Rena Fallstrom, VP of Communications at Pure Storage, discusses how they adapted the communications strategy as competition in the industry dramatically expanded and how she collaborates with the international team to ensure communications are tailored to each region and no valuable region is ignored.

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Transcript: Interview with Rena Fallstrom – Pure Storage

Speakers: Mike Maynard, Rena Fallstrom

Mike: Thanks for listening to marketing B2B Tech, the podcast from Napier, where you can find out what really works in B2B marketing today.

Welcome to marketing B2B technology for podcasts from Napier. Today I’m joined by Rena Fallstrom. Rena is the VP of Communications at Pure Storage. Welcome to the podcast Rena.

Rena: Thank you, Mike. Great to see you again.

Mike: It’s good to see you. We met fairly recently in the States, which was really nice. You know, just to kick off, I’m always interested with people in how they got their position, you know, you’re running global communications at pure storage. Can you give us a bit of a background as to how your career got to this point?

Rena: Absolutely. You know, I will say my entire career has been in the data storage industry. And, you know, it may seem to the unassuming eye, that Oh, it’s just the data storage industry. I absolutely love it. I’ve been doing it since I graduated from college, which I won’t say the number of years, but it is definitely well into the double digits. And I absolutely love it. I love it. And that’s how I got I got into it, I went to an engineering lead school down in the Southern California area. And I have just been bitten by that bug. And I’ve just continued to work in, tech and in storage my entire career. And I absolutely love it.

Mike: I mean, that’s really good to hear. So, you started off in PR, is that right? And then moved to analyst relations. I mean, talk me through a little bit about, you know, some of those career decisions that took you through those different roles.

Rena: Well, my end goal was to get to a broad communications function, eventually running this function. You know, with a rise of titles like chief communications officer, I knew that I needed to get every single tool in my toolbox. So, I guess I did start off in PR. And I did that for many years, very much enjoyed it. And I thought I’d kind of take a chance at doing analyst relations, which I absolutely adore and love. I love working with the industry analyst community for many reasons. I then said, okay, what else do I need to do in this area to try to be proficient and learn in order to feel like I could step into the broader communications role?

Mike: And was there a particular area you enjoyed more? Or is it just building that breadth of experience has been fun all the way through?

Rena: I mean, I, I can’t choose a favourite child. I love all aspects of communications. And it’s ironic because well, yes, there are disciplines like PR, and AR and exec comms and whatever other different comms internal comms, the one prevailing thing is that you’re communicating to an audience, no matter whether it’s an internal audience or an external audience. And I enjoy that craft quite a bit of just creating and crafting, great communications tailored to whatever audience you’re speaking to. So can’t choose a favourite child, Mike, I’m sorry.

Mike: I love that enthusiasm. That’s awesome. I mean, let’s talk a little bit about the company Pure Storage because, you know, a few years ago, Pure Storage was an absolute leader in terms of the the all flash storage. So if people are listening to this, this is, you know, large storage boxes that are basically storing everything in Flash, so superfast, rather than using hard drives, you know, at one point, you will almost trying to define a category. And now it’s an area where there’s a lot of competition, you know, it feels like almost everybody’s got a solution. So I’m really interested to know, how things have changed, you know, how you communicate with the audience has had to change as the markets changed so dramatically.

Rena: Absolutely. Great question. I, you know, it’s very interesting. Our founder, John Colegrove, he is still with his company it’s been what we’re coming on 14 years since the start of the company. And you’re right, in the very beginning, it was we were swimming upstream, it was not trending, it was completely going against the grain of people are like, Oh, you are not the entire data centre, people are not going to move to all flash. It’s just not gonna happen, as you mentioned, you know, hard disk drives will still have stronghold. And you know, through the years, we’ve really proven that, that no, it is we are going to be moving to an all flash data centre and the things that Pierre is doing is getting us there a bit sooner based on some of that secret sauce that we have around engineering, software, hardware engineering, but you’re right, it is it is growing more in a mainstream nature, right. Like before, where there were a lot of sceptics, a lot of competitors that were sceptical, potentially, you know, some end users that were a little bit hesitant that now has changed and it is the realisation of it is happening. So absolutely. We are having to very much change the way we do communications and marketing overall, to move with the trends in the market and the adoption curve for sure. I still believe and perhaps I’m slightly biassed, but I still do believe that we do have a huge differentiation in the space because we we believe that we put then that flag of the all flash data centre, the vision that our founder had some 14 years ago, and it’s coming to fruition. So he was able to get ahead of a lot of things and foreshadow a lot of things that I think he’s still giving us a huge amount of differentiation.

