Thanks to his daily train commute into New York City, marketing vet John Petralia would soon find his career heading in a new direction. Although he was happy at his position as global head of marketing at Bloomberg, the chance to serve as CMO for Aligned Energy--an integrated group of companies founded in 2013 committed to solving the world’s toughest challenges associated with data-center building infrastructure, energy consumption, and water usage--was too tempting to pass up.
Petralia started his career as a technologist in electrical engineering but soon found marketing to be more his calling. Over the past two decades, he has a demonstrated track record of building high-performance teams, accelerating growth, and building brand awareness for companies that, in addition to Bloomberg, have included Iron Mountain and Xerox.
In his new role, which started this past summer, Petralia leads marketing, communications, and product management strategy across all four of Aligned Energy’s divisions: Aligned Data Centers, Energy Metrics, Inertech, and Karbon Engineering.
He spoke to CMO.com about being a “builder” vs. a “maintainer,” marketing’s role beyond brand steward, and plans for the year ahead.
CMO.com: Why were you interested in joining an upstart like Aligned Energy?
Petralia: Over the course of the past seven years, I’ve been helping to build a professional marketing organization at Bloomberg; we grew a marketing team with 45 people to about 250 people. I was running marketing for several businesses. Many of them were early-stage startup businesses, and it was really exciting for me to do that and build something from scratch. What led me to Aligned Energy was both my passion for technology and for ensuring that we have a strong environmental future for our next generations to come.
CMO.com: What were the initial conversations like about the job and what your role would be?
Petralia: Over the course of several months, I was talking to [CEO and founder] Jake Carnemark on the train heading into Manhattan. Probably every other week or so I would see him, and we’d catch up. He was telling me about some of the really cool things that they were doing to create a paradigm shift in this industry, and it had sort of the dual benefit of being good for business and good for the environment. The more we started talking, the more interested I became.
It got to a point where he said, “Hey, I could really use someone with both your technical skills and ability to translate that into the market. Would you be interested in joining?” Long story short, I jumped at the chance because it was the opportunity to build something from scratch. I’m a builder. I’m a growth guy. Once I get things going, I’m not necessarily a maintainer. I don’t find a lot of challenge or excitement in that, and this was something that was really exciting that I wanted to be a part of.
CMO.com: Take me through your initial marketing endeavors. What were you trying to do first?
Petralia: If I were to summarize, first is to assess and build a team with core marketing competencies. Second, ensure we have a good brand strategy and foundation from which to build a marketing message and go-to-market strategy. Third, create a digital nucleus around our website and social media platforms, and, fourth, enable sales with tools that are going to help them capitalize on opportunities in the marketplace. Those are my near-term priorities.
CMO.com: You’ve said the nucleus of the marketing engine will be digitally led. Can you elaborate on some of the things that are planned or that maybe have rolled out already?
Petralia: One of the things we’re looking at is the brand architecture of the company. The company was formed by fusing three separate entities together under the umbrella of Aligned Energy. [Another] is our Karbon Engineering division, which is really our professional services arm that does continuous improvement. Each one of those has a separate web presence that has been inconsistently managed.
First thing, you have to really fuse all that together and tell one story so that we’re not confusing the marketplace with who we are. [Second], you have a tremendous amount of content that’s being underutilized. We want to optimize our website for search engine optimization, start advancing our search engine marketing to drive more traffic and engagement with our web presence, and then leverage the content we have and create relationships in social media on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook so we can start engaging with those communities and drive traffic to our website.
CMO.com: You have a 20-year track record of building successful teams and building brands. How is your past experience going to help you in this company?
Petralia: For me, my role, and the role of leaders of marketing organizations, is really about attracting and retaining talent. Marketing is a knowledge worker field. I’ve been working with some of the best people and developing relationships with really talented people who understand how to apply the rules of marketing to different target audiences with different solutions. No. 1, that has prepared me.
No. 2 is my experience with understanding how to help define brands in the most cogent and coherent way that is aligned with the problems that that brand solves in the market and in a manner in which target audiences are used to consuming. It’s something I think I can help bring to this organization because the message is not one of the same. It’s a paradigm shift, and I think it requires a lot more education and understanding.
The third thing taken from my experience is building teams at scale using technology. I think today a marketing organization within a company probably deploys more technology than any other group aside from the IT function, and technology today has allowed marketers to communicate with their audiences at scale in a very efficient, effective, and measurable way to determine what’s working and what’s not working.
CMO.com: How would you define your marketing philosophy and how it has changed over time?
Petralia: In the B2B world, marketing’s role has always been creating the environment for a sale. I think that’s what marketing’s role is, and I think the biggest challenge for marketers is evolving from chief brand steward and storyteller to a business partner for growth within companies. It’s no more that you can just put pretty pictures and fuse words together to tell that story. It’s how you are deploying the tools and the technology at your disposal as a marketer to create measurable results.
So, for me, it’s all about a relentless focus on maintaining relevance both internally and externally. Internally, I think it’s about developing the right relationships, aligning, and committing to measurable results.
Most marketing organizations that I’ve been a part of over the years initially have been very apprehensive [about] putting skin in the game and committing to measurable results in terms of feeding the pipeline ... [and measuring] how they’re converting it to sales. I take a very hard line on, “Hey, if we’re going to invest our time and energy, we have to be able to draw a straight line between what we’re doing and the values created for the company.” In terms of relevance externally, it’s about understanding who our customers are, their needs and preferences, and trying to take advantage of all the moments that we have with them to deliver an experience consistent with our brand promise.
CMO.com: Trying new things seems to be a hallmark of your past marketing roles. Can you provide an example of something you’ve tried recently that was a bit out-of-the-box?
Petralia: For me, video is probably the greatest content engine other than the written word, and everyone’s talking about virtual reality, 360-degree video. When I was at Bloomberg, I was responsible for our employer branding, meaning making sure that we were perceived appropriately in the marketplace. As we looked to recruit the best and brightest talent, both new college grads as well as experienced employees, we couldn’t always bring them to Bloomberg, which is a very dynamic and sexy environment. We decided, “Let’s try to bring Bloomberg to them,” and we went to the 360-degree video camera. I think it was $500, and we did a 360-degree tour of one of the main spaces in the Bloomberg global headquarters.
We put it out there, and it didn’t do as well as we would like. ... But off the heels of that, what we did do was put together a corporate culture video [to] encapsulate the power of the cultural attributes of Bloomberg in a video with a voiceover.
But the background was animated because we wanted to display the technological richness of the heritage of the company. The video is about a minute-and-a-half. We launched it in early April, and within the first week, we had about 150,000 views. It was extremely well-received and has done some really great things in terms of the traffic that’s been generated to our site for people to explore job opportunities.
CMO.com: What are your plans for the year ahead? What will your marketing platform look like over that time?
Petralia: If I look a year out, I’ll have a very solid team in place, both combined of full-time employees of specific disciplines that I’m looking to build the organization around, but also supplemented by contingent workers and agencies to kind of flex in and out relative to the needs of our organization at a given point in time. I think for marketing organizations to be nimble, you have to be able to flex in and out relative to specialties.
CMO.com: What is the secret for building a successful marketing organization?
Petralia: Building a marketing organization is always a journey. It’s full with challenges. It’s not for the faint at heart. Some of us like to build. Some of us like to maintain or optimize. I think it really takes a unique constitution, if you will, to persevere in a build environment. So my hat goes off to all those senior marketing executives that are building or evolving marketing organizations. I’m always looking to share best practices and learnings to how we can do this better, faster, cheaper, and accelerate success of the companies that we work for.