Paige Arnof-Fenn is the founder & CEO of global branding and digital marketing firm Mavens & Moguls, based in Cambridge, MA.  Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, The New York Times Company, Colgate, venture-backed startups as well as non-profit organizations.  She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School.  Paige serves on several Boards, is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes. 

Hello Paige! We are happy to offer you an opportunity like an interview to tell a wider audience more about you and your experience.

You have an impressive background, and first, our readers and I would like to know more about how you started your career and got into this field?

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 VC-backed tech startups as the head of marketing, all had positive exits. 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. 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. I knew I had made it 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). 

How would you characterize your career development? What qualities do you think have helped you in your development?

The key to being effective is about being adaptable/agile, having strong communication skills and a growth mindset.   There are always new tools and technologies and you never know when the next crisis will hit that throws your plans into disarray.  Remaining calm/clear headed/in control is important so that we can get through ongoing setbacks and curve balls as creatively and quickly as possible. Reacting at a time of crisis is great, but being able to adapt to change is even better so staying nimble today is core to survival and ultimately success.  

We must also stay focused without getting distracted to be successful. Given all the uncertainty there is never a more important time to provide accurate, empathetic communication with transparency, truthfulness and timeliness whether there is a crisis or not. We need to communicate in a way that gives audiences better focus, helping them to create a bridge from the noise today to a clearer/better future. Growth mindset workers are successful because they never stop learning and experimenting, they are focused on the future and see opportunities ahead by creating a culture of learning and growth. It takes effort and a commitment to excellence for people to continually learn/grow especially now in a hybrid/remote environment. I do not think there is one silver bullet to keep your 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 prioritize professional development to keep skills fresh and stay on top of new trends and technologies.

Being persistent, determined, focused and resilient are qualities that make the biggest difference between success and failure I think because the road is always bumpy and you know you will have to overcome obstacles along the way,  you get knocked around often so you have to be able to keep getting back up and trying again with enthusiasm and energy. A good sense of humor goes a long way too in the digital age. It’s important to be inclusive, collaborative and build trusted relationships to drive the business leveraging technology to support them to build real world communities and relationships too. While soft skills like charisma and confidence help you rise in the office environment, when it comes to remote/hybrid work, groups value helpfulness and reliability over bluster and charm,  in a hybrid environment you want  people who are independent, self-motivated, flexible with good time management skills. Many technical skills can be learned with training. Cultural fit and attitude matter more now.

Networking skills are also important because prospective customers can come from anyone anywhere anytime so you should always be nice to everyone and make friends before you need them, you never know who is in or will be in a position to help! Give before you get, give them something of value before you ask for anything. It can be an article, invitation for white paper, webinar, podcast, etc., just show that you value them and want to build a relationship beyond the transaction. It goes a long way when you take the time to educate, entertain and inform people, respect their time and show you are in it for more than a paycheck. People like to do business online and  offline with people they trust. Stop selling and start active listening for ways you can help.

How do you assess the strength of the CEO’s personal brand? How does it affect the company’s reputation?

If we learned anything during COVID it is that your online presence is only growing in importance. Having people speak highly of you/your business is incredibly important to building a strong brand especially when most of your work comes by referral/word of mouth. Reputation management today is about seizing control over your online narrative/the image your company generates in the hearts and minds of customers/employees/partners/stakeholders including online reviews/consumer complaint forums/news articles/your social presence/visibility in search results. Everyone must consider the role each factor plays in shaping/defining your online image to cultivate the impression you’re making publicly to know how you’re perceived and which actions you’re compelling among consumers/customers.

I think having a good online reputation is incredibly important to building a strong professional service business like mine.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). At a minimum 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. To stay ahead of the trolls generate lots of fresh content that will push down any potential bad comments online. 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.

I have built my brand through Thought Leadership activities like writing articles, hosting webinars, podcasts, guest blogging and building my following on social media which all contribute to increasing my awareness with potential customers/clients, building my credibility with a larger community more broadly, and raising my profile which allows me to raise my prices by attracting more clients/customers. Without a brand you are a commodity and therefore compete on price. This does not require big budgets but it does take time. It is a smart investment to get this right. Authenticity is the key, it has to be and feel real for it to work I think. This has helped me grow my business.  

What tips on personal brand development can you give to our readers?

I believe personal branding is very important because if you do not brand yourself then others will brand you instead. Having a brand is what helps you stand out from all the noise and competition. The single most important ingredient to creating a great brand is authenticity. It has to be and feel real for it to work I think. Don’t let social media drive you crazy, you do not need to be everywhere, it does not matter which platform you choose just pick one or 2 that are authentic to you. It should look and sound like you and the brand you have built. If your customers do not use Facebook, Twitter/X or Instagram to find you then you do not need to make them a priority. For many professional service businesses like mine, LinkedIn matters the most because it adds credibility and transparency when you know the people you are meeting or working with know people in common.  

