In Conversation with Paul Bergevin

August 30, 2014
In Conversation with Paul Bergevin
“We are the translators!” Bergevin discusses the complexity of ‘deep science’, and the Internet of Things.

We are delighted to host Paul Bergevin as the latest guest on the “In Conversation with …Silicon Valley” live webinar series recently. Paul is one Silicon Valley’s most accomplished communications leaders. He can count more than 20 years of experience as a PR leader, agency CEO, global technology practice lead, and counselor to brands as diverse as Ericsson, Sybase, Sun Microsystems, Apple, PeopleSoft, IBM and Rambus.

What follows below is an abridged version of our conversation during which Paul shared his views on the relationships between sales and communications, managing the transition from long-time CEO Paul Otellini to new leader Brian Krzanich, and why Steve Jobs was wrong to predict the death of the PC!

PRSA-SV: Intel is a more diversified company today than many people familiar with your iconic brand name might realize. Bring us up to speed on who your customers are today.

Paul Bergevin (PB): I can group our customers into a couple of major buckets: traditional and emerging customers. The traditional customers, who contribute the lion’s share of revenue for the company, are those by which we’re best known. They are the PC manufacturers: Dell, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Toshiba etc, as well as ‘white box’ manufacturers of PC systems. Customers also include those who sell high performance servers. Servers powered by Xeon processors are the backbone of the cloud. In the emerging customer category, we span a variety of different areas. Our Internet of Things business, for example, is a $2Bn revenue run-rate business on an annualized basis, with applications such as automobiles, entertainment systems, digital signage and industrial automation. And we have a very substantial software business. If you factor in our McAfee security subsidiary, we are one of the largest software companies in the world. We also have a new devices group, in which we’re developing technology for ‘wearables’, including smart watches.

PRSA-SV: I’ve spoken with previous guests on this program about their role relative to the sales process. What is the relationship between sales and communications at Intel?

PB: We are very close. The corporate communications function at Intel is a hybrid function. An element of what we do is sales support – it is oriented towards demand creation – and the rest is corporate communications, focused on our brand. But all the information you read about our latest and greatest technology, for example, our new core processors, or PC flagship chips, is driven by my team. We help people understand the speeds and feeds; the energy utilization; why it might be worth upgrading their system to a new Haswell (Core 5) generation system. And we do a lot of work directly supporting sales objectives. In India and Indonesia, for example, where PC penetration is relatively low, we have active programs to interest first-time buyers. That’s an important source of potential incremental business, so we have communications and marketing programs that are integrated to hit those audiences.

PRSA-SV: Has Intel considered tying a sales target to your function’s work?

PB: It’s been talked about, but good luck to any company that cracks the code on this! I think it’s very important to think about the contribution communications can make in improving the climate for sales. PR can improve the consideration for a product; it creates awareness, but precise correlation between communications and sales is very hard to measure. For the Haswell launch I mentioned previously, some of the reviews we secured for that product were absolutely used in our advertising and point-of-sale retail messaging, and we know there’s a direct correlation (between reputation and sales), but it’s hard to isolate the precise contribution that communications makes to that mix, relative to marketing and sales.

PRSA-SV: In the era of corporate publishing and corporate content creation – where you don’t necessarily have to rely on a reporter to translate your message – is it getting easier to get your story across?

PB: It’s important to create new channels and new publishing platforms, and to reach people in new ways. In mature market economies, traditional media models are under pressure. Everybody knows that. But juxtaposed with that (decline), people have an undiminished appetite for news, so how do you get it to them? You create more channels for distribution. We have a variety of those channels at Intel. At one end of the spectrum, we have Intel Free Press, which carries independent editorial that has to stand the test of “would I read this, whether it came from Intel or not?” At the other end of the spectrum, there’s paid content, where we push a marketing or sales message more directly and more transparently. We have all of those tools in the drawer. But having all those channels doesn’t make it easier to take the complexity of the lab and render it in plain language. That is still our job! We are translators and that requires good old-fashioned communications skills.

