Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Early Stage Marketing and Branding – Farida Fotouhi


I've known Farida for quite a while.  Maybe ten years.  She is a go to person for me when I have questions around technology or early stage marketing and branding.  I hadn't talked to her in a while and then because of a presentation I did around Social Media for Service Professionals she and I reconnected.  It has been fun to get to know her again.  And I'm looking forward to more interaction now that she's blogging.

Remind me about your background.

I've been President of my marketing, branding, creative and advertising firm for, yikes, 30 years. I started out with a handful of dimes making cold calls from a phone booth in Grand Central Station. That's when phone calls were a dime, so you get an idea how long ago that was. I was on the way back to LA from a ski vacation in Switzerland where I decided while sliding down a glacier that if I survived I would start my own advertising agency.

We've been through a number of down business cycles, recessions, tech wrecks, the dotcom crash, and other burst bubbles and are still around to tell the tale. So cheer up everybody, this too will pass.

The firm used to be called Fotouhi Alonso and were one of LA's top mid-sized agencies for 20 years, working with clients like Honda, Epson, the LA DWP, and the FX Network. We downsized from 35 people in 2001 and are now a size that allows us to work directly with clients. Having fun again. Same partner all along: Jorge Alonso, Creative Director.

Our name Reality2 stands for Reality2.0. We help clients deal with new marketing realities like constant change (which often requires
repositioning) and the "online/offline marketing grid" (which lets you extend reach essentially for free using social media). We streamline strategy development using a Reality-Based approach, then execute cross-media programs including websites, brochures, ads, booths. landing pages, etc. We do a lot of B2B and also have an "Early Stage Branding" practice for technology startups.

Personally: I grew up all over the world because my Dad was in the U.S. Foreign Service. My father ran the first American diplomatic mission in Hiroshima after the end of the occupation (seven years after the atomic bomb). I speak Japanese, Portuguese, Hausa, French, some Spanish. I'm married to Mike Freehling, M&A and financial management consultant. We love to ski and do music together (blues, folk) I ride (compete in show jumping) and draw cartoons. 


What's a phone booth? 

Oh, and I forget to mention in my introduction about B2B.  I need to get you into both the Southern California Tech Central and the B2B Marketing Zone.  I'll connect offline on both of those.

What are you working on now?

Right now we're working on a multi-platform sales support program for Daylight Transport, a mid-sized LTL (Less Than Truckload) carrier and logistics company. We came up with a positioning strategy that helps them sell value-added when recession-pinched customers are squeezing them for low rates. To be in tune with the times we call it the Daylight Transport Strategic Saver program: we give you 8 ways to save using LTL. Not one of these ways is low rates. It's a comprehensive program with national sales training, HTML emails, a very cool interactive Flash landing page about the 8 ways to save, brochure and presentation for the sales people, extending reach via social media, etc. It launches November 16.

I'd be curious what you are doing with social media for a logistics company.  Maybe you can blog about that?

What's keeping you up at night?

I sleep like a rock, but if I had insomnia I would be worrying about the need to continually bring on new clients, because in these times our clients repurpose and re-use everything that we develop in order to trim expenditures. We're very glad our work is effective for them, but this means we do ourselves out of a job for a while once a major campaign is done! Then 6 months later the client comes back for more, but meanwhile...

Gee, if only you knew someone who knew about B2B marketing.  ;)

You've worked with a wide variety of different companies over the past few years, how is what you are doing changing?

I've been doing this for a long time, so I remember the days before desktop publishing and PowerPoint, when clients needed us to do absolutely everything for them. Now, clients are able to do more in-house. What we do more of now is branding and strategic positioning, and the development of the core materials like website, main brochure, and the creative on advertising online and traditional. Clients use our templates for things like sales sheets. We often work with and advise their internal departments.

Interestingly, we find ourselves doing PowerPoint presentations because it turns out that telling a story with graphics and few words is a professional skill after all.

That's a great point.  You are continually swimming upstream.  Like a lot of service professionals.

Is social media having much of an impact on what you do?

Absolutely. We can extend our clients' reach tremendously, and for low cost, by using the internet and social media to distribute and link to the "assets" we create. The website has become the hub of a company's face to the world, so after developing sites from a branding and not just a design perspective, we use social media as well as traditional advertising to bring prospects to a client's site (or special landing page). Just posted a blog about that:

I've been struggling a little with making the numbers work out for some social media activity.  How do you decide what and how much social media effort/expense makes sense?  Isn't it much harder to predict than traditional expenditure?  Again, maybe a blog post. :)

What do you think of the concepts of visible networking and online business networking in Los Angeles?

