Listen to Your Customers. Clients’ businesses often shift, meaning services need to be realigned too. During the pandemic, speaking engagements reduced dramatically but podcasts and virtual events increased new visibility and revenue streams.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Donna Loughlin.
Donna Loughlin is president & founder of LMGPR. She known for her work with futurists and innovators, and moving their businesses forward. She is also the host of the Before It Happened podcast featuring visionaries and their stories of inspiration. She has been named one of the “Most Influential Women in Silicon Valley” by the Silicon Valley Business Journal, Woman of IOT Marketing, 2020, Woman in Business & Professions Gold Award, and 2020 Best of the Silicon Valley — Hall of Fame. Donna holds degrees from UC Berkeley and San Jose State.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I started my business 19 years ago during a post.com era downturn. Several hundred clients and millions of media placements later, COVID-19 brought me back to my home office where I began. I had a faster adjustment to working at home than expected and have curated many new clients. I’ve been able to council many working women on how to balance career and life while working from home. 2020 was a year to reflect and look at things differently going into my 20th year running a business.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Typically I fly business class, but a client gave me mileage to upgrade to first class from Asia Pacific. I was so excited to return to the US on a 14-hour first-class flight anticipating the extra leg room and other perks. Unfortunately, my first-class seat was next to a woman with two very hyper Poodles and way too much perfume. As the passengers continued to board the plane, a very well-known TV personality was ushered into business class. I was willing to give up my first-class seat, not for fame, but for peace of mind and since then exclusively travel business class. This also inspired me to get my own pilot’s license!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I started my business the day my employer lost their funding. Within minutes, I was driving to the business license office. While driving I made three important calls: two calls to venture capitalists and third to an analyst. Within a few hours, I had established a business and had consulting gigs under way. The first six months I made more than the prior two years… so no looking back. As I approach a 20-year milestone, I recall many of my clients advancing to IPOs, mergers and now SPACS. It’s very exciting to be part of an industry that is constantly changing.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There have been many mentors along the way, but my first mentors were my father and his brothers. My father worked steadfast running a printing company and his brothers were reporters, so I had the rare opportunity working in the backroom on production and graphics and had some reporting experience by age 10. The exposure provided my first writing job with a community paper at age 15. Post college, I did internships at Washington Post and Reuters, and survived the red line copy edits that trained me to be a better and more creative communicator. All of this mentoring enabled me to advance myself from the advertising copy and journalism desk to a real salaried job weeks before college graduation.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Risk. Challenge. Reward.” I relocated a few times in my career, not only for work experience, but cultural too. Moving to NY, Chicago, DC, London, and spending extended time in the Middle East required a leap of faith, but the risk was mitigated by the challenge and reward.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
LMGPR is a PR agency focused on helping the idea makers’ stories come to life. Since we are based in the heart of the Silicon Valley, we have access to some of the most amazing technologies before they are market ready. As a result, the innovators of these products are often engineers and scientists, and not marketing experts. We help them rediscover why they set out to solve the problem and the impact it will make on all of us.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We take the time to understand our clients and their innovation on a very deep level. We often start our conversations in napkin talks, then to the white board before crafting a marketable story. Once these steps are in place, we create a strategic narrative and plan to build brand and evaluation. The clients we work with our primarily in technology in an array of markets including transportation, mobility, robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics. Pretty much anything in your home, office or car, we help bring to market.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, we have a surge of sustainability and EV innovators we are working with. Imagine the future of sustainable manufacturing, automotive, farming, and other verticals converging into one new category of change. These products will impact how we live in the future and empower us to be more responsible for generations to come.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I believe there have been great strides for women in technology, both in management and the C-suite. When I first started in the industry, there were not very many women in engineering, sales or senior management roles. I’ve worked with C-level founders and leaders, changing the tempo even more. I think this will continue with the surge of STEM education programs in schools K-12.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
2020 changed the face of work-from-home and family balance forever. It’s been refreshing to see men and women both challenged with family and work/life balance in the eyes of Zoom. Often times, women are not considered for key roles due to family commitments. I made the choice to start my own business when I adopted my children, which gave me more flexibility than a corporate job. Had I kept a corporate job, I likely would not have started a family.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
Running a business requires monitoring market trends and emerging markets. 15 years ago, security clients were about 70 percent of my business. But as security became a standard, clients evolved into security and smart devices and eventually into smart homes, cars and phones. Networking and maintaining strategic relationships with market analysts, venture capitalists and futurists are an essential part of my education on a regular basis. So, to increase revenue, increase your knowledge and grow your network simultaneously.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
Hire people that build genuine relationships vs transactions. Integrity and ethics are two essential best practices in business communications.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
Yes, personal networking is very important, but one can’t solely rely on the power of a network. Alumni and professional organizations are very important as is LinkedIn. I meet some of the most amazing people on LinkedIn around the world. Currently, I am working with two companies that found me on LinkedIn by searching for specific market experience.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
Continuous engagement and collaboration are key in keeping communications programs relevant. I like to follow the one-a-day vitamin philosophy engaging at least once a day on strategic items and using email, slack and other communications tools for ongoing communications. Having a phone or Zoom call always creates more fluency.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Most of my funded clients engage in 12-month+ contracts but many works with us 3–5 years. Often times, younger companies have limited resources and we work on a campaign basis allowing them to ramp up, get their funding then return. At the end of the day, the best way to reduce churn is to continuously deliver for the client and show your value.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Stay Relevant. Reading venture capital and business economic news is essential for keeping a pulse on the market. I often secure business leads by following leading venture groups and chiming in on conversations on Twitter or LinkedIn.
- Be Fearless. Most often, the first line of contact is email. I like to make cold calls because people receive so few they are willing to have a chat if not on deadline. This technique has secured cover stories in WSJ, USA Today, Fast Company, Wired, Bloomberg, and others.
- Try New Approaches. When the market shifts, you must be prepared to shift too. During the pandemic, we switched our focus to companies making their products in the USA, not relying on off-shore manufacturing and development. The result was a steady beat of new clients.
- Listen to Your Customers. Clients’ businesses often shift, meaning services need to be realigned too. During the pandemic, speaking engagements reduced dramatically but podcasts and virtual events increased new visibility and revenue streams.
- Be Agile. Like fashion, digital communications tools shift. A year ago, Tik Tok was the rage for consumer products, and LinkedIn for business. This year, Clubhouse comes along and is a great place for both markets.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Growing up in California, the agriculture industry has been a huge part of my life. Most people don’t know that there are over 500,000 employed farm workers under the age of 18 in the US. Many of these children are migrant workers and do not have consistent access to education. Add to this the pandemic, climate change and hazardous pesticides, and these children are coping with a lot. I think there needs to be changes made to labor and education reform. I like the work that the World Literacy Foundation is doing to make education more accessible globally. Michelle Obama’s “Room to Read” is a great program for girls. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, “My New Red Shoes” is a nonprofit that provides kids with shoes to build confidence and ultimately get them to school.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
There are two women I would love to meet: Jen Sincero, author of “You are a Badass,” because I love the wisdom she has detailed in her inspiring book. I also think Michelle Obama and I could have a pretty good power lunch. Ok, lets invite Oprah too and that should be one very inspiring lunch to discuss literacy!
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!