PRSA-SV: Leadership is one of Intel’s stand-out qualities. Leaders such as Gordon Moore, Andy Grove and more recently Paul Otellini were giants of our industry. You recently managed the transition from Paul Otellini to new CEO Brian Krzanich. How did you ensure a successful transition, and how important is the reputation of the CEO to the brand of Intel?

PB: Brian is only the sixth CEO Intel has had in 50 years, and I believe the CEO is a very important projection of a company’s brand into the market place. The trick to remember (when managing a transition) is that CEOs are people. What might have been a very successful platform for one CEO, might not work for another. You have to think about the qualities that are timeless about your company, and ensure that all CEOs remember those values and highlight what is unique about a business. But then, they have to make it personal; to connect with the thing that sparks passion for that leader. Brian, who comes out of the manufacturing world, is a very hands-on engineer. He’s passionate about building things, so not surprisingly, he’s been very active in the Maker (technology hobbyist) movement, which was not an area where Paul Otellini spent much time. Brian has also accelerated our push into the mobile world. He’s somebody who really appreciates that computing is moving to a lot of different form factors. The key thing is to understand what the new boss brings, and be authentic. Don’t try to build a platform or a persona that is fake, but actually play to the individual’s strengths in a way that still resonates with the timeless qualities of the brand. In Intel’s case, that’s a lot of deep science and a rich heritage of technology.

PRSA-SV: In the 20 years you’ve been in technology communications in Silicon Valley, what has changed, either for better or for worse?

PB: What’s changed the most is the ability for marketers to engage in dialogue with our customers and our publics a lot more actively than they ever have before. The old model of one-way communications which was measured in terms of clips and impressions has been greatly augmented by the ability to engage in real-time communications, and from that to derive actionable analysis and insights that marketers are taking advantage of everyday.

PRSA-SV: What do you look for in the communicators that you hire to your team?

PB: Often it’s the classic things! Can they string together a coherent sentence or two? I look for clarity of writing, all the time. That never goes out of style. But apart from the baseline skills, I look for people who understand the audiences that we’re trying to reach. Intel is now trying to reach a younger audience. We have historically reached a very male, engineering-type audience that skews slightly older. We’re now trying to reach a more female demographic. Also, I have a dedicated team in my group that does visual and broadcast communication. We have a fully-equipped broadcast studio on-premise, where we do everything from CNBC interviews to short video blogs, and so an understanding of those video techniques is also important in the mix. Then of course I look for understanding of our technology and the segments that we sell into!

PRSA-SV: No company can afford to rest on its past successes, and Intel has clearly embraced new trends in tablet computing, servers, and the Internet of Things. How does Intel balance becoming known for the ‘next thing’ while also protecting the reputation you have gained by leading in traditional markets?

PB: It’s a very interesting question. Four years ago, Steve Jobs proclaimed the ‘post-PC era’ and everyone started writing stories about the death of the PC. PC growth did slow, but we’re now starting to see PC growth return, and conversely, tablet growth is now starting to slow. Our approach has been to embrace computing in all forms, and I give Brian and Renee (James, Intel President) credit for being candid that we were late to the mobile transition. We should have engineered our microprocessors into specific system-on-chip solutions for the mobile space sooner than we did, but we’ve not been sitting still, and we’ve made some nice headway in that market. In terms of how you mix your story, in the last couple of years, you will definitely have read more about Intel’s data center business. If you talk to Wall Street analysts, for example, one of the things they are very high on is the value of the giant server infrastructure that exists out there. That infrastructure extends into technologies such as storage and networking and Intel is bringing high volume economics into those market categories. So we spent a lot of time talking about our data center business, and talking about related subjects such as cloud and big data, and security. But of course, we can never overlook the fact that the PC business is very attractive to us in terms of cash generation and generating an enormous volume of products. This year, 340 million units of PC product will be sold worldwide. It doesn’t seem like that’s a business we should stop talking about!

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