Self-proclaimed ad junkie Gene Paek has creativity in his blood. Raised by an artist and an engineer, Gene was fascinated by the intersection of imagination and technology. Now, in his role as Global Head of Digital Experience and Innovation at HP, he’s leaning into corporate goodness and a new, interactive way for online gamers to experience products from home.
How did you get to where you are today?
In college, I was an ad junkie. Read every Adweek magazine cover-to-cover. I would read up on all the people and all the latest campaigns from agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi, Goodby, FCB, Wieden, Kirshenbaum Bond, WongDoody, Ogilvy, Cliff Freeman.
When I got into the scene, websites were becoming popular for brands and the online advertising space started to explode. ... And this was just the beginning of it all (pre-Y2K), back when flash banners and animated GIFs were a thing of genius. I knew I wanted to play in this space.
Any noteworthy aha-moments along the way?
"Doors will open if you have a reputation for being smart and a positive human being."
The advertising industry is two-degrees of separation. It became apparent that your reputation is an important part of your growth and success in the industry. This means that it’s not about what you do or why you do it, but how you do it that’s important. Be a good human. Doors will open if you have a reputation for being smart and a positive human being.
What innovations are you currently focused on?
There are two things: The first is this unprecedented moment of COVID-19. Like many companies across the world, we are trying to find ways to help in this pandemic and looking at innovative ways to use our products and technologies to help combat COVID-19, like deploying HP Bioprinters to accelerate drug and vaccine research and initiatives to donate PCs to support students, families, and communities that are learning and working from home.
The second is innovating the digital customer experience for HP. … We just launched the first phase of this with our new OMEN gaming experience (U.S. users only for now). Because we don’t have OMEN products available at every retail outlet, it’s very important for us to deliver an experience-based website that lets users interact and “feel” the product. It’s only the first phase of a new digital customer experience, but I’m excited to see it come to life.
What’s happening in marketing right now that you’re most excited about?
It’s exciting to see how content changes and how quickly the advertising industry adapts. … All in all, the formula for great content is concept and execution. But the evolution of formats is changing the way we create content today: going from letterbox video to vertical video, 30-seconds to 6-seconds, sound on to sound off and now back to sound on. These shifting formats have even changed the storytelling arc. The big idea isn’t enough anymore. The edit plays just as important of a role. And it’s only getting better. We’re seeing the Creator Generation exercise their creativity every day on YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Toudou and their content is definitely having an influence on how marketers approach brand advertising content, regardless of medium.
What would you say is the biggest marketing challenge you face from a day-to-day?
The speed of the consumer. … When you look at the purchase funnel, conversion has always been the hardest part, but with the speed of today’s consumers, getting their attention and interest is becoming just as hard. One thing we’re doing at HP is shifting the strategy of our website to be more instantaneous and personalized. Getting users to what they are looking for faster and in the right context of who they are and what their needs may be. Time is precious and we don’t want to waste theirs.
What do you look for in talent when building your team?
“We need a Boesky, a Jim Brown, a Miss Daisy, two Jethros and a Leon Spinks. Not to mention the biggest Ella Fitzgerald ever."
I’ve been fortunate to work at companies like Snapple, Facebook/Instagram, VSCO, HP and agencies that strive for diversity and create an environment where diversity and inclusion is part of the company DNA. When recruiting and building a team, it’s important to have diversity and avoid building a homogeneous team. You need to surround yourself with a team that brings different perspectives to the table. You need people that have different backgrounds, cultures, skill sets and talents that can work together to accomplish a common goal. Especially if you’re leading a global marketing team. The “We need a Boesky…” line from Oceans Eleven is one of my favorite movie quotes and illustrates how you need a diverse team to accomplish the impossible.
What is one skill that you think is currently underdeveloped in Marketing?
Every marketer should fall in love with data. But it can easily be a complicated relationship. Most of us didn’t join the industry because we liked to crunch and analyze numbers. But falling in love with data and understanding how to tell stories using data gives marketers a leg up on the competition.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
"I was never the smartest person in the room (by a long mile) but I tried to be one of the most prepared."
You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. Just be the most prepared. I’ve worked with the CMO of HP, Vikrant Batra, at two different companies. One time, at an agency we both worked at many years ago, I was looking at his calendar and noticed there were 15-minute blocks scheduled before every one of his meetings. Puzzled, I asked what these were for? Vikrant replied, “So I have time to prepare for each meeting.” That was one of those career epiphanies. Prepare for a meeting?! So obvious, yet so underused.
Fast forward to my time at Instagram. I worked with really smart people. For the most part, Facebook comprises over-achieving, academic and top-tier talent into each team. I definitely had moments of imposter syndrome. I was never the smartest person in the room (by a long mile) but I tried to be one of the most prepared. That’s how I could compete and it’s something I continue to strive for today.
What’s something that most people don't know about you?
I’m a big believer in exercising three things every day: 1) your mind; 2) your body 3) your creativity. Each one requires daily activity to stay in top shape and each is intertwined with one another. Many take the third one for granted.