Profile: OutCast rises on foundation of partners' friendship

The strong bond between Caryn Marooney and Margit Wennmachers helped OutCast Communications' early survival. Today, that same relationship is helping the firm, and its clients, grow.

The strong bond between Caryn Marooney and Margit Wennmachers helped OutCast Communications' early survival. Today, that same relationship is helping the firm, and its clients, grow.

If you're judged by the company you keep, then what's to be made of OutCast Communications? Cofounders Caryn Marooney and Margit Wennmachers have rubbed shoulders with John Doerr, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Dalai Lama. But their story isn't all venture capitalists, action-film stars, and spiritual leaders. (For the record, Schwarzenegger recently appeared at a press event for client, and CEO Mark Benioff is involved with the Tibet House.) For Wennmachers and Marooney, it's building strong, lasting relationships with clients and the press. That ability is what brought them together in the first place, and has kept them going. Prior to the tech boom and bust, the two met at Blanc & Otus. Before that, Marooney had worked at a law firm, which she instantly hated. Fortunes changed when she met Simone Otus, whom Marooney views as a role model. "[Simone] told me I could do anything," says the intrepid and outdoorsy Marooney, "and she challenged me constantly, giving me tons of responsibility." Wennmachers' PR career began in Europe. She grew up in Germany, where she landed a job in the European marketing department of Stardent, a graphics workstation startup. The company's CEO brought her to the Bay Area to work in the US marketing department. But after a year, she decided to pursue a PR career. "In the US, you have to specialize a bit more than you do in Europe," says Wennmachers, "so I chose PR. And I felt the best way to learn PR was to go to an agency, to work with all kinds of clients. I felt like [B&O] was the place to be. It was small, hot, and growing." At B&O, the newly acquainted duo worked with various marquee clients, including IBM, Sybase, and VeriSign. They loved the work, but Marooney and Wennmachers felt they had gone as far as they could there. They wanted more. What they got was OutCast Communications. And while they have no regrets, they admit to having opened their hi-tech PR firm at a terrible time. "The boom was the year after we began, in 1997," says Marooney. "Everyone thought they could do it. Launching yourself in a boom is launching yourself into an unrealistic environment." "Everyone in PR just got so carried away," adds Wennmachers. "Your reference point is all wrong." While the boom and bust took its toll on countless firms, OutCast survived, scars and all. They attribute their survival to a combination of fiscal conservatism, such as not taking on debt or renting lavish office space, and taking on clients they felt would push them to do their best. They also had the nerve to turn down business. "We had one VC yell at us for turning down their client," Wennmachers says, who loves to travel to places where her cell phone won't work, such as Cuba or South Africa, to get away from such headaches. "We lived by the mantra - and still do - that if we couldn't see how a business would succeed, and if we couldn't help them do so, we said no." So it comes back to good, honest relationships. They want ones that will last, with both clients and the media. Their friendship, and professional relationship, speaks to that, as do others. "I found them to be reliable, trustworthy, honest, and discerning," says Siebel Systems VP of communications Pat Dillon, who worked with OutCast as a client at Quokka Sports, and in the media as editor of Forbes ASAP. "There is true mutual respect between them and the media, and that can be unique in their field." "There isn't one personality that overrides the other," says Marooney, of her relationship with Wennmachers. The former recently let the latter watch her dog Blue for a weekend - and as all dog owners know, you don't trust your dog to just anyone. "I didn't want to start an agency by myself, and neither did she. You have to work hard, and work with people you trust. We don't think OutCast is just about us. There's a good reason our names aren't on the door." Despite running an agency together, they admit they don't see each other as much as they'd like, especially outside of work. But they find time, whether it's having each other over for dinner, or running a marathon together, which Marooney says they finished, albeit slowly. Wennmachers was also involved in Marooney's wedding. As the firm hits its sixth anniversary, it has expanded from Wennmachers, Marooney, and Blue to 35 employees. But like all midsize firms, they face some daunting challenges about where to go next. Should they open another office? Should they provide crisis communications or IR? They admit they've been thinking about those ideas, and others. "People think that agencies can be either big and beautiful or small and smart," says Wennmachers. "But we don't want to be doomed to be labeled as either." "We are striving not to make that choice," adds Marooney. "We want to grow. We believe in excellence. We believe they can both exist together." ----- Caryn Marooney 1997-present OutCast Communications, cofounder and president 1991-1997 Blanc & Otus, administrative assistant, rising to group manager ----- Margit Wennmachers 1997-present OutCast Communications, cofounder and partner 1993-1997 Blanc & Otus, account executive, rising to director 1992-1993 High Tech Communications, assistant account coordinator 1991-1992 Stardent US, marketing and comms manager 1989-1991 Stardent Germany, European marketing and comms manager

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