Paul Holmes 08 Jul 2001 // 11:00PM GMT
In the high-tech world of super chips, mobile wireless communications and the infinite promise of the Internet, Melard Technologies, Inc. is decidedly uncool. Based in Armonk, NY, Melard exclusively produces laptop computers used by field service workers for utility companies and other industries that demand mobile customer support in challenging, outdoor environments. By nearly every technical measure that laptop manufacturers use to define competitive advantage—processing speed, monitor quality, memory and weight—Melard’s computers fall short. But Melard’s products do have one distinguishing feature: they are hard to break.
Since its founding in 1985, Melard had been unknown outside the narrow confines of the rugged laptop sector, its sole source of revenue. By 1999, the company began losing market share. Larger, better-known companies like Panasonic were introducing rugged computers and dominating market awareness with promotional budgets that dwarfed Melard’s. For the first time, Melard was under pressure to attain a higher public profile to support sales, project a cutting-edge image to retain employees and increase visibility to support a new strategic initiative in wireless enterprise systems. To accomplish these goals, Melard turned to Schwartz Communications.
But there was one formidable problem. Successful public relations campaigns for high technology products depend heavily on customer case studies and the testimony of users. Although Melard had customers, virtually all of them had policies forbidding product endorsements. Schwartz was faced with the challenge of building prominence for a virtually unknown high-tech company that offered none of the ammunition considered pivotal to generating media coverage.
Without customer success stories or product launches to promote, Schwartz focused the campaign around the durability of Melard’s computers. Schwartz positioned Melard’s laptops as risk-free targets for the kind of devilishly fun, physical abuse that most people can only imagine heaping upon an expensive, high tech product.
The strategy worked, and Schwartz generated a broad swath of national, regional and trade media coverage for Melard. Schwartz secured over 40 competitive product reviews, nearly all of which ranked Melard’s products as the most durable in the industry. Publications that positively reviewed Melard’s units ranged from Wired and The Washington Post to Field Force Automation and Playboy.com. Leading industry watcher eWeek subjected the company’s SCOUT2 laptop to a public flogging in a live destruction demonstration and Web cast. Through hard-edged invitations to “Destroy This Laptop,” Schwartz enabled tiny Melard to steal the spotlight at COMDEX, the most prestigious trade show in the industry. Schwartz also secured Adventurer Doug Gates to embark upon a cross-country trek, using Melard’s SCOUT2 for wireless communication and GPS tracking; an exclusive Associated Press photo of Gates at COMDEX catapulted Melard into the public spotlight.
The vast publicity positioned the once-unknown company as a leader and far exceeded attention devoted to Panasonic and all other competitors. Total audience impressions climbed to over 193 million. Highlights include a stand-alone segment on “The Early Show” (CBS), a feature in The Washington Post, a nationally syndicated column reaching over 40 daily newspapers, an article series chronicling the SCOUT2-assisted expedition of Adventurer Doug Gates, an Associated Press story and a special prize give-away spotlight segment on the hit TV game show “Hollywood Squares.” Schwartz successfully attracted the attention of several property masters from Hollywood's hottest production companies, including Warner Brothers and Sony. Melard's SCOUT2 and SIDEARM will "co-star," at no fee, in an upcoming movie with Tim Allen and Renee Russo and will also appear in next summer's blockbuster, Men In Black II.
The far-reaching attention that Schwartz secured for Melard and its products helped the company penetrate new vertical markets, including the government sector, and literally turned rugged laptops into a household item. The campaign successfully boosted product sales, employee morale and company imaging.