Taking Windows Media Mainstream
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
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Taking Windows Media Mainstream

In fall 2000, MP3 was to digital media formats what Kleenex is to facial tissue. Press and consumers were paying little attention to alternative, higher quality formats like Windows Media Audio and Video.

Paul Holmes

In fall 2000, MP3 was to digital media formats what Kleenex is to facial tissue. Press and consumers were paying little attention to alternative, higher quality formats like Windows Media Audio and Video.

Microsoft looked to Weber Shandwick to generate coverage that positioned the company as the Kleenex of digital media formats. Although trade media covered streaming media industry developments, mainstream consumer outlets largely ignored the segment. And business and technology media typically depicted RealNetworks, archrival to Microsoft’s Windows Digital Media Division (DMD), as the industry’s dominant player. RealNetworks could point to a 5-year head start over Microsoft in streaming technology, an 85 percent share of streamed Web audio content in the RealAudio format, ties to top recording artists, and an outspoken CEO, Rob Glaser, who had been identified as the industry’s technology thought leader.

In July 2000, Microsoft introduced the first “all-in-one” digital media player to combine digital media jukebox and streaming capabilities. In the fall of 2000, it was poised to unveil a new compression/decompression (codec) technology – Windows Media Audio and Video 8 – that would deliver the industry’s highest-quality digital audio and video in files half the size of MP3 or RealAudio, with built-in security to protect ownership rights as well. Though this technology would leapfrog what the competition provided, MP3 was still the defacto standard for digital music, and RealNetworks maintained an aura of leadership in the streaming industry and awareness among consumers as the software of choice for Internet audio and video.

Objectives

Despite the very technical nature of codec technology – which was not considered newsworthy by consumer or entertainment media – Weber Shandwick recommended Microsoft expand its goals to introduce Windows Media Audio and Video 8 to mainstream consumer audiences. Weber Shandwick needed to generate Windows Media Audio and Video 8 beta and final launch coverage in more than 50 media outlets – including not only business and technology media, but also entertainment trade, mainstream consumer, and broadcast outlets. In addition to this specific coverage goal for the launch of the codec technology, Weber Shandwick committed to generating ongoing coverage of Windows Media Audio and Video 8 following the launch across all media categories.

Audience Analysis and Research

Weber Shandwick recommended Microsoft pursue three media segments: business/technology trade outlets, entertainment trade publications and mainstream consumer lifestyle and entertainment publications. Weber Shandwick reasoned that only business/technology media such as CNET and PC World would be intrinsically interested in technology underlying Microsoft’s digital media offerings. Entertainment trade publications such as Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter needed to be pitched on how Microsoft’s technology supported the business of entertainment. And mainstream lifestyle and entertainment print and broadcast outlets such as USA Today, Rolling Stone and “Access Hollywood” needed to hear about the popular content that Microsoft’s codec technology would make available to consumers over the Internet. This three-pronged approach would take Windows Media one step closer to Kleenex status in the streaming media industry.

Weber Shandwick’s Research & Media Intelligence Team conducted media coverage analyses that revealed a general lack of awareness about streaming media content among mainstream consumer lifestyle and entertainment media. The team also found that, when these media did cover streaming media, they were more likely to cover the content associated with it, rather than the technology platform behind it. Weber Shandwick’s DMD account team had established ongoing contact with consumer lifestyle and entertainment reporters. These reporters expressed little interest in Microsoft’s new codecs, but were eager to tell readers and viewers about compelling streaming media content and celebrities’ use of the technology. Past product launches showed Weber Shandwick that reporters are more likely to cover complicated technology when in-person demos clearly portray the consumer benefits associated with it.

Planning/Strategy

Weber Shandwick recommended several strategies for achieving DMD objectives, including:
· Broaden media outreach by customizing the technology message for broadcast and mass media targets, and entertainment-industry trade publications;
· Position Microsoft executives as industry visionaries who can convey the relevance of Windows Media codecs while providing commentary to reporters on digital media industry developments;
· Demo the Windows Media Audio and Video 8 beta at “Streaming Media West” in San Jose, Calif., and establish a high-profile DMD presence at the December 2000 incarnation of the annual trade show;
· Create a dedicated reviews team to drive positive reviews of products such as Windows Media Audio and Video 8 and Windows Media Player;
· Consistently include Windows Media Audio and Video 8 benefits messages across all DMD media outreach.

Execution/Tactics

Weber Shandwick employed the following tactics to generate positive public relations results for DMD:

Broader Message and Media Outreach
Weber Shandwick pitched and secured a March 28, 2001, USA Today story about Windows Media Audio and Video 8, in part by positioning the story around how the technology helps consumers view Web-based video and film content.

