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How PR Strategy played a key part in the rebranding of Virgin Media Business

The launch of Virgin Media Business was signalled by a campaign intended to herald a shake-up of the business telecoms market and create a platform for the organisation to enter a new phase of growth. The campaign needed to convey how the Virgin brand would deliver outstanding customer service, innovation and value for money to the business-to-business (B2B) sector. Implementation across PR, marketing and advertising agencies was carefully co-ordinated to communicate a consistent message. The campaign was delivered through a unique media mix to provide appeal to the B2B industry generally and the IT community specifically.

The main objectives of rebranding were:

  • To generate awareness of a new brand
  • To communicate the brand’s key values of excellent customer service, innovation and being the real challenger to BT’s throne
  • To communicate a real shift in the growth ambition of the organisation

The marketing tools used were:

  • PR strategy: including analyst relations, press conference, media outreach, advertorials to capture the regional press and exclusive national deals)
  • Customer launch event
  • Online, print and out-of-home advertising

In May 2010 Harris Interactive conducted a survey to measure the impact of the rebrand campaign. In all measures of image and perception, respondents who had seen the campaign thought significantly better of the company than those who had not. Other key metrics to note include:

  • 49% of target audience recalled seeing the campaign
  • 25% increase in target audience perception that Virgin Media Business is a challenger to BT
  • 38% spontaneous awareness of Virgin Media Business as a leading telecoms provider, just three months after launch

Background and Marketing Position Previous to Rebrand
ntl:Telewest Business was a legacy brand formed by the merger of two companies. As a result, the marketing position before rebrand proved challenging and struggled to distinguish the brand as a clear alternative to BT. The business had a higher than average market share (5%), but lower than average spontaneous awareness and online buzz (1%).

Implementation of Rebranding Strategy
The strategy was to create original and compelling video content for each of the marketing disciplines that would really pack a punch across all channels. Content was also key to creating the wow factor at a customer-focused VIP event and an exclusive press preview event. Given a six week delivery timescale, this was a huge challenge.

Virgin Media Business wanted the campaign to make IT decision makers and C-level executives sit up and take notice. They wanted to their audience to recognise a change in the business telecoms landscape – the entrance of a Virgin company that was ready to deliver outstanding customer service. This would mean a shift in the business’ operation, growth ambition and focus. It was more than just a re-brand exercise; it was the launch of a fresh and innovative company.

The strategy took a three-pronged approach in order to deliver an impactful and inspiring campaign that would be long lasting and provide a platform for future growth. This involved PR, digital content and advertising resources.

Three Key Elements of Strategy

PR – Speed Communications
Phase one of the PR strategy was the analyst event. Target analyst houses, including Gartner, Yankee, Forrester and Ovum were briefed at an exclusive event. Two analysts were so impressed with the briefing that they provided the PR team with quotes and references to use in launch day collateral.

VIP events made up phase two of the PR strategy. Sir Richard Branson, Neil Berkett (CEO of Virgin Media) and Mark Heraghty (Managing Director, Virgin Media Business) unveiled the brand to the best of the IT and telecoms press. The rebrand was on a strict ‘need-to-know basis,’ so the PR team weren’t allowed to reveal any details during their media outreach. Teasing conversations were had with journalists about ‘matching big ambitions with big news’ and vague invitations were sent out. This was followed by a customer event at the Science Museum. The customer event was recently voted best event held at the Museum in 2010 and was attended by 300 C-level executives, an unprecedented number for a B2B telecoms event.

Phase three came into force on launch day. Over 90,000 words of original content were generated to support the launch, including tailored stories and releases which were pitched to the public sector and wholesale. Bespoke regional advertorials were created, each one discussing issues that were specific to that region, therefore giving the brand a very local feel. Additionally, each regional advertorial was introduced by a personal note from Richard Branson, again bringing the brand to life. The company’s Twitter feed was also re-launched under the new brand.

Digital - The Game Changer
Research by The Game Changer found that one of the biggest emotional issues facing IT managers was the feeling that they were undervalued, often unable to make a difference and sometimes even hindered in driving real business change through technology. This research led to the formation of a creative strategy, ‘Clive the IT manager’. Clive was to become a hero within his own organisation, implicitly based on his choice of telecoms supplier. ‘Take your business to a better place’, became the campaign strap-line and was part of every execution strategy of the campaign.

A broadcast-quality video was developed to convey the emotional benefits to IT managers of choosing Virgin Media Business. This was a tactic which had not previously been attempted in the B2B telecoms space. Our humble IT hero, ‘Clive’, finds himself the subject of adulation as his control over seemingly endless bandwidth makes his colleagues’ lives a pleasure rather than a chore. The film focuses on Clive's slightly bemused reaction to his colleagues' enthusiastic appreciation of his talents, worshipping him as if he was a ‘messiah’.

