CommPRO Editorial Staff
We recently sat down with Marco Greenberg, Co-Founder/CEO of Thunder11, a fast-growing NYC-based boutique. Marco has a new book, Primitive: Tapping the Primal Drive That Powers the World’s Most Successful People out this month from Hachette that offers a timely, provocative and original look at the future of work. Its unconventional message is that true leaders are those who tap their primal instincts in times of adversity rather than sticking to the “civilized rulebook.” It also provides a roadmap at a time when professional lives are being upended (including the millions of Americans going on unplanned job hunts).
First, tell our readers about the PR firm you founded, Thunder11.
My partner and I originally met in the Israeli Defense Forces, stayed in touch, wanted to put our graduate degrees from Columbia University to good use, and decided to do something bold. The first step started twelve years ago, by naming the firm in honor of Marshall McLuhan, the late media guru, who divided human history into ten “thunders.” We’re Thunder11 for the digital age, with the aim of catapulting our clients to the next level.
For some we’re a small PR agency, but for clients who really get to work closely with us they instead see us as creatives, coaches, connectors and communicators who can help them grow their business. To meet their high expectations, we’re hellbent on living up to our tagline of “big ideas, relentless execution.”
Why did you decide to write “Primitive?”
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of advising many startup founders, established CEOs, and leaders across a wide range of organizations. I discovered something about the most successful of them: they had remarkable instincts, and they trusted them. They had an intuitive grasp of when to ignore convention. No matter how sophisticated they were, they could access something inside them that I call “primitive.”
As I dug deeper, I identified a mindset that helped certain people overcome adversity. Whether it was a former roadie for the rap group N.W.A or a rock-star brain surgeon, from young tech billionaires to a top-ten college football coach, these successful people knew when to ignore what they “should” do and instead tap a primal drive to power ahead.
Of all those you chose to profile, who stood out the most and why?
That’s a tough call, like making a parent choose his favorite child! But I would have to say it’s Michael Claes, the longtime PR guru I worked with at Burson-Marsteller, who is the first person I highlight in the book. Michael was the ultimate primitive – in his words, a hunter surrounded by farmers–he ignored all of the conventions of the workplace: timesheets, IT tickets, chain of command. But he was invaluable to the organization because he was a top performer who followed his instincts to bring in new business and score wins for his clients.
PR Pros don’t typically write books outside of the field or marketing/communications. How has a career in public relations informed how you view the individuals you chose to profile?
Actually, being a PR pro gives you a front row seat at the most private moments in an executive and company’s trajectory. You’re at the table during many of a company’s defining moments (M&A’s, IPOs, new product rollouts) — and, unfortunately, during trying times, when crisis comms comes into play. When the bright lights at CNBC or CNN are being projected on a CEO, you’re the one who’s by his/her side
They call it earned media for a reason. We see that when things start going south, it’s the PR pros they turned to.
How challenging has it been to come out with a book in the middle of a global pandemic?
It certainly wasn’t what we planned, but PR trains us to be adaptive and nimble, and to handle a crisis — all skills that are needed today more than ever. While I certainly didn’t have a crystal ball in writing this book, in many cases COVID-19 has pushed us into a more primal era. We’re dealing with our most basic needs — food security, shelter, health. The normal “civilized playbook” is no longer going to work in today’s world.
What are some ways PR ways can be more “primitive”?
“Primitive” can be a loaded term, but I’m reclaiming it to refer to what’s innate, natural, and intersectional.
Sophisticated software programs aiming to drive decisions by algorithm can be useful, but at the end of the day, PR is a people business. If you’re a misanthrope, chances are you should look elsewhere. Having said that, there are exceptions to every rule: some of the best writers I know are not “people people,” yet they are critical to PR efforts.
What do you see will be the biggest changes the PR industry will undergo in a post-COVID-19 world?
Sitting at the intersection of tech, healthcare, and public affairs has to date shielded us at Thunder11 from the ups and downs of industries such as luxury, travel, fashion, and sports. That said, budgets are being squeezed and clients more than ever demand value (you can practically hear Janet Jackson singing, “What have you done for me lately?”). PR will prove the naysayers wrong, and continue to be the tip of the spear in communications. Being fast, credible, economical, and thoughtful will be what makes a PR firm or professional stand out.