Paige Arnof-Fenn is the founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a global branding and digital marketing 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
Thank you for joining us today! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Please introduce yourself to our readers by sharing your story.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a global 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 Mavens & Moguls after beginning my career on Wall Street in the 80s and having a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and then working at 3 different startups as the head of marketing.
All 3 startups had positive exits. I took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. Running a global marketing business 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 (pre-Covid) 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 is 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).
2020-2021 was unlike any other year. What is your favorite item you’ve bought in the past months and why?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: During the pandemic like everyone we have been spending time at home so most of our purchases have been to improve our quality of life. The purchase that has gotten the most use by far is, my new 27″ iMac followed by the rowing machine and new road bike. Work hard, play hard.
Life is like a box of chocolates…What unexpected surprises did life grant you that contributed to your success?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: My senior year in high school I met with the Guidance Counselor to discuss where I wanted to apply to college and he told me I was shooting too high and needed more backup schools. He was very discouraging and as I returned to class after our meeting I was very sad. My AP math teacher asked me after the class what was going on and I told her. She said I was a great student and not to worry she was writing my recommendation letters and I would get into a top school. I told my mother that night and she agreed that I should apply to the schools I wanted and not listen to him. I decided right then I would not let anyone even a person with credentials define my potential in life.
Well, my mom and math teacher were right, it was not up to him. I went to Stanford for college and Harvard Business School and every time my mother ran into that man until she died she would make sure to remind him who she was (“so nice to see you, I’m Paige’s mom remember her she went to Stanford & Harvard and she loved them did great and even joined the boards of both schools”). I grew up in the Deep South and my teacher and mother both taught me to think big and follow my dreams and just kill people like that with kindness and not let them get me down. My math teacher warned me too that there will be people in my path in school or jobs trying to distract or discourage me but I should just ignore them (she was the only woman in her Ph.D. program so she knew all about that) and both of them told me I could do anything I wanted to in life if I put my mind to it and worked hard. They were right and I still remind myself of this all the time. I just told a high school senior (my college roommate’s kid) the same advice recently in fact. I started a global branding and digital marketing firm 20 years ago and am so grateful I learned this lesson early. It has served me well ever since!
My mom taught me early on to not stop just because someone says no. That is such an important part of being an entrepreneur and has benefitted me and. my business very well. I have thanked my math teacher too for making my skin thicker and teaching me not to give up on my dreams. That Guidance Counselor was a precursor of many bosses and tough people
I had to deal with it in my career and they taught me the importance of persistence and determination. It is a good lesson for a 17-year-old to learn! I have never forgotten it. I met my husband and closest friends at school which has brought tremendous happiness to my life.
Tell us about the job. Is there any exciting project you’re currently working on?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I think every project is exciting! That is the beauty of running your own business, if you are not genuinely excited by the work then you can pass on it. I only take on work that I find interesting and worthwhile. Finding the right words and pictures to tell great stories that attract more customers to our client’s products and services is incredibly fulfilling.
We have had a few delayed projects during the pandemic but for professional service firms like mine, we will recover even if our revenues slow from the pandemic. Current projects include market research for a B2B tech company, a new website for B2B and B2C companies, and creative development for a nonprofit.
We do anything a marketing department, ad agency, market research shop or PR agency does on an outsourced basis. We have resources in 14 cities in the US and major metro areas overseas. Everyone in the group comes out of the industry so our heads and hearts are much more aligned with our clients than a typical agency or consulting firm. We are not professional PowerPoint makers, we have actually done the job as marketing and communication leaders so our recommendations come from having been in our clients’ seats before. We are an extension of their team and spend their money the way they do, not as a vendor so I think that is a compelling angle when they hire us. We do not see marketing as a necessary evil, we believe in the power of great brands and think all organizations regardless of size or budget deserve great marketing advice. Our passion comes through in our tagline and everything we do.
Sir Richard Branson famously stated that “Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” As a CEO/leader how do you feel about this philosophy and if you agree with it, how do you implement that in your company? Conversely, if you disagree, explain why and how do you do things differently?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I agree! A mentor once told me that to stay sane and be successful “me time” is not a luxury or pampering, it is maintenance, respecting my time on the calendar and taking myself as seriously as I take my most important clients is the least I can do for self care because if I am not at my peak performance I am not going to be useful to anyone else either so I manage productivity and encourage my team to:
Give yourself permission to say no. Whether it means sleeping in (no to an alarm clock), meditating, taking a walk, delegating more work, or just turning off your phone and computer (no I will respond later on my own schedule), simple acts of letting yourself relax and enjoy the moment are the very best gifts you can give yourself. It is about touching people in meaningful ways which may mean being less busy not more.
Disconnect from technology periodically and focus on cultivating human, face-to-face relationships (when not social distancing). Even meeting for virtual coffee or drinks can accomplish so much more than e-mail exchanges, social media posts, etc. I have found that building 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.
Take breaks with exercise and practice gratitude — I am so grateful we can work productively in home offices with no commute.
I am measuring productivity by what we get done, it is based on accomplishments not activity. People need more downtime now we are all under a lot of stress with so many moving parts. Our job is to get through this period together intact, that will make us all feel we have been productive.
