ISILON CASE STUDY Influencer Relations Rebuilds Confidence and Brand Through Vision and Consistency
“ Isilon’s problems aren’t over… it must restore confidence among Summary Once a darling of Wall Street, data storage systems provider customers at a time when it faces Isilon had weathered several blows to its business and credibility when the company engaged McClenahan Bruer much more competition than it ” in February 2009. With game-changing new products did a year ago. in the pipeline and its leadership team rejuvenated, Dave Raffo - Journalist, Isilon was more than ready to open a new chapter in its Search Storage, April 2008 checkered history. Customers and influencers would need to be convinced. Working together, Isilon’s precise business execution and McBru’s disciplined strategy for communicating a vision eliminated lingering doubt in the market. The effort spawned an unbroken string of positive coverage in national business weeklies including the Wall Street Journal, and drove stock prices up tenfold, and set the stage for a highly visible acquisition. 2
SituationIn late 2006, Isilon recorded the best opening for a storage products in anticipation of customer needs – Pateltechnology IPO since 2000 as its shares rose 77 percent often spoke of the company’s “insane customer focus.” Aon the company’s first day as a public venture. raft of well-targeted new products filled the R&D pipeline, positioning Isilon to grow its business beyond traditionalUnfortunately for the company and its shareholders, there niches and dramatically increasing the company’s totalwould be little good news in the two years that followed. available market.Through 2007 and into 2008, internal auditing and anSEC investigation found overstated revenues. A threat of However, perceptions of the “old Isilon” continued to linger.delisting from NASDAQ was followed by a restatement They weakened the company’s standing among potentialof earnings, which showed customers, who rightfullymuch of the company’s found little to like in Isilon’s The company had new management, newreported sales momentum to reputation and doubted products and a fresh commitment. Now, timehave been a work of fiction. the company’s long-termLegal action from the SEC to purge perceptions of the “old Isilon.” viability. These perceptionsand a class action from also had a significant impactshareholders soon followed. The company’s once-heralded on industry journalists and analysts, who had closelyposition as a disruptive innovator in the IT marketplace observed, and in many cases chronicled themselves, thehad been replaced with perceptions of ineptness and poor company’s meteoric rise and near-fatal fall. With a brilliantgovernance – if not outright malfeasance. young founder returned to the CEO’s office, its corporate house now well in order and a refreshed product lineupUnder these trying circumstances, Isilon founder and ready to be sold, the company’s chief obstacles to successformer CTO Sujal Patel took over as CEO in October 2007 was be its damaged credibility and poor reputation. Addingand proceeded to clean house. Eleven top executives to the challenge, Isilon’s brand awareness had significantwere replaced. The corporate culture was infused with room for growth, as studies later confirmed.a wholesale commitment to innovating market-leading 3
StrategyWith the business still feeling the effects of its prior anticipation of the ways in which digital media consumptionmissteps and its share price hovering at the $2.00 level, would change how enterprises must store, manage andIsilon came to McBru for strategy and tactics to take its make use of data. The successful return of a founder tonew, positive direction to market. When strategic planning the CEO’s office underscored the notion that the companybegan, the company saw its strengthened product roadmap had started down a singular path to success that othersand a considerable investment in sales infrastructure as struggled to match. The strategy was quickly agreedits key assets to winning back a skeptical marketplace. upon: Isilon would embark on a comprehensive influencerBoth parties agreed that influencer relations would be relations program, aggressively targeting industry mediathe primary vehicle to boost awareness and preference. and analysts with a revealing, long-term vision for theBut with market perception still highly unfavorable, company, its business and its technology.McBru recommended a longer-term perspective anda higher-level message. Rather than depend solely on Executiona technology story to woo back a disgruntled industry, The strategy was executed with a goal of infusing allMcBru saw an opportunity for a press materials and influencerbroad-based influencer relations interactions with the Isilon vision. After crafting the strategy and coreprogram focused on delivering This vision would serve to unify platform, McBru conducted briefings,an aggressive new vision and and give context to business- andproduct innovations for the launches and a tour for top influencers. marketing-level messages, beingcompany and the industry. deployed in addition to, rather than at the expense of, those messages.As pioneers of scale-out storage, Isilon could assert itsinsight into the factors driving the marketplace – the Messaging was an important element of executing againstexplosion of digital data foremost among them – and the strategy. McBru constructed a core platform, includinghow its products outpaced the competition in addressing business, category leadership and go-to-market messagesmarket trends. Its first-mover position showed a prescient aligned to customers and purchasing influencers from 4
