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What You Can Learn from Michael Dell's Bad Press

Dell's chief marketing officer has had to manage the story of a company coming through what's been called the 'nastiest tech takeover in history.' Here's the game plan for its post-private-era communications strategy.
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Karen Quintos may just have one of the most difficult jobs in marketing today. She's the chief marketing officer of Dell, a company which recently endured a privatization campaign dubbed the "nastiest tech takeover in history." Ouch. 

It's now coming up on a year after Michael Dell, the man who founded Dell Computer in his dorm room with $1,000 in 1984, proposed taking the company private. The Round Rock, Texas-based company now is back under control of its founder, and seems to be gaining more solid footing in primarily selling services to other companies.

Quintos, who's been in her role three years, had to manage a lot of negative press during this rocky period for the company. What's next for Dell's marketing? Here's her post-private-era communications strategy.

If a tree falls and no one hears it, ignore it.
Negative press matters only if it resonates. "There's good press, there's not-so-great press, and my job to be able to sift thorough what's important and what's not," Quintos says. "Today it's more about understanding the influencer base and the amplification those stories get."

Take an analytical approach.
Quintos, who has a background in logistics, can turn communications--something potentially intangible--into data. One way Dell gauges the amplification of a story, rumor, or complaint is through a sophisticated social-media command center. This approach allows her team to monitor "every and all social conversation that's happening about Dell around the world." Negative links are red, and on-screen bubbles around them literally grow when the message is shared. Positives are displayed as green bubbles.

"You can see ones that are red and they don't get any bigger, and they're talking about a conversation you don't really need to care about," Quintos says. If a red bubble grows, though, the company assigns the conversation to an expert in the field. A hardware complaint will be answered over social media by a hardware engineer, for example. 

Communicate with employees and allies first--and best.
"As we come out of this 'go private' time period, a huge part of what I focused on as CMO was making sure that our customers and our employees knew the truth," Quintos says. In short, ensure employees and core customers understand what the executives are planning and have time to get on board before they hear about it on the news.

Turn the spotlight away from you, and instead put it on customers.
Dell's no stranger to creative advertising. But its new advertising campaign for the coming year focuses on the stories of the company's customers, rather than the company itself.

The second phase of the company's brand campaign, to be unveiled at its Dell World conference in December, is expected to "lean heavily on the company's history," Quintos says. "We have been able to help other small companies turn into large success stories and tell that through the lens of their eyes and telling the stories about the role Dell played in enabling them."

Last updated: Nov 19, 2013

CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer

Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.




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