Microsoft Canada has selected Veritas as its new PR agency of record.
The appointment, following a request for proposal that took place in March, marks a major shift in communications strategy for Microsoft Canada, which had employed High Road Communications as its AOR for 12 years.
Chitra Anand, head of public relations for Microsoft Canada, who was hired nine months ago to “redesign and reset” the company’s PR strategy, said the brand is undergoing a transformation that includes new internal staff as well as a new agency.
Anand, previously the director of marketing for Telus Health Solutions, said Microsoft chose Veritas for its “fresh thinking” and experience in influencer marketing, one area Microsoft plans to focus on in the future. In the coming months Microsoft plans to target a variety of influential consumers, from its own employees to developers, foodies and students, and has tasked Veritas with selecting influencers in each category to educate other consumers on the breadth of use-cases for each of its devices and services.
The Target launch relied heavily on influencer initiatives, as have many of Veritas’ PR campaigns, including Subway’s “Commit to Fit” program and CBC’s “CBC Live.” The agency takes what Veritas president Krista Webster calls a “tradigital” approach that combines traditional media outreach with influencer programs. As part of its ongoing efforts in influencer marketing, it has even trademarked the phrase, “Influencing the Influencers” as a tagline for the agency.
Anand added that Microsoft was impressed with the agency’s work on the launch of Target, including its ability to “localize” communications efforts with a Canadiana feel, something Microsoft Canada would also like to achieve. “Though Microsoft is known as a massive global company, one of the things we really want to do is localize our brand in Canada,” she said.
The shift also reflects a global move by Microsoft to brand itself as a less conservative company in an effort to expand the consumer side of its business. Citing trends like “bring your own device to work” and the “consumerization of IT” as evidence that enterprise and consumer markets are merging, Anand said the brand has decided to take a more consumer-driven approach to all of its communications.
“Microsoft has always been a very reliable, conservative brand. We want to take it to a different level now,” she said. “We want to be more provocative and take bigger risks. We want to tell our story in a super compelling way and find an agency that will partner with us to do that.”
Though High Road was invited to participate in the RFP, Microsoft ultimately decided to go in a new direction.
“I have nothing but wonderful things to say about High Road. They’ve had the business for 12 years which is unprecedented,” she said. “We’ve done wonderful things with them, but I believe we’ve reached our natural end.”
In December 2012 Microsoft, which reviews its AOR every three years, started its selection process, eventually identifying eight agencies that fit its criteria – creativity, an ability to scale large PR campaigns, strength in digital marketing and experience in influencer relations.
Microsoft sent out an RFP in March requesting creative case studies and essays, testing the agencies’ understanding of the media landscape and the “bleeding lines” between traditional and nontraditional media.
It then shortlisted six agencies and requested pitches on an integrated PR campaign that included both a stunt and corresponding social/digital initiatives that could produce long term results. The agencies were given one week to prepare before pitching the campaigns in front of the leads from each sector of Microsoft’s business, including XBox, Skype, Windows and Office, at the brand’s Mississauga offices.
For the pitch Veritas came up with “Awesome Enabled,” as a “rallying cry” for Microsoft Canada’s PR communications, according to Veritas president Krista Webster. In line with that ethos, the agency pitched a calendar of PR stunts it called “12 Months of Awesome” that would engage influential consumers with the aim of strengthening the emotional ties between them and the Microsoft brand. The plan also included many social elements, including consumers voting on their favourite “awesome moments” that would later serve as prizes.
As an example, Webster described a scenario in which an influencer is traveling during his daughter’s birthday and is able to Skype with her in-flight. The idea, Webster said, would be to have a celebrity sing happy birthday live to the plane and the man’s daughter over Skype, with Microsoft acting as an enabler.
The agency will take over the account on July 1, aligning with the Microsoft Canada’s new fiscal year. Its first major PR initiatives for the brand are expected to launch during the back to school shopping season, an important time for the company.