“More than any other time, people with a PR background have a seat at the table” says Autodesk Brand and Communications VP Greg Eden.
Greg leads a global team of more than 60 marketing professionals, story tellers and creative artists at Autodesk. He also previously directed PR and communications organizations for EMC, VMware and Dell. You can follow Greg on Twitter at @EdenGrego.
What follows below is an edited version of my conversation with Greg on May 16th. A recording of the full 60-minute conversation (featuring a video playback of the interview) is available to PRSA Silicon Valley members on request.
DM: Hi Greg. Autodesk’s stock is trading at a 52-week high. You enjoyed good earnings yesterday. I have to believe that life must be pretty good in communications at Autodesk right now!
Greg Eden: Yes, it’s an exciting time for the company. We enjoyed a good day yesterday and the Street seemed to appreciate it. It’s also Maker Faire this weekend, which is a big event for us every year. Our CEO did a keynote down at MakerCon in the Valley earlier this week, and announced a couple of things, including our intention to get into the hardware business. We are going to start making 3D printers.
DM: Provide us with some context: who are your customers and what problems are you trying to solve for them?
Greg Eden: Autodesk is a $2.5 billion software company based in the Bay Area. About half of our Bay Area employees are in San Francisco; the other half in San Rafael. We have about 7300 employees worldwide. Our customers are anyone who wants to design and make something: from architects to construction companies, product designers, such as the folks down at Tesla, who design and manufacture cars. Also the film studios in Hollywood. The last 18 winners of Academy Awards for digital effects were Autodesk customers. Those are our traditional customers. More recently, we have also moved into the consumer space, so now really anyone, not only professionals, who want to design something, can use our tools. That goes from kids who are eight, all the way up to people who are 80. That’s why Maker Faire is so important to us.
DM: What are you responsible for overall?
Greg Eden: We are all about driving both awareness and understanding for Autodesk and the value we bring to our customers. The group is about 60-70 people around the world. I have six groups that report into me: PR, corporate and social media, Europe, Asia Pacific and Emerging Markets, Brand Creative and Brand Engagement. About half the team is your traditional communicators (PR, AR, exec comms); the other half is firmly rooted in brand. The team not only creates the brand (via an in-house creative agency), but also oversees brand engagement, including events and our customer briefing center (Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco); all the events that help people experience the Autodesk brand.
DM: You have some non-traditional responsibilities, relative to a typical PR career path. How did that come about?
Greg Eden: I came into Autodesk to oversee PR about four years ago. I hit gold. The company had a fantastic story and a really good PR team. I think we’ve been seeing for a while now that heads of marketing (such as at Xerox, IBM and Intel) are increasingly coming up through the PR ranks. It’s indicative of the way storytelling has raised to the forefront of all of marketing – not just PR. I like to say to my PR team that we all picked a great time to go to PR school. More than any other time, people with a PR background have a seat at the table.
DM: Who do you report to? And how is responsibility for the rest of the marketing mix divided at Autodesk?
Greg Eden: I report to our CMO, who reports to our CEO. We have a very strong industry and strategy marketing organization. My team partners with them really well. They are primarily focused on go-to-market. My team is really focused on the top of the funnel and the very bottom: we’re encouraging people who don’t’ have a relationship with Autodesk to have a relationship with our brand. The other part of what we do, which is just as important, happens after a transaction is made. We help our existing customers feel good about the relationship they have with Autodesk. We strengthen the affinity they have with the brand.
DM: Why is it that your team owns brand loyalty at Autodesk? Is that all about the rise of social media and the ability to engage with customers through those channels?
Greg Eden: I want to be clear that a lot of people are playing a role at that end of the funnel. My team doesn’t own it, per se. This is more about what’s happening in the technology industry. Many companies are moving away from a transactional relationship with their customers. They are having more of an ongoing relationship. Autodesk is in the midst of a business model transformation where we’re moving from a licensed software model to more of a subscription model. In that subscription model, where you have to rely on existing customers to re-up, almost on a monthly basis, they have to feel good about getting value, and feel good about the investment they are making in the company. PR has always been in the relationship business. I think that’s why PR is playing more of a role at that end of the funnel.
DM: Tell me about your brand and communications toolkit. Where do you see the biggest impact? Is it still from reporter relationships, or is it more from the immediacy of contact you can have with stakeholders through Twitter and Facebook? Or something else, perhaps?
Greg Eden: I come from a PR background. I am a media guy at heart. That’s what I’ve always had the most fun with. That aside, I think there are really two important things. First, and I’m going to quote from the guy who runs social media here, “Content is King.” And if Content is King, then the Queen is Distribution, and she wears the pants! You have to have a good story, like the story I mentioned we had in Barron’s as a result of Autodesk’s earnings, but distribution has become fun. It used to be that PR was lucky if you got a great hit and your stakeholders got a chance to see it. Now, with all sorts of ability to take credible earned media and get it in front of more of your stakeholders, in a smart way, and that obviously includes social media, distribution has really become key.
Members of PRSA Silicon Valley can contact email@example.com for the full recording of this interview. For details of how to obtain PRSA membership, click here.
Kevin Winston, managing director, corporate communications, Applied Materials, will be the next guest on “In Conversation with Silicon Valley” on June 13th (12.30-1.30pm PT). You can register for “In Conversation with Kevin Winston” here.