At the beginning of 2001, NCR Public Relations undertook a concerted effort to raise the company’s media profile and expand Chairman and CEO Lars Nyberg’s presence as a thought leader in the technology industry. Our program included the placement of NCR feature stories in leading business publications and placement of Mr. Nyberg as a featured speaker at high-profile business conferences and events around the United States throughout 2001.
NCR has had to deal with the stigma of AT&T’s failed acquisition of the company ever since regaining its independence in 1997. That stigma has been particularly strong in articles mentioning NCR in top-tier business publications. This is due in part to the relative size and familiarity of the two companies, but also to NCR’s weak financial position during AT&T ownership and immediately following the trivestiture that also spawned Lucent Technologies. Most stories in major publications referenced NCR in the context of its poor financial performance in relation to AT&T and, particularly at the time, Lucent.
This focus was understandable when NCR was delivering poor results in the late 1990s. (For example, the company was losing approximately $2 million per day in 1997.) However, our innovative combination of data warehousing and customer relationship management technology with the company’s more traditional automated teller machine and retail point-of-sale solutions had begun to show impressive results in 2000. Meanwhile, many of the technology sector’s high-flying performers (like Lucent) had begun to report major losses. The basic challenge we faced was to change the perspective from which top-tier publications viewed NCR.
Planning & Objectives
In preparing to implement our media program to transform NCR’s public image, we examined many of the articles in top-tier publications over the last few years that mentioned NCR. Most of them referenced the company in relation to two basic story lines: AT&T’s failed takeover, and the massive losses the company incurred both during the AT&T years and immediately following trivestiture. Over time, these references had tarnished the company’s image to the point where NCR was known as a company that had seen its better days and could not adapt to the new world of e-commerce.
Our objectives were two-fold. First, we sought to obtain feature coverage of NCR in four top-tier publications including, Forbes, Fortune, Fast Company and Chief Executive magazine. Second, we targeted four high-profile public speaking opportunities for Mr. Nyberg linked to the media placement targets: the Forbes CEO Forum 2001, Fortune’s e-business “Battle Royale,” a Fast Talk forum entitled “Old v. New Economy,” and Chief Executive’s CEO2CEO. Both of these objectives directly supported the broader goal of raising and transforming public consciousness of the NCR brand.
As an additional measure, we set aggressive goals for improving rankings of NCR’s image and reputation in an annual survey of NCR customers and prospects. For the entire company, we aimed for a 5-point increase in image and reputation and targeted an even more aggressive 10-point increase for the Teradata data warehousing division.
A constellation of circumstances both internal and external to NCR precipitated the innovative strategy devised for this program. First, NCR had begun to rebound from its earlier losses and was showing signs of strength in both top- and bottom-line growth, particularly in the crucial business of data warehousing. This budding success began to draw some media interest and increased the comfort level of Mr. Nyberg and other top executives with a more aggressive media strategy.
Second, the dramatic crash of the dot-com economy in 2000 caused the media to take a more cautious and critical approach to the high-flying technology players and start-ups that had captured so much attention with their rapid climb to riches and swift descent to insolvency. While some had seen NCR as an e-commerce laggard, the company’s firm grounding in 117 years of business experience began to covey a message of staying power and consistency in an uncertain market.
Similarly, the previous comparison with AT&T and Lucent was looking better for NCR. By early 2001, NCR’s stock price had actually outperformed both companies since the trivestiture. The convergence of these elements fit perfectly with our objectives and provided a solid “hook” for journalists and event organizers.
Based on the strategy outlined above, we began to pitch story concepts to journalists at target publications in early 2001. Strong first-quarter financial performance and a significant increase in data warehousing revenue boosted our efforts and helped spark interest in our story line.
As we worked with journalists from Forbes, Fortune, Fast Company and Chief Executive magazines, we attempted to leverage Mr. Nyberg’s participation in public events into magazine articles and vice versa. That led to combined article-public event placements with all four of the target publications above.
Summary of Results
We achieved success with this program on two fundamental levels. First, we met our objectives for placement of feature stories in the four targeted publications and arranging Mr. Nyberg’s participation in a number of high-profile public fora. Our efforts led to feature coverage in Fortune, Forbes, USA Today, Fast Company and Chief Executive magazine. Mr. Nyberg also made public appearances at the targeted events those publications sponsored. In addition, Mr. Nyberg took on speaking roles at other high-profile events during the year, including the Transatlantic Business Dialogue and an event at Duke University that led to his selection for inclusion in an advertising program for Duke’s Fuqua business school.
Second, we also were able to execute our strategy to influence public perceptions of the company. The headline and subhead from an article appearing in the Forbes “Billionaires” issue summarizes the results well: “The Resurrection of NCR – The old cash register vendor has finally found a sweet spot in the computer market: helping big companies approach their customers with the intimacy of a neighborhood shop.” As the attached samples demonstrate, the media coverage and Mr. Nyberg’s public speaking opportunities highlighted NCR’s return to profitability, the company’s strategic focus on data warehousing solutions, and its unique combination of staying power and technological innovation.
As we head into a new year, the results of this program will continue to pay dividends in important ways. Not only have we begun to restore the company’s outdated image, we have returned to the consciousness of prominent journalists in the business and technology media. Mr. Nyberg is likewise carrying his thought-leadership momentum into 2002 with participation in a number of events, including a panelist role at the Davos World Economic Forum and a Forbes editorial board meeting in New York in January.