Illustration in orange backdrop and white lettering. Says on the left, "CMSWire Contributor Q&A With Jake Athey" and has Jake’s headshot in black and white to the right

Internships have often gotten a bad rap. A good example of a bad internship is in the movie “The Devil Wears Prada,” in which Miranda Priestly, played by Meryl Streep, uses and abuses her intern Andy Sachs, played by Anne Hathaway.

Internships can often be a free or very cheap way for companies to get grunt work done — schlepping coffee, picking up food, making copies — those types of things. In the movie, Streep has Hathaway do a host of borderline crazy tasks for her, such as fetching her a steak from a swanky restaurant before it’s open, undertaking her twin children’s science projects and obtaining the unpublished manuscript of the newest Harry Potter book. 

In his CMSWire column, “18 Years in Marketing. One Company. Four Big Lessons,” Contributor Jake Athey, vice president of marketing and sales at Acquia, explained that what he experienced when he started his 18-year-long-and-counting career at Widen as an intern was far from the stereotype of the overworked and underappreciated gopher. His boss there gave him opportunities to really work in marketing, and Jake quickly developed a set of skills that put him on the path to a successful career. And get this: Jake has considered his boss both his mentor and friend —  for the entire 18 years.

We caught up with Jake to discuss the topic of his career in martech.

Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Dom Nicastro: Dom Nicastro here, managing editor of CMSWire with CMSWire contributor, Jake Athey, VP of marketing and sales at Acquia. What's going on, Jake?

Jake Athey: Hi, Dom, how are you? Good to be here today.

Nicastro: Yeah, it's great to be with you, too. I mean, you've been contributing to CMSWire for a while. And I wanted to get you on the horn here because I loved your column. It's a real personal touch about your old days as an intern in the early part of the century and staying with the same company. I mean, talking about Jake Athey is like, Great Resignation — ah, ah, ah, I’m with the same company for like, the whole century, and I absolutely love that. So, tell our listeners just a little bit about yourself. I mean, you certainly do that in this column. But first time we’ve had you on a video. So I'd love to hear more about your role and how you arrived there.

Athey: Yeah, thanks for the opportunity here, Dom. Again. I've been with Widen now for about 18 years, a little over. And I started as a marketing intern for Widen back in 2004. And so really, before the rise of social media, and the iPhone and everything we know about this great space that is martech today, and have had the honor and privilege to be marketing marketing technologies to marketing professionals like yourselves since the dawn of the martech era, all this time with Widen, who was acquired by Acquia in late 2021. And so it's been quite a journey to be with Widen and then even more of a ride to continue this journey as part of Acquia.

Navigating the Evolving Martech Landscape

Nicastro: Yeah, it's so common, I wish I had stats in front of me, you know, a marketing job. I mean, how long does the average marketing person stay in a marketing role? You have, you just blew up those numbers with 18 years — the same company, and I love it. Staying with a company that long, almost 20 years now, tells me a couple of things. It tells me one, you probably love the people you work with. And two, you just believe in what you do.

Athey: That's absolutely true. I love the people I work with, which is no doubt very much true for my fellow leaders of the team that I've been honored to build and surround myself with great colleagues across the country that have been part of building the Widen brand, which is now stepping forward to become one with Acquia. And it's been a remarkable journey. And I feel like maybe the average marketing person stays in their role for maybe three-to-five years. I've had the opportunity to be in roles for two or three-to-five years to then build on that and have the opportunity to come up with some additional responsibilities and learn and gain new skills and take on new opportunities to continue this adventure. 

From my time as a marketing coordinator to a digital marketing manager focused on all things digital to then bringing the sales ranks under my responsibility to then looking out for all that is our customer experience with marketing sales, customer success and professional services to now join Acquia and focus on the blend of marketing and sales with the Widen business unit that is part of the Acquia marketing cloud of solutions that is DAM and PIM and then other marketing cloud solutions that include our customer data platform. 

So I find this opportunity to continue to market marketing technology quite invigorating because it's constantly changing for marketers. And it's my job to stay ahead of that pace of change to know how best to support and advise our teams and our customers to make the most of our marketing technologies and the investments they make in marketing technology.

