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April 3, 2009

Visionary PR: Integrated Microsoft-WE PR Campaign Mixes it Up for Millions of On- and Offline Hits

By Frank Zeccola

We all know that millions of consumers are up for grabs online. But have you ever tried to reach them with a PR or marketing campaign? It's not as easy as making a funny video and posting it on YouTube. Fact is, most viral and social media campaigns fall flat and get zero results.

On the other hand, if you want to learn how to develop a fully integrated PR campaign to engage millions of consumers—on- and offline—check out this campaign by Microsoft and agency Waggener Edstrom.

This campaign not only landed 1.5 million webpage views and 10,000 blog mentions—in a single week—it also scored nearly 400 articles in top publications like The New York Times.

To find out how, read on:

First, you'll have to take a trip back in time to the stone age of social media. We're going all the way back to 2007.

Time travel: The days before Twitter.

Remember those days? MySpace ruled the turf that Facebook had only begun fighting for. In fact, Facebook was pretty new to anyone beyond college students. Twitter was something you called your inept coworker. And there were so many bandwidth issues tied to online video technology that it almost wasn't worth it.

Where did the time go?

Today, every PR professional is a whiz at creating rich, digital press releases and social media newsrooms.

You are a whiz at this stuff, right?

I'm sure you are. I'm sure your SMN is full of text, images, video and audio, all optimized for search, syndicated through RSS, socialized on YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and every other new social network that came out yesterday and has a funny name straight from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

But in 2007, this was all new. Many PR pros were still trying to figure out what the heck a blogger was.

It was in this environment that Microsoft began taking huge new-media gambles and visionary online steps with agency Waggener Edstrom to promote Microsoft's MIX07 conference.

So even if your social media newsroom isn't up to snuff, read on for strategies and tips from the masters who were way ahead of their time:

Microsoft's MIX events, which launched with MIX06, are annual conferences for web developers and designers.

And a lot was at stake at MIX07. Microsoft was set to launch its new "Silverlight" product to compete with Adobe's Flash. This was also during a time when many felt Microsoft was playing catch-up with Google and Adobe in terms of engaging the web community.

"It was the first time we started to execute Microsoft's vision for web designers and developers," says Waggener Edstrom account director Samara Villasenor. "We had news announcements, new products and new technology delivered by Microsoft." And it was all aimed at this key web audience.

To capitalize, Microsoft and Waggener Edstrom began crafting "an integrated PR campaign that included traditional and non-traditional elements," Villasenor says.

Remember, this was in 2007, and, "there was a lot more segmentation in terms of traditional and non-traditional media," she says. "We were still trying to carve it all out and figure out how to work with new media."

Villasenor and the Waggener Edstrom team began researching the best ways to undertake the campaign: "Our ultimate goal was to reach the core audience of developers and designers on their turf—which is the web," she says. "On the digital front, we created several opportunities to reach this set online."

The strategy: Reach the web audience through several web-based initiatives and traditional practices.

1. Online social media press room. The first thing they did was make sure they had an online destination for all news and announcements Microsoft would release during the event: "We set up an online destination called VisitMix.com. This was a site where we offered rich online content related to breaking news and news of the day." Keep in mind that it was developed with rich content: "We included video, digital press releases and links to more value-added content. It was a one-stop shop with rich info updated throughout the day. And it was very much in real time."

2. Social media networks. In addition, the team used social networking sites to engage in the dialogue. In addition to popular sites like Facebook, they bet on a new, little-known service called Twitter. The site was getting endorsements from uber-techies like Robert Scoble, but it would still be another year-and-a-half or so until the site took off with the public. It was a huge gamble, but it turned out to be almost prophetic.

"The media landscape was, and still is, so new and ever changing," Villasenor says. "The challenge is navigating the new, influential models. The solution is finding the right influencers via social media."

3. Blog coverage. Another component of the campaign leveraged blog outreach: "We did a lot of blogger-focused activities at the event," Villasenor says. "We wanted to come up with a set of activities tailored to bloggers to show that we understood their model and how to communicate with them." For example: "We had a specific gathering place for bloggers-only at the event called the Mix Blog Zone."

4. Traditional media outreach. "We integrated typical PR approaches, such as one-on-one meetings onsite with journalists, and we released at least one news release per day," she adds. "We also posted Q&As on Microsoft.com and had a press party for credentialed media."

Putting it all together: Waggener Edstrom goes back to basics to round out the campaign.

Once all the new and old media juggling pins were in the air, Villasenor says it came down to tried-and-true PR: "The approach we take with bloggers and new media is the same approach we've taken with mainstream media," she stresses. "Know the people who are following your company—and work on relationships vs. transactions."

The results: Millions of hits online, hundreds of traditional media stories—and hundreds of thousands of products downloaded.

MIX07 was wildly successful, scoring 10,000 blog mentions and 375 pieces in top media outlets like The New York Times, Reuters, The AP, CNET and others. Just as impressive, Microsoft's website received 1.5 million page views the week of the event. And consumers downloaded more than 210,000 alpha and beta versions of Microsoft's new Silverlight product.

"We took a lot of risks and tried new things—and it really paid off for the client," Villasenor says. "It shows that you can really add depth to your storytelling if you use the best approaches to delivering content online."

In addition, Villasenor says Microsoft deserves a lot of the credit for the campaign's success: "They're a very sophisticated client and we had a great partnership. They understood the risks and rewards and we all went in with eyes wide open."

Secrets for success: Read on as Villasenor offers more tips and explains why this campaign won Bronze in Internet, Business at the 2008 Bulldog Awards for Excellence in Media Relations & Publicity:

1. Mix it up: Integrate traditional and new-media angles to make the biggest splash. Even in this age of super-technology, "It's still important to deliver integrated PR campaigns, so that it's not one thing or another," she says. "You don't want to have a campaign that's all digital or all traditional. The best campaigns are hybrids. You add the most depth to your storytelling by implementing approaches to both."

2. Avoid new-media-for-the-sake-of-new-media tactics: Make sure all risks are in line with the client's overall brand. "It's really about having a partnership with the client," she says. "Understand their goals and strategies—so that you're taking risks and reaping the rewards together."

3. Be on the lookout for sophisticated measuring tools in the future of PR. "It's a fun time to be doing PR, because we can explore and try new things," she says. The future of PR certainly holds more social networks and platforms, but one big development she suggests you look out for is in the arena of online measurement: "We're now measuring and monitoring in real time," she says. "Here at Waggener Edstrom, we've become more sophisticated in monitoring online feeds. We did some interesting viral campaigns that took advantage of enthusiastic online communities. With the monitoring technology, we were able to watch things grow online and measure it all organically." These technologies, she stresses, will continue to evolve.

WINNER'S PROFILE: Waggener Edstrom Worldwide has partnered with many of the world's leading brands—including GE Healthcare, MasterCard International, Microsoft and T-Mobile USA. We've helped to drive world-changing ideas and life-changing visions. We've won the trust of our clients by developing a deep knowledge of their businesses, thinking strategically and helping shape influence through our broad range of talent, knowledge and 25 years of experience.

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