Burn, Baby, Burn: Launching Sony’s Dual RW Drives
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Burn, Baby, Burn: Launching Sony’s Dual RW Drives

DVD technology has been increasing in popularity, but its acceptance has been hampered by a lack of standards compatibility. In September 2002, Sony became the first company to launch a DVD-recordable drive that supported all four standards over which the industry had long been feuding and which were complicating the customer buying process.

Paul Holmes

DVD technology has been increasing in popularity, but its acceptance has been hampered by a lack of standards compatibility. In September 2002, Sony became the first company to launch a DVD-recordable drive that supported all four standards over which the industry had long been feuding and which were complicating the customer buying process. Rather than present this milestone as just another new product introduction, The Hoffman Agency and Sony PR team used it to gain mind share for Sony as a marketplace hero who came to the rescue of DVD users.
Being first is usually a positive, but market skepticism and competitive bashing can also haunt a technology, product or concept that stakes out new ground. Such was the case for Sony Electronics in September 2002, when it debuted the industry’s first DVD-recordable drive to support all four popular DVD-recording formats: DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW.
Until then, the world’s top drive manufacturers had taken sides in this conspicuous market, forming two competing consortia, one for the DVD-R/-RW formats and one for the DVD+R/+RW formats. (Sony was the only vendor to belong to both.) This market division left DVD drive buyers with a confusing array of choices and the possibility that their selection would not survive or best suit their DVD burning needs.
Sony changed all that on September 9, 2002, with the introduction of its Dual RW drives, which bridged the competing formats and broke through the industry bureaucracy to serve the needs of the customer. At Sony’s request, The Hoffman Agency took the lead on PR planning and execution of the launch in the U.S.
The Hoffman team initiated a two-pronged research effort to identify key targets and help shape messaging for the launch. The team first secured and analyzed market and trend data from third-party research tools to define larger issues that could be connected to the launch and raise its impact. The team then met with Sony’s market intelligence team to understand the launch implications of primary buying pattern research and competitive analysis conducted by Sony.
As a result of the background research and interactions with Sony, the Hoffman team recommended and received the go-ahead to pursue a target list that was broader than Sony’s original profile. The agency also identified user issues and market trends that provided Sony with a stronger messaging framework to take to the media and analyst communities.
 The agency was responsible for development of launch deliverables and devised the PR plan, press release and fact sheets, Q&A , influencer presentation and post-launch outreach plan. Due to late availability of key information, such as the product name, pricing, nature of software bundles and exact timing, the project required a high degree of planning flexibility.
 The team leveraged its research findings to develop a media list of general, business and IT trade publications that targeted consumer and business PC users, small business owners, retail outlets, original equipment manufacturers, and electronics and audio/visual outlets. Key insights from the market and trend data – including projected growth in DVD drives shipped and the impact of Microsoft’s DVD format support -- were factored into content development, especially for the all-important media pitch, which would be the key to successfully executing the plan.
With an eye on securing maximum coverage the week of the launch, the team crafted its PR plan around a series of non-disclosure briefings conducted in July and August with key press and analysts on both U.S. coasts, with phone briefings to cover other top targets. A tentative reviews program was planned, as units were expected to arrive two weeks after the launch date. In preparation for this, the team’s plan included an editorial calendar of reviews and award opportunities specific to the DVD space.
The Hoffman Agency faced a unique execution challenge given that it had to secure media and analyst interest to meet under embargo when many of the product details were not available. The team crafted a pitch that was compelling but not too revealing. It achieved success with 36 pre-brief target outlets by delivering a presentation that focused on education—why freedom of format choice was good for users and the market—and packaged the story as not just another case of impressive technical attributes but one that conveyed how users would now have more useful applications. To make sure Sony was communicating these messages as effectively as possible, speaker delivery was tightened along the way, based on influencer feedback.  
A majority of post-meeting comments highlighted the influencers’ views that the market was in sore need of such a product and that Sony deserved credit for taking the initiative. Frequent follow-ups with the target media ensured that the missing information – photos, pricing and naming—was in hand prior to publication dates.
One month after the launch, more than 80 publications and online sites had run articles, including top outlets such as the AP, Forbes, Gannett, Knight Ridder, Money, San Jose Mercury News and The New York Times. Key product messages and quotes from Sony experts were included in more than half the coverage, exceeding the team’s target. Most importantly, according to Sony’s online sales team and marketing executives, 450 pre-sales were tallied on SonyStyle.com, which was just one site selling the drives. Because Sony had not yet done any advertising for this product, Sony attributes all of these pre-sales to the PR launch program.
Some 40 requests for evaluation units were also received, with MaximumPC naming the product “Gear of the Year” in December. By the end of 2002, 130 press articles had appeared, with headlines that showcased Sony’s leadership in removing the confusion, including “Sony lets you record DVDs for any player”, “Sony takes sides in DVD war- both”, “A truce in the format war”, and “Sony offers solution to DVD standards fight.”
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