Cover Story: Direct Marketer of the Year: Pamela A. Evans, Senior Web Marketing Manager, IBM Software Group
The industry almost lost one of its brightest direct marketers to the field of journalism. A recession redirected IBM's Pamela A. Evans into communications and marketing—the launchpad for a dynamic career that has brought her to the forefront of the industry's current evolution.
Evans earned her undergraduate degree in English from Georgia Southern University in 1974. "I wanted to work for a newspaper, but when I graduated from college, there was a recession," Evans recalls. "I went back to my hometown of Augusta, Ga., and there weren't any jobs at the daily paper. But there was a job at the CBS TV station." There, Evans created locally produced 30-, 60- and 90-second television commercials. "I did soup to nuts—local client meetings with the sales team, copywriting, talent, music, props, and then on location or in the studio working with the production team."
In 1976, Evans went on to work as a corporate communications manager for Fuqua Industries, a holding company that acquired, reorganized and then sold companies. Evans had the flexibility to run the communications programs across the network of the 21 companies J.B. Fuqua owned at the time, and, at the same time, she completed her MBA at Georgia State University. "The job included wearing a number of different hats and gave me an opportunity to dabble in advertising and marketing. It was during that time that I decided I wanted to pursue a broader communications career path by combining public relations and marketing," says Evans.
Her writing and communications skills are what gave Evans an edge in the marketing world. "Writing is a good skill to have—everyone writes," she says. "And communications is key for whatever you pursue, because every day we're convincing others of the value of online strategies, social media, marketing plans or some other approach to reach our customers more effectively. So, it's been extremely valuable for me to have that background."
After four and a half years at Fuqua, Evans was approached by a recruiter at IBM's Atlanta office. "I had no idea that IBM even had an office in Atlanta, but someone there contacted me and said that they thought I would be good for a job they had," she says. "So, I interviewed there, and the rest is history, 28 years later." In 1980, Evans joined IBM as an editor for its General Systems Division in Atlanta, where she edited an internal magazine that featured employees, their jobs and their interests outside of work.
In the mid-1990s, Evans moved into marketing communications as the Atlanta presence manager. In this role, she integrated the marketing communications program for the 1996 Olympic Summer Games, including image coordination, uniforms, customer events, displays and 21 technology exhibits. "There were a lot of activities geared towards showcasing our technology to visitors who were coming to Atlanta for the games, as well as to our own customers," she says. "This was a coming-out period for the Internet with the first online catalog for the Games." Working closely with officials from Athens, Greece, Evans pulled together an exhibit that included artifacts and a video history of the Olympic Games. "We used some very interactive technology with touch screens to show a video depiction of the original games in Greece and every game since that time," Evans explains. This special program at SciTrek, the science museum in Atlanta, provided an open venue to learn about the Games and another way to highlight some innovative technologies.
After the Summer Games, Evans joined IBM.com as a communications manager in the North America sales centers division, where she developed communications plans; launched IBM's intranet Web site; and coordinated the opening of the Atlanta, Dallas and Toronto sales centers.
Evans moved from communications to marketing in 1998. She started out working as an interactive marketing manager for IBM's Gold Service, a targeted relationship marketing program for large enterprise customers that combined a customized Web portal, a telesales representative and direct marketing materials—all of which helped the customer select and purchase the right IBM solutions for its needs. "This was an early loyalty program aimed at the largest customers that had enough volume to need to have a customized site. The Web site let them ensure that everyone within their enterprise was buying from what they had selected to roll out," Evans explains. Gold Service was recognized by Peppers & Rogers Group as a best practice program.
Evans' responsibilities included developing account-based marketing communications plans for 400 extranet sites in North America; managing marketing, communications and interactive marketing agencies; and developing the integrated Web, e-mail and direct mail communications for 80,000 marketable contacts. "We did surveys to determine the customers' preferences, and then we would tailor each direct mail piece or e-mail to the individual's interest areas," Evans says. "We wanted to maintain the relationship on a steady beat, so we had a series of pieces that were sent out in the course of a year."
The Gold Service used permission-based, targeted messages to relate with customers using the form of communications they preferred. This meant working closely with the market intelligence team and field sales to develop personalized direct mail, e-mail and Web pages by industry, product and job function.
Then, in 2003, Evans joined IBM's Software Group as a teleweb marketing manager, where she had global responsibility for IBM's teleweb marketing strategy. In this role, she was part of a new team charged with improving the linkages between IBM.com/software and the telesales teams. Rather than spanning hardware, software and services in one region, she honed in on the software brands on a global basis. In this capacity, she worked closely with the sales force to help it understand ways to use the Web for sales coverage in 230 countries where IBM has an online software catalog, translating and localizing the sites to relate to customers better.
