Article republished with permission from Authority Magazine
As part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business or career. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Rachel Behrle.
Rachel Behrle, Chief Marketing Officer at The Presentation Company, has over 20 years of marketing and communications experience with a focus on net new revenue growth through demand generation and brand strategy programs. Rachel has a Bachelor of Arts degree from SUNY Albany and holds various project management certifications from The Project Management Institute (PMI) and Stanford, Duke, and George Washington Universities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My childhood dream was to be a play-by-play announcer for the NY Mets, which led me to majoring in Journalism in college. Graduating way before any women were in baseball broadcasting, I started working for a weekly publication, which taught me amazing writing/editing skills but also showed me that living and dying by a weekly deadline wasn’t for me. So, I made the pivot to marketing, where I knew that I could continue to write.
Led by a few amazing marketing leaders early in my career, I was able to try on many different marketing outfits to see what fit: demand/lead generation, website creation, digital marketing, events, brand marketing, etc. And, before I knew it, I built this well-rounded marketing skill-set that was closely followed by an intrinsic need to create order from chaos, which is why I pursued project management certifications from top-tier universities. Tada, here I am!
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting and what lesson you learned from that?
I joined a marketing team to lead the first marketing communications function at this particular company. Among my responsibilities was writing and editing collateral (back in the days when collateral was printed on super expensive, glossy paper). I got my first set of final prints back, a mere few weeks into the job, and the headline had a major typo in it! DOH! I’m sitting at my desk, heart racing, thinking that there is NO way that I approved this, and already planning to complain to my new boss about an error at the printer. And then I looked at the approval sheet and see my signature next to the big ol’ typo! I wanted to cry!
My lesson? Read the headlines. And, more than that, pay attention to the details. I learned that no matter what, take responsibility for the final product. I marched into my boss’ office and took total accountability for the mistake. Shifting blame and passing the buck is a sure way to lose respect. Looking back, I know that was a pivotal moment for me in my journey. I was humbled and super bummed to make a poor impression so early on but I’m proud of how I handled it — and my boss was too.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
Finding my niche, what I was passionate about and good at, really helped me see success. For example, I learned that I am great at leading messy projects — the ones with multiple stakeholders, many deliverables and a lot of ambiguity. So, I kept leading those — redesigning websites, creating complex nurture paths, launching new products. With that came the recognition of what I’m not good at, and the critical need to hire super talented people who are — and letting them be super stars. I learned to hire my weaknesses, which set me free to focus on what I am good at! The advice I give my team is that once you find your superpower, harness it. And, surround yourself with talented people who have other superpowers so you can build an amazing team that can accomplish anything. Think about it as assembling a multi-talented and skilled team of diverse Marketing Avengers!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The Presentation Company was born 20 years ago in Silicon Valley when sisters Janine Kurnoff and Lee Lazarus decided there must be a better way to tell business stories. It was a time when software like PowerPoint and other visual presentation tools were catching on big time. They realized that people were getting all caught up in the slides and gizmo animations…and forgetting about how to tell a compelling story. We lost the human being behind the presentation.
TPC’s mission became clear: Combine the best of visual storytelling with a human-centric approach that puts people at the center of every narrative. The approach caught on, and they’ve been providing storytelling training to some of the world’s largest brands like Nestle, T-Mobile, Medtronic, Facebook, and many more. TPC’s workshops provide innovative business storytelling and data visualization solutions that address today’s top presentation challenges: clearly communicating the value of your message and inspiring conversations that drive people to action.
As our first CMO, TPC stands out to me for a different reason: The week before Thanksgiving, we spent a few days at a leadership offsite talking about our products and our future. How many times had I sat around with colleagues and hammered out a mission and guiding principles only to wrap it up and stick it on a shelf until next year? TPC is different. Here are eight committed individuals who were walking the walk when it comes to our purpose, storytelling ideology, and understanding that there was no one outside of that room that was going to make it happen for us. We are the company, and how we behave so behaves the organization.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As a leadership team, we’re talking about how we empower women and underserved communities of color with access to our workshops, to enable them to be prepared as they interview for roles. So many companies have initiatives around diversity but often, the qualified candidate pool lacks diversity.
We’re building a strategy around how we teach underserved people the power of storytelling to help them find their voice, have tools to formulate their ideas, and understand how to be heard and drive impact.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Julie Ogilvie. It’s not even a question. Julie started the first corporate marketing function at Skillsoft in the early 2000s and hired me to the lead the web, in my 20s. I knew nothing about websites but she told me that I’d be the editor-in-chief of the site (yep, I could do that!) and she’d hire a super talented web developer who could help with the rest.
Julie continued to take chances on me. She let me try and then lead anything that interested me. She gave me authority to make decisions, backed me up when needed, and taught me the critical marketing skills that I use every day.
While I’m acknowledging people who changed my life, my college journalism professor, Neal Bandlow, was the first teacher to ever believe in me. He invited me to join a sports writing class, which at that point, had no women in it. He gave me confidence in what I could do…and then, a few years later, Julie let me do it. Grateful for both of them.
Wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
This isn’t unique to marketing, but it’s how I thrive and keep from burnout: Don’t take yourself too seriously and celebrate everything! I do happy dances every chance I get (even when a Zoom meeting is being recorded!). My co-workers all laugh with me. It keeps us smiling. I go over the top celebrating even the small wins because they’re all important. An acknowledgment of even the mundane makes people feel that you’re paying attention to their work, and let’s face, it who doesn’t want their work seen and appreciated?
