Contact: Ermis Sfakiyanudis, CEO of eTelemetry
Location: Annapolis, MD
Industry: Internet technology, B2B
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: 20
US businesses stand to lose over $1 billion in combined productivity every year during the live Internet broadcast of the NCAA March Madness tournament, according to estimates from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement consulting firm headquartered in Chicago.
That's a statement that would make the average company executive stop and take note. And that's exactly what Annapolis-based eTelemetry counted on when it used that statistic, along with some careful product positioning and the endorsement of a satisfied client (both of which helped to rein in privacy concerns), to pitch its Metron product as an employee-monitoring solution capable of curbing such loss during March Madness and otherwise.
The pitch succeeded in garnering the attention of The Washington Post, Inc.com and Fast Company, among others—a total readership/audience of over 24 million—in turn leading to a 69% boost in the company's Web traffic.
eTelemetry's Metron product measures network bandwidth usage by department and by individual employee, itemizing information such as time spent online and Web sites visited. When the product was originally released in 2006, it was touted as an effective solution for managing enterprise networks and, in particular, bandwidth across departments.
The story was picked up by several technology-focused trade publications the readers of which could appreciate such functionality. But eTelemetry aspired for more mainstream coverage in order to gain higher visibility across numerous industries and among decision-making enterprise executives, not just the techies.
San Francisco-based PR firm Vantage Communications helped the company identify a more straightforward and universal product benefit to which the broader demographic could relate: the ability to understand employee Internet usage and recognize when company networks are being used for personal entertainment during business hours.
"The foray into employee behavior was an easier conversation to have, since everyone has that problem," said Ermis Sfakiyanudis, CEO of eTelemetry.
An easier conversation, perhaps, but also a controversial one—enveloped in privacy issues—which required eTelemetry to properly position itself and its product to limit adverse associations and negative press.
In early 2007, CBS Sports announced that it would once again present the NCAA March Madness tournament online in streaming video during regular business hours. eTelemetry saw the event as a prime backdrop for its campaign. It planned a simple pitch that highlighted the online streaming of March Madness and Metron's capability to detail employee Internet usage.
The pitch, which targeted business publications and mainstream media outlets, was sent out one week before the tournament's onset. It included several elements aimed at establishing credibility and controlling privacy concerns:
- Third-party statistics were used to estimate how much businesses stood to lose in terms of human and financial resources during March Madness. (Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement consulting company, predicted a $1.2 billion loss among US businesses during the 2007 tournament.)
- eTelemetry's executives were positioned as thought leaders on the subject of best-practices for monitoring employee Internet usage in the workplace. These best-practices admitted a fine line between conserving company resources and imposing overly stringent controls on employees who may only briefly check scores or other non-business-related content.
- An eTelemetry client was identified as someone willing to talk to the media regarding his concerns about employee Internet usage and the heedful steps he was taking to tackle the issue. "[Our client] became the reference point for the people with whom we wanted to communicate," said Sfakiyanudis.
eTelemetry and its client representative were also careful to emphasize that March Madness was just one illustration of productivity lost during the work day due to personal Internet surfing.
"We made it clear that the NCAA Tournament was only an example of what companies deal with all the time. This was important because we and the journalists knew that potential customers would not buy the product solely for the NCAAs, so it was in our interest to frame the tournament as a piece of a bigger picture," said Sfakiyanudis.
eTelemetry's pitch prompted articles in The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, The San Jose Mercury News and 41 online publications, including Inc.com, FoxNews.com, TMCnet.com, AZCentral.com, and OregonLive.com. Some 30 television stations nationwide posted the Inc.com article on their Web sites. In addition, the Washington Post article was picked up through syndication and inspired an ABC evening news feature that appeared on March 22, 2007.
By the end of the tournament, total "circulation" had reached more than 24 million, in terms of unique visitors and readers.
Even after the tournament, press interest continued to trickle in. Fast Company, for example, mentioned eTelemetry in its blog and later printed an article in its magazine. Sfakiyanudis also appeared in a New York Post article on the topic of employee monitoring in January 2008.
"This was not a one-shot event," said Rob Adler, eTelemetry's representative at Vantage Communications. "It established [Sfakiyanudis] as a thought leader in the space of employee monitoring because of that coverage."
Sfakiyanudis said the breadth of coverage further accounted for a 69% increase in eTelemetry's Web traffic and a huge jump in incoming leads.
- Find a common pain. While the tech community could appreciate the overall functionality of Metron, it wasn't until eTelemetry repositioned the product as a solution to a more relatable problem that it captured the attention of mainstream press and a broader target market.
- Align your message with noteworthy current events. eTelemetry's pitch captured two in-demand themes, March Madness and employee monitoring, either of which would have been difficult for the press to resist.
- Establish yourself as a credible source. eTelemetry was fortunate to have a well-spoken and satisfied client who was willing to speak on the company's behalf, adding a good deal of legitimacy to its claims. Sfakiyanudis also bolstered the integrity of his press interactions by discussing all sides of the issue and driving in the importance of best-practices when dealing with employee monitoring.
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