Porter Gale talks Virgin America, Networks, Marketing, and PR

I have often thought, as I stand in line head directly to the Virgin Terminal at SFO: “Life would be perfect if everything felt like Virgin America.”

This is not a joke. These words have actually crossed my mind.

I’m not sure if this means I travel too much, not enough (#firstworldfantasies), or simply appreciate the fact that I feel cooler and safer and VIP-er when I fly this airline. Whatever they have managed to do to my brain I know they’ve done to countless others…because this is a regular topic of conversation at elitist startup-tech-entrepreneur-influencer-social-innovation type gatherings.

In fact, I’ve overheard folks drop this line as they talk about their impending travel plans to God knows where (definitely somewhere cool, where I’m probably not invited, and likely bordering the town of Douchebaggeria or Getoverurselfistan).

AND I QUOTE:

“Yeah, I’m just gonna jump on the first Virgin flight tomorrow morning – it’s kinda a last minute trip. Should be pretty dope.”

Not just a flight. A Virgin flight.

I know. Scary. But this has happened on multiple occasions.

Naturally, when I found out that Porter Gale – not only the author of the popular Your Network is Your Net Worth but also the former VP of Marketing for Virgin America – was joining AirPR as an advisor I was elated.

Forget status. Forget in-flight wifi. Forget those purple lights that make me feel like I’m en route to a Paris nightclub. And forget the uber-model staff.

What I want to know is…how did this marketing genius manage to make me want the entire world to operate Like a Virgin?

But I digress…

How did you “fall” into marketing? 

As an undergrad at Boston University, I studied business with a concentration in Marketing. After graduating in the late ‘80s, a recession was in full swing. I went on interview after interview after interview. Finally, after many months I landed an internship at an advertising agency, called Martin/Williams, in Minneapolis. Some of my first tasks included stuffing direct mail envelopes and proof reading ad copy for the Marvin Windows account team. It wasn’t a glamorous start, but it was a foot in the door.

As Vice President of Marketing at Virgin America, what were some of the challenges you experienced with PR?

During my time at Virgin America, corporate communications and public relations was managed by a top-notch executive named Abby Lunardini. Hands down, she is the best public relations person I’ve worked with. As a result, I would describe the group as uncovering numerous opportunities not challenges. Abby and her team were very skilled at leveraging events, partnerships and relationships with digital influencers to generate buzz. The team was so strong, that one constant challenge was to not over-extend and to keep the team focused on key priorities.

How did you measure the value of PR (including social) activities?

Regarding measurement of PR and social media, the team used several methodologies in attempt to track the effectiveness of the efforts. Abby’s group often used Advertising Equivalent Value (AEV) as a way to track ad value equivalency. My group tried to make the link between PR and sales by looking at Omniture Analytics tracking data and sales volume for periods when press activity was high.

For example, after a new market launch event we’d track sales and look at web conversion rates by market to assess campaign strength and sales. That said, tracking the exact effectiveness of public relations efforts and other traditional advertising mediums (i.e. billboards) is often a challenge. I also recall doing several local advertising tests where we would track sign-ups in our loyalty program, during periods of heavy ad spend, by zip code, in attempt to gauge the effectiveness of billboard spend.

Of course implementing expensive quarterly tracking studies, to track brand awareness levels used to be a way to “justify” public relationships and marketing spend in past years when real-time analytics were not as sophisticated as they are today.

You consult with a variety of startups – what do you love the most about working with young, emerging companies and entrepreneurs?

There is nothing better than working with passionate, fearless entrepreneurs. On a daily basis, I get to watch smart teams invent and reinvent categories. Because of the advancements in technology and e-commerce, new business models are being rapidly prototyped and implemented. The rate at which new companies can beta-test, launch and scale is very exciting. I’m also grateful to live in San Francisco and believe I am surrounded by some of the most interesting, intellectual and positive people on the planet.

Which brands do a great job of using PR to build awareness?

After working with the team at Virgin America, I will always have respect and fond memories of the programs we implemented to launch and build the brand. Several other companies I respect for their efforts in the social media, earned media and public relations spaces include Twitter, Dollar Shave Club and American Express.

You are a great storyteller (I’ve read your book!), what are some of the elements you think make for a great story?

Thank you for taking the time to read my book. I’m grateful to the numerous people that have read the book and shared their stories and networking wisdom for the effort.

As for the elements of a great story: I try to build a stories based on emotions and specific details, not just facts and figures. I always try to build in a beginning, middle and end to a story. And, I try to make the characters accessible and relatable. After I wrote my book, several people asked me, “Why did you share so many personal stories?” My response: “When we’re authentic, that’s when the magic happens.”

What is one major misconception about PR in your opinion?

One misconception that some people have about PR is that they don’t believe it’s a driver of revenue and sales. Some people think of PR as solely an awareness-driver but time and time again when press or stories are written about a company, sales tend to go up. Finally, with AirPR there is a tool that executives and entrepreneurs can use to track it.

Many “industry pundits” talk about the disintermediation of media and how this is affecting consumer behavior. How do you think this will affect marketing communications in the next 3 to 5 years? Will the PR function die if there is a fraction of traditional media left? (LONG QUESTION!)

I often say, “the power is moving from the boardroom to the living room.” What I mean by that statement is that consumers have more information at their fingertips.

For example, you can scan a barcode to check prices, check your social graph or post on social media to find out comments about a brand or product, Google company executives and more. With this shift in information, the marketing purchase funnel has evolved from a traditional funnel (i.e. awareness, Internet, desire and action) to a digital loop that is constantly being updated via online information and data.

With this shift, I don’t think the PR function will die, but I do think brands and companies will spend more time developing content such as bylining articles in-house, creating sharable videos, photos and assets and more. The power of storytelling and how it will relate to brands will be ever important in our always on, real-time marketplace.

Random but important question: your life is hectic…how do you find your peace?

Well, I’m lucky…I love what I do so my life doesn’t feel stressful it feels rich with opportunities. Every day is a new adventure. To recharge and stay grounded, you’ll often find me hiking, taking a yoga class or just reading a good book in my backyard.

Porter GaleAbout Porter Gale
Porter Gale is the author of Your Network Is Your Net Worth: Unlock the Hidden Power of Connections for Wealth, Success and Happiness in the Digital Age. She is also a blogger for AdAge, The Huffington Post and American Express Open Forum. She travels the world speaking on a variety of topics, including networking, mentoring, social media, branding, and digital marketing to name a few.

Porter has more than twenty years of experience working in marketing, advertising, and independent filmmaking. From 2007 to 2011, she was the Vice President of Marketing at Virgin America. Prior to Virgin America, she was a consultant and held the post of general manager at Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners San Francisco. Today, Porter advises a variety of clients including The Mina Group, WePay, Rocket Fuel, Here On Biz, AirPR and more.

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Follow Porter Gale on Twitter: https://twitter.com/portergale

Learn more about her here: portergale.com