The CMO Files: Diane Perlman, Blis

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Diane Perlman is an established marketing leader with big brand experience at Microsoft, as well as startup, scaleup and agency-side experience. She is an American who relocated to London over 18 years ago with a startup and has worked primarily with tech and telecoms companies during her London career, which spans Grey London, Wheel (acquired by Digitas/LBi), Microsoft and Unruly, as well as her own virtual agency.

Where were you born and raised? I was born near Penn State in Bellefonte, PA, and was raised in Rockville, MD.

What was your first job? Post University, I was a copywriter at a small agency in Maryland run by a husband and wife team. I wrote newsletters for trade associations on a variety of different topics. This job made me unafraid to learn challenging subjects like geotechnical engineering, and I’ve almost always been in tech since.

What was the first product you got really excited about? I love listening to music, so my first Sony Walkman was a revelation! As a child, we had a record player in our home – that and the radio or our cassette tape players were our main source of music. So just being able to carry around music wherever I went was fantastic!

Who has been the biggest influence on your career? Probably my parents, both of whom are entrepreneurs. My father was a psychologist with private practice and authored a book on entrepreneurship called Making it on Your Own. My mother made soft dolls and gingham horses heads for jump rope handles to sell at consignment shops and larger stores such as Bloomingdales. Once we were teenagers, she went back to work for the US government and was an early adopter of the internet. They taught me to be fearless and that I could do anything I set my mind to.

What has been your greatest achievement? I’ve had many proud moments in my career. Perhaps my greatest professional achievement is launching the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in London with only a five-week runway, helping over 40 amazing startups get to the next level with their business. I leveraged that experience into my first CMO role at another startup accelerator, where I got to work with hundreds of startups around the world. It is so rewarding to offer help to these young founders–even a quick introduction can be game-changing for them. Simple things can make a big impact.

What has been your biggest mistake? I make mistakes all the time. Having worked with startups for so many years, I’m a big believer in the “fail fast and learn from your mistakes” mentality. My boss at a former company would gather us for a meeting and ask what mistakes we made that week. Once we admitted it, he handed us $100 and said I’m not going to pay for the same mistake twice. That one really stuck with me.

What is your greatest strength? My positivity is ingrained in my nature.

What is your biggest weakness? I move very fast so I always need to be mindful to take people on the journey with me. This is something I’m very mindful of and actively work on. This was put to the test in my last role–I had an ambitious plan that needed to be completed in 10 months; it was a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time. I worked really hard to take people with me, gather different points of view and get stakeholder buy in. Eventually my team and I rolled out the new brand and messaging work we had done to over 250 people worldwide and it landed extremely well. I was very proud of this accomplishment, especially under tight timelines and at a company where I didn’t yet have a long track record.

What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers? I believe that a key part of my role is to ensure that the people who work with me are successful. This means ensuring they have opportunities and also challenging them to do things they didn’t know they could do. I think this is a very important aspect of any leadership position that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm? I’d say it’s “let’s do this.” I’m very action orientated and like to motivate people. There is not a particular word or phrase that makes me squirm, but generally a lack of accountability is a particular annoyance.

What makes you stressed? When things aren’t flowing.

What do you do to relax? I do hot yoga and also cycle for exercise and relaxation. Cooking in or eating a nice meal out also does the trick.

What is your favorite song? I like to dance, so anything with a great beat (or a Latin beat) – Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars is a current favorite.

Which book taught you most? I’ve learned a lot from Malcolm Gladwell’s books like Outliers, Blink, and David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. David and Goliath shows you that things aren’t what they seem–you must understand the situation and bring right tools to succeed. I also like the simple and compelling lessons in Seth Godin’s Purple Cow.

Do you have a team or sport that you follow? Nearly 20 years in England and I never caught the European football craze!

Which country would you like to work in? I moved from the US to the UK 19 years ago and made it my home, so I think it’s safe to say I’m in the country where I’d like to live and work. Though a second home in Spain or Italy does hold some appeal…

Which company do you think has the best marketing? Nike is amazing. They are the ultimate aspirational brand, always stay true to their ‘just do it’ mantra, and provide consumers with many experiential, immersive ways to live the brand. They have also mastered emotional branding and storytelling that draws people in and makes them feel motivated to get out there. For example, whilst at Cannes this year, I learned about their stunning documentary Breaking2. They teamed with Nat Geo to attempt to break the two-hour marathon barrier–incredible, inspiring and true to the brand. I also like their tactical work like their subversive ‘are we running today’ digital ads.

What do you love most about your job? I love working with and motivating teams to be the best they can be, to create something amazing together and to see our work out in the wild.

What is your favorite book? One of my favorites is Life of Pi, and I read it twice, which I rarely ever do! I love that it focused on imagination and storytelling. The reader is transported into the story. We’re left to wonder: did these things actually happen?

What keeps you awake at night? If I’m working through a complex situation at work or in my personal life, I’ll be going over this in my mind and it might keep me up thinking it through. I tend to try to sort through these types of things during my cycling or yoga sessions so I have a clearer head at the end of the day.

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