Back to the basics

A focus on media relations has helped Xerox's communications team as it tries to tell a new story about the company.

A focus on media relations has helped Xerox's communications team as it tries to tell a new story about the company.

To the casual observer, the story of Xerox's rebranding on January 7 made its way through the media much like any such news would. But behind the scenes, the story traveled a pretty unconventional path.

Instead of giving reporters an advanced look at the new branding, Xerox unveiled it for the first time in an employee-only webcast. Top-line outlets were told the announcement was coming, but the corporate PR team, led by VP of global communications, Christa Carone, told them they would have to wait until after the 11:30am webcast to see the actual materials because Xerox wanted its employees to feel they had ownership over the new brand.

"The company's transformation was really about our employees' efforts, so this story belonged to them, and we made that clear with reporters," Carone says. "We told them, 'The lead-in to your story is that Xerox is expected to introduce a new brand today,' and that was OK. It was enough of a lead-in to get the story told."

But it's a process that carried some serious risks. By not giving anyone an advance peek, and by releasing it in the middle of a workday, Xerox essentially guaranteed that no print outlets would carry the story that day, and very well might pass on it the next day after the news was all over the Web.

Sidestepping those risks required some delicate footwork. The major advertising and business reporters, as well as the newswires, were brought into the process, and releases were timed to go out to the right people at very specific points. Key outlets were given just enough information to run a teaser story on the 7th, a move that prevented some reporters from feeling that they were being overlooked.

It may sound like a lot of hand-holding for a single story, but paying extra attention to the media is what the Xerox PR team is all about these days. "This is just the right time for us to be more bullish talking about the company," Carone says. "Our financial and business results support our need to be out there talking about Xerox in positive way." In the case of the rebranding, it paid off, as the coverage was considerable - including print coverage the next day.

A new direction
In an age when many corporations are trying to bypass reporters entirely - using new media to reach the consumer directly or treating reporters as just another constituency - Xerox has made the conscious decision to refocus its PR efforts on media relations.

The decision, which came about when the company brought its product and corporate PR departments under the same umbrella last July, is closely tied to Xerox's recent history.
In 2000, Xerox was on the verge of bankruptcy, under investigation by the SEC, and
generally having a tough time adjusting to a world of "paperless" offices. The company rebounded by shifting its focus to multifunction machines and business consulting services, something the press has recognized. But as the company moved beyond the lean years, it wanted to make sure the press was keeping up.

"Many of the same reporters who wrote about us during the turnaround, we need to help understand that it's not about [that] anymore," Carone says. "It's about Xerox's transformation into a leading tech company."

"It was time for us to emphasize innovation efforts," adds Mike Moeller, director of corporate PR, who was brought in from HP last May to help refocus on media relations.
"I'm looking at how we can find the most interesting stories inside Xerox that would be of interest to the media, to national publications, to business media, and how we can utilize and tell our story to different stakeholders."

The company had also decided it was overlooking certain elements of the media to its own detriment. "Foreign correspondents were an untapped market," Carone says. So the team stopped relying on its agencies around the globe to communicate with those reporters, and is now dedicated to knowing the top-line business scribes in key foreign markets.

Other steps to reach the media included bringing in new talent - like Moeller - with solid contacts; spending more face time with reporters to stay on their radar; and unearthing newsworthy stories in the company that the business press will want to write about.
"In some respects, it's a bit of back to the basics," Carone says.

Of course, these days even the basics are a whole new ballgame. Carone's team is actively seeking new ways to engage the media via nontraditional means, and already has at least one success story. In early 2007, Xerox launched "Let's Say Thanks," a campaign that allowed visitors to a special Web site - LetsSayThanks.com - to send a copy of a postcard designed by a child to a soldier overseas. But rather than simply issue a press release, the company took a chance on going viral.

"We started sending a two-line email about the program to friends and family, and before long the media picked up on it," explains Carl Langsenkamp, director of technology/services PR. "We got national and global coverage, and had [more than] 16 million people go to this site."

By Moeller's estimation, stories like that one and the rebranding effort are piquing the media's interest in Xerox. "That news cycle has passed," he says, "but I'm continually finding new opportunities that will give me a wedge to tell that story."

Primary Message Points for the Rebranding
  • The new brand is not about what Xerox hopes to become, but what it is. The brand is playing catch up to the company.
  • Xerox has transformed itself into a company that differentiates itself with innovation and smart business solutions.
  • Xerox is a global company, with a brand recognized around the world.
  • Xerox's transformation is a direct result of its employees' efforts.
  • The new look is the biggest change in Xerox's corporate identity in the company's history.

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