Policy debate provides ITT an opening to tout its Cell Hound

ITT faced challenges in selling its detection technology.

Client: ITT Corp. (White Plains, NY)
PR agency: Spector & Associates (New York)
Campaign: Cell Hound launch and public policy debate
Duration: June 2010-June 2011
Budget: About $60,000

Cell phones in prisons are dangerous as they help inmates orchestrate crimes. About six years ago, ITT director of security products Terry Bittner was approached by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which was seeking ways to locate contraband phones. ITT developed Cell Hound, a detection technology, at its own expense. Bittner learned that building it was easier than selling it.

"We tried selling at trade shows to lower-level operatives," he recalls. "It wasn't very successful. There were new entrants and a big push for alternate technology like jamming. We were out of our league in getting the story out. Spector & Associates was hired to target decision-makers and get us into the public forum so we could debate people who were ignoring our case."

Agency VP Elliott Suthers explains that The Safe Prisons Communications Act (HR 560) was introduced to Congress in 2009 to legalize cell- phone jamming in response to an inmate-ordered hit on a Texas state senator. It would effectively kill Cell Hound's market.

On a limited budget, the team set out to raise awareness of the public policy issue and ITT, stall or defeat HR 560, and drive sales.

"We needed to educate Congress, media, prison officials, and DC-based opinion leaders about the benefits of detection and the problems with jamming," Suthers says.

ITT was positioned as a thought leader, and Bittner directly engaged lawmakers, government agencies, industry organizations, and media.

A partnership was established with the Communication and Telecommunication Industry Association, which worked with the team to promote ITT's campaign and build a coalition, including AT&T and Verizon, against jamming.

Suthers adds that capitalizing on the policy debate gave the company general exposure, which ITT doesn't typically get being primarily focused on defense work.

Op-eds bylined by Bittner were placed in local dailies in congressional districts that would be critical to passing the legislation, such as Texas, Tennessee, and California.

The team also targeted national media, security and prison trade titles, DC-based tech outlets, and security and tech bloggers.

Content, including a video demonstration and a white paper, was developed for a Cell Hound microsite.

Bittner was a resource for numerous organizations, including the FCC; the Government Accountability Office; the National Telecommunications Industry Association; and corrections departments across the US. He also met with about a dozen legislators, including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and State Sen. Alex Padilla (D- CA) and spoke at the National Public Safety Technology Conference in Sacramento, CA, on March 10.

Cell Hound revenues are up nearly 40% since January 2010, says Bittner. Both domestic and international sales more than tripled since the campaign began.

"Unequivocally, the marketing/PR effort has given us many more leads, opportunities, and sales than the ads," he explains.

HR 560 didn't pass Congress.

The effort drew 36 million-plus print impressions and TV penetration of 5.2 million. Outlets covering the story included The New York Times, The Economist, AP, Wired, Good Morning America, The Sacramento Bee, and The Tennessean.

The team is developing a strategy to promote Cell Hound in commercial markets in Latin America and Europe.

PRWeek's View
ITT really benefited from agency counsel here, and a true partnership developed between the company and Spector & Associates. Positioning the company as a thought leader and entering the policy debate worked really well. Overall, the campaign was successful in introducing ITT to a much broader audience. ITT's Terry Bittner was clearly committed to and effective at engaging in policy debate and selling the benefits of Cell Hound's technology. This team should prove equally effective in reaching commercial customers.

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