Metzger Associates has worked with Mobility Electronics for the past 14 months to conduct a public relations campaign where the goals have been 1) to re-introduce the company to the industry as a technology company and 2) to build widespread industry support for making Mobility Electronics’ connectivity technology a standard component of computers, peripherals and other hardware. To achieve these ambitious goals, Metzger Associates implemented a two-stage public relations campaign that succeeded in:
- Re-branding Mobility Electronics as a technology company
- Proving the value of the company’s new connectivity technology to key industry influencers
- Building support for Mobility Electronics’ technology to become a standard in the mobile computing industry
- Inspiring the company to go public.
This campaign is worthy of recognition by the SABRE award committee because it illustrates the power of public relations efforts not only to support a company’s business initiatives, but also to shape a company’s assessment of its own potential, to inspire a company to set lofty business goals, and then to assist in achieving those goals.
DESCRIPTION OF THE CHALLENGE OR OPPORTUNITY
The biggest challenge facing Metzger Associates in this campaign was to take a small company in a niche market that even industry experts found boring, and re-invent it as an innovative company whose technology had created an entirely new market category that spanned beyond the company’s traditional, limited market.
Before Mobility Electronics began working with Metzger Associates, was known as a small manufacturer of mechanical docking stations — custom-fitted units that laptop computers physically snap into in order to have access to a full-sized screen, full-sized keyboard, printers and other peripherals in the office. Unfortunately, mechanical docking stations were notoriously unpopular with users because they were clunky, expensive and incompatible across laptop brands and models.
Recognizing the shortcomings of traditional docking stations, Mobility Electronics invented a connectivity technology that not only solved all of these docking problems in the mobile computing world, but also had the potential to solve major connectivity problems in other areas such as telecommunications and networking. However, with Mobility Electronics’ existing reputation as merely a mechanical docking station manufacturer, it would be impossible to achieve the product sales, partnerships and industry support necessary to ensure the technology’s acceptance in markets outside the mobile computing industry.
As most high-tech public relations professionals know, it is a tremendous challenge to make a small niche company sexy, to reverse preconceptions about a company or a product category, or to pitch a “new product category” to editors and analysts whose beats are often limited in focus. It is even harder to do all three at once, which is what Metzger Associates needed to do for Mobility Electronics.
RESEARCH AND PLANNING
In preparation for an internal strategy session for the campaign, Metzger Associates conducted preliminary market research by talking to a number of key influencers and analysts in the mobile computing industry. This research provided invaluable insight into Mobility Electronics’ current reputation, its market and its product category. As a result of this research, the team learned that companies in the mobile computing industry had been making unsubstantiated claims for years about having invented technologies that would overcome the limitations of traditional mechanical docking stations, and each and every claim had turned out to be false. Editors and analysts alike were skeptical that Mobility Electronics’ claim was different than the others and said that only a working product demonstration could change their minds. These same influencers emphasized that if Mobility Electronics had invented such a technology, they would consider the company a player in the technology industry as a whole, not merely a manufacturer of docking stations.
After analyzying the research, the team established four objectives for the campaign to re-brand Mobility Electronics in the minds of its key audiences, industry influencers and analysts:
- To introduce a product to Mobility Electronics’ key audiences that would convince them of a technology that could overcome the limitations of traditional docking stations
- To emphasize Mobility Electronics’ technology as the key component of the products, in order to encourage its audiences to begin thinking of the company in a broader sense
- To brainstorm with the company’s key audiences about applications of the technology in the mobile computing industry and in a wide range of other industries
- To introduce Mobility Electronics’ key audiences to the idea of integrating the company’s technology into products manufactured by other companies
In order to achieve the objectives outlined above and effectively re-brand Mobility Electronics as a technology company, the team began a two-stage campaign targeted at industry influencers and analysts:
First, the team needed to prove to key audiences that Mobility Electronics’ products did indeed live up to the company’s claim of being the first company to overcome the limitations of traditional mechanical docking stations — the first of any other company’s products to do so.
After industry credibility was established, the team’s task was to prove that the technology utilized in these products would be invaluable when integrated into other products outside the docking industry. This step was crucial in establishing Mobility’s reputation as a technology company — shedding its previous image as a small manufacturing company.
The team realized that it was crucial to complete the first stage of the campaign before tackling the second stage. Only when Metzger Associates had conclusively shown that Mobility Electronics had overcome a major technological hurdle in the docking industry could the team prove that the technology had the power to change the mobile computing industry as a whole, as well as other industries utilizing connectivity technologies.
In November of 1999, at COMDEX, the world’s largest technology tradeshow, Metzger Associates had the ideal opportunity to execute the first strategic phase — proving to industry influencers that Mobility Electronics’ products lived up to the company’s claim. By securing meetings with over 25 top-tier journalists and analysts for Mobility Electronics’ executives at the show and writing an award-winning entry for Mobility Electronics’ technology in the prestigious “Best of COMDEX Best New Technology” category, the team successfully communicated the message of Mobility Electronics’ product and technology innovation to its key audiences. Articles written immediately following COMDEX explained Mobility Electronics’ roots in the docking industry, and how the company had made a technological and corporate breakthrough with the introduction of its award-winning technology.
Throughout the 11 months following COMDEX, the team began working with product reviewers at target industry publications to secure positive product reviews highlighting the award-winning technology that made each product possible. During conversations with each reviewer, the team reinforced that Mobility Electronics’ technology enabled the barriers to be broken in the docking industry, and emphasized the potential applications for the technology in various other industries.
Metzger Associates identified COMDEX 2000 as the venue to execute phase two of Mobility Electronics’ strategy. During the year prior to this event, the team had convinced journalists and analysts of the power of Mobility Electronics’ products and technology. At the show, Metzger Associates highlighted Mobility’s Universal Docking Solution connectivity standard, a new application of the company’s technology that proved conclusively the viability of the technology in products outside the docking industry. This announcement was met with enthusiasm from Mobility Electronics’ top-tier press and analysts, most of whom wrote or are currently writing feature articles on this new application of the company’s technology in the near future.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
Since Mobility Electronics’ initial announcement at COMDEX ’99, the company, its products and its technology have received overwhelming support and enthusiasm from editors and analysts in the mobile computing industry. This excitement has come through in numerous articles, which not only resulted in raising morale within Mobility Electronics, but also created a buzz in the industry about this “up–and-coming” company in the technology industry.
As a result of Mobility Electronics’ media coverage in industry publications, the company’s executives were approached by several OEMs interested in securing partnership agreements. Partnerships with Dell and IBM were secured as a direct result of the heightened awareness of Mobility Electronics’ leadership in the technology industry. In addition, Mobility Electronics’ sales force was able to utilize the positive media coverage generated by Metzger Associates as a proof point to close customer deals.
Inspired by Mobility’s status in the industry as a tech player, the company’s CEO, Charlie Mollo, decided to take the company public in April 2000.