Now, in her position as a senior Web marketing manager for IBM, Evans is responsible for the Software Group's Web marketing programs, merchandising, search marketing, contact strategy, lead management and editorial guidelines. Part of Evans' job is to work with e-Nurture, an e-mail campaign that's sent to prospects once they respond to an offer. "Once they respond, we send additional related information and offers that are triggered based on the registration itself," she explains. "The e-mail is targeted based on the relative information that they selected initially. So it's really customer-driven marketing through continuing touches that are e-mailed to those prospects who indicate an interest in a particular topic." Another initiative Evans heads is developing webcasts, which are presentations that are recorded and then posted on the Web for anyone who missed the main event.
In whole, "What we're trying to do is intercept prospects and visitors who are online," Evans says. "Today, most people are going to go to a Web site to do a search, and they are going to type a keyword. What we are trying to do with our marketing program is intercept them and pull them into our site page, because we will have those words and content that we hope represents what they need. We're trying to understand what the customer needs and then make certain that we have solutions that address that—and it's constantly changing. So that keeps us on our toes and definitely makes it exciting."
Evans loves the challenge of direct marketing and the opportunity to work directly with customers, especially through online marketing. "You can see trends as they develop by what customers choose and how they ask for us to communicate with them," she says. For example, Evans noticed how, during the last decade, more and more customers started going online and doing keyword searches to find what they wanted. Other trends include customers using social media (such as blogs) to gather information and using RSS feeds to be regularly updated about a site's content. "What we're trying to do is make it easier for prospects to find our content, and the tagging in RSS feeds allows that to happen very easily," says Evans. "We have our pages enabled for RSS so someone can subscribe to a particular page, which then comes to them regularly. We're seeing more and more adoption. It's been extremely rewarding to be able to see these shifts."
A Learning Experience
Evans' jobs in communications and marketing have taught her about everything from financing to sales, and each position has had an impact on her current position at IBM. "Each job has helped me round out my knowledge of what marketing involves," she says. For example, Evans' job as a copywriter at CBS had some similarities to what she does today. "There, we received a network feed of all the internationally produced commercials," she explains. "And in the job I have right now for IBM, I'm providing a network feed, of sorts, of what we have on our U.S. worldwide site, which then gets syndicated to each of the countries where we have an IBM.com presence."
From her position at Fuqua in the 1980s, Evans gained experience in financial management, as the business was a holding company for other operating units and concerned with what makes for an effective balance sheet. This directly relates to Evans' current job in marketing. Marketing requires a return on investment; marketers must look at the number of leads that can be generated from different types of tactics and adjust their investments based on those tactics that generate the largest returns. Evans uses search and Web analytics to understand customer behavior and conversion events that will help IBM progress a prospect through a series of stages: awareness, interest, desire and action.
Since joining IBM in a communications role, Evans has learned how to work closely with a sales team and about the various types of communication, from print and broadcast media to online communications to writing press releases and corporate communications. She also has had an opportunity to work in different fields across the company, which has broadened her skills. When she worked for the group creating IBM's new worldwide call centers, Evans gained a good understanding of reasons to call a customer and how telesales reps use desktop tools to manage time more effectively. She also learned what makes an effective phone sales representative and how inside sales operate. "So, when I moved over to my interactive marketing job with the Gold Service program, I had a firsthand understanding of what it entailed to time our marketing campaign so that the sales reps who were on the phone knew that customers were coming and were prepared," Evans says. "That way, they could respond to customer questions and the opportunities that arose through our marketing efforts."
What excites Evans the most about her job is the opportunity to get to know and interact with people outside the U.S., in cultures that use the Internet in different ways. For example, in China more people are looking to blogs for information, though Evans is starting to see Americans go in that direction as well. "I think having a global perspective really widens the aperture of how you can view the Internet," she says. "In developing countries and emerging markets, often the capabilities for broadband and cell phones and Internet are really the primary ways to reach customers."
Evans also enjoys seeing how the Internet has encouraged more customer participation. IBM doesn't have enough salespeople to reach every customer face to face, but in most cases the Internet is available to let customers know what IBM has to offer and let them communicate with the company. In fact, Evans says, with the Internet, the four P's of marketing—product, price, promotion and place—become five P's, with "participation" being the fifth.
Live (and Work) and Learn
Evans has had many mentors throughout her career. First, she feels fortunate to have worked for J.B. Fuqua, the founder of the Duke University School of Business. "He was a self-made entrepreneur who taught himself how to use other people's money and good credit ratings to buy and sell companies, beginning with radio and TV stations in Augusta. He really was a very exceptional man," she says. Fuqua helped Evans understand how to create very succinct communications. He was personally involved in every aspect of the business; for example, he reviewed the annual reports personally, and Evans had sessions with him directly to go over her communications efforts. This personalized attention helped Evans reach her potential as a communicator. In addition, "He hired some of the brightest people that I have ever known," Evans says. "It was an incredible learning experience to work with this team—a group of 35 folks on the corporate staff, and then the presidents of the holding companies. It was a job where I was really communicating with the staff and the presidents of each of the companies on a regular basis and helping them with their own marketing and communications programs."
