Title: Senior VP-Corporate Marketing
Years at company: 2
Years in b-to-b marketing: 22
Marketing philosophy: "To be very targeted in what you're trying to accomplish in each segment of the marketplace, then to be consistent in the message that you apply to that particular segment, and to do that over a long enough time to make an impression. Then you test and recalibrate and do it again."
Novell, a provider of networking software, made some mistakes in the mid-1990s. Its most glaring was the purchase of Word Perfect in an attempt to take on Microsoft Corp. The result of picking this fight was an almost fatal beating.
The low point was in 1997 when Novell posted a $78.3 million loss after unloading Word Perfect and other ill-advised acquisitions for significantly less than it paid for them. That year, Eric Schmidt, a key player in the development of the Internet language Java, was hired as CEO. It was also the year that John Slitz became Novell's marketing chief.
Less than two years later, Novell is experiencing a turnaround after refocusing on its core strength: networking. Comparing the first quarter of fiscal 1999 with the same period of 1998, Novell's revenue climbed 13% and net income more than doubled.
In the press, Mr. Schmidt has received the lion's share of the credit for Novell's comeback. Mr. Slitz merits some of the credit for generating that press with an aggressive public relations campaign.
"I believe, in high-tech marketing, PR is the jewel in the crown," Mr. Slitz says. "What we do is kind of complicated. It's better told by analogy, which is hard to do in a matchbox-sized ad."
One of the major aims of the PR campaign, and Novell's marketing plan as a whole, has been regaining the credibility the company lost earlier this decade. Mr. Slitz aims this marketing message at two distinct audiences: information technology professionals and top management.
To meet face-to-face with these groups, Novell took its message on the road, crisscrossing the country with conferences and seminars about the company and its products. The technical advantages for Internet applications of Novell's new NetWare 5 software and its Novell Directory Services have quickly won favor with IT professionals.
Mr. Slitz feared, however, that when IT professionals recommended Novell, top management would shrug and say, "Who's Novell?" To combat this, he orchestrated a series of seminars across the country for CEOs and other executives.
For top management, the message isn't one of "speeds and feeds" but of reliability. "We talk about the solidity of the company, how Novell is a safe bet and how we'll be your networking partner," Mr. Slitz says.
The company's sponsorship of the Novell Utah Showdown, the Senior PGA Tour's stop in Park City, Utah, is also intended to reach upper management.
But perhaps the most effective marketing tool Novell has is its alliances with such tech industry giants as IBM Corp., Lucent Technologies and Cisco Systems. "Those kinds of companies have helped us gain a good measure of credibility," Mr. Slitz says.