In April 1999, Benjamin Group/BSMG Worldwide (BG/BSMG) began representing Mentor Graphics Corp. (Nasdaq: MENT), a leader in Electronic Design Automation (EDA) software used by engineers to design semiconductors and systems. Despite being one of the first and largest EDA companies in the world, delayed product introductions and a perceived lack of recent technology innovation led to a steady decline in market share, resulting in a growing negative public opinion of the company. The media and customers alike turned to fledgling start-ups and new EDA mega-companies, leaving Mentor Graphics in the wake of its two largest competitors, Cadence and Synopsys.
From the outset the agency began working to overcome internal obstacles of message anarchy, a poorly communicated corporate vision and undernourished press relationships. With flagship technologies that promised to redefine the world of electronics design scheduled for introduction in 2000, BG/BSMG designed an aggressive public relations program to lay the groundwork for
for what was to become an outstanding turnaround.
The calendar year 2000 was the most successful year ever in Mentor’s history, both financially and in the eyes of the media. Mentor Graphics made significant progress in regaining market share and even more significant progress toward winning back its leadership image with the media, which had been lost several years before. The centerpiece of this perception turnaround was a yearlong campaign that began with the clear articulation of Mentor’s vision outlined early in the year at an exclusive press and analyst event. The messages delivered at this event were relentlessly reinforced throughout the year in the form of product, technology and customer announcements and every public communication.
The result was consistently positive coverage in all major trade outlets positioning Mentor Graphics as the leader or an emerging leader in multiple design areas. Most importantly, BG/BSMG won the respect of the editorial community, making Mentor Graphics’ CEO, Dr. Walden C. Rhines, one of the most sought after interviews in the EDA community.
CHALLENGES: THE NICE GUY IN THE BROWN, RUMPLED SUIT
“Mentor Graphics’ communication is 90 percent damage control, 10 percent innovation. They’ll have to turn that around to make them interesting again.” -- Anonymous, Electronic Engineering Times -- 1999
In order to judge this entry, it is important to understand that the media universe covering EDA is not large. There are ten publications that are read regularly by the target audience of engineers in the industry. Of these, five are considered top priority, and one – Electronic Engineering Times – is the definitive publication for the industry. Under these conditions, establishing good relationships with each individual editor becomes paramount. Each of the targets influences millions of dollars in sales. Once influenced, companies are not likely to change solutions for at least a year, making initial impressions critical to a sales process fraught with peril.
In 1999 BG/BSMGconducted an extensive media and analyst audit to gauge perception of Mentor Graphics. Gary Smith, the leading EDA industry analyst for Gartner’s Dataquest, used an analogy to describe Mentor Graphics’ also-ran reputation: “The nice guy in the brown rumpled suit.” Several editors commented that none of Mentor’s recent announcements were remarkable and that Mentor Graphics seemed completely disorganized. “Nothing in the past year has made me say ‘Wow’.”
The challenge for Mentor Graphics, as with a number of large corporations trying to dominate a segmented industry, was that the company had many of the problems of a Byzantine Empire. It was spread thin, lacked communication, and each individual business unit was inwardly focused on product goals, instead of looking at objectives for the company as a whole.
GETTING DRESSED FOR SUCCESS
BG/BSMG worked with Mentor Graphics executives to create a solid plan centered on a cohesive corporate message platform without sacrificing the communications goals of individual divisions. The overarching objective was to re-establish Mentor Graphics as a forceful presence within the industry. Strategies for accomplishing this were:
- Eliminate internal message anarchy
- Consolidate approach to press
- Develop close relationships with industry press and analysts
- Central to the strategy was taking every opportunity to tell a succinct corporate story that would become the framework for all subsequent communication. We recommended fully exploiting the presence of a few select industry events to begin signaling the emergence of a “new Mentor Graphics.”