The analogy of a lively dinner conversation to describe Visible Networking is perfect. Its about having deep and often provocative discussions about shared interests - learning from each other, building relationships.  I'm with Tony and Cliff about the drawbacks of networking at events. Return on time spent is not that high, usually. The analogy would be the cocktail party versus the dinner party. Occasionally there's a lucky connection, but unless you've done your "pre networking" there's a high incidence of small talk falling into a void.

You know how Twitter became more relevant to business as a result of user contributions (like the # and RT) and third party apps? Same goes for online business networking. There need to be more ways to aggregate meaningful conversations on specific topics, and that's exactly what you are doing with your socalCTO and your Kudos, I'm in!

Like your idea of the 30-minute phone conversation too. However, let's not relegate face-to-face contact to the pre-digital dust bin. The online networking adds dimension to meeting in the flesh and makes it that much more interesting, true. But it won't replace meeting you halfway down the 405 again at that restaurant off Hughes Drive.

Wow, you have a great memory.  Definitely, the dinner conversation is a great analogy.  And I hear what you are saying about getting together in person.  After going to a recent networking event that was small and great, I'm thinking more of that may be the trick.  But maybe with people who I've already done visible networking with.

I'm also thinking that I'm going to follow-up more with folks like yourself on particular topics.  I think this ongoing conversation is going to be great.

What are some good posts that I should check out on your blog?

In the classic shoemaker's kids without shoes scenario I just started blogging. Your Social Media for Service Professionals presentation pushed me over the top.  I was ready: 140 characters just wasn't doing if for me anymore.

My new blog is "Reality2go". Jorge Alonso will be blogging there occasionally too. A post that I like is: "Tech Companies: Can You Explain Your Product to a Six-Year-Old?"

Farida – I'm enjoying your posts already.  Hopefully, some of my questions above can inspire blog posts.

What networking events in Los Angeles or Southern California do you go to?  What was the best one you've been to recently?

I like to attend events with presenters or panels, and themes that interest me. AlwaysOn has some of the best conferences I've ever been to. Their Summit at Stanford (with "Captains of Innovation" in tech) and Going Green (cleantech) feature top players as speakers and panelists for two days, and the caliber of attendees is very high.  Highly recommend. Of course AO many not count because they're in Northern Cal and not cheap, but return-on-time is high. I also go to the Impact Roundtables at Irell and Manella (see LinkedIn group) and Technology Council when topic appeals, as well as the Digital Coast Roundtable events (full disclosure: I am on the board) but they have been recession-challenged (who hasn't) and are changing direction.

Besides Tony Karrer for technology, who are some of your go to people in Los Angeles? 

Wow, that's an interesting question! Many of my go-to people are experts in sectors my clients are in, so I won't list them here. More general resources are:

  • Tracy Williams at Olmstead Williams for PR. Big Mouth Blog and Twitter at
    Robin Frank (LinkedIn, @Robeen) for implementation of social media programs, she has a great one-day workshop to set social networking policy for a corporation's employees.
  • On Demand Printing: great prices and quality when you need printed materials which, contrary to popular belief, are alive and well.

Whoops, you didn't mention Michael as a go to person.  I hope he doesn't find out. :)

I've just subscribed to Tracy's blog.

Look forward to future conversations.


Cliff Allen said...

Farida's experience parallels my experience in growing a marketing consulting practice into an advertising and public relations firm, then back to a marketing advisory service. As clients became familiar with marketing communications tools (e.g., InDesign, Photoshop, etc.) they took many tactical functions in-house. What companies still have problems with is marketing strategy, positioning, and messaging.

As for wanting to "aggregate meaningful conversations," we've been testing Google Wave to see how well it works for group conversations and document creation. As Google adds new features, I think Wave will be a good place for conversations and collaboration -- without the limitations of Twitter.

Farida said...

Cliff's comment makes me think about how we all respond to change, it's a little bit like death: first comes denial..Many ad agencies took the longest time to recognize that the old ad agency model was dying, the 30 second spot was no longer king. Clients discovered Photoshop, digital marketing and now social media were getting hot, and the monoliths were caught napping. They tried to make up for lost time by buying digital agencies. It also reminds me of the crisis in IT about jobs being lost to outsourcing overseas, to India etc. As Thomas Friedman said: America has to get even better at the things we're good at, such as innovation and strategy. The strategic function is where the sweet spot is, whether IT or marketing.