Paige Arnof-Fenn is the founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a global marketing and digital branding firm whose clients range from early-stage start-ups to Fortune 500 companies including Colgate, Virgin, Microsoft, and The New York Times Company. She was formerly VP Marketing at Zipcar and VP Marketing at Inc.com. Prior to that she held the title of SVP Marketing at Launch Media, an Internet start-up that was later sold to Yahoo.
Arnof-Fenn has also worked as a special assistant to the chief marketing officer of global marketing at The Coca-Cola Company and held the position of director of the 1996 Olympic Commemorative Coin Program at the Department of Treasury.
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Table of Contents
Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Hi I’m the founder & CEO of global marketing and digital branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. My clients include Microsoft, Virgin, The New York Times Company, Colgate, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. I graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School, I serve on several Boards, am a popular speaker and have been a columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Paige Arnof-Fenn: 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 became an entrepreneur and 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. 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 the 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).
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I have been so fortunate to have great mentors, champions and role models throughout my career including former bosses, my father, and senior women in organizations where I worked. Finding a mentor, coach, mastermind group, etc. gives you support and a thinking partner/tribe/ecosystem to help navigate challenges along the way especially when you are first staring out. As an entrepreneur these people and networks can also be invaluable sources of inspiration, advice, encouragement and can help you avoid rookie mistakes (with hiring, fundraising, etc.) in particular at the beginning They can also make key introductions so that you avoid getting burned by service providers or potential investors who have mixed reputations. I have seen several situations where a lot of time and money could have been wasted but was not.
The person who has always encouraged and supported me as an entrepreneur and has my back every day is my husband. He started a company too so understands the journey of an entrepreneur and has been my sanity check and thinking partner every step of the way. He is both a cheerleader and butt kicker depending on the situation and I trust his judgment and advice because I know he always has my best interests in mind. I am very fortunate to have him in my corner.
There are times when you need cheerleaders, butt kickers, people who can be counted on for tough love and others to help expand your footprint and elevate your profile in the community. Accountability is so important as an entrepreneur. Having friends and family to keep you grounded and humble is critical too, it is easy to lose perspective when you are launching a new business. Having people you trust for judgment and advice who have your best interests in mind is priceless. Entrepreneurship can be consuming if you aren’t careful. In my experience it takes a village to launch a successful business.
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I am a child of the 60s and 70s who grew up in the Deep South. I am the oldest of 3 and was always a good student growing up, responsible and hard working. My father and both grandfathers were in business so I always thought I would go that route too. They were bankers so I started my career in finance on Wall Street in the 80s. I realized early on I wanted to switch career tracks. Being a Financial Analyst in investment banking paid well but the hours and lifestyle did not leave time for anything else so after 2 years I decided to go back to school for my MBA which allowed me to rebrand myself, try a new area as a summer intern in marketing, gain new skills and build my network and my confidence. For me getting an MBA was critical for finding work I enjoyed and making the transition smoothly. I took marketing classes and got experience on and off campus to help me build a resume in the new field which gave me credibility as a marketer.
I positioned myself as being strong analytically which would help me be a better marketer using data to make decisions. I think it is possible to rebrand yourself if you are strategic about the process. It is important to have a story to explain your transition and show confidence in your decision not to be defensive about it. I realized the skills and activities I liked best in my finance career were the ones that would make me a better marketer. Once I shared that perspective the recruiters understood my interest and offered me jobs. I have loved the work and have been in marketing ever since, first going in house at large Fortune 500 firms like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola then doing marketing at 3 startups and now as an entrepreneur who started a marketing company 20 years ago.
I know having an MBA helped my resume stand out to get interviews and gave me credibility as an entrepreneur. I am so much happier in a career that allows me to use both sides of my brain, explore a more creative path and use my business acumen in all sizes and types of businesses from the very largest public companies to venture-backed startups and now running my own firm. If you are not excited by your job, I am a big fan of finding ways to bridge to another track to find something you truly enjoy spending time doing that shares your talents and gifts.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: We are a network of seasoned marketing experts who can do anything a marketing department, market research shop, public relations firm or ad agency does on an as needed or outsourced basis. We help our clients tell their stories in compelling ways to create interest. We have resources in major metro areas across the country and around the world.
