The one thing you haven’t heard about Microsoft’s Skype acquisition

May 16, 2011
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Everyone is talking about Microsoft buying Skype, the biggest acquisition in Microsoft’s 36-year history. And they’re talking about the obvious: the far-reaching implications for Microsoft Windows, Office, its cloud strategy, Xbox and Kinect, Bing, and its partner network. How Microsoft will screw up Skype. How the marketing peeps will rebrand it Microsoft Office Cloud Voice Professional 2012. How the Linux and Mac versions of Skype are doomed, despite Ballmer’s assertions that users can trust Microsoft to do no evil with Skype.

But there’s one important aspect to this deal that, as far as I can tell, has gone unnoticed and unmentioned: its impact on public relations.

Skype is a verb not yet on par with Google, but it’s getting there quickly. It’s not uncommon to hear people say “Skype me” or “I’ll Skype you.” Here at Gregory FCA, there’s a non-trivial ecosystem of people who use Skype across platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android) for inter-office communications; telework; voice and video conferencing; remote presentations, training, screen sharing, and collaboration (a little-known capability of Skype); and client calls.

And then there are those of us who are, increasingly, using Skype to interact with media — including pitching, sourcing, and TV interviews. In fact, in PR circles, Skype is not so much about VoIP as it is about what we call “VoiPR.” When you take a moment to think about it, you realize there’s no other platform on the planet the media regularly and reliably turns to like Skype. You see sources interviewed via Skype on all the major news networks, including ABC, CBS, and CNN. And who hasn’t seen Oprah‘s pioneering use of Skype? She’s no longer alone.

What you’re not seeing is Cisco’s WebExCitrix’s GoToMeetingMicrosoft’s Office Live Meeting, or Adobe’s Connect being used on CNN. Skype has become the media’s preferred video conferencing tool for communicating with sources, and for quickly (and cheaply) wiring those sources up for air.

We recognized this a while back and, as a result, started building best practices around using Skype as a media engagement platform. Fast forward to today, and we increasingly think of Skype for talking to the press and bloggers, for connecting media with sources, for producing content in our social media work, and more.

For example, we pioneered the use of Skype in our blogging activities. Most recently, one of our tech bloggers used Skype to interview legendary programmer Dan Bricklin for the Alpha Software blog. Dan is one of the inventors of the first “killer app,” which essentially created the computer industry we know today. The traffic to that broadcast is off the chart, grossly outperforming the pure audio podcasts we produce for the same client.

Despite its media goodness, there’s one thing that’s been preventing Skype from achieving critical mass with media. It’s still an optional download that needs to be installed, configured, made to work (anyone up for some audio/video troubleshooting?), and, in many cases, requires permission from the IT department to install and punch through the firewall.

With all the cost cutting in media coupled with increasing demands on reporters’ time, many reporters don’t have the bandwidth to play with and configure Skype. That’s where Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype comes in as potentially having a huge impact on PR. There is no question that Skype will be bundled and deeply integrated with Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office and Office 365, Microsoft’s consumer devices (Xbox, Kinect, Windows Phone), Bing, and Microsoft’s enterprise servers and services.

And there’s also no question in my mind that Microsoft will want Skype on every mobile platform, including those it doesn’t sell (iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, etc.). When that happens, every news organization using Windows will have Skype as an integral part of its environment, from the phone to the laptop to the desktop to the control room. Communicating with sources, PR professionals, and the public will be as easy as double clicking an icon, and a pre-configured version of Skype will pop up.

This will drive a shift in public relations that will be emblematic of a larger shift Microsoft is hoping to make with its acquisition: the slaying of WebEx and GoToMeeting, and ultimate domination of the unified communication and collaboration (UCC) space. But that’s a twisted tale for another day.

In the end, we’re encouraging our clients not to wait and see what Microsoft does with Skype. We believe PR professionals should have Skype on their desktops now; should master the platform; and should be striving to connect with media, clients, and sources this way, as well as through other non-traditional means (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.). E-mail and IM relationships aren’t dead nor are they dying. But if you want to stand out and capitalize on opportunities that legacy communications tools can’t deliver, sourcing with Skype is one such stand-out tactic.

Clients who are able to communicate with writers and reporters on deadline using Skype have a strategic advantage over competitors who can only take a phone call or do a Q&A by e-mail. When Oprah comes knocking for sources, if you can get your client on Skype, and fast, you’re at the head of the pack. And I assure you that most of your competitors are not training on the effective use of Skype, now a core technology at one of the world’s biggest and the most successful software companies, and soon to be a core technology at every major media outlet on the planet.

Coming soon to a PC and device near you. Are you ready? Is your PR team ready?

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