Hit Refresh: Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft


Context: The challenge of perception

Being one of the most identifiable companies in the world is a tremendous achievement. But with recognition comes established perceptions – which serve as either a positive force or a detrimental influence.

Perception is everything. For decades, Microsoft distinguished itself as an engine of innovation, but over time, the sentiment began to shift. Some customers, partners and investors suspected Microsoft was slipping, weighed down by bureaucracy and politicking.

2014 marked a period of transition for the company, as Satya Nadella became the third-ever CEO. Times of change bring opportunity, and Microsoft reached for the chance to shift the narrative.


Insight: The Need for Broad Awareness

Nadella’s leadership style and focus on cultural transformation reinvigorated the tech giant, and the company wanted more people to know about the strides made in morale and the overall health of the organization. Internal research confirmed that Microsoft was being covered and discussed disproportionately by tech press and in tech-driven social conversations. Nearly half (41%) of all Microsoft coverage was by tech influencers, and only 24% of coverage was by press outside the U.S.

Nadella’s values of inclusion and empathy catalyzed the revival of the company. So how could Microsoft amplify this new narrative and refocused direction?


Inspiration: A Refresh

Three years into his tenure as CEO, Satya Nadella published the book Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone. With a renewed sense of purpose, Microsoft worked with their partners at WE to deploy a strategic approach to communications and evangelize the company’s surge on a global scale.


Action: Reintroduce Microsoft to the world

Introductions are one thing, a reintroduction is another. When everyone already thinks they know what you are, they craft an image of who you are.

In order to take on perceptions of Microsoft as a company in decline, a champion was needed. A champion of positivity – a face of change. New CEO Nadella is just that. Hit Refresh and its story of character-led company rebirth needed to be heard worldwide. “Satya believes that people and organizations must transform to regain energy, foster new ideas and achieve long term relevance” said Doug Dawson, general manager of communications at Microsoft. “This was integral to our goal to restore broad public confidence in the company.”

WE narrowed in on our objectives to reach this goal: alter the outlet and channel mix to go beyond tech circles and reach new audiences; include diverse, unexpected voices to drive awareness around the “new Microsoft;” and spark meaningful conversations focused around empathy.

We met audiences where they already gathered with an integrated mix of social, print, broadcast and direct-to-audience appearances. Nadella was profiled across media including Fast Company, Wired UK, Times of London, CBS This Morning, BBC Newsnight, ESPN, The Daily Show, Times Talk, Hearst Master Class, Harvard Business Review, Freakonomics, HBR IdeaCast and more.

To propel interest outside of the tech sphere, influential voices shared their #HitRefresh stories on their own channels with their own audiences.

Most importantly, we framed Nadella’s focus on empathy as the driver for Microsoft’s turnaround. The storyline for major media? The notion of daring to care – rejecting the norms of corporate bullying, apathy and skepticism. The packaging of company and cultural success resonated universally, garnering cover-weight stories in mainstream media.


Impact: Awareness on a global scale

A successful book launch for Hit Refresh would help Microsoft connect and re-engage with audiences beyond the tech space. The aim was to replace outdated notions with brand affinity and recognition for strong cultural value in big business. These goals hinged on global awareness and consumption of the book.

Less than a month after launch, Hit Refresh became a New York Times Bestseller. Awareness was massive, with 20,000 posts across social channels, 419 print and online stories, and radio and television airings reaching audiences of 31 million and 11 million, respectively. Positive perception of Microsoft in coverage increased by 40 percent, and in September alone, searches for Satya Nadella were double the annual average. Impressions surged to 124 million worldwide. “Empathy” was mentioned in 43 percent of media coverage for the book.

“Our research shows that consumers are increasingly expecting brands to deliver a balance of great products and services, plus long-term social value,” said Dawn Beauparlant, chief client officer at WE Communications. “Championing empathy in an industry where it can be often overlooked, while helping rejuvenate one of the world’s most important brands, was a success we are proud to have been a part of.”