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Irishwoman is a world beater for Google sales

The Carlow native started out building websites with Bord Failte and Tourism Ireland and is now in charge of hundreds of staff across dozens of countries worldwide. By Peter Flanagan

Has there ever been a brand name like Google? Non-existent 15 years ago, it's now a part of the global language and is used by millions of people all over the world, hundreds of times a day.

It's one of the most powerful and recognisable brands in the world, and when it wants to roll out a new product, it relies on an Irish woman to make sure consumers know all about it.

As senior vice president for marketing with the company, Lorraine Twohill runs Google's global marketing business. In her role she is in charge of hundreds of staff across dozens of countries around the world.

Pick any Google marketing campaign, such as "Doodle for Google" up to the latest advertising for Google's new "Chromebooks" and there is a good chance Ms Twohill's team ran the campaign.

The Carlow native, who will be addressing the Marketing Institute of Ireland's annual conference next Thursday, joined Google in 2003 but she did not take a direct route to the company.

"I had worked for Bord Failte and worked on the Tourism Ireland brand for them. When I was there I led the team for northern Europe," she says.

"This was the late 1990s, so it was the early days of the internet. We built the first website for the agency and I suppose from that I got the web bug as it were."

As we know now, the late- 1990s was the height of the first internet boom and we saw a raft of companies appear, shine brightly, and then disappear just as quickly as they had arrived. Ms Twohill joined one such start up, but this one didn't blow up. More than a decade later Opodo.com is still going strong with turnover of more than €1bn.

It's a travel website set up by a number of airlines including Aer Lingus, and it used Google's adwords technology.

"Opodo approached me and I took the job in London. It got off the ground, and it was a really exciting time for us.

"At the time we were very much part of the first wave of e-commerce sites -- that whole sector was just starting so it was a real mix between the old and the new as it were.

"For the first time people were really thinking about things from a web perspective; how it will play on line, what will work on line that may not work off line, these were all questions we were looking at for the first time."

She was involved in hiring teams across Europe and crucially, Google was doing the same thing at the same time. AdWords is now one of the most lucrative advertising methods on the planet but for Ms Twohill, Opodo's use of it put her on the radar with the search engine, which was growing rapidly at the time.

"I went for an initial chat, and that turned into 22 interviews. I ended up doing marketing for six years in London from 2003.

"I was their first international marketing hire and it was well timed because Google was just moving beyond the US and was moving out internationally," she adds.

The company she joined in 2003 was a lot different to the company it has become. Google now has thousands of staff worldwide, but at that time employee numbers were in the hundreds. While the company has grown, Ms Twohill claims it has retained the small company atmosphere in terms of camaraderie.


Now her job is to sell Google and its products across the world. Given how recognisable a brand Google is, does it really need to be marketed? She believes so.

"In my time alone, Google has gone from a company with one or two products such as search to several products and brands.

"Google can no longer sell something just by virtue of it having the Google label on it. We need to tell our story.

"Google's Chrome browser is a good example. How do you cut through the noise. A lot of people don't even know what a browser is, so you have to educate them as much as anything else, so why would they want to even think about changing from one browser to Chrome. It's up to us to get that message across," she says.

What that message is exactly, can vary greatly from region to region. An ad that works in a highly interconnected country such as Japan, may not get traction in a place such as the Middle East, where broadband penetration is still low, and many people still get online at cyber cafes.

"We look at each country, we look at what's right, and then we localise and develop locally. We use agencies, but the company is extremely involved.

"Take India for example. The way that market is moving, people are going straight to smartphones and cutting out the PC market, so that's what we do.

"Having said that, there's no point in us having a great campaign if nobody has the means to watch it."

So Google is now advertising on television. That would have been unheard of just a few years ago but is now the norm. Microsoft has run expensive TV campaigns for the latest version of Internet Explorer and Windows 8 systems.

"We have to tailor our campaigns to each country. We run some global campaigns such as the Getting SMEs Online and our new campaign for Chromebooks, but we usually have to have a local touch as well," she says.

But there is one product that Google and the rest of the tech industry have their eyes on: the mobile phone. With the Android operating system now the biggest smartphone OS in the world, Google is well placed to make a killing in that area, says Ms Twohill.

"The rise of the smartphone has led to this 'always on' culture, and it's a fascinating challenge from a marketing perspective.

Where someone in their 30s or older can quite easily imagine not having their phone with them all the time, studies show most younger people can't, and they are constantly checking for updates.

"For marketing, my team has to be able to harness that and take advantage of that change."

While Ms Twohill is quite happy to talk about marketing, she is understandably more circumspect when it comes to the company overall.

Questions about Google's lacklustre third quarter results are deftly referred to the company's official comments on the subject, as are queries about privacy issues and treatment of user data that surround Google and just about every other technology firm these days.

Google has a reputation as being an extremely tough work environment. The perks, such as bean bags and free meals are well known, but so are the long hours and the expectation of devotion to the company cause.

After spending nearly a decade at the coalface with the firm already, the last three in Palo Alto, Ms Twohill appears to relish the challenge and show's little interest in swopping life in California for a return to Carlow.

"I enjoy what I do and it keeps me busy. I'm in no rush to move on any time soon".

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