The video was then worked into a number of high-impact rich media bannersto ensure the messages were delivered to the largest possible audience. These were built from tease sequences, additional scenes designed to pull the audience into the full 60 second and 30 second spots. This creative was also developed and adapted for offline and print media, ensuring that the message was consistently spread far and wide.

Virgin Media Business launch video:

Virgin Media Business 60-second advert:

Advertising - DWA
Advertising was needed to bring the Virgin brand to life. The IT community was targeted through a combination of rich media adverts and an innovative in-banner content strategy, all geared for the online IT trade media. With this in mind, DWA bought up banner advertising space on most major IT portals, ensuring high levels of visibility for the Virgin Media Business brand. They also used “Clive” on transvision boards across all major UK train stations for a four week period. Keeping to the IT manager as a ‘messiah’ theme; strap lines such as ‘And lo we connected everything seamlessly. And saw that it was good’ were created on eye catching tube cards that subsequently appeared on launch day.

An innovative approach to B2B telecoms marketing
Engaging with telecoms customers in the B2B space is traditionally one-way and quite uninspiring. The Virgin Media Business rebrand campaign had to engage with key audiences on an emotional level and encourage them to interact with a new and exciting brand.

To help deliver the transformational messages the company changed its tone of voice within the media. From the rebrand onwards, the voice of Virgin Media Business became more informal, friendlier and most important of all, ‘fluff free’. Opinion articles, advertorials and press releases all had the new tone of voice weaved into the content, whilst spokespeople were trained on how to adopt this tone in their interviews and briefings.

No longer would journalists and customers be subjected to boring technical and corporate jargon. They would now have a brand that would talk simply and address issues in an exciting but to-the-point fashion. This change was not just communicated through written collateral. Spokespeople also knew that they could be much more frank and easy to talk to, without having to always tow the corporate line.

The campaign brought a completely fresh perspective to the marketing of B2B telecoms. The use of digital media and social media tools meant that key audiences were encouraged to actually interact with the brand from the off, rather than simply absorb information. This had a significant impact on changing perceptions.

Effective use of marketing resources
The rebrand campaign was implemented across all marketing channels, encompassing PR, digital marketing, mailers, and advertising.

The PR team ensured that key journalists not just wrote up a rebrand story on the day of launch, but actually communicated the message that something special had arrived in the B2B telecoms market. The interaction gained from holding a press event and the ‘Branson factor’ helped to drive this message home.

The digital work had the emotive backing of Clive the IT hero. The videos really resonated with the audiences Virgin Media Business was trying to communicate with. The launch of the new Twitter feed also opened a direct channel of communication with the press and key online influencers, resulting in quality online conversations.

The IT manager as a messiah theme had to be communicated throughout the advertising campaign. The tube cards and banner adverts were designed to put a smile on the faces of IT managers and connect with them emotively. The strap lines added the humour that would capture their attention and remain in their memory.

Customer-led focus
At the heart of any Virgin company is the customer. All the marketing activity had to ensure that the launch of Virgin Media Business was specifically aimed at the most important people - the customers. We knew what our customers wanted from us through pre-launch research conducted to understand our customers and prospects perspective of the new brand and what their expectations would be.

The customer event ensured that existing and potential customers all felt as though they were part of something special. The collateral following the rebrand was geared to address customer issues and communicate directly with target audiences.

The marketing strategy was devised to have maximum impact as quickly as possible and to change perceptions almost overnight. The results speak for themselves and it was clear that after just 48 hours, the campaign had reached out to those that mattered.

Key results:

  • 49% of IT managers surveyed recall seeing the re-brand PR or marketing
  • 8 million online banner impressions – average click through was 0.3% (industry standard 0.1%)
  • Online interaction rates of 12.4% (industry standard 10%)
  • The ‘Clive’ video was viewed by 420,000 individuals, within banners and pre-rolls
  • 36% of banner videos watched in full
  • 140 favourable press articles
  • 82% of articles delivered the key messages of the campaign
  • The Richard Branson ‘X-factor,’ secured some exciting headlines including, The Independent talking of "a clear alternative to BT.”
  • 100% of respondents rated the new brand image as more favourable
  • 38% spontaneous awareness of Virgin Media Business as a leading telecoms provider

Key perception statistics (results obtained in May and show a comparison to March)

Virgin Media Business:

  • Is a serious challenger to BT: + 25%
  • Has an advanced Next Generation Network: + 20%
  • Is proactive: + 20%
  • Can shake up business telecoms: +20%
  • Always delivers innovative solutions: +10%

Client testimonial

Mark Heraghty, Managing Director, Virgin Media Business

“This marketing initiative succeeded in delivering a powerful message; Virgin Media Business is here to shake up the business telecoms market by providing unprecedented excellence in customer service and innovative technology. The survey results speak for themselves; prospects, the press and competitors know that there is a fresh challenger to the B2B telecoms throne, an astonishing achievement in just four weeks.”

This case study has was awarded winner in the category of PR strategy at The Drum Marketing Awards

Featured by The Drum