After 20 years of building a reputation as a high-quality, but low-profile, IT (Information Technology) consultant to dozens of companies, james martin+co (jm+co) found itself faced with a dual problem: an aging corporate identity and increased competition. The company’s board presented the executive team with a choice: either find a buyer or re-focus the company. The executive team chose the latter course and embarked on an ambitious re-naming, re-branding, and re-launching of the company. The massive one-and-a-half-year effort drew on extensive internal resources, plus the talents of firms specializing in corporate identity, branding, and public relations.
The initiative was developed and implemented in a highly volatile environment marked first by booming growth in the “e-consulting” space (which includes companies such as Scient, Viant, Sapient, Razorfish, Proxicom, iXL, and MarchFIRST), as well as the “Big 5” consulting firms; and then by the long-predicted “demise of the dot-coms” and its inevitable negative impact on the e-consultants. Despite the downward trend – marked by layoffs, and declining revenues and share prices, among established industry leaders – jm+co decided to proceed with its campaign. Indeed, confident of its standing and its prospects as a result of a nearly $200-million investment – the largest private equity placement in an Internet consulting firm in several years – the company decided to convert a negative into a positive via a creative contrarian approach.
jm+co retained The Leonhardt Group (TLG) to initiate the planning process, conduct in-depth research, drive the re-branding effort, and unveil the new identity to company employees. In the latter stages of that program, shortly before the internal launch, jm+co retained Weber Shandwick Worldwide to develop and implement an external launch program to unveil the new company, Headstrong. Shandwick worked closely with both jm+co and TLG, providing counsel on strategies for achieving several key objectives: generating global media interest and coverage, gaining mindshare of target audiences (e.g., current and prospective customers and partners), driving brand awareness, and steadily building momentum following the launch.
The key to the launch strategy was to convert the downturn in the e-consultancy market into a lever for telling a positive Headstrong story that went against the tide. The theme: Major investors had expressed their confidence in Headstrong and its future prospects by making a record investment in the company.
Shandwick International implemented a three-stage campaign plan:
(1) Foundation-building—marked by development of news angles, key messages, and other critical communications elements; creation of a suite of informational materials; message and media training of company spokespersons; pre-launch briefings of key industry analysts; and incorporation of analyst feedback and insights into the final messaging and informational materials.
(2) Launch—highlighted by a virtual news conference on September 13 for U.S. and European media and an in-person briefing for Asia media on the 14th. The virtual conference was conceived, designed and planned by Weber Shandwick’s Interactive Public Relations team, and conducted out of Weber Shandwick’s New York offices. The event was advanced and supported by extensive media contacts and interviews.
(3) More targeted outreach—an “influence the influencers” strategy to reach out to key analysts and media outlets to get on the “short list” of e-consultancies. This stage included feature outreach, as well as news release development, the creation of a speakers’ bureau program, continued briefings of key industry analysts, and other ongoing PR activities.
There were several obstacles that Weber Shandwick and jm+co overcame to make the Headstrong launch a success, including:
(1) a lengthy period – three months – between the internal and external launches, creating risks of premature leakage (especially following a leak to The Washington Post earlier in the year)
(2) a difficult period for the e-consultancy market—which, as mentioned above, Shandwick converted into a communications positive
(3) James Martin + Co.’s relatively low profile, thus magnifying the challenge of re-launching the company.
EVALUATION OF SUCCESS:
The Headstrong launch has been judged a success by both Weber Shandwick and Headstrong, on the basis of both objective and subjective gauges.
Weber Shandwick teams from the U. S., Asia Pacific, and Europe combined to create and execute a unique and dramatic launch event. Utilizing its virtual presentation technology, Shandwick executed a live Web briefing for more than 60 editors, tying in Headstrong executives who presented simultaneously from locations in Hong Kong, Tokyo, London, and New York City.
Coverage was generated in media that included The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com, The Washington Post, Red Herring, [email protected] Week, CNNfn, Internet.com, eCompany Now, Washington Business Journal, and many others. Nearly 80 interviews were held and Headstrong’s Web site registered a five-fold increase in traffic after the launch. During the period between September 12 (day before launch event) and October 26, the campaign generated 67 articles (print, online, wire news services) and TV/radio hits resulting in an estimated 231,282,049 impressions.
Even more importantly, Headstrong’s president and CEO, Patrick Litre, announced to the entire company: “Our launch met or exceeded… our expectations. Headstrong received solid early press coverage and we created strong initial awareness of the company through our external launch event.”