Paul Holmes 02 Apr 2003 // 11:00PM GMT
A priority for the Corning/Brodeur media team in 2001 was to support Corning’s business priority of preserving its corporate image in the face of a deteriorating economy and an uncertain business environment. We seized the occasion of Corning’s 150th anniversary to showcase the company’s longevity, continuous evolution, and history of life-changing innovations. Far-sighted planning and creative pitching gave “legs” to our campaign: We incorporated the anniversary-theme into media coverage over a 12-plus month period, telling not only stories specifically related to the event, but also using the anniversary as a hook to tell broader stories of strategic leadership and continuous innovation.
The campaign was a resounding success not only in terms of volume, but also the overall quality and tone of Corning’s media coverage. While 2001 was dominated by headlines such as “Lessons from the Lucent Debacle,” (Fortune, February 2, 2001), Corning received headlines such as “The Horse and Cart, in Order,” (The New York Times, January 7, 2001). While the volume and favorability of articles about Corning’s competitors declined during Q3 2001, Corning’s coverage increased and favorability was neutral to positive. There was strong pick up of key messages, with an emphasis on the company’s dedication to innovation, continuous reinvention, and ability to stay the course.
The Challenge/The Opportunity
The deteriorating economy made 2001 a challenging year for many businesses, but few industries were as hard hit as Telecom, whose “meltdown” was cited by Fortune magazine as one of the top 10 business stories of the year. The influential business media began to raise questions about the viability of many businesses, while also shining a spotlight on “management missteps.” As companies came under increased scrutiny, the challenge for the Corning/Brodeur media team was to manage the message by communicating Corning’s business strength and ability to weather the downturn.
We recognized an opportunity in the form of Corning’s 150th anniversary, which would be officially celebrated on June 21, 2001. This anniversary marked a major milestone for the company and an achievement few American businesses have reached. We seized the occasion to tell the story of Corning’s rich history and to communicate key corporate messages that had become increasingly important in a challenging economic climate – stability, experience, business diversity, and a proven track record of delivering life-changing innovations.
The team began by conducting a benchmarking study to determine how many other American companies reached the 150-year milestone and how they promoted their anniversaries. The team researched company archives to develop historical pitch points and content for fact sheets, timelines, and press releases. We regularly took the pulse of the media via Quarterly Media Analysis reports to obtain insights into the overall media climate, so we could hone messages and targets for maximum impact. The team prepared detailed communications and media outreach plans to keep executives and colleagues apprised of our efforts. We developed careful messages and created detailed briefing materials, Q&As, and fact sheets to ensure that spokespeople stayed on message. Our objectives were to: (1) aggressively position Corning in the media as a stable company, proven innovator, and high-tech leader; (2) raise awareness in the media of Corning’s 150-year tradition of innovation; (3) showcase the experience of Corning’s management team; (4) secure feature coverage and mentions of the 150-year milestone in the national business media.
Our strategy was to capitalize on the approaching anniversary to communicate key corporate messages to the media.
Promote the June 21 event, but use the anniversary as a hook to tell broader stories of stability, innovation, leadership and continual evolution. Corning’s 150-year history was used as a proofpoint in pitches about Corning’s track record as an innovator and the company’s ability to manage through difficult times.
Celebrate the history, but emphasize the future. We emphasized not only Corning’s history of life-changing inventions, but also its ongoing commitment to pursuing breakthrough technology.
Incorporate the theme of discovery throughout the campaign. We built upon prior branding work by echoing the company’s “Discovering Beyond Imagination” tagline. We incorporated information about Corning innovations and R&D efforts into pitches and made Corning scientists available for media interviews in addition to the usual executives.
Collaborate for maximum impact. We worked closely with executives, business units, and the June 21 special events team to identify business priorities, develop effective messages, and ensure key media opportunities were not missed.
Relentless Messaging: We began incorporating Corning’s 150th anniversary into pitches and interviews during the year leading up to the event. Anniversary messages were incorporated into all briefing materials and modified as necessary to incorporate new, relevant information, and address evolving market concerns.
