Brief Journey Through the History of Network Innovation
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Brief Journey Through the History of Network Innovation

The Brief Journey Through the History of Network Innovation & Transformation: Launch of Cisco’s CRS-1 in China—designed and implemented by Burson-Marsteller—involved a highly innovative and results-driven approach.

Paul Holmes

The Brief Journey Through the History of Network Innovation & Transformation: Launch of Cisco’s CRS-1 in China—designed and implemented by Burson-Marsteller—involved a highly innovative and results-driven approach to media outreach which maximized the opportunity for the client despite a number of clear limitations. The vision and historical context demonstrated a depth of insight and understanding rarely evident in product launches of this nature and enhanced Cisco’s reputation with media and key stakeholders while furthering focused business objectives.

In June 2004, Cisco Systems planned to launch its revolutionary new Carrier Routing System (CRS-1) - in China. One month earlier, the company had launched the product in the Unites States, positioning it within the context of Cisco’s broader innovation history, tradition and strategy – during its 20 year anniversary as a company. The tagline in the lead up to the launch read: “20 Years ago Cisco revolutionized communications. On May 25th we’re doing it again”. Enabling the much anticipated convergence of voice, data, and video applications onto one IP-based network, CRS-1 allows for virtually unlimited amounts of bandwidth, “in the process opening the floodgates to the Information Age” (Guinness World Records later certified the CRS-1 as the highest capacity Internet router ever developed).

Many Chinese media had already received localized information materials and had digested the international reaction to CRS-1 from analysts and media sources. In the past, Cisco’s outreach to Chinese media around new products had generally focused on standard product launches which did not necessarily provide an opportunity to promote broader understanding of Cisco’s vision and thought leadership. In light of the above Cisco China wanted to develop launch activity that 1. Reinforced the ‘historical’ positioning of the earlier launch to build awareness among key audiences of Cisco’s industry leadership and vision 2. Combine an element of fun, creativity and ‘outside the box’ thinking, to differentiate it from standard product launches and to engage the media in light of the fact that many had already received information of CRS-1 3. Increased awareness and understanding of and demand for CRS-1.

Building on existing in-depth knowledge of the competitive landscape in the China technology sector, B-M and Cisco conducted a review and analysis of the initial media coverage and third-party viewpoints of CRS-1, following the US launch. We also conducted preliminary outreach to key media and consulted extensively with various business units within Cisco regarding customer expectations and issues and subsequent positioning objectives.

The B-M team also conducted research into the development of networking systems throughout history. This drew upon a wide variety of historical accounts and sources. These spanned the irrigation and road networks of the ancient valley civilizations of the Middle East, to classical Greece and Rome, to China’s own magnificent 5000-year historical legacy, right up to the industrial revolution and the information revolution of more recent times.

B-M proposed a two-stage approach to the media launch activity: Phase 1: A Brief Journey through the History of Network Innovation & Transformation. Phase 2: Cisco Technology Innovation Strategy & the Future of the Network - Chinese Media Briefing Session

Burson-Marsteller conceived, developed and executed an opening program element that built media understanding of the way innovations in network systems technology have impacted and accelerated the development of societies, communications and economies throughout history. The broader historical theme served as the ‘introduction’ to more focused Cisco messaging around CRS-1 through a major media conference (see next section).

The opening activity commenced with a boat trip along an historical section of the Beijing Canal system, which forms part of China’s Grand Canal Network, thus emphasizing a major Chinese achievement in the world history of networking innovation and transformation. Departing on a mid-sized charter boat from the recently restored Imperial Wharf in central Beijing, a group of 30 leading journalists from trade, general and business media were provided with a fun and light-hearted narrative by Cisco China PR Manager Shang Rong, with additional support from Cisco China PR Executive Zhong Min (based on scripts researched and developed by B-M) while traveling along a scenic section of the ancient canal (running through modern Beijing).

