Chris Penn Interview

Social Fresh Tampa Interview Series Kickoff

Who better to kickoff my Social Fresh Tampa interview series than Chris Penn. You may know him better as Christopher S Penn from reading Chris Brogan’s work. Chris Penn co-founded PodCamp and also made a name for himself as the Chief Technology Officer of the Student Loan Network. He’s now over at Blue Sky Factory doing great work. He’ll be joining many other great speakers on February 22, 2011 at Social Fresh Tampa.

Your Background

Mark Regan: Tell me a little about your background and how you came into your current role as VP of Strategy and Innovation at Blue Sky Factory (BSF).

Chris Penn: It’s a rather funny short story. Fundamentally, there’s a concept that my friend Chris Brogan hammers on constantly: be there before the sale. Provide value, build your network and your platform, be helpful, and establish your foundation, your base. When it comes time for you to draw on that network, people tend to pay you back if you’ve done a good enough job giving first. I managed to be unemployed for exactly 37 minutes because the moment I was out of a job, I asked my network, and Greg Cangialosi, our founder and CEO, grabbed me as quickly as he could.

Marketing and Technology

Mark Regan: You’ve said you live in that uncomfortable world between marketing and IT/technology (a space I personally love!).  How do you exploit your ability to bridge that gap?

Chris Penn: I’m a marketing technologist, a word coined by Scott Brinker and subsequently promoted by Mitch Joel. It’s a highly unusual practice because it requires you to be competent in two different worlds that typically require very different mindsets in order to be successful. I wouldn’t characterize it as uncomfortable as much as I would call it rare. What makes it possible to bridge that gap between worlds is an understanding I get from the martial arts about finding similarities.  A  market segmentation can be expressed as a SQL query, and a sorting algorithm can be turned into a marketing funnel. You have to be able to port concepts back and forth into the language that the world you’re working in speaks.

Personal and Professional Brands

Mark Regan: How do you balance the goals of your personal brand with the goals of your professional personas (VP, professor, host)?  Are they ever in competition?

Chris Penn: There is always strong potential for personal and professional brands to be in conflict. What it takes to make that not happen is to work for a company and a team that recognizes the synergy between personal and professional brand on the corporate front, and the maturity and responsibility of the person to align their brand with the company goals. Blue Sky Factory’s stated mission and goal in the world is to help you become a better marketer, and thus being a professor of Internet marketing and a marketing podcast co-host is perfectly aligned with that. Work I do in one area benefits work in other areas.  Lessons I learn in one area get ported to other areas and all benefit.

For example, I write and send out a monthly personal newsletter. As part of that, I get to use the BSF product, Publicaster, as an end user. I know what its like to be a customer, to have the customer experience on a regular basis, and I can give feedback to the team about what works and what doesn’t. Another example – I blog a lot personally. My personal web site uses the same platform and theme as the BSF one. I test out things on my blog and break it all the time, and the stuff that works well in the end gets pushed to the BSF web site. Some of the stuff I try would be deeply irresponsible to do on the corporate web site, so my personal space benefits the company.


Mark Regan: On the social web, you appear in so many places.  How do you manage to maintain a consistent engagement everywhere?

Chris Penn: I’m not everywhere, not by a long shot. I pick very carefully where I can bet use my time, and each place has a defined role. Linked in is all about groups for me. Twitter is about finding new people and staying in touch. Facebook on my fan page is all about tools and ideas I have that I share. I don’t have to be everywhere, and I set expectations carefully about what each place means to me.

Email and Social Media

Mark Regan: Pundits love to say email is dead.  But I continue to see it being better integrated as a marketing tool.  Do you expect the same to happen with social media and its various tools?

Chris Penn: For those that survive, yes. That said, one of the largest flaws in thinking in social media is the assumption that social media tools are public utilities. They are not. Email is, because no one organization
controls email, by design. Facebook? Twitter? Linked in? Quora? These are not public utilities and thus they have the potential to go away overnight.

Bonus Questions

Mark Regan: What is your favorite online marketing/social media toy of the day?

Chris Penn: Toy of the day? My iPad, unquestionably. Greatest productivity tool I have besides the laptop itself.

Mark Regan: Any fun plans while you’re here in Tampa?

Chris Penn: Nope. I am surprisingly unfun in person because I’m such a nerd.


Mark Regan: Thanks Chris!  I’m excited to welcome you to Tampa on February 22nd as part of Social Fresh Tampa.  How can people find out more about Blue Sky Factory and connect with you?

Chris Penn: You can find out more about Blue Sky Factory and grab our newest eBook here.

You can find out more about me at: