Do More of What You Fear: 20 Great Answers with Mark Fenson, HP + Intel Evangelist

That’s exactly how a self-described “shy kid from a country town” ended up as an in demand keynote speaker and technology evangelist for some of the world’s biggest technology brands. Join your host and Executive Creative Director Barrie Seppings, as he fires 20 Questions at Mark Fenson and discovers how to stay sane in a high-pressure job, why regrets aren’t worth your time and all about that business tripped that changed everything. Yes, we’re back with this month’s ‘Plugged In, Switched On’ podcast from Splendid Group. 

“I think people get wound up on nine to five, and we’re not in a nine to five age anymore. We are in an age where you can work whenever you see fit, you’re working from home, you’re in the office. I like to call it a half-assed Monday. Sometimes I’ll go in, show my face, go to the gym, leave, come home, have lunch with my wife, and probably get more done that afternoon than what I would’ve done in the office. But it’s about finding the best fit for you and your family. And no one can have a conversation other than you and your boss about, “This is the best way I work.”

The interview format at Plugged In Switched On is very simple: we ask every guest the same 20 Questions and invariably we get 20 different (but always great) answers. Here are some of our favourites from our interview with evangelist Mark Fenson:

  • What’s the one career move you wish you could go back and undo?
  • Who have you learned the most from in your career?
  • What’s the one thing in this industry that has gone on for too long and needs fixing?
  • What’s the most overhyped buzzword in tech marketing right now?
  • How different are you in ‘work mode’ compared to when you’re off the leash?

About our guest

Mark Fenson has over 20 years experience in business technology sales and education for the likes of Cisco and Lenovo. He now travels the world explaining the near future on behalf of Intel and HP as their AI Compute Evangelist.

About our host

Barrie Seppings is the Executive Creative Director of The Splendid Group and the host of Plugged In, Switched On. Connect with Barrie on LinkedIn.

Listen to the podcast episode 24

Full transcript of the podcast episode 4

Mark Fenson (00:01)
I think people get wound up on nine-to-five, and we’re not in a nine-to-five age anymore. We are in an age where you can work whenever you see fit, you’re working from home, you’re in the office. I like to call it a half-ass Monday. Sometimes, I’ll go in, show my face, go to the gym, leave, come home, have lunch with my wife and probably get more done that afternoon than what I would have done in the office, but it’s about finding the best fit for you and your family. And no one can have a conversation other than you and your boss about, this is the best way I work.

Barrie Seppings (00:32)
Welcome back to Plugged In, Switched On where we pull you into the conversations that matter in B2B tech marketing. I am your host, Barry Seppings. And the quote you just heard was from Mark Fenson, who is the HP and Intel AI compute evangelist. I’ve always wanted to speak to an evangelist, and today I got that opportunity. More from Mark in just a moment.

Now, if you are new to our pod, I’m going to show you around. We do three things here at Plugged In, Switched On. Firstly, we get some of the most interesting people like Mark in the B2B tech marketing landscape to tell us how they do what they do and why they do what they do. Secondly, some other episodes, we take a look at some of the core skills a marketer needs. We pull them apart, see how they work, see if they can be improved a little bit, and you’re more than welcome to tune into those special episodes, particularly interesting if you are a marketer looking to upskill or reskill or move into a new area. So keep an ear out for those.

Finally, we also do some special episodes where we pull back the curtain on how these teams and leaders operate. We look at their day to day. We look at their secret tricks, their tips, and see if we can steal a few ideas for our own operations, whether they be in-house or with an agency, remote, hybrid, global or local. Now, we don’t try and do all those three things, the interviews, the deep dive and the operations review all at once. We like to focus. Today’s focus [00:02:00] is an interview. And we like rules as well as focus. So the rules of the interview game are this. We ask every guest the same 20 questions and they give us 20 very different answers. Let’s go.

Mark Fenson, HP and Intel AI compute evangelist. Your first Plugged In, Switched On question is the elevator pitch. What is your company or brand selling? Why would anybody pay good money for it?

Mark Fenson (02:27)
That is the great question. So I represent HP and [00:02:30] Intel, and my elevator pitch is if you’re looking for the most secure, sustainable PC, print, communication, collaboration poly product on the market, we are the vendor of choice. I have the really great role of being able to walk into a room, get everyone to buy in on the idea, and then I give it to the salespeople to sell. But I know that I’m back for a second time, so I must have been doing something right, but no, [00:03:00] that’s my pitch of how I see what I do at HP.

Barrie Seppings (03:04)
But it’s a tough segment.

Mark Fenson (03:05)
It is.

Barrie Seppings (03:06)
Right. And it’s one of the most commonly described as comparative like there’s product parity in general.

Mark Fenson (03:12)
Yeah. And this is where HP is really differentiating with a sustainability message, a security message and not just being, like we now talk about the three P’s, poly, print, PC, and the one throat to choke up method is that this is exactly what everyone needs at the moment. And I think with the [00:03:30] transformation where AI is taking things, it’s coming back to the swing where end user computer is not just a commodity throwaway product anymore. You really need to start future planning to be on the forefront of what’s about to happen next. And we’re seeing with the new Intel processors that you’ve got your dedicated AI chip to be prepared for that next step in what AI is about to do.

I use the description of we’re at that stage where the internet was when everyone was purchasing Cisco routers [00:04:00] and the Cisco system, the backend to be able to create what’s next. Everyone is now buying the chips, the processors, the CPU, GPU to be ready for that next emergence of what’s going to happen.

Barrie Seppings (04:12)
Question two, this is your superhero origin story.

Barrie Seppings (04:21)
Did you, Mark, grow up dreaming of becoming an evangelist? What did Mark-

Mark Fenson (04:27)
I don’t think anyone ever dreams of being an evangelist. [00:04:30] I was a country kid. It’s quite funny. I’ve got my two and a half year old that’s fascinated by trains. Just we’ll go down each weekend and sit and watch the trains go past the station. We’ll jump on it and we’ll go for a ride. I was the same as a kid. I truly wanted to just be a train driver, go figure. Then my mom wanted me to become a teacher, and then I fell into computers and I was able to basically pull them apart and put them back together again without stuffing up and fell into IT and dove into [00:05:00] selling at Harvey Norman things back in Armidale in New South Wales. So I just went from there.

