Consider these two news items at opposite ends of the excitement scale.  On the thrilling end:  A raid on a counterfeit software ring.  At the ho-hum:  A donation to a charity.  Yet Waggener Edstrom was able to create nationwide attention for its client Microsoft’s efforts in battling counterfeit software crime, and its resulting donation to a Boys & Girls Club in Southern California.  Through an imaginative special event, the company and the agency not only gained impressive attention for the announcement, but strengthened community ties and helped teach youngsters that there’s nothing swashbuckling about software piracy.
Counterfeit software costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost tax revenues that would usually fund needed public services – $121 million in California alone – and has cost more than 100,000 American jobs.  Many people mistakenly believe the problem is greatest overseas, but counterfeiting is prevalent throughout the United States, particularly in Southern California, where police believe more than half of all counterfeit software in the United States is manufactured.
Microsoft, the world's leading developer of software, naturally is concerned with the issue – as are other software developers and varied law enforcement agencies across the country, including the police department of Westminster, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb.  In 1999, Microsoft teamed with the Westminster Police Department (WPD), as well as the FBI and U.S. Customs Department, to catch criminal counterfeiters in the Los Angeles area.  This effort resulted in the largest raid of counterfeit software in U.S. history, with eight indictments and more than $60 million in counterfeit products recovered.
After the successful work with the WPD, Microsoft decided to make a donation to a youth organization in the area, a very underprivileged community with three prevalent gangs.  Microsoft selected the Westminster Boys & Girls Club, a key community organization with programs geared to keep kids off the street and out of trouble.  Microsoft donated $300,000 over three years to the club.  Waggener Edstrom, Microsoft's agency of record, was asked to help make the announcement. 
The challenge:  To turn a typical dry “check presentation” ceremony into an exciting event that would visually demonstrate both the counterfeit problem and Microsoft’s commitment to the community.
In planning the announcement, Waggener Edstrom conducted both primary and secondary research, including in-depth review of Microsoft’s documents on counterfeit software, research into the counterfeiting problem in Southern California and research on the Westminster community, including the Boys & Girls Clubs and their planned use for the grant money.  Later, once the strategy was determined, the team did exhaustive research on engineering and safety issues. 
Based on the research, Waggener Edstrom developed the following plan to demonstrate Microsoft’s commitment to community partnerships through its work with the WPD and the Boys & Girls Club.
Business Objective:  To help reduce the prevalence of software counterfeiting in Southern California, increase consumer awareness of counterfeiting and decrease the degree of harm to consumers related to counterfeiting.
Public Relations Objectives:
  • To educate kids in Westminster – a major home of piracy – about the problems associated with software counterfeiting and theft, as measured by their level of participation in an activity at the Boys & Girls Club, summer 2000.
  • To leverage broad coverage of the counterfeiting issue with a variety of audiences, as measured by quality and quantity of coverage.
Audiences.  Primary:  The officials and 100+ members of the Westminster Boys & Girls Club (B&GC), because of the contribution; Software consumers and other citizens in Southern California, because of the high degree of counterfeiting there.  Secondary:  Government officials and other opinion leaders in Westminster, Calif.; the Westminster community.
Our challenge:  Turning a typical “check presentation” ceremony into an exciting event that would colorfully demonstrate the immensity of the counterfeiting problem in Southern California, while benefiting the kids from the Boys & Girls Club in an economically challenged community.  To cut through the clutter of a major media market like Los Angeles, we’d need an extraordinarily creative idea.  In addition, we needed to visually represent the significance of software counterfeiting and theft in a way that would make sense to multiple audiences. 
Our opportunity:  Thousands of counterfeit software CDs seized in raids throughout Southern California were to be destroyed.  Microsoft gave Waggener Edstrom its blessing to destroy the counterfeit software any way we chose…
Our solution:  The “Counterfeit Crush.”  We would bring local B&GC members together for a summer project.  We’d help them build a massive wall of counterfeit CDs – 16 feet high, 16 feet wide.  Then, to drive the point home, we’d hold a “Counterfeit Crush” event in July 2000 – with a jacked-up “Monster Truck” smashing through the wall of fake CDs.
