Asking the right question

In the past 24 hours I've had an chance to experience the polar extremes of marketing savvy in the technology world. On one side was the CEO of a pre-funded biotech firm looking for PR representation. On the side, was Milan Lazich, vice president of marketing for Magma Design Automation. What made this remarkable is that the biotech guy, a member a the hot new tech niche, was clueless, and Milan, representing a significant member of the brain-dead EDA industry, is a voice of sanity and reason.

I was recommended to the biotech guy as an out-of-the-box communicator. He was supposed to be disappointed in the PR firms he'd already approached because, number one, they gave him "cookie-cutter" approaches to communication and, number two, they were "to expensive."

So he opens up the discussion with the question, "How can you help me?" Now I could have played the game and given him the stock answers about the value of communication and ROI, etc. etc., all of which would have created another form answer that he would have dismissed. Instead I said, "I have no idea."

I had looked at his website when I was alerted that he was going to call and it said nothing of value. I did a couple of searches on his name and found virtually nothing. There is no history, no message, no apparent value in what he or his company does. And yet he wants me to tell him how I would raise the perception of his company.

His question can only be answered by a rote response, which he was tired of getting. So I ignored his question and told him what he needed to do. I told him to get funded first and stop wasting his time talking to PR firms until he had done that. I told him to establish a budget that he is willing to spend on marketing (not just PR) and be willing to share that with the consultants he talks to. I told him when he did that, call me back and we'll have a meeting so I can determine if he has what it takes to represent his company to the world or if he or a member of his team needed to be trained.

He didn't like any of that, but that was the right answer to his question. Right now, I'm pretty sure this guy is going to underspend on marketing, spin his wheels with an inadequate program with a consultant he won't listen to, and be out of the business inside of three years. I could be wrong… but I doubt it.

The whole thing depressed the snot out of me. Then I had coffee with Milan today.

I've mentioned him before calling him one of the few real marketers left in his industry (a compliment he prefers to qualify as an overstatement.) He has some new responsibilities in the industry since his CEO, Rajeev Madhavan, got elected to the industry council board a few weeks ago. Milan's now the chairman of the communications committee of the council, charged with getting the word out about how "wonderful" the EDA industry is. That's a job akin to explaining how well the surge is doing in Iraq (it may be doing well, but no one believes you.)

We talked about a lot of stuff, including Brian Fuller's the company is the medium is the message" concept. During our time, Milan gave this great statement about the cost of marketing. He said "if you only have enough budget to print up fliers at Kinko's and pass them out at street corners," you still have to figure out why that material would be important to the audience … and what is important to the audience is not going to be your product.

In other words, the most important thing you can say is what the audience wants to really know. Wow. An EDA guy that gets it. Of course it had to be Milan.

What's going to happen is that a group of people are going to conspire on how to fix the image and messaging problems of an entire industry. I damn well expect that it will benefit Magma if Milan has a say, but it will also benefit everyone else who gets with the program. A rising tide lifts all boats.

Viva la revolucion!