The growth of Silicon Valley in the early 1980s created a huge opportunity for communications firms whose services were much in demand due to the steady stream of emerging VC funded companies. There is no exact figure on how many PR, advertising and marketing agencies sprung up during what has been called “the first computer revolution,” but for those involved it was something of a gold rush.
Today most of these early Silicon Valley firms are gone. Many struck it rich selling off to larger global communications empires, some just took down their shingle and went off to enjoy retirement, and others either succumbed to the recession in the early 90s or 10 years later during the Internet bust. Some of course are still around, many adapting their skills as needed to the new communications requirements of digital media and social networking.
One such firm that continues to go strong is Globalpress Connection, Inc., founded in 1986 by Irmgard Lafrentz, a native of Luebeck in Northern Germany. Lafrentz transplanted to the Bay Area in 1984 when she married the American she met three years earlier through her work with Rodenstock, one of the biggest optical manufacturers in Munich. Her future husband, who worked for a Silicon Valley company, had come over to Germany to do business with her employer.
By the time she left for the States, Lafrentz had served as Rodenstock’s marketing communications manager for 12 years. “I was the only woman in this fabulous company and learned a lot, but even then I knew what it meant to be a professional woman and hit the glass ceiling,” she said.
Irmgard and one of her Asia press tours
Silicon Valley culture shock
Silicon Valley was culture shock for Lafrentz who spent her first few months sitting around the pool in her Mountain View apartment trying to figure out what to do next with her career. The Valley was just taking off and companies like Cisco and Sun Microsystems were right down the road from where she lived. Lafrentz tried to get jobs with both in their marketing departments but she was not yet fluent in English.
After months of failing to land employment, a friend suggested she tried to become a consultant, which was to her a shocking suggestion. “In Germany, if you are a consultant, it means you are not competent enough to get a job,” she said. Still with no other prospects, she got the idea that with her knowledge of the European market she could fill a need setting up European press tours for semiconductor and other electronics companies eager to reach UK, France, German, Nordic and Italian manufacturing markets.
In 1986, despite being ‘hugely’ pregnant with her son, she flew to Europe to talk to publishing companies about the feasibility of bringing over technology company management for press meetings. The reception was extremely positive since up to that point all that the European technology press got from the States were press releases in English and generally they were months late.
In 1986, she formed Lafrentz Consulting. Her first client was a company called Network General, a cutting-edge network monitoring start-up; soon other Silicon Valley companies followed. By 1988, Lafrentz was taking US tech companies to meet with European editors at least four times a year. But the travel was physically grueling, so much so that by midweek CEOs were so tired, she had to remind them what their key messages were. At the same time, Lafrentz also considered that Lafrentz Consulting didn’t really convey her service offering, so she changed her company name to Europress Connection.
Putting her business in reverse
But a new name for her company wasn’t the only change. Lafrentz had another idea – rather than take her show on the road, why not bring the editors to Silicon Valley where many more companies would have an opportunity to meet with them and at the same time share the expense? Her clients were very receptive to the idea to meet the press in the comfort of their own offices, and editors — not surprisingly – were excited about the opportunity to visit Silicon Valley. Lafrentz soon lined up 10 companies for her first tour and her new business model was on its way. In 1995 she also started bringing over editors from Asia.
For the first two years, Lafrentz was pretty much a one man band – setting up the tours, purchasing the airplane tickets and arranging hotels for the editors. By the early 90s, business had grown so much she brought on staff to help with logistics and coordination. She also added two other professionals from France and Chile who had the language skills she needed to book press and handle more traditional outbound PR services to overseas press. The success of the tours to Asia convinced her another name change was in order, and in 1998 the firm became Globalpress Connection, Inc.
Bust and boom again
In 2001, Globalpress Connection felt the effects of the downturn like most Valley companies. Lafrentz downsized her team and reduced her reverse press tours to three each year – two from Asia and one from Europe. Nevertheless, the company was still standing, something that could not be said for many of her Silicon Valley agency peers.
By 2002, Lafrentz felt she needed to once again reinvent. This time she had the idea to produce a global electronics summit where C-level company management and international press could get together to talk about current topics and issues affecting the industry. The summit idea like her earlier reverse tours idea was met with a huge positive response form clients and press.
Each summit is held in Northern California in picturesque, non-businesslike resort environments. Lafrentz and a staff of just two full time employees arrange the program, organize the panels, and book all the logistics. She has been doing the outbound sales to gain company participation – companies can buy a keynote slot – and is currently looking to bring someone on for the new business development. On March 28 – 31, 2011, the ninth Globalpress Electronics Summit will be held at Chaminade in Santa Cruz.
Twenty four years after launching her business – with 179 reverse tours and nine global summits under her belt – Lafrentz is still going strong. She has quite clearly carved a unique niche in the ever-changing landscape of Silicon Valley PR agencies that continues to meet a very specific need.
She attributes her success to having the foresight to know when to change and a willingness to put everything on the line. She also gives practical advice like don’t take more office space than you need and make sure you have a good relationship with your bank – since a line of credit will undoubtedly be needed at some point.
As for the future, Lafrentz is hoping to find someone to help her continue to grow the business, take leadership or find that next new opportunity. That person like Lafrentz will have to have vision and determination but around Silicon Valley those attributes are rarely in short supply.
You can reach Irmgard at email@example.com or phone 408-246-6840 Ext. 101.