MARKETING AND SALES STRATEGIES

Sun Microsystems shakes up traditional disclosure by announcing its financial results via the Web and RSS first, then via press release

Yesterday evening after the close of Wall Street trading, Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: SUNW) reported results for its fourth quarter and full fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2007.

Sun

But Sun made the announcement in a new way, releasing the news first via the company IR website and RSS feeds and then ten minutes later through a news release sent to one of the press release distribution services.

While this may seem to be a small and obscure change, it signals that Sun takes Web dissemination of information very seriously. I think it also reveals to interested people (media, analysts, customers, and employees) that if you really want to know what’s going on at Sun, the most timely and comprehensive information is available on the Sun site, Sun RSS feeds, and via Sun employee bloggers.

Wow!

After talking for years about how and why marketers and PR professionals need to think like a publisher and create Web content that people want to consume, Sun provides a great example.

Jonathan Schwartz, chief executive officer and president of Sun Microsystems, announced the move on his blog in a post called Truly Fair Disclosure. Schwartz writes: "We will announce our results to the general public via Sun's IR web site before making that same information available through the third party news services that traditionally distribute such information to paying subscribers."

Neil Hershberg, Senior Vice President, Global Media at Business Wire jumped in with a blog post titled SUN'S SOLAR ECLIPSE: A Return to the Dark Age of Disclosure. Hershberg writes: "Sun’s decision to disclose via the web and RSS feeds, followed by broad wire delivery, is disclosure deja vu–a return to the bad old days before Reg FD made an earnest attempt to level the playing field."

In another twist to what this means for disclosure, Newstex, a company that distributes news and blog feeds to companies and third party information services such as LexisNexis announced that it will deliver the earnings release directly by taking it first via Sun's RSS feeds. Since Newstes also distributes PR Newswire, Larry Schwartz, Newstex President (no relation to Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz) writes on his blog the obvious, that some people will receive the news twice: "Newstex will import Sun's Earning Release via Sun's RSS Feed and then distribute it in real time to our customers who receive the Newstex Press Release newsfeeds. Thus our customers will receive it in real time from Sun and then 10 minutes later from Sun via PR Newswire."

I think Sun's move is a brilliant one. I disagree that it is a move backwards in disclosure for a simple reason: Anybody can have access to Sun's RSS feeds directly (or via services like Newstex) just like anyone can have access to PR Newswire, Business Wire, and the other news release dissemination services. The bad old days of disclosure were when select Wall Street analysts got news first, leaving the average investor in the dark. This is different.

However, I do think it is critical that any company who wishes to follow Sun's lead and deliver important information via the Web and RSS ALWAYS use a news release distribution service in addition. Why? Because in order to get the news into Yahoo Finance, Google News, and many other places that people go for timely news and information you must send the press release to one of the wire services.

So while the Sun case example is certainly an important milestone, I don't think it signals danger to the news release wires. In fact I think the opposite is true. As I've said for years, news release wires are a fantastic way for companies to reach people directly because tens of millions of regular people (who are not journalists) read news releases directly via Google News, Yahoo News, vertical market sites and alerting systems.

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Disclosures:
1. I am on the Newstex board of advisors and provide marketing strategy services to the company.
2. I participated on a Webinar and other marketing-related initiatives with PR Newswire and I have delivered presentations for user groups and done other promotional work for several other press release distribution companies.

David Meerman Scott

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