REDMOND, Wash. — June 15, 2009 — Not many people know what it looks like when one of the world’s most respected and influential business minds drops in on a Fortune 500 company and grills its top executives.
Until now. In a new “online business reality show,” launching today on MSN.com, legendary executive and former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, and his wife, noted commentator and business journalist Suzy Welch, do exactly that. The show, filmed by Reveille Productions (“The Office”, “Ugly Betty”), sends the Welches into a business, where Jack Welch engages company leaders in one of his famous “workout” sessions, makes candid suggestions, and then watches as the group presents its recommendations to the company CEO.
The ads are sponsored by Microsoft’s “It’s Everybody’s Business” campaign and filmed by Reveille Productions, producers of The Office, Ugly Betty, and other popular shows. They’re streamed on MSN.
In the first episode, launched today, Welch tells a group of tense executives of Hertz Corp. that they are “bringing a water pistol to a gunfight” as the group grapples with the IT infrastructure supporting Hertz’ new Connect shared-vehicle service. New episodes are scheduled to run over the summer months.
In this screen shot from the new online business reality show’s web site, Jack and Suzy Welch talk about the advice they’re giving to Hertz executives.
The show is part of an interactive Web experience designed to entertain while it informs. Along with the episodes, the site provides quick and easy access to case studies, technology solutions, white papers, and social media commentary on universal business issues.
According to Gayle Troberman, the advertising general manager in charge of the campaign, the new spots and interactive Web experience provide an unvarnished take on the real world of business that professionals today can relate to.
“We’ve all sat in those less-than-pleasant meetings where people don’t agree,” she says. “Tough decisions and choices have to be made. This first episode shows how one company and one business guru, Jack Welch, approach decision-making, particularly in this economy.”
Building a Dialog With Customers
Troberman’s group has spent the better part of a year exploring ways that Microsoft can reach out through new media and marketing efforts to engage in deeper, more meaningful ways with target audiences while providing real value for customers. She says the focus on interactivity is part of a companywide effort that spans not just advertising, but the entire way that Microsoft engages with customers.
The episodes are the latest in a series of advertising initiatives Toberman’s group has undertaken in that time, and the first to take advantage of an interactive, digital approach that ends up being more of a conversation with customers than a traditional commercial advertisement.
“The relationship we want to have with business customers involves authentic, strategic partnership and counsel,” Troberman says. “This show is designed to help IT and business people learn through the real experiences of other companies. It’s an amazing moment in marketing when we can use technology to bring this type of behind-the-scenes business experience to millions of people who might never have the chance to go toe to toe with the Welches on their own business challenges.”
“It’s Everybody’s Business”
Troberman’s team also produces the “I’m a PC” campaign for Windows which also focuses on real customers, making real decisions about what’s right for them. According to Troberman, the heart of both campaigns is the same — celebrating the variety of things customers can do with Microsoft products. But whereas the consumer campaign looked at interesting Windows users, the business campaign brings together thought leaders in the corporate world to discuss uses of technology that really matter to companies today.
“We have a broad set of options for the business customer, and we wanted to showcase what those products can do to drive real business value, because that’s really what customers care about in the current economy — impact and results,” she says.
Launched last winter, the initial “It’s Everybody’s Business” spots featured some of the most influential thinkers in business, describing how they are using technology in interesting ways. The Chief Marketing Officer of Coca-Cola, the CEO of BT and other leaders were interviewed via telephone and animated ads were built around their stories.
The result was a series of entertaining and informative case studies to help IT pros and business decision-makers understand what’s possible with technology.
“Technology is most successful when smart people make the right investments and build the right solutions, both to solve challenges and to make the most of opportunities,” she says. “So how do we show that power? The more we thought about it, the more we realized that it would be interesting to go into real businesses and look at real problems.”
Troberman says the intent of the new Web campaign is to go beyond traditional ads to create smart, interesting programming that engages as much as it informs. With the new online episodes, the Welch’s’ star power and guru status, and a slick, interactive web experience powered by Microsoft Silverlight help build on the campaign’s overall theme, and succeed in bringing users into the heart of high-level business decision-making.
Pulling it Off
According to those familiar with the project, Welch’s participation resulted from the most traditional of business practices. JWT brought the initial concept to Microsoft, then they sought to engage the Welches.
“Steve Ballmer called him,” says Kim Stocks, director of Microsoft’s Corporate Communications group. “Amazing things can happen when you just ask.”
From there, the collaboration was anything but old school. Microsoft worked with global advertising agency JWT on design and concept for the show, which was ultimately shot and produced by well-known television producers, Reveille.
JWT, which traces its roots to 1877, has long been one of the world’s advertising leaders, with landmarks such as producing the first sponsored television program, and a client list that ranges from Ford to Nike. Reveille’s impressive body of work and long history with MSN, meanwhile, made them an easy choice — the production company is known for critically acclaimed scripted programming including “The Office” (NBC), “Ugly Betty” (ABC) and “The Tudors” (Showtime) as well as highly successful reality programming including “The Biggest Loser” (NBC), “Tabatha’s Salon Makeover” (Bravo), and “Parental Control” (MTV).
Says Troberman: “Reveille has a longstanding relationship with MSN to create and produce original online programming. JWT, MSN and Reveille formed an incredibly creative team.”
Taking the Conversation Digital
What the team created is a campaign with a notable absence of traditional media such as print and broadcast. At its core is a web experience that allows users to choose the content they’re most interested in, whether they’re a marketer, an IT pro or a sales person, and appeals directly to the way business professionals are consuming media today.
Another benefit of “going digital” is that, while not everyone has an hour to watch business programming, there’s a good chance they’ll have 15 minutes at lunch, or a small break before their next meeting. Accordingly, the episodes are parsed into shorter clips that can be viewed one at a time.
“We can catch people during their breaks, with an insightful and informative piece of content, and they can learn something and be entertained watching Jack Welch have a tough, honest conversation with somebody just like them in another company,” Troberman says.
Delivering the content in smaller bits has also allowed Microsoft to create an interactive experience that fosters the kind of dialog Troberman and her team are looking for.
Troberman says that while digital content has become so easy to create that anyone can become a writer and a director, to really break through a campaign must reach the right people, and reach them at some scale.
So businesses such as Microsoft, with established web properties, have an opportunity to quickly build an audience of their constituents by reaching out to them on the web.
“I think this is going to be a breakthrough moment in business programming on the Web and I hope this will pave the way for more companies to invest in useful, original programming that really engages customers,” Troberman says. “It’s a great way to build a relationship with customers and have a meaningful dialog with them because, at the end of the day, it’s everybody’s business to succeed.”