the CIO level to junior level storage administrators. Thatplatform served as a touchstone for all press- and public-facing materials.The team’s first opportunity to put the strategy to thetest came quickly, as Isilon was poised to announceseveral new products. McBru directed and implementeda product launch that illustrated how the strategy wouldbe executed over the long term. The launch targeted keymedia and analysts from across IT and vertical industrymedia, as well as a long list of industry analysts, for face-to-face, pre-launch briefings as part of a road tour to majorpress centers in the U.S. McBru targeted a “who’s who”list of key influencers in IT media and analysts, with anemphasis on those who had visibly soured on Isilon. Pateljoined the tour to lead many of the briefings personally. and the company’s commitment to moving forward.The tour was the ideal opportunity to bring disaffectedjournalists and analysts back to the table and reinvigorate Level-setting the business story – Offering an in-depththose relationships by laying out Isilon’s roadmap and understanding of the state of Isilon’s business woulddemonstrating its execution against vision. The launch’s provide a platform for demonstrating future success androle in manifesting the visionary strategy hinged on: execution against the business model. Share of market segments, goals for business and category growth, andHitting the reset button – the presentations to press market opportunity for new products were up for discussion.would explicitly acknowledge Isilon’s past missteps, theorganizational and policy changes made to correct them, Laying claim to the future – the launch briefings went 5
Results Based on coverage alone, Isilon and McBru’s first product press tour was a great success, outstripping the results from any of the company’s prior launches. More importantly, the success it achieved in resetting relationships with key influencers served to conclusively put their negative perceptions of Isilon on hold, allowing the company the precious opportunity to prove itself against the aggressive expectations it had set forth. And the company executed, marking milestone after milestone against the roadmap to which it had laid claim. The Isilon communicationsto great lengths to educate influencers on Isilon’s first- team leveraged thosemover position in scale-out storage and its early bet on milestones, includingunstructured data as the wave of the future, including key product and businessan assemblage of proof points as to how the market news opportunities,was poised to meet Isilon’s direction. With that context to continue conveyingin place, Isilon clearly communicated its business Isilon’s vision and extendobjectives, including specific timeframes and deliverables it forward. At the sameon its product roadmap. These become the milestones time, McBru continually seeded the core messagesto which the influencer relations program could return, supporting that vision through ongoing influencer relationstime and again, to demonstrate Isilon’s execution and the and social media programs.prescience of its vision. 6
Isilon Stock Price From mired to acquired, McBru helped Isilon drive up share prices 10X, leading to a big acquisition by EMC. Indeed, McBru’s analysis of the media coverage showed overwhelmingly positive viewpoints about the company in 2009 and 2010, whereas 2007 and 2008 had seen negative stories arrive by the dozen. Moreover, duringIn the time since Feb. 2009, Isilon marked a host of major the course of the McBru influencer relations program,milestones. The company was placed in the Leaders’ the agency measured dramatic improvement in both thequadrant in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for network volume and the tone of coverage from journalists acrossattached storage providers, heralding its competitiveness the spectrum – while coverage in early 2009 was largelywith companies including IBM and EMC. In Feb. 2010, neutral in tone, coverage in 2010 shows a significantthe company announced Q4 2009 as the first profitable uptick in journalists’ affinity for the company and itsquarter in its nine-year history for which it earned coverage visionary messages.across local and national business press, including TheWall Street Journal – Isilon’s first positive press in suchoutlets in nearly three years. 7
The company’s execution against its stated vision fueledother, much more salient benefits as well. Isilon exceededexpectations with quarter-over-quarter growth in revenue,margins and profit through Q3 2010. And while its shareprice was moribund at the $2 level in early 2009, as of Oct.2010 the company’s shares had surpassed $29. Beforethe end of that year, the company reached its ultimatebusiness objective when it was acquired by storage giantEMC Corp. for $2.25 billion, or $33.85 per share.Obviously, tremendous credit for Isilon’s story goes tothe visionary leaders and hard-working sales, marketingand operations professionals whose dedication and effortsaw the company through itsdarkest hours to earn its greatest McBru helped Isilon develop andsuccesses. Isilon was able to shedthe lingering effects of its public convey a new vision that pointedfailings, establish a leadership to a rich future.position in the market, and achievea remarkably lucrative outcome for its investors – andfor that, credit belongs to a disciplined communicationsstrategy. McBru helped Isilon develop and convey a visionof a company that thinks beyond products, problems, andthe here and now and instead points toward a future inwhich its business model and customer focus leads anever-growing market. 8
Elise F. Burke Director of Marketing and Sales direct: 503.546.1017 mobile: 503.459.7545 email@example.com www.mcbru.comLET’S START SOMETHING. firstname.lastname@example.org www.mcbru.com www.mcbrublog.com @mcbru McClenahan-Bruer McClenahan-Bruer McBru McClenahanBruer McBru McClenahanBruer
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