“My issue was, how do I start a company in this environment where a first-time entrepreneur cannot easily get funded at the idea stage?” he explains. “Since my startup's customers would be media relations people, PR people, and journalists, there was potential to build this from inside a PR agency.”
Siry's career has long had a bent toward communications and valuing PR's potential. As CMO of the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, he rearranged the marketing mix and shifted millions of dollars from advertising to communications.
“I figured out very quickly that no one believes an ad... they see from an insurance company,” Siry says.
Then, as CMO for Tesla Motors, Siry, again, focused the marketing mix on communications. Though he fired Tesla's PR firm shortly upon joining in 2007, he made communications a core part of its strategy.
“[The media environment] was so ripe, all we needed to do was media relations, word-of-mouth marketing, and events,” he recalls. “I always felt that we'd broaden the mix to digital advertising when we had to sell 20,000 cars, but that was at least a few years away.”
Typically, auto companies spend about 25% of total revenue on marketing, Siry says. His goal was to keep its marketing around 15%. He thought communications was the optimal way to achieve that.
Ironically, Siry joined Tesla because of his passion for cars, but shortly after he began there, the public's interest in the environment hit an all-time high. Amid the media's clamor for green stories, Siry made some unpopular decisions. Among them, he aggressively differentiated Tesla from other electric vehicle startups. The goal was to make sure Tesla was noticed, not only by the adoring green media, but also by heavy hitters like BusinessWeek.
He ultimately parted ways with the company when the board opted to take deposits on the Model S sedans before having secured the funding to assemble the cars.
“It wasn't a whistle-blower situation just because there was a disagreement,” Siry notes. “Tesla has been forthright about what [it's] doing.”
Along the way, Siry discovered his entrepreneurial side and approached Peppercom, the firm he hired at the Fireman's Fund, to partner on his startup. Siry criticizes the PR industry as favoring tactics over strategy, but was drawn to Peppercom's strategic approach.
“[It's] the only PR firm I know of that talks a lot about selling and applying the communications disciplines to the sales process,” he says.
Peppercom cofounder Steve Cody notes, “We hit it off from a strategic understanding of the role PR could play in terms of helping drive a business' bottom lines.”
With Silicon Valley gumption, Siry adds, “If communications is isolated [from sales], sell your offerings to the CMO or the director of sales. There's no rule saying you have to pitch to the director of communications.”
Senior analyst, clean tech Peppercom (since Feb.); CEO/founder, “stealth mode” startup (since Jan.)
Dec. 2006-Dec. 2008
CMO, Tesla Motors
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