AirFiber is a manufacturer of wireless optical networking equipment located in San Diego’s technology sector. After operating in stealth mode for two years, the company was prepared to publicly emerge in 2000 and unveil its wireless optical networking technology. The company’s product was an evolution of free space optics, a technology characterized by limited success and a negative press profile in previous years.
Porter Novelli Convergence Group (PNCG) had three main goals to accomplish as part of the successful launch of AirFiber:
- position AirFiber as a leading equipment manufacturer driving the wireless optical networking industry;
- generate significant national awareness of the company; and
- educate the industry about wireless optical networking technology.
OBSTACLES AND COMPETITORS
PNCG faced a number of challenges in successfully launching this company including:
- defining the new “wireless optics” market space;
- educating media, industry analysts and the entire industry about the category;
- communicating AirFiber’s highly technical messaging and product offering in relatively simple terms; and
- fighting misconceptions about free space optical networking, such as the notion that free space optical networking does not perform in foggy climates.
PNCG viewed a number of companies as indirect competitors, including those with differing technologies, such as point-to-point optical communications (AirOptics/Jolt, AstroTerra), LMDS (Nortel, Lucent), copper and DSL. At the time PNCG began communications efforts on behalf of AirFiber, there was no real threat of a direct competitor making a splash and gaining the industry attention before the planned launch date in April.
THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE
Unknown to the AirFiber team, another company was lurking behind the scenes in the wireless optical networking industry. TeraBeam, a Seattle-based company offering a similar technology, also had plans to emerge as the industry leader. Two weeks prior to the AirFiber company launch, AT&T’s CEO, Daniel Hesse resigned, just as AT&T was preparing what may be the biggest IPO in recent history, to join TeraBeam as chief executive officer - leaving behind stock options estimated to be worth approximately $20 million. The addition of Hesse to TeraBeam’s staff catapulted the previously unknown company directly into the media spotlight.
As a result, PNCG’s communications efforts surrounding AirFiber’s April launch took on a new significance (and a sense of urgency) as TeraBeam, partnering with Lucent Technologies, unveiled its technology - with similar messaging to AirFiber’s - and strong endorsement by industry pundit George Gilder, president of the Gilder Group.
PNCG used a proprietary methodology to gain an understanding of the client’s market position and objectives, collaborated with the client to develop key messages and positioning and developed and presented a formal public relations plan to AirFiber - the foundation of the launch campaign.
PNCG conducted primary research and reviewed secondary research (analyst reports) prior to developing a launch plan for AirFiber. The agency researched the telecommunications marketplace; other telecommunications and technology start-up company launches and conducted an extensive competitive analysis. PNCG identified multiple targets for AirFiber’s launch efforts: telecommunications and business media, industry analysts, U.S. competitive and incumbent local exchange carriers (CLECs and ILECs) and market experts.
To accomplish the objectives that PNCG had identified, the agency chose to employ specific strategies including:
- developing relationships between AirFiber executives and key media, analysts and influencers;
- leveraging speaking opportunities at tradeshows and conferences to position AirFiber executives as industry experts;
- creating clear concise press materials to emphasize AirFiber’s key messages; and
- demonstrating AirFiber’s technology successfully during foggy weather conditions.
PNCG recommended that AirFiber demonstrate the capabilities of the company’s equipment in San Francisco, a city that is well known for its adverse weather, a limiting factor in previous incarnations of the technology. In the proposed demonstration, the units would be placed atop buildings and a live demonstration would occur as attendees watched. The foundation of the launch strategy was to leverage a speaking opportunity by the company’s CEO at Next Generation Network (NGN) Ventures conference in San Francisco and follow it with an equipment demonstration and launch celebration.
January through April 2000, PNCG implemented a pre-launch campaign to capture the interest of targeted media. AirFiber and PNCG toured the West Coast and East Coast during the week of March 21, 2000, meeting with key media and analysts. A week prior to the April 24 company announcement, PNCG conducted an additional media and analyst tour with company executives to forge relationships that would be key to the launch and capture the interest of additional targeted media outlets. As a result of both tours, PNCG was able to position AirFiber as an industry leader and build interest in the company among key players prior to the launch.
The actual launch event was held on April 24 at the Next Generation Network Ventures conference in Burlingame, California. Jim Dunn, AirFiber’s CEO, was slated to speak during the afternoon session of the conference. The launch event was scheduled directly after Dunn’s speaking engagement to leverage the captive audience. The launch was a huge success with an impressive list of attendees including potential customers, partners, media and analysts.
MEASUREMENT OF SUCCESS
As an overall result of PNCG’s efforts, the agency was able to accomplish its goals for the launch of AirFiber.
- AirFiber garnered the interest of many top-level media and analysts in the optical networking industry.
- PNCG secured more than 80 press and analyst briefings with individuals covering the optical networking and new technology arenas.
- PNCG generated more than 245 AirFiber placements including features, articles and mentions in such publications as Forbes, Fortune, Los Angeles Times and America’s Network.
- As a key result of PNCG’s recommendations and strategic implementation of the communications program, AirFiber executives have achieved recognition as industry experts.
- AirFiber’s CEO, Jim Dunn, has subsequently been invited to speak at a number of high profile industry tradeshows, including Networld + Interop 2000 in Atlanta and COMDEX 2000 in Las Vegas.
Results of a recent media and analyst audit show that awareness of wireless optics and AirFiber have greatly increased. Analyst firms including CIR and Dataquest have shown an interest in wireless optical networking and have recently published reports on the technology. Despite the arrival of TeraBeam on the scene (and its compelling executive story), AirFiber is currently seen as a leader in the industry, with various industry experts naming AirFiber as the top player in wireless optics.