Trusted Advisors: Up Close and Personal with… Mario Nacinovich

As part of our Trusted Advisors series, our web editor meets with the Firm’s leadership for one-on-one interviews on their experience, expertise and careers. We’re happy to present the latest of these interviews with Mario Nacinovich, managing partner of AXON’s New York City office, youth basketball coach and traveler for whom Aruba holds no secret.

Mario, what is the biggest misconception that clients have about your profession?

Many clients try to put you in a niche and will only contact for what they already know you for. Take AXON for example. We’ve been in the U.S. for five years and clients are still trying to define us and fit us into a box. We are working hard on changing their current perception about what we do because many of them will only use us for a very specific purpose, when our expertise in fact goes so far beyond.

In that matter, we are trying to cross-over. If we’re doing PR for a specific client, how can we also do Medical Communications or Medical Affairs for them? How do we introduce them to some of our colleagues with different but complementary skills across the network? How do we convince them of the added-value that our Analytics & Insights team could bring them, for example? Sometimes, simply trying to set up a meeting for our colleagues to share their capabilities with the client proves impossible because the client is just not interested – it doesn’t fit into the box they’ve already put us into. It’s very hard to change someone’s mindset. And then on the other side of the spectrum, you also have the early adopters and innovators who want to see what else you can do. They have an unmet need and they want you to try everything you can.

These clients want and trust you to think outside the box. In that sense, what would you say is the most important quality of a PR practitioner in your area of expertise?

The most important quality is definitely to have a natural curiosity about science and healthcare, and about life in general. I think we have a tendency to share a lot of values with the people that we hire and with the people that we work with. But to be a good practitioner in our area, you need to live, eat, sleep and breathe healthcare, from the moment you wake up in the morning until you go to bed at night.

The one constant that we have is change, whether it’s on the pharmaceuticals side or about the endless amount of challenges and possibilities as to what may happen. It’s great to be well-read and able to react to a situation, but it’s another thing to bring value to a client with your expertise. From a crisis management standpoint, your ability to have a certain level of foresight and share what you think may happen is a valuable quality to possess since a large part of your work has to be done way before the crisis actually strikes. Hopefully that crisis will never come, but preparing in advance is nonetheless essential.

Why do businesses need us? What added value do we bring them?

Businesses need us because their resources are constantly being reduced and constrained in different ways. Whether it be people, time or money, they just don’t have the same resources they had a year ago, a month ago, or even a week ago. Once again, the one constant is change. Our clients are subjected to many different factors on which they have no control, not only in terms of what’s happening in the industry, but also of what’s happening within their company.

Serving as a trusted partner to our clients is key to bringing them added value. Some of our clients have even told us that they don’t like to use the word “preferred supplier” to describe us because they see us as a strategic partner. This kind of relationship comes with trust, transparency and complete openness, which in turn allow both parties to maximize their efforts and build upon each other’s strengths. By the very nature of our job, we’re able to be nimble and adapt to any change our clients may be facing. That seamless collaboration is ultimately how we’re able to work as a true extension of them. And that’s how you become indispensable.

Mario, you are known storyteller. Can you share with us a memorable moment you experienced in your career?

A little over a year ago, a client for whom we’d done a lot of content development and strategic management work asked us if we would consider taking a mandate in a different area. It was a very specific area that would traditionally be well within the framework of advertising, and not in that grey zone between PR and advertising. He asked us if we could do it, and I told him that I wasn’t comfortable doing it but could recommend him to people with that specific expertise who were better equipped to do it.

Well, be careful what you don’t want is probably the biggest lesson learned from this because our client said that that was precisely why he wanted our team to do it.

So we got to work and started by looking back on some of the previous work we’d done for the client and analyzing what consumers had said in focus groups. From that data and our new take on it, we were able to develop the overall messaging for the client’s marketing campaign. Of the 36 key messages we developed, 32 were used for the official campaign.

When you look at this story, you realize that even if AXON is not as consumer-oriented as ad agencies, our team already had a sound process in place and was able to apply it in a different setting to gain knowledge, decipher and analyze data. We may have been a little uncomfortable at first, but the things you’re proudest of often come from projects that did make you uncomfortable. In the end, success is often linked to the quality of your questioning and, most of all, of your listening.



Fun facts about Mario

I was born in: The Bronx, NY
Favourite restaurant: It’s a tie between Tre Scalini in Piazza Navona (Rome) and Madame Janette’s in Aruba
Favourite movie: Gladiator
Favourite book: Freedom to Learn (Carl Rogers)
If I didn’t work in PR… : I would be a full-time college professor
If I could be a superhero, I’d be: Professor Xavier in X-Men
If I could be on a reality TV show, it would be: Restaurant: Impossible
If money didn’t matter: I’d be Chief of Staff for the White House (!)
Favourite travel destination: Kauai, Hawaii
Most memorable vacation: Traveling to Aruba with my wife and daughters every other year
If I could a celebrity, I’d be: I wouldn’t – being a celebrity comes with celebrity problems
Favourite past time: Coaching youth basketball, watching college basketball and watching professional baseball
Person I most admire: Both of my Grandfathers
First concert I ever went to is: Depeche Mode’s 1993 Devotional Tour at Madison Square Garden
Favourite musician: Miles Davis
Guilty pleasure: Having lunch with my colleagues