The StarCore SC140 DSP Core Gets a Baby Brother
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The StarCore SC140 DSP Core Gets a Baby Brother

The challenge was clear: promote the use of the StarCore SC110 DSP core to an engineering audience that, unless convinced otherwise, will stick with the incumbent TI every time.

Paul Holmes

Digital signal processors (DSPs) are not widely known to the public as vital to society, but the average person in North America interacts with a DSP-enabled device every ten minutes, according to Global Information, Inc.  DSPs are intelligent semiconductors that process digital signals in devices ranging from cell phones to washing machines.  DSP cores are the “brains” that all DSP semiconductors are based on in order to run these intelligent devices.  StarCore, a joint technology design initiative between Motorola and Agere Systems (formerly Lucent Technologies Microelectronics Group) was formed in 1998 to develop next-generation DSP core technology, and quickly built up a healthy head of steam.  StarCore released its first DSP core, the SC140, in December 1999.  Soon after, StarCore decided to wow the electronic engineering (EE) world with the release of its second DSP core, the SC110.  The only issue was the new core had the exact same architecture as the first, but with scaled down, or more limited, performance and capabilities - not to mention a more narrow scope of target DSP applications.  StarCore had astounded the DSP world with the capabilities and performance of the first core, the SC140, and now they were taking a step back?  The SC110 made smart business sense because of the potential market for low-end DSPs for use in low-cost, low-power consumer and communications products, but it doesn’t exactly shock the EE world with a compelling story.  BSMG was charged with taking the little brother of a big story to the media and positioning it as DSP gold.
 
AND BABY MAKES TWO
 
StarCore designs the DSP cores to be integrated into larger semiconductors for communications infrastructure equipment and end-user devices like the ubiquitous cell phone.  The cell phone, along with Internet appliances, DSL modems and anti-lock brakes in automobiles, are the reason StarCore released a lower power and lower cost DSP core, the SC110.  One major challenge to StarCore, Motorola and Agere Systems on the business side and to BSMG on the media side, is Texas Instruments (TI).  TI has long dominated the DSP market, placing their DSPs in almost 75% of all cell phones.  TI’s lead in market share was by far the biggest obstacle to introducing the media and analyst community to a new DSP core aimed at communications products.  The challenge was clear: promote the use of the StarCore SC110 DSP core to an engineering audience that, unless convinced otherwise, will stick with the incumbent TI every time.
 
Besides the daunting task of competing with the dominant industry standard, other hurdles emerged:
  • The SC110 uses the same architecture as the SC140 and has the same benefits, but enjoys fewer capabilities.  This was not a flashy story.
  • StarCore was only targeting trade media.  No Wall Street Journal pitching allowed.
  • StarCore cannot, in any way, comment on the actions or possible future products of its alliance partners, Motorola and Agere Systems.  This was not a product story, but a technology story.
  • StarCore is not a company, it is an alliance.  No stock ticker symbol here.
  • StarCore wanted international coverage on a national budget.  BSMG therefore had to coordinate the efforts of PR representatives from Motorola and Agere (who don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye) throughout Europe and Asia Pacific. 
 
Despite the many challenges, BSMG found a silver lining.  As an alliance, StarCore could not talk about products, but they could talk about the “idea” of what the SC110 core could mean to third-generation (3G) communications devices and the industry in the years to come.  Agere and Motorola have the luxury of addressing products that will go into 3G devices and communications equipment, while StarCore has to focus on the DSP core technology itself.  StarCore’s messages must center on the DSP core of a larger semiconductor that will eventually be the “brains” inside next-generation communications devices.  BSMG identified an angle to sell this “idea” to vertical trade media reporters covering wireless, convergence or Internet appliance arenas.  If BSMG could convince those media of the implications of the SC110 down the road, StarCore had a fighting chance for solid coverage in vertical market media.  This was an opportunity, but a definite challenge: Could StarCore, a designer of DSP core technology, secure coverage with competing stories such as the latest cell phone LCD screen or the smallest two-way messenger?
 

SLAYING THE GIANT
 
As was the goal of the SC140 announcement in 1999, the SC110 DSP core program had a clear objective: overcome the industry power of TI to gain analyst support and positive trade media coverage for StarCore.  Positive StarCore trade media coverage furthers the initiatives of Motorola and Agere by touting the advantages of a product or a system based on a StarCore DSP core.  No company or alliance can gain media support in this industry without the support of highly technical industry analysts trained to expose weaknesses.  Without the analysts’ endorsement, the DSP core would fall short on credibility with electronic engineering publications and wireless and convergence publications.  Another objective of BSMG’s plan for StarCore was coordinating a worldwide PR effort between BSMG and Motorola and Agere contacts to generate SC110 coverage throughout Europe and Asia Pacific.  The main target audiences of the StarCore SC110 PR program were industry analysts, Tier 1 and Tier 2 EE trade publications and online media, vertical trade media and foreign trade publications.
 
