CEO, Marina Maher Communications
Marina started her first business at the age of 12, providing entertainment for children’s birthday parties. Since then, Marina has become widely recognized as a leading authority on marketing to women, helping brands such as COVERGIRL, WonderBra, and U By Kotex achieve iconic status. Climbing up the ranks of the PR world from a copywriter READ MORE »
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: I have always liked being an entrepreneur and always liked working. I started my first business when I was 12, providing entertainment for children’s birthday parties. It was a real business and I made my business cards out of construction paper. The typeface was whatever the Smith Corona typewriter produced. I would hand out my cards to the doormen of all the high-rise buildings near where we lived in Chicago. Pretty soon word of mouth spread and the business grew and got pretty sophisticated. I was booking clown acts and performing dogs and sometimes had two parties on the same Saturday. At age 14 the business was thriving. But my parents made me shut it down as it started to interfere with my schoolwork. I vowed I would start another business someday.
Graduating from college, I thought I wanted to be a writer and got a job at a magazine. That’s when I realized I wanted a job with more social interaction; writing can be a lonely business. I got into PR and loved the interaction with clients and the media. Over the years, I was fortunate enough to work for really smart, bright people. None of them were actually great teachers, but because they were so smart, I watched everything that they did, how they handled meetings, tough business decisions and management problems.
When I worked in corporate, I was a client of agencies and saw a better way of servicing clients and developing people. That’s when I opened MMC.
Q: If a business is in a healthy state, how do you know when to innovate?
A: You always have to innovate. The world today moves very fast. Globalization and one-click-away access to everything means your business is sometimes affected by factors beyond your control. You can be at the top of your game one day and tumble down the next. So if you don’t innovate all the time you actually go backwards.
Before the Internet seeped into every facet of our lives we used to dedicate time to plan for innovation. Now, it’s all faucets on all the time.
Q: How much time do you spend on networking versus focusing on the internal affairs of your business (such as management, strategy, ideation etc)?
I happen to love networking on both a professional and personal leveI. Any entrepreneur has to devote a significant amount of time to it. It’s essential to the growth of your business – not just for meeting potential clients, but also for attracting top-level staff, gathering competitive intelligence and learning how your clients’ products are perceived. Networking is as important to my business as strategy and management. So I probably spend about half of my time networking. That can include attending industry dinners, entertaining clients, talking to women in a supermarket or behind a cosmetic counter or chatting with someone on an airplane.
Q: Can you share a story of how networking led to a great success?
A: One of the core principles at MMC is attracting and retaining world-class talent. I’ve used networking very successfully to attract great senior leaders at MMC. Seven or eight years ago, MMC was looking to build a healthcare practice. The agency’s background at the time was only in consumer marketing so there wasn’t even anyone on my radar that I wanted to recruit. I must have talked to 50 people to find who the real healthcare stars were. We called every person on the list. And if they weren’t interested in changing jobs, we asked them for names. It took a few months, but I eventually hired a very talented woman who really put MMC on the map as a healthcare PR player. Today, our Health and Well-Being practice accounts for about 40 percent of our billings.
Q: A great negotiation can be game changing for one’s business or life. Studies have shown that men are much more comfortable negotiating and asking for what they want compared to women. What’s your advice to women who are uncomfortable negotiating?
A: I’m very passionate about this subject. One of the greatest weaknesses women have in business is negotiating. Yet it is one of the most important skills she needs for her career and there aren’t a lot of female role models. I’ve learned effective negotiating on the job. But I also read as many books on the subject as I can.
Women are good at compromise, not conflict. Since they were little, they’ve been told to be “nice.” You almost have to forget about all of that, take emotion out of the equation, and negotiate with cold blood. That’s hard for a woman.
I felt this skill was so important for my staff that one year I brought in negotiating trainers. They taught our team negotiation skills but that’s really only the first step. You have to consistently practice to get comfortable with it. That might mean role playing with a buddy or negotiating a better deal with a credit card or cable company.
Q: What do you feel separates your brand from your competitors?
A: Our deep understanding of marketing to women and the ability to establish an emotional connection between brands and the female consumer. We brand our unique marketing to women perspective on everything we do. That includes our website and blog, the appearance of our office and the people we hire.
Consistency is what makes a brand great. When I started out, I learned that a brand should have one sight, one sound, and one sell. That’s what we live by.
Q: What are you most passionate about and how do you incorporate it into your career or everyday life?
A: Intellectual curiosity. It serves you well because you are always learning and thinking about what’s next. I am intensely curious about people, their jobs, how they started in their careers and how they met their spouses. I read constantly – about the social and digital worlds, consumer trends and pop culture.
To succeed in a field like ours that thrives by sparking consumer conversations you have to know what’s new and what’s next. That’s what enables you to keep conversations consistently interesting and fresh.
Q: Usually reaching something great or grand in life requires taking a risk. What has been your greatest risk so far and how was it rewarding?
A: I was with an important client at a conference. He had taken over one of the brands we work on that was not doing well. During the conference, he conducted a number of interviews with media and discussed how he was going to turn the brand around. I had a lot of experience in this brand category and strongly felt his strategy was off target. I was pretty conflicted about what to do. Should I tell him what I felt and risk alienating him – or possibly being fired – or stay silent and watch the brand continue to fail? I took a deep breath and asked him to take a walk with me. We talked about his strategy and I told him what I felt were the barriers to the brand’s success. To my great relief, he listened to everything I said. Not only did he keep us on, he enlisted us as his strategic consultants on the brand and both of us watched it turn around and become a market leader.
Q: What place in the world has the most sentimental value to you and why?
A: I love Provence and Tuscany. I’ve spent a lot of time in both places and they appeal to all my senses. I love the painter’s light, the extraordinary food, the smell of fields of lavender, and the stillness of the night. Both regions are very relaxing and spiritual.
Q: In the world, what are your three favorite destinations?
A: Paris, Venice, Thailand
Q: In the world, what are your three favorite places to get lost?
A: St. Barts, Venice, the medina in Marrakech
Q: In the world, what are your three favorite places to shop?
A: Anywhere in Paris, the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC and my dream is to go to the Gem Emporium in Jaipur