By Nathan Rudyk

Bird.jpgI didn't mean to! But my "exploiting the hype cycle" presentation at last Saturday's Barcamp 4 in Ottawa may have tapped into some dark, surpressed Dr. Dolittle memories. Maybe it was the bird. Or maybe it was the bird riding the hippo. I dunno.

The point I was trying to make is that a small tech company can - with a creative approach to PR - plant its bird on an appropriate hype hippo and take a ride that throws a lot bigger shadow both in mainstream media and the blogosphere than the bird alone.

I started the presentation with a Tyme of Olde 2001 example called Our first press release said:

"Not content to let data analysis remain in the arcane world of institutional and business power users, Databeacon Inc. launched, a new site that makes it easy for anyone with Internet access and a browser to do one-click analysis of news data that affects our world ... examples on the site include the U.S. State Department's data on terrorist strikes around the world in recent years, the OECD's projections on age-related spending, and the last five years of U.S. ground-level ozone readings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency."

Check out that first example - "U.S. State Department's data on terrorist strikes around the world". That was 2001. The biggest story on the planet was 9-11, and we used our software to ride that hippo. Previous to, the only people who got to experience multi-dimensional analysis software were confined to I.T. or operational planning departments deep within the bowels of multi-national companies.

Bird-and-Hippo.jpgWhat we thought could be at most six weeks of coverage before we took it down rolled into 18 months of rolling PR thunder that allowed Databeacon (sold to Cognos in 2005, which in turn sold to IBM earlier this month) to ride many major news stories - aka hype hippos - of the day. SARS data from the Center for Disease Control. Axis of Evil nation comparisons from the United Nations. The Durex Sex Survey.  EPA car and truck mileage stats. World Cup Soccer data. With 180,000 unique visitors and 4.9 million Web hits to the portal, it doubled our company's Web traffic. It attracted new customers like Statistics Canada and the East of England Observatory. And it was listed as one of Yahoo's "most useful sites on the Web" and given an "ExpertPR Award" for "site most useful to journalists" - after several hundred of them from around the world wrote or broadcasted about and the technology that ran it. The site even made its way into a few textbooks on data technology.

I then demonstrated a different kind of ride on the beast - presenting a more modest, and recent (this year) example of a combined BR/PR conversation strategy with bloggers and journalists to establish a new vertical market presence in the oil and gas industry. We did that for e-learning content management system client dominKnow Inc. The hype cycle we took a ride on was the severe industry labour shortage in Alberta.  Steve Reside has a great post on that example, so I won't repeat it here.

My final example illustrating the "blogger boomerang effect" capped the presentation. This summer we positioned Marketcircle Inc.'s CEO, Alykhan Jetha (AJ) atop first Microsoft's, then Apple's hype cycle beasts. Prior to the iPhone's official launch date - no doubt panicked that a million people had laid their money down without so much as touching the device, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer engaged in a concerted anti-iPhone FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) campaign. Like most of the Apple community, AJ was outraged, and we urged him to channel that into his blog. Based on the comments he got, we thought AJ's post was good enough to warrant its own press release. The release got picked up around the world by both mainstream media and bloggers alike - the blogger boomerang in action.

Then we kept riding. Taking on Microsoft inspired one of AJ's developers to spend a weekend writing a Web simulator of the iPhone called iPhoney. At the peak of Apple's hype cycle when people were LUSTING after the iPhone, we gave them the next-best-thing with the iPhoney simulator. We contacted as many Mac bloggers as we could in the few days we had before the iPhone launched, then sent the news out to mainstream media. The effect was astounding.

Right now, there are over 145,000 Google search results of worldwide blog and mainstream media press hits for iPhoney, with tens of thousands of them leading back to Marketcircle. AJ instructed his dev team to release the project to Open Source, and iPhoney continues to ride Apple's iPhone hype cycle as developers around the world translate it into different languages and several hundred Web developers and designers per month continue to download and use it to test their Web sites on this HTML version of the iPhone.

Now, what does all this have to do with possible childhood traumas associated with Dr. Dolittle? Well, check out the blog reactions to my presentation by Alec Saunders and Robert Janelle. Sorry I scared you guys with the bird and the beast. Boo!

(Nathan Rudyk is President and CEO with market2world communications inc., Canada's Web 2.0 tech PR and product launch agency, and the founder and co-host of the Ottawa tech business podcast.)