April 13, 2010

Alice in wwwLand, Episode 1.0


By Wendy McHale

Once upon a time, there was a media director named Alice who had spent her 11-year career planning "offline" media, using 20th century communication vehicles like TV, radio, newspapers and magazines to help her clients make a living. In 1998 these were the types of media platforms that marketers had been using to reach their customers for many years.

This was before the rise and fall and the rise again of the Internet.

During this time she worked hard to learn the art and science of media and marketing. As she saw it, the key to success boiled down to developing strong relationships with friends and associates in order to win and keep clients on Madison Avenue. (Of course it did not hurt that she was sassy and attractive either.)

One day she received a call from a friend who informed her that a fast-growing interactive-based new media company wanted her to consider joining them. The position was to establish a new division that she would run, as part of a larger plan to build the best new media communications business ever created.

Intrigued, she did her homework and met with the new company's CEO, Susan Montgomery-Wrestler. After the usual "new job" negotiations Alice decided to accept the offer.

Everyone she knew was very excited for her. The team she had cultivated over the years expressed great interest in her move and informed her they would love to follow her. They too had done their homework and knew that the new-age media firm she was joining, Far Ranging Solutions, (pronounced "farce") )or referred to on email as "FARS" for short, was white hot and about to go public. The stock options being awarded to the "best of breed" group they were cobbling together stood to make a fortune once the IPO was announced.

Besides the financial up-side, Alice was joining FARS with an equally breath-taking new-age title, "Chief Mentality Officer", created by Sue-Mo (her childhood nickname) based on the definition of "mentality", "a habitual or characteristic mental attitude [mind-set] that determines how a person will interpret and respond to situations." Like deciding to watch TV habitually for instance.

Sue-Mo informed Alice she was expecting great things from her. It was the dawn of a new century and use of the Internet was exploding. Things on Madison Avenue were changing and Sue-Mo wanted Alice be part of the management team that would lead FARS into this brave new world.

This is her story.


Chapter 1

Alice was at FARS for less than a month when the first (of what would become many) change was announced. Sue-Mo informed Alice that the plans and promises she had made Alice to lure her away from her previous company, were being scrapped. Instead, Alice was being given a brand new task; to lead the integration of FARS's and their just-announced acquisition of an equally hot new-age creative shop, with an equally creative name, "People-Understanding-Real-Evolution" or "P.U.R.E." for short.

Upon the hearing of this news, Alice's initial reaction could easily be described by the expression "deer caught in the headlights." A PURE-FARS combination was something she couldn't fathom; the companies did not seem like a natural fit, and to top it off, she wasn't exactly crazy about some of the people who worked at PURE. As she stood in front of Sue-Mo's desk, she stared up at the Picasso on the wall and felt as twisted as the new-age portrait of a female. Trying to process the new information she tried on the new name. PURE-FARS, PURE-FARS, PURE-FARS became an unwelcome mantra in her mind. She was angry at Sue-Mo but equally mad at herself. Why didn't she this coming?!

Sue-Mo proceeded to inform Alice of her new role in the organization. She was to manage the integration of both companies in order to help establish positive relations between FARS and PURE. It was essential that the companies coordinate effectively since the new FARS-PURE was taking a much more aggressive position in the marketplace. Negotiations between both companies had been drawn out and particularly arduous, so Sue-Mo was very emphatic that Alice's new responsibilities were even more vital to the success of what was already, the largest web-development company in the world.


Sue-Mo apologized for the fact that all of Alice's expectations, plans and promises would now be null and void. Alice felt like she was going to vomit. She had just recruited several friends, senior-level media talent, all of whom had given notice, resigning from their well-established positions at different companies to join Alice at FARS. This was based on her assurances coming from Sue-Mo herself that Alice and new team would be given carte blanch; the opportunity to build a media department from scratch. It was uncomfortable to Alice when she thought that these promises were scrapped so quickly. Alice had worked hard her entire career to keep her word and deliver on promises she made.

To soften the blow, Sue-Mo informed Alice that she would instruct the CFO to award Alice and her new incoming team significantly more FARS stock than was originally promised, as a way to make up for the change in plans.

Known for her outstanding new business acumen, Sue-Mo made a convincing case that Alice's new job would be even more important than what she was originally hired to do. Yet, Alice also knew that events had occurred so quickly that she wasn't sure if Sue-Mo's new promises were real, or whether she herself simply wanted to believe them.

The fact was, Sue-Mo was putting more on the table. Alice couldn't ignore the fact that additional stock would definitely offset the sting to her friends, about to join her. The upcoming FARS IPO had a large buzz on Silicon Alley and in VC land. Inside FARS, people were already setting up family trust funds and looking at new summer homes in the Hamptons, as the anticipated value of the company in October, 1999 was literally, sky-high.


Alice still felt let down inside. First, from dealing with a strong sense of betrayal. Second, everything that Alice had been planning for the last 2 months upon resigning from her "old" company would be null and void. Third, that she would now have to call...no, meet with her friends that their lives were also about to change.

She was torn. She kept telling herself that Sue-Mo's offer to compensate her and her team seemed a somewhat reasonable compensation for the abrupt change in plans. After all, this was the "wild west net." Alice left her own job in traditional media to capitalize on the lucrative stock options being awarded 25 year olds, who at such a young age, were already set for life. With 11 years in the traditional media business, Alice had not been as fortunate. She had worked her way up the corporate ladder the hard way, earning the trust of her clients and supervisors day by day. But Alice knew she had to be ready for anything with new media, even a shoot-out at OK corral.

Then it occurred to her like a bolt of lightening running through her veins that she needed to stop focusing on the shock of her new situation. She needed to begin re-focusing on something else. Who were these PURE guys and how would they feel about Alice being assigned to coordinate the integration? Alice would soon find out.


To be continued...


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