MFE Graduates

January 04, 2010

Peter Marino was well into a successful career in public relations before coming to UCLA Anderson for his MBA. He began at Cramer-Krasselt working on Master Lock's famous "shot lock" Super Bowl ad campaign, among others, and also did time at Ketchum Communications, working with the Miller Brewing Company (now MillerCoors) and with travel start-up Orbitz.

But Marino knew he wanted to start his own business. "I always wanted to be an entrepreneur," he said. "I thought an MBA would be a great advantage and I chose UCLA Anderson because of its entrepreneurial emphasis. At Anderson, I started trying to shape what I was going to do entrepreneurially - whether it was buy or start a business - and what industry it would be in."

Marino was among the first students at UCLA Anderson to choose the business creation option for his Applied Management Research (AMR) project. "My team worked with Professor Bob Foster," he recalled. "We were going to start a national qualitative market research firm - and the name was going to be Dig. I liked the name. It evoked the way we wanted to work with our clients in terms of rolling our sleeves up, getting dirty and digging for the right idea."

After graduating, Marino joined the Los Angeles office of Boston Consulting Group, but he was still interested in creating his own communication firm. While there, he contacted his former employer, Miller Brewing Company, and proposed creating a new communication agency. Since leaving Miller Brewing, the company had been acquired and many of Marino's former colleagues were no longer there. But after 15 months of discussion, Miller signed on as the inaugural client of Marino's new firm: Dig Communications.

"Miller gave me the official word that they wanted to hire me on April 14, 2004," he remembered. "I was living in L.A. at the time - and had to be up and running in Chicago on June 1. I had six weeks to find a place to operate, hire people, create a benefit program, figure out salaries and bring in an IT partner."

Dig Communications opened with a staff of seven to serve a single client. Over the past five and a half years, the company has grown to about 50 and the client list now includes Harley Davidson, William Wrigley, Jr. & Company, American Express, P.F. Chang's,, Solo Cup and many other industry leaders.

For the first year, one client was enough. "We decided not to look for any new business because we wanted to prove that our model was right and that we could deliver everything we promised to the Miller Brewing Company," said Marino.

The model worked. "We've got a model that allows us to go very deep with our clients," he explained. "So we get very close to them. Our best relationships are when we're an extension of our clients' teams. I think we can amplify broader marketing efforts for our clients. We can take their brand positioning and bring it to life experientially. We also have a great handle on social media. Given how consumers are getting their information and interacting with brands today, having that knowledge is essential."

The firm's second client was Staples, the office supply retailer. "They were opening up the Chicago marketplace," recalled Marino. "I know the VP of communications there and he had invited three very large international communication companies to make presentations. He included us as a favor." Dig won the assignment, which established the firm as a major player.

In 2007, Dig acquired a technology firm in San Francisco. "As a Chicago-centric agency," Marino said, "establishing an outpost in San Francisco was a major milestone for us. Then we decided to open an office in New York, which was another milestone."

Today, Dig Communications enjoys a strong national reputation. In March, 2009, they were named Best Small PR Agency of the Year by the industry publication PRWeek. "That was great validation of what we've been doing and how we've been doing it," said Marino. A judge in the competition remarked, "Dig has demonstrated some remarkable work - with a true understanding of the social media environment in a way that sets them apart."

Part of the firm's success is that members of the staff are carefully matched with the clients they serve. "When we have a potential client," explained Marino, "we talk with our staff to see if it will be a good fit. We empower our staff to decide whether we should go for it, and if they want to be a part of the team. The extra passion people bring to a project can make all the difference in the world."

For Marino, the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur has been finding enough hours in the day to get everything done. "I'm still very involved in hands-on work for our clients," said Marino. "I'm also responsible for the careers of the people working for us. I'm trying to figure out where the next layer of growth is going to come from. Really, I think the biggest challenge for me is to keep all my various plates spinning."

When asked how his UCLA Anderson experience informs his work today, Marino responded, "First of all, MBAs are rare in the communications field, so just having an MBA gives me a leg up on my competitors, let alone one from a top school like UCLA."

Marino feels that his communication and leadership abilities were transformed at UCLA Anderson. "It helped me greatly with confidence," he said. "I came out of school believing I had the tools needed to succeed."

"Some people think that you can't really teach entrepreneurship - either you have it or you don't," he continued. "But I don't agree with that. I learned a heck of a lot from great professors at UCLA Anderson. Whenever I am faced with a challenging communications problem, I get visions of Professors Bernardo, Osborne, Foster and Forman challenging me to think beyond just communications and analyze it across a broader spectrum. Often times, this provides a sharper and more impactful communications recommendation. Without a doubt, I am much more effective at my job as a result of having a UCLA Anderson MBA."

Media Relations