HomeRule BreakersPaige Arnof-Fenn: Leading Global Marketing with Mavens & Moguls

Paige Arnof-Fenn: Leading Global Marketing with Mavens & Moguls

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As part of the Morning Lazziness series about empowering women who encourage and do incredible things with their ideas in society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paige Arnof-Fenn.

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

Here’s what we found out about Paige’s daily routine, followed by an exclusive Q+A.

Can you share the story behind your journey as an entrepreneur? What inspired you to start your own business?  

I started a global branding and digital marketing firm 22 years ago in Cambridge, MA.  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 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.  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). 

What challenges have you faced as a woman in the business world, and how have you overcome 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!  

How do you balance your professional and personal life as an entrepreneur?  

As an entrepreneur, you are always on, and now, 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 so I have learned to create more balance by:          

Giving myself 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.  

Disconnecting from technology periodically and focus on cultivating human, face to face relationships. 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.  

To be more balanced I also try to find creative ways to multi task that incorporates work and exercise.  When I worked at large companies they had gyms at the office or groups who walked at lunch but when you are an entrepreneur you have to get creative to find balance.  Instead of meeting up with local colleagues at a coffee shop, over a meal or chatting with them on the phone, I meet them for a walk so you can catch up while you are getting some exercise too.  You’ll feel great after, the time will fly & it will be a fun activity to share.  It works with customers too, I have clients who play golf so we have met at a driving range instead of the office to discuss things especially when you are trying to think outside the box.  A change in venue is always nice and you feel so much better when you are moving and not trapped behind your desk.  The other tips I like to incorporate are taking public transportation when possible, parking at the far end of the lot and walking as well as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, it adds up to a lot of extra steps and movement if you do it every day.

What strategies have you found most effective for networking and building connections in your industry?  

Most of my business comes from networking.  We are social in nature so have pivoted to a hybrid model of mostly online events for networking to meet prospective clients/customers, employers, employees, thought leaders, etc.  For the foreseeable future we will continue to build our networks starting with LinkedIn to add 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.  Now it is about quality more than quantity though.  We’re attending fewer in person events but getting much more bang from them today.  Less is more now. 

The bar to attend in-person events is higher now post-pandemic, so we have to be more prepared to get as much value as possible by being together.   By starting with LinkedIn, you don’t have to wait for a physical networking event to make meaningful business connections.   You get one chance to make a great first impression so 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.  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.  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.

In the digital age e-mail is still very effective and a big part of my communications strategy.  Here are a few tips leveraging technology that have worked successfully for me:

*  If you have a contact in common who mentioned the person to you I start the e-mail with a subject line of “XYZ suggested we connect” so that even if they do not recognize my name in their inbox XYZ should ring a bell.  If you saw them speak at a conference or read an article they wrote you can tailor the subject line to that such as “Loved your piece on ____ in HuffPo!” or “Great talk at the conference this week!” 

*  Then I check them out on LinkedIn and let them know in the e-mail that “I see we also have # connections in common” to make me seem more familiar to them.

*  Then I explain why I would like to connect to bridge the intro and suggest we set up a call at their convenience.

It usually works and it shows I have done my homework and am respectful of their time.  Another tip is that the worst time to make a cold call to prospects in any region is 8-10am when everyone is rushing to work and preparing for the day but the worst time to call is the best time to e-mail. Once employees are at work, the first hour is generally spent checking e-mails and organizing the day. During this hour, your e-mail has a higher chance of visibility. Sending an e-mail during their transit period places your e-mail on top, and would be among the first they see as they open their inbox. E-mails that are sent late in the evening or early morning have a chance of being buried/missed.

How do you approach mentorship and seeking guidance in your entrepreneurial journey? 

I have had great mentors and champions throughout my career.  In my corporate life I had bosses, senior women or alums from my alma maters who took me under their wings to help me advance and show me the ropes   As a small business owner mentors can also be invaluable sources of inspiration, advice, encouragement and can help you avoid rookie mistakes (with hiring, fundraising, etc.) when you are starting out.  They can also make key introductions so that you avoid getting burned by service providers or potential investors who have mixed reputations.  I have seen several situations where a lot of time and money could have been wasted but was not.  

