Competitors join forces to discover solutions to the thorny complexities of energy efficiency
AMD aggressively tried to undermine Intel's market dominance recently by launching new processors that promise to revolutionize the industry. Last year, Dell - struggling to regain its footing as industry leader - fell behind its prime competitor, Hewlett-Packard.
For such iconic companies, the tech consumer marketplace is a fierce universe where companies risk being blindsided by rivals' innovation.
Yet behind the doors of nonprofit organization the Green Grid, these foes - and others like Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, VMWare, and IBM - band together to develop industry-wide recommendations on best practices, metrics, and technologies to improve data-center efficiency.
"It took a while to get these [competitors and collaborators] to sign on to legally form a group," says Andrew Fox, senior manager of global communications at AMD and a member of the Green Grid's communications committee. "What drives us forward is the objective of the Green Grid."
While "green" initiatives are sometimes no more than marketing strategies, the Green Grid stands out with an objective that demands tangible results. But the organization also had the good fortune of forming when the public's interest in energy efficiency has hit an all-time high.
"We formally launched at the right time, which I'd love to say was by design and plan, but was just fortuitous for us," Fox says.
This global consortium launched last year when several tech giants met to find industry solutions for the complex problem of energy efficiency. The consortium's initial communications goal was simply to gain awareness and to increase participation. But members knew that even this could potentially be a thorny endeavor.
"How do you get these companies to sign off on PR strategy?" he says. "It could definitely be a challenge at times."
Competitive tension always lurks below the surface, hence the decision to keep the name of the group's president secret, for fear of giving the impression that one company carries more clout than others in the group. As a volunteer organization, the Green Grid can be time-consuming and demanding, which filters out those with ulterior motives.
"People put aside all their competitive differences at the door," says Amber Rowland, senior PR manager at VMWare and a member of the Green Grid's communications committee. "From a [PR] perspective, we look at things from a broad standpoint."
Still, the communications committee crafted a strategy to ensure that the group remains collaborative and that member companies have equal representation. Since member firms stretch across various geographical locations and time zones, the communications committee meets via conference call bi-monthly to arrive at strategic recommendations. In-person meetings rotate among member companies' offices.
"When it comes time to review and discuss content in a proposed press release, we have experienced a smooth approval process," Fox adds. "To date, we have never faced a contentious situation."
Rowland notes that members divide into workgroups that suit their interests. Adding to the organization's shared sense of purpose, people are given chances to put forth their best skills, whether in membership, marketing, events, PR, or analyst relations.
It helps, too, that the Green Grid works with only one PR agency - Owen Media - rather than having each of the member companies' agencies grapple over communications initiatives. Even if someone calls a member company looking for Green Grid information, that call is often rerouted to Owen Media to maintain a consistency in the consortium's public voice.
"[AMD's] agency wouldn't address it," Fox notes. "And I wouldn't have another spokesperson handle it off-the-cuff. One reason for that is we want to maintain the integrity of the consortium."
Despite milestones the organization has made in the last year - such as exceeding membership goals - keeping morale up at a volunteer organization is always a taxing undertaking. But Rowland says Green Grid is an exception because its members are genuinely passionate about energy efficiency.
"We get a lot of work done," she adds. "We also have fun and leave these meetings feeling a renewed sense of commitment to doing what we can to make the Green Grid a successful contributor to the industry."
Aware of the irony, the tech-oriented group has discovered that its in-person meetings are the most valuable in maintaining the energy and vigor of organization.
"It's harder to [motivate] in a bi-monthly call," Fox says. "Our face-to-face meetings are critical, and helped to gel the team."
AT A GLANCE
ORGANIZATION: The Green Grid
FOUNDING COMPANIES: AMD, APC, Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Rackable
Systems, SprayCool, Sun Microsystems, and VMware
HEADQUARTERS: Virtual organization
KEY TRADE TITLES: Computer World, Information Week, eWeek
PR BUDGET: Undisclosed
Andrew Fox, co-chair of the Green Grid's communications committee; Amber Rowland, senior manager, VMWare and a co-chair of the Green Grid's communications committee; Cheri Winterberg, account director for Owen Media
PR FIRM: Owen Media