When a reporter told Judy Barbao a competitor had issued a news release about a new product, she took a look for herself.
Barbao, the manager of public affairs for Time Warner Communications' Columbus division, took issue with information Ameritech was supplying regarding comparisons between its new DSL Internet service and that of Time Warner's Road Runner cable Internet service.
For example, claims of faster speeds weren't comparing apples to apples and were misleading, she says.
So, within seven business days, she took it upon herself to provide Central Ohio media with detailed information about both of the products.
"We were contacted by Columbus CEO, The Columbus Dispatch and Business First, and they did side-by-side comparisons of the products," Barbao says. "It ended up being a fair representation, I think, of both products, which is all we really wanted from the beginning."
The stories also ended up being in-depth feature pieces rather than brief news items.
An Ameritech spokeswoman would not comment on Barbao's tactic beyond saying the company welcomes competition and is happy with its growth in the Columbus area.
Here's Barbao's plan of attack:
Barbao used Ameritech's own Web site to gather information about the competing service -- and provided the Internet address so reporters could check it on their own.
Simplify the message.
"As the proposed deployment of this DSL product nears, you're likely to receive varying materials about high-speed Internet technologies and how they compare," Barbao wrote in her letter to the media. "We want to make sure you have all the facts and background about Road Runner, so we're attaching some information for your future reference."
To present the information in a clear, straightforward format, she made a chart, highlighting key areas for each product.
Target your audience.
Barbao keeps a comprehensive media list for her company's Central Ohio service area, and she used it to focus on technology reporters.
"I also sent it to editorial editors and editors in general because I thought this is an issue that may lead a newspaper to editorialize on the cons and pros of various products, so I wanted to make sure they had the facts, too," she says.
She targeted print media because the issue was too complex for broadcast media to cover in the time they allot to each story.
Don't sit on your hands.
Barbao advises companies to quickly turn around a document laying out the facts if they find out a competitor has released incomplete or misleading information.
"I think timing is key; that you don't let that just sit out there," she says.
Barbao thinks her letter changed the focus of the local media coverage.
"What could have happened is Ameritech issued the release and it ended up being a flat out story about the product," Barbao says. "So we tried to redirect that as a piece that would compare the products and use that as a vehicle.
Joan Slattery Wall (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.