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When tragedy boosts business

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SER Solutions Inc., Herndon, Va., a 17-year-old document management company, had planned for more than a year to bring to market a product called SERbrainware, which can capture keywords in Internet communications. SER knew its system had enough computing horsepower to handle the needs of large government agencies and that it would be useful for national security applications. What no one counted on was Sept. 11.

In response to the attacks, SER accelerated its sales and marketing plans. It demonstrated SERbrainware for the first time publicly at a Nov. 7 event at the National Press Club in Washington. The event was attended by a higher-than-anticipated number of government information technology strategists.

To date, five agencies, which SER declined to specify, have become legitimate sales prospects and have begun conversation on possible uses for SERbrainware. In some cases, the agencies have begun drawing requests for proposals for SERbrainware products, said Caroline Hyde, senior VP-worldwide sales.

But like other military and government suppliers, SER has been especially careful in its marketing and sales these days, so as not to appear to be a profiteer.

"Any company offering a product or service that can be useful has to be clear they are not interested in being exploitative and in no way wish to take advantage of a terrible set of events," Hyde said. At the same time, she said, "There’s also a level of pride … [from] helping to bring an end to horrible problems."

Continuing with business

SER is not alone. Dozens of companies and executives are walking the same line by staying busy, building the brand and remaining humble.

Take Marc Hausman, president-CEO of Strategic Communications Group, Silver Spring, Md. Hausman recently helped video conference network provider V-Span Inc., King of Prussia, Pa., when it saw a surge in demand after Sept. 11.

"You have to accept the fact that what happened Sept. 11 has created new marketing opportunities," Hausman said. "The Bush Administration has asked people to go about business, and the video conferencing infrastructure is in place to help people do just that."

Interestingly, Hausman said that the Gulf War was the last big push for video conferencing, but that "the technology at that time did not deliver on the promise." But, he said, "things have been far different this time around."

Gary Szenderski, senior partner with Szenderski/Rohani Worldwide Inc., Irvine, Calif., said external communication with the public, media and government is a good step to take when you find yourself in a better position following tragedy. But he said it can’t replace the basics: branding and communicating a value proposition.

Szenderski—an advisor to Ledo International Inc., Newport Beach, Calif., a specialist in theme park management, including safety—said a company should remain focused on the core value proposition that existed prior to Sept. 11.

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