As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Paige Arnof-Fenn.
Paige is the founder & CEO of global marketing and branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, venture-backed startups as well as nonprofit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. She is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a large multi-national business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student I looked at leaders like Meg Whitman & Ursula Burns as my role models. I started my career on Wall Street in the 80s and had a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and worked at 3 different startups as the head of marketing. I took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. Being an entrepreneur provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. I get to set my priorities, I have time to travel and hang out with my inner circle, and work out every day. It has been a journey to get here but I am lucky to have found it. I love the autonomy, flexibility and the fact that I know every day the impact that I have on my business. When I worked at big companies I always felt the ball would roll with or without me, that if I got hit by a bus someone new would be in my office right away. Now my DNA is in everything we do and I can trace every decision and sale to something I did or a decision I made and that is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling. Like most entrepreneurs, I am working harder and longer than ever and I have never been happier. Working for yourself and building a business you started in incredibly rewarding and gratifying. It has been a lot of fun, I joke that I am an accidental entrepreneur. I knew I had made it as an entrepreneur when Harvard wrote 2 case studies on my business a few years after I started it, we were very early to pioneer sharing resources on the marketing front (before my company it was really only done with HR, legal and accounting/finance).
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
It can be hard to laugh at mistakes but looking back I remember one week early on when I had 3 or 4 talks lined up over a couple of day period so I went from one evening event to a breakfast the next morning to a lunch and evening talk the following day. I enjoy public speaking and get a lot of referrals and business that way. The morning after my final speech I showed up at a meeting with a prospective client along with a ew of my colleagues and I realized I was completely out of business cards. I was so embarrassed and my team laughed at me since I always remind them it is important to be professional and prepared all the time. I ended up sending a hand written thank you note to the prospect with my card enclosed and we won the business so I turned my mistake into a good outcome plus I have never run out of business cards again! It is a great lesson in the power of humility, resilience, persistence, manners and having a sense of humor.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
My new favorite podcast is called Remarkable People by Guy Kawasaki. He started the series at the end of last year and so far he has talked with everyone from Jane Goodall to Phil Zimbardo to Martha Stewart, Arianna Huffington and Andrew Yang. Guy is a remarkable person too so I learn something with every conversation and each one is so interesting, inspipring and thoughtful. I am a huge fan and highly recommend it!
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I started my career at places like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola where I first learned about the importance of purpose driven businesses. Consumers, especially women, do not just buy brands they like to join them. Finding ways to connect with your customers on a deeper level in a way that transcends the product or service you are selling is the goal. Purpose gives buyers the reason why they should buy you versus the competition. Purpose creates loyalty with your customers and attracts great talent too, people love being associated with a great mission and it drives organizations to find new forms of value which accelerates growth. With more loyal customers and less turnover in staff, the organization becomes more profitable too. Consumers become advocates and champions for the brand which keeps marketing costs lower too. I set out to start a company that reflected my core values and priorities because I wanted it to be authentic to me which I felt would make us successful. My vision was to bring world class marketing talent and expertise to organizations that want to make a difference in the world regardless of size or budget. I believe every organization deserves the right words and pictures to tell their story in compelling ways. Your vision and purpose become a roadmap to success. It’s important that they are reflected in your branding because people choose to do business with companies that align with their own values, so this information needs to be visible to them. Your mission and vision also give your team a clear objective, which helps them to make decisions that align with the company’s purpose.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
It is important to me to stay true to my core beliefs. Loyalty is one of my top core values — loyalty to self and to others whom I respect. It’s important to me to gauge how many colleagues and customers come back and refer us to those who trust them. Being true to the mission of the organization and delivering superior experiences matter to me a lot too.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Given how devastating this virus has been globally I feel very lucky no one in my inner circle has gotten sick knock wood. I miss many of the activities we all enjoyed before like travel, sporting events, going out to eat, spending time with friends,, etc. and look forward to a vaccine so we can enjoy that again soon. My challenges seem small I am just trying to take advantage of the downtime as much as possible.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We have had a few delayed projects but no client has been lost yet but projects have slowed, everyone is still on board knock wood. For professional service firms like mine we will recover even if our revenues slow from the crisis. I do not think the government bailout will fix this crisis so an idea I am sharing with my community is to look at all the groups we are a part of (industry, trade, neighborhood, alumni, women, hobby, religious, non profit, etc.) and suggest we start our own stimulus packages by agreeing to support/buy from each other directly and refer business proactively to each other too. Cross promote the products and services in newsletters, follow/like/retweet on social media and vice versa. Whether you need to buy food, a book or a gift, office supplies/equipment, update your website, or create a video there is probably someone in your network who is more than happy to get the business right now. You can always buy gift certificates from them too which is thoughtful and very much appreciated in times like these. I bought a few from my favorite local restaurants in fact to use when they reopen. The corner store would probably even carry out your bag to your car if you called them and said you needed some cereal, milk, candy and lottery tickets if you asked. Help your neighbors and network thrive and we will all get through this together stronger.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
