Thursday, September 21, 2006

Stallings, IBM: Savvy, not stodgy

This week I got the chance to talk to Jim Stallings, GM for IBM's mainframe division. He'd been on a virtual media tour in the past weeks, speaking with the likes of CNET and Internet News. He'd basically had the same agenda for most of these pubs. Why else would he schedule the interviews?. My challenge was to knock Stallings off of his script, otherwise I was looking at not just canned answers, but last week's canned answers.

So the first thing I said was, "You know, every analyst I talk to just gushes over the mainframe. Does that mean you've got the easiest job at IBM?" It's kind of dumb, looking at it now, especially in print. But it worked. Stallings said he felt like a gazelle or some kind of animal being stalked by lions in a National Geographic video. It didn't make the cut for the Q&A, but at the time it was the wildest thing I'd ever heard an IBM exec say.

That was until the next day when reporter Jack Loftus IM'd me a link to a YouTube clip, with the caveat: "This is not a virus". Huh. Seemed safe to me, so I clicked the link and found possibly the funniest mainframe joke I'd ever seen. Now, you might wonder, how many mainframe jokes could there possibly be? And the answer would surprise you. Tons. Mainframers think they're really funny.

But the YouTube video actually was funny. Very much derivative of the U.S. version of The Office -- but hilarious. The end quote "The mainframe: It's like a barn". Just great.

There are three videos and they all star IBM's director of mainframe sales (I'm assuming that's really him), teaching his staff how to sell the mainframe. Great stuff. Jonathan Eunice over at Illuminata picked up on it today as well.

It didn't take too long to jump to the conclusion that this was some kind of viral marketing campaign. And it's obviously working, since it's already in blogs, reporters are sending it to each other and it's popular on YouTube.

I was talking to Ari Entin, one of the PR gurus over at Bite Communications (they handle Sun Microsystems)about the videos and he was pretty interested in the ploy. He suggested I ask Stallings a follow up on whether IBM was going this route because traditional means like television are losing ground to new media, like YouTube. I emailed through IBM's PR agency and I'll update the blog if I can get an answer.

Alexandra Barrett, news director for our media group also had a follow up question that I'm waiting to hear back on. Stallings said IBM was willing to guarantee energy savings to customers that moved over to Big Iron from Intel. Is that going to be in writing? And will customers that don't save money get some sort of rebate from IBM?


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