“Birthday Box” Press Kit: We developed an attention-getting “Birthday Box” direct mail piece and disseminated it to a broad range of media targets two months before the official anniversary. The Birthday Box featured a scrolled and ribboned announcement, a special “150 Years of Discovery” booklet that highlighted Corning’s life-changing inventions, and a box of Godiva chocolates to add to the festive tone. The accompanying pitch letter invited reporters to join Corning in celebrating the company’s “historical evolution.”
Customized Pitching: Carefully tailored pitches to national business media were an essential element of the campaign’s success. These pitches enabled us to underscore the business story behind the anniversary. For example, in a successful pitch to USA Today, the team proposed a strategy story in which CEO John Loose would provide advice on managing downturns. Corning’s 150-year track record was the proof point that validated him as a credible authority.
Drumbeat of Announcements: As the anniversary date grew closer, we disseminated a rolling stream of announcements about the June 21 celebration and related activities such as the participation of keynote speaker John Glenn, the dedication of a commemorative Steuben sculpture, and the unveiling of a time capsule to mark the occasion.
Special Event Media Coordination: Select national reporters were invited to participate in the June 21 celebration, and more than two dozen attended. The team coordinated satellite feeds with CNBC and CNNfn. A press conference was held with keynote speaker John Glenn, and we coordinated one-on-one media interviews with scientists and gave tours of R&D facilities to reinforce the innovation and discovery theme. Detailed briefing materials, Q&As, and fact sheets were created for use at the event.
Ongoing Outreach: Following the June 21 event, We sustained interest by mailing copies of specially commissioned anniversary books to targeted reporters for longer-lead stories.
Through creative messaging and pitching, we were able to turn what could have simply been a special event into 12+ months of strategic business media coverage. Highlights include:
- A 15-page feature story in Fast Company, titled “Creative Tension: Corning Invents The Future,” (November 2000) highlights Corning’s R&D division and the company’s 150-year tradition of sustaining creativity.
- Corning was featured in the Industry Standard’s “Standard 100” (November 2000) in a five-page story that celebrated Corning’s success at reinventing itself and its track record of bringing innovations to market.
- A feature story in Bloomberg Markets titled “How Corning Became Cool” (December 2000) includes a timeline of Corning’s innovations throughout its 150-year history.
- A New York Times feature story, titled “The Horse and Cart, in Order,” (January 7, 2001) emphasizes Corning’s technology focus, commitment to breakthroughs, and ability to execute on its business strategy.
- Corning was showcased in a five-page feature story in Business 2.0 titled “Dump the Cookware, Stoke the Innovators: How Corning has thrived for most of its 150 years.” (May 1, 2001)
- A Washington Post feature story (May 9, 2001) highlights Corning’s R&D work and the company’s ability to evolve and capitalize on new market opportunities in a feature story titled, “Corning’s Latest Reinvention.”
- Corning’s message reached a broad business/consumer audience via the major network morning shows. A birthday wish by NBC’s Willard Scott (July 30, 2001) hailed Corning as “one of America’s great companies,” while a CBS Early Show feature (June 18, 2001) showcased a broad range of Corning innovations.
- The dissemination of Corning’s anniversary books generated laudatory reviews and features in high-profile business publications including The Economist, The Financial Times, Upside, and The Boston Globe.
- Corning’s leadership was showcased in strategy stories, resulting from our tactic of using the anniversary as a proof-point to tell a story of stability, experience, and leadership.
- A USA Today “Advice from the Top” column (June 1, 2001) featured a Q&A with CEO John Loose in which he dispensed advice to other executives about managing through difficult times.
- CEO John Loose was featured on the CNBC Business Center program “Builders and Leaders,” where he discussed the company’s business diversity, ongoing innovation, and ability to stay the course. (May 21, 2001).
- Bloomberg News underscored Corning’s strong leadership and confidence in its business strategy in a profile story titled “Corning CEO Loose, Undeterred by Slowdown, Sticks to Strategy” (April 26, 2001).
Influenced the “Influencers” – Quarterly Media Analysis reports revealed strong pick up of key messages, with an emphasis on the company’s dedication to innovation, continuous reinvention, and ability to stay the course. While the volume and favorability of articles about Corning’s competitors declined during Q3 2001, Corning’s coverage increased, and favorability was predominantly neutral to positive. When asked to comment on Corning, reporters and analysts frequently cited Corning’s longevity, business diversity, and track record of innovation, attesting to our success at “influencing the influencers.”