The ‘jumping metrics’ of the go-to-school mentality

Would-be marine biologist Penny Baldwin went to San Francisco State University to study the science of sharks, and found instead that her natural aptitudes lay in marketing. She began her career as an advertising “agency brat” who was offered a position in direct marketing as a consolation prize for being used as a political pawn in a petty office conflict.

She did not relish the assignment. It wasn’t as glamorous as moving up in advertising leadership, but it turned out to be the perfect training ground for digital marketing, a field she mastered as it came into being.

Baldwin now leads all facets of the Intel Corporation brand, where her mission is to move perceptions away from the old “Intel Inside” that was hidden in the PC to the new Intel that creates “amazing experiences” out in the world. With a PC market in decline and the Internet of Things gaining in bulk and speed, she has fixed her sights on the 50 billion devices that will connect us by 2020.

“Our goal is to make sure that there is Intel technology embedded in every single one of them,” she says.

The corporation recently asserted a clear connection between its technology and the experience it enables with Lady Gaga’s tech-infused tribute to David Bowie at this year’s Grammy Awards. The performance generated 10 billion media impressions, proving that Intel is no longer inside.

Intel has also entered the world of 360˚ replay technology in televised sporting events, with plans to expand its integration into music, entertainment, fashion, and gaming. “Our brand metrics are jumping,” Baldwin says. “We are becoming a vital, essential part of pop culture.”

Long before YouTube and the IoT, Baldwin was already folding traditional advertising into the digital turn. She realized that tech companies of the 90s had no interest in ad agencies that weren’t tech-proficient themselves, and she kept on top of that curve.

Ultimately, she went “client-side,” where she could manage an organization’s entire marketing mix — a huge landscape of responsibility in a completely different context. Her strategy for adjustment was to take a “deep dive” and figure it out.

“You cover your eyes and you jump,” she says of the challenge. “There’s no substitute for absolutely working your butt off, going to school every day of your life, asking a million questions, and learning what you need to learn.”

That go-to-school mentality is not just about personal transformation, Baldwin notes, but about discovering what will drive change in any business, under any circumstances at a given point in time. She is known for revitalizing and energizing flagging organizations, in part because she knows how to mobilize people.

“Having grown up in the agency business, you realize there’s nothing more important than team,” Baldwin says of building internal support. “I am incredibly candid and sometimes blunt, but people always know exactly what we’re doing and why. People have to want to change and learn and grow, and not everybody will remain on board.”

Baldwin values the diverse skill sets of today’s more nimble workforce, but she says Intel has been limited by marketers who double as finance or HR executives. “There weren’t enough true professional marketers who were groomed and trained in this profession,” she says. “We had to swing the pendulum back, which has led to improving the caliber of marketing that is also reflected in the metrics. It shines through pretty obviously if you are a true marketing professional, someone with seasoned talent and the chops suitable for that position.”

Not one to shy away from any deep dives, Baldwin is also courageous about maintaining her work-life balance. She has always been drawn to the water, and mid-career, with the tech revolution in full swing and the 2008 financial crash looming, she and her husband took to their 60-foot ocean cruiser to regroup. They fished up and down the coast of Mexico and anchored for a while in the Sea of Cortez. It was a much-needed pause in her fast-moving career.

“You can’t be 25 miles offshore and get any wifi access, so it’s the best shut-down on the planet,” she says. “It’s a really healthy antidote to the craziness that exists in your life.”