It’s quite funny that most of my mates at high school look at me and go, “How are you doing this? You could never structure a sentence. You couldn’t publicly speak to save yourself.” And here I am now representing two of the biggest PC companies in the market, and with HP and Intel, and being the emcee on stage and doing hour-long presentations, longer than that, but yeah.

Barrie Seppings (05:26)
You spent a lot of time in the spotlight.

Mark Fenson (05:28)
Yeah, yeah. When you think about this happening right now, it’s like people couldn’t fathom me doing this back in high school. I think you’ve got a question of you said the superhero stage. I’ve never thought I’d be doing this.

Barrie Seppings (05:43)
It’s a real Clark Kent to Superman thing.

Mark Fenson (05:48)
Yeah, absolutely.

Barrie Seppings (05:48)
Was there a moment where you just went, “You know what? I can do this,” or just gradually, you got more comfortable with it?

Mark Fenson (05:50)
Well, it was one of those things where I had to present my weekly forecast and numbers and all that to the senior leaders, and I wasn’t comfortable some of the time and it took a while for me to get into it. And then I just went, “You know what? I’m going to do more of this and throw myself into those things that I’m scared of and I’m not confident in and just went to town on it and just became that next step.” And me falling into the evangelist role is because I wouldn’t go and just represent the products I was looking after. I’d go in and I’d speak to anything with the HP badge. Even to the point with print, the small amount I do know about print, I’d still present that if that was needed, and if it had an HP badge, I’ll talk about it. So that’s how I fell into it.

Barrie Seppings (06:31)
Question three, I’d do this for free. Part of your job you just naturally enjoy, you just gravitate to and find yourself really spending more time than you should be doing.

Mark Fenson (06:42)
Well, it’s that stage presence, and the things that used to scare the hell out of me is standing up in front of people. I just gravitate to that now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still like you’re putting on a costume of the business shirt, jacket, pair of jeans and getting on stage, and that’s the different persona than probably what you see.

Barrie Seppings (07:05)
Do you have a stage outfit? Do you have a go-to socks or shoe or something that that lets you know?

Mark Fenson (07:12)
It’s pretty much the usual HP uniform of jacket, jeans and a business shirt. I think what helped me get to this stage was I used to do a lot of costume stuff, and whenever I was presenting, I’d go that little bit extra of silliness to engage people and have the narrative around a bit of a joke, a bit of fun, and still get the message across. And I think that’s what helped me build the confidence in where I get to … Yeah.

Barrie Seppings (07:38)
Yeah, that makes sense. And who do you reckon has got the worst job in B2B tech marketing or the part of your job is like, “Oh, I’ve got to do this. I know I have to, but I don’t want to.”

Mark Fenson (07:46)
Well, I used to be just sitting in front of spreadsheets all the time and look at some of the people doing that these days, but everything has got to have some purpose and a requirement and whether it’s expenses or doing all the other stuff, sitting in front of just a screen all the time is probably the thing I don’t … I think I’ve shifted from just using Excel to PowerPoint more often than not. So it’s just that shift between what I’m staring at. But I think I got to the point where I was staring at spreadsheets these days and not getting out and being in front of people, the complete opposite of what I used to do.

When I started at HP, I was a product manager and that was just all run on spreadsheets. So I’ve done that full transition into more around what’s on a PowerPoint, what’s a narrative, what’s the conversation? I think that’s one of the things that makes me a little bit different, is that I’m constantly thinking about the narrative in my head about what I’m about to present, whether it’s emceeing something and what I can develop through the whole day of presenting or if it’s my own presentation, it’s constantly sitting there in the back of my head that’s just going through.

Barrie Seppings (08:50)
Because you’d be getting constant in the moment feedback. If you’re just hitting product points, you’re losing the audience. You’d see that straight away, right?

Mark Fenson (08:57)
Absolutely. I literally had this conversation on the weekend and I said I’ve become an incredibly good judge of character and being able to read what people, how they act, mannerisms in their face and eyes that you can change your conversation. You can change your thoughts. You can read people very well. And even if it’s like you know you’ve lost them as soon as they look on their phone, if they’re not taking notes, things like that, but yeah, I try and make it as entertaining as possible that they don’t do that, but you do occasionally lose one or two people. And on the same note as that, you’ve got to make sure that you bounce back to not focusing on the ones and twos that are on their phones, but focusing on the people that are engaged and interacting with you.

Barrie Seppings (09:41)
Question four, control, alt, delete. What’s the one career move or moment you wish you could go back and undo? Can you recall a moment in your career where it was very clear that you just learned a valuable lesson?

Mark Fenson (09:55)
When I was thinking about this the other day, and I don’t believe in control, alt, delete, rewind, go back and reset. I keep working with what I’ve done. I don’t think that I should look back at life and go, “I should change that or wish I could do this or I wish I could do that.” I’m very much like a in the now forward-thinking type of thing, not too far in front. I’m not strategic at all, but I’m in the now.

I’m sure there’s a couple of personal decisions that I could have done better with inside my organization, wherever that was located at that time, but I don’t think it’s something I could say this is this or I could do this because who actually comes out to become an evangelist? It’s one of those things. And tell me if I can say this word, but I said to someone, I said, “Oh, I’ve got one of the most wankiest titles in all of IT.” And he goes, “Oh, don’t tell me you’re an evangelist. I want to be an evangelist.” And then we had a conversation about how did you become an evangelist? And I went, “There’s no real … You just got to know your narrative. You’ve got to know your audience. You’ve got to go in and just be genuine to people.” And so I don’t look at what I could have done differently. I’m more in the moment, more in the now.

Barrie Seppings (11:02)
Question five, shout out. Who have you learned the most from in your career, even if perhaps it was what not to do?

Mark Fenson (11:12)
The first one is my wife. I actually met her on a work trip to Singapore. She was working there, and we had a long distance relationship, and I always said that I’m not going to introduce anyone to my kids two years after we’ve been dating. She met them in six months. So she was a positive influence on a direction that I see myself and where I look.

From a professional level, I have Paul Gracey who managed me for many years at HP, and he was one of those people that taught me to say no or how to control yourself not to speak, to give that mindfulness time to let others speak or let others process what is going on.

