HRExaminer Radio

HRExaminer Radio is a weekly show devoted to Recruiting and Recruiting Technology airing live on Friday’s at 11AM Pacific

HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Jeanne Achille, Founder & CEO of The Devon Group
Episode: 111
Air Date: August 28, 2015


Devon’s CEO, Jeanne Achille, founded the award-winning agency in 1994. Committed to driving the highest levels of customer satisfaction combined with top-line results, she is a skilled entrepreneur and technology expert. Considered by many to be “one of the best public relations professionals in the business,” she is also a leading crisis management specialist. By leveraging her love of the arts and science, she designs and develops the solid communications programs that define brands, generate revenue and sustain success.

Earlier in her career, she was a sales rep, product manager, and marketing executive in the high tech industry. After living through yet another M&A event, she started Devon to validate that when properly executed, great PR was a predictable process versus serendipity. In addition to leading her company’s growth, she is involved in daily account management, media campaigns, analyst relations, content development and social media for Devon clients.

Never one to be a spectator in life, Achille has been a board member, elected official, working mother, world traveler and career mentor. In her spare time, she is a dog lover, Pilates fanatic, avid consumer of world news, and lifelong student.

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Begin transcript

John Sumser:                     Good morning and welcome to HRExaminer Radio. I’m your host John Sumser and we are coming to you from beautiful downtown Occidental California which is a jungle of 40-foot tall rose bushes that are just starting to have their second bloom this season. The fog is coming in from the ocean and bathing those beautiful roses with moisture and they’re going to just pop out in the next week or so.

Today we’ve got Jeanne Achille on the phone with us. Jeanne is the spiritual center of everything that is HR technology. She runs a company called the Devon Group which is an unusual and exciting little company that helps the right people connect with the right people and helps technology vendors in particular get the attention that they’re interested in giving. We’ll let Jeanne tell you more about that in the conversation but it’s a great privilege to have her. She’s the center of everything. Jeanne, how are you this morning?

Jeanne Achille:                   John, I’m wonderful and thank you so much for having me as your guest today. I am now feeling enormous pressure though as your spiritual center of an industry. I think we’re going to have a very interesting conversation.

John Sumser:                       Maybe you can start charging just for being you.

Jeanne Achille:                   I’m seeing all kinds of possible revenue streams as a spiritual guide. I think you’ve opened up some new possibilities for the Devan Group.

John Sumser:                       You know, I live in northern California where spiritual guides are a dime a dozen. But the great thing about the business model is there’s almost no cost to the actual stuff. It’s a high margin business. Would you introduce yourself and tell us how got here and help people see beyond my healer to what you do.

Jeanne Achille:                   Absolutely. In fact I am not in California. I’m right outside of New York City at what is considered the de facto beginning of the Jersey Show area which is a wonderful place to be in the summer. We have similar foliage and such that John’s described. I’ve had the pleasure of being at the helm of Devon now for 21 years. I started the agency in ’94, more so out of frustration than anything else John.  I kept looking at public relations when I was on the client side of the business. My experience is actually in product management and guiding the development of product through to go to market.

I was at companies like Ceridian and I was at Nortel and I was at a company called Inside which is actually the granddaddy of HRMS. I used to sit at the table and think, why is PR such a broken business process? It can’t possibly be this difficult. Of course 21 years into it I can tell you it is extremely difficult. It is extremely labor intensive, but if you look at it as a scientific process rather than a creative art, it is possible to drive predictable outcomes.

John Sumser:                       Well that’s pretty interesting because everybody who I watch come into the space is looking for a way to get heard. What you’re saying is you understand the science of getting heard. Yes?

Jeanne Achille:                   Yeah. The science of getting heard has multiple layers now. We have a good fortune of having a number of broadcast tools at our fingertips that have an immediacy that we didn’t previously enjoy. Because I have been doing this for so long, I do remember those horrible late nights when we would actually fax press releases to journalist. Now of course I can go on Twitter and say anything I want within the next 3 seconds. It’s a very different dynamic than we had years ago.

What’s really most important, and is in fact becoming even more important is the high value of a high touch interaction. Having those opportunities where you are either networking one-on-one or networking in a defined group where you have like-minded people in one place. That’s the goal of, I think, pretty much every client we support and that is get us introduced to the Wall Street Journal, get us introduced to the New York Times, get us introduced to Dave Shadovitz over at Human Resource Executive Magazine because we know once we are on their radar screen, we have enough interesting things to say that we can move the relationships forward.

John Sumser:                       That’s interesting. As I said in the beginning, you’re the gateway and people come to you to get into that world. Who are you seeing these days who’s interesting? What’s on your radar?