I love it when I get to lead a cheer for someone else who has done something great! I create short videos, send notes, make announcements on team meetings — anything to cheer on someone else! This not only boosts morale, but it motivates people to pay it forward. What is better than that?
There are hundreds of memorable marketing campaigns that have become part of the lexicon of our culture. What is your favorite marketing or branding campaign from history?
I have always loved the Budweiser Clydesdales commercials. I love them because they always represent the times in which they’re in (honoring first responders post-9/11, as an example) and they are meant to evoke feeling and nostalgia.
Budweiser has found a way to instill human emotion in those beautiful horses so the commercials leave the audience feeling good. And, from a marketing point of view, the long-standing use of Clydesdales is genius because every time I see one, either on TV or in person, I immediately think of Budweiser.
If you could break down a very successful campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like?
Campaigns can’t be one and done exercises. Gone are the days when a marketer has a good idea, implements it, measures it, and then thinks of the next big idea. It used to be a very linear processes, one after the other.
Great ideas are important but we know that the vast majority of buying decisions happen before someone speaks with a seller, so the marketing team needs to meet buyers where they are, with what they’re interested in, in their moments of need. How do we do that? We need to understand our buyer’s journey and create content and assets that align to where they are — and make them easy to find, either via search or on a website.
What does that mean? Rather than thinking of marketing as a set of discrete tactics, think of marketing as a way to plug into what the buyer is already doing, either via advertising, offering thought leadership content, webinars or podcasts — resources to share your perspective with a buyer who is evaluating solutions.
Give buyers a way to find what they need on your website, offering a clear way to understand your solutions and how they’d apply to their problems. It’s not about selling to them at this point. It’s about empowering them to self-evaluate your business until they’re ready for the next step.
Consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?
We must recognize that Gen Z, the largest generation of consumers in world history, will impact how we market and sell our products. In fact, they’ll impact everything. Consumers now control the dialogue (sorry brands), and marketers need to develop supportive relationships with their target group of consumers who have very different needs and ideas on what they want from a company (social good, diversity, sustainability, co-creation, community-first, people over profits, etc.).
By utilizing technology that will allow personalization and a 1:1 connection (powered by AI and Machine Learning), we can offer innovative marketing into new and hopefully productive territories with today and tomorrow’s customers who are BEGGING for brands to be relevant and meaningful to them at the individual level.
Training is an enabler — to growth, innovation, better jobs/salary. More specifically, storytelling helps talented business people at all levels bring clarity and meaning to their ideas. So, as this next generation of buyers make buying decisions — for themselves and for the companies in which they work, organizations need to tie their intrinsic benefits to what is important to their consumers.
Companies need to find their place in the world — and then offer products that help organizations and individuals meet their goals. We have to meet consumers where they are now.
What 5 things do you wish someone told you before you started?
- There is no silver bullet: There are a lot of great ideas out there and many are worth trying. Rather than trying to focus on something that can change everything, tackle projects that change one thing at a time. Those incremental wins add up.
- Past experience is a great guide: Turning 40 (as I now near 50) made me realize that I finally had some wisdom to share. I had accomplished a lot and had great experience to draw upon and share. I am proud of every success and failure, and I use those to guide my decisions today.
- Titles don’t hold you back from success: Through the years, as I’ve mentored young marketers, they tell me that they feel limited by their “lower level” title and feel that a new, sexier title will help them achieve more. People at any level can lead projects, bring forth ideas, and become a natural leader on the team. Decide that the title doesn’t matter and make things happen. Be the voice of ideas, the cheerleader, the go-to person. Your title won’t hold you back and it won’t be your title for long.
- Don’t have a work persona, let people know YOU: I am a people person. I love building relationships. (My best friend says that I’m the nice one. (She’s the fun one.)) Let people see that, see YOU. The more authentic you are, the more you’re able to connect with your co-workers, teams, clients… get to know them. Let them get to know you. Invest. It’s worth it.
- Be confident, even if you don’t feel it: If you don’t show up with confidence, you won’t instill confidence, even if you’re right. If you present an idea with confidence — how it can work and what it can do, the room (virtual or otherwise) will read your confidence and absorb it. If you apologize for it or qualify it, they’ll hear the insecurity and become insecure in it too. We all have imposter syndrome. My best advice is to tell the imposter to sit down and be quiet or better yet, buzz off completely. You don’t need that.
Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners to become more effective marketers?
Building automation into your marketing is important, especially for a small business. If you think about how much time, energy, and money it takes to bring in leads, nurturing them is a never-ending endeavor. Imagine having an automated nurture so you can focus your marketing calories on other things — bringing in more leads; creating experiences for your prospects that make them remember you; adding personalization to a buying experience so your buyers feel like you’re talking to them, specifically. Automating the things that marketers do daily is a great time saver to focus on higher-value work.
Also, advocacy marketing is here to stay. We all do it naturally — ask a friend or a colleague as we’re looking for something. Building a strong advocacy program, with or without technology, can harness the power of your cheerleaders and believers, turning them into loud voices as prospects are looking for suggestions and opinions.
One more before we go: What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
Sirius Decisions (now Forrester) has a lot of great information about marketing trends and the future of B2B marketing. I follow Seth Godin, a true marketing guru, who has hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram. His ideas are great.
I also read trade publications and articles on LinkedIn that are relevant to marketing. I’m big on reading about the training industry too. Our industry must be innovative and offer learners ways to learn that meet their needs, so reading about new trends and innovations in the learning space is important.
Finally, I network with other marketers who I’ve met along the way — who give me great ideas about events or webinars that can help me evolve my craft. It takes a village.
Thank you for sharing so many valuable insights with us today!