In the wake of the new Millennium, malicious hackers began to attack and unleash viruses that devastated businesses across the globe. Corporations were left wondering how they could secure private information and maintain the operation of their eBusinesses. In the summer of 2000, Ernst & Young approached Hill and Knowlton, requesting assistance to spin-off eSecurityOnline.com (eSO), a new electronic security venture that would provide businesses with a strategic defense against malicious cyber criminals. The new company would feature offerings such as online vulnerability services, managed services and a portal of over one thousand researched security related resources. Hill and Knowlton’s challenge was to quickly build awareness and credibility for eSO and its services and drive traffic to eSO’s portal site. A concise program of analyst and media relations, rapidly deployed by the team, served to garner eSO coverage in over 40 print publications and quadruple hits to its Web site.
CHALLENGES & OPPORTUNITIES
The public relations team faced numerous communications challenges. First, the team was faced with a tight deadline of only four weeks to not only turn around a comprehensive launch program, but a short window of time in which to execute the program and obtain results. Additionally, while eSO was able to leverage the respected Ernst & Young name, the marketplace was crowded by an array of competitors offering similar services. The team had to find a way to create a leadership role for eSO in the electronic security arena. Therefore, a program was developed positioning the Ernst & Young pedigree adjacent to eSO’s superior services and methodology. Emphasis was placed on messaging that would clearly define eSO’s value proposition and juxtapose its significant benefits with its competitors’ liabilities.
Hill and Knowlton undertook the following primary and secondary research:
One-on-one interviews with eSO’s senior management team to better understand the company’s goals and to develop the key messages they wanted to communicate about the company and its products.
An extensive online search was conducted to identify industry and consumer perceptions of electronic/network security, including beliefs about key industry players, technical issues such as the problems with current “reactive” security models, pricing, and the benefits and costs to prospective customers.
A competitive analysis of the key players in the eSecurity arena to determine how eSO fared in terms of unique features, pricing and product availability in comparison to the competition.
An analysis of the research pointed to several key factors. First, eSO would be competing against such industry heavyweights as IBM, Network Associates and Internet Security Systems. Second, eSO would need to overcome numerous perceptual challenges such as not offering a 24-7 alerting service, automatic alerts to IT threats and not correcting the problems it assesses – factors that some of their competitors were touting. Third, while Ernst & Young is esteemed in the accounting space, the “Big Five” firms are not noted for their security expertise. Fortunately, the research also indicated eSO could capitalize on the anxiety in the marketplace about computer security to assert a leadership role.
On a launch budget of $110,000 that included NDA briefings, a five-city media and analyst tour and distribution, Hill and Knowlton developed a program targeted at two audience tiers: Tier One – CIOs, CISOc, Vice Presidents of IT, and IT managers; Tier Two – CEOs, CFOs, and CMOs.
Facing the introduction of an unknown management team, as well as the challenges unearthed in our research, the team developed the following objectives:
- Build credibility of eSecurityOnline.com and its management team as a trusted source in the eSecurity arena
- Begin to differentiate eSO from the competition
- Build awareness for eSO’s products and services
- Drive prospective users to the portal
The team developed a media and analyst relations program that focused on eSO’s commitment to enable secure eBusiness and providing peace of mind against IT threats above and beyond the competition. Messages displayed what made eSO unique, namely customization, and that it was the only Application Service Provider that offered information and data tailored to a customer’s specific IT environment. Our thinking was to demonstrate the extent to which eSO saves their customers time and money by weeding out security alerts that are not relevant to each individual client. This positioned eSO as the most cost-effective and time-efficient network security solution on the market. Our strategies included:
- Introduce eSO to the analyst and media communities prior to the official launch to describe their unique offering and to help clarify the issues surrounding electronic security threats
- Build a presence in vertical markets important to eSO
- Leverage the expertise of eSecurityOnline.com executives
- Use customer testimonials to build credibility for eSO
- Drive media relations through creativity, rapid response and aggressive online effort
Phase I – Press and analyst briefings: During the week of June 1 to June 21, we began to reach out to key analysts and members of the press to build recognition, awareness and advocacy for eSO and ensure timely coverage at the launch. With launch date less than three weeks away, the public relations team successfully managed to organize a five-city tour that resulted in nearly 20 face-to-face and telephone briefings across New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. Analysts and editors were made privy to information regarding eSO’s vision, research process and alliances and were afforded the opportunity to engage in extensive, one-on-one conversations with key players at eSO, including the company’s CEO.
Phase II – The Launch: June 21 we spun-off eSecurityOnline.com in a release over business wire and by contacting key press to set additional interviews with eSO executives. Distributing the release via email, messenger and overnight mail also supported the launch.
Phase III – Building on the Momentum: Continued Media Outreach
Suplementing the launch on June 21, eSO executives and the PR team continued to brief press throughout July;
Proactively searched for breaking news opportunities into which we could insert eSO as a trusted news source
SUMMARY OF RESULTS:
We surpassed our core objectives by generating significant awareness for eSO as an eSecurity player that warrants respect. To date, eSO’s involvement in the eSecurity realm has been featured in an array of business and trade press, successfully reaching out to their target audiences of CEO's, CIO's, CFO's and IT staffs. Equally gratifying were the CEO's comments that our public relations efforts were extremely successful and that "morale has shot through the roof" at eSO as a result of the first flurry of coverage.
Media coverage built credibility for eSecurityOnline.com and established integrity for its management team.
CEO Jon Darbyshire and Vice President Tony Spinelli played a very visible role in the analyst meetings and the media coverage, as both were extensively quoted (in over 60% of the articles) by notable outlets.
eSecurityOnline.com effectively differentiated itself from the competition
The majority of the coverage highlights eSO as the only ASP company providing customized information.
eSO's customers were quoted praising eSO's services and speaking to our cost-effective, time-efficient and customization messages. For example, Ron Friedman of USinternetworking says: "There are so many alerts and advisories out there that it was taking too many resources from my group. Through eSO, I'm not running the risks that may not pertain to us."
We successfully built awareness for eSecurityOnline.com through media and analyst coverage
Initial coverage has appeared in over 40 print and online publications, including The New York Times, the Washington Post, Bloomberg, Dow Jones, Information Week, Internet Week, InfoWorld, Computerworld, eWeek, American Banker and Web Finance. eSecurityOnline.com was also included in an IDC analyst report on security consulting strategies.
In most cases, eSO's launch was exclusively featured; in instances where a competitor was mentioned, we worked closely with the reporters, granting them access to the CEO to increase eSO's share of voice and prominence in the story
The online push was especially powerful in driving readers to eSO's portal as more than 20 articles included hyperlinks to the company's site.
We successfully drove prospective users to the portal - The most important objective with which the client tasked us
Hits on the eSO site have more than quadrupled through PR. Prior to the first article appearing, the eSO site averaged 20,000 hits per day. This increased to over 100,000 hits. After a stream of coverage began to make traffic soar, the company’s CEO altered his initial expectation from one million hits to nearly four million hits per month.
Perhaps most important is that this success can be single-handedly attributed to public relations, as it preceded any other communications vehicles such as marketing and advertising.