Over the years, Susan Taylor has managed to work on some of the most important industry announcements in Canadian IT as a media relations executive with Microsoft Canada, Apple and as lead PR person for IBM Canada’s Personal Computing division.

After a year’s maternity leave Taylor has

returned to a new role where she will be responsible for media communications at Lenovo Canada, the subsidiary of the Chinese conglomerate that acquired the IBM PC division last year.

Pipeline had a chance to talk to Taylor about her career and what Lenovo’s marketing and communications plans will be for Canada.

Pipeline: How did you land the Lenovo Canada public relations job??

Susan Taylor: Back on December 8th, I heard rumours from a colleague that the (IBM) PC company was going to be sold. There were other rumours circulating from industry and I wasn’t sure if I should take it seriously or not. And, when it was fact that IBM sold to the Lenovo group in China I wasn’t sure who Lenovo was. They did not have a presence in North America to date. But, I was excited about working for a smaller company and that their focus was on PCs.

Here I am (just off maternity leave) and they had a need for a communications manager for external and internal and so I jumped at the opportunity. It’s neat to be part of something that is new, yet not — a unique position in a company. We’ve got an established brand in ThinkPad and ThinkCenter and we have an established customer base, and supply chain.

It will be different than if I was going to a startup or something that came out of the other mergers that have happened in the industry.

Pipeline: Are you it in terms of Lenovo PR? Are there plans to hire a staff or choose an agency?

ST: At this time I am it. We are still planning on how we will evolve — whether it will be to internally grow or hire an agency. We should have an answer to that in the next few weeks.

The only agency Lenovo Canada has worked with is Ketchum, which is IBM (Canada)’s PR agency. They worked with us on the day one launch activities on May 1.  It became Lenovo Canada that day and in the U.S. it became Lenovo, as well as many other countries. 

Pipeline: What are your marketing and communications plans for Lenovo Canada?

ST: Our job in communications, in the short term is going to be to open contact with customers. We really have to demonstrate to them that the product has the same quality and service they expected when we were IBM. To ensure people are aware of where to buy ThinkPads and ThinkCentres because they used to call IBM to get them. And they are still available on IBM Canada’s Web site. But, we are now using a new URL called www.thinkpad.com/ca. We still have the same account reps so if you were a customer doing business with IBM you will continue to deal with the same person and the same holds true for business partners.

Communications will all go through PR and advertising. We are also going on a cross-country road show on May 16th starting in St. Johns. It will head west to Vancouver.

Looking further out, IBM PCD had strength in the ThinkPad brand and in the mid-market and large enterprise segments. What Lenovo brings is customer strength in SMB and in desktops. They have huge strength in Asia. So there will be very little overlap and there will be opportunities for customers to experience new business products in North America. 

Pipeline: Why use Thinkpad.com/ca and not Lenovo.com? 

ST: Lenovo.com.ca is a Web site but the ThinkPad brand is what people know and recognize. We wanted to make the transformation smoother and offer more consistency. It made sense to offer that brand when we switched. An analogy that is used here is, think of Procter & Gamble vs. Tide. People know Tide — they do not buy Procter & Gamble. 

Pipeline: Is it going to be difficult to market the brand knowing that it will still be IBM for the next two years before transitioning over to Lenovo?

ST: That is another reason to focus on the ThinkPad brand. We’ve got a well-known brand with ThinkPad and ThinkCentre around the world, an established customer base and we are going to focus on that for continuity. I am surprised with this question, but all I can say is that I am excited about the possibilities. Not to sound flaky, but I will say if you go to Lenovo.com they have cool consumer gadgets.

Now is the time to evaluate what products are right for what markets. 

Pipeline: A lot of the concerns from the channel and end users are on quality. How do you go about changing the mindset of people on the Lenovo quality issue?

ST: I would say the manufacturing facilities are the same as IBM PCD, and R&D is the same. Quality is going to be a top priority. A recent survey of 4,000 PCD customers found that 90 per cent (of the respondents) are encouraged by the new opportunity. Lenovo will be cranking out more PCs and we will have economies of scale.  Innovation will be important. As I have come to learn more about Lenovo, they have a solid representation for quality. Lenovo chairman Yuanq Ching Yang was nominated by a U.S. publication for a business innovator award along with Steve Jobs (Apple CEO), to put it into perspective. Lenovo itself received more than1,000 patents and quality and innovation is important to their culture.

Pipeline: Your background has been handling Microsoft, Apple and IBM. What do you take from all three that you can put into practice at Lenovo?

ST: Working with Microsoft’s PR agency, it was my first job in my career and Microsoft was a young and invincible company at the time. The FTC was the last thing on their minds and they were a media darling. They had lots of energy and what I took from that was the importance of not having a “that is not my job” mentality. Everyone pitched in and it was a motivating culture. At Lenovo with internal communications I want to foster that “can do” mentality. That said, since the transition I have seen a growing energy. The people here feel empowered. It is a smaller company and they can see that they can make their mark with this opportunity.

At Apple, that was a great experience. They make the most intuitive products on this Earth. They are in a category all there own. They have the cool factor and they have a very loyal following, an almost cult-like loyalty that I have never seen in any other brand. What I take from that is you got to offer innovation to be successful and whether that is in the supply chain or in finding a way to bring the product to market to benefit the customer. You need innovation to be successful and you need to promote that innovation. You also have to get the products into the hands of the right people.

At Lenovo, we’ll use press releases and advertising to promote innovation. We’ve got to get the products into the right hands, enthusing the market.

My last employer, IBM Canada, is by far the largest company I have ever worked for and I learned how to work the system here to get things done. So internally, if I am trying to move something forward, I have to sell someone on the project or idea. It is very similar to if I was a customer.  1 also learned once you get what we call here the Big Blue machine in motion, and you get buy in, it can be a powerful thing. If you get the army focused in on one direction you can get a lot done. At Lenovo, I would like to use some of the sales skills I learned at IBM and keep them keen and excited and maintain that can do mentality.

Pipeline: Will Lenovo’s channel marketing look any different?

ST: We have a channel marketing area and I work with them to ensure that there familiar with innovation and they know how to sell it. As for the channel programs, the same PCD programs are in affect with Lenovo.

Pipeline: Will it change? 

ST: Anything is possible.

Comment: pipeline@itbusiness.ca

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