My run-in with Marc Benioff, and tips to be a star performer

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Time magazine just hired me to write a piece about workplace trends among young people. One of the things I wrote about was how much people value the opportunity to volunteer for non-profit organizations through their company. And one of the best examples of this is

So I called the publicist there and set up an interview with the CEO, Marc Benioff. I also scheduled a Time magazine photographer to take photos of’s volunteer program in action.

But Marc skipped out on the interview. And, even though he was missing in action, the publicist went ahead with the photo. After about five phone calls I realized that Marc had disappeared and I was stuck with a photo from a company that I couldn’t get a quote from: useless.

So for my first thing I’ve ever written for Time magazine, I was going to miss my deadline. Everyone can be their best selves in the best circumstance. But in bad circumstances, it’s very hard to be your best self. We learn how pulled together we are by watching what we do when things go badly.

I screamed at the publicist. At first I screamed at him for letting the photo happen when he knew he would miss my deadline with the interview. At one point he told me he believed Marc was having a personal problem and I said, “Well it had better be a death in the family.” Yep. I said that. Nice, huh?

Finally, in a huff, I told the publicist I was not using in the piece I was writing. I was very pissed off and I wanted to punish everyone for messing up my article. But to be honest, I didn’t have another photo lined up. And I was pretty much screwing myself.

Then I got the voicemail from Marc Benioff. He knew that I was angry, that I took his company out of the article, and that he missed my deadline. Still, he left me a message. He told me he was really sorry, and then, instead of leaving a message which would be of no use to me, he left me a long message giving me every quote I could need for my story about and volunteering.

This was super smart of him, but most people wouldn’t do it. Most people would accept that they were pulled out of the story, most people would be too scared to call a journalist who has been screaming on the phone, and most people would not have the poise and composure to basically interview themselves on voicemail and do a good job. I liked seeing the difference between what a regular person would do and what a star performer does.

So I wrote my article (with, got it in almost on time, and then someone came to my door with flowers. From Marc. A big arrangement with poppies and bergamot and cabbage. Cabbage! Isn’t that interesting? When I saw it I got giddy. I’m a girl who loves getting flowers.

He sent a card that said he was sorry and what can he do to make it up to me. Apologizing was not difficult for Marc. It seems that for him it doesn’t matter who is right or not. He just wants to have a good relationship. He’s a good influence on me: As soon as I finish writing this, I’m going to call the publicist and apologize for being rude.

No one has ever sent me flowers to get into an article before, but you know what? It’s really smart. Some places I write for would fire me in a second for accepting flowers in exchange for an article. But my blog is different. So I’m gonna tell you that flowers can sway me. If you want me to write about you on my blog, send me flowers. And no carnations. This is not prom.

40 replies
  1. Tim
    Tim says:

    It’s all about going above and beyond the call of duty. Who doesn’t like that? Who wouldn’t want that person on their team? Or, wouldn’t you want to work for a person like that?

  2. Bukola Ekundayo
    Bukola Ekundayo says:

    I think good way to become a star performer is to go beyond expectations. Marc knew that you were upset and took the time to come up with and execute a creative solution to problem. He also indirectly created word of mouth exposure for his company. We could all learn from this man’s example.

  3. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    My friend forgot to get a present for his wife for her birthday (or Mother’s Day) and she was livid. Just like you.

    However, Joe, his therapist, told him not to accept defeat but to go out and get a gift and flowers and give them to her in the afternoon.

    He did it and while he couldn’t deny that he’d forgotten her special day, he still had the chance to show her that his heart was in the right place. And it went a long way towards calming her down.

    There are a lot of goofy therapists around but I’ve always remembered this guy’s advice because it seemed so simple and yet smart.

  4. Tamara Paton
    Tamara Paton says:

    I love this post. Love love love it.

    Firstly, I’m delighted to know that people I respect (that’s you, Penelope) lose their cool once in a while. It says that there is hope for me, a part-time bondhead who wigs out on occasion.