Mike: So it’s interesting. So you’re still carrying that brand equity you built by by pioneering the space, even now that I think that’s really positive that must really help you in terms of your your communications.

Rena: Absolutely, absolutely. I think any for any communications professional, you’re looking for the thing that differentiates you in the market, the thing that makes you special, the things that separate you from the past. I think that’s what every communications professional reaches for. And the more you have, the better, the better off, the easier also, the easier your job is.

Mike: No, I love I mean, I’m interested as well, in terms of that differentiation. Do you find it as easy to sell those differentiation points through to analysts as you do when you’re talking Jordan’s? Because, you know, so I think sometimes people have a perception that analysts are almost like these these scientific robots that don’t take notice of anyone who’s pitching them. But do you find you can still get credibility because of the history?

Rena: Absolutely. I, I love the analyst community. I love them the most, because I believe that they have, number one, a great post on the market. They are talking to end users. So they are hearing it directly from end users, they synthesise it, and then they’re able to provide great feedback. I think that the key one of the key pieces of animals relations is yes, constant communication with them. The more you tell them, the more you keep them abreast and in the loop of what you’re doing them. Absolutely the better off you are, because open lines of communication are really important with the animals community. And yes, I absolutely do try to put our best foot forward with the analysts, but I also my team, I also work on ensuring that you know, when we are hitting a roadblock, or we need their advice on something, early stages of development, or early stages of messaging, we go to them, Hey, I would love your opinion on this still debate still in its infancy, but would love your opinion on this, I think they I hope that they value it. I think that’s really interesting. You’re not seeing analysts merely as someone to pitch to you’re seeing them as a resource as well, which is, is fantastic. You hit the nail on the head, a lot of companies sometimes just think that, Oh, it must be perfect messaging must be finalised and must be wrapped up the big red bow in order to bring it to the analysts. In fact, the contrary, it is great to bring on finalised messaging to the analyst because they can help shape it for you because they have such a wonderful pulse on the end user community. And they are they can bring that into it and help you out a bit more, you know, versus just the internal position that you have.

Mike: I think that’s great. I mean, one thing I’m interested about, you’re talking about learning about your end user community. And basically, you know what your audience wants to hear. Clearly analysts is one route you’ve really developed well, are there other ways that you’re really understanding what the customer wants to optimise those communications and make the messaging, right?

Rena: Absolutely. My team, the communications team takes advantage of a lot of resources that the company has pure has a great way of tapping into the customer mindset, whether it be communities or little forums where you invite certain customers in to get their feedback, that is gold for us. So us in the comms team, we try to wedge your way into those conversations, or at least get the notes so that we can figure out okay, where’s the pulse of the customer, we’re getting direct feedback from them, that is just gold for us. And so we mind that for sure. And then the other thing that you and I had chatted about when we had met in person is let’s make sure that we are going to their watering holes. So understand what their hopes and dreams are their fears, through these communities through these forums that we have. And then let’s make sure as a comms team that we are going to where they’re going, where are their eyeballs going, let’s be there. Let’s be there. Let’s make sure that peer is positioned where they’re reading where they’re going to their sources of information, to try to do a bit of both. I can’t say it’s always easy, but it is what we strive for.

Mike: I love that. I feel I need to ask an audience questions a little bit cheeky. I mean, certainly in Europe, American companies have a bit of reputation of being a little bit insular and focusing a lot on the statute. Your responsibility is global. So I’m interested to know how you make sure that pure pays the right level of attention to each region in the world.

Rena: So it’s a good question. I have to say I you know, as you speak, I’m looking at my home monitor and I have a little post it that says Think International. I have an amazing team that is dispersed within the UK, Singapore and India and they cover everything outside of the US and they keep me on my toes but I always look at this post and say okay, let’s make sure that we’re not looking at everything in such a US myopic view. We know we have amazing customers in Latin America in EMEA and APJ around the world. And are we making sure that we’re tailoring those messages for those audiences? And also the thing that people don’t look into my guess the adoption curve is so poor potentially, in the US, you may see bleeding edge adoption of technology like Flash, and then you go further out into Europe and Asia, and perhaps they’re not there yet. Some are, but perhaps some are not. And so you can’t provide messages into the market that are so far advanced, they haven’t even thought about it. So let’s make sure that we localise it, that we translate it and that we’re putting out the right messages. You know, I think every every company struggles with that, but I have an amazing team. And this post it to remind me in your to do that. Is the secret to a successful international marketing clearly as opposed to Yes. It all in all lies in that secret?

