2000 was a roller coaster-year for dot-coms, b-to-b exchanges and the PR people who represented them. KVO is worthy of an award for our work with Gofish.com because we helped this company stand out in a sea of coverage (over 400 pieces of coverage for a private company with just 135 employees); we helped them achieve their business goals (attract venture capital, employees and customers); and, we did it all under budget (we contracted $25,000 per month and came in below that amount for seven of 12 months).
“Make sure the world knows who we are,” said Neal Workman, CEO and founder of Portland, Maine-based Gofish to KVO Public Relations. This was back in September of 1999, when Gofish.com had just formed out of a company called Seafax Credit Information Services. For 15 years prior, Seafax built a sterling reputation as a fair and reliable source of credit and financial information in the $350 billion global seafood industry. Seafax first introduced the fax machine to the seafood industry in the 1980s in order to send credit reports upon request. Then in the mid-90s, Seafax began sending both credit reports and industry news by e-mail. That’s when its founder, Neal Workman, got the idea to open an Internet-based bulletin board service, Gofish.com, to provide seafood buyers and sellers with neutral product pricing information and industry news. After testing the service for eight months, he decided Gofish was positioned to bring global e-commerce to this ancient, highly fragmented and dynamic market. But first, Gofish needed to raise its profile in the venture capital markets, hire key employees and attract customers. To do this, Workman hired KVO Public Relations.
What do high-tech PR people know about seafood? Not much…but we learned. We first researched the seafood industry by conducting interviews with Gofish management, board members, sales people, trade media, industry leaders and customers. We then studied the Gofish model, possible competitors and similar b-to-b exchanges in other vertical markets. We soon realized Gofish was not only paving the way for the seafood industry, but for the business-to-business world in general. They were among the first to offer an open exchange, a pipeline exchange and auctions. They were among the first to offer guaranteed payment to anyone who trades on the site. Still, there were challenges. Gofish needed to get the antiquated seafood community to not only embrace buying and selling seafood online at Gofish, but to also accept the overall concept of using the Internet to conduct business. Further, Gofish was launching at a time when many dot-coms were forming, so we faced the additional challenge of making Gofish stand out from the crowd.
KVO determined several objectives to reach through the practice of public relations:
Raise awareness of Gofish within the global seafood industry as a new tool for finding and selling product, researching industry trends and finding the latest industry news, thus attracting customers. We planned to use the trade media, trade shows and speaking opportunities to achieve this.
Help Gofish attract equity financing for the organization, as well as employees, management and partnership opportunities through favorable coverage in the business, technology and local media.
Secure endorsement of the business model from third-party research organizations by holding briefings with all major analyst firms.
Be widely recognized as the undisputed leader in the business-to-business seafood exchange industry, using all media and analysts to create this reputation.
In order to attract key media and industry observers to the Gofish story and to let them know Gofish was a leader in seafood e-commerce and in the business-to-business space, we decided that the quality of messages was of the utmost importance to us. We did not want to follow other dot-com organizations that seemed to be more interested in quantity over quality of releases. Therefore, our plan was to first refine our media lists to include relevant editors and reporters in the seafood trade press, Internet/IT publications, business-to-business/e-commerce publications, business/investor publications, Maine media and international media. Second, we chose to release only key news items such as news of Gofish’s rounds one and two of funding, important new site additions like auctions, major awards, and hiring of key positions. Third, we elected to write releases in a newsworthy manner, so reporters could easily understand the technical and logistical challenges Gofish was meeting. Last, we chose to grant interviews to nearly all media making requests, so we could keep up the “buzz” about Gofish. Additional plans included message development, media training, media and analyst tours, key trade shows and speaking opportunities.
August 1999-February 2000: After making our first site announcements in the fall of 1999, Gofish received dozens of calls from investors and potential customers. When we responded to media requests for interviews, we scheduled each interview for a teleconference call so KVO could listen to the interview. This arrangement allowed us to ensure that the Gofish spokesperson hit all of the key messages, give personal feedback to that person, decide which Gofish employee would be best on future interviews, take extensive notes to make sure Gofish was not misquoted and provide the reporter with any follow-up materials needed. During this time of responding to requests, we also refined media lists, fine-tuned key messages and held media training with senior-level executives.