Weber Shandwick tapped relationships to encourage recording artists represented by sister entertainment agency Rogers & Cowan – including Paul McCartney and Faith Hill – to encode their music in Windows Media Format, and then promoted this content among entertainment trade and consumer media. The Paul McCartney announcement alone resulted in 9 print stories in publications like Rolling Stone, Newsday, Billboard, Los Angeles Times and The Hollywood Reporter; and two segments on “Access Hollywood” and “Entertainment Tonight.”

Weber Shandwick produced a video news release about Windows Media Audio and Video 8 to secure 19 DMD placements, including top national cable networks, such as CNNfn and CNBC, with a total audience of 43,195,384.

Position Microsoft Executives as Industry Thought Leaders
In fall 2000 Weber Shandwick pitched and secured a Rolling Stone profile of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer that included a discussion of Microsoft technology and streaming media initiatives.
Weber Shandwick arranged for Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to deliver the event keynote, accompanied by DMD vice president Will Poole, who demonstrated Windows Media Audio and Video 8 during the speech.

Weber Shandwick, working with Rogers & Cowen, secured an interview with DMD vice president Will Poole for a Dec. 24, 2000, “Access Hollywood” television segment about digital media entertainment. Access Hollywood is the most widely syndicated entertainment news program in the U.S. The segment generated an estimated 3 million impressions.

Weber Shandwick pitched and secured Q&As with and profiles of DMD vice president Will Poole in leading entertainment publications such as The Hollywood Reporter, Daily Variety and Billboard. In each interview, Poole highlighted the benefits of Windows Media Audio and Video 8.

Weber Shandwick pitched and secured a Will Poole interview with NPR technology correspondent, John McChesney, during which Poole demonstrated on-air the quality of Windows Media Audio and Video 8.

Highlight Windows Media Features That Would Resonate with Entertainment Industry, Consumers and Tech Reviewers (built in copyright protection, more music in half the file size)
Use the Napster controversy as a forum for discussing how the Windows Media codec includes built-in security to help recording artists and film makers control who profits when their work is available as digital media content.

Encourage tech reviewers to focus on narrow digital media issues such as codec audio/video quality and file size.

Tout the messages of “better quality than MP3 at half the file size” and “built in security with Windows Media DRM” in every DMD press release or media interview.

Results

News, reviews and broadcast coverage from announcements of the beta and final launch of Windows Media Audio and Video 8 appeared in 78 outlets, exceeding the goal of 50.  After the final launch of the codecs in late March 2001, Weber Shandwick generated more than 70 stories for Windows Media Audio and Video 8 to continue momentum in the media. The DMD account team far surpassed the client’s goals for the beta and final launch of Windows Media Audio and Video 8 with several firsts for DMD:
For the first time, “Access Hollywood” ran a feature focusing on streaming media, specifically Windows Media technology.  Having never before been featured on a program like “Access Hollywood”, this coverage resulted in a first for Microsoft as well: “From Faith Hill to Santana to the Spice Girls, the music industry along with music fans are using Microsoft Windows Media – to make downloading songs from the Internet easier than ever.” – Access Hollywood, 12/24/00

Will Poole is now positioned as the number one influencer in streaming media, according to the September 2001 issue of Streaming Magazine. The DMD account team secured profiles, cover stories and an appearance in the Streaming Media West keynote at to raise his industry profile, and to convey the Windows Media Audio and Video 8 messages: “Will Poole is responsible for everything related to video and audio within the Windows platform as well as taking that technology to portable devices and other applications.” - Chris Marlowe, The Hollywood Reporter, 1/23/01

Weber Shandwick secured positive coverage about Windows Media Audio and Video 8 across a wide spectrum of the above-mentioned business and technology trade outlets, entertainment-industry trade publications and mainstream consumer print and broadcast targets, including National Public Radio. The agency’s efforts generated 31 Windows Media Audio and Video 8 stories at “Streaming Media West,” and 16 more stories when the product launched five months later, 12 codec reviews and 19 broadcast hits.
Weber Shandwick’s efforts persuaded key media influencers that digital media far transcends the MP3 format and offers consumers tangible benefits. With coverage in outlets such as USA Today and The Hollywood Reporter, Weber Shandwick was able to increase consumer awareness of Windows Media Audio and Video 8, effectively elevating Microsoft’s DMD to industry-leader status: “Microsoft today unveils technology that it claims lets you see TV-quality motion pictures on the Net.” – Jefferson Graham, USA Today, 3/28/01

The reviews program aided in generating a 77percent overall win rate for Windows Media Audio and Video 8 reviews. The team secured 12 reviews of Windows Media Audio and Video 8 from the beta to the final launch of the codecs. This was a drastic improvement as there were no reviews of Windows Media Audio and Video 7.

By September 2001, Weber Shandwick’s efforts had helped persuade longtime Microsoft skeptics in technology trade media, such as CNET’s Evan Hansen, about the superiority of the Windows Media Audio and Video 8 codec: “We’re hearing in the industry that Windows Media Video 8 has pretty much set the standard for digital video quality.” – Evan Hansen, CNET, 9/25/01

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