Q&A: Bill Rancic and Genesys Corporation

Genesys Corporation, a provider of web and audio conferencing fostered a relationship in early December with famous customer - and winner of the NBC show The Apprentice - Bill Rancic (story here). Rancic spoke on behalf of the company to some reporters in the New York and Chicago area, and held a one-hour web conferencing lunch meeting, enabled by the company's technology.

Genesys Corporation, a provider of web and audio conferencing fostered a relationship in early December with famous customer - and winner of the NBC show The Apprentice - Bill Rancic (story here). Rancic spoke on behalf of the company to some reporters in the New York and Chicago area, and held a one-hour web conferencing lunch meeting, enabled by the company's technology.

Rancic, along with Genesys VP of marketing Tony Terranova and director of global public relations Tricia Heinrich, met with to talk about the relationship, Rancic's own publicity, and Genesys' marketing strategy. How did this come about? Bill Rancic: I'm working on the [real estate development] project in Chicago, where Donald Trump is my boss, but I also work with Greg Cuneo [Trump's owner representative for Trump Place in Manhattan]. Every other week, Greg comes to Chicago and, then I come to New York. When we began the demolition of the [existing] building, it required me to spend more time in Chicago. And I was looking for a way to bridge the gap so I wouldn't have to get on a plane as much in order to work with Greg. I started looking at different companies, and Genesys was literally less than 50 yards from my office. I went in there, and they explained how it works. I'm not a hi-tech guy, I have e-mail at home and the office, a Sidekick, and a cell phone - and that's it. I began using it, and brought Greg in - a very hi-tech guy - and he got it in 10 minutes. We began using it, and then Genesys called me - perhaps realizing that I was a high-profile customer - asked me if I would talk about how I use the product. They gave me a good deal... I think I'm paying the lowest possible rate for the product [laughs]. Tricia Heinrich: He isn't unlike many of our customers, except for the fact that he's a celebrity now. It's our custom to use customers as much as possible in our communications, so there was already a precedent. But Bill provides a level of excitement and visibility that has jumpstarted our program. It does seem that your company didn't have the approach of 'We need a celebrity; who can we get?' Heinrich: We're very straightforward and very corporate in our approach. At least one of our competitors has a different style, using RuPaul, which would not be the direction we go in. There's a benefit to have that appropriate fit with our marketing program. Our approach is very business-to-business. How did you know that Bill would resonate with your business? Heinrich: We did some research before we even thought about talking to Bill. We were trying to get a sense of general attitudes about meetings. We found out that people who rather do almost anything else - mow the lawn or mop the kitchen floor - than attend a long, boring meeting. That provided us with food for thought. It's all about efficiency and speed. We compared it to other phenomena occurring like speed dating and, at the time, The Apprentice. It all just came together. We recently published a story about how The Apprentice enterprise is providing sponsors and people like yourself with great business opportunities. Did you get a sense that everything it touches turns to gold? Rancic: I'll give you a prime example. After the episode with Ciao Bella aired, they sold out of every pint made the next day. Eighteen million people got to know that company during that hour, and a lot of people are going to be loyal to that brand. I'm also an example. People know who I am when I walk down the street. I don't think anyone could have predicted that it would be a home run. Before the show aired, I called Troy [McClain, from the show] and said, "I hope it makes it past three episodes [laughs]." We wondered, "Who is going to watch Troy and me play chess?" But by the third show, it was utter mayhem. How have you decided which opportunities to take that come your way? Rancic: My first priority is to learn as much as I can on the job. I have had a lot of opportunities come my way. Have I taken them? No. Genesys asked me to talk about its product for a couple of interviews, and I had used the product, so I could feel confident about what I was going to say. I didn't want to get up and talk about motor oil or something I don't know much about. Who do I think I am telling people to go out and buy X, Y, Z? But I do work with the Advanta MasterCard, which is the number one provider of MasterCards to small businesses. I'm a small-business owner. Cigars Around The World is a company I built from a studio apartment, so I identify