STRATEGY: THINK LIKE AN ENGINEER
 
BSMG chose a carefully planned strategy in order to brief analysts, monthly publications and weekly publications at the optimal times.  BSMG started by hitting the analysts two months in advance, briefing monthlies a full month in advance, and briefing weekly and foreign publications one week before the SC110 announcement.  This way, the analysts could be convinced of the SC110’s validity and help build momentum going into briefings with journalists.  BSMG wanted to secure analyst quotes and support prior to approaching the media because most EE media rely upon industry analysts to accurately assess new technologies.  This meticulous timeline of events for analyst and media briefings would not only prepare analysts for reporter inquiries, but also allow monthly and weekly publication reporters ample time to meet deadlines and produce stories around the StarCore SC110.
 

EXECUTION: WALK LIKE AN ENGINEER
 
Analysts – BSMG planned and organized an analyst event that hosted the top five industry analysts covering the DSP space.  The analysts were brought together for a two-day event centered around the 2000 Major League Baseball All Star Game in Atlanta.  In addition to a sky box seat to the big game, the analysts were treated to full briefings from StarCore on the SC110 and all other activities as well as presentations by Motorola and Agere representatives.  Key analysts that were unable to attend were briefed over the phone.
 
Monthlies – BSMG planned and executed a monthlies media tour that balanced face-to-face briefings and phone briefings with key editors and publications.  Twelve editors from EE and vertical trade publications were briefed by StarCore spokespeople during the media tour through New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire and California.  Most of the editors were pleasantly surprised by the timeliness of the SC110 briefings, which were early enough to accommodate the deadlines of monthly publications.
 
Weeklies and International Publications – BSMG and StarCore embarked on a whirlwind weeklies media tour the week before the announcement that included three spokespeople, three US time zones and briefings with nine weekly publications.  Two of the spokespeople went on to represent StarCore in Europe and Asia Pacific during media tours coordinated by BSMG.  StarCore held a series of successful press conferences overseas in markets that are key to both Motorola and Agere Systems.  BSMG not only coordinated the planning of the foreign effort, but supplied the press materials for all the press conferences in five cities.
 
BSMG continued the media relations efforts in the US the week before the announcement.  BSMG sent the SC110 press materials to all editorial contacts at key publications not briefed during the scheduled media tours.  An extensive follow-up effort then ensued to answer questions and set up additional briefings.
 
YOU CAN’T SPELL “MEDIA PLACEMENTS WITHOUT DSP
 
Despite the many challenges, the StarCore SC110 DSP core announcement was a success and more importantly, a compelling story.  BSMG made the media understand why a less powerful, lower performing and overall less flashy DSP core than its predecessor, was important to readers interested in the next generation of communications.  At home and abroad, BSMG surpassed StarCore’s expectations by successfully selling the SC110 story to analysts and media alike.  The little brother of a big story had found a way to step out from behind the shadow of the SC140 and into media prominence of its own.  The StarCore SC110 PR program goals and results to date include:
 
Goals/Results:
Coverage in 20 EE industry trade pubs/Coverage in 24 EE industry trade pubs
Coverage in all Tier 1 trade pubs. (5 pubs.)/Coverage in all Tier 1 trade pubs. (6 articles)
Coverage in 7 vertical trade or business pubs./Coverage in 7 vertical trade or business pubs.
Key messages in 65% of published stories/ Key messages in 81% of published stories
Secure 8 analyst quotes for press materials/ Secured 8 analyst quotes for press materials
Secure 13 placements in Europe/ Secured 11 placements in Europe
Secure 13 placements in Asia Pacific / Secured 42 placements in Asia Pacific
 
  “The StarCore DSP, jointly developed by Motorola Inc.'s Semiconductor Products Sector and Lucent Technologies' Microelectronics Group [Agere Systems], has begun shipping in volume and will likely have an impact on the handset market as early as midyear,” said Will Strauss in the January 1, 2001 issue of EBN.  Mr. Strauss is president of Forward Concepts and is considered to be the most influential industry analyst covering the DSP market.

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