LinkedIn has become more than an online resume or rolodex, it is the foundation for building trusted relationships in the digital economy.  With LinkedIn, you don’t have to wait for a networking event to make meaningful business connections, keywords are a great way to help professionals in your industry find your profile and strategic keywords in your profile give you an advantage in networking too. Whether your brand is polished or more informal, chatty or academic, humorous or snarky, it is a way for your personality to come through so that for the ones who would be a great fit for you they feel and keep a connection and you give them a reason to remember you so that they think of you first when they need your help. If your brand is not memorable you do not stand out.  Here are a few tips on how to build a strong personal brand:

  •         Be original. What makes you unique or special? Is it your voice? Height? Eye color? Athletic ability? Fluency in foreign languages? An invention or patent? Whatever it is, use it to your advantage. Can you imagine Barbara Streisand with a different nose, Jay Leno with a new chin or Cindy Crawford without her mole? Everyone remembers the original, but the copycats start blending together after a while, so differentiate yourself to stand out from the pack. Be remarkable and extraordinary to grab attention and get noticed. Good is not good enough–where are you great? When you exploit what makes you unique, people will remember your authentic brand.
  •         Be creative. How do you want people to think, feel, act or react after interacting with you vs. your competition? What are four words that come to mind when people describe you? Is that how you want to be described? As George Washington Carver once said, “When you can do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”
  •         Be honest. Turns out that telling the truth about what you are and are not, what you can and can’t do is very refreshing. Who would have thought that in 2024, brutal honesty would be the killer application? Let your brand be known for speaking the truth, and you become the trusted advocate and go-to source. People don’t always want to hear the truth, but they’ll respect you for telling it, and when they’re ready to listen, they’ll remember you for it.
  •         Be relevant. Brands aren’t created in a vacuum. They require lots of attention, care and feeding. The process of creating a brand for yourself isn’t unlike what you’d do for a company–developing a mission, vision, unique positioning and so on. You must define your brand, communicate it and review it periodically so your brand stays current. Look at Madonna, circa 1980s (leather outfits, bleached hair, wild child) and in 2000s (yoga, family, spiritual). The branding basics still apply when the brand is you–having a core message, a brand promise, visual and verbal identification and fully integrating all components. You’ll need brand positioning, brand architecture and a brand strategy to develop a promise that resonates clearly with your audiences.
  •         Be consistent. Develop a cohesive message, and make sure it ties to your blog, website, bio and LinkedIn profile too. The repetition reinforces your key points so people will remember them. It takes time to build great brands–no one wins Olympic gold medals, Grammy awards, Oscars or anything of importance overnight. These things require an investment of your time and energy. Every experience with you is an opportunity to build trust in your brand. 
  •         Be passionate. If you remember nothing else, remember this suggestion–it makes up for any shortfalls above. Everyone loves to work with people who are passionate about what they do; it makes life much more fun and interesting. So build your brand around what you enjoy and remember the words of John Ruskin: “When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”

You get one chance to make a great first impression so to optimize make sure every section of your LinkedIn profile is complete, with no blank spaces or gaps.  Include a professional head shot and powerful headline followed by a summary with highlights of your personal brand, what you do well and how you can benefit potential clients or employers. Keep this section brief and easy to skim for best results.  To present yourself as an expert in your industry post interesting and educational content by sharing a great article you’ve read recently or if you truly want to make valuable connections and represent yourself as a talented thought leader in your industry, you should be crafting your own articles on LinkedIn.

Tell us more about your company. How did you come up with the idea of creating it?

Mavens & Moguls works with early stage VC-backed startups, Fortune 500 companies, nonprofit organizations and mid-emerging market firms looking for help with their communications, research, PR, branding or strategy as a seamless extension of their team. 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. My company does anything a marketing department, ad agency, market research shop or PR agency does on an as needed outsourced basis. We have resources in 14 cities in the US and major metro areas overseas. Everyone in the group comes out of 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.

What difficulties did you encounter along the way? How did you solve them?

My biggest challenge early on was 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 is 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! 

What technologies are in demand in your field? (AI, predictive analytics, etc.).

Using SEO data analytics to track/measure success is critical as we navigate the new reality of life with AI and ChatGPT.  With machine learning, AI, etc. sales is moving towards hyper-personalization and harnessing all forms of data being used across all channels and customer journey stages. I think AI and ChatGPT will impact marketing and sales strategies longer term. Simply asking it to create content about the subject you want is an easy way to save time and jumpstart the process of developing sales material. Maybe the output won’t be as good as yours or exactly what you ultimately want, but it’s a great place to start from by taking advantage of the technology since everyone else is now too. No excuse for writer’s block now! Especially when your task is low stakes, high fluency (i.e. writing sales copy), conversational AI is likely a good fit for the task. The possibilities are everywhere to save time and increase productivity. Creative thinking and problem solving skills along with a high degree of comfort using data analytics to track and measure success will also be critical as we navigate the new reality of life with AI and ChatGPT.

