The big overhaul of Microsoft operations, as announced last July by now-former chief executive (CEO) Steve Ballmer, is about to hit the ecosystem around it: the company is reported to be readying to review agency contracts across the board.
The reorganization has not gone unnoticed, with the latest executive hoopla coming from Blair Westlake‘s resignation. Westlake had been poached by Microsoft in 2004 from his Universal television chairman position to head the tech giant’s Media and Entertainment group. Ballmer’s idea with the reorganization was to get all of Microsoft’s operations rally under one brand and move forward, rather than have verticals compete. “One Microsoft” is the motto for the changes and Ballmer’s statement at the time called for “one strategy, united together, with great communication, decisiveness and positive energy,” calling it “the only way to fly.”
No wonder Microsoft is now reviewing its ties with the plethora of agencies it has been linked to for the past few years. No such company overhaul can escape a scrutiny of the entities that are advising on and putting together the brand for the world to see. As we all know (or should know), a new internal philosophy inevitably leads to an external image shift to mirror the new energy, entity and ambitions.
We tried to reach out to a large number of mainstream agencies, to comment on this but everyone single of them declined because Microsoft was, one way or another, their client. What does that say about scattered resources, approaches, campaigns and, mostly, perception?
We did, however, speak to a smaller agency, specialized in brand launches and revitalization, which is just about what Microsoft could greatly benefit from at this stage. Bill Winchester, executive vice president, and chief creative officer at Lindsay, Stone & Briggs (LSB) seems to agree that the Microsoft ‘one’ approach is a good first step towards regaining the company’s lost shine to Apple: [Microsoft] “needs to be working around a global idea that would resonate with everything they do around the world – a big notion.”
LSB is a Madison, Wisconsin-based advertising and marketing agency specializing in brand launches and revitalizations for brands like PepsiCo, GE Healthcare and Kimberly-Clark. “They’ve exhibited some of the bad tricks of the rulers: too controlling, overbearing, etc. They should concentrate on getting back to the roots and being Microsoft. Microsoft has been trying to outdo Apple. They have to get back to leading. Get a global idea and leverage it. Not think of digital separately but make Microsoft the big brand that really means something,” Winchester suggests.
Winchester’s big idea? “’It’s serious stuff’. This isn’t for drawing, for doing doodles, it’s serious junk for really smart smart people. The guys who tried to find the god particle used Microsoft and they use it because it’s serious stuff. The reason I have Microsoft is because it says something about me. I’m smart, I do important things. Ruler attibutes. Apple has done an incredible job of creating that badge.”
So why does Microsoft only work with major agencies instead of tap into the creative juices of smaller, nimbler agencies? Scalability should not be an issue, where there’s a will (budget), there’s a way (provided you choose the right agency). Microsoft is currently suffering from the laggard image that Winchester is referring to. This agency review could be their one chance to strike gold, quite literally. As Winchester notes: “Small agencies have the ability to think creatively about the job, they don’t get so wrapped up in the machinery of what’s been done etc. We’re all together, we tend to hatch big ideas together. That global media stuff is a whole other issue and that’s what the big agencies can take care of for you.”
But who’s behind the wheel for these changes? Tami Reller (formerly at business and marketing strategy at Windows) is heading the new marketing team, with Mark Penn (the man behind Bill and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns) giving his input on the marketing strategy. Both were appointed at their respective positions when Ballmer announced the company restructuring.
However, Microsoft still does not have a head, an overall leader. Since Ballmer announced his leaving the company within a year from August, no suitable replacement has been found to spearhead the writing of the next chapter of Microsoft. The most recent reports have sources saying that former Ericsson CEO, Hans Vestberg, has been tapped as a candidate for the job, as well as former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have the overall marketing and communications ecosystem in place for the announcement of the new CEO? But the main thing is to get things right. What about those names from companies that seem to have followed the same path as Microsoft from the light into oblivion? Is that really the new image that you want to project, Microsoft?
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