So that we can properly market, sell and serve the customers that we are honored to work with. With these best of breed and best in class point solutions as well as the the ultimate new combination that is manifested as the digital experience platform, which I find is one of the grandest stages in the martech space. Because we have the opportunity to be part of digital transformations, which I know have accelerated, picked up and taken on new shapes, particularly in the last three-to-five years and accelerated even more since the pandemic of 2020.

Related Article: CX Is Changing. Is Your Martech Changing With It?

From Intern to Marketing Leader

Nicastro: Yeah, you know, one of the things that stands out about starting as an intern is that you always remember sort of like that first assignment, you know, I think, you know, my first assignment of the college newspaper, right? Because I've been in journalism, my whole career. You know, I just went to an orientation and I saw the newspaper guys. I'm like, I want to write for you. And they're like, they gave me an article assignment right that day. And it was on a new fitness center, right in the school, like, tell us about it, how much did it cost, what kind of equipment they have there? Give me — do you remember — like one or two assignments back in the day, when you first started as an intern, what you had to do with marketing, in addition to getting the coffee, as they say.

Athey: It's so perfect you asked that because one of the things that really led me to Widen — and I'll never forget the words from our then VP of sales and marketing — Matthew Gonnering, who later became Widen CEO and is now general manager at Acquia. He's been my boss for this 18-year journey and what drew me to Widen was was his approach.

And his message to me was, you could go to the other company and make coffee and file papers or come here and do some real marketing. And I remember the projects he gave me, and it wasn't just one project. But I remember the handful of things that I worked on that summer that gave me the skills that I have continued to build on throughout my career with Widen, and it included, what I'll describe as sales support, but having to design the pitch deck and the demo experience for what became our digital asset management platform. 

And this was really before SaaS-based demos became so common in the world that we're in now. And so I was part of designing the demo for our DAM solution, before DAM really became an established category. 

And then I was also part of doing a lot of competitive research and diligence on the DAM space to understand just how it will come to be with regards to the other players involved. I also remember putting together a direct mail campaign — lesson to be learned about personalizing your marketing message for your audience.

Having to put together a physical direct mail campaign was quite the challenge and the opportunity to learn about how we were going to customize our message for our target audience. So those were three projects that stood out. And I also remember getting the opportunity to plan an event, there would be our open house, which was kind of a way into event planning, which will go down in history, and then …

Nicastro: Wait like you had to get like the drinks ready, the food ready, like that kind of thing? 

Athey: Well, it was really organizing the plan to then have help to get all of the other logistics in order.

Nicastro: So wow, they put you to work back then.

Athey: They certainly did. And I was grateful for the opportunity. And I still remember my first webinar. Now I can't remember if it was — I think it was the first year after I was hired full time, but I hosted a webinar for DAM. And we had one registration. I'll always …

Athey: Wait, wait, what was what was the signup rate? I mean, I'm, excuse me, the attendance rate. So you had one registration? Was it zero or 100?

Athey: They attended, it was 101. Yeah, and I will never forget the brand that registered and attended that event that did not become a customer. I will forever be pursuing that marvelous brand.

Related Article: Defining Your Marketing Technology Philosophy

Waves of Change Amid Constant Truths in Martech

Nicastro: Yeah, the elusive, elusive prospects, the one that just withstands all the CRM changes and they are there with you through the years and they just won't commit. But one day — one day. I love that. I absolutely love that. So you have a wealth of knowledge because you've been in the same company, same space and martech for 20 years. You're like Scott Brinker before Scott Brinker, you know everything there is to know about martech.

But my question to you is, what are some of the things that are still tried-and-true marketing practices and technology like even 2004 versus like 2022? Because, you know, I feel like today — we're still doing a lot of the same things we did back then — we're still sending out email blasts. Right, we really are. The effective ones — probably not. But, you know, what are some of the things that are still similar from oh, 2004 to 2022? And maybe some major changes?

