Magazine article Marketing

Microsoft's Very British Marketing Coup

Magazine article Marketing

Microsoft's Very British Marketing Coup

Article excerpt

As Bill Gates departs the UK, he leaves in his wake a promising PR start to the New Year, Paul Whitfield reports on Microsoft UK's success

Bill Gates, co-founder and chairman of Microsoft, ended his week in London sitting beside consumer champion Richard Branson in the full glare of the media spotlight. Their agreement, that Microsoft will supply the PC technology for Branson's nonprofit People's Lottery bid, follows a week in which Gates grabbed newspaper front pages as he toured UK schools promoting digital learning.

It is a good start to 2000 for the company, and a reversal of its PR fortunes last year. According to Press Watch, a UK organisation that tracks UK media sentiment, Microsoft was the most negatively reported company in the IT sector, and across all companies, placed 1304 out of 1321 for the last quarter of 1999.

Much of that criticism was based on its performance in the US, where it has been battered by negative coverage from last year's high-profile antimonopoly court case.

The case, grandly titled 'United States of America vs Microsoft' and resulting in the verdict that Microsoft had abused its position as the world's leading software firm, is set to lead to massive fines and even a forced dismantling of Microsoft.

More immediately, given that appeals are expected to stretch on for decades, the case has left Microsoft, in the US, climbing the PR equivalent of Everest as it seeks to re-establish itself as a responsible corporate citizen.

Tactical move

The ability of Microsoft UK to brush-off negative press, and its favourable coverage so far this year, is testament to the company's skilful brand handling and low-key, but solid, marketing presence in the UK.

When Windows 2000, the latest instalment in Microsoft's all conquering PC operating system, launches on February 17, it will do so without the media circus and advertising blitz that has accompanied earlier launches of the programme.

Microsoft director of customer marketing, Shaun Orpen, says: "We like to think of Microsoft as a global brand but with a distinct UK personality. We do a lot of PR. We want to get close to the customers and interact at thatlevel-that is the way we operate."

It is a tactic that has effectively avoided the overkill that has tainted Microsoft's image in the US, where its brand and product advertising has been far more pervasive.

Orpen says: "The strategy for the UK was born out of the fact that the British are unique. The market here would not necessarily be endeared to a successful American company with a big presence. …

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