Launching Compaq Alpha Server GS
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Launching Compaq Alpha Server GS

Compaq’s announcement of the re-engineered AlphaServer GS Series (code-named Wildfire) had to set the stage for Compaq to strengthen its position as more than a “PC-only” company and to carve a solid position in the next-generation e-business era. More t

Paul Holmes

Compaq’s announcement of the re-engineered AlphaServer GS Series (code-named Wildfire) was among the most important announcements of 2000 for Compaq.  The new high-end AlphaServers were widely anticipated and offered major new benefits to grow Tru64 UNIX market share, attract new customers and demonstrate commitment to current customers. More importantly, the announcement had to set the stage for Compaq to strengthen its position as more than a “PC-only” company and to carve a solid position in the next-generation e-business era.  More than 300 reporters were briefed on the announcement through pre-launch and launch events.  Coverage appeared in approximately 100 print and broadcast outlets and included Compaq’s messages.

Challenge/Opportunity 

The PR team was challenged with the goal of using the AlphaServer GS Series launch to demonstrate Compaq’s viability as an e-business UNIX vendor with a clear vision for next generation e-business  – before, during, and following the launch events on May 16.  This presented several obstacles:

News about the new AlphaServer GS systems had been in the press for nearly two years, and analysts’ reports revealed detailed product specifications, capabilities, pricing, and competitive positioning.  

The AlphaServer GS Series systems needed to be elevated above the performance discussion and given a prominent place in Compaq’s most far-reaching Internet strategies.  

The launch involved a high-level of coordination due to inclusion of components from various communications disciplines and events scheduled in several cities around the world.

Planning process 

In November 1999 the AlphaServer GS Series Launch Team began planning the communications strategy. The planning between the PR/AR/IR/marketing teams focused heavily on message development to assure that the news would resonate with all key audiences.  The PR team researched existing messages in the press/analyst coverage and conducted an informal media audit to determine what type of information would be needed to generate positive coverage.  The communications objectives were identified as:

  • Position AlphaServers at the heart of the next generation infrastructure for e-businesses, and the best solution for the most demanding applications in target markets. 
  • Leverage alliances with modern and emerging ISVs and integrators to increase credibility for Compaq as a leading e-business player today and in the future.   
  • Increase confidence in the staying power of Alpha/Tru64 UNIX and OpenVMS within Compaq’s existing customer base. 
  • Use the launch to change misperceptions of Compaq as “just a PC company.” 
  • Leverage Compaq Storage and Services benefits to communicate a stronger competitive and more comprehensive proposition for Compaq and the AlphaServer GS Series.

Strategic Approach

The PR plan detailed a phased approach designed to maximize media outreach opportunities and results.  The communications teams coordinated efforts to leverage each other’s announcement components.  For example, Oracle was an integral part of the announcement through on stage presence, joint marketing, a stand-alone release and joint interviews with tier one press.  Customers also participated through events, video testimonials and press references.  

Campaign Execution 

Execution of the plan involved tightly aligned PR/AR/IR/Advertising efforts across Compaq regions and related divisions, and controlled, complementary communications from participating partners, such as Oracle.  The PR team conducted the following activities:

  • Week of 3/13 - Conducted an informal media audit with nine reporters to gauge perceptions of the AlphaServer GS series and lay the groundwork for future communications.  

·        Week of 3/27 - Facilitated “Foundation Briefings” with Bill Heil, VP and GM, Business Critical Server Group, and 12 key beat reporters to address questions and dispel misperceptions.

·        4/10 - Leveraged Compaq’s “High Availability” announcement to generate momentum and create anticipation for Wildfire by weaving messages into communications. 

  • 4/26 - Pre-briefed long-lead, technical press under NDA at Benchmarking Center events to provide in-depth technical understanding and encourage positive stories, and analysts for third-party support. 
  • 4/17 – 5/16 - Developed proactive pitches on AlphaServer GS Series solutions and business angles to generate a consistent stream of news leading up to (and day of) the launch. 
  • 5/16 - Aside from a formal venue to announce the AlphaServer GS Series, launch day was intended to reposition Compaq as an Internet infrastructure company.  The event took place in New York with a satellite link to an event in London, and via simultaneous webcast.  Worldwide attendees heard senior executives outline Compaq’s vision and formally announce the much-anticipated servers.  Compaq senior executives also delivered key messages via one-on-one press interviews.  

Results 

Although the pre-launch activities were designed to change perceptions rather than generate a large amount of coverage, more than twenty articles about or including the AlphaServer GS Series helped lay the foundation for positive at-launch coverage.   

  • Twelve reporters were briefed as part of the foundation briefings, resulting in two articles. 
  • Briefings with reporters regarding the April High Availability announcement generated three articles that included references to the coming AlphaServer GS series. 
  • Fifteen industry analysts from eight firms attended the Benchmarking Center event, achieving the goal of creating a group of analysts with positive perceptions and uniformly high levels of understanding about the AlphaServer GS Series prior to the launch.   
  • The proactive pitches were challenging due to the competitive nature of the announcement.  Concerns from product teams prevented the disclosure of several components prior to the official launch.  We were able to place stories in the Wall Street Journal and Marketing Computers, which ran after the event. 
  • Twelve anticipatory articles were published the day before the official announcement.

Between the main press events in New York City and London, more than 200 reporters from 28 countries attended the launch, with another 100 reporters dialing in to the teleconference.  Ninety-seven interviews were coordinated for Compaq executives, including group interviews with foreign press.  During and immediately following the launch, close to 100 articles were generated.  

Five industry analysts attended the NYC event and participated in press interviews, which resulted in positive analyst statements in press articles.  Six analyst reports supporting the AlphaServer GS Series were published during the month of May.

Five industry analysts attended the NYC event and participated in press interviews, which resulted in positive analyst statements in press articles.  Six analyst reports supporting the AlphaServer GS Series were published during the month of May.

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