Athey: Yeah, absolutely. That's a really good question. And when it comes to just the field and the practice of marketing, I would say what's forever true is to know your audience and you really need to know your audience in order to put together any sort of campaign website, multichannel campaign for that audience. So that you can make sure that it's effective. And there's many different ways to know that, there's talking with your actual customers, there's developing personas, those things are some of the tried-and-true marketing practices that have stuck with us. 

I also think one of the mantras that I've lived by and an upward and operated by live by is subscribers rule, and I think I first gained that principle by attending the ExactTarget Connections User conference in like 2007. And that mentality has stuck with me. And that's essentially not only knowing your audience, but giving your audience what they want, and always delivering value that they want to subscribe to, and don't give them anything more and don't give them anything less, meaning every opportunity you have to connect with your customer should be adding value. And don't be just sending mass blasts because you can but because you really truly want to deliver value to your customer. So those are two things that stand out as to you know, what's been true then that continues to be true now within the practice of marketing, 

Within the field of martech, I think one of the things that I've observed through the evolution of the martech era is the tendency to think that buying technology is going to solve all of your problems, where you really have to think through what I define in a martech maturity context, as the five pillars that our strategy, people, process, then the technology, and then how you measure how all of that comes together. And that has been true for the entire 15-year run I've seen in the martech space

And I think that continues to be as important as it ever was, especially as we enter this time of say economic uncertainty, where every investment has to be considered improvement. And the way to make sure that you consider improving that investment is to ensure that you're connecting in the people the process, the strategy, and the measurement to your technology investments, whether that's a new investment or renewing your existing investment. So perhaps even, you know, looking at ways to consolidate your stack. Those are a few of the lessons that I've learned and am honored to share, of course, new channels, new devices, new audiences, that's all changed and evolved over time.

The Intersection of Brand and Customer Experience

Nicastro: Yeah, I'm sure some of the early conversations you had on your marketing teams, and ‘04, ‘05, ’06, ‘07 was mobile, right? Because it's the emergence of mobile, how do we how do we mobile market, you know, and that's still a conversation, but it's just like a channel now. You know, like the mobile, the smart device, and that is not the topic du jour it was back then. One hundred percent. Hey, Jake, I want to end on this one. In your story, I thought you had a great line. And maybe you can expand upon it. You know, you said customer experience is the brand, and the brand is customer experience. I think that kind of encapsulates marketing, branding, what have you, at its core?

Athey: Yeah, that's absolutely right. That's another mantra that I've come to live by. In my career, the opportunity and the responsibility of branding is to deliver and foster the type of customer experience, which allows customers to get the most value out of the relationship. And really the brand. The reflection of the brand comes in the form of the customer experience and the quality of that experience. And so it's right in line with, with great power, comes great responsibility for me as a marketer, that in order to deliver the best possible brand experience, we have to deliver the best possible customer experience.

Nicastro: That's true about marketers having great power, all that access to the customer database, you have that great power, right? Like oh, man behind the curtain, but it's got to have value, right? When you're disseminating communications like that, it's got to have value. And it's amazing when you're talking about that customer experience. I'm thinking, I'm like, in a 40 hour work week, I wonder if someone could say they actually spent more time talking with customers than they did their own team — who can say that — probably none of us. Right? It's always weighed towards talking with your own team. And we need to do much better and tip on that scale.

Athey: Well, said. That's one of the things that to me, it's like a vitamin you should be talking with a customer at least once a day to get their first year about their challenges to understand their needs to best understand how the solutions that we as marketing technologists provide to customers so that it only enhances the marketing the service and the experiences that we deliver.

Nicastro: Well, Jake Athey, VP of marketing and sales at Acquia, formerly known as Widen and acquired recently, great talking with you, and I cannot compare your run. You're like the — you're the New England Patriots of marketers — you've been in that run of success for that long. Just like my good old New England Patriots have done — the shirt underneath the shirt there. So I don't want to end it there. I just wanna give you one quick shout out opportunity. Who’s your football team?

Jake: The Green Bay Packers, my team, but longtime respect for the Patriots and what they've established. I do like Tom Brady. 

Nicastro: Good. Yeah, whatever. Whatever, Tom. Thank you, Jake, for joining us, looking forward to more CMSWire articles and contributions. 

Athey: Thank you.