Thursday, February 09, 2006

What Would David Do?

I can't believe how often clients back off from the prospect of a public battle with their industry's 800-lb. gorillas.

Across hundreds of newbiz input sessions, I've heard C-level execs at start-ups and mid-sized companies pound their breasts and proclaim,

"Bring It On!"

But as soon as the contract is signed, we hear a lot of hemming and hawing...

"They might crush us."


"There's a possibility we might want to do a deal with them at some point."


"We don't want to kill a chance that they might buy us out."

"Our customers/prospects/VCs don't think it would be a good use of resources."

"They are bastards but they validate the space and educate the market, so maybe we ought to lay low."

What happened to cajones?!

Only one client really allowed us to truly embrace a competitive program: Speedera Networks.

When we started outwith Speedera, the #1 PR goal was, "to be mentioned in passing as a competitor to Akamai." No kidding: a passing reference of Speedera in an Akamai feature story was considered a home-run!

Not good enough for our team. We suggested that li'l Speedera had little to lose by takin' the gloves off and pounding the Akamai crew in the nose. "Do you want mentions or do you want to kick some ass?"

To their credit, Speedera execs warmed to the competitive concept. SHIFT engaged in an all-out war. Every Akamai article and press release created a lickety-split response from our Speedera team. Any customer that defected from Akamai to Speedera became a PR campaign. We even went so far as to publish a list of hard-hitting "Questions Akamai Doesn't Want You To Ask (sponsored by a top competitor)" to the list of financial analysts who covered AKAM.

Lo, not SIX MONTHS later, we saw headlines in pubs like InformationWeek heralding Speedera as "Akamai's Emerging Rival."

Lawsuits flew back and forth. Akamai sicced the FBI on Speedera. Through it all we never lost heart. And, importantly, neither did Speedera's execs or stakeholders. In fact, in 2002, at the height of this brouhaha, Speedera trounced Akamai in terms of annual press coverage.

What happened in the end? Akamai bought Speedera for $130 million.

“It’s almost like the Capulets and Montagues have kissed and made up,” says Counse Broders, principal analyst for Internet and managed services at Current Analysis. “They have been such major rivals.” (Network World)
Let's review...

"They might crush us."
Though miniscule compared to Akamai, Speedera was not crushed.
Speedera thrived.

"There's a possibility we might want to do a deal with them at some point."

One of the tech industry's most vicious rivalries did not preclude a lucrative deal.

"We don't want to kill a chance that they might buy us out."

Umm... yea, okay.

"Our customers/prospects/VCs don't think it would be a good use of resources."
Never heard that one from Speedera. When the FBI shut-down Speedera for the day, we called the local TV crews to make hay about how Speedera was such a big threat to Akamai!

"They are bastards but they validate the space and educate the market, so maybe we ought to lay low."
Laying low is for losers! Why not leverage the Big Dog's own market proselytizing by short-circuiting your media introductions?

"We're a lot like GoliathCorp., but we're better/different because of X, Y, Z..."
You've just cut 20 precious seconds from your pitch; you've made the journalist's life easier by helping them to assign you to a "bucket" they already dabble in.

There's a reason that so many of the stories from the Bible still resonate with us today. Think about David. A peasant kid, facing down the biggest, baddest barbarian in the land. With a rock and a leather string. The expectation was that he would be crushed. Appeasers in his own ragtag army fretted for peace. He could have run away. Melted into the crowd. Instead he marched into history.

You want great PR? Think like David. Give the press an archetypal narrative. Good vs. Evil. Big vs. Small. Fast vs. Slow. Don't shrink from the hot lights of competitive controversy. Rise up to it. Be bold.

2 Comments:

Blogger Michael Morton said...

Being bold can definitely be a beneficial trait for a company. However, it does concern me when someone mentions lawsuites. Why did Akamai sic the FBI on Speedera? Did it have anything to do with the publishing of the "hard-hitting" paper? I would imagine that Speedera's lawyers did not want their PR representatives saying much during the lawsuites.

February 09, 2006  
Blogger PR-Guy said...

Hi Michael -

So, keeping in mind that this was 2.5 years ago... As I dimly recall, the FBI gig was occasioned by (false) claims of hacking. All charges were dropped in the end. It had nothing to do with any specific campaign, but, no doubt, it had everything to do with our ongoing push.

Keep in mind that I am a PR guy, not a business consultant: my take on it as a PR guy is that the lawsuits (all also dropped) were a clear signal to the industry that Akamai was running scared from a small-time, but aggressive, competitor.

It is true that there were no real comments made about the lawsuits themselves, but, the PR agency was able to imply that Akamai was on the defensive, as borne out by its over-zealous counter-attack.

Remember when Tom Siebel predicted in the WSJ that Salesforce.com would be "dead in a year"?? That was the real beginning of Marc Benioff's rocket ride to stardom: the day the huge competitor took the time to bash the start-up aggressor.

February 09, 2006  

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