with their product. Also I want to be careful of what my name goes on and what I do. I want it to be something I use and something I believe in, so I can say to people, "Hey, this works." Maybe I'll look at other options in 2005 when things have calmed down a bit. My main priority [now] is to work on this building and learn from Donald Trump. What I'm learning from him, I'll be able to use for the next 30 years of my life. What was it like winning? Rancic: After the interviews, I remember [fellow finalist] Kwame [Jackson] and I were celebrating before we headed to the boardroom. We thought the reward would be to go and play golf. Next thing I know, I'm running a golf outing the next day. That's what was so real about it. One, we didn't know what the boardroom was about; we didn't know how the tempo worked. We had no idea. It was very real. When this relationship was created, how did Genesys' stakeholders react? Heinrich: The journalists we've talked to have been intrigued by the story. It's generated a lot of excitement, even internally. People are excited because the company is doing something a little innovative. In fact, we had our national sales kickoff meeting a couple of weeks ago. Our boss, the EVP of marketing, did a presentation. It was the equivalent of a drum roll PowerPoint, where we showed a clip of The Apprentice and made the surprise announcement. It was met with cheering and applause. What have your marketing activities been historically? Heinrich: We've had a real focus on direct marketing. We don't do a lot of advertising campaigns. You won't see a Genesys commercial on television. We have a very targeted approach. We also focus on organic growth through increasing usage by existing customers. Tony Terranova: We have a very specific target market: Fortune 500, Fortune 1,000 customers that have lots of venues. As a result, it doesn't really make sense for us to go for a mass-market campaign. Do you demonstrate the product at a lot of events? Heinrich: We've done some of that, but our focus, on the public relations front, is on reaching target journalists and industry analysts. The industry analysts have been very crucial for our success. Terranova: A big reason for that is a lot of our clients will first look to what the analysts are saying about the industry or specific vendors. It's important that we give [the analysts] the chance to demo and evaluate our products because the end users won't have time or expertise to look at it very thoroughly. The analysts will look at the industry and say which is the best product. Heinrich: That [system] is actually best for us because several of our competitors are better known and larger companies, so we have to be smarter about what we do. We try to be shrewd and targeted with our marketing dollars. When did you announce this [relationship]? Heinrich: We haven't really announced it. We've did meet with some local journalists there and got coverage there. We've talked with some of our trade publications. Bill, how did you use promotion for your first business? Rancic: I started the company where every month I would send out five different cigars, where you could give one month, two months, or 12 months gift subscriptions. I had $24,000 and an idea to start this company. I wrote letters to all of the local radio personalities, saying, "I quit my job and moved home." I explained the concept and asked if they could get me on air to help me promote it. One thing led to another and I got a call from the producer of the number one talk show in Chicago. I was told he would have me on for five minutes to talk about my product. I got there and instantly hit it off with [the DJ]. My five minutes turned into 35 minutes, during the drive time. He told the audience that he had belonged to the cigar club for years, hamming it up, gave out our 800 number. I ran back to my studio apartment where my partner was. The first call I took was for a 12-month membership. I said, "Looks like we'll be in business for a year." I then sent out the same thing to radio stations in New York, Detroit, and other cities. I thought - if this letter works with radio, let me see if it works with TV. Good Morning America picked us as one of the best Father's Day Gifts. I was CNN on a show about young entrepreneurs because I was 24 when I started this. In the first 30 days of business, we brought in $150,000 in sales. Do you actively think about your own promotion? Rancic: As an entrepreneur, you're always thinking about where you can go from here. I believe that actions speak louder than words. The best way to promote myself is to deliver success. Do you have interaction with NBC and Donald Trump regarding the way you comport yourself today or your image? Rancic: I don't talk to NBC very often, unless it involves the [new] show. But I talk to Donald Trump everyday. He's my boss.

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