And another one would be Glen Boatwright, who’s at Intel at the moment. He brought me on into this role for the Intel side, and he’s just someone that, again, another genuine person that he’ll sit down and have a beer with you and that’ll be our conversation. Our chin-wags, five-minute chin-wags go for an hour and a half. So yeah, it’s genuine feedback and response. And I think Paul and him are very similar in how they give constructive advice and able to have that good conversation with you that you sit there and go, “Oh, god, we’ve been speaking for an hour and a half. Okay, I’ve got to go” type of thing. So those are the type of people that I really resonate to.

Barrie Seppings (12:36)
Yeah. But I imagine evangelist is a relatively solitary role. You don’t get a team. You’re not really leading and managing other people.

Mark Fenson (12:41)
No. We’ve brought on Carlin over in New Zealand to give me a hand at the moment, but again, we’re passing ships in the night. Yeah, you’re very right. It is a fairly solo activity and just bounce from event to event and session to session, meeting to meeting. But again, in the nature that I do live in, I do like to live in the moment and go for the now and work at a hectic pace, but I enjoy that. You couldn’t do it if you didn’t enjoy that type of lifestyle. Always having that thinking about, well, what’s next type of conversation, but again, I’m still living in the moment type of idea. So what’s next is going to be the next tough conversation. Yeah.

Barrie Seppings (13:26)
Question six, the only constant is marketing cliches. So the rate of change has accelerated. It’s even celebrated. It’s fetishized a bit in the technology world and certainly in the marketing world. So when you put tech and marketing together, everyone loves how fast it gets, but the reality is humans honestly hate change. How do you convince yourself to keep leaning in?

Mark Fenson (13:48)
And it’s one of those things where AI is just ramping that up even more. Like ChatGPT took five days to get a million users where Netflix took 1,200 days. That’s how quickly things are just now progressing. And I think it’s one of those things that, just mentioning Netflix there, is you need to disrupt yourself. You need to do that because you get left past at the moment because it’s just happening so fast.

Barrie Seppings (14:14)
But disruption is uncomfortable. Humans would generally prefer that to not happen. Does it feel like training like going to the gym? Everyone hates going to the gym, but you enjoy having been?

Mark Fenson (14:24)
Yeah, exactly that. I know that disruption has to take place in this industry, and things change and they’re changing faster. I think it’s one of those things where you could have someone that sits in a role for 40-odd years and hasn’t changed much, where I’m very much at the forefront. My presentations change on a daily, weekly basis sometimes, but I enjoy that. That’s living in the now and the movement, and I’ve probably got a thousand tabs open in my browser at the moment of things I still need to read and keep up on. But listen to podcasts whenever I’m in the car, try and be engaged with the family and in the moment there, but you need to be on that next stepping stone, the next wheel, the idea. My favorite thing at the moment is AI generate a summary for this page and I get a summary back of all these pages I need to read.

So yeah, it’s very much that disruption is going to happen, whether or not you create it or someone else does, and then you’re trying to play catch up. They’re the conversations you need to have about where you’re going as a marketer, where you’re going as an evangelist, as a narrative that you want to drive. I think marketing these days is changing so quickly and we’re seeing all the things with the strikes in the US from the writers as well as the actors about where AI is taking it. So there’s a lot of great things. There’s a lot of skeptical things happening, but you need to be on the forefront of that. If you’re not, you’re going to be left behind. That’s how I feel.

Barrie Seppings (15:53)
Yeah. So for you, it’s a mixture of curiosity but also that fear.

Mark Fenson (15:57)
Yeah.

Barrie Seppings (15:57)
It’s like, all right, we need to get into this?

Mark Fenson (15:59)
And you need to really understand it to use it. There’s so many catchphrases at the moment around what people think AI is and what it actually is. Just because my microwave or washing machine has AI, and it doesn’t really mean it’s doing anything that’s AI related. So yeah, I think that buzzword of ’23, ’24 and sometimes, it’s not what it is, what it is. So yeah.

Barrie Seppings (16:26)
Somebody trotted out the old joke that AI in business is a bit like teenage sex. Everybody is talking about it. Everyone is claiming they’re really good at it, but they’re all just fumbling around in the dark.

Mark Fenson (16:38)
Yeah, that is a very good way of putting it. And again, I put the, because this is what I do, I put the narrative around what Intel and HP is doing. There’s some good direction what Intel is doing. It’s not just throwing it out there. It’s getting the right partnerships, the right software to be ready for that next leg in what people are creating. I spoke [00:17:00] to a guy today that’s using it for DJ and audiovisual and the visuals component of it and how AI is driving that, and some of the stuff he’s doing is crazy.

Barrie Seppings (17:11)
Question seven, here’s to your health. All this running around that you do, Mark, you’re around the globe. This worries me a little bit. What do you do to stay physically and mentally healthy in a job like yours? It sounds like there are stresses placed upon you.

Mark Fenson (17:25)
Absolutely, there is. As you said, it’s a very solo job, the evangelist. You’re in, you’re out and you’re back on a plane. If I’m traveling for four days, the fifth day is my day. I will work a four-day week. If I’m Monday, Tuesday somewhere and I’ve got to be somewhere else Thursday, Friday, Wednesday is my day. I’ll do very little, check some emails, make some phone calls, very basic stuff. But when you do … And anyone in the marketing space that has more than a one-day event knows, when you’re on, you’re on. It’s not just nine-to-five. You’re on 24/7. And if you’ve got a four-day event or you’re traveling for four days, you’re on.

I had a person who does a similar role to me, and I could just say that they were definitely about to burst into tears, and I went, “Okay, you’re hanging up from this call after we finish, after you’ve stopped asking your questions, and you’re taking the rest of the afternoon off. You’ve just come back from New Zealand. You’ve had four days being on dinners and afterwards, going out for a couple of drinks after that. That’s hectic. You need to just stop and just take time for yourself, take time for your family and try and do that as much as possible when you’re on the go.”

Barrie Seppings (18:40)
What’s your indicator? How do you know where you’ve just about hit the limit?