Waggener Edstrom worked with the WPD and the Boys & Girls Club to secure the involvement of all the partners, create the “Crush” event, manage the building of the wall, help develop a presentation for the WPD about the perils of counterfeiting, supervise the “Crush” event and publicize it with media activities.  The event was conceived in spring 2000, with the wall-building taking place in July, culminating with the Crush on July 26, 2000.
Challenges and Solutions Included:
No Flying Objects.  Safety precautions were one of our biggest concerns.  Obviously, while the pieces of shattered software would make a good visual, we didn’t want them flying into the audience.  In addition, the wall would need to be built with exacting specifications so that it wouldn’t fall over and harm anyone.  Solution:  We consulted with a Hollywood stuntman for advice on the wall construction. Additionally, we worked with safety experts from the WPD to ensure that both the wall and the “Crush” met safety standards, including how far away to position the spectators and providing earplugs for the kids to ensure no hearing damage would occur due to the loud monster truck.
Microsoft’s Other Summer Activities.  A great deal of attention was focused on the new twist in the government’s antitrust case against Microsoft.  Not only would it be a challenge to attract attention for other Microsoft news, it would take a carefully planned and executed PR campaign to avoid unfavorable comparisons raised by a monster truck smashing software, albeit counterfeit.  Solution:  We emphasized the lighthearted, fun and local nature of the event, Microsoft’s spirit of giving and the fact that kids would benefit.
The “Counterfeit Crush” was a smash around the country – and exceeded our expectations, meeting all our public relations objectives and supporting our overall business objective.
  • Educating Kids – The event succeeded in teaching these at-risk kids that counterfeiting is not the way to go. 
  • More than one-fourth of the members helped build the wall during the summer, a hands-on lesson on the pervasiveness of counterfeiting. 
  • More than 100 kids participated in an educational presentation about software counterfeiting by the WPD. 
On Crush day, more than 150 members of both the local and national Boys & Girls Clubs of America and their friends and families gathered to scream in delight as the monster truck “BIG FOOT 12” plowed through the wall.  Beyond the thrill of the Crush itself, kids learned about the counterfeit problem, and learned lessons in leadership and community involvement. Even on camera, the kids were able to articulate the issue (in teen-speak):  “They, like, make fake ones to sell cheaper and get more money” (in the words of a teenage girl member).
The lessons were long-lasting Months later, kids still remembered the lessons they had learned. 
Communicating the Issue to Consumers – The event helped raise awareness about the piracy problem.  Despite our initial concerns about Westminster's proximity to local press, numerous media were drawn to the event, including eight TV stations (an incredible feat in the typically challenging Los Angeles media market).
Media coverage was beyond our expectations, reaching nearly 10 million listeners/viewers and readers in Southern California and around the country. 
All the coverage focused on the event and positioned Microsoft in the context of its relationship with the Westminster community – rather than with the U.S. Justice Department. It also relayed the message to consumers in Southern California that Microsoft and law enforcement are serious about stopping counterfeiting.
Demonstrating Microsoft’s Commitment – The event helped emphasize Microsoft’s support of local communities. 
The event helped maximize visibility for what the gift will provide, such as a new computer center and new library for the Boys & Girls Club, and personalized the gift by showing the faces of some of the kids who will benefit.
The event has strengthened the long-standing relationship between Microsoft and the Westminster Police Department.  It also enabled Microsoft to showcase the Westminster Police Department’s counterfeit raid, providing additional attention for their successful anti-piracy efforts.  And, it brought attention to the WPD’s DARE drug prevention program at the Boys & Girls Club.
Microsoft also gained visibility for its plans to donate as much as $25 million – won in court settlements with software pirates – to nonprofit organizations like the Westminster Boys & Girls Club over the next few years. 
Although new statistics on software piracy (from the primary source, the Business Software Alliance) are not due to be released until May 2001, we hope to see an impact in Southern California that would support our business objective.  In any case, we expect that kids in Westminster will tell their friends for years about the day the monster truck came to their club and smashed the wall of fake CDs – and that counterfeit CDs are good for nothing except Monster Truck fodder.