In April 2011, Intel announced one of the most significant technological breakthroughs in its history. The microchip manufacturer said it would start equipping its products with 3D transistors, a revolutionary design that packed more circuitry onto the same surface area as a 2D transistor. This enabled the chips to have superior processing speeds, while staying the same size. Time called it one of the top innovations of the year. And yet, most of the general public could not see what the big deal was.
"In retrospect, it was an absolutely astonishing development," says Paul Bergevin, Intel's VP of sales and marketing and GM of global communications. "All kinds of advantages to 3D designs had been written about for years, but nobody had been able to figure out how to manufacture that very complex structure in high volume."
Bergevin and his team tried using metaphors and visual aids to show how groundbreaking Intel's new product was, but while the improvement was obvious to techies, the general response was underwhelming.
"I wish we had been even more visual with how we communicated that feature, and increased the wow factor," he adds. "The biggest challenge with most of our innovations is simply making them accessible."
Despite the communication challenges, Intel regularly gets ranked in the top 10 most powerful brands in the world. Its products are used in almost every computer. The company, however, suffers from the same criticism leveled at many Silicon Valley giants, such as Yahoo and Microsoft, that it was late to mobile. Changing this perception is Bergevin's latest, and possibly greatest, challenge.
Intel, VP, sales and marketing, and GM, global communications
Citigate Cunningham, president and CEO
Certive, VP, marketing
Edelman, EVP and MD, global technology
IBM, director of global comms, PC division
New Hampshire State Senate, legislative assistant and press officer
A veteran with almost 30 years' of experience in the industry, Bergevin has spent the last six as the head of communications at Intel. The 45-year-old company, which until recently had made its name making microprocessors for PCs, is now branching out into other tech avenues, such as mobile, tablets, cloud computing, and security.
"I can't think of any company that is more in the middle of everything," he explains.
Bergevin oversees Intel's global communications strategy and reports directly to Tom Kilroy, EVP of sales and marketing.
"Paul understands that credibility matters most," says Kilroy. "He effectively utilizes his seasoned business acumen to assess a complex environment and make the right calls."Enhancing Intel's reputation
When Bergevin joined the company in 2007, one of his first acts was to implement a plan to bolster Intel's reputation. Until then, there was no formal grouping of expertise around corporate reputation management, and he set out to manage it actively.
He created a formal policy for Intel's corporate reputation, mostly to make it accessible to regulators and government officials monitoring the company. His team also ramped up other drivers of reputation, such as support for math and science education, science fair sponsorships, and environmental efforts at its manufacturing plants.
Rather than each department having its own communications team, Bergevin consolidated operations into one group to handle communications for the entire company. There is now a single global budget and a unified set of objectives across the board. Global coverage is split into five regions, each with a regional head who reports to Bergevin.
While there is a single strategy being implemented across the globe, he explains there is "local tailoring." For example, regional heads in Asia-Pacific might focus more on first-time buyers since it is a rapidly emerging market, while managers in Europe might deal with a higher value, more mature market, such as computing devices in luxury cars.
"The best way to describe it is as a musical composition," says Bergevin. "There's a certain degree of improvisation within the structure, but the structure is the same for everybody."Translating to the public
As head of communications, most of Bergevin's efforts go into making ordinary people understand and appreciate Intel's contributions to the electronic products they love.
"Not everybody out there is an engineer," he adds. "Most of what we do in my department is to act as a translation service."
Bergevin was one of the early adopters of content marketing, creating Intel Free Press as the company's first self-publishing platform. Free Press publishes more than 150 articles a year using a small team of writers with content independent of Intel. Every now and then, articles will get picked up by the mainstream press, which amplifies Intel's media presence and credibility as a source of interesting content.
Intel is unique in that its reputation is inextricably linked with that of its customers. It makes the ingredients that form the brains of an electronic device, yet it is more likely to be judged by how the device works overall.
"There are lots of aspects of a single-user experience that are independent of the product we sell," says Bergevin. "Part of our job is to highlight which part represents Intel's intellectual property."
When things are going well, there are shared benefits for customers.
