Paul Holmes 27 May 2001 // 11:00PM GMT
BountyQuest (www.bountyquest.com) is the Internet destination where companies post large cash rewards for vital information. The rapidly growing, high-stakes patent arena is the source of BountyQuest's first rewards, where access to elusive information helps resolve raging patent controversies. BountyQuest launched in 2000 and is privately-held.
Brodeur Worldwide developed an effective strategy to gain national media coverage and publicize the launch of BountyQuest to the broadest cross-section of the public as well as strategic hits in the trade media to target communities that would most help BountyQuest’s cause. Success in the national media was essential to attracting high-level executives who would have an interest in putting up the minimum $10,000 bounty posting that would either challenge a patent held by another company or ensure that the patent it held was indisputable in court. Successful coverage in the trade media would reach the community of engineers, scientists and researchers who know where to find the information that might invalidate a patent -- and reward them financially in the process.
BountyQuest approached Brodeur Worldwide regarding communications counsel approximately three weeks before the launch of its website. The company had no brochure or information kit and its staff was minimal. What it had, though, was a powerful idea and several notable investors. Still, BountyQuest’s unique business model required detailed explanation to the media. Issues such as the problem with the current patent system, why bounties are posted, how bounties affect current court cases and what information is eligible for submission, needed to be addressed and explained to reporters in depth.
RESEARCH AND PLANNING
To better understand the world of patent information and how the media covers it, Brodeur conducted a media audit surrounding the highly-publicized debate between Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos and high-tech book publisher Tim O’Reilly. Because the Bezos-O’Reilly debate over Amazon’s One-Click system patent was a hot topic in the press, Brodeur needed to be sure their tiff wouldn’t overshadow the BountyQuest launch. At the same time, Brodeur had to determine how to leverage the notoriety of the Bezos- O’Reilly affair to BountyQuest’s advantage.
Brodeur’s media research also yielded targeted media lists of national and trade journalists who understood the patent issue and were prepared to write well-informed articles on the launch of BountyQuest. Most of the journalists were already well informed and capable of writing a full description of the patent reform issues BountyQuest was addressing. Lastly, Brodeur wanted to understand the competitive landscape that BountyQuest was entering into. After an extensive search, Brodeur found a handful of websites that operated in the patent and licensing industry. However there were no direct competitors offering monetary rewards for information that would either challenge an existing patent or help in a current patent dispute.
Brodeur’s communications strategy focused on national, business, and trade media but also focused on reaching those discrete populations who are qualified bounty hunters. This would include lawyers, researchers and academics, and engineers and scientists. The first five days of the “three-week-to-launch program” were dedicated to information-sharing and gaining clarity on positioning and messaging. Research was used to assess the current market for such a service and identified potential competitors to BountyQuest. The next week was devoted to finalizing launch strategy, along with the tactical and material elements (such as a media kit) to support the launch. The final week, Brodeur focused on aggressive promotion targeted at reporters and the online community around the launch of the company. Brodeur walked BountyQuest’s spokespeople through a day of media training and honed key messages that needed to be communicated to the public through the press.
Before the day of the launch, Brodeur did extensive pre-pitching to both national and trade press offering launch day interviews with noted BountyQuest investors Bezos and O’Reilly along with the CEO of BountyQuest, Charles Cella. The phone and email pitches also included just enough information to interest reporters without giving too much of the story away.
For trade media, Brodeur focused on the patents that were being challenged such as BountyQuest’s own business model, Jeff Bezos’ “one-click” patent and patents awarded to Priceline for reverse auctions as well as biotech patents. Individual publications were targeted with specific pitches that made the launch of BountyQuest and the rewards for patent information relevant to their area of coverage.
Between the successful October 2000 launch and the announcement of bounty winners in late January 2001, Brodeur developed a strategy that targeted specific trade media with bounty postings related to their specific beat -- such as bounties posted for information on biotech patents and technology patents. During that time, even in the absence of a big announcement, Brodeur was able attract the attention of the media and receive coverage in key publications.
The BountyQuest launch was one of the most successful Internet-based start-up launches in 2000. The site received favorable coverage from virtually every major national publication – from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times, CNN and the Associated Press. In addition, the site was featured on National Public Radio and was proclaimed “site of the month” on the popular portal Yahoo! Trade media coverage was also extensive at launch and throughout the months that followed, receiving coverage from C|Net and Computerworld to Applied Genetics News and MIT’s Technology Review.
On January 30, 2001 - just three months after their launch – BountyQuest announced the first four $10,000 winners – positive proof that the campaign reached the right publications and the scientists, engineers, academics and intellectual property experts BountyQuest needed in order to succeed.