EDITOR AND ANALYST OPEN HOUSE
After executing the successful inaugural event in 1999, BG/BSMG arranged the second annual two-day media and analyst event for international and domestic trade media at the Mentor Graphics San Jose campus, continuing the ongoing campaign to redefine Mentor Graphics to the media. Chairman and CEO Walden Rhines outlined Mentor’s four areas of focus for 2000 and previewed innovative products for 2000. The address was followed by overviews of these core focus areas by members of the executive staff.
Following the main address by Rhines, reporters and analysts held one-on-one meetings with executives covering their areas of interest. An overwhelming 36 attendees, U.S. and European editors representing all of the industry’s top-tier publications, as well as financial and industry analysts, participated in more than 100 individual meetings with Mentor Graphics spokespeople. Results were phenomenal. Press stories outlined Mentor’s strategy for the year and praised new products for their tight integration with existing tools. Most importantly, financial analysts in attendance applauded the clearly communicated strategy through a series of follow-up reports. After the event, Mentor’s normally rock-steady stock price rose five-points, from $13-$18 a share, in less than a month.
DAC—Design Automation Conference
Mentor Graphics was accustomed to using this industry event as an opportunity to make several announcements simultaneously. As an alternate to its previous way of approaching DAC, the agency recommended the company distribute important news several weeks prior to the show. The strategy proved to be a good one. While competitors’ announcements were bundled into show wrap-ups written weeks and months after the show, coverage of Mentor’s pre-announced news appeared in the show issues of each of the major trade publications, helping to draw attention and booth traffic to Mentor Graphics.
Editor Round Tables
Through extensive discussions regarding the media audit conducted before the agency’s tenure, and through the creation of individual plans for more than ten key divisions, the agency drew out seven major product tours, designed to bring about the “Wow” reaction not previously seen from editors. Of course BG/BSMG still introduced other products and enhancements, and editors conveyed relief to finally understand how to view announcements from Mentor Graphics. In addition to meetings regarding product-specific introductions, one top-tier editor per month was targeted to attend a round table talk with a high-level executive on the topic of the editor’s choice.
A SUCCESSFUL REPUTATION MAKEOVER
“In my opinion, Benjamin Group really helped turn around Mentor's presence in the EDA market. Mentor's former PR agency was often slow in responding to deadlines and editorial requests. That has all changed now. Mentor Graphics is also putting out more substantive press releases than any of its competitors in EDA--at least, giving the impression, that Mentor is a company on the move.” --Michael Santarini, Senior Editor, Electronic Engineering Times
In January 2001, BG/BSMG repeated the media/analyst audit, which showed significantly different results than the first. Unlike the previous year, they all remembered at least one significant announcement from Mentor Graphics in 2000 and said the timing and information received from Mentor Graphics was good.
In most industry articles or round-ups, Mentor Graphics is quoted extensively, and often editors point out the inadequacies in competitive offerings as they contrast to Mentor Graphics’.
Mike Santarini, senior editor for Electronic Engineering Times, e-mails agency management praising account executives, saying the quality of content and writing in releases has vastly improved since BG/BSMG took the reins. He gave Mentor Graphics’ CEO Wally Rhines the same unsolicited feedback in-person at an industry event.
Seven major product launches with outstanding individual results, including endorsement by Gary Smith, the Dataquest analyst who likened Mentor Graphics to “the nice guy in the brown, rumpled suit” in 1999. A prominent, five-page feature in Electronic Business magazine featuring a full-page photograph of Mentor Graphics’ CEO Wally Rhines and pull-quotes from Rhines and Gary Smith regarding the leadership position of Mentor Graphics’ products.
182 separate articles in trade press during a 12-month period, with 90 percent positive coverage.
Two high-level round tables that featured cohesive, integrated messaging from three or more divisions at once.
While the Nasdaq-100 had a one-year loss of 68.05%, Mentor Graphics had an increase of 119%, opening the year 2000 at $12.50 and closing the year at $27.43. Financial analysts have commented on the clear articulation of Mentor’s messaging in all levels of its public communication.