Welches, Microsoft detail 'Business' in online show

Microsoft msft is taking a novel approach to promote business-to-business products and services with a 30-minute online business show going live today that features Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, and his wife, Suzy.

In the first show, the duo, who also do a weekly BusinessWeek column and consulting, help the Hertz car rental company hash out an information technology issue using a Welch method known as a "work out."

Welch devised the process in the 1990s at GE. It pits people with a conflict across from each other at a table. The Welches ask questions to get to the heart of the issue. They go at it until the two sides come together on a solution.

"When (Microsoft CEO) Steve Ballmer called me and took me through what he was trying to do there with business-to-business, it sounded like fun," says Welch, who led GE from 1981 until 2001.

It's Everybody's Business is available at http://EverybodysBusiness.msn.com. Aimed at business IT executives, it was created by reality show producer Reveille Productions, maker of The Biggest Loser. The reality show builds on Microsoft's current "b-to-b" ad campaign, It's Everybody's Business by agency JWT, which also helped develop the show. Two more shows are in the works, but Microsoft would not disclose the subject companies.

"Marketing in business-to-business is hugely important to Microsoft's mission," says Gayle Troberman, Microsoft's general manager, advertising and customer engagement.

The tech giant spent $13 billion in sales and marketing in 2008. Traditionally, business-to-business efforts have received the bulk of the budget, but lately, the company has stepped up its consumer marketing. A new campaign by Crispin Porter + Bogusky helps Windows PCs take on Macs. And Microsoft search engine Bing, a Google rival, now is being promoted with teaser ads by JWT, with a full campaign to follow through the summer. New mobile phones are due in the fall.

But the consumer push is not coming at the expense of its business audience, Troberman says. "We've been invested with business-to-business audiences ... for decades now. It's a very significant investment. You'll see us continue to invest with consumer audiences as well, but not at the expense of continuing our dialogue with business."

The business audience is key, because those folks make decisions about hardware and software used throughout organizations.

"They are busy people, they have a lot going on and are digitally savvy," Troberman says. "When they do have the time to step out of the work grind, they are still interested in learning. We've created a show that's a white paper with a pulse."

In the first show, two Hertz car rental executives work out a real issue: how to introduce a new, tech-driven initiative that makes more Hertz cars available on streets in urban areas, rather than at rental lots. The company is trying to compete with flexible car renters such as Zip and was asked by Microsoft to participate in the show.

"For us, this is all about how we differentiate ourselves from them (Zip), and how do we do it better and create an environment that is more seamless and more techno-savvy," says Mark Frissora, Hertz CEO, who appears at the end of the show. "The issue was going from 100 cars to 1,000 in New York and doing it profitably."

Frissora's executives hash out issues with drama and suspense reminiscent of NBC's The Apprentice. Crews used eight hours of footage to create the 30-minute show. The website also features outtakes, behind-the-scenes footage and in-depth information about certain issues and products discussed.

"Real stuff happened," says Jack Welch. "There were real moments of drama. It was an absolute real session."