Phoebe Yong, Principal and Founder of Magnolia Communications discusses with us the inspiration behind starting her company, the benefits of going niche, and her best advice when it comes to marketing and PR for business owners.
With over 25 years of industry experience in B2B marketing, Phoebe has built an award-winning boutique marketing agency based in Vancouver that services high-tech, fintech, financial and manufacturing clients. With a degree in Communications and an MBA in Marketing, Phoebe has led partner marketing campaigns with some of the biggest brands in the world – Dell, HP, Microsoft, Vodafone, and China Mobile. At Magnolia, she has led a successful team to build a full-service marketing agency focused on PR, content marketing and marketing automation. For more information, visit www.magnoliamc.com
What was the inspiration behind Magnolia Communications?
It’s a cliché but I really believe everyone has a story to tell. I envisioned Magnolia to help passionate business owners or founders with a great vision to tell their story in a professional and authentic manner.
What sets the company apart from other similar organizations?
Targeting B2B marketing solutions/services for enterprises, telecommunications, electric utilities, public safety and shipping vessels (fleets) was the foundation of my corporate experience. I took that knowledge and applied those same principles when I started Magnolia. Our business model is focused on serving B2B businesses, but also – I simply love playing in the B2B space. I see so much opportunity and growth here and it’s what gets me up every morning, the conversations I have with my clients on reaching their B2B audience.
Magnolia Communications has won several awards and received honorable mentions. How does that make you feel?
Honored and grateful. When a client trusts us with their brand and allows us to tell their story in an authentic and genuine way, it’s an honor. We are successful and when we are allowed to tout that story for the rest of the world to know, it’s a very gratifying feeling. It’s a collaborative process to work with our clients on product launches and campaigns. There are many factors for an award-winning campaign, such as ensuring all teams are on message, highly responsive and agile, and striving for the same goals. When all elements are executed properly, it’s a great feeling of team achievement and reaffirmation that the work hard put in was worthwhile.
What is your perspective on how SMEs can stay competitive by taking a niche approach? When it comes to customer acquisition?
Marketing offers a broad spectrum of opportunities for today’s marketer. The choices are endless on how, where, and what to do for customer acquisition. With limited budgets, I’ve always recommended going deep and wide within that market. Know your niche market well and live and breathe that market by knowing your customer – with a well-defined ideal customer profile (ICP) – and their pain points specifically to that market. Ensure your solutions and services are well catered to their problems and do it better than anyone else serving your niche market. Your customers will respect you for it because you are not painting with a broad brush to solve their problems but using specific tools to help them serve their end customers.
What are some of the strategies you use to create a business to business public relations?
When it comes to B2B PR, the approach isn’t too different from B2C. With B2C PR, the impact of social or online influencers is certainly more involved but PR is, always has been and continues to be the message. I often get asked if we have contacts at highly desirable media outlets like the Wall Street Journal, and I usually reply it doesn’t matter because the reporter will still hang up on me if my message isn’t relevant or timely. If he knows me, he may give me an extra five secs before hanging up.
With a public relations program, take a long-term approach with compelling news to keep your company relevant and top of mind with your contacts. Be a thought leader in your space so reporters can reference you as their “go-to” resource for the industry. Often, clients forget that PR is a long-term strategy and it takes time to build the brand but done correctly, it’s a highly powerful and cost-effective way to build their brand.
In your expert opinion, what are some of the common mistakes that SME owners make, when it comes to marketing and public relations and how Magnolia Communications can Help them?
While there are many strategies to consider, a miscue I commonly see is not having a completely integrated marketing plan. Field marketing, marketing automation, and PR programs are working in a silo. With many competing priorities in running a successful SME, it’s not unusual for companies to be reactive and go their marketing partner for immediate requests, but whether its ad placements, sponsorships, events or PPC campaigns to attain leads, it’s fundamental that the programs all work together in accord. All cylinders can then be firing in unison at the desired target, and this will ultimately help SME owners leverage their budget and resources.
What is the best advice that you can give to SME owners who are just starting up in relation to marketing and PR?
Take purposeful steps. Even if it’s a small step, do it well. This way you can measure the success in stride, adjust if needed, and re-apply those same fundamentals to other programs. For example, defining your audience. To deliver the right solutions for your audience’s pain points, you need to create a relevant message. Take the necessary time to define your ideal customer, their needs and buying behavior. This is a fundamental but critical practice that will help you have successful execution of your programs.
How do you believe your past experience has helped you in your current role?
Early in my career, I was fortunate to work in SMBs with revenue ranging from $5M-10M. After 7 years when I left my marketing position at one of the SMBs, the revenue had grown to approximately $280 M with international offices, over 350 employees and had gone through an IPO and trading in TSX and NASDAQ. One big lesson I took with me is when we were a smaller company partnering with or closing deals with the 800-pound gorilla such as MacDonald Dettwiler or Microsoft, it was vital we acted as we belonged. We believed we were a big player so we had to act like one, and this was reflected in external communications that were consistently professional and our business practices followed the same suit. I still take that high level of professionalism and intensity to execute at the highest level with our clients (big and small).
What is the main goal of Magnolia Communications? What are you hoping to accomplish?
As we celebrate our tenth anniversary this year, the industry has evolved over the years, especially the last few years with the insurgence of digital marketing, Account Based Marketing and metrics driven marketing. As the industry evolves so does Magnolia. We have seen our business evolve from a PR-centric agency when we first started in 2009 to a full-service agency offering PR, content marketing and marketing automation services. With the backing of our team, I hope we can accomplish more award-winning demand generation programs that help our clients reach their end customers and grow their business.
What are the benefits for SME owners to create a brand that is appealing to everyone? How can this help them in the success and growth of their business?
Building a brand that projects a positive image or influence takes years of investment and doing the right thing consistently. Today’s biggest brands — Google, IBM, Nike – all have invested heavily on corporate social responsibility programs as well as paid and earned media programs so that their customers identify with their brand and be their best ambassadors. These ambassadors are invaluable in growing the business. When media identifies with your brand as a go-to industry expert, it also gives your business additional credibility.
What advice can you give to business owners when it comes to finding the right audience for their services?
Have the insight to truly know if what you are offering is what your customers’ need, as opposed to wanting. There is a big difference between a nice to have to a must have that will help them grow their business and help their end customers. And also take the time to define why your product and service is superior to your competitors and what it is that makes your unique offering the solution they are looking for. This will greatly help you in listening to your customers, and ultimately finding the right audience.
On a final note, what inspired you to go into this line of business?
I’ve always wanted to use my creativity. I had thought in my younger days that creativity meant graphic designers but I quickly realized being a communicator gave me ample opportunities to be creative. I eventually started Magnolia using my creativity to help customers who are passionate about their stories (or company) achieve their dreams.