In 2000, Hewlett-Packard bought the property at 367 Addison Ave. in Palo Alto, CA, the location of the legendary garage where founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started the company in 1938.
The company purchased the property intending to restore the garage, a project that didn't start until 2004. The restoration project was envisioned as a way to remind HP employees and the community about the company's past and how the garage represented the innovation of Silicon Valley.
"It was important that this was seen not just by HP employees, but also by the community and people outside the company," says Ryan Donovan, director of corporate media relations.
HP's corporate media relations team worked closely with internal communications, the CMO's office, and its corporate communications agency, Hill & Knowlton.
"The effort was never meant to glorify the founders in an overly empathetic way," says Donovan. "We wanted to remind employees of where we came from and reinforce the company's values. Given the tumultuous past year, we wanted to focus on our back-to-basics effort. And the garage was the ultimate symbol of that."
Media outreach focused primarily on making sure journalists could chronicle the restoration.
HP set up weekly photo montages on its Web site so employees could follow the garage restoration from start to finish.
Journalists were invited to tour the site before the renovation began, so they'd be encouraged to return, says Jennifer Temple, an SVP at H&K. While obvious media angles were the garage's impact on the community and the tech industry, HP also focused on unique aspects, such as the historical characteristics.
"From the historical standpoint, we restored the garage back to its natural state and tried to find as many things as appropriate from when the company started in the garage," explains Donovan. "We really played up the history, even as they were taking the garage apart."
The project culminated in a dedication ceremony featuring HP CEO and president Mark Hurd, EVP and CMO Cathy Lyons, and Palo Alto mayor Jim Burch.
The company also set up tours of the garage, a California historical landmark, for employees and the public once the restoration was complete.
The campaign generated features in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Los Angeles Times, BusinessWeek.com, and Bloomberg.
CNBC attended the ribbon cutting, and got coverage on all Bay Area TV stations, as well as a few radio stations.
HP's Web site traffic related to the restoration averaged nearly 8,000 page views per month from July to October. There were more than 12,000 page views in November and more than 21,000 page views in December when the project was finished.
For a week after the dedication, HP hosted about 2,350 tours, or roughly 60 people per hour.
HP will use the garage for private events and functions to continue to showcase the property and the company's heritage.
This campaign worked because it reminded stakeholders of HP's roots in the community, at a time when the company was going through a period of executive changes and business restructuring. The campaign showed HP acknowledging its heritage, an important factor in boosting employee morale. And that was noted by the media, who were also closely following the major executive and business changes and challenges at HP during 2005.
Also key was that HP stressed the project as a tribute to its founders' contributions to the tech industry and avoided sounding self-promotional.
The campaign also succeeded in bridging HP's deep legacy and the direction in which it is moving today under new leadership.