Rich Cline '95 serves as president of a successful marketing and communications consulting firm. (Photo: Diane Daniel)
If you want to meet a man who loves what he does, say hello to Rich Cline '95, president and co-founder of Voce Communications, the voice behind companies such as Google, Yahoo, eBay, NetApp, Bell Sports, Intel, Playstation, Dolby, and Discovery Channel. Voce, today a marketing and communications consulting firm, recently was acquired by global public relations firm Porter Novelli. Additionally, Cline recently began a second term as mayor for Menlo Park.
Things are good, one could say.
Such was not always the case. Cline admits he focused more on baseball than he did on classes when he started out in college, jumping from Cal to Laney Community College to Cal State East Bay.
That was in the ‘90s. He did a journalism stint – working for regional dailies in the East Bay but becoming quickly disillusioned by the odd hours and low pay. Next, he joined a small PR firm and then a large conglomerate where he learned the essentials that led to founding Voce with partners in 1999.
“I worked from home and didn’t take a salary for the first six months,” said Cline to a CSUEB public relations class he visited at the invitation of Kathleen Rountree, interim dean of the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences. Cline is the fourth Dean’s Invited Guest of the year.
Cline recounted the elation of signing up his first client, a $5,000 account, and other early clients not realizing that in time one, a small startup with 35 employees and the funny name Google, would help put Voce on the map.
“Our presentation to Google was ‘A Day in the Life of Google.’ Instead of telling them how good we were at our job, we asked like 70 people – kids, grandmas, everyone – to use Google in their everyday life and tried to tell them a story about how Google could change lives. It was quite impactful. We got the job. We got to launch Google,” said Cline to the assembled students.
All eyebrows rose as he dropped the news.
Cline told the students his 90 employees are typically assisted by about six or seven interns – again, the students perked up.
Cline also reinforced his passion for communications during the presentation.
“Communication, in my view, is one of the single most powerful majors you can take in college,” Cline said.
Looking at all the great leaders, he asked the audience, what one thing do they have in common? They are usually exceptional communicators, he said.
“Obama is a communicator. He was a great lawyer, but he also organized local Chicago communities to carry powerful messages," Cline said. "If he were not as good a communicator, I don't think he would be president today.”
Cline made the distinction between public relations (creating a perception of a company, product or person in the real world) and marketing (launching a brand), but said the difference is not readily understood, or an obvious transition from college classes.
He told the audience he likes to hire CSU students, because they have a work ethic that he has not seen in students from many elite Bay Area universities.
"Sometimes you need to get your hands dirty and be willing to get it done anywhere, in an office, in a back alley, wherever. CSU grads bring that blue collar effort with the great academics," he said.
Cline said he looks for four strengths among prospective employees: writing skills, including the ability to communicate via social media and traditional means; oral communication skills; a solid work ethic; and the ability to work as a team member.
Surveying the audience, he surmised that most had grown up with social media and are comfortable using it. But, he said, that’s not enough for his communications consultancy or for the industry today.
“You have to be able to communicate with people by e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, of course . . . but you’ll always be more influential on the phone or face to face,” he said.
He made it clear that PR necessitates high energy and concentration, but that the rewards can be very good to those who work hard.
“We communicate for a company. We help deliver a message to customers. In turn they make a lot of money. We deserve to be well compensated,” he said.
That’s not to say that Cline looks only at the bottom line.
While he was selected one of PRWeek’s “40Under40” in 2008 and has been listed as a 2008 and 2009 “Who’s Who in the Silicon Valley Business Journal,” he also gives back. He’s a former board member for the “Girls for a Change” non-profit organization, and serves his community as mayor.