Thursday, March 24, 2005

Happy Trails

When we started the agency in 1996, one of our first clients was Forte Software, based in Oakland, CA. Forte had a high-end application development environment and we later helped the company broaden its position around development and application integration.

In August 1999, Sun announced that it would acquire Forte for around $540 million in a stock-for-stock deal. The lure was Forte’s customer base and a Java tool called SynerJ. When the deal closed in October, the value was closer to $700 million, to the delight of Forte shareholders.

We initially prepared to ride into the sunset, as that’s the usual path when a much larger company acquires one’s client. Instead, the Forte acquisition kicked off a terrific five-year relationship with Sun, focusing on developer initiatives and an array of assignments with Sun’s analyst relations team.

And in November 2002, the relationship expanded when Sun acquired another CHEN PR client, Pirus Networks. Our agency had worked with Pirus to establish a strong position in the storage market, with its innovative intelligent switching architecture technology. Immediately following the Pirus acquisition, CHEN was retained to support Sun’s storage analyst relations initiatives.

But all good things come to an end at some point.

Last week, we learned that our relationship with Sun would conclude in June. Sun plans to move from its current multi-agency approach to an anchor agency model. And while Sun acknowledged our great work for them, we’re not a fit under this model, as we’ve never aspired to run multi-million dollar accounts. We’re about strategic, focused programs. To use a basketball analogy, since it’s March Madness, think Final Four versus every college hoops team.

It’s an amicable split, with execs at the highest levels offering to serve as references for us. Sun folks have already offered some of our most blush-worthy comments. And we’re humbled that our friends in the market research and press corps have called us to see how they can be of assistance as we set out to replace the business.

It’s always disappointing to lose a long-term account. But what a ride it’s been. CHEN PR was part of several open source milestones at Sun, including the announcement of the NetBeans open source community in March 2000 and the formation of the GNOME Foundation. We’ve supported Sun through five JavaOnes, three annual analyst conferences and many LinuxWorlds.

More recently, we’ve had the pleasure of supporting the extension of Sun’s tools line with strong product releases such as Java Studio Enterprise 7 and the initial release of Java Studio Creator. We’ve had the honor of hosting Sun luminaries James Gosling and Greg Papadopoulos for Boston-based events.

It has been extremely gratifying to see Sun’s efforts to reinvent itself coming to fruition during the past year, knowing that we’ve played a role in that energetic effort.

Fortunately, we have a portfolio of great clients who count on us for our counsel and services just as Sun has done for so long. We’ll have no problem keeping ourselves busy as we meet with prospective clients and begin work for those with whom we partner.

To that point, no tribute would be complete without our heartfelt thanks to our spectacular Sun account team. You’ve walked through walls for the client, and maintained your passion and humor throughout. The results you’ve generated speak for themselves.

We’re grateful for our many friends and fans at Sun. Thank you for your enduring support. Our friendships transcend the agency/client relationship.

And dinner in Boston is always on us.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Software: Still a Teenager

As someone who's spent much of her career in the software biz, it's kind of a relief to have no less than Steve Mills tell us that "the software industry is ... definitely not reaching maturity or commodity status."

His Viewpoint column in a recent BusinessWeek article reports:

According to the NVCA [National Venture Capital Association], software was the leading venture-capital investment in 2004, with $5.1 billion invested, or 24% of all venture-capital dollars. That's not the investment profile of a contracting market. Expansion is fueled by programming standards and open-source software, which lower the barriers to entry.

Nice way to end the week.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

What Software Developers and Lawyers Have in Common

From my colleague Randy Wambold...

Recently I attended a panel assembled by an organization that CHEN PR sponsors called the Massachusetts Interactive Technology Exchange (MITX), titled, "Open Source - Is It Ready For Primetime?"

Many a two-hour technology panel that I've attended passed by about as quickly as a Friday before a week of vacation, but I found this panel quite engaging.

Attempting to define "open source" guarantees failure, but for the purposes of this blog entry, a working definition is in order. For succinctness and plain language, I like the definition on "Open source software (OSS) refers to software that is developed, tested, or improved through public collaboration and distributed with the idea that the [source code] must be shared with others, ensuring an open future collaboration."

The piquant panelists managed to cover an impressive range of topics in two hours related to the issue of the open source... well, what to call it? That's part of what the panelists discussed. Open source is part latest technology trend, part philosophical movement, and part legal conundrum. In fact, regarding the legal implication, one of the panelists quipped that a few years ago, a lawyer was the last person you'd expect to find in a room with a bunch of software developers. Now, thanks to open source's profound implications on patent and intellectual property law, s/he is among the first.

In fact it was a good two hours not to be a lawyer, as the profession came in for its fair amount of criticism. Kudos to lawyer and panelist Devin Smith who handled the ribbing with good humor.

Yours truly raised the question to the panelists of how open source might change as it moves from "pure" philosophical movement to commercialization as vendors appropriate it for profit. Underlying my question is my anecdotal observation at the rapidity with which the very term "open source" has gone from the strict domain of the wildly passionate, highly technical software developer to mainstream business language. I used to hear the term only in discussions with my clients who fit the passionate/technical profile, but now it seems I can't open a business publication without reading it as well.

The consensus seemed to be that on the one hand it doesn't have to be an either/or as my question implies; there is a sense in which open source can continue to be both a technology credo and a for-profit business strategy. On the other hand, panelists didn't doubt that a few years down the road this progression will have a practical impact.

I left the panel a more informed man, with two lasting impressions: 1) In whatever form, open source is here to stay and its impact on business and technology is only beginning to play out and 2) I'm glad I decided against law school.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Amending Bloggers' Rights

A post from my colleague Becky Ayers...

Heads up PR folk: the next time a blogger writes about your company or your client based on a leak -- look out.

Today's news (here's the BusinessWeek article) spotlights three now famous blog sites that published confidential information about an unreleased Apple product. They may soon be required to name their confidential sources in a court of law.

At stake: whether bloggers fall under the same category as news "journalists," who are generally afforded First Amendment protection for their sources. Apple's position is that these particular blog sites aren't "legitimate members of the press" thereby giving the company the right to subpoena information that may lead to employees who have violated their confidentiality agreements.

You can imagine that folks like Dan Gillmor are none too pleased with this. Yet there's no question that blogging has become the new frontier of journalism with, in many cases, no restrictions about what gets said and what doesn't.

That is, until now.

Apple's subpoenas remain on hold until the judge issues a written ruling. This gives companies a window of opportunity to reiterate or revisit policies with respect to confidentiality and blogging -- as a favorable ruling will open the door for companies to crack down on leaks and start a witch hunt for the folks responsible for them...