Jeanne Achille:                   We have the good fortune of hearing from a lot of the investors in the space who will come to us once they are either considering an investment seriously or have just invested and need some level of support to bring what often times is an unpolished gem to the market. What we’re seeing is as you look at the continuum in HR, there’s been increased focus on the use of data, and I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but increased focus on the use of data especially at the early stage of the HR continuum.

As you look at sourcing candidates, sourcing the right candidates. Then as you look at onboarding them and predicting their success within your culture and what that looks like. What your expectations can be for retention or conversely what your concern should be with flight risk. We’re just seeing a lot more business intelligence in the HR category that of course again, even 5 to 8 years ago simply did not exist in a palatable format that HR professionals could use.

John Sumser:                       I understand the idea. I understand that that’s a logical place to take automation and computing. I even understand that you’re talking about the thing that’s scariest to people who have to run a business. The scary thing is betting your success on other people. I haven’t noticed any of the stuff that actually works. The theory is good. The theory is good. But the ability to give me, John, you’re working with Sammy over here and here are the issues with Sammy Doe, I haven’t seen anything that does that. A lot of arm waving. A lot of arm waving but when it comes to me having practical insight about what I need to do next and where I might be making a mistake, which most people who are great at their jobs are interested in that information, I don’t see it coming around. It’s a funny time because I think that’s when you looked at the early cars, they also look like, why would anybody want to be in one of those. Today they’re comfort machines. I don’t know. What do you think?

Jeanne Achille:                   I don’t know John. If I were to look at it in a macro level, of course in your role in the ecosystem, it’s so important that we be hearing from you on that. I see 2 pockets of … 2 glimmers that I think will continue to intensify in elimination. One of course is what … That’s the crystal ball every businessperson wants, every investor wants. How do we use this data to predict rather than to merely report on. You and I have been in business long enough to know how awful it is to be sent the monthly spreadsheet to tell you everything that didn’t go right in the past month or what have you.

The ability to use that data and actually predict growth opportunities, I think that’s very exciting. To your point of arm waving, and I share that cynical bend, I’m very excited about the millennial in the workplace because I think they have a receptiveness to a lot of what has been perhaps aspirational, coming out of the assessment vendors, coming out of the vendors who are looking at corporate culture and employee engagement. I think we finally have advocacy in our millennial generation because they are very comfortable being probed and have a level of self-awareness that perhaps other generations in the workplace don’t have.

John Sumser:                       What you’re talking about, I think, is the positive side of this phenomenon that produces helicopter parents right?

Jeanne Achille:                   Yeah.

John Sumser:                       A lifetime of having every need examined and attended to produces people who are used to being the subject of a sort of continual proctology exam and find it pleasant because it involves attention and diagnosis and support. What you’re saying makes all the sense in the world that the generation that comes from having smaller family size wants to know the kinds of things that the data is beginning to be able to tell them. That’s a very smart view Jeanne, thanks for that.

Now the grand DeLorean of HR Tech, it’s coming up and there are all sorts of people who discover at the very last minute that this is something that they want to do. What do you have to tell the folks who figure out that they’ve got to go to the parade at the last minute?

Jeanne Achille:                   Oh goodness. When people come to me for advice … Let me just back up for a moment and make sure that your listeners understand our role at HR tech. We are the PR agency of record for the show and have the pleasure of supporting the show for many, many years and supporting its growth which has just been unbelievable. We have a very strong community around this event. It is the premier event globally for HR technology.

To your point, the first thing I tell people when they call me is please don’t wait until the last moment. It’s the end of August and I can tell you that a lot of dance cards are already full in terms of press and analysts who are attending the show. They have been invited to an unbelievable number of briefing opportunities, cocktail parties, dinners, any kind of crazy event you can imagine. I’m sure hot air ballooning is one of them. It is an incredible show with incredible energy and a lot of people who are trying to get to a lot of important people.

The other thing I tell people is please go to the show’s website and read the website. The show has a terrific marketing team and they have 2 chairs Steve Boese and Dave Shadovitz’s both of whom are total pros. We have a terrific program. It’s all at the website and it think people get frustrated thinking there’s some secret source there but it’s all laid out beautifully in black and white and some nice colors.

Ask all the question. Here at Devon we are here to answer questions and happy to do so. No question is too complicated or too simple or stupid. We want you to have a very successful HR tech experience. We encourage people to please drop us an email, let us know what your question is and we’ll make sure that you have a terrific experience at the show.

John Sumser:                       That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic. For everybody else, why don’t you talk just a little bit about what you do for somebody who’s not starting late? You’ve got an army of clients who are chaperoning through this process. What do they get when they deal with the Devon Group? You’re not a traditional PR agency I would say.

