With trading now occurring at speeds that were unfathomable only a few years ago, the reality is that staggering sums of money can be lost in an instant. Knight Capital represents the most infamous cautionary tale, with a misfiring algo causing it to lose $440 million over the span of minutes on August 1, 2012 and ultimately forcing a fire-sale sale of the firm to competitor Getco. The incident was a prime example of why the SEC mandated — via Rule 15C3-5 — brokers to have the ability to instantly stop troublesome orders before they reach the market. While this new regulation created significant challenges for the technology platforms of brokers catering to the fastest traders, it also paved the way for the launch of high-performance computing vendor HPR, which married the latest in hardware, networking and cloud technology to create a system that could perform the needed risk checks in a mere nanoseconds. But all of this led to a communications challenge for the firm: adoption of a relatively unknown vendor like HPR by the largest banks would be near impossible without sign off at the highest levels, but how do you create awareness and validation among those notoriously hard-to-reach executives?
The strategy from the beginning for reaching these individuals was to value quality over quantity, creating an air of mystique that many prominent technology firms strive for. HPR should not be ubiquitous, but instead be extremely selective in which media it chose to work with. WatersTechnology, whose approval carried considerable weight among the technologists HPR sought out, was a key target, as was the Wall Street Journal. While we knew the former could bear fruit quickly, the latter would require a concerted strategic effort to pay dividends. That meant not only investing time, but also leveraging the help of HPR’s largest bank clients to validate their story and prove the firm’s bonafides.
With our targets clear, we began a concerted campaign of good old fashioned media relations work. For Waters that meant a steady cadence of high-impact story pitches focused on the firm’s product roadmap and approach to technology development as well as a focus on the publication’s highly regarded awards. For the WSJ, the strategy consisted of regular conversations with longtime contacts about HPR’s business, multiple in-person meetings with key editorial leadership and ultimately, the activation of knowledgeable clients to speak on HPR’s behalf.
After 14 months of work, the Wall Street Journal profile on HPR hit. “This Little Black Box Does Heavy Lifting for Wall Street” read the headline, with the article serving as an entry point for veteran WSJ capital markets reporter Telis Demos to also discuss how banks, for the first time, were willing to outsource key components of their technology stacks. Demos was particularly intrigued by the idea that HPR’s hardware — something the approximate size of a pizza box — was seeing a staggering amount of daily US equity volume flow through it. With that potential visual, he and his editor pushed for the article to be one of the publication’s early “Digital First” features, meaning the piece was optimized for the web rather than print. As a result, HPR’s servers were given full glamour treatment, photographed in the Journal’s portrait studio to underscore the outsized role that they were now playing in powering modern equity trading.