International Media, Brand & Reputation Advisor
About Marina Mara
Today, Marina’s global consultancy specializes in media, brand, and reputation management, helping individuals and companies become attractive, influential, and lucrative brands. She is also a ghostwriter for a select celebrity clientele, using her deep understanding of language and behavior to help her clients shine in the media spotlight.
Marina attributes her success to perseverance, an international focus, disrupting with ease, and providing concentrated value. Her approach to branding involves unearthing the unique aspects of a client’s brand and guiding them through a tailored process that optimizes their foundational components before proceeding to PR.
Marina is passionate about privacy, noting a shift away from extreme-sharing on social media and advocating for a more balanced approach to vulnerability. In her future plans, she aims to focus on acquisition entrepreneurship, acquire and optimize businesses, and continue her work as a board member and co-founder in various ventures. With a book, a regular column, and higher education lecturing on the horizon, Marina Mara continues to make her mark as a leading figure in the media and branding industry.
Marina Mara's Favourite Quote
“Branding doesn't just align your visual image; it aligns what you say, how you say it, and whom you say it to in the marketplace.”
- Marina Mara
Interview with Marina Mara
Turning Brand Confusion into Brand Arousal: An Exclusive Interview with Marina Mara, Brand, And Reputation Advisor To The World’s Most Notable Public Figures
In this exclusive interview, ValiantCEO’s Jerome Knyszewski sits down with the highly accomplished Marina Mara, a renowned media and branding expert who has transformed personal brands and businesses around the world. Join us as we delve into Marina’s journey, her unique approach to branding, and her insights on industry trends.
Marina Mara unearths global talent, personal brands, and their ventures, transitioning them through every stage of their growth all the way to the media spotlight. Nearly two decades as a global agency owner, she is the Media, Brand & Reputation Advisor to high-profile business leaders, founders, and public figures, in the U.S., Europe, and Southeast Asia, representing the world’s most notable game changers who lead with impact.
As the Founder of a successful global agency, what are some areas you attribute your success to?
Perseverance – It didn’t come naturally; I had to cultivate it and work it like a muscle.
Having a strictly international focus – Doing business locally never interested me; I found it restrictive and unimaginative. Besides, what’s the point of getting into business if it doesn’t catapult you into new stratospheres? From my early days in business, I knew I wanted to go all in; that meant not having any geographical limitations, personally or professionally. Being an internationalist has been my greatest catalyst for growth.
Disrupting with ease – My agency’s model is intelligently based; we incorporate principles and protocols based on social psychology and neuroscience, which makes us inimitable in the marketplace. Disrupting is easy when you have valuable intel others don’t. In our case, it was a matter of boldly owning the agency’s direction without fear of criticism because we didn’t adhere to the industry’s status quo.
Providing concentrated value – Part of our disruption was through the agency’s service model. I took all the pain points of my industry (expensive retainers, standardised “bronze, silver, gold” packages, and cookie-cutter design, to name a few) and created a service model that offers concentrated value to clients. Our consulting approach is proudly unorthodox, with the client’s commercial journey at the very top of the value chain. In other words, we’re not here to just do what we do; we are here to unearth powerful authorities in their niche and make them attractive and lucrative.
You are a recognized and highly respected authority in the media landscape in Australia, S.E. Asia, and the U.S. Looking back at your journey to where you are now, what advice would you give your younger self when starting your business?
Marina Mara: I am fascinated by this question because I’ve often thought about this in reverse. In other words, how much stronger, wiser, and more fulfilled will my future self be in 5 years from now, and how much awe would I be in if I could only have a preview of everything I will accomplish?
If I had to time-travel back, say in the first three years of building my agency, I’d step in as an advisor and mentor, who I needed at the time.
I’d give myself three critical pieces of intel from the future based on lived experience.
Alignment is your primary focus – Business is not transactional; it’s energetic. Carefully choose who you allow into your professional realm (clients, collaborators, suppliers). Not everyone has the same work ethic, quality standards, and integral, positive energy.
Make bolder moves – Looking back at my trajectory, when I first started, I bootstrapped my operations and maintained a very lean start-up model. I was newly divorced, navigating life as a single mother on start-up terms. I was not funded; I did the funding. I invested every cent of my revenue back into my company. My (then) aversion to risk was legitimate, as the financial responsibility was all on me. My decisions de-risked me and kept me safe, but looking back, I’d encourage my younger self to dial up the (calculated) risk by 30% and make bolder moves that would accelerate my growth.
Ignore the work-life balance nonsense – As a young Founder, I worked tirelessly to create a winning agency model with a robust global clientele. 14-hour days and no weekends were my norms for many years. I received a tonne of criticism and was even called a workaholic by people closest to me. Along with the work-life balance media narrative trending at the time, I experienced immense guilt.
But none of those people had my vision or drive, and none were responsible for paying my bills and raising my son. If I could go back, I’d pat myself on the back for going the distance, for having tenacity and agility with my craft and purpose. I’d say, “ignore them all; follow your inner compass”, which I did, and I established my own balance eventually, one that is unique to my DNA and the nuances of my work.
If you were not doing this work, what else would you be doing professionally and why?
Marina Mara: I would be a photojournalist. My visual eye has served me well in the agency; it’s been the creative basis and inspiration of our photographic protocols for our personalities and the unique way we capture their essence visually.
Being out in the field capturing the emotions and psychology of ‘as it happened-global news’ feels utterly adventurous, stimulating, and full of opportunity to create a lasting visual contribution and legacy in news making and its history.
