plays a vital role in developing Lexmark's business strategies, not just communicating them. "We were talking about how products like printers were [becoming a commodity], in either June or July of 2001," explains Jeanne Talbot, press relations and internal communications manager for the PSS division. "So we had to go from just talking about speeds and feeds to really focusing on the value - the benefits our customers get. "PR is a critical element for Lexmark, because we don't do advertising," adds Talbot. "We use PR to drive both visibility and credibility." Talbot and her team, all five members, helped develop "Print, Move, Manage," a rallying cry and mantra for not just the PSS division, but for its customer base. "It encapsulates what we are trying to do for our customers," says Talbot. "There were 3 trillion pages of paper printed in 2001. Companies are buried in paper. It's slowing them down. We believe corporations are spending 1% to 3% of their revenue on print costs. We're focusing on how our printing solutions can help them save money and time. It's about finding ways to print less, and print more efficiently. And this isn't just what we're talking about externally. We're also educating our employees, and giving them a platform to speak to customers." PR's seat at the strategy table Yet this isn't a new strategy from on high, tossed down to communications so that it can spread the word. At Lexmark, PR is about more than tactics and execution. PR has a part to play when it comes to developing strategy - not just for communications, but for the company as a whole. "The communications team is a vital, integrated part when it comes to developing strategy," asserts Bruce Dahlgren, VP and GM of the PSS division. "Developing a strategy and then executing on that strategy don't happen separately. It takes having the right people in the job. It's one thing to think of how to communicate the strategy. And you can have the best strategy and best plan, but if you don't have the means to communicate that, then it won't come to fruition. So it's critical to have the communications team as part of the strategy process, as they are going to be communicating that strategy." "Jeanne and her team aren't part of the process because I had the great insight to include them," says Randy Nelson, VP of US marketing for the PSS division. "They've earned it. They've demonstrated that they have the right to sit at the table just as much as anyone else." So when the PSS division developed its "Print, Move, Manage" mantra, it made sure there was no disconnect between audiences; everyone, from employees to customers, was hearing the same thing. "They have to wear multiple hats and reach out to multiple audiences," says Nelson. "So when we were looking at how we could offer more to our customers, and explain what we have to offer, communications was the most crucial element. If what we are going to focus on in the future is going to be communicated well, then it has to be communicated to you, my management team, the media, and the customers in a way so everyone is getting the same message. What you are seeing in the press needs to be the same as what employees are hearing internally." Successfully challenging HP It's an approach that's apparently paying off for Lexmark. Gartner research director Ken Wilerstein says that Lexmark has done what many companies would like to do, which is successfully challenge HP. Lexmark has positioned itself as a credible alternative, and its latest communications strategy is a continuation of that. "Lexmark has challenged HP by establishing and building its reputation over a long time, and PR has played a role in that," says Wilerstein. "Their focus on solutions over specific products is in line with where the market is going, and a bit ahead of HP. HP is certainly moving in this direction, too. But a company the size of Lexmark is a little more nimble and can get the word out a bit faster." But not everyone is convinced. Rob Enderle, a research fellow with Forrester Research, says that while Lexmark is getting more aggressive, HP will continue to dominate the printer market. Lexmark has differentiated itself as a cheaper alternative, says Enderle, but Lexmark still needs to be a better enterprise partner than HP. "Like anything else, it comes down to relationships," says Enderle. "HP tends to be savored as the leader in the printer market. But Lexmark needs to be a better partner if it wants to really challenge HP. As HP continues through its merger with Compaq, some of its partnerships with customers are deteriorating. So here's a real opportunity for Lexmark to position itself as the better partner. And it's not going to do that by just being the cheapest alternative." Lexmark recognizes that, and the "Print, Move, Manage" campaign is a testament to communications' vital role in helping Lexmark succeed as a company. "It's a message about how information is shared," says Dahlgren. "We're not just talking about printers, but how companies can speed up their business, improve customer satisfaction, and reduce costs. We had to present a message they can relate to. And the communications team is a vital part of making that happen." That Talbot's team has earned a place as business - not just communications - strategists speaks volumes about PR's importance to Lexmark. "Our role has really become about trust and credibility, from an internal and external perspective," she says. "We have to be able to simplify very complex messages, and focus on how we are helping customers solve their problems with our technology. We haven't always had that seat at the table, and having it is a very welcome change. But to get that seat, you have to bring something of value to the process - a voice and perspective others don't have. You earn that over time. You earn it every day. And some days you take two steps forward, and others you take two steps back. And as you gain that trust and credibility, you develop acceptability and accessibility. And the stakes do go up for you. Be a business thought leader first, and a PR tactician second." ----- PR contacts VP, US marketing Randy Nelson Press relations and international comms manager Jeanne Talbot Press relations manager Emily Strickland Communications manager Todd Hastings Press relations coordinator Nancy Fraley Communications coordinator Selina Howard

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