If Xerox, the company whose name is synonymous with photocopiers, sends an invitation promising a big announcement to Don Lowe, Sir Speedy's top executive, that's enough for him to R.S.V.P. No other information is necessary.
"I thought we were in for a new product announcement," says Lowe, chief executive officer of Franchise Service Inc., whose subsidiaries include 1,800 Sir Speedy, PIP Printing, and Multicopy locations--big Xerox customers. Lowe had no idea what Xerox was planning, but years of positive results had earned Xerox a measure of blind faith. "I had been to similar previous meetings where the company unveiled the latest, greatest printer or network copier. I always like knowing what new technology is coming downstream from them."
So he was a little surprised when G. Richard Thoman, Xerox's president and CEO, stepped before cameras and microphones at London's Royal Garden Hotel in April and said: "Xerox Corporation today will announce no new products."
A New Direction At that unprecedented meeting, Xerox instead rolled out a brand- new strategy through a global announcement in London and replicated in Chicago to groups of customers, media, and its own sales force. This initiative--a "Global Industry Solutions Portfolio" focusing solely on services, many of which are Internet-enabled--may represent as much as 50 percent of the company's business over the next 10 years.
The idea is to link people-based services, hardware, software, and network services that, according to the company, "solve a customer problem, improve a work process, or create a market or competitive advantage."
Lowe was not disappointed. "We're not only users of their technology. Every day I go to school on their strategy. We live in a digital world, and they're right on target bringing digital solutions to the market."
"This announcement was a sea change in direction in terms of repositioning Xerox as a company that offers industry-focused solutions as opposed to 'simply' offering boxes that push out paper," says Jeff Simek, spokesman for the $20 billion giant, which has 93,000 employees around the globe. "It repositioned Xerox in terms that will be more meaningful to the IT world, to the C-level executives--CEOs, CFOs, CIOs."
Pulling It All Together The announcement was redefined on the fly, growing from an important one without a lot of fanfare to a major global event. Xerox not only had to bring together many geographic and technologically disparate elements (in barely two months), but also had to communicate its 17 new solutions and knowledge tools to three different groups: vendors, the business media that cover Xerox in the United States and Europe, and its own people.
"One of the most important goals," says Mike Howard, vice president and general manager, Xerox Professional Services industry unit, "was to educate our own people about solutions and services and demonstrate the transformation of Xerox."
To make this happen, Howard led an in-house team that developed all the training materials for the sales force in attendance in London and Chicago and then sent the information to the sales force at large on CD-ROM and via the Internet. At the event, Xerox unveiled a portfolio of tools for knowledge-sharing, designed to deliver a competitive advantage to customers by empowering decision-making capabilities across the enterprise.
In keeping with the announcement's "Competing Through Knowledge" theme, Xerox also worked with PGI, an Arlington, Va.based production firm, to create a film on knowledge-sharing, which would become "the icing on the cake," according to Susanne Perrone, manager, strategic communications, Xerox Document Solutions Group.
"We actually had less than four weeks to do it," she says. "We filmed in Iceland, India, and New Orleans." In Iceland, PGI interviewed a genetics specialist who spoke about how he uses knowledge-sharing to bring new drugs to market. In India, a man described how he's using Xerox technology to put the history of Tibetan monks online. In New Orleans, featured musician and composer Ellis Marsalis talked about jazz as a form of musical knowledge-sharing.
"These pieces conveyed very high-level knowledge-sharing in very unique ways. They set the tone for the meeting," Perrone says.
Perrone's team also completed 30 videos for the company's different business units, wrote another 20 case studies around those videos, and compiled 18 application briefs and an overview brochure for each of the four focus industry businesses: financial and health care service, manufacturing, graphic arts, and the public sector.
Rosie Madison, manager, market intelligence/customer research and Xerox's Connecticutbased proj-ect manager for the meeting, worked with counterparts in Europe on nuancing the company's message across cultures. "Phraseology is different," she says. "The use of photographs and different images have different implications, so you have to understand the cultures and the communities that you are going into and make sure that your message can get through. You have to be flexible instead of just having one message, one set of collaterals, and using that regardless."
Xerox, again with PGI, also created a "knowledge arena" with a bookstore and a smallof sorts, where businesses had their own demonstration and breakout areas.
In addition, Xerox developed a direct marketing campaign for prospective attendees, working with Burson-Marsteller and Wunderman Cato Johnson (both part of the Young and Rubicam Inc. family, Xerox's national advertising agency) and Roberts Communication (which works with Xerox on field materials and collateral). As a result, attendance was nearly double that expected, with more than 650 customers in Chicago and 300 in London. "It's amazing when you think of the caliber of the customer and clients attending--CFOs and CEOs and CIOs whose calendars are set far in advance," Madison says.
Trans-Atlantic Message Xerox chose to make the announcement out of London instead of the United States for several reasons, Simek says. "One, because we wanted to stand up and say, 'Something different is going on here.' Also, if you announce something in London first, you actually almost have two days in one, because you announce it at 10:00 a.m. in London and do all your media work there, then turn around and re-do it in the United States.
"It worked for us in terms of the way we were able to configure it," he adds. "We did the media focus out of London, which pulled in the customers, and we did the customer focus out of the U.S., which turned out to be a two-day event based in Chicago.
"Finally," Simek says, "because this is not done often in Europe, it made it an even bigger event there. It's such a rare occurrence that an American CEO would come over to launch something in Europe first."
But it also meant that Xerox and PGI were setting up two events concurrently, with President and CEO G. Richard Thoman in London and Executive Vice President of Industry Solutions Bill Buehler in Chicago. Michael Ruffolo, president of the document solutions group, did the Concorde dash from London to Chicago to be at the second day of the event.
In the end, the trans-Atlantic approach reinforced Xerox's global presence. "We decided that domestic was important, but we also wanted to send a message that we are a global company," says Madison.
"We have resources and have the capabilities around the world for what we want to do--so we just did it."
One production company is not enough to satisfy the needs of a corporation the size and breadth of Xerox; it uses three. And PGI became the third just in time to handle the announcement of one of the most significant strategic changes in Xerox's history.
PGI started out in the production business in Arlington, Va., handling all aspects of events, from the time attendees register to the time they get on the bus back to the airport. "We realize that every aspect of an event is important in the mind of the attendee," says Jimmy Ervin, regional vice president for PGI.
This approach to an event was right in line with Xerox's needs, he says. "They wanted a partner. We were made part of their team and included on all of their internal e-mails and conference calls from the start, and that allowed us to really understand what changes were occurring within their culture as a result of this new direction."
"I was fascinated by PGI's quick uptake on where Xerox is going and what we needed to accomplish," says Susanne Perrone, manager of strategic communication for the Document Solutions Group, Xerox Corp. "Soon after they were selected, I reviewed their proposal, and their ideas portrayed a highly creative, out-of-the-box, 'I-got-it' kind of company. It was again reinforced when I went to Iceland with their production crew to film the knowledge-sharing film. The subject was very new to them, and they got it immediately."
Of course, being on the team that produces a world-stage meeting in just 78 days put the pressure on PGI. As Xerox spokesperson Jeff Simek put it, "When you have a major event, things are going to change at the last minute. Part of what we look for is a production company that will set the proper expectations and roll with the flow."
That included everyone working until 4:30 a.m. the night before the event. "Clearly, it's not my desire to work all night before a major announcement," Simek adds, "but if that is what needs to be done, I need the production company supporting the announcement to roll with that."
In addition to production services, PGI offers destination management and trade show management.