Marketers address war concerns, successes

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While the war in Iraq hasn’t had much short-term economic impact on most U.S. businesses, the conflict and subsequent reconstruction have created opportunities in some markets.

A handful of b-to-b companies in these segments have deployed marketing efforts in response to these opportunities. Some companies are promoting—albeit in muted tones—how well their products performed in battle. And at least one company is using marketing communications to counteract allegations of war profiteering.

Halliburton, the company formerly headed by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, has become, in some circles, synonymous with political cronyism. Questions have been raised about the propriety of the company’s contract to fight oil fires and rebuild infrastructure in Iraq, as well as its pricing of gasoline being imported into the country.

Halliburton defends itself

Halliburton was a central part of a Nov. 3 Newsweek cover story titled, "Waste, chaos and cronyism: the real cost of rebuilding Iraq." Even before the Newsweek report, Halliburton responded to the allegations with several press releases and an op-ed piece, penned by the company’s CEO, Dave Lesar, that appeared in the Oct. 17 issue of The Wall Street Journal.

In the piece, Lesar celebrated Halliburton’s employees, who handle numerous support tasks for the soldiers in Iraq. He also argued that the charges against Halliburton were without basis and politically motivated. "Many people have never heard of Halliburton, despite the company’s worldwide reach and long service to the government," he wrote. "But now, because of politics, that is changing. It began in July 2000 when the company’s chairman, Mr. Cheney, became a vice presidential candidate."

Asked whether Halliburton planned other marketing moves, public relations manager Wendy Hall replied, "We have a long record of encouraging our employees to be politically active and to serve as spokespersons for the company."

So far, the controversy seems to have had little effect on Halliburton’s business. Its share price closed Thursday at $24.10, up 56% from its 52-week low of $15.40, and the company’s chief worry seems to be asbestos litigation rather than any allegations regarding its involvement in Iraq.

"In this case, it’s kind of a non-issue," said Jim Gregory, CEO of branding consultancy CoreBrand. "Their customers don’t care."

Other companies have had less controversial experiences in Iraq. Maritime Telecommunications Network, for instance, was the company that developed what is now known as the Bloommobile. The pickup truck, equipped with a sophisticated satellite communications system often used for ship-to-shore communications, enabled the late NBC war correspondent David Bloom to file live reports while in motion. Unlike other reporters, he didn’t have to stop and set up the communications system to file reports.

MTN, which has a small target audience for this product, has nonetheless quietly marketed the Bloommobile. Since March, the company has issued four press releases about the Bloommobile, including the vehicle’s use by NBC to cover Hurricane Isabel.

"We haven’t done much, because we got so much press," said Rob Marjerison, MTN’s director of business development.

Another company, Space Imaging, provides high-resolution satellite imagery used in intelligence and map-making. In an ad that ran in McGraw-Hill Cos.’ Aviation Week & Space Technology, the company trumpeted its use by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency as "part of Operation Iraqi Freedom."

Gary Napier, public relations manager for the company, acknowledged that Space Imaging wouldn’t mention the war in Iraq in communications with some of its other market sectors. "We focus our message to the readership of the magazine," he said, "and Aviation Week has a defense readership."

Overseas security strong

Companies providing overseas security services have received strong interest in the wake of both the war in Iraq and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

International SOS is a company that specializes in evacuating people from foreign countries in cases ranging from medical emergencies to coups to terrorist attacks. The company helped airlift the injured victims of the nightclub terrorist attack in Bali.

Beginning last year, International SOS began quietly promoting its services, which are targeted to Fortune 500 companies, through a series of seminars in various cities around the U.S. Interest in the sessions has grown in the wake of the war in Iraq and its aftermath. "There is a high level of interest and attendance," said Stephen Holliday, the company’s VP-marketing.

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