Corning's New Identity
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Corning's New Identity

a 150-year history of life-changing inventions ranging from light bulbs to optical fiber and a leading position in the booming telecommunications industry, the name Corning still conjured up images of CorningWare.

Paul Holmes


When Corning Incorporated and Brodeur Worldwide teamed up in February 2000, the primary PR challenge they faced was obvious.  Despite a 150-year history of life-changing inventions ranging from light bulbs to optical fiber and a leading position in the booming telecommunications industry, the name Corning still conjured up images of CorningWare. The Corning/Brodeur team wanted Corning to remain a household name, but for people to identify the company as a technology leader instead of as a casserole dish maker. 

So how do you change the image of a company that is as indelibly etched on the minds of the public as the blue flowers are on its former cookware? Corning had recently launched a new logo and tag line ¾ Discovering Beyond Imagination ¾ to convey its tradition of creating technology breakthroughs, and a new corporate advertising campaign was planned for later in the year. While these were vital steps, the Corning/Brodeur team knew that in order to change the company’s public image, it needed to implement an aggressive media relations program targeting the major national press, who could tell the story of today’s Corning to the broadest audience.  


In the tradition of the R&D team at the heart of Corning's innovation, the Corning/Brodeur team began with its own process of discovery in the form of research that would guide the direction of the campaign.  What they discovered through media and perception analysis was that Corning faced several formidable challenges. For one, Corning’s 150-year history raised questions about whether the company could compete in the fast-paced new economy. A second discovery was that Corning was primarily covered by manufacturing reporters at important media outlets and virtually unknown to the telecom reporters who were regularly writing about its competitors. The research also revealed that the diversity of Corning’s business, which includes several successful units in addition to the dominant telecommunications business, contributed to the confusion surrounding Corning’s identity.

Recognizing that a company’s image is critical to its stock value, and unable to afford missing out on the buzz surrounding the telecom industry, the team’s PR objectives became important business objectives: (1) reposition Corning as a technology and telecommunications leader instead of a consumer products company or a manufacturing conglomerate; and (2) ensure inclusion in telecommunications industry trend stories. The team also set a goal to (3) increase feature coverage by 30%.  


The team recognized that Corning’s identity was a much richer story than merely a reinvention from a cookware company to a telecom powerhouse.  Taking its cue from the “Discovering Beyond Imagination” theme, the team emphasized Corning’s tradition of technology breakthroughs and the company’s ability to evolve to compete in the day’s hottest markets. The team also turned perceived weaknesses into strengths. Instead of downplaying the non-telecom businesses, the team pointed to them as further examples of innovation in action and noted how this additional expertise and the synergies between the businesses gave Corning an advantage over its pure-play competitors.  The pitches highlighted points such as Corning’s tremendous commitment to R&D, bold decision making, statistics on its market leadership position, and financial results. Armed with this powerful transformation story, the team aimed high and targeted technology, telecom, and general business reporters at the most influential national publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Fortune, Forbes, Business Week, and Bloomberg News.


The Corning/Brodeur team not only had to transform the image of Corning in the minds of the media; it had to transform the idea of the media in the minds of Corning’s executives. The team emphasized three key lessons: (1) for Corning to become a telecom industry leader, it couldn’t limit itself to contacting the media only when there was news; (2) Corning had to expand its idea of the media to include the influential “new economy” publications such as The Industry Standard, Red Herring, and Fast Company, which were writing regularly about the telecommunications industry and cutting-edge technology companies; and (3) Corning had to open its doors to the media.

The team invited reporters to “take a closer look” at Corning in the form of a special mailing surrounding the 1999 Annual Report, which documented the high performance of Corning’s telecommunications business and other high-tech divisions. The mailing included the report, bulleted points that highlighted Corning’s milestones of innovation, and a sample of Corning’s LEAF® fiber. The hair-thin fiber, capable of transmitting all the calls between New York and Los Angeles, was a powerful demonstration that the company wasn’t making casserole dishes anymore. The team scheduled introductory meetings between top Corning executives and influential industry reporters to provide an overview of the company and demonstrate the expertise of the Corning executives in the telecommunications industry. Reporters were also invited to tour Corning facilities and given rare first-hand experiences that would capture their attention and ignite their imaginations. Every pitch or invitation included the new logo.

The team collaborated on related branding initiatives to optimize the impact and results. For example, when Corning launched its advertising campaign in December, the media team worked closely with the advertising agency to maximize exposure through local and national media coverage and employee events. The teams also arranged for Corning to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange that week. The event generated significant coverage, many with the new logo and/or advertising artwork prominently displayed.


Corning’s image campaign was successful beyond imagination. 

Results include a 90% increase in feature coverage, including high-profile media outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, and CNBC, with the company correctly positioned as a leader in the telecom arena.  

Corning’s "transformation" was the subject of more than half a dozen major features in the national press including Fortune, USA Today, The Economist, The Industry Standard, The Boston Globe, and Bloomberg Markets

The media picked up key messages crucial to Corning’s new identity. For example, Fortune wrote: "Long dismissed by Wall Street as a convoluted conglomerate… the company has emerged as a leader in one of today’s hottest markets: telecommunications." ("The New Old Thing,” 3/20/00). USA Today wrote, "Not many companies founded before the Civil War are on the cutting edge of the technological revolution." (4/10/00)

The team raised Corning’s visibility significantly in new economy publications, evidenced by feature stories in Red Herring, Fast Company, and The Industry Standard.

Corning is also now regularly included with its competitors in telecommunications industry stories, and introduced with nomenclature such as “optical networking star” (Financial Times, 9/26/00), “fiber optic cable king” (CNBC “Squawk Box,” 1/25/01), and “optical giant” (Business Week Online, 4/11/00).  

Thanks to an aggressive image campaign, target audiences have come to the same conclusion as Adam Levy of Bloomberg Markets (12/00) ¾ “This is not your grandmother’s Corning.”
The results speak for themselves. The Corning/Brodeur team amazingly recreated Corning’s image with brilliant results. We believe this program is worthy of an award for these reasons among many others.

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