March-June 2000: In an effort to further refine our messages and to gain insight into how the Gofish business model stacked up against other exchanges, we booked Gofish on a five-stop tour in March with key analysts. Also in March, Gofish attended the world’s largest seafood show, the International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS). KVO put out five releases surrounding the show regarding funding, site functionality and the show itself. We also hired a video crew to tape the “B2B @ Boston” seminar that Gofish hosted at the IBSS. We took the hour-and-a-half video and edited it down to a seven-minute piece that we made available on the Gofish Web site one day after the conference. We were able to refer reporters, analysts and others to view the video to learn how the seafood industry felt about trading online. Next, Gofish was to attend the European Seafood Exchange in Brussels in May so we created a partnership between our Pinnacle Partner Origami and client Gofish to prepare for this upcoming trade show. In March, we began managing Origami’s PR plan, and the processes for getting interviews and press coverage for the seafood show. Coordinating this relationship involved a trip to Brussels for “Gofish University”.
June-December 2000: As the coverage and reputation of Gofish continued to rise, we refined our press kit to include key endorsements. We added the following sheets to the kit: Customer Quotes, Analyst Quotes, Awards and Honors and Media Quotes. We also enhanced several methods for reporting to our client including a weekly report detailing account activities; Web site links to coverage and articles on b-to-b; a detailed monthly billing letter accompanied by a spreadsheet listing hourly costs; two hard-bound coverage folders where we kept clippings of the mounting articles; and a weekly list of coverage to Gofish investor and partner CMGI for their group coverage list. Also during this time, we secured speaking engagements and developed briefing materials for Gofish executives for events such as The Delphi Executive Summit, e-Strategies 2000 and the National Grocers Association. As the year drew to a close, we managed the SeafoodAlliance announcement. This came at a time when other dot-coms were folding or merging. How exciting for us to tell the media and analysts that not only was Gofish swimming strong, but it is now endorsed by a major global seafood coalition of 12 companies that believe in its business model!
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
The results of our overall PR campaign have been staggering:
Gofish now has 450 subscribers with 1000 users, who list $35 million worth of seafood for sale on the site daily.
Gofish received favorable business coverage and attracted $41 million in two rounds of funding, 130 employees, and nine top-level executives (seven of whom had been president of their own company before coming to Gofish). Additionally, Gofish forged business partnerships with companies like Diversified Communications (which produces the major seafood trade shows), CMGI, The CIT Group, GE Capital and SeafoodAlliance.
Gofish received third party research endorsements of its business model from major analyst firms like Jupiter Communications, Forrester Research, Patricia Seybold Group, AMR Research, IDC, The Yankee Group, Cahners-In Stat and Gartner Group.
Gofish is now widely recognized as an industry leader after receiving 192 feature articles and 220 print mentions, totaling 412 pieces of coverage for the year 2000. Gofish received the following coverage: major broadcast news stories on CNNfn, and CNN Entrepreneurs Only and was one of 15 companies world-wide chosen to be featured in an hour-long special on CNBC called “E-planet; a Cyber Day”; major daily newspapers including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Globe; national business magazines such as Forbes “Best of the Web”, Business 2.0. and Inc.; major national technical publications like The Industry Standard, Interactive Week, Computerworld and InfoWorld; and newly published e-commerce publications such as eCompany Now, eCommerce Business and BtoB,; all seafood trade publications including SeaFood Business, Grocery Headquarters and Frozen Food Age; and online news outlets such as Wired News, Office.com and Redherring.com. Other highlights include a Miami Herald feature that was carried in eleven Knight Ridder newspapers, a radio interview on Voice of America and being named to InfoWorld’s e-business 200 listing. Gofish also had numerous stories in its local media in the New England region. Additionally, Gofish received coverage in more than 30 publications in Europe thanks to our guidance of our PR partner there.
Today, the world knows who Gofish is.