Q&A: Microsoft Office Live Meeting Takes TV Spotlight on ‘The Apprentice’

REDMOND, Wash., Dec. 1, 2005 – Since earlier this year, the Real Time Collaboration (RTC) Group has been co-op marketing Microsoft Office Live Meeting 2005 through a partnership with the reality TV show “The Apprentice.” Tonight the group will play its trump card: Linking up with The Donald himself.

Donald Trump (second from right) of “The Apprentice” with (L-R) Microsoft’s Michele Maynard, Janice V. Kapner and Dustin Grosse.

In October, the RTC Group began hosting a weekly online Live Meeting seminar called “Fired Not Hired: The Day after ‘The Apprentice’” to talk to the contestant who was fired from the show the previous night by Donald Trump. The day-after live Web seminars delve into business lessons learned by the ousted contestants, and invite widespread audience participation through the interactive features in Live Meeting.

But tonight, Live Meeting’s visibility will soar to new heights, as RTC Group executives join Trump center stage. They will pose a challenge to the competing teams in the form of a task surrounding Live Meeting and then judge the results.

Mark Burnett, creator and executive producer of “The Apprentice,” said, “Microsoft is the best in the world at helping companies and individuals solve real-life business problems with their technology. Featuring this real example of a business-to-business solution is just another way we are pushing the envelope to bring real-life business challenges to television and to our viewers.”

PressPass spoke with Dustin Grosse, general manager of sales and marketing for RTC, and Janice V. Kapner, director of marketing communications for RTC, to find out more about this creative marketing campaign as well as their appearance on “The Apprentice.”

PressPass: How did Live Meeting get connected with “The Apprentice”?

Grosse: It started about a year ago, when we were developing plans for RTC’s unified launch, including the launch of Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005, Microsoft Office Communicator 2005 and Live Meeting. We wanted to do something different – more colorful and creative than what might be considered a typical launch event. So we had a team brainstorming session on what’s hot, and what would get us some high-profile attention with the right audience. We approached Mark Burnett, the creator and executive producer of “The Apprentice,” and were delighted when he wanted to work with us.

PressPass: Why did you choose “The Apprentice”?

Kapner: We thought, “What more culturally engaging program could there be that speaks so well to our demographics with a business-centric message?” It was a bold Microsoft think tank move. A high percentage of information workers and business decision-makers watch “The Apprentice,” and they are one of Live Meeting’s primary targets.

PressPass: How has the partnership evolved?

Grosse: We worked with Burnett on the March RTC unified launch, and it was a nice marriage of resources. He and other guests from “The Apprentice” participated in the launch by showing how real-time collaboration technology can be shared instantly across locations. Once we struck that relationship, we expanded on it to get engaged in season four of “The Apprentice.”

Kapner: We wanted to drive an interactive program so people could actually experience Live Meeting, and see ways to apply it in their own business and professional lives. That’s when we came up with the “Fired, Not Hired” seminars, where fired contestants and online participants get to interact in real time using Live Meeting.

PressPass: What happens in the seminars, which are featured on the Live Meeting Web site?

Kapner: We invite the candidate who was fired from the show on the previous night to talk about their experience. (We’ll also be doing a Live Meeting with Donald Trump himself on Dec. 9 and with this season’s winner from the show on Dec. 16.) We focus on the lessons they learned, such as how to work with other organizations and people; how to lead a team, and how to work in a high-profile, high-stress environment. They are clearly very bright, very talented people. And the questions participants send in are explicit and interesting. They are not afraid to ask, “Why didn’t you try this marketing approach or that sales technique in your task or campaign?”

Grosse: The seminars are providing a “wow” factor and helping people understand Live Meeting functionalities by experiencing it personally. The participants get to communicate directly with the contestants, while at the same time learn the value of Live Meeting and its many features. Each seminar incorporates Live Meeting features including live texts, live polls, live chats, immediate responses to questions and white boards.

All of the seminars we’ve done with “Apprentice” contestants are still available for viewing on our Web site. Anyone looking for career advancement or growth should check out the special seminar we did on “The Ultimate Job Interview” with Carolyn Kepcher, who has written a book on that topic. She is executive vice president and chief operating officer of Trump National Golf Courses and advisor to Trump on “The Apprentice.” We had nearly 500 people from Canada and the U.S. participate in that live seminar with very limited external promotion of this surprise addition to our series.

PressPass: What happens on the Dec. 1 episode of “The Apprentice”?

Grosse: Janice and I are asked to assign the challenge to the teams. We ask them to develop some materials to promote Live Meeting, and after they show us the final product, we select the best deliverable and give our decision to Donald Trump. We don’t go into the board room, though. That we leave to the professionals of reality TV.

Kapner: It’s the first time the show has featured a business-to-business solution. The RTC Group came up with the idea for the episode with the Live Meeting challenge, based on research we did on the ratings of shows from previous seasons. The producers of the show had not worked with a sponsor who was quite as specific as we were, but we wanted to fully leverage the opportunity and use solid data to support our decisions.

PressPass: What did you think of the competition?

Kapner: I was very impressed with how the teams handled it. Some of the participants are a bit light on real-life business experience, but they all have incredible intellect and are tenacious about the tasks presented to them. They have to be very aggressive and resilient even to get on the show. And they are under tremendous pressure – essentially, trying out for a job 24-7 for about 16 weeks.

PressPass: Do you think your marketing efforts are paying off? How is Live Meeting doing in the marketplace?

Grosse: We’ve been trying to help people experience Live Meeting in creative and cool ways. So far, we’re succeeding. We’ve been getting a great response and traction, and the product is doing really well. Even before this “Apprentice” work, the number of Live Meeting subscribers grew 55 percent year over year, with more than 300 new customers switching to Live Meeting directly from competitors. Additionally, Live Meeting was positioned in the Leader quadrant in the 2005 Gartner Web Conferencing Magic Quadrant report published in September 2005. (See footnote.)

Kapner: It’s very exciting. We get a great response when people experience the service. They respond with enthusiastic comments like, “Wow, I can use this for so many different things – press conferences, marketing seminars, staff meetings, sales demos, training sessions…” It’s so ubiquitous; people can leverage it to expand their reach in almost any profession or industry.

PressPass: What will you be doing when “The Apprentice” airs tonight?

Kapner: Some of our HQ sales and marketing team will be viewing it at a local theater in Redmond that has a cable feed. So I’ll certainly have white knuckles next to my colleagues since we have not seen the episode yet.

PressPass: And, the question everybody wants answered: What was it like to work with The Donald?

Kapner: He was very nice. It definitely changed my perception of him as a somewhat haughty guy. He definitely knows his business, but he was very friendly, self-effacing and helpful – he put us all at ease. Everyone on the show is very organized and they move right through producing each episode. I enjoyed it, and I hope the show is successful in promoting our product and helping people realize all the ways they can use it to change the way they work.

Footnote: The Magic Quadrant is copyrighted September 29, 2005 by Gartner, Inc. and is reused with permission. The Magic Quadrant is a graphical representation of a marketplace at and for a specific time period. It depicts Gartner’s analysis of how certain vendors measure against criteria for that marketplace, as defined by Gartner. Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in the Magic Quadrant, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors placed in the “Leaders” quadrant. The Magic Quadrant is intended solely as a research tool, and is not meant to be a specific guide to action. Gartner disclaims all warranties, express or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

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