Mark Fenson (18:45)
I don’t sometimes. And you’re absolutely right that you can just start to burn out. And I had a bit of a head cold last week because I just was going. And I actually had to go to … There was supposed to be a harbor cruise type thing and I said no to that because I had meetings the next day. It’s one of those things where you need to sometimes just go, “No, I can’t do it.” And as I said, Paul was one of those people that told me how to say no. I need to get better back into it again because you get pulled in every direction, but you sometimes just got to say no, and sometimes you just need to go, “I need this day for me.” And you know that as soon as you wake up, you’re lying in bed and you just go, “I’m struggling to be motivated. I need to give myself that extra time.”

Even at events and stuff like that, I’ll just be like, “Yeah, I’ll get there a bit later or just before I’m about to present because I just need that extra time.” Because your marketing, your events, you’re doing all this thing that you need to be present and in the moment to that type of thing. You need to be able to bounce back and accommodate all the things that can happen in that time.

Barrie Seppings (19:59)
And everybody wants a piece of you.

Mark Fenson (20:01)
Absolutely, yeah. And that’s the thing. It’s like, okay, I’ll get off stage at 5:00. I’ll try and leave by 6:00. If I can get away by 6:30 because I know everyone is going to stop you as you’re walking towards the door. I got away at 6:15 the other day and I’m like, “Okay, that’s a win.” So yeah, the narrative and everything engages people, which is fantastic. You don’t want to not do that. You’ve got to give them that time afterwards to have that conversation.

Barrie Seppings (20:30)
Question eight, unique snowflakes. Every market or industry or territory or even country thinks they’re a little bit different. Which one is in your experience?

Mark Fenson (20:42)
I always say that you can’t sell the American way in Australia. In Australia, you can’t really sell in the American way because it’s a very different way of selling. When you talk about looking at industries, markets, those type of things, I think people buy from people. People associate and engage with people. I can do what I do and go overseas and still do it, but it’s that twist, that change in the narrative of how you present to change that landscape, that dynamic to be registered with the people that you’re presenting to.

As I said, I’m quite engaging. When I present, I try to make it personal and genuine, and that resonates with people. It doesn’t matter what you’re talking about. If you can be genuine and have an open and honest conversation with them, then [00:21:30] that’s where I see the change. Yes, health to mining is two completely different things and they have different ideas, but you can still do the same idea, presentation, narrative, just with a twist.

Barrie Seppings (21:44)
So you would say that the cultural differences are stronger than, say, the industry?

Mark Fenson (21:48)
I think so.

Barrie Seppings (21:49)
Yeah. Okay.

Mark Fenson (21:51)
I think that I’ve seen companies try and do what works in America over here and it gets shut down pretty quickly. That being said though, there’s been some great marketing that I’ve seen with some of the stuff HP has done where it’s come across and it works in America and it works over here because there’s not too much of a shift in the language of it all. Maybe going from that to Southeast Asia or some of those might not work just purely based on the language and how it’s been done.

Barrie Seppings (22:19)
Question nine, green with envy. What’s the campaign or event or idea or launch that you’ve seen or heard about that you really wish you had done?

Mark Fenson (22:32)
That one is a tough one because again, I don’t look back. I’m in the moment. I’m in the now. To be honest, I won’t say what I’m green with envy with. I’m actually going to say what I’m excited about is we’ve got some internal and customer-facing, media-facing events coming up. And the AI story that I literally got off the phone on the way to here, it sounds so exciting. That’s what I’m excited about more than looking back or being green with envy because some of the stuff of the DJs and visuals and what AI is creating in that space, it’s really exciting. I’m excited about these events that I’ve got coming up rather than-

Barrie Seppings (23:14)
Best is yet to come.

Mark Fenson (23:15)
Yeah, I think so.

Barrie Seppings (23:18)
Question 10, I’m going to challenge your optimism here, that really gets my goat. What’s the one thing in this industry, B2B marketing and tech marketing in particular that’s gone on for too long that you think needs fixing or retiring?

Mark Fenson (23:29)
Yeah, this one was another one that I couldn’t really think about. What has … I don’t really try and let things upset me. My mother always thought that I was too optimistic for my own good, and I’m sure there’s stuff out there that annoys me at certain times, but I just don’t let it try and resonate and stay with me that long. Sometimes we go to events, and particularly HP is trying to change the way they position their events, that we’re taking these people’s times now, and time is such a thing that we just can’t throw away the idea that it’s a big commitment out of their day to day to come and sit at an event. We can’t just have people that aren’t great presenters, great speakers or giving them ideas and thoughts about what to think about next.

So one of the things that probably gets my goat is that you have events where there’s someone that’s probably just reading off the PowerPoint slide and things like that. I think that probably irks me more in that we’re taking people’s time now. You’ve got to make it genuine. You’ve got to make it worthwhile that they are-

Barrie Seppings (24:37)
Do you see it as disrespectful of the audience in a way?

Mark Fenson (24:41)
I just don’t think they know. I just think that that’s how they’re trying to communicate, to interact, and I think they’re just doing their best because they’ve probably been put in that situation because they’re there type of thing. Oh, you can come and do this.

Barrie Seppings (24:53)
And they’re not actual good presenters.

Mark Fenson (24:55)
Yeah, they’re probably scared out of their mind about it. I think it’s just one thing now that post-COVID, I think people have got a lot more respect for their time now. We’ve really slipped back into the we’re a hundred percent full steam ahead on events and face-to-face sessions now and things like that that we just need to be mindful that we’re taking people’s times away from them and away from their families and things like that, that the experience has to be a great one.

Barrie Seppings (25:24)
Question 11, truth serum. What’s the one question you’d ask an agency or an events company or one of the suppliers or vendors that you depend on if you knew you’d get the truth?

Mark Fenson (25:38)
Yeah, that’s a tough question because I’ll be honest. I think in how we’ve formed our relationship and how we built everything we created together was I could ask you a dirty, ugly question and get an honest answer. And again, I fly into the thing, fly out. Someone else has done the dirty work for me. But yeah, I don’t have a hesitation of asking the questions I need to ask. Because I think what it is now is if you’re going to waste my time, and that’s on me if I didn’t ask the right questions, if I ask the right questions and I don’t feel it’s worth my time, then I’ll take a step back.

