Below is my interview with Joan Verdon of The Record.
PR firm places its chips on the Web
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
BY JOAN VERDONSTAFF WRITER
Abe Kasbo doesn’t worry about having a modest workplace. In 2008, he says, businesses should be a lot more worried about the impression they create in cyberspace than in their workplace.
Kasbo, 38, runs Verasoni Worldwide, a marketing strategy and public relations firm, out of a small second-floor walkup office on Main Street in Little Falls. His company has seen big growth in the four years since it was created, reaching $1.8 million in billings this year, with more than 60 clients.
His background helps him deal with many types of clients, and provides cutting-edge advice on Internet strategies.He’s worked on Wall Street, as well as been an Internet communications consultant, the marketing director at St. Joseph’s and Mountainside hospitals, and a part-time basketball coach at three North Jersey colleges.He also is financing and producing “The Arab-American Experience,” a film featuring famous Arab-Americans such as Ralph Nader and Helen Thomas.
Kasbo spoke with The Record about marketing for the new millennium, social networking, and how being his own boss lets him skip shaving on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (Interview edited and condensed for space.)
Q. You grew up in Paterson?
I was born in Aleppo, Syria. We came here in 1980, when I was 10.
Q. Did you speak any English?I spoke French and Arabic. I had to learn English in three months, because people thought I was from Iran, so I got beat up almost every day. As soon as I started hitting some jump shots and hitting some home runs, kids thought I was cool. And so I used sports as kind of a currency to get in with everyone.
Q. Had you played sports in Syria?
In Syria, they wouldn’t let me play basketball, for some reason. I was a pingpong prodigy. So when I came here, I was determined to play basketball. And I had the opportunity to play basketball and baseball and do whatever the hell I wanted, which is really a metaphor for coming to America.
Q. You started Verasoni in 2004. Right after your twins were born?
Yes. It was a great time to quit a secure, well-paying job to start a business, right after your twins were born.
Q. Do you remember who your first client was?
Sure. New Jersey Plastic Surgery really needed to brand the practice, increase its public relations and drive down its marketing budget. And we were very successful in that project. So from that one medical practice, we’ve done work for Fortune 500 companies, we’ve done work for Canadian companies, and from this modest office, we’ve got clients all over the country.
Q. Where did the name Verasoni come from?
My wife is Italian, and vero in Italian means “true,” so that is a word we use between us. And then Sofia and Nicolas are the twins, so I’ve basically incorporated my whole family in the business.
Q. From your Web site, it looks like a lot of the work you do is Web development.
A lot of the work we do is Internet-based, but it is not totally Web development. We basically are your marketing and strategy provocateurs. Because there is a lot of money wasted on various media. That’s why I wanted to start the business. Integration of marketing and public relations is huge. And if it’s done right, businesses can increase their marketing footprint and drive down their marketing cost. We believe we’re a pretty good player in that space.
Q. How do you help your clients develop a marketing strategy?
We’re always going to start with the Web, because the Web is the only dynamic medium on this planet that continues to change, and is driven by the people who are actually controlling the search. Then we figure out what other media you need to be on – for example, do you need to be on TV? But if you do the TV before you do the Web, you’ve got a behavioral problem. If someone sees you on TV, they’ll look for your Web site. So your Web world better be straight. Everything else is always going to come back to it or bounce off of it.
Q. Most of the people running your client companies probably are in the baby-boomer generation. Do you find they still want more traditional PR, like magazine articles, than Web hits?
Yes. And it’s actually my pleasure to help convert them. Because the power of the Web is amazing.Think about it: I’m sitting in my house or at work, and I think about a subject and I type it in and I get what I want. What we tell our clients is, you are no longer in control of your brand. The consumer for the most part is the player, so you have to speak directly to the consumer, or whoever you are trying to reach. What I like to say is, if the Internet is a game changer, then we are the game changer. You’ve got somebody who’s a game changer on your side.
Q. How do you do social networking for a client?
We have a major hotel as a client, The Madison Hotel, and they also own Rod’s, the restaurant. We re-launched a brand new beautiful Web site for them, and we set up a profile for them on Facebook. Then we started setting up events for them. For Valentine’s Day, we put up a package that included dinner and a hotel stay, and everybody in our group then saw the event. And there are about 450 members in our group.
Q. People who gave them their e-mail address?
No. Once you set up on Facebook, I will invite you to become a friend.
Q. So how did you get the 450 friends for Rod’s?
Ah – that’s the trick. If I tell you, I have to kill you.
Q. Can you see ahead what the next Facebook will be? Because that’s the problem with the Internet. How do you know what the next Facebook is?Internet development is at its infancy. So what I can foresee in the future is perhaps a combination of Facebook, eBay, Google and Second Life all coming together, so your entire world is coming through either on a big screen at home or on your mobile home.
Q. I’m not even sure what Second Life is. Is it a game?
It’s not a game; it is real and it is dollars. BMW, for example, has set up space. You can actually go see a virtual car dealership on Second Life. NPR just built 16,000 square feet of space on Second Life.
Q. Are any of your clients building space on Second Life?
Right now we are working on building our Verasoni space. We are trying to figure out how to best position us.But we have done some unofficial things with a local university about positioning them on Second Life.
Exec Access appears Wednesdays in The Record. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org