We are talking a lot more by phone and online, sleeping more, eating healthier, and exercising regularly to control the things we can to improve the quality of our lives as much as possible. Maybe the silver lining is that this crisis reminds us that technology is about more than innovation and does not have to be isolating it can be used to build our real world communities and relationships too! For me now virtual coffee meetings or cocktails anchors my day and keeps me productive and sane Outside of work, chatting by phone and online I have a list of projects and ideas to keep me busy too — read, clean out my basement, finally organize the photos and scrapbook, do craft projects, play board games, binge watch shows and movies I missed, and do puzzles with my fellow quarantines. My knitting groups and the tai chi studio have been meeting at our regular times online too which has been great. It is starting to feel like the new normal by leveraging technology to build and maintain my relationships.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Time will tell how long the lockdown ultimately lasts, whether there will be another surge in cases, and what the world will look like after but I think it is safe to say that there will be a global recession, the elderly and people with chronic health issues will be out of circulation until there is a vaccine, the cruise business will be dead, travel/tourism will be slow to come back, restaurants will be doing more take out than dine in, concerts and conferences will be virtual events for a while, air travel will be cut back significantly, more non essential work will be done virtually, home entertainment surpasses box office and theme parks, sports will be played in empty arenas for a while too, enjoying nature and the outdoors skyrockets and several areas of the economy that had previously been done in brick and mortar environments will be forever and dramatically changed post-Covid including elementary/high school/college education (now all are online education with teachers virtually), retail (now skewing heavily to online shopping), and healthcare (now telehealth to speak with doctors), etc.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
This crisis reminds us that we have always needed each other and we have learned that everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so the key is to show our humanity and compassion while we look out for one another. With Zoom, social media, cell phones, etc. we see that technology does not have to be isolating it can be used to build our real world communities and relationships too! When this crisis is over if my husband and I remain healthy and have stayed tight with our inner circle of people who mean the most to us and we all find a way to incorporate the lessons of gratitude, simplicity, friendship and love into the new normal I will be incredibly happy that we did not waste the crisis. I do not want to waste one minute of my life after this with people or things that do not matter. I have heard several people from all walks of life and ages comment recently that being forced to slow down and reconnect with the people who you really care about, spending time reading, sleeping more, eating healthier, etc. has been great while at the same time not obsessively on social media with FOMO has been a welcome byproduct of this crisis. If we can hold on to the very best parts of this lockdown personally and professionally the world will be a better place for it.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We do not know how long it will take for a vaccine but in planning for the future here are some trends to consider and prioritize in your budget given the new normal will likely include the following:
- Remote work is here to stay, teams working from home more. We will all need to invest more in systems and platforms that allow teams to work productively from home, access files, communicate with clients and each other, etc. It is a smart investment to stay flexible with so much uncertainty around timing, instability in the stock market, possible new viruses, etc.
- Trust and compassion above all else. I predict the most trusted leaders and brands will have a big competitive advantage in the new normal that evolves in a post-Corona world. Employees, customers and clients will remember who treated them well during the crisis and they will be rewarded with loyalty from earning that trust during the bad times. The current crisis has provided a stage for our political and business leaders to rise to the occasion. We have learned that it is about touching people in meaningful ways which may mean being less busy not more for a while. Online meetings, webinars, social media, etc. are a smart and productive way companies like ours can continue to have conversations that educate and inform, build relationships and move forward during this crisis period. Once we lay this groundwork it all will be in place to continue moving forward as the economy reopens and some businesses come back quicker than others. Maybe the silver lining is that this crisis reminds us that we have always needed each other and we have learned that everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so the key is to show our humanity and compassion while we look out for one another. With Zoom, social media, cell phones, etc. We see that technology does not have to be isolating it can be used to build our real world communities and relationships too!
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
- Your website is your calling card and SEO is critical to your success. We do not exist today if you cannot be found online. As a business you must have a website and I’d argue businesses always need SEO because the whole point of having a web site is to make it easy for customers to find you. Being invisible online is a terrible strategy so making sure your site is keyword rich, mobile friendly, loads quickly and produces meaningful content today is the price of entry. That also happens to be a great foundation for effective SEO. Make sure your site is robust and can handle e-commerce traffic if necessary. Find ways to leverage Content Marketing, Influencers, Video, PPC, podcasts, webinars, etc. and find ways now to insure your site stays at the top of the search engines.
- Online marketing is the best way to reach your audience. Communication is key to all of our community, customer and employee engagement. Another pivot because of the lockdown, this is a great time to build your brand through online marketing and social media. Allocate more budget for online activities to engage your audience and prioritize it over print and events to prepare for a future with less travel for conferences and trade shows.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is “people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It has been attributed to many people including Teddy Roosevelt. I like it and find it inspiring because it is a simple reminder to listen more than talk, show empathy and try to look at the situation from another perspective. The goal is not to wear them down or impress them with your smarts. The goal is to connect, communicate clearly, solve the problem and move on.
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