PR team: Modality (Durham, NC) and Vault Communications (Plymouth Meeting, PA)
Campaign: Modality iPod App Store Launch
Duration: May-October 2008
Modality, which specializes in learning software, had an advantage because its founder and CEO S. Mark Williams had been invited to speak at the Apple development conference, where the new online store was announced.
Williams turned to Vault Communications to highlight the company.
“PR... really gave us the ability to plant our seed,” Williams says.
Given that Modality was still in stealth mode when it came to software, Vault account executive Corrinne Upton says the agency had to figure out a way to sell the company without being able to get much of its actual software into the hands of reporters.
“We decided to go position Modality as this David versus Goliath story, explaining how a young, very small startup broke out of a pack of thousands to get the attention and validation of Apple,” Upton says. “Also, Mark used to teach at Duke and developed software for the iPod Wheel, which gave us a great back story to tell about educational mobile software.”
Vault and Modality opted not to create a traditional press release and instead rely of Williams to be the voice and face of the company. The team reached out initially to The Wall Street Journal's Raymund Flandez with a exclusive on how Modality was providing real, on-the-job learning software for various fields.
Flandez ended up interviewing Williams, executives at Apple, one of the medical publishing partners of Modality, and even a physician's assistant in New Haven, CT, who was using medical software the company had adapted for the iPhone, Upton says.
“The Journal exclusive served a great springboard, enabling us to quickly gain the interest of a lot of other outlets,” she explains.
Apple's App Store launched July 10, but Vault continued to generate coverage throughout the summer and into the fall, including stories in Wired, MacLife, MacWorld, PCWorld, Engadget, the influential blog TechCrunch, CNET, BusinessWeek.com, the Chicago Tribune, and Raleigh's The News & Observer.
More importantly Williams says, “We've been very enthusiastic about the initial sales, because many of our products are very niche... clearly many of the sales are related to the specific media hits and the audiences we were able to capture.” Vault president Maribeth Roman Schmidt adds, “The platform that was given...by Apple to introduce this concept was tremendous.”
Flushed with its early success, Modality is expanding its offerings for the App Store, including a deal with the book publisher Wiley to create iPhone versions of Frommer's Travel Guides. “I'm very happy with Vault's work,” Williams says. “They really understood us and our approach.”
Apple is a hot company and mobile applications is a hot media category, but there are many developers competing for attention in this space. By going with old-fashioned storytelling, in this case how an academic became an entrepreneur, Vault was able to get reporters to look at the iPhone as more than just an entertainment device and see its potential in the education market.
Vault was also able to drive home the benefits of Modality products by having real users provide testimonials.