MARKETING AND SALES STRATEGIES

Alacra: Bigger than the biggest competitors

Here's an interesting case study which will appear in my book The New Rules of Marketing and PR.

Alacra

Alacra creates online technology and services for financial institutions and professional service firms to find, package and present business information. In the crowded field of professional information services, Alacra, a company of about 100 people, competes with much bigger players such as The Thomson Corporation (40,500 employees) and Reid Elsevier (36,500 employees). An important part of Alacra’s marketing and communications strategy has been its early forays into corporate blogs and corporate wikis.

"You are what you publish," says Steve Goldstein, CEO of Alacra. "It is better to have a reputation than no reputation. Certainly AlacraBlog is valuable for us as a way to get our name out there."

Goldstein was an early CEO blogger, launching AlacraBlog in March 2004. "We didn't know what would happen but we wanted to try it," he says. "The competitors are really big. By blogging I am able to put a face on the company."

Goldstein uses his blog platform as a way to communicate with his clients, prospects, and partners. He uses the blog to tell the community things really quickly without doing a Press Release. "I can highlight interesting aspects of the company like employees and partners that wouldn't go into a more formal press release," he says. "Internally the blog is important too. We have a London office so I use it to communicate to employees."

It's fascinating that there are so few bloggers in the publishing industry. These are publishers for gosh sakes! Why aren't they publishing blogs? Perhaps because publishers are cautious about giving content away for free or maybe because large publishers feel threatened by blogs. But by starting a blog early and keeping the information flowing, Goldstein has positioned Alacra ahead of many huge information companies hundreds of times the size of Alacra. "Many publishers don't know what to do about blogging and very few are doing it," Goldstein says. "For example, there is nobody big at Thomson or Reid Elsevier who blogs."

But Alacra didn't just do a blog. In September 2005, the company unveiled AlacraWiki an open and collaborative resource for producers and consumers of business information. AlacraWiki brings together in depth profiles of information sources and companies, important people in the industry, and much more. The front page is populated by information industry news from the premier analysts and trade publications that populates via RSS feeds. "We had amassed a tremendous amount of valuable information on publishers and databases through our content licensing efforts," Goldstein says. "We thought it would be useful to make this information available on the web and a wiki was clearly the best format."

Goldstein was surprised that at the time AlacraWiki was launched, there was no directory of business information in the market. "We included reference data for the industry in a wiki form as a service to industry," he says. "Again, you are what you publish." The wiki is a collaborative effort where anybody can create and update listings. To start the project, Goldstein hired a summer MBA student intern (a practice that has become an annual project) who built the initial infrastructure and listings in just eight weeks. Although many people have contributed, some people don’t update their personal or company profiles. "It's strange that people don't go in and change it, its so easy," he says.

So how would Goldstein compare the skill sets to create a blog and a wiki? "To be successful at blogging, you need to have something to say," Goldstein says. "You need to have some communications skills to be successful. Over on the wiki side you need to be an expert in something to get it populated to begin with and then the resources to keep it up."

When asked if he would use the AlacraBlog and AlacraWiki names (and URLs) if her were starting all over again, Goldstein says, "Branding is really important. The names helps to tie the AlacraBlog and AlacraWiki in with the other Alacra sites, including the corporate site and AlacraStore."

David Meerman Scott

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