Company Makeovers Tout Homeland Security Expertise
New Government Priorities Spur 'Tasteful' Rebranding Efforts
- By Patience Wait
- Nov 15, 2001
Hewlett-Packard's Bruce Klein said his company's leaders are now more focused on the federal sector as a business segment.
SER Solutions' Rita Carroll Joseph said companies should use the Sept. 11 attacks as an opportunity to help the country's defense.
Mark Myers of Convera Corp. said his firm has started a more aggressive tracking program to identify and anticipate requests for information being issued by different federal agencies.
Within hours of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon Sept. 11, Unisys Corp. officials were huddling to discuss how the terrorist attacks would change the dynamics in the federal market.
After checking on the safety of their employees, Lee Cooper, vice president of sales for the company's federal government group, and other top Unisys executives were contacting government customers and asking themselves what's next.
That "what next" question is on the minds of most contractors as they refocus their business efforts to reflect the government's rapidly changing requirements and priorities.
"We did have concerns about how it would be perceived so early in the time of crisis, but at the same time, we felt it was important to let [government agencies] know we were behind them all the way," Cooper said.
Many systems integrators and other government contractors have been very active in the weeks following the attacks. Some companies are reorganizing internally to create a focal point for homeland security. Company presentations and literature are being retooled. Contractors are sponsoring a growing number of homeland security-related seminars, conferences and panels. Executives with special skills are being hired.
The marketing challenge is doubly daunting because no one wants to seem pleased at brightening business prospects created by the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I think what's happened to our country is just horrific," said Rita Carroll Joseph, vice president of public-sector sales at SER Solutions Inc., Herndon, Va. "I don't feel that taking advantage of the situation is a good thing, but I think it's a good opportunity to help the country's defense."
Cooper agreed. "After [you] get over the shock ... you put on your business hat for what you're paid to do," he said. "It goes from the rush of how do we recover quickly from what happened, the patriotic, to the business [aspects], how to achieve our business objectives."
The emphasis on homeland security has raised the profile of many technologies and solutions that were a lower priority before the attacks. Government agencies are looking to beef up the security of computers and networks while fighting terrorism with systems that use biometric technologies and new information sharing solutions. Like Unisys, companies are seeking to demonstrate their expertise in the field.
Bruce Klein, general manager of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s federal sales organization, said his company's leaders are now much more focused on the federal sector as a business segment.
"HP is interested in taking a look at some of our best and brightest and putting them into various federal task forces, [such as] cybersecurity," Klein said. The company, based in Palo Alto, Calif., also is putting together a hardware seeding program, "so we can offer products to system integrators, key agencies such as the FBI and CIA, [for] datamining, data warehousing" and other suddenly timely efforts.
HP's push to refocus its marketing program is taking place within the confines of a pre-Sept. 11 budget, Klein said: "When we put our marketing plan together, we didn't put down that we were going to participate in homeland security ... We're working on [getting more money] right now."
AT&T Corp. of New York has been emphasizing its role in providing communications following the attacks on the World Trade Center towers. For example, at the just-finished Air Traffic Control Association 2001 trade show, the company displayed one of its disaster recovery vans, fresh from seven weeks' duty at Ground Zero helping maintain lines of communication. In the AT&T booth was a panel on disaster recovery, with photographs, all from the scene.
"A good marketing company is going to do what its customers want," said Wayne Jackson, director of public relations for AT&T's government markets unit. The challenge is to do it tastefully, he said.
Some businesses are restructuring not just their marketing efforts but their organizations.
Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., announced Oct. 31 it created the Cisco Global Defense and Space Group to provide information, interaction and support for integrating network technologies with defense organizations specializing in command, control, communications, computers and intelligence systems.
In the corporate announcement, Cisco said the company formed the nucleus of this new group in 1998, but the emergence of new markets and changing support requirements called for a dedicated organization.
Smaller companies don't have the same level of resources to draw upon in trying to shift to the new environment, but their entire organizations can change directions more quickly.
Mark Myers, director of product marketing at Convera Corp., Vienna, Va., said his firm has started a more aggressive tracking program to identify and anticipate requests for information and requests for proposals being issued by different federal agencies.
Convera, which provides advanced technologies, products and solutions for managing multimedia digital content, stresses in its messages that its offerings include the now-hot security features, such as encryption and authentication. The company also created a new marketing brochure to support its federal business activities.
"The focus on security is in direct response to the recent events," said John Murray, Convera's director of public relations.
Steve O'Keeffe, president of O'Keeffe & Co., a marketing, advertising and public relations firm that specializes in the federal IT sector, said there is a tendency in this marketplace for companies to execute their strategies tactically ? to be reactive rather than proactive.
"There are a lot of companies rebranding themselves in terms of homeland defense," he said.
Because of the economic downturn, commercial companies had already begun to seek refuge in the federal space before the attacks. "The government became more important tactically to organizations," he said. "After 9-11, the government is becoming important strategically."
Unisys recognized immediately what Sept. 11 would mean to companies serving the government. Within days of the attack, the Blue Bell, Pa., company created a sort of virtual "directorate of homeland security," an internal group with a small number of dedicated staff, Cooper said.
"We assigned technical experts from each of our core competency areas, plus dotted-line [responsibilities] to our state and local public-sector guys, the guys dealing with our identification card systems, our guys in St. Louis dealing with biometrics," Cooper said. "The directorate of homeland security has the responsibility of pulling all these things together."
Unisys is hoping to schedule a meeting between Tom Ridge, the director of the new federal Office of Homeland Security, and Lawrence Weinbach, the company's chairman and chief executive officer. In anticipation of the meeting, Unisys prepared a simple, one-page description of the company's history of working with the government in times of national crisis, to be shared by Weinbach with Gov. Ridge.
In the meantime, the paper also serves as a marketing tool that describes the company's experience in creating mission-critical networks and data warehouses and deploying security solutions and biometric and personal identification solutions.
"We're with you every step of the way," Unisys tells its government customers.