Paul Holmes 27 Jun 2001 // 11:00PM GMT
The word on the technology street is CONVERGENCE. The two-in-one notion of product development and branding is sweeping the high-tech industry — watches double as cameras, cameras double as printers and printers double as copiers. Sprint PCS did not ignore this trend when choosing to carry the Sprint PCS Phone Samsung Uproar, which combines a wireless phone with an MP3 player. Additionally, the My Music program offered Uproar users immediate access to a Sprint PCS website, where they could locate, download, organize and save digital music. The marketing and sales departments were certain that this product would be a consumer hit; the public relations mission was to make this trendy phone a media darling as well. Faced with media and consumer skepticism, Metzger Associates, the national agency of record for Sprint PCS, understood that the success of this program would lie in making it about more than just a product. The solution was to place emphasis on the suite of music services that Sprint PCS offered customers — the Uproar phone was a component of that suite, but so were the music server, the storage and retrieval options, and the network quality. Suddenly, the press had a story about the trend for wireless companies to provide consumers with packages of useful products — we were no longer peddling a phone. The media relished this story angle and took the public relations lead to expand the news into a trend piece about the advanced offerings from wireless carriers. Music editors and news reporters alike clearly recognized the value in this announcement. The results poured in during the weeks following the launch.
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES:
Until very recently, conventional thinking pushed consumers to view their wireless phone as a voice communications tool – plain and simple. With the launch of this handset, consumers had to rearrange their conceptions of traditional wireless communication to allow a place for converged devices on their wish lists. Skeptics believed that a product like this simply combined two arbitrary products into one and did nothing to provide customers extra convenience. This, coupled with the ongoing legal crisis surrounding online music services such as Napster, necessitated sensitivity from public relations when executing the launch.
Additionally, Sprint PCS expected the coverage to emphasize the My Music program, possibly even more than the phone itself. The Sprint PCS Phone Samsung Uproar had the look — a small, sleek design with trendy applications. The visuals would be easy. Convincing the media that this announcement deserved more attention than just a product photo, however, required a bit of elbow grease.
The launch of the Sprint PCS My Music service and the Sprint PCS Phone Samsung Uproar afforded Metzger Associates the opportunity to work with reporters to build a story from start to finish. This task required steadfast commitment to spreading the My Music message, even when editors wished to default to the general product announcement.
RESEARCH, PLANNING AND OBJECTIVES:
Prior to developing media lists and drafting key messages, Metzger Associates researched the current perception of digital music, in the wake of the Napster lawsuits. What the team found was a desire from the media to embrace the digital music trend, but a hesitancy to do so because of the legal downsides. Metzger Associates used this sentiment to leverage Sprint PCS’ commitment to bring judicial, affordable and quality services to its customers without sacrificing the cool, hip appearance of the company.
Metzger Associates and the Sprint PCS PR team sought first to educate the media about the value of the Sprint PCS My Music Service. Then the team would position this as an important development for the wireless industry. Finally, the Uproar was positioned as visual proof of the program. By approaching these strategies one after the other, the team planned to announce the news successfully, positioning Sprint PCS as a leader in wireless devices and services.
After identifying the top-tier reporters, Metzger Associates began calling media to schedule live pre-briefings to discuss My Music and the Uproar for two-day press tours on the East and West Coasts. Many reporters received activated phones to test the service.
Additionally, Metzger Associates developed a media “tool kit” to be disseminated to the local markets for media penetration in smaller areas. This included compelling fact sheets, sidebar suggestions, pitch letters and program descriptions. With these materials prepared and in-hand local public relations agencies could keep reporters informed without sacrificing valuable budgets.
RESULTS — GENERAL AND BUSINESS:
The national, local, high-tech trade and music trade media clearly understood the messaging. The majority of coverage surrounding this announcement met our exact goals — launch the Sprint PCS Phone Samsung Uproar and use that as a springboard to announce a more global program.
Publications such as The New York Times, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Vibe, CNET and InfoWorld covered the news with an emphasis primarily on Sprint PCS’ converged services and also on the handset itself.
Sprint PCS executives enjoyed the success, as did the sales force, which sold a record number of phones in the aftermath of the media coverage. Relationships with Samsung are extraordinarily strong — as a result of the positive take on the Uproar, Samsung has agreed to work with Sprint PCS public relations to launch several new wireless phones. Not only is CONVERGENCE the trend with the products, but it has clearly become the trend with the two companies, too.