We are always interested in knowing about industry trends; can you share one that will add value to our readers?
Marina Mara: Indeed, I can. Having managed and represented numerous high-profile business leaders and public figures, I will never stop advocating for privacy, which strongly features in our reputation management model.
Sometime around 2011, Brene Brown’s famous Ted Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” introduced groundbreaking ideas, suggesting that we should embrace our vulnerabilities because they can lead to growth, empathy, and a more connected world.
She explored aspects of fear, shame, vulnerable thoughts and emotions and how these could be the gateway to more connection with others.
However, what evolved socially was a phenomenon we are only just now slowly migrating away from. It’s as if influencers, personalities, and social users were given universal permission to overshare and expose their more vulnerable depths in the media. Some took it to extremes.
Privacy was suddenly unhinged in the pursuit of realness and raw authenticity. And whilst that was truly human and touching to witness, we observed a lack of personal power and increased reputation risk as the masses turned to social media to reveal their most intimate, vulnerable selves.
Then came the online bullying, trolling and, one step further, cancel culture. Privacy is hot!
A delicate and deliberate balance of social narrative sharing needs to be maintained to de-risk personalities and their ventures. Extreme vulnerability can be personally, emotionally, and professionally damaging.
So, what is the right balance? It’s different for everyone and based on an individual’s personality attributes. As a Media Advisor, I guide clients through this journey, not through a regimented approach, but a reputation management protocol that honours their personal brand through an outcomes-based, tailored approach with strategic foresight.
Post-pandemic, we’re finally noticing a shift away from the cacophony of the extreme-sharing phenomenon, where privacy is now more valued and desired. It had a lot to do with the volume of vulnerable narratives we all consumed while locked down when the entire world navigated loneliness and fear together!
Tell us more about your branding process; how do you (re)shape a brand?
Marina Mara: We don’t create brands; we unearth them.
Our Brand Review is a world-known diagnostic that’s intelligently based on protocols of social psychology and neuroscience. I created it in my 5th year in my business after extensive research, when I understood that most agencies’ conventional creative briefing was lifeless and redundant.
The more I delved into the personalities space, the more I developed and perfected this consulting diagnostic, which gives us all the answers and remedies for clients, especially those looking to rebrand.
New clients participating in this diagnostic receive immense clarity and a clear pathway forward that impacts all areas of their business, especially their commercial viability. In the feedback we receive, nearly all tell us they wished they had done this sooner, suggesting it would have saved them years of incorrectly invested marketing budgets and a lot of trial and error in the process.
From that point on, we delve deep into the branding process to optimise the foundational components of a client’s brand before we proceed to PR, which involves the crafting of strategic narratives and exposure.
Perhaps the most critical difference for us in the market is that we place a huge emphasis and core focus on the personas behind the brands because “people buy people and their stories”.
Companies should be capitalising on their founders’ or leaders’ personal brands and not leaving them out of the spotlight; it is a missed opportunity!
You are best known for coining the term “brand arousal.” What is it, and why should companies shift their focus to it?
Marina Mara: While I’ve coined the term commercially, it’s not something I invented. It is a scientific marketing term (like brand romance) which refers to the emotional response a brand elicits in its consumers, customers, or audiences.
The higher the brand arousal, the more joy and enthusiasm these segments experience, which makes it easier for them to invest in a brand because they’ve established a higher, sometimes amplified, emotional connection through positive stimuli. My agency’s protocols are based on this very concept. Personalities and public figures also have brand arousal touchpoints, which often lay dormant. Our job is to extract these through the process of a 2-hr Brand Review.
A strong brand can help a company differentiate and stand out in a crowded marketplace. It can also attract customers and employees and build trust and credibility. Leaders know the value of branding, but they still make mistakes. What is the most common mistake, and how does it affect a company’s bottom line?
This is a very valid question. About 80% of our new clients are those looking to rebrand. They know their brand is not working for them from several angles. Their brand arousal is low, reflected in their marketing responses, financials, and overall growth traction. Companies with low brand arousal struggle to scale. Branding doesn’t just align your visual image; it aligns what you say, how you say it, and whom you say it to in the marketplace.
As an analogy, not having this level of brand insight is no different to dating, saying you want a relationship, but you’re not sure what you’re capable of bringing to the table and, even worse, that you don’t even like yourself!
Still, to this day, the most common mistake I see is founders not investing in their brand in the early ideation and execution stages. With the view to reduce operating or start-up costs and extend their runway, they place little emphasis or cut corners in the birthing of their brand.
As a result, they launch into the market with little self-awareness and a misaligned image and narrative. Within 3-5 years, as a last step, they rush to rebrand, hoping it will transform (or save) their company when it should have been their first step.
Thank you for these insights into your world; what’s up next for you?
Marina Mara: I am a serial entrepreneur, which means I never stop creating, especially when it comes to ventures with purpose-driven, global impact.
In the next five years, my focus is shifting towards acquisition entrepreneurship (mergers and acquisitions) to acquire validated, stellar concept businesses that lack the resources, desire or aptitude to scale.
With our strategic rebranding, I have the ability to transform them so that they reach new lucrative heights. Working with my private network of investors, VCs, legal and commercial experts, we are a powerhouse for these businesses. The goal is to acquire, optimise and sell.
I am also on the board of several ventures as a brand and reputation advisor, which I enjoy immensely, and I am the Co-Founder of two other tech-enabled ventures.
A book is somewhere down the line, as is a regular column, and higher education lecturing in notable colleges and Universities in the U.S., U.A.E, and Singapore, on my favourite topic; Crisis PR.