According to a breakthrough study conducted by Weber Shandwick, leaders worldwide believe that 45% of a business’ market value is dependent on a CEO’s reputation. We would love to know your thoughts about this. How important is a CEO’s online reputation?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I agree with the study! Most of my work comes by referral and word of mouth so I think having a good online reputation is incredibly important to building a strong professional service business like mine. To monitor your online reputation I recommend you set up a Google Alert for both your company’s name and your own name to notify you any time one of your press releases post, when your name is mentioned on another website, or whenever you are indexed by Google. As a business leader, you’ll want to monitor and track everything that reflects on your business and you personally as well.
It is best to know what digital dirt exists on you so you do not get blindsided or surprised when people check you out online. Reputations are built on actions and those who deliver or exceed on their promises build strong legacies but when they disappoint their reputations get tarnished. If you care what people think or want to make a great impression, always better to underpromise and overdeliver.
Do you have a specific anecdote that comes to mind or a news story that helped you realize how critical it is to be mindful of the online reputation, on a personal or company level? Please share how it “opened your eyes”
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Thought leadership is the new PR today by leveraging social media to build your brand. Activities like hosting webinars/podcasts/ speaking at online/offline conferences/writing articles/building your following on social media all contribute to increasing your awareness with potential customers/building your credibility and online reputation. When your articles/talks become available online I send them out via social media to friends/followers/contacts.
Because I am quoted regularly and am invited to speak at high profile events I am often told when prospects Google me or my firm after hearing about us or getting a referral I know that exposure accelerates the sales cycle and serves as an endorsement giving us credibility. By the time they reach out they feel like they know me through my online presence which makes connecting easier.
Do you have a set of principles and strategic actions that you and your management team abide by to maintain a good online reputation? What are they and how effective have they been?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Social media is here to stay and there will always be trolls, haters, and crises to deal with so here are the best tips I can recommend to manage your online reputation today since you have to assume everyone checks you out online before meeting/talking:
- Do great work that people will talk about
- Give lots of talks and use examples from your experience, I do a lot of public speaking online and offline when not social distancing, host podcasts, and webinars which leads to people talking about me online, tweeting, etc.
- Join networking groups to meet people who are the multipliers in your industry, they talk to everybody and know everyone, they have large followings so you need to connect with them online too
- Be active on social media so you can share your talks and content and your followers can help spread the word
- Generate lots of fresh content that will push down any potential bad comments online
- Monitor your online data to shut down trolls and misinformation, there are several online tools to alert you of potential problems (some are free others are for a fee)
Being proactive has worked for me.
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, in many cases, it pushed the employees and the consumers to critical stress points. How did you lead your team through these difficult times and maintain a good reputation?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: As we all adjust to the new normal with coronavirus, everyone looks to leaders to provide clear and consistent messaging regarding not only the day-to-day but what’s coming next. This places great responsibility on company leadership because employees can be a company’s biggest source of advocates and influencers. Treat the team right and provide them with guidance, and they will share the love, not only with friends and family but on social media and beyond, strengthening brand reputation organically with your target audience. During this unprecedented crisis, many employees are facing huge discrepancies in the way companies are communicating. Whatever the question is my advice is to over-communicate and put your team first. A well-informed employee can steer brand perception in a positive direction despite the uncertain future. Putting your people first is not just for large companies, small businesses have the ability to reach out to their employees and make a real difference too.
Communication is key to all of our community, customer/client, and employee engagement. With most people working remotely now there has never been a more important time to provide accurate, empathetic communication with transparency, truthfulness, and timeliness. It is inappropriate now for content to appear tone-deaf in any way to this crisis. We have learned 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. We need to communicate in a way that combines information and need, synthesizing feelings and facts.
I feel we have a tremendous responsibility because never before has communications 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 and brands are doing the best job every day with messages that touch not only the mind but also the heart and soul.
The COVID pandemic raised a lot of polarizing politically charged issues. According to ‘The Harris Poll’, 75% of Americans said that they would avoid taking a position on political issues if they were CEOs. We would love to know your thoughts about this. Is it better to take a political position or to avoid it completely When it comes to being a great CEO/Leader, do you have one name that comes to mind, please share with us how they influence the CEO you are today? What lessons did they teach you over the years?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I think CEOs should not be political and I don’t think it is in anyone’s interest for the vaccine or pandemic to be politicized either. I believe Ed Bastian the CEO of Delta has done a great job communicating in a timely manner with clarity. He has emerged as a leader with integrity and courage. I respect his decisions and hope people who disagree can at least understand how/why he made them. CEOs and leaders in the new normal must be decisive, brave, and agile but for best results, they should be apolitical too I think.
You have been very generous with your time and knowledge. Our readers would also love to know, What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? and what is the advice you give the most often to new team members?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Best advice to me: Your health is your wealth and your network is your net worth.
My advice to others: Be kind, leads can come from anyone anywhere anytime so you should always be on your best behavior & make a great lasting impression. You’d be amazed where some of my best contacts have come from over the years — a gardener who also happened to work for someone who was in a position to help, a hairstylist who had well-heeled (and coiffed) clients, standing in line for the bathroom at a conference I struck up a conversation with a top recruiter. Seriously be nice to everyone & make friends before you need them, you never know who is in or will be in a position to help!
Thank you so much for your time but before we say goodbye, we do have one more unusual question. If you ask yourself any question what would it be and how would you answer it?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: How do I define success?
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.
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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