    Beyond that, hearing about a thoughtful, smart, humble and human CEO is refreshing. Your story made me want to work for

    Finally, I just added this quote to my Facebook profile (high praise in my world):

    “Everyone can be their best selves in the best circumstance…We learn how pulled together we are by watching what we do when things go badly.”


  5. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    It’s admirable that you can describe how you lost your cool, even in a situation that wasn’t entirely in your control. Sounds like Marc Benioff’s behavior after missing the interview was both gracious AND smart. You accepted his gesture but also can see how you could have handle things better.

    Hey, send the publicist flowers too!

  6. Stacey
    Stacey says:

    “No one has ever sent me flowers to get into an article before, but you know what? It's really smart. Some places I write for would fire me in a second for accepting flowers in exchange for an article. But my blog is different. So I'm gonna tell you that flowers can sway me. If you want me to write about you on my blog, send me flowers. And no carnations. This is not prom.”

    That has got to be the funniest thing that I’ve read all day. Great story and excellent moral!

  7. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Cool story — says a lot about you and Marc. I’m wondering what Marc would have done had you been male? Would he have still sent flowers?

    I’ve been trying to think of a way to thank some senior people (men) at companies I interviewed for a report at work, and in one case an Executive Assistant (woman) who did an amazing job facilitating communications. An arrangement of flowers seems good for the latter person and they would brighten the whole office area which is nice.

    Do you or any of your readers have suggestions for the men? Keeping in mind they live in other cities and I’ve never met them face to face (and they make very good money I’m sure) — but they took time from their busy schedules to help me with something that wouldn’t really benefit them (they wanted to remain anonymous in my report).


  8. Mandelin
    Mandelin says:

    Wow!! Actually admitting to anger. It is nice to know that other (successful) people actually get angry. I would love to hear how you approached apologizing to the publicist.

    Wendy, Send flowers even to the men. Send something low key, maybe just a nice variety of greens with a couple daisies or a yellow rose (the friendship rose); then on the card refer to something personal from the interview. Even men like something nice to look at.

    Have a great day!! Happy Canada Day!!

    * * * * *

    I called the publicist and got his voicemail. So lucky, really, because it was a hard call to make. I said that I was sorry for being so rude to him, and that I really appreciate his help with the article. And then I told him that I blogged about today, and I gave him the URL.


  9. Trina Roach
    Trina Roach says:

    You said: “…I liked seeing the difference between what a regular person would do and what a star performer does…” and “…We learn how pulled together we are by watching what we do when things go badly…”

    Fantastic post and sentiments worth remembering!

    In a former life I was responsible for a large international ad agency’s internal training and management development program. In a case of temporary insanity, I once screwed up the date of a talk to be given by the editor of a major German weekly. He and his entourage literally sailed into the room he was supposed to give the talk in only to find another session already in progress…

    Needless to say, he was livid and nothing I could do to assuage his mood (incl. an impromptu meeting with some of the agency execs) was anywhere good enough.

    I ended up sending him a heartfelt letter of apology along with a bouquet, thinking sending flowers to a man would at least register on his radar.

    I was wrong, of course but (some) Germans can be a bit humorless. *shrug*

  10. PunditMom
    PunditMom says:

    But the thing I wonder is this — what would cause someone like that to blow off Time Magazine on so many occasions? Without an apology or explanation? His actions actually seem more self-serving than anything else.

    BTW, do you like tulips? :)

  11. Dianne Parham
    Dianne Parham says:

    So disappointing that you reinforce the stereotype that women can’t control their emotions in a stressful situation (yes, I know men lose their tempers but women somehow end up being called hormonal when they do it). At the end, despite his missing his appointment with you (and maybe you weren’t the most important person in his universe in that momet), Marc Benioff acted like a professional and a class act. It’s too bad that you couldn’t have found a way to deal with this except stamping your feet and acting like a spoiled child. Yeah, you got your way, but you’ve lost some credibility along with your temper. It would be nice if, instead of showing how Benioff acted brilliantly to sooth your ruffled feathers, that you could provide some advice on how to better handle the situation on your side. Of the two of you, Benioff seems to overall have set a better example of behavior.