There are times whenyou need cheerleaders/butt kickers/people who can be counted on for tough love and others to help expand your footprint/elevate your profile in the community.Accountability is so important and having mentors you trust for judgment/advice who have your best interests in mind is priceless.  Mentors aren’t meant to last forever as your business evolves and your needs change you need to reevaluate your mentors too.   Don’t become too reliant on any one or two mentors it is important to get several people’s perspectives and feedback.   When you find the right ones though it is magic.  For me their advice has helped me be thick skinned, brave, kind and smart which has helped me succeed  as an entrepreneur.  I am eternally grateful for their support and advice over the years and for taking me under their wings to help me advance and show me the ropes.  

Mentors have different strengths and connections that can help.  Having people to keep you grounded and humble is critical too, it is easy to lose perspective when you are launching a new business.   Entrepreneurship can be consuming if you aren’t careful.  In my experience it takes a village to launch and build a successful startup.  I have mentored a number of employees and people starting their careers over the years.  Mentoring can be a wonderful experience on both sides of the equation.    It is important to both give back and pay it forward to honor the people who mentored me.  It creates a virtuous circle and chain to make the new generation part of the continuum.  The best mentors are generous with their time/advice/network, patient, kind, and tell you what you need to hear.  They share setbacks as well as success from their  own experience.

In my experience the best way to do it is organically by getting to know potential mentors over time through casual exchanges,  lunches, coffees, e-mails, etc. and then once a history and relationship is there only then share with them how valuable their advice and counsel has been to you and tell them you have considered them a mentor and champion for a while and see how they react.  That usually leads to formalizing the relationship if all goes well.  

Can you talk about a specific setback or failure you’ve experienced in your business, and how you bounced back from it?  

For the first 5 years I was scared to go on vacation for fear all my hard work would unravel.  Then my world changed when my in-laws, father, mom and stepdad all started to get sick and I wanted to be there for them.  They all lived thousands of miles away so I started to work less.  After years of decline they each died about 8 months apart (7 people in 6 years) and I became executrix which is like having another job at times.  So I had to take very good care of myself or I would not have been helpful to anyone else.  I moved up by working out every day.  I started planning me time on my calendar.  I became more comfortable with white space in my day and stopped over scheduling myself.  And guess what?  My business did not suffer, in fact it has become stronger.  We moved up the food chain and have better clients.  

Through something bad came something good.  I do not think I could ever go back.  I am so much happier and more productive as an entrepreneur than I ever was working for others.  It is all about controlling your calendar.  I no longer try to squeeze in more meetings or hit multiple events at night.   As an entrepreneur, I can be selective.  Less really is more.  I’ve chosen quality over quantity.  It sounds trivial but it is true.  I created a platform to do work I enjoy and feel energized by.  I feel I have found my purpose because I used to work all the time and life was passing me by.  I got raises and promotions but I was all work and no play and I did not feel fulfilled.  Since starting my business I have joined boards and volunteered at several organizations.  I am a mentor to the next generation of leaders and have helped build a very successful anti-bullying program  that >200,000 middle school aged kids have gone through.  As a marketing consultant I am able to write articles, contribute to books and speak at events to share my experience and lessons learned.   

COVID has definitely made me and my business more resilient, too.  Pivoting to online meetings, webinars, etc., is a smart and productive way for companies to continue to have conversations that educate and inform, build relationships, and move forward during uncertain periods.  So, first and foremost, I have learned to help small businesses to be flexible and open-minded so we can keep working together during the crisis and create more flexible capacity as we advance.  In my experience, resilience is the key trait for entrepreneurial success which has lead me to focus on:

Persistence/determination — a lot of people tell you no (investors, board, customers, etc.) so you have to be driven and learn to say no to distractions you cannot pursue every opportunity so be selective and concentrate on only those ideas with the greatest potential say no to everything else

  • Learning — intensely curious and always looking for the next way to make something better
  • Listening — to customers, critics, feedback, the market and your team to show respect for great talent and ideas 
  • Communication — there has never been a more important time to provide accurate, empathetic communication with transparency, truthfulness and timeliness
  • Strong moral compass — you cannot compromise on ethics and values 
  • Bonus — great sense humor and fun to work with 
  • These are what makes 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.  With resilience you increase  the odds to pivot, recover and succeed.  

