Interview Segments on Topic: PR Agency or Corporate PR/Outsourcing
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: We’re at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City, talking with Alan Marks, senior vice president of corporate communications for Ebay. Thank you Alan for taking time out of your day to talk with us.
MARKS: Thank you, great to be here.
INTERVIEWER: Well, we’ll jump right in and ask you to tell us a little bit about your career trajectory from your days at the University of North Carolina to where you are today at Ebay. What happened? How did you get where you are?
MARKS: [Laughs] the mystery ride right? Well, I come from a family of journalists. I grew up in North Carolina and my father was a journalist and editor of the hometown paper in High Point, North Carolina. My older brother started in journalism and then went into law; my mother was a public school teacher but also wrote a weekly column in my hometown newspaper, so I grew up around newspapers and grew up around journalism. I have a great love for newspapers and daily journalism, so I went to school at (University of North Carolina) Chapel Hill. My father and brother had gone to school at Chapel Hill—we’re a Tar Heel family—and studied journalism there. I started working for the Raleigh News & Observer while I was in school, and helped them start a zoned edition and a bureau in Chapel Hill at the time, and went to work full time for them after I graduated from college. And so at the time, I thought journalism was definitely my profession and my career. It was in my blood and the family, and I really enjoyed the work. About 2-3 years out of college, I had some friends who were journalists in North Carolina doing some consulting work for Avon products in New York. They came back from a couple of trips at Avon and said you know, Avon’s really trying to change and evolve its public relations department, and they’re looking for journalists. The head of communications at Avon at the time was a former journalist, so as he was trying to evolve and expand the function, he was partial to hiring journalists and they said would you be interested? They want somebody who can start a magazine. At first, like any journalist, I said public relations—this was 1986, 87—I said no, I’m a journalist, I’m not going to do public relations. Then they came back a month or so later and talked to me again, and it became really enticing. This idea of can I apply my journalistic skills in a corporate environment and the idea that they wanted me to come start a magazine for the company, felt like it was more akin to what I was doing at the time than moving purely into public relations. So I made the decision to do it and try the adventure, and 12 years later I was still at Avon and I had not looked back and had a great career at Avon and fell in love with public relations. What I found about it is what I loved about journalism, storytelling. When I got inside a corporation and was doing communications, what I loved is that in journalism you’re primarily trying to inform people, when you’re inside a company you’re trying to inform people and create a change of behavior, create some kind of action, some kind of advocacy and engagement on the part of your audience. So I found over time that I really loved marrying those two things together. I’ve spent the rest of my career on the corporate side. I’ve never worked on the agency side and one thing I find, the reason I’ve chosen to do that, is I love being part of an organization. I love being attached to a brand and love being part of an organization and helping to use communications and communication strategies to influence the organization and how people engage with the organization.
INTERVIEWER: So, you moved from Avon to Ebay.
MARKS: Ended up spending 12 great years at Avon, I love the company, great experience. Started in employee communications at Avon and then over the years did a variety of everything in the communications function and was able to travel the world, and so ended up with a very global experience at Avon as well. Then from there, in 1999, I went to Gap, Inc. in San Francisco and ran corporate communications for Gap and was there for 6 years. Then went to Nike and ran corporate media relations for Nike for 3 years, and then joined Ebay in April of ’08 so I’ve been at Ebay for 4 years now.