  12. Andrey
    Andrey says:

    Hi, Penelope
    I love the way you and Marc found the solution, though there were certain difficulties in communication, you’ve finished it perfectly.
    You were angry and then merciful, and Marc was really worth you mercy doing everything possible to fix the problem of being ‘late to the date’.

    You’re friends now and I guess it’s pleasant to make new friends instead of foes anyway!

  13. sarah
    sarah says:

    I feel that your writing is getting somewhat, shall we say, scattered? I think you are losing the point in the telling of the anecdote more often than not these days. I can appreciate that you are busy though!

  14. Ted
    Ted says:

    Penelope – Don’t call the publicist…until after the flowers you’ve sent him have arrived. And make sure that you let him know that you will give priority consideration to ALL of his clients in future articles…because Benihoff’s apology clearly was the result of a publicist standing up to a client and making sure that client “does the right thing.” The publicist gets a gold star as far as I’m concerned. GREAT STORY!

  15. Shane
    Shane says:

    Wow, sorry, but if you’re gonna take flowers and openly solicit such in return for coverage, at least refrain from calling yourself a journalist.

    He avoided a direct interview and got you to swallow his talking points…. Sounds like you were played.

    * * * * * * *

    Played for what? I was already writing about why his volunteer program is so great.


  16. Kath
    Kath says:

    Gotta say, ARUGH. This is a company and, especially, a CEO famed for schmoozing the press. Yeah, you haven’t covered them before, so there’s an excuse for not knowing the rundown on Benioff, but I’d hope that level of flattering attention would automatically set off some red flags for any journalist. (Also, the flowers thing is vaguely sexist.) As for interviewing himself on voicemail — I suspect Marc would interview himself for every article ever written if he could.

    * * * * * * * *

    Thank you for your comment, Kath. I always think “what is good journalism” is a good topic to discuss here.  I am well aware that people in Silicon Valley don’t like him — if nothing else, Valley Wag loves to dis him. But that doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t bother me that he’s great at schmoozing the press. I mean, that’s his job, right? The CEO needs to keep the stock price up. I get schmoozed every day by a wide range of people. I think  a good journalist writes a good article. The schmoozing is the noise behind an interesting article. The noise never stops, so why complain about it?


  17. Peter
    Peter says:

    Marc has said in the past that he’s not above buying good copy – in fact, his disdain for repeaters is legendary – he thinks y’all are worthless in your ‘professional’ capacity. It’s good to know that this blog is now in league with Techcrunch and the others – your copy can be bought. Good work.

    * * * * * *

    Newsflash: The whole PR industry is about buying good copy. And journalists read press releases all day. So the idea that Marc Benioff is the only guy trying to buy good copy is absurd. Also, I do not need Marc to like my profession in order for me to write positive copy about his company. The idea that journalists will only write positive copy about people who like journalists seems proposterous. So I’m not sure why you think it matters what Marc thinks of me or journalism or whatever.Finally, that you are putting me in the league of TechCrunch makes me so happy. I read TechCrunch every day, and I learn so much about business and new ideas and how to build a community from those guys.Penelope

  18. Peter
    Peter says:

    i’m learning all sorts of stuff on this blog – for instance, did you know that Marc Benioff is ‘humble’? crackin me up. i needed some 4th of july chuckles. i’m pretty sure he would take that as an insult.

    gosh – someone gets some flowers and all of a sudden all rationality goes out the door. i agree with a previous poster – way to reinforce those negative stereotypes of women.

  19. Carol Quovadis
    Carol Quovadis says:

    Great post.
    Yes Marc was a total jerk initially, very disrespectful and you over reacted. However I think you showed great self insight, realising your reaction was over the top and learning some thing from it. Then publishing it this way shows great guts and helps the rest of us.

