Telling the Story Every Day at Cisco

When a company experiences a downturn, it’s often seen as time for the PR people to show their mettle.

Four years ago, Cisco’s PR staff stepped up to the plate, helping turn around the public face of their organization. The impressive Web presence that resulted was the topic of “Taking Your Story to the World: Using Internet Public Relations to Reach a Global Audience” at the Public Relations Society of America International Conference, taking place in New York this week.

“Four years ago, we were a leading Internet company and we were just posting press releases,” says Claudia Ceniceros, Cisco’s senior director of corporate PR for Cisco. According to Ceniceros, the site’s news section needed a turnaround as much as the organization did.

Cisco PR staff got cracking, creating news@cisco.com, a site that would achieve four critical goals: control the message across international borders; reach opinion leaders globally; communicate with one voice; and enhance productivity and reduce expenses.

Now, Cisco posts news every day. In addition, its external news site is enhanced by Q and As with top executives; a technology spotlight; videos that are available in “chapters” for easier downloading; case studies and other success stories; updates on current industry trends; whitepapers; speeches; electronic news kits; and news on the CEO and other executives (Ceniceros highly recommends occasionally putting the spotlight on leadership other than the CEO to emphasize the executive team’s overall strength). A feedback section helps the staff ensure the site remains useful for journalists.

The organization also works hard to maintain a high level of candor on its Web site, a distinction that’s resulted in favorable press even when difficult information must be released, such as product recalls or executive transitions.

Ceniceros says she knows most major media beat reporters use the site. As a result, time spent faxing news releases, answering reporters’ calls, and distributing press kits has been significantly reduced. News wire and printing costs have decreased, too. Her department estimates it’s saved approximately $51 million since the site’s transformation.

The site is also used internally. Sales teams, for example, download product information and video excerpts.

There’s an internal component to the site that helps PR staffers manage messages, release information, and achieve better global outreach. “We found that desperate messages, a time-consuming distribution process and excessive approval cycles were big problems for the public relations staff,” said copresenter Gretchen Ushakova, Cisco’s manager of Internet PR. “We wanted a 24/7 self-service tool for our staff.”

Ushakova says the organization has a “create once and use everywhere” philosophy about news releases. With the internal PR site, Cisco can easily distribute news globally.

The internal site has an advanced scheduling function that helps the global PR staff track media events and messages. The team also archives messages for over three years. That’s extremely helpful for ensuring consistent messaging and referencing past talking points.

Ushakova emphasizes the enhancements made to the Web site aren’t all that difficult to accomplish. The key, she says, is to “make the case to management that it all must be done.”

What’s more, news@cisco.com is maintained by a shoestring staff. Content development is outsourced to freelancers who are assigned beats. There’s also a global editor who manages freelancer contributions. “We can do this at a fairly low cost,” says Ushakova. “And by having several freelancers, we know we can provide fresh content in a timely manner.”

Cisco also maintains a site for the general public, which the marketing department manages. At first, it was a challenge “convincing marketing this was worthwhile stuff,” the PR team admits. However, both presenters note that news@cisco.com is gaining in use by both the public and press, because news is updated frequently and stories remain topical. “We’re telling Cisco’s story every day to a global audience,” says Ceniceros, “and the response has been overwhelming.”

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