A master pitchman takes the stage to humanize Facebook

May 7, 2012: 9:34 AM ET

The star of Facebook's slickly produced roadshow video isn't Mark Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg. It is a 29-year-old the world knows little about. That's about to change.

FORTUNE -- The Facebook IPO roadshow is in full swing this week, but most readers will not get a chance to see Mark Zuckerberg pitch his company. The roadshow is reserved for the privileged few -- investment bankers and their well-heeled clients who will get a shot at buying Facebook shares at the offering price.

Good thing, then, that for the rest of us -- at least those of us who care -- there's the video version of the roadshow.

Now, I would not normally recommend watching an IPO video roadshow. They tend to be dreadfully dull presentations where CEOs and CFOs drone on about their businesses as PowerPoint slideshows flip through chart after chart. Facebook's video roadshow is an entirely different thing, though. It's a slick, 31-minute movie that mixes the production qualities of, say, a Google (GOOG) Super Bowl ad with the careful choreography of an Apple (AAPL) product introduction.

MORE: Can Facebook's IPO pay off for investors?

But the master pitchman in this movie is not Zuckerberg, who does a good, if pedestrian, job of summarizing Facebook's history, explaining its mission and describing its products. And it is not even his deputy, COO Sheryl Sandberg, an exceedingly accomplished presenter, who details Facebook's ad business. (And no, it is not Facebook's whip-smart CFO, David Ebersman, who talks up the business -- but then again, you weren't expecting a CFO to steal the show.)

The star of this show is Chris Cox, Facebook's VP of product. A longtime Zuckerberg confidant who dropped out of a graduate program at Stanford to join Facebook in 2005, Cox, who is 29, is Facebook's ultimate storyteller. He is an already a familiar face to the tech reporters who cover product introductions and to the developers who attend Facebook's annual F8 conference. While he is largely unknown in the outside world, that's about to change.

In this movie, Facebook's paired him up with Zuckerberg to explain product and platform. It's a smart move. Cox balances out Zuck and keeps the presentation moving along. He is as loose as Zuck is stiff, as spontaneous as Zuck is scripted, as passionate as Zuck is restrained. "Your life is an amazing story that a lot of people would be interested in if you told it," Cox says, as Facebook timelines scroll on the screen replete with cute baby pictures and the video of a toddler taking his first steps. "And each person has a story," he adds.

MORE: Facebook lays out IPO details

Cox, who is expected to be part of the real-live roadshow this week, has a Jobsian penchant for hyperbole. I tried to count the times he said "amazing" in the video but I got distracted by the similarly frequent "immense" and "interesting" and "incredible." And he mixes the eloquence of a Jobs, with the mischievous grin of a guy who plays in a reggae band and is known to zoom around Facebook headquarters on a RipStick (a contraption that my colleague Jessi Hempel described as "a skateboard but cooler.")

In Cox's world, product description is never just that, but rather something more cosmic. "We are now changing within a generation the fabric of how humanity communicates with itself," he says at one point. At another he adds: "The social graph is something that has always existed as long there were two people on earth who knew each other," says Cox. "The one thing that there's never existed was a map of everybody in the world and their relationships with each other." The overall effect is compelling. Lise Buyer, the founder of Class V Group, an IPO advisory firm, says Facebook "has clearly taken the video roadshow to an entirely new level."

Buyer, who worked at Google during its IPO, says Facebook, in part, is trying to make peace with potential individual investors -- many of whom are Facebook users -- who were shunned in earlier financing rounds. Last year, for example, Facebook came under criticism when it sold some of its pre-IPO shares, but only high-net-worth clients of Goldman Sachs (GS) were allow to buy them. (People with direct knowledge of Facebook's offering say the company plans to make some of its IPO shares available to individual investors through retail brokerage firms.)

MORE: Silicon Valley real estate: The Facebook effect

"Until this point, Facebook hasn't shown they cared a whit about the folks who helped to build the company," Buyer says. "This is attempt, and a successful one I think, to reach out and mend some of those fences."

It's always smart to mend fences, especially for a company that has struggled with its corporate image. Remember that the last time there was a movie about Facebook, the company didn't have much control, and the result -- the Oscar-winning The Social Network -- wasn't particularly flattering to Zuck or Facebook. So with the video roadshow Facebook isn't just mending fences, but also telling its own story and projecting a more cuddly version of itself. Says Buyer, "This video humanizes the behemoth."

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About This Author
Miguel Helft
Miguel Helft
Senior Writer, Fortune

Miguel Helft is a San Francisco-based Senior Writer at FORTUNE, where he covers Silicon Valley. He joined FORTUNE in August 2011 following a 5-year stint as a reporter at The New York Times covering companies like Apple, Facebook and Google. His knowledge of Silicon Valley and the tech world runs deep. He worked as a software engineer at Sun Microsystems in the late-1980s, and for the past 15 years, he has chronicled major industry events -- from the Microsoft antitrust trial to the dot-com boom and bust - at publications like the Industry Standard, the San Jose Mercury News and the Los Angeles Times. Born and raised in Argentina, Helft emigrated to the U.S. to attend Stanford University, where he earned a BA in Philosophy and a Master's in Computer Science.


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