George Stenitzer, VP-marketing and corporate communications at telecom equipment manufacturer Tellabs Inc., has overseen significant marketing changes in the 12 years he's been with the Naperville, Ill.-based company. Tellabs has aggressively expanded internationally, and its marketing communications increasingly are driven by digital marketing. And because Tellabs competes against more well-known companies, it employs what Stenitzer calls “pufferfish” marketing to grab prospects' attention. CMO Close-Up: Tell us a bit about Tellabs' evolution over the years? Stenitzer: The company started in the U.S. about 37 years ago to serve telecom service providers, which at the time were telephone companies, and later mobile phone companies. We specialize in mobile backhaul networks, connecting cell towers back to the mobile providers. We do business with such companies as AT&T and Verizon, but we weren't well known by other large, tier-one service providers outside the U.S. As recently as 10 years ago, only about 20% of our sales came from outside North America. Today, our revenue mix is about 50/50 international and U.S., and the key is “pufferfish” marketing. CMO Close-Up: Intriguing. Please explain? Stenitzer: I'm always interested in what we can learn from nature and applying it to marketing. In our case, it means getting really close to the customer and appearing big. For example, we really wanted to get the business of BT Group, formerly British Telecom. Our tactic was to completely buy out all the advertising in their tube stop in London. So every day when they went to work, they saw Tellabs everywhere. Suddenly, our brand is huge. But what that required was to set up in advance a website that was dedicated to the customer we're pursuing, that talks to them and reflects an understanding of their business and challenges, and starts leading them to information. CMO Close-Up: Another example, please? Stenitzer: When we pursued Telecom Italia, we created an Italian version of our website, but with the content aimed specifically at Telecom Italia. We looked for billboards, found one in the lobby of their building and got that. We figured out where the guys went to exercise and sponsored T-shirts and locker key fobs. We had to understand where the customers literally go before, at and after work to implement a pufferfish campaign effectively. CMO Close-Up: Tell us more about how you customize campaigns for specific customers? Stenitzer: We do have general newsletters on particular topics relevant to the recipients, such as about mobile backhaul issues. But we also have specific customer newsletters. Tier-one customers could easily represent millions and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business. It's worthwhile to make sure you win the big deals. You have to know who you want to win and then go full bore. And of course, we need the sales force on the ground. So we're adding people in support of the air-cover of marketing. CMO Close-Up: Your background is in journalism. How does that inform your approach to marketing? Stenitzer: I didn't know that was important until social media marketing came along. Here it is about not having control of the outcome but about combining the strength of public relations with marketing communications. For an ad person, that's not a comfortable situation; but you have to let go of that control. ... Fortunately, here at Tellabs, we have a good story to tell, and we have to keep working on how to tell it better.