Jeanne Achille:                   Thanks for noticing that. We really integrate with our client’s teams. Our clients consider us a partner and really part of their virtual … Our client relationships are very long term. We’ve had a number of clients. We’ve been in business 21 years. We’ve had clients for 20 of those 21 years, those are contiguous relationships which is very unusual for a PR farm, very unusual. I think it’s because we take the time to understand our clients’ businesses. One of the first questions I always ask is tell me about your business model, how are you monetizing your offering and when I go down that line of questioning with a prospect there, they always take it back that a PR firm would want to know that information. That’s how we are able to design the campaigns and the programs that make our clients successful.

HR tech planning starts as soon as HR tech ends. We start to talk about what are we going to do at the next year show? What should our theme be? We just got off the phone with a client where we talked about what the giveaways will be. What products are we going to put forth for the new product press release at the show? Are we going to submit for the autumn new technology session? Of course related to HR tech is the Human Resource Executive Magazine’s product of the year award. We map all of that out in what is called a weekly work in progress report. Our clients have real-time visibility into what their HR tech plan looks like long before they get on site.

John Sumser:                       That’s fantastic. Part of what you do is you run what they call the press room. The press room is a large space populated with analysis and reporters and vendors who are doing briefings to those things. Why don’t you talk a little bit about who analysts are? What’s an analyst do? Then let’s talk a little bit about how somebody might prepare to go through that process.

Jeanne Achille:                   Just to give your listeners a sense of what a press room is like at the show, we open the press room on Sunday, we close it on Wednesday midday. Last year’s press room sat 300 people and it was pretty much full with a waiting list to get inside of that room. That’s how many exhibitors are sitting in that room taking briefings with the journalists who have been credentialed by the show to attend under what is called a press pass.

This year we’re taking a slightly different approach in so much that we have a press room but now we also have an analyst room. If people are briefing an analyst, they’ll go to the analyst room and those analysts will be people such as yourself and William Tincup of course from Key Interval, but also your colleagues at companies like Barson and IDC and Forrester and Gartner. This is the place where analysts expect leadership teams from the vendor community to be coming into the analyst room at a set time, sitting down for usually about a half hour, I think it’s reasonable. It’s a little bit of a speed dating situation, and giving them an update on the business and of course having a conversation about what the analysts are seeing in the category as well.

I can share with you that my team sent out calendar notes to all of our clients for whom we are setting up briefings. My time at HR Tech from the 18th to the 21st, my calendar is so full I can’t even sort through who’s coming or going. I know it’s going to be a very exciting time for the exhibitors at the show who are planning their press and analyst activities.

John Sumser:                       Oh, it’s going to be crazy. If I am going into that gauntlet to talk to an analyst, what should I be prepared to do?

Jeanne Achille:                   Well, first of all, you should not prepare a 50-slide PowerPoint and think that anyone is going to be able to seat through that in a 30-minute briefing. Sometimes winnowing down the messaging and really putting your priorities and assigning weight to what the most important messages are. That’s a lot of the work we do with our clients. That can be very challenging. Especially when there’s a great deal of exuberance around the RND investment and the product. You want to tell everybody about every bit bite and it’s just not feasible.

Being sensitive to what is going to be good use of your time as well as the analyst’s time, researching the analyst and making sure you know with whom you’re meeting and what their focus is and not pursuing those analysts who simply are not covering your space. I think you have to be reasonable about that. Then of course sitting down and being prepared to have a very interactive conversation rather than death by PowerPoint. John, I’m sure you have opinions on that because you’re at the receiving end of a lot of these briefings.

John Sumser:                       Well, I do have opinions. Generally, these days, we’re asking people to tell us about the company, the business model, the team, the product, and their financing in a very quick way, 5 or 6 quick slides in 5 or 6 minutes so that you can tell, the people who show up in the analyst room range from exciting, well-established, mid-to-large-cap operations to people exploring the market from Europe or Australia and showing up with a single sheet of paper and a big smile.

What we try to do is figure out early on in the process what the conversation really needs to be about and the conversation really needs to be about something that’s rooted in the realities of the person on the other side of the table rather than a fixed format as you were saying. What’s most exciting is somebody who’s able to understand that there are 40 other identical briefings that are going to happen and that their job is to be engaging and memorable. Being remembered out of the throng at HR tech is a real challenge. It’s a real challenge and so many people think that their product is good enough that it will do that for them but what it takes in the market and in the HR tech throng is something that’s bigger than just the product. It’s the overall sense and feel of the company. We encourage people to show us that.