    Both the publicist and Marc deserve credit for the way they handled it subsequently. Yes they’re getting added publicity on your blog, but the world now also knows you need to be really careful when committing to deadlines with them! So I don’t think you’ve failed as a journalist and “sold out”
    By the way- what’s the deal with cabbage??? In Ireland we just eat it!

  20. laurence haughton
    laurence haughton says:

    Valleywag wasn’t dissing Benioff. The way I heard it, they were reporting some disturbing news.

    “The CEO was so outraged by a Wall Street Journal investigation into his [new] mansion in Hawaii, that he had the reporter arrested and [he] flew to New York to browbeat senior management at the newspaper, Valleywag’s learned. Benioff, a billionaire promoter of web software, usually a publicity monger, sought to meet with his counterpart at Dow Jones, the parent company of the Wall Street Journal. Referred to the Journal’s managing editor, Paul Steiger, Benioff accused the paper of harassment.”

  21. Stacey
    Stacey says:

    How interesting that a person is not allowed to simultaneously have both good and bad qualities. Equally interesting is that apparently feminists cannot not like or accept flower arrangements without risking their credentials. And finally, it is most interesting how all journalism must be concerned with the ways that people are misbehaving and obviously could not be interested in what good people may do.

  22. Almost Got It
    Almost Got It says:

    Who cares if Marc Benioff is or isn’t a jerk/player/shmoozer/schmuck? Seems to me the point here is that the only person any of us can control, ultimately, is ones’ own self.

    Does this sort of analysis-by-anecdote bear any relevence to the business world? You can bet your tulips or cabbages that it does!!

    Nor is there much point in analyzing the degree to which anyone was or wasn’t at fault here. Doesn’t matter. Penelope most admirably took herself (and her career) in hand, acknowledged her own responsibility, exercised her own considerable agency, and did the stand-up thing, which very few others in the business world are willing or able to do — much less talk (blog?) about.

  23. digginestdogg
    digginestdogg says:

    You have it wrong P. He forced you, an independent journalist, to become a one-sided PR flack for his company and covered with flowers. He ‘dissed’ you and the questions you might have asked instead opting for a one-way quote provision–take it or leave it was his message. And you, easily swayed by flowers, let him get away with it. You should have had a backbone and pulled the piece.

    Now every arrogant messianic CEO is going to think female journalists will betray their integrity for flowers. Way to set women back decades honey!

    Maybe you saved your piece (though I’ll bet you’d have written a great one without his spot) but at what price to your integrity?

    * * * * * * *
    Hi. The piece went to print before the flowers. And the topic — that is doing great stuff — was set before the interview. There wasn’t actually a way for him to influence the article I wrote. I can’t believe I’m still responding to comments about this.

    P.S. Re you saying that I am setting women back decades — I only wish that this blog was so powerful as to wield that influence.



  24. Cool
    Cool says:

    Hey, sweetheart, it’s not the flowers that swayed her. It’s the thought that counts.

    When was the last time that you got flowers?

    Way to do it Marc, rocks!


  25. Brianne
    Brianne says:

    Benioff called you back because the publicist created enough of a ruckus that he had to – thanks for apologizing to the publicist. Let’s hope Benioff did the same for putting him in that position to begin with…having been in PR for 25 years, I can tell you that NONE of us is interested in pissing off someone filing a story for Time Magazine.

  26. spunkyknight
    spunkyknight says:

    You always sound like such a complete phony. And now that we can see how easily you lose your cool, it looks like you have two sets of standards. One for you and one for everyone else. You want to be treated with respect and dignity but you only give those out when you get what you want. And if you don’t, you throw a fit, as if that would ever solve anything. Very mature.

    If more people in the workplace dropped the attitude and arrogance that you convey with every article you write, and your apparent behavior in the physical work place, things might actually get done correctly on the first try and without all the drama.

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