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November 14, 2019

Yes, I Once Hired Bob Newhart

Cool things happen when you move – like finding things you’d forgotten. In 2005 at Unisys I used co-funding from Microsoft to create a campaign aimed at proof-of-concept for Windows as a datacenter operating system (OS), hosted by super-expensive 32-processor Unisys servers. The problem: nobody trusted Windows as a datacenter OS.

Fortunately, we had a number of customer success stories to use to help us validate the idea of Windows as a secure, reliable, lower cost OS. But face it: it's very easy to make a customer story pretty dull fare, especially after you've navigated the rocks and shoals of customer and legal approvals. And our printed success stories were no exception. Dullsville.

But even dull stories can be spiced up with a little creativity. And with an average deal value of $700K+, they were worth a little spice. How do you take something dull and make it sound engaging?

Together with a first-rate marketing agency, we came up with a great approach: hire first-rate acting talent to perform dramatic readings of our customer stories, distributing them to our campaign targets on CD (still a valid distribution method back then).

The results?

"Cyrano Do Notcallback" – how we successfully hosted the the Federal Do Not Call registry on Windows, as read by Willem Dafoe

"From Here to Maternity" – a hospital success story read by Bob Newhart

And "Journey to the Center of the Datacenter" – the JetBlue reservation system, as read by Eric Idle (sadly, I've lost this one)

As I recall, we paid a total of $25K for the talent, including agent fees. The rest was regular production and distribution costs.

I'd love to tell you it was a smashing success. But customer success stories can take an incredibly long time to approve. Even working from published stories, we had to go back to our customers and secure written script approvals from each one before we could turn the creative talent loose. By the time all that was done -- I'd left the company for another opportunity.

But even humdrum collateral can sound great when it's delivered in a fun, creative way. And there's always a way to turning an old idea onto its head.

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