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Rachel McCallister and Allison Thomas

Final installment in a four-article series.

To demonstrate the role of public relations in the launch of a business and its products, we have been following the story of Blue Streak, a fictitious company launched by Tom Jones to manufacture and market blue, glow-in-the-dark widgets, dubbed Blue Streaks.

This new glow-in-the-dark technology turned out to be equally appealing to the transportation industry as a means of improving highway safety and to GenXers who latched onto it as a pop cultural phenomenon, akin to doing the “wave” at a concert or sporting event. Jones effectively used public relations to launch his company, establishing strong relationships with his core widget industry trade press. What more could any company ask for?

Unfortunately for Jones, he isn’t prepared for the overwhelming response to his products. His business plan projected only half the demand he’s actually receiving.

In the long run the problems are solvable, but in the short term, he needs to meet manufacturing deadlines to keep current customers happy. He’s also concerned about turning away future business.

To further complicate the picture, one of Jones’ leading engineer/technologists has been wooed away by his biggest competitor, who also wants to climb onto the glow-in-the-dark, neon widget bandwagon.

Although it would appear that public relations is the least of Jones’ concerns at this point, it’s really more important than ever.

Jones needs to control the Blue Streak story in order to reinforce industry confidence in his management ability, attract capital needed for growth and ward off potential competitors. He also needs to establish Blue Streak’s continued role as an industry innovator to keep current clients who might be lured by the competition promising products comparable to his own.

Fortunately, Jones has kept up with the widget industry trade press and with business analysts he met with during the company’s launch phase.

His public relations team recommends that he schedule a series of meetings with this key group of industry influentials to inform them about the capital infusion that will enable him to grow his company, the action steps he is taking to meet the overwhelming and unexpected demand for his product, and the upcoming innovations in the product scheduled for release in six months.

Clear messages are developed to explain the temporary reduction in product flow, the promise of future innovation and Blue Streak’s commitment to its customers. The team meets with Jones to ensure that all individuals speaking on behalf of the company are saying the same thing.

The P.R. team becomes very selective about doing product publicity and promotions for the GenX Blue Streaks. P.R. reduces the number of stunts and promotions using Blue Streaks, but goes for big hits designed to generate global awareness and to continue the current momentum. Proactive efforts are limited to those outlets that will continue to help build Blue Streaks as a pop culture icon.

On the transportation side of the business, the focus stays on the unparalleled safety track record of the product. Because the customers are major state and national transportation agencies, P.R. works with sales and marketing to craft a very targeted strategy designed to reassure them of Blue Streak’s ability to deliver a first-class product that the competition can’t touch.

The presentation to these clients is very similar to the one prepared for the key industry analysts and trade press, enhanced by competitive sales data, delivery schedules, etc.

Positioning Tom Jones as an industry visionary, a goal of the initial public relations strategy, becomes even more important in fighting off the competition.

The P.R. team, which is always monitoring speaking opportunities for all members of the senior management team, looks for a trade show or industry event at which Jones could deliver the keynote address and possibly unveil yet another step forward in the widget world.

Word on the street is that the competition is going to announce a radical new approach to widgetry. Their new product is not appreciably different than Blue Streaks, but on the surface, it looks great. The Super Bowl half-time producers are considering switching from Blue Streaks to this new product.

Jones’ P.R. and marketing teams go into action. First, they develop a point-by-point comparison of the two products, pointing out Blue Streaks’ strengths over the competition. Aware that most journalists are not acquainted with the finer points of widgetdom, they aggressively point out Blue Streak’s superiority in many areas, as well as encourage them to ask the types of questions that will reveal the competition’s singular weakness.

The Super Bowl half-time producers are still on the fence.

Meanwhile, the engineering team works 24-hour shifts to ready the next version of Blue Streaks, which they all know will blow away the competition. Marketing secures permission from engineering to give the Super Bowl producers a sneak peak in order to buy some time.

The ploy works.

P.R. starts readying for the biggest launch stunt in history. Now it’s up to Blue Streak to deliver.

Allison Thomas and Rachel McCallister are partners in KillerApp Communications LLC, a Los Angeles public relations agency for the interactive entertainment and online services industry.

Small Business is a regular column contributed by EC2, The Annenberg Incubator Project, a center for multimedia and electronic communications at the University of Southern California. Contact Dan Rabinovitch at (213) 743-2344 with feedback and topic suggestions.

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