Diebold is best known for manufacturing and implementing ATM networks and security systems worldwide. As the ATM market became saturated in the United States, Diebold management recognized the need to expand into additional global markets and product lines.
In 2001, Diebold entered the high-profile electronic voting machine market in the United States. It was a natural fit for Diebold, given the company’s experience with its Brazilian subsidiary, which, in 2000, manufactured and installed more than 360,000 direct recording electronic voting terminals throughout Brazil. In addition, natural synergies exist between ATM and voting machine technology. In 2002, as the U.S. banking industry suffered, Diebold placed greater hopes on the electronic voting machine market to keep its financial outlook stable.
Dix & Eaton’s mission was twofold: To promote an image among the financial community that Diebold is a dynamic company poised to take the fullest advantage of any and all market opportunities; and to help position its electronic voting machine division to elections officials nationwide as the leader in this emerging industry and, therefore, to the financial community as a driver for significant profits going forward.
After the 2000 presidential election, the electronic voting machine market emerged overnight from relative obscurity to a multi-billion-dollar business. No dominant player existed in this market, yet all promised solutions that would “change the way America votes.” The media attention to the industry was intense, but also skeptical. The mainstream media, therefore, would be the most effective means of reaching the broader audiences with messages, but also the means with the greatest risk – particularly on Election Day 2002.
Information available via research was limited because of the recent emergence of the industry. Dix & Eaton, with its partners inside Diebold, gathered what background was available on competing systems and the companies that made them. Strengths and weaknesses of each system were compared – ease of use, usability for disabled voters, number of languages, etc. In addition, the companies’ abilities to deliver on their promises were looked at (i.e., who had the technological expertise and the production capacity to deliver large numbers of machines in short order).
The research showed that none of the large players in the industry had broad name recognition or significant production capacity. Media coverage of election issues was monitored to help identify target reporters and trends that could be used when pitching Diebold.
Research, determined that Diebold could differentiate itself from the competition by emphasizing its strong reputation in securing currency through its ATM business and safeguarding property through its security business. (Key message: “In a democracy, votes are precious and must be safeguarded like our material treasures.”)
The company also need to stress the similarity in technology between ATMs and voting machines (with Diebold being the only ATM maker in the elections industry, this comparison gives the company the edge in technological expertise) and its decisive production capacity advantage over the competition. (All states are looking for equipment now, and only Diebold has existing plants – some currently idle – that could be converted easily from ATM production to voting machine production.)
Key reporters/editors/producers who covered election issues at influential media outlets and financial writers who desperately were seeking positive business stories in light of the woeful economy were identified. The choice was made to focus intently on those top-tier outlets, including Associated Press, CNNfn and CNBC, and allow our messages to cascade to the lower tiers.
Initial contact with these journalists began in mid-summer, a couple of months prior to critical primaries in Florida and Georgia. Reporters were provided background information regarding the company and the equipment, expert resources, case studies in counties where electronic elections already had been held, and third-party endorsers.
One line that was repeatedly used with these journalists was that the voting equipment was “as easy to use as an ATM,” a phrase that by itself clearly positioned Diebold as the leader in this market in the eyes of potential customers and the financial community.
Media contacts reached their peak during the week prior to the November election. On Election Day, Diebold executives were made available to the media – several, in fact, were stationed that day at key polling places – and a steady flow of information was coming from the various polling sites to demonstrate the efficiency of the electronic system.
Diebold received significant coverage in major media outlets leading up to and on Election Day, including multiple live reports on CNN, CNNfn and CNBC. Other major outlets included Associated Press, Forbes, FoxNews.com, Newsweek International, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Daily News, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and San Jose Mercury News. Perhaps most interesting, several of the broadcast journalists reported that the equipment was “as easy to use as ATMs” – even when the reporters were standing in front of a competitor’s machine. Certainly, this comparison, even when talking about a competitor’s machine, enhances Diebold brand recognition.
Among the financial press, Diebold was regarded as one of the few positive stock stories of 2002, and stories in outlets such as Barron’s and “Forbes on Fox” cited the company’s election equipment as a reason for that success. In fact, the media coverage even positively impacted analyst coverage of Diebold. For the year, the stock was actually up – a true rarity in the manufacturing industry in 2002.