The real killer application today is Authentic Interactions not Artificial Intelligence! While your competition generates robotic copy that sounds generic you can stand out and break through the sea of sameness with personalized thoughtful content serving their specific needs. So don’t get distracted by the latest shiny object, to win today authenticity is what people remember. Building connections and relationships with your audience is more important now than ever!

What is it like to be a woman entrepreneur? Have you faced judgmental attitudes? How did you deal with it?

You have to find ways to learn from everyone. Some people teach by positive examples and others show you what not to do or how to behave but you can learn important lessons from every person really. You learn as much if not more from the setbacks and mistakes so don’t waste time looking for a manual for a happy/successful life,  just show up, participate and pitch in.  It is up to you to create a meaningful and purposeful life.  Great career opportunities tend to follow great teams and talent so I have found when you learn from the best doors open and interesting career options appear. Relax, be patient and just pursue areas that energize and excite you to learn more with smart people you can learn from. Work really hard and build a great reputation for having a strong work ethic and being fun and easy to work with.  In my experience when you are curious, have a growth mindset and ask a lot of questions people appreciate working with smart people who enjoy learning. Pay your dues, get great experience learning from smart people in well run organizations who train and develop your skills so you will be prepared and set yourself up for success.  

Now let’s move on to other questions that will help our readers learn something new about you. What keeps you moving forward?

I stay inspired through a combination of curiosity, connecting, caffeine and communication. I am naturally curious and love asking lots of questions and solving problems so when I meet interesting people and hear about challenges that they are dealing with where I can be helpful I want to roll up my sleeves and jump in. It’s just how I am wired I guess. I can’t help sharing ideas to help them thrive plus I hate to waste time. I have always loved fixing things and helping out where I can. I love the challenge of cracking the code to see what works. I get energized talking to people and during the pandemic pivoting to online meetings, webinars, etc. was a smart and productive way companies like mine continued to have conversations that educated and informed, built relationships and moved forward during even the crisis period. 

How do you rest after work? Do you maintain a work-life balance?

As an entrepreneur you are always on and with everyone working hybrid/remotely and social media and technology going 24/7 it can be tough at times to stay energized and focused. For me I know when I feel my creative juices drying up or I am often tired or unmotivated it is time to shake things up. The key is to find ways to stay fresh and excited without being able to get away from your job. Like most small business owners and entrepreneurs there are never enough hours in the day to fit everything in so when something has to give it is usually time I have allocated for myself to exercise or just relax. A mentor once told me that to be successful “me time” is not a luxury or pampering, it is maintenance! I try to lead my team by example, 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.

I started doing tai chi and qigong just before my 40th birthday and I learned to knit >8 years ago for my 50th. I belong to groups for both that meet regularly. We have a second home out of state and I am part of knitting and tai chi groups there as well. In my youth I did team sports as hobbies but as you age having more flexibility and smaller groups are preferred.  Tai chi helps with balance, coordination and staying active safely. I have learned the choreography of 2 forms so far. It is called a moving meditation. I am not a good knitter yet but I enjoy making simple scarves and dish towels too. They help me in my day job too by making me focus, breathe, and relax. I make better decisions and think more clearly. I have met some wonderful people as well. 

I really feel that both knitting and tai chi have a zen/meditative quality which has helped me stay calm, active, connected and given me something to look forward to 7 days a week. I enjoy building and maintaining my relationships to stay balanced. 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.  

Is there a country in the world that you dream of visiting?

I lived with a family in southeast France for several months during my junior year of high school and on campus in Florence, Italy as part of my junior year in college. These experiences were both incredibly special and started my life long love affair with both France & Italy where I could visit forever.  

How do you use to celebrate Christmas?

As a child we spent the holiday with my grandparents and cousins and now my husband and I are low key enjoying great food and movies.   

What is the most memorable surprise you have ever received?

When my husband proposed on my birthday. 

What books can you recommend to those who work in marketing?

I prefer books by practitioners because they are more relevant and have current examples from pop culture vs. theories based on research. No matter what area of marketing you go into you need to communicate effectively, understand what  motivates your customers and leverage online and offline tools so here are the best books I recommend:

Anything by Seth Godin but one great one is This is Marketing, you can’t be seen until you learn to see, he is a master who really understands what drives people to purchase from a practitioner’s perspective using his first-hand experience and simple language not jargon.

Everybody Writes:  Your go to guide to creating ridiculously good content by Ann Handley. Handley argues that in an online world everyone is a writer so you need to learn how to create content that attracts and retains people’s attention. She provides practical tips, easy grammar and usage rules that are valuable whether you are working with a big brand or startup these are best practices that will make  your writing better. Great advice we can all benefit from now more than ever.   

Fanocracy —  Turning fans into customers and customers into fans by David Meerman Scott. David’s new book is a real world practitioner’s guide from someone who has lived the job from the front line, he has been there and done it so he tells it like it is not theoretically but from the trenches. The name of the game today is how to get your fans engaged online and here is the manual to do it.

Thank you for answering the questions!

My pleasure!

 

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