From IPO to Crisis Management in One Day
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Holmes Report
CEO From IPO to Crisis Management in One Day

Paul Holmes retained Hill and Knowlton to support its February 2000 IPO.  While primary activities included supporting the company’s road show and arranging for a “Day of” media tour upon the IPO’s completion, our communications program quickly switched to crisis communications support when, on the day of’s IPO debut, the company was subject to a coordinated “denial of service” attack that disabled its Web site.  H&K was able to effectively leverage the previously arranged media interview to not only discuss the company’s successful IPO, but also position’s CEO as an available and accessible industry spokesperson in light of the numerous “hacker” attacks that were affecting multiple marquee Internet players, including Yahoo! and eBay, among others.


Halfway through’s IPO day, the company’s site was hit with a “denial of service” attack that essentially closed down’s site to customers for approximately three hours.  This “denial of service” attack on came on the heels of other industry players, such as Yahoo!, E*TRADE, eBay and, experiencing the same coordinated attack in previous days and hours.  The Hill and Knowlton team immediately moved into crisis mode and was able to leverage and expand the existing media tour.’s CEO was positioned as an industry spokesperson for this hacker crisis with national media outlets.  As a result he was re-routed to three national news broadcasts to speak about the problem, as well as’s IPO.


In the weeks leading up to’s IPO, Hill and Knowlton conducted extensive research on the client’s public peers, including, eBay, Priceline and Travelocity.  The research audit involved identifying each peer’s institutional holders, media coverage to-date and analyst coverage to determine how measured-up against various industry metrics and how it would be valued as a public entity.  In addition, H&K continued to monitor the media for industry news that would be relevant to management while on their road show and media tour.


We consistently communicated with’s management team while they were on the road, which enabled us to gauge investor sentiment toward the story and effectively develop a communications strategy for media outreach.


  • Developing and communicating a message that highlighted the viability and sustainability of’s business model.
  • Managing negative perceptions about associated with the denial of service attack.
  • Positioning’s CEO as an industry spokesperson during the “hacker attack” crisis, which was prevailing that week.


Shortly following the research phase, we worked with the client and its bankers to develop effective messages and positioning for the road show that highlighted the strength of the company’s virtual operating model and its competitive position, particularly in regards to  The positioning activity was an articulation of H&K research and formed the basis for crafting the client’s investment story. To ensure the effective delivery of compelling messages, we conducted a media training session and developed media messages and financially oriented Q&As to prepare management to communicate effectively with the business and financial media.


  • Effectively communicate the investment appeals of a controversial, but strong business model.
  • Develop a comprehensive and compelling message positioning for
  • Leverage the business and financial media to disseminate those messages widely.
  • Arm management with proactive and reactive messages for the media.
  • Set-up top tier financial media interviews, including embargoed stories.

RESULTS’s IPO debut and effective crisis communications plan resulted in a share price that soared as high as $35 7/16 and closed its first day of trading at $25 1/8.  The stock closed 99% up for the day and was the only attacked company to see a price increase for the next two days.

This was accomplished through leveraging a powerful message strategy with an aggressive media outreach that not only enabled’s management to communicate the strengths of its business, but also to elevate its CEO to the ranks of industry spokesperson among such Internet leaders as Yahoo!, eBay and E*TRADE.
Hill and Knowlton secured over 40 print, broadcast and online media interviews with a blue chip roster of media outlets, including Bloomberg Business News, CNBC, CBS Market Watch and CNNfn, creating over 100 impressions. 

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