Let’s see Jean, we’re going to HR tech, the analysts are there, the vendors are there. If I’m a practitioner, how do I go to a trade show like that and make any sense of it? There’s a lot of staff competing for my attention and my job is to get my needs met rather than understand all the rest of this stuff. What’s the best way to make a map of how to go to one of these things?

Jeanne Achille:                   What a great question. I think that because we have the agenda posted online with the full program, actually differentiated by track, by subject matter, practitioners who are attending have the good fortune of being able to look at that and say, “Okay, I’m an HR executive, I want to go to this set of sessions. I’m in learning and development, you know, I should be focused on this. My colleague however is looking at compensation and total rewards, they should go to this set of sessions.”

We encourage the practitioners to focus on those sessions. They are very well thought out, very well researched. We do not have pay for play at HR tech so you are assured that these are earned speaking slots where people have had to run the gauntlet to earn those speaking slots so we’re very committed to making sure that our practitioner attendees are getting the info from the best and brightest.

We also have some wonderful general sessions at the show, some great key notes, I know the practitioners enjoy the parties in the evenings as well so we want everybody to have fan. I would say if I were a practitioner going to this show, I would hit that website and take a look at the description of the concurrent sessions and start to make some decisions before I get on site. Start to make some decisions as to where you want to place your focus.

John Sumser:                       That’s great. We’ve got a little bit of a warm up for HR tech going on here. What should I have asked you about this process that I didn’t?

Jeanne Achille:                   Well, John, you’ve asked me a lot of good questions about HR tech but I’m going to take this moment to just plug something that we’re very passionate about that is happening at HR tech this year first time. That is we’re doing Parkinson’s fundraiser. The website is We have the good fortune of doing this with some terrific people in the industry and the reason we’re doing it is you recall the movie Back to the Future, October of 2015 was the date in the DeLorean. We hope people listening in will go to and find out what their opportunities are to consider participation in what is really an outstanding opportunity to do good at the show.

John Sumser:                       While you were talking I just walked over the and discovered that it’s a well thought out offering. This is going to be an interesting component. I want to suggest a fundraiser that’s always been on my HR tech fundraiser possibility list. I think a bunking booth.

Jeanne Achille:                   You’re setting yourself up for this John.

John Sumser:                       Actually my theory was almost …

Jeanne Achille:                   Dunking analyst? What do you think?

John Sumser:                       Dunking analyst? My theory was always that you could tell who was most feared and most revered by the amount of money that they raised to be dunk. There are some great figures in the story of HR tech who it would be extraordinarily fun to watch them get dunked.

Jeanne Achille:                   Indeed, indeed.

John Sumser:                       I just that this be a booth for a vendor with a high priced, $200 to throw a softball and have your shot. So …

Jeanne Achille:                   Going to be ringing after this radio show. John there’s going to be people who want to take you up on what is a great idea.

John Sumser:                       Well, I’d especially like to be in charge of the dunking booth because that saves me from being dunked all the time and allows me to wreak havoc on people I’d like to wreak havoc on.

Jeanne Achille:                   There you go. Always best to be in a leadership role.

John Sumser:                       The idea for the dunk. Is there anything you think a listener to the show ought to be taking away? Let’s make sure that we absolutely have mined the goldmine of Jeanne Achille this morning. What should somebody be taking away?

Jeanne Achille:                   I think first and foremost John, there is tremendous velocity in this category. We are seeing so much money come into funding the startups and the established vendors in this category. I think just a few of the examples, work market, which is focused on freelance management systems took 20 million earlier in the year. Greenhouse, an ATS vendor, everyone’s very excited about them. They just closed their series C which was 35 million. We’ve all watched the Zenefits story, we’ve seen LinkedIn acquire, we have so many exciting things going on in this category. This is more than a watch this space scenario. This is HR finally getting the respect that it has always deserved. I think you’re going to see a lot of continued excitement as we look at how the workforce plays a pivotal role in company success.

John Sumser:                       Fantastic. Please reintroduce yourself and tell the audience how to get a hold of you as we march our way up north.

Jeanne Achille:                   Thank you sir. I’m Jeanne, my last name is Achille. I’m CEO of the Devon Group and our website is Devon D-E-V-O-N and I can be reached at Jeanne, J-E-A-N-N-E at Devon Thank you so much for letting me join you today John.

John Sumser:                       Oh, thank you Jeanne. It’s always my pleasure and thanks everybody for tuning in. You’ve been listening to HRExaminer Radio I’m your host John Sumser and I hope you have an amazing weekend. Thanks very much for tuning in. Bye, bye …

End transcript

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