We are storytellers and content creators who help our clients in compelling ways by finding the right words and pictures to create interest for their products and services. Creating content is a great way to build your brand, increase your visibility more broadly, raise your profile and ultimately attract more attention/clients/customers. I have always loved telling and listening to stories since childhood. In early days of mankind, stories were a great way to communicate around the campfire, they are critical to the Bible and they are still effective today. People do not remember facts and figures but if you tell them a story that touches them emotionally you get their attention and they want to hear more.
People need to be educated, informed and/or entertained so I love to figure out how best to tell a story in a way that makes people pay attention and breaks through the noise. When you share what you know — your passion, your war stories, the good, bad and ugly — the content will flow and pour out of you. The stories will be interesting and the lessons will be real, people will remember you and come back for more.
I am the name, face and voice of the brand. Communication is key to all of our community and employee engagement and ultimately our success. I try to set the tone upfront with one rule, when in doubt over-communicate especially now with everyone working remotely.
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: For me it is about being the Chief Engagement Officer. The energy, vision and culture starts at the top of any organization so I see my role as setting the tone, attracting the right team and motivating them to achieve greatness together. The original dream for the company started with me but if they do not embrace it too and internalize our goals we will never achieve what we set out to accomplish. As the leader it has to be bigger than me for us to be successful. Together we are stronger than the individual parts if I do my job well. It is a culmination of years of hard work and building my reputation and network to lead and inspire a team of great talent to help our clients achieve their goals. It is about creating a vision with the right environment to do our best work. It is a position of great responsibility and privilege and requires a strong moral compass, work ethic and sense of humor to do it well.
It takes guts, persistence, determination and strength to get up every day, lead the charge and motivate others to turn the vision into reality. It is about creating opportunities to work with and for people I admire and respect. I wake up everyday excited by the challenges ahead to make a difference in the world, what a privilege to create jobs and solve problems.
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: It takes more than a vision and guts to be CEO. You have to have thick skin because a lot of people tell you no (investors, board, customers) and it can be lonely at times. Without grit, determination, a sense of humor and a strong work ethic you would not be able to move forward at all.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Successful CEOs embody their mission statement to tell the world why the organization exists and unify their organization around that purpose. It should encapsulate their core values.
A mission statement is about what you want to accomplish and it should both inspire and motivate the team to make a difference and be part of something bigger than themselves. My company’s mission is to bring world class marketing talent and expertise to organizations that want to make a difference in the world regardless of size or budget. We believe every organization deserves the right words and pictures to tell their story in compelling ways. Your core values and mission statement.are intangible assets that are your roadmap to success. It’s important that they evolve as you grow, and 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 also gives your team a clear objective, which helps them to make decisions that align with the company’s purpose.
It is important to me to stay true to my core beliefs. Loyalty is one of my 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. Having the confidence to walk away from a client or colleague who’s diluting the equity in your brand is tough, but it’s necessary sometimes. You must always be authentic to the essence of your brand and surround yourself with people who reinforce your brand and its values–not tarnish it.
My biggest mistake early on was not realizing sooner that the people you start with are not always the ones who grow with you. The hardest lesson I learned when I started my company was not getting rid of weak people earlier than I did in the first few years of my business. I spent more time managing them than finding new customers. I knew in my gut they were not up to snuff but out of loyalty to them I let them hang around much longer than they should have. It would have been better for everyone to let them go as soon as the signs were there. They became more insecure and threatened as we grew which was not productive for the team. As soon as I let them go the culture got stronger and the bar higher. “A” team people like to be surrounded by other stars. It is true that you should hire slowly and fire quickly. I did not make that mistake again later on so learned it well the first time. I wish I had known it even earlier though but lesson learned for sure!
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I had to fire a client in my first year of business. It was absolutely the right decision but a tough one to make! On a personal level the guy was a jerk who never paid on time and was rude to my team who was doing great work for him. He was mean, unappreciative and had terrible manners. I am from the South and expect people to behave with common decency.
He hired us to do PR for his firm and I realized if we could get great press for a guy like him then people who knew him & knew how difficult he was might want to hire us too to help them thinking “hey these PR people must be really good and I’m not as nasty as this guy so imagine what they could do for me!” I did not want to attract other bad clients so even though he signed a 1 year contract I ended it after 3 months. It sent a signal to my team that the money was not worth an unappreciative client who was a jerk and treated us poorly. We replaced the income and more within a month with a much better client. I have never looked back.