I learned this lesson. I had one person say, “Yeah, I absolutely need you down here. You need to be at this event.” And I got down there and they canceled half of it. I was only there for 25 minutes. I think I spent more time in the Ubers back and forth from the airport than what I was at the actual event in Melbourne. And it wasn’t a great experience, but I also put that back on me. I had my hesitations before I went. I should have known and asked the question stronger beforehand and pushed back and said no a bit more, but I didn’t, and I paid the cost of wasting the day in sitting in an airport.

Barrie Seppings (26:58)
Yeah. Was that a bit politeness or that eagerness to please or wanting to do the right thing?

Mark Fenson (27:07)
No, I think it was more their pressure for me to say, “Hey, you need to be here for this. You need to do this.” And I think it was his pressure of trying to please the partner so that I was going to be there doing this stuff. He’d made a commitment or a promise, I think, that I was then fulfilling to do this and I then got on that bandwagon.

Barrie Seppings (27:24)
He wrote the check that you had to cash.

Mark Fenson (27:26)
Yeah, exactly, and I lost 12 hours of my day traveling back and forth for 25 minutes. So yeah, I look at that now and that’s how I gauge my time, is that I’m not going to travel for two hours or a one-hour meeting. You need to be extremely mindful of not just your time but your family’s time, the interactions and everything else that’s going around it.

Barrie Seppings (27:49)
And is it possibly post-COVID where we realized we could do a bunch of stuff without getting on a plane that gives you a bit more license to say, “Is this totally necessary to be in the room?”

Mark Fenson (27:57)
Yeah, absolutely. And I normally come along and do a whole lot of presenting and do the products and show and tells and things like that, but I think a lot of people now understand that you can be anywhere in the world and still have a good experience with that. And I think this is where a lot of the stuff around what we’re doing with poly is that making an equitable experience between someone in an office, someone at home, someone bridging that gap, being virtually anywhere to have a good in-room meeting experience.

Barrie Seppings (28:27)
Yeah. Yeah. That’s a tough nut to crack.

Mark Fenson (28:29)
Yeah. Yeah. [00:28:30] But we’re getting there. I think there’s some really cool stuff that they’ve just announced and they’ve got going. But yeah, again, that’s the conversations that I have with as I walk in and do.

Barrie Seppings (28:39)
Question 12, better together. How do you make the call between being respectful and collaborating with someone versus either stepping them back and letting them do their thing or conversely, asking them to please stop helping?

Mark Fenson (28:58)
To please stop helping. I think you’ve got to know your strengths and your weaknesses. I know that I could be on a plane, I could be unapproachable. I could be unavailable to be in contact. So I know the strength of my team is that they’re not going to do stuff that is going to waste my time. They will generally sit there and say, “Right. We need you here because we generally need you here.” When it goes around them and the marketing team I’ve got behind me, that’s where it can get a bit gray and how much time I get to be where and when.

But yeah, knowing their strength, knowing that they know how to do their job, that they’re there to not waste your time and make sure that you do your job. That’s some of the huge benefits I have of the really good marketing team behind us. Yeah, Joel, Karina and Rob from our marketing side, just to name a few that they know how to bring me in when it’s needed. I don’t need to be on every call and meeting that is going to waste my time, but they’ll come back and give me the bullet points of this is what we need to do.

Barrie Seppings (30:06)
So you’ve developed that trust over time from working with them?

Mark Fenson (30:09)
Absolutely. Yeah.

Barrie Seppings (30:09)
These people that you worked with in your first incarnation at HP as well?

Mark Fenson (30:13)
Yes, they were there for a lot of it, not the whole time. I’ve gone through a few marketing teams, and I think one of the … HP has been really lucky with the marketing teams they have. We’ve worked with them for years and they’ve always had a great experience with the people on the ground there. They are really good in what they do and how they control and interact with me as an evangelist for them.

Barrie Seppings (30:42)
Question 13, change your mind. What is a long-held belief about marketing or communications or the events, the work that you do that you no longer hold, and what caused you to change your mind?

Mark Fenson (30:58)
We’ve seen that shift from online to face-to-face back to being online again, and now that combination of the two. It is now that point where we need to be able to control and change the way we do things based on where our audience is, how we want to do it. We’re podcasting here now. We could also have done this as a fireside chat on stage somewhere. It’s blending that technology and face-to-face and what works best. I think we’re all tired of email spams, marketing emails and things like that that we constantly get hit. We’re just trying to deselect that. But shifting the way and the narrative of how we interact with our customers, our internal, external teams, that’s now the preferred way. Changing, disrupting yourself in how you market yourself, not just sending an email blast and things like that. I think that’s probably one of the changes that I had seen and experienced.

Barrie Seppings (32:07)
That need to be more flexible?

Mark Fenson (32:08)
Yeah, absolutely.

Barrie Seppings (32:09)
Yeah.

Mark Fenson (32:10)
Yeah. And I think now you’ve got five different generations out there in the world that they procure and consume information all completely differently. I’m not saying that email doesn’t work, but it’s more tailored to a set generation. It’s demographic, I’d say.

Barrie Seppings (32:28)
That’s now working with my daughter. She’s not answered any of my emails.

Mark Fenson (32:31)
Or text messages or WhatsApps.

Barrie Seppings (32:33)
Or actually any of the things.

Mark Fenson (32:36)
I’ll give you a hug after this. No, but I think we’re seeing that WhatsApp is now becoming a great way to interact. TikTok has driven new ways to engage with your audiences. Maybe you need to create a TikTok, mate, and send to that.

Barrie Seppings (32:50)
Question 14, putting your money where your mouth is. It’s not your budget to spend, but if it were, in terms of effectiveness and ROI, what tactics or things at events are you seeing that’s really working for people? Is it still the merch? Is it still getting the Black Eyed Peas on stage? What really drives engagement?

Mark Fenson (33:09)
It’s quite funny you said about the merch. You’re still going to get people that are just going to dive in for free merch, mate. That’s never going to change.

Barrie Seppings (33:17)
We talk about disruption. Don’t disrupt that.

