Battling the Telecom Shakeout of 2001 for XO Communications
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Battling the Telecom Shakeout of 2001 for XO Communications

In September 2000, RF|Binder Partners launched a new brand in broadband telecommunications: XO Communications. However, 2001 brought the industry the worst market conditions since the 1980s.

Paul Holmes

In September 2000, RF|Binder Partners launched a new brand in broadband telecommunications: XO Communications.  A result of the merger between Nextlink and Concentric, XO rode the wave of prosperity expected from the many competitive carriers and broadband carriers that had launched after the Telecommunications Act of 1996. However, 2001 brought the industry the worst market conditions since the 1980s. 
 
In response, RF|Binder Partners crafted a communications plan that would proactively support XO’s position as a leading broadband communications services provider through a combination of national and local media outreach, analyst communications, competitive monitoring and research. At the same time, RF|Binder addressed relevant industry and business issues in order to make sure that XO’s position on the state of telecommunications was heard.
 
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
 
When the capital markets began to dry up and the broadband communications market was seen as overcrowded, RF|Binder was faced with the challenge of convincing potential customers, partners and investors that XO had strong and viable services for today and tomorrow’s businesses. XO needed to be perceived as a business that would survive the current shakeout and remain a competitor in the long term during a time when many members of the media, analyst and business communities were starting to believe that that the competitive telecommunications model was not going to work.  By focusing on the fact that XO is one of the only competitive carriers to own its own optical network, enabling a range of next-generation broadband services, RF|Binder was able to differentiate XO from many of its floundering competitors that rely on leased network lines and pure-play business models.
 
RESEARCH, PLANNING AND STATEMENT OF OBJECTIVES
 
RF|Binder’s communications plan for XO focused on two main objectives:
  • Position XO as a key player—and survivor—in the competitive telecom market. 
  • Present XO as an innovator, developing differentiated fiber optic/broadband communications tools.
 
RF|Binder conducted extensive research and planning for XO’s communications program.
 
Research: In the beginning of the year, RF|Binder conducted a media audit of key national, business and trade reporters in order to determine how they perceived XO Communications and what they believed were the important issues in the competitive telecom space. The audit included a review of articles and the results of an informal phone survey with reporters, which enabled the team to identify holes in the 2000 communications efforts and develop creative ideas for 2001. 
 
Mid-summer, RF|Binder designed and executed a financial and research analyst audit—uncovering the perceptions of XO among the financial and industry analyst communities.  This audit was instrumental in helping the communications team craft a strong positioning for XO in the midst of the downturn.  In addition, RF|Binder compiled available statistics on various broadband products and services in a “statfinder” document to support pitches and press releases.
 
Messaging/Briefing Book: RF|Binder drafted key messages for the company and for each of the core products and services.  Additionally, RF|Binder created a “briefing book” that would take the place of a press kit—communicating XO’s entire story as well as providing reporters and industry analysts with up-to-date market and product-specific information.
 
Planning: RF|Binder built a 2001 corporate plan that laid the foundation for what the company and the agency hoped to achieve in 2001 and was adjusted as the year went on.  RF|Binder also drafted individual product plans for XO’s core broadband products and services: Ethernet (including Gigabit Ethernet), Web Hosting, the industry’s first voice and data bundle called XOptions, Virtual Private Networks, and Wavelength.
 
STRATEGIC APPROACH
 
With research in place, RF|Binder developed a four-pronged strategy to include aggressive business, trade, and local media as well as industry analyst outreach.  In order to communicate XO’s leadership position in the competitive telecommunications market, RF|Binder created story ideas that focused more on the company’s next-generation services and network, and less on its financial position, designed to drive sales on both a national and local level. 
 
Additionally, RF|Binder maintained an “abstracts library” that consisted of numerous story ideas that the team developed to pitch during news downtime.   RF|Binder ensured that no day passed without aggressive media and/or analyst outreach on behalf of XO.
 
CAMPAIGN EXECUTION
 
Story Development:
RF|Binder helped XO create a press release calendar and drafted press releases for XO’s corporate and product announcements.
 
As news and opinions pertaining to the telecommunications market constantly changed, RF|Binder maintained a creative and timely edge by monitoring for specific news relating to issues such as the Telecommunications Act, telecom network integrity, the perceived broadband “glut,” and other hot-topics, and created pitch abstracts to address these issues while communicating XO’s position and offering expert sources for comment.
 
In order to establish XO’s executives as experts in their respective fields, RF|Binder engaged in a byline campaign on a trade and local level.
 
Media and Analyst Outreach
 
Business: RF|Binder pitched “survivor” story angles to the business press with the goal of being included in round-up pieces citing XO as a long-term player.  RF|Binder also ensured that XO’s management team was scheduled for high-tier interviews surrounding the company’s earnings and financial/investment announcements.
 
Trade: The team focused on generating positive products and services coverage in order to create a balance with the unavoidable negative stories in the press relating to the industry’s, and XO’s, financial state in both the telecom and networking verticals.
 
Local: While many local publications are less interested in technology-specific, business-to-business announcements, they are very interested in the state of telecommunications as it pertains to businesses in their area. Through targeted, localized trend pitches, RF|Binder was able to place a number of pro-XO stories in the company’s Tier 1 and Tier 2 markets.
 
Industry analyst community: RF|Binder launched an aggressive analyst campaign in order to drive third party credibility.  The team targeted analysts who covered the telecom market in general as well as XO’s corresponding products and services.  
 
Trade show support: RF|Binder utilized key industry events to speak with industry influencers and media face to face.
 
RESULTS
 
Throughout 2001 XO Communications regularly appeared in trade, national, local and business press.  In feature highlights alone (see selection enclosed), XO achieved more than 31.3 million impressions in print and online.  (Feature highlights include articles where XO is discussed or featured, as opposed to mentioned.)
 
RF|Binder placed close to 20 contributed articles for XO executives in Tier 1 and Tier 2 markets.
 
XO Communications took part in approximately 60 industry analyst briefings.
 
Sales of XO’s products and services increased across the board, with revenue at the end of Q3 2001 increasing 95% over the same period in 2000.  In particular, XO’s Integrated Services offerings—80 percent of which were made up of XOptions sales—reached a revenue run rate of more than $100 million by the end of 2001.
 
XO Communications continued to retain the interest of the investment community in 2001, while many competitors were forced out of business.  With investments of nearly $850 million by June of 2001, XO was in better shape than most of the competitive carrier market throughout the year.  And when XO announced in November that it would receive an equity infusion that, if approved, would effectively solidify the company’s financial future, it was apparent that the business community continued to believe in XO’s reputation and strong products and services. 
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