Everybody in the Italian and Italian-American communities in San Francisco knows Mary Trigiani. She is a greatly respected marketing professional, very well connected with the Italian and Tech communities in the city. Over the years, through her own consulting company Spada Inc. and thanks to her invaluable experience and skills, she has helped several start-ups and corporations to successfully approach their markets. But Mary is much more than just a great professional. She is a friendly and warm person, always available to help and to play a very active role within the community. She was one of the first members to join BAIA, and since then she has always supported our association in several ways. In case you haven't had the chance to meet her at a BAIA event, this interview is a great opportunity to find out more about Mary and her several talents.
Franco: Hi Mary. Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your professional activities?
Mary: Franco, I provide marketing services on a consulting basis, generally to companies in the technology startup and professional services sectors. My specialties fall largely in what we call branding and content. I help clients develop messages, themes and platforms to use in both digital and traditional media. I'm loving the social networks right now.
Mary's first home town: Big Stone Gap, Virginia
Franco: How did you end up in San Francisco? What do you like about the city by the bay and what you miss from your home town?
Mary: I wound up in San Francisco after a 3.5 year commute between Chicago and Palo Alto. This area called me because of the concentration in technology inventors. It's funny; I have a couple of home towns - Big Stone Gap, Virginia and Roseto, Pennsylvania. Now more than ever, I feel them with me. Especially after the experience of working with my sister, Adriana, on the digital marketing of "Big Stone Gap," her upcoming feature film. If I miss anything, it's the civilized driving in small towns! I do adore San Francisco's mystical air.
Roseto, Pennsylvania, Mary's second home town
Franco: How strong are your Italian roots and how do they affect your daily life?
Mary: My Italian roots are strong and they affect my daily life in two ways. First, when we moved to Big Stone Gap, in the far southwest corner of Virginia, we came from Roseto, which is an enclave established by families originally from Roseto Valfortore in Puglia. [Malcolm Gladwell wrote about it in Outliers]. I did not know I was Italian until we moved to Virginia! Like many American families, my forebears told us the stories of our families while sharing a fierce dedication to the American system of self government and opportunity to make one's own way. They chose to be here and wanted us to understand why. The second way Italy affects me is the connection to my year there as a student in Rome. On breaks I got to know my mother's family in the province of Bergamo. And Rome? I think it is the Italian city that coalesces the force that is Italian nature -- in all its many strengths. Not sure my Venetian grandmother would agree, but there you have it.
Franco: In 2004 you wrote a famous Italian cooking book with your sister Adriana (Cooking with my sisters). What other Italian and family traditions do you share with her?
Mary: Well, Adriana and I were the writers and I managed the project. Our sisters Lucia Anna, Antonia and Francesca as well as our talented mother, Ida, had a hand in the whole thing. [And our brothers Michael and Carlo did some testing and eye rolling.] I think the biggest Italian tradition we share is the ongoing exploration of what a family is. Living style, cooking traditions, work ethic, art, character studies -- all these rotate around the sun that is the Italian family.
Franco: How did the profile of a marketing professional change during your career and how do you manage to stay updated, relevant and competitive? Mary: Marketing as a profession or career path is undergoing massive change. There is much more specialization as a result of the technologies that help us understand and reach a brand's stakeholders. Presenting a company to the marketplace has always been done best when the company considers not just the needs of its customers but of its employees, partners, regulators, journalists and bloggers. Today, it's important that companies consciously integrate the specialties well. We have to ensure that every conversation is true to the company's brand as well as relevant to its stakeholders. Accepting that we are leaving the age of broadcast and entering the age of conversation is essential. I'm most excited about the technology that not only feeds the information beast but makes it possible for companies to connect with stakeholders so intimately. Social networks are the circulatory system of marketing today. And they are fun. I stay up to date by reading and watching the brilliant work and thinking shared so openly by so many today. And trying every new tool that comes along!
Franco: Nowadays, women are a strategic part of the marketing department of every small, medium and large company. I assume it was not that way when you started. What kind of issues did you face at the beginning and how has the situation changed over the years?
Mary: The biggest issue I faced was my own lack of awareness. At least the two prior generations of women in my family were employed, in some capacity if not full-time, so I assumed this is what you do. And the stories they told us as children were about the work, not the obstacles. So when I entered a large professional services firm, it took me a long time to de-code what a few silly men and a few recalcitrant women were doing. The silly men could only see women as objects for their personal and/or professional use. The recalcitrant women felt men should be in charge. And sometimes your work just will not get you past those obstacles. I got a lot of help from the majority of my managers, both to understand the signals and to manage my responses, but people being people, there was a lot of non-Italian Machiavellian behavior. And I include myself in that! Today, particularly in the tech industry, misogyny and elitism have melted together somewhat to result in over-inspection of academic pedigrees and degree specialties. I'm feeling a lack of respect from some corners for more broadly educated types -- the ones who wind up taking care of customers, among other things. The good news is that women, with their own fortitude and the support of men and women currently in high positions, are flooding the workplace with an attitude of openness and curiosity as well as remarkable skill in every discipline. This combination will yield many new companies and products that will benefit society.
Franco: What recommendations do you have for a young woman or man that today would like to pursue a long and successful marketing career like yours?
Mary: Thank you! First, develop a work ethic. If you don't have the good fortune to come from a family culture that emphasizes this, demand it from your parents or find additional role models. A focus on studies is essential, but so is the ability to get hired and keep a job. Life presents challenges in every phase, along every step of the way. A work ethic will help you not just support yourself financially but be a source of light to you in the dark days. And it will give you an essential appreciation of the efforts and accomplishments of others. Second, develop writing skill. Even if your professional track is analytics or research, your ability to express trends and facts powerfully will help your company present a relevant brand. The ability to write reflects the ability to think. Every marketer needs that.
Don Andrea Spada, Mary's famous uncle. Don Andrea was a priest who directed the popular Italian newspaper "L'Eco di Bergamo". Mary named her company after uncle Andrea.
I would like to thank Mary Trigiani for taking time to answer my questions. If you have more questions for Mary or for BAIA , please feel free to contact us by leaving a comment below. I recommend to visit Mary’s website to find out more about her professional activities.