First Marketing Executive
Cindy McCaffrey was the 26th employee hired by Google. She served as the company’s first marketing executive, pioneering the word-of-mouth campaign that put Google on the map.
She got her start as a 1980 graduate of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Journalism & Mass Communications, graduating with a degree in journalism.
“My start in the journalism program gave me a stronger sense of the power of media,” McCaffrey said. “My experience really gave me an appreciation for the power it has to leverage word-of-mouth. Never underestimate it.”
She said she is grateful to the CoJMC professors for encouraging her to do great things.
“The professors were so amazing and so encouraging,” she said. “They made us feel like we could do whatever we wanted to do. Feeling that empowerment, especially at that stage when you’re just learning is so inspiring. That was so important to me, to walk into an environment that was so nurturing.”
McCaffrey started her career as a copy editor at the Springfield Leader & Press in Springfield, Missouri, but her curiosity to learn more and her drive to succeed proved to be an asset.
“It was a smaller paper, and I saw an opportunity to get involved in many aspects of the operation beyond what I was hired to do,” she said. “So all I had to do was express curiosity and I was invited to do everything. It goes back to my training at Nebraska that I was able to do that, and it made me more valuable.”
After copy editing and reporting for several years in Missouri, Kansas and eventually California, McCaffrey made the jump to public relations.
She had been working at a magazine in San Francisco called Macintosh Today, one of the first desktop-published magazines. It existed for one year.
“As I saw the end in sight I knew I wanted to work at Apple,” she said. “We were using Apple products to make the magazine and covering the products in the magazine, and I knew I wanted to be a part of what they were doing.”
Her journalism experience got her in the door at Apple on the public relations team. She credits her years as a journalist for being able to so successfully transition careers.
“Being able to look at both sides makes you a better thinker about what you want to say, how you want to say it and how it will translate to different audiences,” McCaffrey said.
After 18 years in Silicon Valley, McCaffrey sat down with Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google co-founders, and after an hour she was convinced they were doing something that she needed to be a part of.
“They explained that the Internet had become a huge archive of important information that the world needed to have access to and we had the opportunity to provide the dashboard or steering wheel to that information,” McCaffrey said. “The founders believed the world could be a better place if we were able to organize all of this information and make it universally accessible and useful to anyone, anywhere in the world. That was such profound thinking that I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”
So McCaffrey signed on to tell the world about Google. Though on her first day, they were so small she didn’t have a phone or computer.
Google was putting virtually no money into marketing at the time, she said. Despite a push from the board to bring in a consumer-marketing expert, McCaffrey noticed that traffic was growing without marketing spending and decided to continue that momentum.
“There was something organic there,” she said. “So the question was, ‘Do we just continue working on this momentum we have with journalists?’ So we decided if people were writing about Google, people were reading about Google. Once they tried it, they would see it was far better than anything out there, and they would tell their friends. We really played off that word-of-mouth.”
At the beginning, the co-founders weren’t sure how they were going to make money with Google, so McCaffrey had to take a leap of faith that she had to feel good about.
“For people who are just starting out their careers, get lined up behind something that’s meaningful to you,” she said. “You’ll do better, and you’ll feel so much more satisfied.”
She said she knows that that perfect job doesn’t always come along right away. So in the meantime find something that pushes you to be better.
“Find something that gives you the opportunity to be curious and entrepreneurial,” she said. “Companies will let you do that. Saying ‘I can do this, but I’m interested in how the rest of it works’ will make you more knowledgeable about all of it and will make you a better communicator.”
McCaffrey started the McCaffrey Emerging Media Scholarship Fund at University of Nebraska–Lincoln for CoJMC students who also have a minor or concentration in computer science, informatics or other tech-related field and have a desire to pursue a career in using technology to chart a new path in media.
“There are so many more powerful ways to express yourself now,” she said. “How does that look in the future? How do we do that? I’m just sure that it will be a Nebraskan who figure it out.”