Oral Histories

Alan Marks

Interview Segments on Topic: Challenges/Accomplishments

Alan Marks Biography

Alan Marks is senior vice president of corporate communications for eBay Inc., and is responsible for leading communications strategy for all areas of the company, which includes business and consumer media relations, employee communications, executive positioning and issues and reputation management. Prior to joining eBay, Marks was at Nike Inc., Gap, Inc., and Avon Products. He began his career as a journalist.


INTERVIEWER: Are there public relations challenges that are unique to firms that are doing business primarily through new media, such as Ebay does, and if so, what they are and how do you meet them?

MARKS: Well I think the challenge of social media today is it’s constant and it’s real time, and everybody has a voice. That’s very different from traditional media and traditional journalism, where you build a relationship with a media outlet, build a relationship with a journalist, and have a little more control and perhaps influence in the story that resulted in a final product. There was a story placed, and that was often the end of it. Social media is 24-7, and instead of managing it, what I say to my team today is if the primary goal of media relations is to place an effective story, get your messages in the story and get your messages in how media was covering your company. Today, media is really a distribution channel to reach your end audience and you really have to pay more attention today to who your end audience is. Companies today have tools to be their own publisher and they’re not reliant, purely reliant, on third parties. Media is still critically important and incredibly influential, but it’s not the only way today that a company has to drive engagement with its stakeholders. You’ve got your own publishing platforms, you’ve got your own social media tools, and your stakeholders are engaging in that as well. So today it’s more about participating in a conversation, and having a dialogue and placing that story. That’s a different dynamic today, and it requires more constant vigilance about what kind of conversations are happening about your business, and which kind of stakeholders are engaged in your business and how you are responding. It not only requires participating and responding, but it requires listening. And it really is more about having a conversation and participating in something, rather than placing something and pushing something out.

INTERVIEWER: What do you see as the greatest challenges facing public relations executives today? Speaking in general terms, and how can these challenges be met?

MARKS: Well, I think in large respect—I mean obviously there’s the communications. Communications technology is rapidly changing, as is how information is disseminated and consumed. It’s challenging to stay abreast of that and understand it and understand what may be a fad, versus what may be a permanent change. I think broadly speaking, for a chief communications officer, it’s the challenges that face any business executive today and that’s the broader pace of change that’s happening in the global business environment. How do you stay abreast of that and the disruption that’s happening in many industries and many companies? And how do you…you’ve got to understand—obviously you’ve got to understand communications and you’ve got to understand the communications environment you’re working in. But it’s critically important to understand the business environment that you’re organization is operating in. And what are the forces affecting that environment and creating disruption and innovation in that environment. And then how do you effectively adapt and innovate and stay ahead of the curve to affectively use communications as communications evolves, to meet the business challenges that companies face today?