We have the privilege today to interview this year’s IIAR AR Professional 2018 and heading the IIAR AR Team of the Year 2018, Amal Nichols (@nicholsamal, LinkedIn),Director, Global Analyst Relations at Cisco. She must be doing something right!
- What’s been your career path to becoming an AR pro?
Like many in our field, I started out in Public Relations.During college, I worked at a few San Francisco Bay Area-based television stations and later joined a public relations agency focused on the high tech industry. At the time, there were no dedicated AR functions. PR roles actually included managing relationships with both press and analysts. I also spent a year in Paris working on pan-European PR programs with sister agencies in the UK and Germany. From there I worked on the corporate side at a small networking company. I then decided to start my own PR consulting firm. That’s when the industry was growing exponentially and there were lots of startups looking for help and many mature companies in need of extra support. It gave me a great deal of flexibility, a nice mix of clients and a wide breadth of experience. Cisco hired me as a consultant and after two years, offered me a full time position. That was 12 years ago! Cisco was one of the first companies I knew of that had a dedicated AR function. It was exciting to see the strategic value that AR brought to a business and the respect the function had within Cisco.
- What are your opinions of the IT Analyst Marketplace and where do you see it going?
Obviously there is a lot of consolidation with many firms looking to expand their capabilities and the services they offer. At the same time, I see many of the key analysts at these firms starting their own consultancies. Because they still hold the expertise, we are including them in the mix of analysts with whom we engage.
- What’s your typical day like?
That’s what I love most about my job – no day is ever the same. I am doing everything from providing feedback to my team on their plans to thinking about new ways to uplevel our function. Right now we are gearing up for the new fiscal year, so budget and strategic planning have been taking up a fair amount of time as well.
- Now, c’mon, tell me an Analyst horror story?
This was a horror story, but the analyst was actually one of the heroes. I was in Barcelona on business a few months ago and had my purse with passport, wallet, phone, everything stolen. Luckily I was able to get a temporary passport the same day. I shared a ride to the airport with one of our analysts and we parted ways for different airlines. About 20 minutes later he tracked me down and told me my colleagues had called him to say in the chaos I had left my laptop behind at the convention center and they were on their way to bring it to me. It was so kind of him to go out of his way to find me to give me that message since I no longer had a phone.
- How does your company structure its AR team?
We align our AR team to Cisco’s corporate initiatives and technology areas. So we have a corporate AR team, a Security AR team, a Networking team, a Collaboration AR team, etc. We also have regional AR leads. Each team is focused on the analysts within their space but then also collaborates across the team where technologies converge and where we need to tell a broader story.
- Tell us about one good experience you have had with an analyst or analyst firm?
There are so many positive experiences. I especially enjoy when we can bring an analyst or firm in early in the process under NDA so they understand our roadmap and our strategy. This way, they can provide advice early while there is still enough time to shift positioning or the way we go to market. Having that outside-in perspective from industry experts is incredibly powerful. The one that stands out the most was when we were launching the UCS product – it was an industry first and the analysts we worked with over the course of the year leading up to the launch played an integral role in how it was positioned.
- Which analyst firm do you miss that’s been acquired or analyst that’s left the industry?
A few come to mind. We recently had an analyst who left to go to a small security company. I really enjoyed working with him and the balanced perspective he brought. Another analyst retired after many years in the industry and was a pleasure to work with and to talk to. Another left a few years ago to go private and has now returned so we are happy to be working with him again. That’s always nice when that happens because it’s like renewing an old friendship. Plus they have a better understanding of the challenges that we face on the corporate side.
- What’s your favorite niche analyst firm and why?
We work with so many that I couldn’t possibly call out one. It’s really about the individuals, who offers the most value and who you connect with.
- Any hobbies or favourite restaurant / food that you’d like to share?
I recently travelled to Miami for a LatAm AR planning meeting. My teenage niece told me about a chef who went viral (#saltbae) for the way he sprinkled salt on the steak he prepared. He has a restaurant in Miami so I took some team members there who had been traveling with me. It is a Turkish restaurant called Nusr Et, named after the chef. He was actually there! Both the steak and table side show were outstanding.
- What is your biggest challenges for the upcoming 6 months? And for the next 30 mn?
We have had an AR Sales Enablement program for the past few years, but it has really been in pilot mode. I am looking to scale it this year because I see the huge opportunity there is for AR to provide more insights and direct support to Sales. Global Communications, of which AR is a part, is now under the Sales & Marketing organization. I am excited that this could be the year for the program to take off now that we are more closely aligned to Sales. Key to success will be driving awareness for the program among the Sales organization. Then once the flood gates open, we will have to be ready to support all the requests. I welcome that challenge.For the next 30 minutes, my challenge is to prioritize the 10 things that I need to accomplish today.
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