The narrative emphasized the history of networking innovations and transformation dating back to ancient times, in highlighting common patterns of technology innovation, visionary thinking and ‘Net Impacts’ to economies and societies - up to the present day and the Internet. At the conclusion of the first stage of the journey, at Long River Harbor, the group transferred onto a far larger boat for the next stage along a much wider section of the Beijing Canal Network running between Beijing’s Summer Palace and the beautiful Yue Yuan Tan Park (this provided opportunity for analogies with expanding network capacity of CRS-1 and the corresponding possibilities of internet transformation etc).

On boarding the larger boat, the journalists were greeted by three historical characters in period costume: a Roman Senator, a 19 Century US rail network executive and a Chinese official from the Ming Dynasty (played by Cisco China executives Y.C. Liu, Greg Dixon and Roy Newbury). During this phase of the journey each character provided the media with an outline of a network system (The Roman Roads Network, China’s Grand Canal Network and the 19 century rail network revolution in America) - based on significant innovations in technology and spurred by visionary thinking - that brought major societal and economic benefits (based on scripts researched and developed by Burson-Marsteller).

With particular emphasis on the achievement represented by China’s Grand Canal network, each was positioned by MC Shang Rong as an important chapter in the world history of network innovation and transformation. The speeches drew upon a variety of historical sources, commentary and analysis.

B-M and Cisco decided that the main media briefing should position CRS-1 even further in the context of Cisco’s broader innovation strategy and its vision for the future of the network. This addressed the fact that many media had already digested initial information about the technology from overseas reports. It also recognized that media would be looking to understand the broader relevance of the technology to the industry and consumers in China and globally.

Following the Canal Trip, Chinese media was picked up by bus and taken directly to a briefing at the new Oriental Cinema in the complex adjacent to Cisco’s Beijing office in the heart of Beijing (during the media transportation from Yu Yuan Tan Park to the Oriental Cinema, journalists were asked to answer in writing the question “What would you do with 90 terabits per second?”, with indicative answers shown on screen at conclusion of the media briefing).

They were there joined by another group of 28 media, with a total of 58 in attendance for the second stage. The modern cinema venue selected by Cisco’s PR and marketing team continued the creative element with major CRS-1 signage (in the style of cinema advertising) reinforcing that the media were about to hear about a revolutionary technology with a ‘Net Impact’ of ‘blockbuster’ proportions. The cinema venue - with the briefing conducted in large state-of-the-art cinema - also provided an excellent forum for three creative video presentations including one by Cisco global CEO John Chambers.

The briefing by senior Cisco executives placed CRS-1 squarely in the context of Cisco’s overall innovation strategy and provided an excellent opportunity to build a foundation on understanding for ongoing Cisco positioning with Chinese media. Cisco executives - Jia-Bin Duh , President, Cisco China, Kelly Ahuja - Vice President of Marketing, Cisco (globally), and Liu Yongchun - Technology Director of Cisco China - briefed the media on CRS-1 and its significance for the future of networking, the Cisco innovations that underpin it and the opportunities it represents for service providers globally and in China.

The participating media were very much engaged by the Brief Journey Through the History of Network Innovation and Transformation, describing it as both ‘thought provoking’ and innovative. Media contacts said it showed that Cisco was prepared to go to considerable extra effort to make media outreach activities interesting and relevant - in contrast to formulaic product launches many media begrudgingly attend. The media were particularly impressed with the research that had gone into the historical narratives. A number requested copies of the scripts for ongoing reference and story development. Cisco continues to receive positive feedback from reporters on this activity. Cisco has repeatedly praised B-M both for its creativity in conceiving the idea and for flawless execution.

B-M and Cisco were able to secure 58 leading business/ trade/ general media to attend the briefings despite the fact that many had already digested the news of CRS-1. The positioning of the broader relevance was a critical factor in securing this attendance.

There have been approximately 140 media reports post-event from such leading media as eWeek, Communications Weekly, Beijing Daily, Communications World, China Daily, etc. These articles introduced CRS-1 from various perspectives, and delivered a range of Cisco messages in relation to CRS-1 and Cisco’s innovation strategy.

Cisco reports that the media coverage has generated significant awareness among key stakeholders including customers, partners and government. A number of China’s largest telecommunications operators and government organizations are trialing the technology (this represents significant early success given the massive scale and long-term implications of the technology).

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