Mark Fenson (33:18)
No, no. You’re always going to have those people and they’re going to be upset if you don’t have anything. One of the things that HP has never been … We do, do some merch. It’s not a hundred percent fully merch. But I think making the events more personal. As I mentioned before about you’re taking someone’s time, you’re taking them half a day, full day, even like a webinar for 45 minutes, those type of things. Being mindful of their time and making the event personal, making the narrative around them, making that you’re not just reading a PowerPoint slide. Those things that keep them engaged for the time that you want their attention. Engagement is what we’re trying to do here. I just don’t see a point in if you’re not … If you don’t have them engaged, then don’t talk.

Barrie Seppings (34:05)
So to that point then, how important is it that you’re informed about who your audience is rather than just walking on coals onto a stage and not really knowing who you’re talking to?

Mark Fenson (34:14)
Oh, I’d say probably we’re talking about those go-to questions that you need the answer to. Mine is always who’s the audience? Because that’s always going to change the narrative of what you’re saying, how you represent it, how you represent the organization.

Barrie Seppings (34:30)
So there’s no such thing as a canned Mark Fenson speech.

Mark Fenson (34:33)
Oh, there’s many canned jokes that people have seen, mate. I don’t think I could say every presentation I’ve ever done. I show the same slides, but I probably talk a different narrative every single time.

Barrie Seppings (34:44)
Yeah.

Mark Fenson (34:45)
And again, it comes back to, as you said before, reading the audience, being able to control the narrative, trying to keep people off their phones. That’s the skill of trying to present. And really, what needs to be personal, genuine and effectively communicated is the message you’re trying to set. And mine at the moment is if you’re looking for a device that is the best in class, you’re looking at HP with Intel, and that’s what I go away with. This is why you should choose this. This is why you do this. And it’s not just speeds and feeds. It’s not just the … And HP could kill me for this one, but I take a lot of their slides, their internal slides and making my own or twist them and create my own narrative away from, but I still use the bullet points, the big, heavy hitting points in there.

Barrie Seppings (35:33)
But you’re adding meaning for your audience, right?

Mark Fenson (35:35)
Exactly that.

Barrie Seppings (35:35)
Yeah.

Mark Fenson (35:35)
Yeah. HP talks about personas. I don’t like talking about personas. I’d rather talk about where the technology has taken us in the industry because I believe everyone is a mobile worker now. Everyone is an office worker because everyone is going back and forth now. It’s not just one or the other. Most studies are showing that if you’re five days in the office, there’s probably getting less better skilled people than what you could if you were three or zero or one day. This is the conversations that employees need to have with their staff to make sure they’ve got the right experience from them and how they work best.

Barrie Seppings (36:11)
Question 15, over-hyped and underrated. This is a big one for you. What buzzword or concept gets too much airplay in our industry right now? And what’s under the radar or even old-fashioned idea that just doesn’t get the love that it deserves anymore?

Mark Fenson (36:27)
Yeah. I think AI at the moment is everyone’s buzzword just because it’s been created on or it’s had some idea around it or they can touch it. Bringing it back to what actually AI means is what I do or future proofing them for being ready for the next advances in AI. That’s what I do, not just buzzword. Because if you think about AI, they’re either going to think it’s going to improve my day, it’s going to take my job or it’s going to kill us all. So they’re the three camps that most people sit in, so I try and touch on those as well.

Barrie Seppings (36:57)
And which camp are you? Do you think you’ll be killed by it?

Mark Fenson (37:00)
No. It;s one of those things where people are like, “Oh, you should take that out of your presentation.” I’m like, “Well, you got to address it because people do think about it.”

Barrie Seppings (37:09)
They do.

Mark Fenson (37:09)
And I make a bit of fun out of it, but it’s definitely going to help improve your day. And most studies are showing that headcount reduction is probably the lowest or second lowest of what they’ve seen since developing AI or implementing AI. So yeah, it’s just going to change your job. And again, people don’t like change or disruption, [00:37:30] but it’s going to drive that.

Barrie Seppings (37:31)
Question 16, the supermodel question. Now, Linda Evangelista once said, “I don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day.” I’m not assuming that’s your rate but it’s probably up there.

Mark Fenson (37:43)
I wish it was, mate. Yeah.

Barrie Seppings (37:44)
What do you get out of bed for? Where do you find your motivation? Because we touched on this earlier, you’ve got a lot of people wanting a lot of things from you all of the time. This morning, how did you get up and get back in the saddle?

Mark Fenson (37:57)
Mate, it is one of those things where personal relations, interactions, personal events, family gets me up because you’ve got to pay the bills. I work to live, not live to work. I’ve got dreams and thoughts about the next thing I want to do, so holidays and travel I do personally, not just for work. So that drives that aspect. But it’s one of those things where I do it because we do have a good team. I do it because I am genuine and personal and I like to do this. And it’s great to catch up with you. It’s great to see you. We haven’t seen each other in a long time. But yeah, it’s being able to do that, but also knowing that I need to take a step back and Friday will be definitely a day of rest for me. Probably holiday is a great thing coming, but I’ve got a very full on week, but you just got to keep driving.

Barrie Seppings (38:48)
It strikes me that you really feed off energy of others. Probably, your nightmare is to not talk to people, to be in isolation.

Mark Fenson (38:55)
Yes and no. As I said, I put on the costume of the HP presentation, get on stage. I can easily say that I’m a shy person in some other aspects as well. I’m sure you’ve never seen me be shy retiring at all but-

Barrie Seppings (39:11)
Well, nobody is paying you for that part.

Mark Fenson (39:12)
Well, no. And when I do, sitting around at home playing darts or pool with my kids and wife, that sounds like a great afternoon to me. Crack a bottle of wine and that’s my go-to place. And again, come to whenever we go on holidays, I’ll go and just retire and sit by a pool or something. That’s a good way to be.

Barrie Seppings (39:39)
Question 17, this ain’t happening. What’s the most unexpected or unusual situation you found yourself in thanks to work?

Mark Fenson (39:47)
My wife is like, “Oh, I’m sure you’ve been to a weird event where trapeze artists or things like that.” And I go, “I’ve done so many events now that I just can’t remember one event anymore.” But I said to her, “I know what this event is.” And she goes, “I met her.” So I met her at an event in Singapore. She was an Australian working over there, and it was something that just developed from there. We went into the long distance relationship thing and-

Barrie Seppings (40:12)
Changed your life.