In what ways do you prioritize diversity and inclusion within your company or startup? 

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.  Including diverse perspectives leads to the best results and most impact in my experience.  Your core values  should be reflected in your branding because people choose to do business with companies that align with their own values, so this information needs to be visible to them.  It is important to me to stay true to my core beliefs. Loyalty is one of my core values—loyalty to self and to others whom I respect. It’s important to me to gauge how many colleagues and clients come back and refer us to those who trust them. Being true to the mission of the organization and delivering superior experiences matter to me a lot too. Having the confidence to walk away from a client or colleague who’s diluting the equity in your brand is tough, but it’s necessary sometimes. You must always be authentic to the essence of your brand and surround yourself with people who reinforce your brand and its values–not tarnish it.  For me, relationships matter. Quality encounters matter. Honesty, consistency, authenticity and integrity matter. The experience and the journey matter a lot too. Focus on what matters to you and get rid of things that don’t.

How do you stay motivated and resilient during tough times in your business?  

I stay motivated through a combination of curiosity, connecting, caffeine and communication.  I love asking lots of questions and solving problems so when I meet interesting people I can’t help jumping in with 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 am motivated by insatiable curiosity.   More challenges create more opportunities.     

What advice would you give to other aspiring women entrepreneurs who are just starting out?   

Find mentors and pursue areas that energize and excite you to learn more then look for a company doing work you find genuinely exciting and interesting with smart people you can learn from.  Jump in and roll up your sleeves, come in early and stay late.  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 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.  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.

You need to learn to love networking.  Networking may sound old fashioned in these high tech days but it still works.  Whether you  work in B2B or B2C everything is really P2P person to person.  Most of my business comes from networking.  My rule is that you should network in person during the business day and do it online after hours.   People do business with people they know, like and trust so you have to get out there to build your reputation online and off.  Prospective customers and jobs can come from anyone anywhere anytime so you should always be on your best behavior & make a great lasting impression.  Be nice to everyone & make friends before you need them, you never know who is in or will be in a position to help!  Find a buddy to go to events with and tag team, you have to get out there.

I have always tried to work with people and organizations with a growth mindset, it is a happier and more positive and productive environment in my experience.  Growth mindset people 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 remote/hybrid 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.

Can you share a memorable success or milestone that you’ve achieved in your entrepreneurial career?  

Our success is our clients’ success.  I want to be recognized by the impact we have not the awards we have won.   I am very proud of the work we have done for organizations across many categories and geographies.  We branded and launched a conference as part of the Sundance Film Festival to “invest in media that matters,”  we created a major fundraising opportunity for a nonprofit celebrating a milestone anniversary for helping people live productive lives with AIDS, we rebranded and renamed 2 social service agencies that help people with mental disabilities and we rebranded and elevated the profile and awareness of a for-profit organization that is an intensive family and community-based treatment program that focuses on addressing all environmental systems that impact chronic and violent juvenile offenders — their homes and families, schools and teachers, neighborhoods and friends.  These are all great organizations that are better off today because of our work and that is incredibly fulfilling.  However the one client I am most proud of is an industrial products company based in New Orleans that we started working with just before Katrina and continued to work with them for years after.  Our work with them spanned many areas and we were able to “keep the trains moving” post-Katrina when their biggest trade show of the year was happening and they ended up as the belle of the ball there, our branding work for them helped them recruit great talent after the storm, the tag line we created for them helped them solidify their message and in conjunction with the branding messages we developed for them, stand out from the pack of competitors.  I grew up in New Orleans so helping a local business means a lot to me even though I have not lived there since college.  

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