"Companies depend on new tech from Intel to refresh their own products," he adds. "Customers value the innovation and marketing muscle we put behind new tech because it helps their companies as well."
But when things are going bad, it can be delicate managing Intel's brand without throwing a business partner under the bus.
"If there's a tough review, we will work together with partners to resolve the problems," says Bergevin. "It's a collaborative process. We all perform extensive tests to catch bugs in each other's components before a product launches."
It was during one of those tests that Intel found itself faced with a major PR crisis.
In 2011, a business partner discovered a bug in one of its desktop PC microprocessors and a small quantity of the product had already been shipped.
For Bergevin, it was important that the company came clean from the start. He was supported by the rest of the Intel brain trust, many of whom had been through the infamous Intel Pentium recall of 1994 when the company was roundly criticized for its botched attempt at suppressing information about its defective product.
This time, Bergevin's communications team was determined not to let that happen.
"We articulated an internal policy early on," he says, "that said 'get to the bottom of this and have full disclosure of the problem.'"
His team mobilized an internal task force, including the CEO, created a script, and immediately scheduled a conference call with press and analysts to disclose the issue. The team also took great pains to point out that the problem was with one of the support microprocessors and not the crucial flagship component, making the flaw easier to manage. Luckily, it affected fewer end-users than projected, with recall costs coming well under expectations. Media outlets praised Intel for its handling of the issue.
"The textbook in any kind of crisis is full disclosure and being proactive in your approach," says Bergevin. "We did it once and we did it right."
Like so many other PR pros, he found his way into the industry from the other side of the fence. Initially, Bergevin began as a reporter before he won a coveted paid internship with IBM in its public policy unit.
Once the internship was over, he chose to continue down the PR path.
"To be honest, I didn't even know what PR was at the time," Bergevin says. "But as a news person, it appealed to me."
He later became director of global communications for IBM's PC division and stayed with the tech giant until 1994, when Richard Edelman hired him to head up his firm's global tech practice and establish a presence in Silicon Valley. Within five years, Edelman's tech unit had grown to more than $40 million, making up almost a quarter of the company's portfolio with major clients such as Oracle, Adobe, and Apple.
"During those years, we had huge success. Paul was a rock star," says Edelman. "He was very entrepreneurial, had a tremendous understanding of public affairs, and wasn't afraid to stand up to difficult clients."
One such client was Steve Jobs. Bergevin served as the lead PR consultant for the Apple CEO during his comeback to the company and the launch of the iMac.
After a brief stint at enterprise software startup Certive, he succeeded Andrea Cunningham as CEO of Citigate Cunningham and ran the tech firm for six years, restoring it to profitability. But in 2007, Intel came calling, offering him an opportunity to lead the tech company's global communications unit.
"I had worked with Intel quite a bit during my time at IBM and greatly admired the company," Bergevin says. "When I got the call, I owed it to myself to talk to them."
All that jazz
Described by Richard Edelman as a PR rock star, Bergevin is also an avid, self-taught drummer who plays in a band called Jazz Connection.
These days he doesn't get to jam with band mates as much as he would like to, but they still manage to find time to perform at coffee houses, private parties, and local festivals in the Bay Area.
Bergevin bought his first drum set 18 years ago, even though he had been playing long before that. Although jazz is his passion, he enjoys playing rock and blues as well.
Last year, when Paul Otellini stepped down as CEO of Intel, he said his biggest regret was not making a deal with Apple to supply it with microprocessors for the iPhone.
"We're rightly criticized for being late to mobile," explains Bergevin. "Mobile devices used microchips that were optimized for battery life and not performance, whereas our chips focused more on speed and less on energy conservation."
This meant Intel had to change its design parameters to enter the new mobile market, making it a latecomer. Intel is also branching out into other products, including cloud computing, security systems, digital signage, and intelligent sensors. As a new way to reach consumers, the company recently opened its first pop-up store in New York, showcasing laptops and mobile devices powered by Intel microchips.
"Today we make the guts of the PC, tomorrow, anything that computes is Intel's business," says Bergevin. "Our job will be to reach the necessary stakeholders, and change their perception, telling the story of Intel as it evolves to its next phase."