Mark Fenson (40:13)
Well, the funny … As we’re just talking about with travel, we both sat down one night and went, “Okay. Well, when do we want to catch up next?” And because we were all traveling and I had my kids and was doing other things for work, I think we met in July and we didn’t see each other again until September face-to-face because we just had that busy, hectic schedule. And then from there, we connected again and fell in love and went from there. So yeah, now we’re, what’s that, 2018 and 2024 now and two and a half year old and … Yeah.

Barrie Seppings (40:44)
Question 18, home alone. Speaking of the pandemic, what was the pandemic and lockdown experience like for you and how has that changed the way you work?

Mark Fenson (40:55)
It was pretty terrible for me because I went from being able to hide on a plane to being in back to back Zoom calls. And because as I’m pretty personal, I did all the trivia and I did the social interaction. I became the social manager’s president type thing. So it was one of those things, the social club … Sorry. It was one of those things where I just got busier. I was just on all day, and it was exhausting because I’d just go from one webinar, one Zoom call with a customer, one social media, [00:41:30] social engagement thing after each other.

Barrie Seppings (41:33)
All within a screen.

Mark Fenson (41:34)
Yeah, yeah.

Barrie Seppings (41:35)
Oh, okay.

Mark Fenson (41:36)
So I would be helping with the team calls, the Friday drink sessions, all those type of things. And it was probably more exhausting than when I was on a plane, but it had to be done. And I wasn’t doing it to build my own brand or do anything like that. It’s because not everyone had a family, a backyard or places to go. They were basically at home in a studio apartment by themselves or they’re living with their family or whatever that situation was. I know half the people didn’t turn, but I’d always know the 15 to 20, 30 odd people that would always turn up.

Barrie Seppings (42:14)
It meant something to them.

Mark Fenson (42:14)
It meant something. It was a bit of fun. It was something out of their day-to-day grind of living with COVID and being locked down.

Barrie Seppings (42:21)
And you became a parent again over COVID.

Mark Fenson (42:23)
Going to a hospital in COVID was just one of the worst experiences known to man, and having tests and all that type of stuff was … We got to the point where we were 36-hour COVID tests so I could be in the hospital with her and then signing petitions and things to try and change the laws that you could be in the hospital with them and things like that. It was slightly stressful for her being a new mother, and me having two kids already was, yeah, I was a bit more relaxed than what she was. But yeah, it was tough. Tough birth, but thankfully he had been a unicorn baby ever since. So yeah, can’t complain about that.

Barrie Seppings (43:02)
And what do you think the changes are since the pandemic? We talked before about this more acceptance of being able to do something by remote, more acceptance of people having their own space.

Mark Fenson (43:13)
Yeah. I think people are more accustomed now to say, “Hey, we can do this virtually. We can do it on a webinar. We can do it on however it is.” I think when COVID hit, everyone turned around and went, “Hey, do a webinar now.” And everyone was like, “What’s a webinar? What’s a Zoom?” And people were given all these tools they had no idea how to use it and no idea how to communicate via web conferencing. I thankfully was selling web conference back in the day, so I had that experience and was able to try and make it a bit genuine, a bit interactive while still being on a virtual space.

I think since COVID, that’s accepted, but I think there was that mad rush to now be getting back out there and face-to-face. And I think a lot of people went, “Okay, now we’re overdoing the face-to-face.”

Barrie Seppings (44:01)
Right.

Mark Fenson (44:02)
We need to peg it back a bit.

Barrie Seppings (44:03)
Pendulum still swinging.

Mark Fenson (44:04)
Yeah. So there needs to be that balance between how you market and interact with your audiences. And as I said, this is where you’re starting to see things like TikTok go crazy and interacting in different ways. Communicating through chatbots now, WhatsApp, those different ways of interacting with your audience that needs to continue so you’re not wasting people’s times and you could put the message across.

Barrie Seppings (44:29)
So previously, fringe channels becoming much normalized, much more accepted.

Mark Fenson (44:33)
Yeah, absolutely. And then you see what Meta was doing with Facebook business and Instagram reels and all of those different ways of short form interaction. Even now, you’re starting it to the point where they’re splitting some movies up and putting that on short form. So yeah, there’s lots of different ways to reach an audience these days.

Barrie Seppings (44:55)
Question 19-

All of me. Now, lots of businesses love to say they want their staff to bring their whole self to work. Is that true for you? And how different are you in work mode compared to when you’re maybe not off the leash but at home with opening the bottle of wine?

Mark Fenson (45:16)
I don’t see they’re being too much different. I believe that when I do my narrative, it’s from a genuine this is what I honestly believe in. And when I’m at home, this is who I am at home and, yes, I’ll have another glass of wine, thanks very much. But it’s bringing your authentic self to whatever you’re presenting. You don’t want to waste people’s time by being dis-ingenuine, wasting, ignoring what their requirements are, talking a different story that they don’t want to hear. You need to be genuine. You need to be in the moment. You need to be engaged with them. And I think that’s what the all of me needs to be done in any type of market and how you present yourself. You need to be in the moment, genuine.

And you know that if you’re talking to someone and someone is looking at their phone right in front of you, they’re not engaged. They’re not listening. No one can multitask. It’s just a known fact. So yeah, being genuine in the moment, that’s the bigger thing. I think my wife would probably say, “Well, you can put your phone down a bit more.” But yeah, you need to be able to disengage, but be genuine in the moment.

I think people get wound up on nine-to-five, and we’re not in a nine-to-five age anymore. We are in an age where you can work whenever you see fit, you’re working from home, you’re in the office. I like to call it a half-ass Monday. Sometimes, I’ll go in, show my face, go to the gym, leave, come home, have lunch with my wife and probably get more done that afternoon than what I would have done in the office, but it’s about finding the best fit for you and your family. And no one can have a conversation other than you and your boss about this is the best way I work.

And I’ve got a very open understanding with everyone that I report or talk to that I’m either on, and it’s a hundred percent on and it’s consuming and it’s exhausting, and if I say that I’m taking this off, it’s minimal. It’s not saying I’m not doing nothing, but I’m still putting in enough to go, “I need this to recover.”

Barrie Seppings (47:20)
Yeah, you’re conserving your energy and you’re replenishing, right?