Mike: No, I love that. And I think you’re right that sometimes it’s not about focus and how much you put it might be about timing. And I think I don’t know what you believe. But it seems to be that there’s a bit of culture, particularly in Europe in terms of a reluctance to adopt the bleeding edge and maybe go for something that feels safer. Do you think that’s true?

Rena: I do. I do. I think I think every every industry is different. And every every organisation is different as well. But I also think it has to do with the industry that they’re in, and if their headquarters are in the US, and if they’re not, you know, where do they go in terms of the adoption? It’s hard for me to generalise because I’ve seen as soon as I start to generalise something, I’m proven wrong by some customer I meet and I say, Okay, no, you are the exact opposite of what I thought so hard to generalise. But I just want to be aware that certainly there can be slower adoption of bleeding edge technology, and then how do we speak to those audiences? Where meet them where they’re at?

Mike: I mean, I I’m interested, you know, when someone’s buying and investing in in a flash strategy. I mean, certainly, you know, a few years ago, didn’t that require a lot of buy in from people who weren’t? Maybe not the decision makers, but influencers is a big part of your, your job reaching people who might influence the decision, but maybe not the technical decision maker?

Rena: Well, well, absolutely. And when you say influencer, Mike, do you mean internal influencer or external influencer? Because I believe that matters, too. I think there’s both I mean, typically, you know, a lot of tech companies, if I’m to be honest, I see them focusing on the technical decision maker in certainly, and missing those internal influences they might focus on, you know, perhaps some external influence like analysts. But But I think it’s that internal influencer, that, that she’s quite hard to communicate with, because you’ve got a complex product. And you’re talking to someone who’s not an expert in that sector. I, I’m interested in how you approach it. Absolutely. Okay. Yeah, she got very good I am, I will say that there are absolutely influencers within organisations, and a lot of the times they are lined with business owners who are more empowered now. Or even, you know, if I may get down into the weeds a bit the DevOps community within the DevOps persona within an organisation, you’re right, there are decision makers, and there are those who are implementers. But they do draw from line of business, or a DevOps focus person who is adjacent to their business. And we try to reach them in the same way that we reach our traditional audiences as well, because we know that they are part of the decision making process. So we definitely take into account how we communicate and how we market to those audiences within a particular organisation. And you have to run completely separate campaigns, or do you find that some of the campaigns can stretch across both technical experts and also somebody who’s perhaps more on the financial side? I think both. I think both when you’re looking at a DevOps audience, they do not use typically traditional sources of information. They don’t consume, you know, they may or may not speak to industry analysts, but they certainly rely on peer to peer, for example, they’re big into peer to peer. And so if they’re, if they’re in the peer to peer, how do we go to the places where we create peer to peer forums for them, right? We don’t we don’t interject, we but we just create the forum so they can go talk to their peers. So that’s a way that we reach for example, the the DevOps community, the developer community, is creating peer to peer environments for them.

Mike: I mean, it brings me on to the next thing I’m thinking about, you know, you’ve got these different audiences. You’ve got some very different ways of communicating. I mean, how do you measure success of your campaigns? I mean, how do you look at something and say, Yes, we know it’s been successful or we think we can improve it?

Rena: It’s a real question in communications in particular, there has always been an age old debate about quantitative versus qualitative measurement. We know it those that are communications professionals out there know that oftentimes the qualitative metrics sometimes are even more revealing and more important than the qualitative metrics, however, to anyone outside of communications, and everyone is in a, they are so bent on needing quantitative measures and quantitative results, they want hard numbers, they want to see the numbers. And so it’s really important as a communications professional to balance quantitative and qualitative measures together, he can work harmoniously, and so ensuring that you’ve got measurement that is based on hard data and some numbers, but then also, especially with the animals committee, as we spoke about earlier, sometimes the measurement for them is just okay, they tonality, it’s positive, but it’s anecdotal. It’s because you were in an analyst meeting, and they said something positive, you can checkbox that as a measurement tool, because you don’t always get an actual piece of collateral or something written, or they say it’s positive. It’s just anecdotal. You know, going back to finding a balance between quantitative and qualitative measurement for comps, I think is important to satisfy every audience. And then you can go back and see, okay, have we reached them? Have we reached these personas that we’re trying to go after? And then kind of back into that from there?

