The Tale of the Lowly Press Room
Hidden away like some Cinderella before she was discovered by the prince, On Line Press Rooms do not often attract attention, much less admiration. But like the fairy tale character, media rooms can offer a powerful example of the power of the Internet to transform a humble servant into an information hub.
Cisco’s transformation of their news room also demonstrates the shift that is already under way from mass to micro marketing. This trend refers to the shift from focusing on large market segments to smaller, more finely tuned slices. For example, instead of Cisco providing the same information to all wireless customers worldwide, it now offers the ability to search for information, by country or region, by product or customer.
News@Cisco, Cisco’s news portal, provides a stunning example of how one company is harnessing the power of the Internet to transform the lowly press room into its news hub. News@Cisco, the Cindarella of our story, offers an excellent case study of how companies can use the Web to reach out and connect with a broad range of news users.
Four years ago, Cisco’s communications team felt it was time to re-examine the use of its on line News Room. Like so many companies, Cisco had primarily used its on line Press Room to archive its releases and to provide contact information for the press. At that time business was booming, and the company website (and its communications team) were experiencing a rather dramatic demand for company news from a broad range of information consumers, from customers, employees, investors, partners, reporters and many others.
Not only was this demand for information beginning to strain limited PR resources, but the Communications team at Cisco had other concerns as well. There was a pressing need to:
and control information globally
. Communicate in one voice through out the company
. Reach very different kinds of audiences around the world
. Operate 24/7, providing and responding to news which directly affects Cisco, its customers and partners
. Streamline and improve the communications operations at Cisco and define a new set of best practices.
Cisco Communications decided to develop a two-pronged strategy to address both internal and external needs. The team started by defining the needs of both its internal and external audiences. Cisco Communications determined that instead of a more traditional Press Room they would build a News Portal whose purpose would be to provide a much broader array of resources and services in a greater range of media.
Keep it simple
As history has proven, content is currency on the Web. How well that information is organized impacts how well it is accessed. In surfing News@Cisco, one thing stands out: Cisco has done an exemplary job of organizing a veritable mountain of information. News@Cisco is a study in simplicity. This information is set up so it can be easily searched by date and by subject area. What that means to Cisco is that its site becomes an invaluable resource for reporters – and anyone else.
Begin with the customer
It is axiomatic that the first step in designing a new product or service must start with the customer. Prior to defining its news portal, the team at Cisco Corporate Communications conducted surveys and asked internal and external users what they needed in a news site. Editors and journalists reported that they wanted transparency between the organization and themselves, access, speed, the ability to dive (instead of surf) for information. How the information is organized was also key.
Cisco’s research was extensive – and it paid off. Yet how many companies actually ask reporters what they need to do their job well?
If they did, webmasters would learn that journalists on deadline (and they are always on deadline) rarely have time to surf a site. Instead they must be able to dive for information. Something as simple as Cisco’s site search button on each page is critical, as is a highly visibly press contact with a real person’s name, beat, and contact information.
But redefine your customer
A paradox of the Internet is its ability to reach more people who in turn demand more information -- customized to their specific needs. How do companies offer the right mix of information? How do they organize to make it available? These questions are key. The audience for company information is not just the press. It includes a much broader range of constituents-- customers, employees, investors, partners, editors, analysts, influencers at home and abroad.
Rethink the value proposition
To reach this far flung audience, News@Cisco offers rich range of services and resources, from text and graphics to streaming video. The popularity of the latter has grown significantly on the site and is an increasingly important content distribution method for Cisco. The company uses streaming media to broadcast events, keynotes, tradeshows, internal and partner videos, as well as broadcast and press coverage. In FY 2004 the company conducted some 12,000 video downloads and 630,000 streams a quarter. And, that number is growing.
Most streaming broadcasts can be accessed on News@Cisco via the Video Archive; others can be found in the investors section of the web site. In addition, News@Cisco has a Media Resources room which, along with contacts for reporters, provides materials an editor might need, such as executive bios, financial information, research studies, public policy, images, photos and logos, and broadcast media resources, such as b-roll and company videos.
Run a search on News@Cisco and you will not only find listings for a specific phrase or term, but recommended readings and other links.
Select and Integrate the Right Tools
New digital tools are redefining the marketing mix, bringing a level of immediacy, granularity and reach to marketing programs, hitherto unimagined. These tools are also radically changing how companies communicate and how more traditional methods are used.
Cisco still produces press releases for wire and press distribution, makes b-roll available for broadcast, and does targeted email distribution to members of the broadcast industry and press. Each of these distribution channels serves a purpose. However, the use of these traditional channels has been altered, and to some degree diminished, as new digital technologies offer other ways to leverage the value of content over the internet.
Today, Cisco provides some 350 RSS feeds that any reader can receive by category, subject or region. RSS (Really Simple Syndication), which is a web content specification, allows the sharing of content over the Internet. It extends the use of Cisco content throughout the company--and world--while reducing the cost of distribution.
Jump on the Cluetrain
While customers still respond to more traditional marketing methods, new tools such as search engines and blogs provide customers with an independent source of information. As a result, say Cluetrain Manifesto authors, audiences are more sophisticated, better informed, and far more skeptical. A smart company will not simply provide more content, but more candor, detail and opinions in its conversations with customers and the press. In addition, a forward thinking company will proactively address topics that may be sensitive and would have previously been handled with a “no comment.”
How often do you see a company addressing a sensitive issue on its website? Rather than initiate a dialogue that might lead into uncomfortable territory, most companies will say nothing at all. However, responding to tough issues provides a company with the opportunity to present its point-of-view in a more authentic, and favorable, light.
Based on my research, Cisco has been very reluctant to jump on the business blogging wagon. Atypically for a company of any size, however, it does offer a more candid voice in something it calls its Executive “Q and A’s” This forum gives the company an opportunity to discuss an issue that it may not want to publicize--be it a product defect or cancellation--as a marketing strategy. While not quite a blog, Cisco’s Executive Q&A is a step in the right direction.
Enjoy the ride
New@Cisco also has put in place an intranet for streamlining and consolidating public relations at Cisco around the world which has significantly streamlined and standardized corporate communications around the world.
The company estimates that it has saved some $5.1 million in internal productivity gains, reduced head count, deferred calls, and lowered the cost of wire, video and press kit news distribution. Since New@Cisco, the new media press room was deployed, the company reports 2.3 million unique website visitors in 2004, up 44% over FY 2003. and a total 17.4 million page views in 2004, up 1140%.
But don’t forget to purchase a ticket
The shift from mass marketing to micro marketing or smaller more targeted segments, is already underway. Companies which ignore the trend do so at their peril. Traditional marketing techniques will not disappear, but the fortunes of companies will now depend on how well they adapt to the new Internet technology. News@Cisco is a compel-ing example of how one company is responding.