Mark Fenson (47:22)
Yeah, yeah, because if you don’t, you burn out. And as I said, when I was speaking to the person in Melbourne, you could just see she was just drained and about to start in tears. You just need to … Again, sometimes it’s not you know. It’s just someone that you trust saying, “I think you need to pump the brakes for just a second.”

Barrie Seppings (47:40)
Question 20 is your secret weapon. Mark Fenson, do you have a secret weapon and will you tell me what it is?

Mark Fenson (47:50)
Someone actually told me this recently, like three weeks ago when I was in Vegas for the Amplify Partner Conference. And he just turned around to me, he looks at me and he goes, “You’re one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met.” And I took that as a massive compliment because that’s where I see myself at the moment. As I said, we could have done this online, but I’d rather come in and see you and be face-to-face and catch up and do those type of things. I try and go for genuine. I try and go for engaged, and endearing is probably not the right word, but you know what I’m trying to get at. It’s like you need to be genuine. You need to be engaged with people. You need to have the right narrative. You need to, so they’re not wasting their time.

I’m not saying that virtual doesn’t work, but it’s so much better when you can actually get face-to-face and talk to people. And if you haven’t caught up, you catch up. You have a chat. You talk more before the tape start rolling before anything else, and then you come in and then it’s easy to do this because you’ve already had the banter, the catch-up, the engagement between the two of us. And that’s what needs to be in anything that you try and represent. Particularly what I do, you’ve got to be genuine. I can’t get up and trying to sell you something or try and pitch an idea to you or a story to you if I don’t believe in myself.

Barrie Seppings (49:06)
And how do you react? Well, you must watch a lot of other people present, especially at these large events.

Mark Fenson (49:10)
Yes.

Barrie Seppings (49:11)
How do you react when you see something that’s just really polished and really slick and you’re perhaps sensing that lack of genuineness?

Mark Fenson (49:21)
See, I don’t see slick as being … They’re prepared. If it’s slick, you can still have a genuine slick presentation and you can have a genuine terrible roadkill of a presentation-

Barrie Seppings (49:38)
Right.

Mark Fenson (49:39)
… but you can still see that they’re trying their best to do-

Barrie Seppings (49:43)
But they’re just not prepared.

Mark Fenson (49:44)
Well, they’re probably prepared. They’re just nervous as hell.

Barrie Seppings (49:48)
Oh yeah, okay.

Mark Fenson (49:48)
You can see that they’re trying their hardest, but it’s just not hitting the mark. It’s the people that get up and start reading from a script or reading from the PowerPoint slide behind them.

Barrie Seppings (49:59)
That’s the safety blanket though, isn’t it?

Mark Fenson (50:00)
Well, you gave me the questions prior to this, and unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of time, but I still came prepared to have conversation bullet points, those type of things on the questions. It’s the people that get up and they just spit whatever is coming out of their mouth. They haven’t really had any time to look at the questions. It’s schizophrenic in nature and how they’re presenting their message. That’s what gets lost on people.

Or if someone gets on stage and doesn’t bring an energy, doesn’t bring a form of themselves on stage, you can see through that. If you were going to ask me a question and then not wait for the answer, I’ve watched it every single time, you’ve put your glasses down, you’re engaged and looking at me. It’s not like you’re reading the next question to be prepared for asking the next thing. You’re listening to what I’m saying. That’s engaged. That’s in the moment. That’s someone that is committed to wanting to know what I’m about to say.

Barrie Seppings (50:58)
Do you offer training in your organization? Do you do much training or prep for other people to help them present?

Mark Fenson (51:04)
I’ve mentored a couple of people internally and helped them with their fears of public speaking and how they can become better presenters. Externally, no. I’m happy to help anyone that comes and has a conversation with me. But yeah, it’s one of those things where more than happy to help people become better presenters. It’s one of those things that you can’t push it. You get up there and you give it a crack and you do the thing that you hate the most. And it really is about if you fear it, just keep trying to do it again, do it more.

Barrie Seppings (51:42)
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mark Fenson (51:43)
Just become better at it. And I just kept throwing myself in the deep end until I got used to it and better at it.

Barrie Seppings (51:49)
Now you’re an evangelist.

Mark Fenson (51:51)
And I’m an evangelist, one of the wankiest titles in Aussie of IT.

Barrie Seppings (51:55)
Well, that was 20 questions, the interview game we play with all our guests here on the Plugged In, Switched On podcast. Those answers were from Mark Fenson, who is the HP and Intel AI compute evangelist. I get tired of saying that. And before I let Mark go, I’ll ask him what his favorite movie of all time was.

Mark Fenson (52:15)
Heat, the gunfire. And I’ve just read that they could only do it through the weekdays and they actually had proper gunfire, so they’re echoing everything around the place.

Barrie Seppings (52:25)
Oh, it was live sound.

Mark Fenson (52:26)
Yeah. And they were all properly trained. The movie is now used by paramilitary SAS type to show them how to change maneuvers as gunfire is moving. It’s so well-made that they now use it as training video.

Barrie Seppings (52:46)
Yeah. That is a spectacular movie. Go catch that one again. It’s always worth it.

Now, before we unplug with this episode, just a few updates from the Splendid Group, the pure-play B2B tech agency where I work as executive creative director and where we make this particular podcast. Good news for us of recent is that we are expanding our operations into both EMEA and the APG region. So if you are in the marketing or advertising world and you’re interested in working with people who might make a podcast like this, you are more than welcome to get in touch. We’re always looking for more good people. The beautiful part of it is we’ll never ask you to come to the office because we don’t have one. Splendid Group has been fully remote since we started some nine years ago and intend to keep it that way. And if you want to learn more about Splendid, see some of our work or meet any of our people. Point your browser at splendidgroup.com and we’ll meet you over there.

Now I have been Barry Seppings. I was talking to Mark Fenson, the HP and Intel AI compute evangelist in Australia and New Zealand. And this has been a 20-questions episode of Plugged In, Switched On, a podcast about the conversations that matter in B2B tech marketing. Hit subscribe in your pod dashboard and you’ll get to hear us again automatically next month. Thank you for having us in your ears. Plugged In, Switched On is generated by Splendid Group. Thanks to our executive producer, Ruth Holt, our sound engineer and our CEO, Tim Sands.

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