Paul Holmes 03 Dec 2003 // 12:00AM GMT
A strategic alliance between Palm and IBM offered an unprecedented chance for A&R to drive Palm’s reputation as a leader in the enterprise mobile computing market, while building an educated base of future joint Palm and IBM customers. A&R set three goals: (1) generate mobile enterprise customer interest in both companies, (2) refine and reinforce messages suitable for disparate audiences, and (3) explain business and technical complexities in ways that underscore the deal’s benefits and win endorsements from key press and analysts.
In mid-2002, Palm and IBM inked a far-reaching business agreement that encompassed technology cross-licensing, co-development spanning a multi-year roadmap, and sales and joint marketing. To date, this would be Palm’s most significant step to making enterprise data available on handheld computers. The two companies’ mutual customers would gain a single, easily deployable business solution that combines the leading end-to-end application platform (IBM) with the leading mobile handheld solutions (Palm). The collaboration would build on the existing assets of small, mid-sized and large companies alike.
A&R set out to prove to press and industry analysts that Palm was indeed enterprise-class. Palm’s expertise in mobility was a necessary part of IBM’s solution for extending customers’ precious corporate data to mobile devices. This would be a clear illustration of Palm’s taking a major step through the “enterprise front door” when the market was content in its opinion that Palm was simply a great product for individual consumers.
Palm was limited by the strength of its reputation as a consumer products success story. Despite facts that bore out Palm’s enterprise legitimacy, journalists were eager to cast the company as a consumer giant about to stumble in a soft economy beset by low stock prices. Business and tech collaboration with IBM presented an ideal chance for righting market misconceptions, but the far-reaching deal was so complex that it presented some thorny communications challenges. The complexity of integrating Palm’s technologies into IBM’s software stack threatened to overshadow the enterprise-caliber nature of the solution. The mission was: Distill and refine core messages that would work universally for all target audiences.
To craft the clearest messages for the targeted audiences, A&R worked intimately with Palm and IBM executives. A&R knew that these messages would have to plainly outline the benefits to the press and industry analyst community, as well as to IBM and Palm’s current and future joint customers. With such a complex relationship at hand, A&R created a strategy document that would definitively state the news and its significance for Palm and IBM, separately and jointly. This document elucidated top-line positioning, the overall message, supporting messages, customer benefits and desired outcomes.
A&R also created an extensive Q&A to complement the strategy document. They hosted several joint conference calls and meetings to come to full agreement on each of the elements before typing the first word or slide of the press release or presentation. This arduous consensus-building paid off; all subsequent materials flew through the approval process and were messaging bull’s-eyes. This process ensured that whether IBM or Palm spokespeople took the interview, the messages would be exactly the same. That allowed for consistent messaging and accommodated a higher volume of interviews with press on the day of the announcement.
Generating industry analyst support prior to distribution of the press release was also key to ensuring that our messages would be heard and corroborated by such a fundamental and influential group. To do this, A&R jointly pre-briefed several key influencers, which also afforded them an invaluable opportunity to receive feedback and fine-tune messaging. A&R did not pre-brief any press.
At 6 a.m. EST the release went over the wire, and each company had its top spokespeople ready. With militaristic precision, the call-downs and briefing march began. Short, concise, 15-minute interviews were hosted in rapid fire on both sides for the next eight hours, hitting pre-determined outlets ranging from our opening volley with the Wall Street Journal, to the IT Trades, to specialized wireless publications. Behind the scenes we had no fewer than six PR pros booking journalists into interview slots. This allowed the executives in both camps to spend time individually with each journalist, tailoring the IBM and Palm story to the particular interests of each media audience.
The announcement triggered a steep spike in the generally steady stream of Palm news coverage, an indication that the journalists who were briefed on the Palm and IBM deal appreciated its value and that the messaging work had paid off. More than 30 news organizations wrote stories, including every major wire service, which translates to hundreds of daily and weekly outlets across the country picking up stories written by the likes of AP, Dow Jones, Reuters, Bloomberg and IDG. In addition, broadcast outlets were similarly flooded via stations ranging from national morning shows of the likes of CNN, CNBC “The Squawk Box,” Bloomberg and ABC World News, to local programs such as Good Day Sacramento, Business Day Denver and Evening News Milwaukee. Palm stock rose six percent on the news of the relationship.
Press and analysts portrayed the deal as an important milestone in Palm's further penetration into the enterprise market and explained the technical implications for IBM and Palm's mutual customers. Overwhelmingly positive analyst reactions centered on the deal’s strategic importance as Palm propelled itself through the front door of the enterprise. This PR triumph solidified Palm’s reputation as the leading provider of mobile solutions for enterprise customers.