This week, Inside PR and PRSA present a special show where Martin interviews two Silver Anvil Awards finalists.

Scott Brooks is vice president, marketing and communications for IBM Research. He talks to us about Watson, the computer-contestant on Jeopardy that defeated two of the show’s best players. Watson’s technology is based on the concept of  ‘automatic question answering’.  A team of 25 people worked for years to improve the ability of computers to answer questions.  When the communications folks saw the initial results, they realized the PR potential to build awareness and contacted Jeopardy to see if they might be interested in a man-machine competition.

Getting an early start and narrowly targeting their prelaunch outreach was one of the strategies the communications group used  to tell the complex story in long form. About 18 months before the matches, they approached three media influencers, New York Times magazine to write a feature, PBS TV’s Nova to produce a documentary, and author Stephen Baker to write a book.  The three had open access to Watson throughout its development.

The biggest communications risk IBM faced was presenting Watson live on television and not knowing what the outcome would be. Brooks said they made big decisions early on that were game changers including what to name the computer, what kind of voice it would have and what it would look like on stage.  Watson was actually named for for first president of IBM.

Their strategy paid off and Watson garnered prelaunch awareness and much traditional and social media coverage during the matches and after the win.

Kari Mather works as a senior communications consultant in corporate communications at Allstate Insurance Company. (Disclosure Allstate Canada is a Thornley Fallis client though we don’t work with Allstate U.S.)

The company created the Allstate Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, to fund cause-related programs in support of safe and vital communities, safe driving and ending domestic violence.

In this case, they helped the community of Tuscon Arizona build a playground in honor of Christina-Taylor Green, the young girl born on 9/11, who, along with 10 others sadly lost their lives during the shooting that injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Not long after the tragedy, the Allstate Foundation learned the community wanted to commemorate Christina’s short life, stepped forward and granted funding to build a playground at Christina’s elementary school and ensuring her classmates were involved throughout the project.

In addition to the funds, Allstate Foundation was active throughout the design and build, brought in more than 100 volunteers and stood side by side with the community to help bring the Christina-Taylor Green Little Hands playground to life.

What could have been a local story was picked up by local and national media and it became an important milestone in the company’s history as they were able to involve the community, agencies and employees in a cause they really believed in.

This year’s Silver Anvil awards will be presented in New York City on June 7, 2012. Inside PR will be there.

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Send us an email or an audio comment to insideprcomments@gmail.com, join the Inside PR Facebook group, leave us a comment here, message us @inside_pr on Twitter, or connect with Gini DietrichJoe Thornley, and Martin Waxman on Twitter.

Our theme music was created by Damon de SzegheoRoger Dey is our announcer.

This week’s episode was produced by Kristine Simpson.

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