Profile: Leslie Dance, Motorola

Selling the Motorola dream to consumers. Globetrotter Leslie Dance has her feet firmly stuck in mobile technology

Neil Armstrong's first communication from the moon came via Motorola technology, which means that the next mobile phone you buy could have a direct link to one of the most momentous events in the history of mankind.

At least that is what Leslie Dance, global director of comms and public affairs for Motorola's mobile division, is hoping millions of consumers will think.

Selling dreams has long been her business. Dance started work in 1979 as one of six trainees working as an 'apprentice' for a publicist specialising in Broadway shows. Talking now about the grind of writing programme copy, handling press nights and placing interviews, Dance doesn't sound starstruck but the accounts she worked on, for several agencies, over the next half a dozen years represent a chorus line of hits including Cats, Children of a Lesser God and Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing. Hotel and catering clients came her way at her last job in New York and, by the end of the 1980s, she decided to give up Manhattan winters for life in her birthplace, Hawaii.

Work as PR director for two hotel chains led to Hill & Knowlton Hawaii, where she became an account director in 1993. The image of workers leaving their desks in the afternoon for a few hours on the beach in this tropical paradise is a huge misconception, Dance insists. 'The economy in Hawaii centres around tourism,' she says simply. 'You work very hard.' Many people aspire to a holiday on the Pacific island but, as Dance bluntly puts it: 'How do you turn that into tickets?'

It is an ethos she carried with her on the next leg of her global travels, according to a former H&K colleague. Sally Costerton, H&K head of corporate comms, worked with Dance at the London office in the late 1990s. 'She is creative, but she also wants to sell your products,' Costerton recalls.

'Leslie was one of the most dedicated client handlers I've seen. She works very, very hard.'

Dance moved with her English husband and family to London in 1997 'for personal reasons' and freelanced with H&K, then went full-time and started handling the Motorola account. After a couple of years, the manufacturer was looking for a global PR director and Dance was the preferred choice.

It was 2000, with the tech boom at its height, but things were about to change. 'Motorola stock was at $179 the day I joined. This was before the ...' and Dance makes a rueful gesture to indicate things sliding off the table.

For the sector as a whole it was a fraught time of redundancies, closures and disintegrating stock market positions. 'The job then was 80 per cent issues management,' she says. 'The (PR) function was seen as a business partner, our strategic advice was very important.'

That is still the case, she says. Based in Chicago, Dance's remit takes in several products as well as handsets: Bluetooth headsets, hands-free car kits and walkie-talkies, for example. Although she smiles when admitting that her own uses for the phone are relatively limited - 'mainly voice and texting' - the division also develops content, and in all accounts for £7bn of the group's £20bn worldwide sales. Dance oversees a team of 15, although not all heads of PR in various countries report directly to her: 'Each region is set up differently as the business models are a bit different.'

Dance was back in London last week for two reasons: to interview prospective European regional PR managers for a vacant post, and to oversee the launch of an exhibition called Mobile, the latest part of Motorola's brand-building exercise. 'The consumer is so "marketed at",' she says. 'We thought, how can we share this in a fun, contemporary way?' As the blurb for the three-week exhibition, in the modern artists' quarter that is the East End's Brick Lane, says: 'Mobile follows the evolution of portable, personal communication - from clunky, two-way radio to discreet, globally ubiquitous object of desire'. The Apollo mission, with 'the first car radio on the moon', features large. There is also more offbeat material, such as the ways in which text messaging in Zimbabwe attempted to organise the anti-government vote.

'Motorola traditionally has an engineering culture,' says Dance, 'but a lot of people have come on board in the last couple of years from consumer goods backgrounds.' These include Nike managers and Apple designers, a sign of the way the firm's thinking is moving. 'The way to communicate is about the experience, what the technology brings - what you get to do, what you get to have.'

Next year Motorola celebrates its 75th anniversary. New markets are emerging in Russia, China, India and Thailand and the group's view is that modern consumers need to be drawn in through a combination of cool design, good infrastructure and brand loyalty. But in an ultra-competitive sector, turning the group's heritage into handset sales will be one giant leap indeed.

HIGHLIGHTS

1989: Director of PR, Ritz-Carlton, Mauna Lani

1991: Director of consumer affairs, H&K, Hawaii

1994: Senior V-P, McNeil Wilson Comms

2000: Global comms and PA director, Motorola, personal comms sector

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