She's also stayed in touch with Ken Bernhardt, a marketing professor at Georgia State. "He's been a friend and an advocate, and when I was at Georgia State, he encouraged me to join the American Marketing Association," she says. "I've kept in touch with professional organizations - like the AMA and, later, the DMA—in my career, and I feel that it's helped me keep a network of professionals and stay current on what was going on in the industry and some of the evolving trends. I always have folks who I can contact with questions, and I've tried to be there when they've had questions for me, as well." Besides helping Evans connect with other professionals, Bernhardt's passion for marketing helped Evans get started in her career in marketing and public relations.
At IBM, Evans worked for Tom Smith, who was the vice president of sales for the Southern area, from 1988 to 1993. "He was a sales leader who practiced relationship marketing and who knew the importance of understanding your customer, which I feel is critical in whatever field of marketing you're in," says Evans. "You want to understand what the customer really needs and be able to relate to them on their terms. Tom Smith helped me a lot in understanding that, and in being able to ensure that I was developing targeted programs that would be effective in relating to customers." Evans has worked on a number of retention programs for IBM, so having Smith as a mentor in that area has been invaluable to her.
Over the years at IBM, Evans worked closely with Dan Flack, a Gold Service business unit executive. Flack taught Evans how to build a team of the best possible people working toward a common objective. He also stressed the importance of keeping marketing and sales closely connected. "In marketing, we're kind of like a relay race," says Evans. "We're running with the baton, but it's sales that has to carry it home. And we want to make sure that it doesn't slip. I've been able to get a much deeper appreciation for sales from Dan because he has been in both marketing and sales."
These days, Evans gets a lot of inspiration from Jon Iwata, IBM senior vice president of marketing and communications. "Within IBM, he's brought the marketing community and the corporate communications community together, and that bridges very closely to my own career," she says. "He's also done a lot of things that I feel are very innovative in terms of driving change across IBM."
For example, thanks to Iwata, IBM has had a number of "online jams" during the past few years, which are forums where IBM employees and customers gather to discuss problems, challenges and ideas in real time. "I feel that kind of outreach and looking for ways to tap into insights in a broad fashion is key," says Evans. In 2006, IBM announced that the company planned to invest $100 million during the next two years to pursue 10 new businesses generated by InnovationJam, the largest online brainstorming session ever, which brought together more than 150,000 participants from 104 countries. During two three-day sessions, participants posted more than 46,000 ideas that used IBM's research technologies to solve real-world problems and take advantage of emerging business opportunities.
The Evolution of IBM Marketing
IBM's approach to direct marketing and Web marketing has been evolving—and broadening. "We've evolved in terms of recognizing that, as a company, we want to be taking advantage of what our customers are looking for, and we want to adjust our marketing programs to adapt to their needs," says Evans. "So, we look at marketing much more as a 360-degree process. It's not any one type of marketing discipline—it's looking more broadly and understanding from all aspects of a customer what their preferences are."
For example, many of IBM's customers prefer to attend face-to-face events, so the company hosts those—such as the Information on Demand Conference, which includes a discussion of the future of information management, networking opportunities and information on IBM's newest software products. Others like to get their information online, which they can easily do, or directly from a business partner. "We have a number of partners that we work with and that ... help extend our reach," says Evans. IBM's software business also uses middleware, which helps connect customers with business partners. And IBM has developed what it calls the "perpetual campaign," which means the company's always available to new prospects and existing customers 24/7 online.
Through the ability to analyze and react to customers' actions online, IBM is able to better target its marketing efforts. "It gives us a lens into what customers want," says Evans. "I think one of the shifts that has occurred in marketing is to have gone from pushing our messages out based on the dates for campaigns to looking at more of a pull strategy where customers choose when and where they're going to be interacting. We've shifted our marketing to be able to intersect that."
For Evans, working in an evolving industry is rewarding: Every day brings fresh challenges and ideas. "I like having the ability to work in a job where every day is different, and I like the fast-changing nature of the industry," she says. "Social networks provide a new way to share and recognize innovative ideas. We learn so much by listening to our customers and participating in online conversations with them. Marketing and communications techniques must adapt to these trends to tap new capabilities from mobile devices, as well as the Internet overall."
Evans has been with IBM for 28 years, and she envisions many more to come. Says Evans, "I never felt like I was enjoying my job as much as I do today. It's the kind of company where you can do that for 28 years and still have new and exciting things to do."
Linda Formichelli is a freelance writer based in New Hampshire. She wrote about marketing to facility managers in Target Marketing's August issue.