ATLANTA: As UPS unveiled its first change of its trademark in over 40 years, it had to compete with the battlefield reports from Iraq that were dominating the front pages and airwaves.
UPS had no choice but to go ahead with the program regardless. The launch date was automatically enforced by a legal requirement for UPS to file its annual report on March 25, 2003, since the report would need to reflect the new trademark and address the corporate shift it represents. While no one knew that America would be at war that week, Ken Sternad, VP of PR, said these possibilities were factored into a complex matrix of contingency plans.
"We had options for the smallest issues, from weather to leaks, all the way to the highest of terrorist alerts," said Sternad.
The effort included a massive internal distribution of videos and materials using the company's own supply-chain logistics group and a live broadcast feed of unveiling ceremonies in 25 UPS hubs around the globe. But as war loomed, the PR strategy was in constant flux. "We were planning two events, two press kits, and two releases, two of everything, and we had to choose one over the other."
The choice became clear when the US invaded Iraq. Commensurate with the climate of war, splashy outdoor events were brought indoors, the media pitch was toned down, and the live broadcast was cancelled, although b-roll was made available. "We called them and said, 'Hey you should probably update your files and old footage,' with the hope that they'd get the hint on what was happening."
Major dailies were contacted four days prior. "Our guarantee was that no one would get an exclusive," said Sternad, and they all agreed to an embargo. Some international events were cancelled outright, and Sternad said that CEO Mike Eskew was sheltered from global media contact. "We wanted to keep media on point, and any interviews would likely turn to war questions."
The story garnered strong coverage, with front-page news and b-roll appearing on numerous broadcasts.