Two Horse Race
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Two Horse Race

Once an industry darling, SGI has fallen from grace going from a ten billion dollar company to a one billion dollar company. Along with the downsizing came a drastic drop in stock price and fans quickly turned to skeptics.

Paul Holmes

Once an industry darling, SGI has fallen from grace going from a ten billion dollar company to a one billion dollar company. Along with the downsizing came a drastic drop in stock price and fans quickly turned to skeptics. In the midst of a turn around, SGI is regaining its foothold and it was time to get aggressive and shift market perception.

The needed venue – the Supercomputing conference in which the momentous “Top 500” (world’s fastest supercomputers) list would be unveiled - it was up to the agency to launch a campaign to exhaust/maximize coverage opportunities leading up to and during the show.

The Access team proposed kicking off a two-horse race strategy in hopes of SGI being mentioned wherever the current industry leader IBM was – ahead of other key vendors such as HP, Sun and Cray. The racetrack - a joint announcement with NASA, a customer who recently purchased what was expected to be one of the world’s fastest supercomputers dubbed Columbia (and also one of SGI’s largest deals).

In order to be everywhere IBM was, Access sought their target beat reporters. The agency conducted an in-depth search of recent coverage for IBM and created a specific media list to support our own beat list. Getting the briefing is one thing, selling the story is another. SGI is notorious for a lackluster briefing, diving deep into the technology and steering clear of aggressive positioning.

Forcing the issue, Access developed soundbites for interviews and canned statements to send via email. It also crafted a larger outline of aggressive messaging adding a spark to the corporate tone.

The corporate objectives were to create two-horse race (IBM, SGI), maximize efforts by targeting syndicated reporters and Increase features by 25 percent per quarter (equal to 15 stories). Other objectives included: secure a minimum of 10 briefings with top-tier business publications and mainstream outlets (BusinessWeek, AP, CNET, San Francisco Chronicle, etc.), secure SGI and/or NASA (about Columbia) quotes in 50 percent of the articles and secure SGI mention in 70 percent of IBM stories

On July 27, the same day of SGI’s earnings, Access conducted aggressive outreach surrounding the deal announcement. An expanded list of media targets were exposed to the news resulting from research aforementioned. Smiling and dialing was the name of the game. Furthermore, the communications team rumored an event in October to showcase the full deployment – this set the stage for the next phase of outreach, keeping interest alive. Lap one was complete.

A two-pronged approach kicked off Phase 2. First a trend pitch was drafted showcasing the significance of the deployment, pre-briefings with SGI and NASA were offered to top reporters to secure “day of” coverage. Beyond highlighting SGI as the top for speed, the “real science” message versus a benchmark was pushed – many other vendors had built supercomputers solely to take a top position. The science position would prove most valuable in the FUD aspect of the campaign.

A mini-message session was also conducted to arm spokespeople with compelling soundbites to ensure conversion from briefing to coverage. Secondly, a full fledged media blitz was conducted to secure press attendance at the ribbon cutting event. All of this with one week until the biggest presidential election in years – it was a noisy news time to say the least. Despite the challenges, SGI was finally in the lead and a large payoff was expected. Not only did SGI beat out IBM, the company also beat out NEC, a Japanese company who had held the top position for years. The power was back with the US and SGI once again had the taste of championship.

While SGI was lapping up its glory, IBM was pre-briefing press just as expected –claiming they could beat out SGI. A CNET story leaked and many reporters debated whether or not to file their story now that they had been scooped. This presented the opening SGI needed to stay in the race. It was true, IBM was expected to take the top position (with SGI second) on the Top 500 list now only one working day away.

Access quickly pulled together canned statements (highlighting two-horse race and also revising science messaging) to come from SGI’s CEO and rapidly pushed through the approval process, a challenge unto itself. Next, a short email pitch was distributed offering customized quotes to top media. Hook line and sinker. Not only did the reporters take the canned statements, top tier outlets such as BusinessWeek, Reuters and Investor’s Business Daily asked for supplemental briefings. As coverage began to hit, it was clear it was a two-horse race.

With an up tick in stock price, SGI galloped onto the radar of industry influencers. Results easily exceeded objectives with regard to message playback, inclusion and pure coverage number. To put the results in context, for the complete campaign Access secured an average of 3 stories a day, over a six-month period.

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