Virgin America's CMO Porter Gale stunned the marketing community when she announced her departure from the 4-year-old airline, effective Sept. 15. She's headed to a stealth-mode San Francisco-based startup, and while she can't disclose her role, she told Advertising Age that it's a consumer-facing project she's working on with two other people, expected to launch in late 2012.
Known for being innovative in the digital space after driving collaborations with Silicon Valley neighbors like Twitter and Google and prominent startups like Gilt Groupe -- and even using social media as a customer-service tool to connect with Virgin America passengers -- Ms. Gale talked to Ad Age about her social-media habits and the transition to a startup. She also weighed in on whether putting marketing dollars into digital is a sensible strategy for any brand.
Ad Age : How did working at Virgin America help you develop your personal brand?
Ms. Gale: The main thing it taught me is the power of social media. As an airline with a limited budget, we quickly started using social media to extend our reach. I felt as a marketer that if we were going to be using it I also needed to understand the tools. The other thing is that Virgin America has been an amazing platform for meeting digital influencers. I've met people like Gary Vaynerchuk, who approached us about being our wine expert; Jeff Pulver, who does the 140 Characters Conference. I met him through a tweet where he said, "I love Virgin America, I want to come into the office." Also Guy Kawasaki: He's another amazing person in the social-media space who happens to be our No. 1 brand evangelist.
Ad Age : Is the transition to a startup strange after working within a multinational corporation?
Ms. Gale: There's going to be lots of exciting days and probably lots of challenges also. You go back to a time without an assistant and limited funds; we're building it from the ground up. But I'm excited about the opportunity.
FLYING TIPS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS1. Bring your water bottle.
2. Points.com is a great site if you want to transfer points.
3. Sign up for loyalty programs -- the points or miles do add up.
4. Consider chatting with your seatmates -- I've met many fascinating people on planes.
Ad Age : Do you think it's always important for marketers to take an innovative approach and explore digital opportunities?
Ms. Gale: Being innovative for Virgin America in the digital space makes tons of sense because 70% of our sales are on our website. And our product is a digital product -- with outlets in the seats and Wi-Fi -- so people expect us to be technologically savvy. It fits with our product, it fits with our distribution strategy, and it mirrors the guests who are flying us. So it depends on what you're trying to achieve. If you're selling a retirement home, I don't think social media is going to be as important for you as for an airline.
Ad Age : How do you personally use social media?
Ms. Gale: I use Twitter and Facebook and Google+, and I use social media on a daily basis. On Twitter I've met some very interesting people: relationships I've started virtually and then met in person. Twitter is more for business and industry information, and Facebook is more for personal and relationships. And Google+ -- I'm still experimenting with Google+. There's About.me -- I do like that site, too. It's a snapshot of a person's personal brand and aggregates all their social-media channels. I do use LinkedIn, too. I probably have 800 or so contacts. On that I'm using it more to answer questions from people.
Ad Age : What's your advice to someone setting out to build their personal brand?
Ms. Gale: The No. 1 thing is that it's easier to start with a clean slate, so you want to make sure people understand the power of the internet in terms of photos staying out there forever. So make sure the content you're putting out today is something you're going to want out there 10 years from now. It's easier to build your brand than to repair it.