By: Joe Nicholson
Microsoft Mogul Uses Newspapers Because They’re ‘Effective’
from this week’s Editor & Publisher magazine:
Bill Gates was between a rock and a hard place.
A federal judge ruled that his Microsoft Corp. had repeatedly violated
antitrust laws, concluding a bitterly fought trial and four months of
fruitless efforts to settle the case, which was brought by the U.S.
Justice Department and 19 states.
By 4 p.m. of the day of the ruling, Microsoft shares dropped by 14%;
that day the Nasdaq Composite Index suffered its largest drop in points
ever. One headline the next morning summed it up: ‘Nasdaq Falls 349.15
on Microsoft News.’
How did Gates respond? He wrote a letter that appeared the next day,
April 5, in full-page ads in The Washington Post, The Wall Street
Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer,
The Seattle Times, and the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News. A day later,
an ad with the letter appeared in Washington’s Roll Call. ‘We
respectfully disagree with the Court’s ruling,’ wrote Gates and
Microsoft President and CEO Steve Ballmer, who added they believed the
courts would find Microsoft’s actions had been ‘both lawful and good
Advertisers don’t always move as fast as Gates, but there has been an
increase in the number of companies placing newspaper advocacy ads,
usually in national papers. ‘Many companies are being more proactive in
communications outreach, and advocacy advertising is one form of
communications,’ said Richard W. Tippett, director of national
advertising at The Washington Post.
Gates’ letter appeared in the same Post editions that reported his
appeal might be put on a ‘fast track’ to the U.S. Supreme Court. In his
letter, Gates said his appeal ‘will stress a 1998 U.S. Court of Appeals
decision that affirmed Microsoft’s right to build Internet capabilities
into Windows to benefit customers.’ And he took a shot at ‘the
government’s case,’ saying it was ‘based on a premise that we should
not have been allowed to develop new versions of Windows that included
built-in support for the Internet.’
Dean Katz, group public-relations manager at Microsoft, told E&P that
the firm uses newspapers for various advertising objectives, adding,
‘The April 5 ad was obviously in response to the district court’s
conclusions of law that were issued on April 3. This [ad] was part of
an opportunity for Microsoft to communicate directly with the public
and to provide our point of view in what was obviously an important
story in the news. And it was also a complement to our other
communication efforts, including a news conference with Bill Gates and
Steve Ballmer, and some TV ads.’
Those TV ads, which appeared a day after the newspaper ads, also
conveyed Microsoft’s response to the court ruling, said Katz. ‘[The TV
ads] talk at a broader level about the importance of innovation and
consumer benefits. Obviously, with print ads, you’re more able to go
into greater detail than you are in TV,’ he said.
Microsoft used full-page newspaper ads several times in connection with
issues involved with the antitrust case, said Katz, who explained
newspapers were better suited for some forms of communication than
other media. ‘I suppose you could do radio or TV with that, but we have
chosen to use print because it is an effective and efficient way of
communicating with important audiences, including customers, partners,
shareholders, and policy-makers.’
As the ruling date approached, Microsoft prepared so that it would be
‘ready to go’ with an ad response, said Katz, who noted newspapers ads
‘might be a little bit faster’ than producing TV ads.
In addition to its ads concerning the antitrust case, Microsoft has
used newspaper ads for years ‘to ensure that our brand is visible,’
said Katz. Moreover, Microsoft has run 15 newspaper ads over the last
year on public policy issues. ‘As the technology industry begins to
become an arena where policy-makers are paying attention, we want to
make sure we are playing a leading role in helping define and address
these issues,’ said Katz.
Microsoft’s ad essays have covered topics such as piracy, hackers, and
the digital divide. The essays have run in the Post, The New York
Times, the Mercury News, Roll Call, the National Journal, and The
Microsoft isn’t the only company using issue ads, which have grown
dramatically ‘particularly in the last five or six years,’ said the
Post’s Tippett. In addition to getting Microsoft ads that responded to
the court case and presented issue essays, the Post published an ad-
filled 26-page special section on April 5 about ‘business-to-business’
e-commerce. Most ads were national; others were retail and classified
‘You always sell the market first,’ explained Tippett, who extols
Washington as the nation’s most wired city and home to 12,000 tech
firms, more than Silicon Valley. ‘The Washington Post is a unique brand
of reporting and editing; then the readership, the market coverage.
It’s a credible environment.’
Like Microsoft, smaller tech firms realize they can’t ignore government
policy-makers. ‘Many of the tech firms have certainly recognized, as
associations have, the increasing importance of Washington,’ said
The Post plans three more special sections – in May, September, and
November – focused on Web issues. Tippett was optimistic smaller tech
firms will continue to follow Gates’ path into the Post.
Microsoft adding newspapers?
Microsoft plans to continue buying newspaper ads for essays – and it
may add additional newspapers.
‘We are going to continue to talk about public-policy issues in the
essays in the foreseeable future,’ said Dean Katz, group public-
relations manager at Microsoft, who added, ‘We might expand [the
newspaper mix] a bit.’
Katz declined to say which newspapers might be added, saying, ‘We are
always evaluating which are the most appropriate publications to talk
about issues in the public arena.’
Joe Nicholson ([email protected]) is associate editor
for Editor & Publisher magazine.
(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher