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Jul 1, 2013 12:00 AM
HELENE BLANCHETTE LOVES TO TRAVEL, INNOVATE AND SEEK NEW CHALLENGES
If you’re going to spend some time with Helene Blanchette, you’d better have your atlas handy—you’ll need it! Helene is currently based in Singapore, where she serves as the head of the 1:1 Experience Service for Fuji Xerox Asia Pacific and senior manager of innovations and business transformation. In addition to Singapore, her responsibilities extend to Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.
But her story actually begins in a sparsely populated corner of northern Quebec. “I grew up in Sept-Iles (“Seven Islands”), a small mining city located at the mouth of the St. Laurence River, near the open sea,” explains Helene. “It is a remote place where the roads of the province end, but the winters seemingly never do.”
FLYING, SAILING AND MOVING
Luckily, the family wasn’t marooned on the frozen wastelands north of the 50th parallel. Helene’s father was an aviation pioneer—he is a 2013 inductee into the Quebec Pantheon Aviation—and the family traveled extensively, even occasionally visiting relatives in the Great North on a Douglas DC3. Summers were spent on a yacht sailing in the bay or in different ports, including a 700-mile journey to Montreal for Expo 67.
When Helene was 14, the family moved to the big city. “I remember looking at all the wonders around me in Quebec and thinking that a lifetime was too short to explore the world,” she says. “From that day on, when people asked me what I wanted to do, I would always answer, ‘Travel!’”
AN EARLY MENTOR
At 23, she moved to Montreal to work for a husband-and-wife team that owned a string of racket sports clubs. “Denise Green was a mentor,” recalls Helene. “Within a year, she and her husband trusted me to co-manage all of the marketing and part of the day-to-day operations for five clubs with 25,000 members and hundreds of employees.”
With Green’s support and encouragement, Helene became involved in all facets of the industry—even serving as president of the racket sports federation—as she continued to hone her marketing skills.
Eventually, the entrepreneurial Helene decided to move on. With an associate, she opened a creative studio and printing plant. “We served agencies and marketers for eight years,” she says. “I knew every aspect of being a client and a service provider, something that served me well later on in my career.”
Following her hands-on stint in the offset printing world, Helene taught corporations and agencies how to manage the print buying process. Over the next four years, thousands of people from all over Canada attended this three-day workshop. After one day of lectures, participants spent the next two days following a print job from start to finish in high style. Piling into a limo, they saw each production sequence from prepress to finishing—an elaborate journey during the 1990s.
XEROX COMES CALLING
Helene’s course attracted the attention of Xerox Canada at a time when the company was intent on conquering the graphic communications world. She was hired as a consultant but soon became a full-time employee.
In 2003, Rafik Loutfy, then vice president of the Xerox Research Centre of Canada, asked her a pivotal question: Why was the market slow to embrace 1:1 marketing, despite all of Xerox’s developmental work?
“I recited all of the reasons why 1:1 marketing was so fantastic,” says Helene. “Rafik stopped me and said, ‘That is the Xerox answer. I want to know the real reason.’”
PROVIDING PROOF OF CONCEPT
Helene was determined to answer Loutfy. She spent the next eight months meeting with more than 200 CEOs, vice presidents of marketing, ad and marketing agencies, service providers and more. “It was clear to me that we needed to show how it is done and to provide the proof of concept to the market,” says Helene. “The challenge was how to do this without the graphic communication customers thinking that Xerox was opening a competitive service.”
Helene pitched a bold idea: What if Xerox provided a testing ground for marketers and commercial printers? Loutfy and Doug Lord, then president of Xerox Canada, championed the idea.
“Doing it as a research program and calling it the 1:1 Lab ensured that the market clearly understood that we [were doing] scientific testing, pilots, in multiple industries and that we would publish our research in the form of case studies,” says Helene. “We would do it with the commercial printer and the corporate marketer, together. When the pilot and results were completed, we would help the commercial printer fully implement it.”
From the start, the program was a success. “We tested it in multiple industries and it became very popular,” says Helene. “Xerox Corp. adopted it for the US and we did a few great programs in Europe, too.”
ON TO ASIA
Six years ago, Helene brought 1:1 to the other side of the world. “I started end-to-end 1:1 cross-media marketing as part of Fuji Xerox’s portfolio of services. This had never been done before; there were neither trained personnel nor programs. I had to build it all from scratch and make it relevant to Asia, support the 12 countries, groom staff, educate the market and of course deliver the service with Asian case studies.”
In 2013, it’s all coming together. “Last week we completed a 1:1 marketing certification program with 25 people from nine countries. To deploy this three-day workshop we had to build the most complete and interactive training on 1:1 marketing ever built.”
A RICH AND REWARDING MOVE
Helene is proud of her pioneering 1:1 work and the many industry accolades she’s earned over the years. She says, however, her greatest accomplishment was leaving a successful career in Canada to move to Asia. Six years ago, she arrived in Singapore, a place she had never visited and where she knew almost no one.
“It was so different from any of my previous experiences,” she says. “I had 12 countries to conquer and 12 cultures to discover and above all, I had to redo it all…. I will never regret this rich experience. You get to know exactly who you are and what you are capable of both professionally and personally.”
Helene says she’s now traveled to more than 600 cities and 40 countries, “working, visiting, living and learning. I guess that makes me a citizen of the world!”
To learn more about Helene and her travels: B2Me.me/B28
A DOZEN YEARS OF DISTINCTION
Now entering its 12th year, the OutputLinks Communications Group Women of Distinction awards recognize outstanding CEOS, senior managers, educators, consultants and other professionals. Selection is based on industry experience, leadership skills and participation in print associations and events.Go to B2Me.me/B27 to learn more about Women of Distinction.