Unlocking the Wizard of Ozzie
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Unlocking the Wizard of Ozzie

Groove Networks enlisted The Weber Group (TWG) for public relations counsel to launch Groove Networks and to define Groove as the product that would bring P2P into the business world.

Paul Holmes

Peer-to-peer computing was once a concept discussed only by the oracles (not Oracles) of technology, a simple way to increase available computing power by using groups of PCs without relying on a central server. Boring, geeky stuff – certainly not a movement or a fad or the “next big thing.” Then along came Napster, the hotly contested music file-sharing program, and in a matter of months peer-to-peer became one of the biggest technological buzzwords since the Internet browser.  Although Napster became the scourge of the recording industry, it also brought national attention to the term peer-to-peer computing.  But, beyond file sharing, Napster never demonstrated a use for business, and because of how much bandwidth Napster requires, anything dubbed “P2P” was shunned by corporations large and small.  
Simultaneously, in a shoe factory in Beverly, Massachusetts, a company founded by famed software developer Ray Ozzie was finalizing the stealth development of a new product that was in fact designed to bring peer-to-peer technology to businesses. Ozzie, who created Lotus Notes, knew the company needed to come out from stealth mode and offset the industry buzz around Napster. If not, his creation, Groove, would be dead before it saw the light of day. Ozzie’s company Groove Networks enlisted The Weber Group (TWG) for public relations counsel to launch Groove Networks and to define Groove as the product that would bring P2P into the business world – while also demonstrating its massive potential for changing how individuals communicate. With a spate of potential competitors hinting they might have a similar solution, time was limited.
The resulting product launch and media program established Groove as the product that would enable the business community to capitalize on P2P technology, while garnering crucial exposure for Groove Networks. With endorsements from Bill Gates, Andy Grove and Esther Dyson, Ozzie was instantly propelled into the international spotlight and brought Groove a broad array of top-tier partners, customers and potential investors – while changing the way the technology industry and the media understood and wrote about peer-computing.
The Challenge
The technology behind Napster is rudimentary and doesn’t begin to accurately illustrate the full potential of P2P. Still, with no alternatives, Naspster was effectively defining peer-to-peer. Napster’s flavor of P2P frightened corporate technologists and left the technology-press, venture capitalists and industry analysts wondering if there would ever be a product that would ever make use of P2P in corporate environments.
As a result, Groove Networks decided it needed to emerge earlier than planned.  After three-years of absolute secrecy, the company needed the right plan, and the best venue to launch Groove. The product itself allows individual users to work with co-workers in virtual online spaces in real time. For businesses it enables a rapid increase in productivity and greater access to intellectual capital – certainly popular attributes. But how to make a company that no one has ever heard of the industry standard for a technology everyone thinks they understand?
Groove Networks’ goal was to demonstrate that as the first peer-to-peer business platform it would be the standard on which all other peer-based applications would be built – and would be rapidly adopted as the leading software platform by other software developers.  TWG and Groove Networks devised a launch program to carefully leverage the P2P wave, while cutting through the buzz and establishing a leadership role for Groove and for Ray Ozzie. Groove Networks and TWG set three objectives for the launch:
  • Position Groove as the premier business solution/product in the peer-to-peer space amongst key influencers including business and trade media and analysts, and Ozzie as the visionary behind this movement.
  • Generate interest in Groove and Groove Networks with potential partners, customers and investors.
  • Drive traffic to the Groove website, resulting in product downloads and new Groove accounts.
The Strategic Approach
Hit the ground running…quietly by developing a comprehensive six-month plan to reintroduce Ray Ozzie to business and trade press as a visionary at the forefront of P2P computing, while maintaining a stealth identity for Groove.
TWG collaborated with Groove Networks to develop a strategic approach for re-introducing Ozzie and positioning him as an expert in the P2P space. Plan included participation in key P2P conferences and forums, teaser information on the company web site, as well as carefully seeded stories prior to launch.  Efforts succeeded in generating a buzz about the company and its revolutionary technology.
