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  • Richard M. Williams

Challenge: Creating an Active Voice in an On-Going Debate

There are three types of industry news cycles: one that a company creates based on its own news; a second that is created around industry events; and a third that’s created in response to opportunities or trends that develop in the market place. With the first two, a company can control how and when it engages with the public (media, customer, influencers) and usually manages the interaction at a time that meets its needs. The third however, is largely out of the control unless they can create programs that help shape the debate and establish themselves and a key player and drivers. When the news cycle is generated by regulatory actions, and is the subject of intense political debate, the challenge of ensuring a “share of voice” is greater than ever before. But with proper planning and creative execution, your client’s voice can be heard.


Situation Analysis


In February 2009 the US Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill aimed at kick-starting an economy in deep recession. One element of the bill was a Broadband Stimulus package that included $7.2 billion to bring broadband and wireless connectivity to non-service and underserved areas of the country. This level of spending dwarfed the level of grants typically awarded through government agencies and forced the various regulatory bodies to examine the definition of broadband and decide what types of equipment and services could be included in funding applications. Local independent operating companies (IOCs) that delivered telecommunications services would be a primary beneficiary of this massive grant program, and needed help navigating the application process to ensure their place in the advancement of broadband to rural communities across the United States.


Executives at ADTRAN, a leading telecommunications equipment maker based in Huntsville, Ala., realized that the Broadband Stimulus program represented one of the largest issues and opportunities facing the telecom industry since the Telecom Act of 1996. ADTRAN’s regulatory affairs group was already active in helping shape the definitions that would define broadband with the Federal Communications Commission and the two federal agencies tasked with distributing the funds.

To help its customers understand the complex process of applying for, and receiving grants under this program, Connect2 Communications crafted a plan to use the power of media relations to give ADTRAN a strong voice to advocate among three core audiences ̶ customers, press and analysts, and government organizations/regulatory bodies. For customers, the goal was to create awareness of the nuances of the Broadband Stimulus program so they could take advantage of the funds. For press and analysts, Connect2 set out to develop demand for ADTRAN as a knowledgeable, informed resource as the government executed various portions of the Broadband Stimulus program. For government organizations, ADTRAN aimed to advocate on the proposed rule changes that the broadband service providers would be applying for, which in turn would enable the Broadband Stimulus program to become wildly successful.


Planning, Strategy, Tactics


With over 1700 customers and technology deployments in the largest service provider networks in the United States, ADTRAN was well positioned to be a credible thought leader and resource for the telecommunications industry on this issue. Many companies had a vested interest in how the stimulus money would be spent, but ADTRAN realized that it would be in the best interest of their customers to help them understand the process as not all would be well equipped to navigate the complicated process of applying for funds.


With this in mind, Connect2 Communications created a communications plan with the objective of establishing ADTRAN as the “go to” resource for all things related to Broadband Stimulus. Several tactics were implemented to achieve this. First, a “Broadband Stimulus Advisor” microsite was created on ADTRAN’s website that hosted current news and information about the process of applying for Broadband Stimulus. Connect2 also recruited industry journalists to provide insightful blogs about the process and the impact it was having on the market as a whole. In addition, ADTRAN also hosted informative webinars for customers, press and analysts from the Broadband Stimulus Advisor website. These webinars became a nimble feature of the site as they could be turned up quickly to address breaking news from the FCC and get target audiences up to speed on the impact of new rulings and procedures to the process.


Connect2 was also diligent in its media relations efforts by reaching out to reporters covering Broadband Stimulus and creating opportunities for editorial coverage. With ADTRAN’s insight into the schedule for rulings and deadlines, Connect2 was able to prep reporters and work with them to get ahead of news cycles before they broke. As a result, ADTRAN executives were frequently quoted in press stories for both business and trade press publications. Connect2 continued this type of outreach for industry analysts by setting up quarterly briefings with key analysts to give updates on ADTRAN’s efforts in the Broadband Stimulus space. As analysts were referenced by the press in Broadband Stimulus stories, ADTRAN’s messaging remained top of mind with the analysts and was reflected in their comments. Connect2 also leveraged social media resources by reaching out to industry bloggers and creating a Broadband Stimulus twitter account.


With this being the largest telecom legislation since 1996, Connect2 also wanted to educate the press on its significance. Along with ADTRAN, Connect2 organized a press and analyst event at ADTRAN’s headquarters in Huntsville to meet face-to-face with the journalists that had been covering this legislation. ADTRAN was able to share greater details about the funding process and the impact the legislation was having on its customer base. These types of details resulted in a more nuanced understanding of the Broadband Stimulus funding that other companies had not been providing for the press and analyst community.


Results


In less than twelve months, the Broadband Stimulus communication outreach program achieved the following results:


  • Broadband Stimulus Advisor microsite tracked 16,756 page views by 7,422 unique visitors since its launch in March 2009.

  • A total of 10 Broadband Stimulus webinars resulted in an average of 60-80 attendees out of 100-140 registrations per webinar

  • Editorial coverage among business press including the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fortune and MSNBC.com

  • Editorial coverage in industry trade publications including 12 key articles featured in TMCnet, Light Reading, VON, InformationWeek, Communications Daily, InternetNews and Connected Planet

  • Advocacy efforts resulted in a number of key rule changes that enabled more ADTRAN customers to participate in Round 2 of the Broadband Stimulus program – FCC credits ADTRAN with support on the rule changes

  • Hosted an event at ADTRAN headquarters attended by 28 key press, analyst and bloggers – resulting in additional editorial coverage from industry writers and new social media buzz about ADTRAN and Broadband Stimulus

  • ADTRAN was invited to speak about the National Broadband Plan and the impact of Broadband Stimulus during SUPERCOMM – the leading telecom industry trade show

  • As distribution of the funds continues into 2010, press and analysts are now turning to ADTRAN when they need a resource for a Broadband Stimulus stor






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