A&M CMO nurtures firm's global rise
Rebecca Baker, CMO, Alvarez & Marsal
When Rebecca Baker, CMO of professional services firm Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), walked into the company's New York City headquarters in 2002, the business, which was then only a restructuring company, comprised roughly 60 employees, with presence only in the U.S. Baker, working one-on-one with founders Tony Alvarez and Bryan Marsal, was among the only women in the office. Today, A&M is a global professional services firm specializing in turnaround and interim management, as well as business advisement for companies and stakeholders. The firm has more than 1,800 employees in 40 offices worldwide — an astronomical growth spurt that Baker helped oversee.
Baker didn't plan a life in marketing. An English major in college with a minor in drama, she credits both concentrations for her success as CMO. “I really learned from an academic standpoint how to create and deliver messages, and what it meant to be a proactive listener, which is so much of what direct marketing is about: knowing your audience.”
Baker attributes A&M's global growth to the individual strengths of its employees, particularly their fluent marketing backgrounds. “Many of the people here today came from world class consulting firms, so they've learned how to do what they do somewhere else,” says Baker, who started her marketing career at Pfizer Inc. in the early 1980s.
A&M works with both publicly held and privately owned global enterprises and mid-market companies, as well as large and mid-cap private equity firms, corporate management and boards of directors.
The marketing struggle for A&M centers on the public perception that it is a company that “people call on across a life cycle of events in their companies.” Though utilized by companies that are underperforming and in danger, A&M works increasingly with “vibrant” and “robust” companies, Baker says, noting that relationships with thriving institutions don't grab media attention the way involvement with failing companies does. “A&M is pretty well known for being at the helm of the very public Lehman Brothers bankruptcy,” Baker says. “But 80% of the work we do is with companies that are certainly not facing collapse.”
Baker sees A&M's clients not as companies but as individuals whose needs must be addressed on an individual basis. Naturally, the direct marketing tools A&M uses must then vary from client to client. “It really depends on how [our clients] like to receive information from A&M,” she says.
Direct marketing, however, plays a large part in Baker's agenda. “The beauty of direct marketing is to maintain integrity and build relationships,” she says. “It's all about increasing access and making impressions that are meaningful and timely.”
A&M also incorporates elements of social media. Baker underscores the importance of Facebook and Twitter, viewing them as ways to enter into a dialogue with the market, as opposed to just logging a one-way communication. However, she views social media as a developing channel.
“None of us is totally sure of the power and potential in social media, but we are certainly quite active within it, and to ignore it is to ignore a rising channel,” she says, citing A&M's dedication to LinkedIn. “Next to Google, LinkedIn is A&M's largest search referral,” Baker says.
A&M is revamping its website over the summer to incorporate more video and to enable social media. “We will not only be telling firms how to improve, but demonstrating on our site,” she says.
Though generally sparing of direct mail, Baker concedes that there is a time and place for print. “Going low-tech can cut through the clutter,” Baker says, pointing out that A&M uses print and email to invite members to key events, depending on their preference. “The proliferation of e-communications is causing a higher spam filtering and firewall protections, so [direct marketers] need to make sure they're breaking through.”
Baker's key direct marketing tools include surveys. “They help invent a service around things that are wanted, and help us learn by direct response what the market really needs,” she says. Surveys also prove to existing and prospective clients that A&M is not content with complacency, and underscore A&M as a firm that is all about problem solving and thinking up practical solutions.
On May 31, A&M Taxand, the company's independent tax firm, released its “Tax Perspectives Survey.” Spearheaded by Baker and Taxand's CEO Bob Lowe, the anonymous poll was distributed to more than 1,000 CFO's, Baker says, inviting opinions on tax risks and concerns for growing enterprises. A&M received 302 responses.
While Baker intends to release more surveys, she's wary of inundating clients and prospective customers with them. “You don't want to overuse any one tool,” she says. “The goal of all this stuff is to build trusted relationships.”
Lowe, who joined Alvarez & Marsal in 2004, worked closely with Baker on the “Tax Perspectives Survey” among other projects. Identifying himself as her “number one fan,” Lowe says that Baker is both fun to work with, yet is also extremely level-headed and a “perfectionist.”
“Rebecca has a vision of where she wants to go and then goes with a completely practical approach,” Lowe says. “It's one thing to come into a firm that's already global; it's quite another to take a domestic firm to international heights in 10 years.”