Entrepreneur Interview – Giuliana Bertin

Chairman, Valentina Communication Agency

Turin, Italy

Tell us about your business and what you do.

I founded the business in 1981. It is a family-run business. I am Chairman of the Company responsible for the strategy, my husband Mario, is Consultant, and our two children, Valentina and Marco, are managing the day-to-day operations.

We are in public relations, events creation, and press office. Presently, for example, we are dealing with a very challenging crisis management case of a multinational company supplier of animal cages for biomedical research; we’re just through organizing medical check-ups for the employees in several plants of a large industrial group; we are in a very advanced stage of planning the 5th edition of GammaDonna, National Forum of Women Entrepreneurship to take place in Turin, 1-3 October 2013.

Was there a specific point when you realized your business was moving to the next level?

I realized that we had moved to the next level after we responded to a series of crises and shifted our business out of the traditional PR agency business.

In 2000 some “historical” clients started to leave us; the market for services like ours was fast changing and we were losing ground as a traditional PR agency. Furthermore, new and low cost office technology allowed access to numerous price-cutting competitors. Experience and quality of service was no longer the name of the game.

Our agency, which then had eight full-time employees, went through a severe downsizing and cost reduction process to cope with the falling profit margins. It was clear though that these efforts would not be enough to counter the market trend. The temptation to retire was strong (I was 60 in 2003), but my daughter Valentina, who had joined me becoming my right hand in the company, persuaded me not to give up.

What are some of the marketing strategies that have worked for your business?

With the help of my husband, who in the meantime had left his previous job in airport consulting, we implemented a marketing strategy aimed at gradually exiting our traditional areas of business where profits had since become unsatisfactory while focusing on a promising growth sector: the creation of projects and events.

In 2004 we launched GammaDonna (www.gammadonna.it), National Forum for Women Entrepreneurship, which was to become the main event of its kind in Italy.

Our family business was further reinforced when my son Marco left his job as account manager in a marketing company in Barcelona to join us in Turin. Together we ventured into the entertainment business producing “Next stop: Success” a musical contest for youngsters sponsored by Turin’s Public Transport Company (www.prossimafermata.com). Over the years, some of the winners went on to achieve success at national level.

Realizing that size and capital availability were our problem, we put to work partnerships with complementary companies. When it looked like our business had reached a new equilibrium, in 2008 the economic crisis struck the Western World, Europe and Italy in particular. Doing business in this country has never been easy but in these past years the task has proved to be extremely demanding. Once again, we’re fighting for survival and hopefully to move up again to the next level.

How have you leveraged the Internet and social media to grow your business?

With the advent of the young generation (Valentina and Marco) Internet has become strategic in developing our business. The “rejuvenation” of Valentina Communication’s site with its interactive capability has allowed us to offer a more tailor-made product/service, widening our market and eventually finding new clients.

Since its start in 2004, our flagship event GammaDonna has been promoted through its own web site as well as on its accounts in Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook. Over time GammaDonna has become a well-known brand nationwide, and the size of its community network has increased constantly, reaching 7,000 people at present. Last year GammaDonna has evolved into a non-profit association strongly committed to promoting the upgrading of the role of women in the Italian economy.

What is most rewarding about running your business?

My biggest reward is client satisfaction, then personal satisfaction for having done a good job. More recently, I feel good realizing the professional progress of my successors.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

In addition to redirecting the company towards new markets, the main challenge has been to manage the generation crossover that has been happening over the past 10 years. That was not an easy task given the different backgrounds and cultures. While well on its way, the process is not yet completed.

If you were starting over today, what would you do differently?

I would almost certainly choose to start a product company and not a service company.

What advice do you have for other older entrepreneurs?

Strange as it may sound, in today’s world experience can be an added value for a new business. Above all, older folks shouldn’t be afraid of reinventing themselves through a new activity.

Please list any favorite books, tools or resources (software, website etc) you could recommend to other older entrepreneurs?

Two authors that I read a long time ago are still valuable nowadays: Marshall McLuhan and Karl Von Clausewitz, both writing about strategy. Older people tend to consider social media and the like turf for the younger generations. This, in my opinion, is not necessarily true. There is much to learn and to share from the Internet: for one thing it allows us to keep up with how society is moving and to feel part of it.

Now tell us about your lifestyle

How do you take care of your health while leading an active business life to your present age of almost 70?

At my age leading an active and satisfactory business life is a privilege rather than a burden only if a reasonable balance between work and personal requirements is reached. To make this happen, I try to stick as much as possible to a well-planned schedule comprising a mix physical and mental health factors such as medical check ups, diet, minimum daily exercise, rest breaks and sleep, reading and looking after my three grandchildren.

What are your favorite leisure activities?

Travelling is my number one leisure activity. I’m a regular contributor of appreciated comments and pictures to Trip Advisor. Favorite destinations are Costa Rica, all of Europe, Turkey, and the Far East. I enjoy reading especially novels, and listening to classical music – Mozart above all. I also enjoy modern music, but not jazz. Lately, looking after my three lovely grandchildren is turning from a pleasant hobby into an almost fulltime working activity.

What is something that people might be surprised to learn about you?

Though I’ve been working hard throughout my life and to some extent successfully, my family has never been my second choice. The proof: ours is truly a family company.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

A vibrant society is a society where every person, young or old, has a role and a purpose. For older people, offering to society their experience and capabilities, is certainly a good purpose.

Contacts: Email: giubertin@yahoo.com

Website: www.valentinacommunication.net

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/giuliana.bertin

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/giulianabertin

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