Get the message out…clearly.  With all of the hype surrounding Napster, there was a great deal of confusion surrounding P2P.  Clear messaging was critical to the ability to cut through misconceptions and establish Groove as a truly innovative and business-ready peer-computing platform.
Core Messaging: TWG worked with Groove Networks to construct messaging that re-defined P2P and clearly portrayed Groove as a defining new business communications tool, addressing head on the security and bandwidth issues that had negatively impacted Napster.  In addition, the messaging defined the product’s highly technical architecture in layman’s terms while highlighting the product’s most appealing features for the largest possible audience.  
Analyst relations: TWG carefully selected and briefed 14 top-tier analyst firms prior to launch, securing 10 positive references for launch day.
Media Relations: TWG developed a detailed media plan selecting the most influential publications to receive pre-briefings.  Backed by extensive research, TWG identified precisely which journalist would be contacted, how far in advance briefings would occur, and which pitch/story angle they would receive.  In the weeks prior to the event, TWG secured dozens of launch-week meetings with business, trade and broadcast outlets – all without revealing any product details.
Stage a flawless event at Fall Internet World in New York City to reinforce the impact Groove would have on business and personal computing.
Timing and venue: TWG counseled Groove Networks to strategically launch their product in October 2000 at a press conference in New York City in conjunction with Fall Internet World.  This guaranteed targeted media along with high-profile attendees.
Partner Program: TWG worked with partner companies to ensure Groove Networks had 11 key partners to announce on launch day, seven of which provided separate releases in support of the launch, and three of which provided on-stage testimonials at the press conference.
Testimonials: TWG counseled Groove Networks to create a compilation of video testimonials.  Both teams worked together with industry leaders including, Andy Grove of Intel, Esther Dyson and Bill Gates to obtain highly favorable testimonials to be aired at the launch press conference.
Press materials: TWG developed a thorough press kit including: four press releases, media advisories, product backgrounder, partner backgrounder, executive bios and a corporate backgrounder.
Immediate Results:
Breaking day-of launch news appeared in: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe and The San Jose Mercury News.
The launch press conference was attended by nearly 200 people. Approximately 50 additional launch news stories appeared in top-tier media outlets including: Newsweek, AP, Reuters, CNNfn, LA Times, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, eWeek, Red Herring, Computerworld, CNET, Upside Today, CRN, The Industry Standard, InfoWorld, ZDNet and XML Magazine.
Within hours, the Groove Networks Web site received over ¼ million hits and opened more than 15,000 new Groove accounts. 
Long-Term Strategic Results:
Positioned Groove as the premier business solution/product in the peer-to-peer space with business and trade media and analysts.
Over a four-month period Groove has appeared in 200 articles in more than 150 publications. All coverage has been consistent with core PR messages.
Top-tier media outlets praised Groove:
Hiawatha Bray, The Boston Globe: “At the risk of once more pulling the trigger too soon, I think this is it - the program that'll get millions of us into the groupware habit.”
The Economist: “The start-up, based in Beverly, Massachusetts, could take peer-to-peer (P2P) computing to a new level, just as Netscape did with the World Wide Web.”
Leading analyst firms agreed:
Hurwitz Group: “This could be the next killer application for the Internet.”
Patricia Seybold Group: “This has the potential of being the AOL instant messenger of the business community.”
Generated interest in Groove and Groove Networks with over 140 partners, dozens of beta customers and customer leads [including some of the largest names from the Fortune 500] and cleared a path to its next round of financing.
Drove over 20 million hits to the Groove Networks website and triggered the opening of more than 100,000 new Groove accounts.
Led to requests for Ray Ozzie to speak at every major national and international trade show including Comdex, Demo, the World Economic Forum, PC Forum and Internet World.
Led to broadcast opportunities with The Charlie Rose Show, CNNFn, CNBC and CnetTV.
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