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Why Is Steve Ballmer at CERAWeek?

We raised awareness about Microsoft’s presence in the oil and gas industry through increased media coverage and industry event attendance – by its CEO. The campaign was recognized with an IABC Bronze Quill Award of Excellence in media relations.


The Story

In 2003 Microsoft formed a vertical unit focused on the energy industry (oil, gas and retail petroleum), yet prior to CERAWeek 2005, few business reporters who cover the energy industry were aware of that. We thoroughly researched business media articles covering the oil and gas industry and found very little mention of information technology. We saw an opportunity to reach out to the media to educate them on the role IT and Microsoft play in the energy industry.

How We Told the Story

We began lobbying two years prior to our PR campaign for Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to speak at CERAWeek, hosted by industry think tank Cambridge Energy Research Association (CERA). Steve Ballmer confirmed that he would participate as the first CERAWeek IT industry keynoter at the mid-February 2005 event, kicking off the event media planning process. Since other speakers were, unlike Ballmer, heavily energy focused and included CEOs of the world’s largest energy companies, high-level government officials and heads of state, the strategy was to play off the question ‘Why is Steve Ballmer at CERAWeek?’

We used the CERAWeek event to create a “soft launch” of Microsoft’s energy vision in preparation for a full-fledged launch at Microsoft’s Global Energy Forum customer event in May. Media messaging encompassed Microsoft’s business strategy – that it was serious about providing tools and solutions for the industry – while also engaging journalists from Reuters, Houston Chronicle and others with industry-specific topics that they were writing about. This was a challenge considering that most of these journalists didn’t have information technology on their radar screens, nor did their readers.

Despite these challenges, many journalists were intrigued by the message “Why Ballmer at CERAWeek?” We scheduled and staffed seven interviews with Microsoft executives and business journalists from AP, Bloomberg News, Forbes, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, trade reporters and informal conversations with many others.

The Result

Based on post-event feedback, CERAWeek attendees initially wondered why Ballmer was there. However, they left the event with a greater understanding of Microsoft’s presence and its role and relevance to the oil and gas industry. Statistics showed almost 7.8 million media impressions during the first two weeks following the event – just on Ballmer’s speech coverage. Three stories appeared before Ballmer’s appearance by AP, CBSMarketWatch and Oil & Gas Journal. Microsoft had additional follow-up coverage in 11 media outlets.

The campaign generated ongoing interest in Microsoft’s role in the industry and presented an opportunity to nurture new relationships with journalists. Eight newswire and trade reporters attended Microsoft’s 2005 Global Energy Forum compared with three trade reporters at the 2004 event.

The CERAWeek campaign was honored with an International Association of Business Communicators Bronze Quill Award of Excellence in media relations.