Mike: And then interesting, how do you take that that kind of mix of data and opinion? And how do you sell that up to the board? I mean, is there a way that you can package that up to explain to the board how you’ve made a difference to the business?

Rena: Absolutely. Communicate it far and wide? Mike? Absolutely. But I found the best rule of thumb is make metrics, no matter qualitative or quantitative, simple to understand. If you have to explain a measurement in detail, and it takes you more than a sentence to do so. You’ve lost your audience completely, because it’s too convoluted, it’s too difficult to understand. So keep the measurement as simple as possible. numbers driven if you need to sprinkle in some qualitative measurement, make sure the measurement is clean and simple to digest. Because everybody, you know, in a busy world that we’re all in, people glanced quickly, and they look at numbers, it just quickly glance through it. And so keep it very, very simple.

Mike: I love that. I think that’s, that’s great, you know, really good advice simply, as is always the best. You know, one of the things that, you know, we’re interested in is, we’re obviously trying to recruit young people into the industry, I’m sure you are in pure storage. You know, what are you looking to do to encourage people in? And what advice would you give to a young person who is considering a career in communications.

Rena: we, as a company as a whole, we are hugely into university recruitment, early in career recruitment, we’ve had programmes where we’ve, you know, everything every company has brought in interns. But we also had a additional programme, in addition to just internships is early in career, we’ve hire folks and bring people on board who were early in their career. And so we’ve done a lot of that, as a company, I’m super proud of that, in terms of shares ability to do so especially when we’re coming up against some other larger vendors that may appear more enticing to those that are in universities. I will say my one piece of advice, perhaps one and a half, two pieces of advice for anyone trying to get into communications, it sounds very mundane, but read, read a lot. And not just read a lot. But make sure that you are you know what you like when you read. What I mean by that is, the more you read, the more you form an opinion, the more you like certain writing, and certain styles of writing, or what you’re willing to absorb. You and I both know, Mike, there is a barrage of information coming at us from many different facets, many different channels. And so read a lot and be super discerning about what you like to read the style of the communication, the vehicles that you like, because the more you can decide who you are, and what you like to read, and what you don’t like to read is going to help you in your communications career. The other bit of advice I would give is, and this is for anyone actually in any field, engineering, other parts of marketing, finance, HR, it is things are more subjective than you think we are. I know we’re in the business of technology we are, but we’re also in the business of people. And understanding people’s motivations, what drives them, what they like, what they don’t like, is really important because sometimes the decision making comes down to people, not necessarily that thing itself that you’re trying to solve for

Mike: That’s great advice. It’s amazing. Yeah, I really appreciate your time. I know you’re incredibly busy. So to finish off if people are interested in finding out more or even working at pure storage, which I would say would be a great choice. How can I contact you?

Rena: Yes, definitely I am reachable in all of the different ways that everyone is certainly can imagine, you can always email me, I am the one who curates your email very closely, and I read every single email, you know, certainly through our social channels we do, we’re very proud of our social channels, you know, and we have a, as you mentioned, a very robust careers page. And they can reach out that way to you. I also try as much as I can to contribute to the Forbes communications Council and write as often as I can. And if that helps anyone who’s trying to get into the comms profession, I try to write frequently on different comms topics that I feel are super relevant out there.

Mike: I think it’s amazing. I’ve certainly seen a lot of your Forbes counsel content in your LinkedIn feed. So yeah, I love that. That’s great. Reena, it’s been a real pleasure. I really appreciate you being on the podcast. Thank you very much for being a guest.

Rena: Thank you so much, Mike. Great to see you again.

Mike: Thank you.

Thanks so much for listening to marketing B2B Tech. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And if you did, please make sure you subscribe on iTunes, or on your favourite podcast application. If you’d like to know more, please visit our website at Napier B2B dot com or contact me directly on LinkedIn.