Optics matter and culture counts, as the leader you have to set the tone for your group, you better walk the talk because all eyes are on you so your team is not just listening to what you say but also watching what you do and how you respond/react. When we say we have a no jerks policy we really mean it. Life is too short to work with or for jerks. When it is your business it is up to you. It attracts the right people as clients and colleagues for the ecosystem I am trying to build. When killing tough clients with kindness does not work you just have to shake hands and part ways sometimes.
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: My definition of success has changed a lot, instead of looking at finish lines — numbers, job titles, houses or cars, or a level of public profile – I factor in things like whether I get to do work that at least sometimes lets me feel like I made a genuine difference in the lives of other people. I love being helpful to my clients, nieces, nephews, godkids, mentees, etc. It is great knowing my experience and hard fought lessons learned can be put to good use as an advisor, board member, coach, consultant, friend, volunteer and aunt/godmother. I’ve always loved solving problems and enjoy running my business, I am so lucky to have created a platform where I can both give and receive so much joy and spend time with those who matter most to me.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I have always been a good communicator and the key skills needed to be effective and productive today as we create a new normal are around adaptability and staying agile. The world has been forced to pause and hit the reset button while the pace of life and business has slowed. We have all been given the space to reflect on how we both live and work so it is a great time to apply the project management principles of Agile to all parts of our lives focusing on iterative incremental changes, open communication and feedback, staying flexible, sharing learnings across our networks and recognizing that small wins are still wins. This has become the new normal to survive the pandemic.
I have been fortunate to work in several world class businesses in my career like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola with growth mindsets and l have tried to create that culture in my company too. In my experience, learning to have a growth mindset helps successful CEOs realize that the more happiness and wealth they acquire the more they can help others succeed too. Their gratitude becomes a multiplier and virtuous circle creating a positive .environment for future success. Fixed mindset people tend to feel that they know it all and see the world as a zero sum game, so if someone else is winning they must be losing. Growth mindset people never stop learning and experimenting, they are focused on the future and see opportunities ahead by creating a culture of learning and growth. The key is to make the know it alls see the power in becoming learn it alls.
It takes effort and a commitment to excellence for people to continually learn/grow especially now in a virtual/remote environment. I do not think there is one silver bullet to keep your leadership skills sharp and fresh, I recommend using a combination of reading and learning online and off, attending conferences and talks, networking, newsletters from influencers, TED talks, podcasts, finding mentors and listening to all feedback good and bad. To stay relevant and keep growing I try to encourage the team to prioritize professional development to keep skills fresh and stay on top of new trends and technologies.
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Between the pandemic and the possible recession, leaders have an opportunity to further connect with anxious people and focus on the true relevance of their message. We have to acknowledge that now things are different so we need to communicate in a way that will give our audiences better focus, helping them to create a bridge from today to the future combining information and need, synthesizing feeling and facts.
I feel leaders have a tremendous responsibility because never before has communication had the power to help society in the way that it does right now. Words are part of the healing process and we can see which leaders are doing the best job every day with messages that touch not only the mind, but also the heart and soul. There has never been a more important time to provide accurate, empathetic communication with transparency, truthfulness and timeliness. I think being authentic, confident, empathetic, providing substance, and staying relevant are all the qualities we need right now.
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.
I remind my clients that whether you are B2B or B2C every business is P2P and connecting on a personal level is what matters most. Best practices for successful businesses include an understanding their product or service is about more than the transaction, they are in the relationship business. People connect with brands they know, like and trust and customer loyalty can change but if they have a great experience and relationship with your brand you can keep them by staying in communication. Especially post pandemic, show them they are respected, loved and needed. We have all been through a lot so it is a smart investment to make this a priority.
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting out on their journey?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: As we move to a more remote/virtual world trust becomes an even more important currency to getting things done. Building trust will determine your success so lack of trust will be a huge obstacle I think after the pandemic ends. Technology does not have to be isolating it can be used to build our real world communities and relationships too.
Trust grows when you have consistent messaging and deliver on your promises so build a strong relationship that is based on your value proposition not on price. Authenticity is the key, it has to be and feel real for it to work I think. Social media and CRM tools are only as effective as the relationships you have built. I have found that building trusted relationships is what drives my business and technology supports them once they are solidified. Technology helps advance the conversation but it will never replace the human interaction that builds trust over time.
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I would love to be more musical. I tried taking virtual guitar and piano lessons but am still terrible, the combination of no skill and not enough practice!
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: “Happy at home going nowhere fast”
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Paige Arnof-Fenn for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Paige Arnof-Fenn or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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