This transcription belongs to Episode #22, please watch the complete episode here!
Morgan (Host): Hey everyone, thanks for watching the latest episode of client horror stories. I’m excited to have with me today Rick Schirmer from viral brands; we were chatting right before I pressed record. To start, we’ve been friends for 11 years now. With that, I’m gonna turn you over to Rick, who lives in Hollywood and has a lot of client horror stories, take us away with one of them.
Rick (Interviewee): Well, I will tell you guys that there is no shortage of horror stories, having worked in Hollywood for 20 years now. My career is already a span of 20 years, I started around the millennium, and yeah, I’ve got many. But, I thought one was more reasonable and fresher; in fact, it was a client that I’ll tell you guys about who was in the last year.
Also, when we got going with this client, it was right during the pandemic, so there were a number of things that actually off, like if you guys are agency people out there, you would probably know that there’s a lot of starts and stop that happened in 2020. Morgan, remind me again, what was the word of 2020? “Pause, pause.” It was the biggest word of 2020 when it came to marketing campaigns; I mean the number of times we had to hit pause from the things that happened like from the protest, to this, to that, to the pandemic, you name it, there were just many pauses.
Morgan (Host): By the way, when people tell me to pause, I interpret that to me as like you are saying, “stop, but I don’t have the balls to tell you to stop.”
Rick (Interviewee): That’s a good one, that’s a good one, yeah. Well, I mean, there were so many pauses happening, and everybody was walking on eggshells in 2020, so you know, probably the most disruptive years that we’ve faced, as you know, in our lifetime for sure. Probably, our parents and grandparents, well maybe not our grandparents but probably our parent’s lifetime and our lifetime.
But anyway, so last year we had a particular client, this was actually a new client who came on board, it was a viral brand, and we were basically going through some pauses, which was a no big deal that was kind of same for most of our clients, but it does have a certain level of stress, you know? Because like you still need to get the job done, you still have things to launch, but you’re pausing, then you’re hurrying, and then when you get that pause taken off, you have to sprint trying to catch up.
There’s just this kind of like added pressure. I feel it’s already in the mix; that’s normal. No finger-pointing here; I’ll just tell you. It was as a client from hell, and I was like, oh my gosh, it was one of those deals where I’m sure, as an agency guy, Morgan and anybody who’s listening would understand, I was about to get a new client with a big name a big brand, and I’m like, “Hey you know what, we’ll cut them a deal!” So it was one of those deal clients where we cut them a deal, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, it’s always those clients where you cut them a deal, right?”
Morgan (Host): Let’s explore that for a moment. I’ve noticed the same; when you give people the deal, it always turns out to be the worst ones; why do you think that is?
Rick (Interviewee): Right? Why is that? No, I don’t know. I will say that we had another nightmare client recently, and as well, we’ve got a super deal. She was a young entrepreneur who was doing some really cool stuff, and we’re like, “Hey, let’s support her.” So we launched this campaign for influencers, and by the way, when you launch an organic campaign, we’re in the business viral, right?
So our methodology is really focused on getting influencers to talk at scale, celebrities on board, and influencers on board, which is organic, so you have to do outreach and reach out to people. This particular person didn’t like the fact, I won’t say the specifics, but they didn’t like that they didn’t have their size; I’ll put it that way because it was a clothing thing. That person who is the new entrepreneur wrote us the nastiest email I’ve ever seen in my entire life. She’s basically saying that our campaign was gonna make everything go sideways, but in the meantime, we had a thousand influencers who were on board and responded right away. They were super excited, but there was just this one particular influencer who didn’t.
So I made a deal and told them, “Hey, look, let’s reach out to this influencer, talk to her and tell her that we’re going to make her a customized piece of clothing just for her.” The influencer was totally touched, and everything was defused. It was all fine, but it was just like, you know, you get this little virus that comes up, and this was going back to the one that we had during the pandemic.
Morgan (Host): Hold on, before we go back to the pandemic, I love this little tangent; it’s interesting, and it’s all worthwhile; what I’ll add about clients that make bad deals are the worst clients I have a theory around that. Unsurprisingly, people that you give the deal on or get the deal to is, by definition, the cheapest people out there.
Everyone wants a good price, but the ones that keep on pressuring you for that deal they’re the cheapest people. When you’re judging everything by the dollar line, how cheap they are, and then psychologically, nothing is ever good enough. Because no matter how cheap it is, the results weren’t good enough; it should have been even cheaper when the low price is the primary criterion; you just can’t satisfy those people. This is why the deal ones get the worst ones.
Rick (Interviewee): Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I mean, I know we’re going freestyle here, but I hope you don’t mind a little. But I think you’re totally right, any agency folks who are listening to this would probably agree, or anybody who is new in starting a new agency, this is maybe a good lesson for you guys to learn at our expense. Also, maybe the word “Cheapest” isn’t the best word. Maybe we could use the word like the people with the tiniest budgets because the reality is, they may not be cheap. They just might be an entrepreneur who’s like, “Hey, for my whole year, my marketing budget is ten thousand dollars, right? That’s my whole marketing budget, and I love Morgan so much; I love Viral brand so much, and I really believe in these guys, so I’m gonna give you my entire budget.”
But then, for us, ten thousand dollars isn’t a lot of money, right? Ten thousand dollars is like a very small amount of money to be able to market a brand, so in which case, we would say, “Okay, this person is gonna put everything on us, all their expectations, all their hopes, and dreams, everything to us.” It would be a huge amount to them but a tiny amount to us; how can we really help this person? So I think the trick is, it’s probably not a good idea. If you’re in a situation where it’s everything to them, and it’s very little to you, I think that there’s inequality there, almost like you’re just not dealing with someone who’s the right equal size to you. Does that make sense?
There’s got to be some equality in terms of expectations, and I think like you know what you guys can do for how much your budgets are, but I think that there’s a piece of what’s out there as well. We’d definitely love to be able to help, you know, emerging entrepreneurs, so we have products that are more passionate about it, so we do have a really good entry-level product of Viral brand that can appeal to those people, but it might be a lot of money for them, right? It might be a heck of a lot of money for them, so it is sort of like a catch-22 sometimes. And in the case of the client, I was telling you guys about before, getting back to like that kind of main thread story, we were in the middle of pandemic, start-stop, start-stop, pause, pause, pause, and then we got ourselves on a situation which was unique to last year, they look back in the expectations on the timing of events with an organic campaign, especially on the influencer side, having influencers go into stores that are closed was hard.
Stores are closed like there’s a statewide rule saying the stores have to be closed, so then those get released, and then the expectations were like, you know, it will be there tomorrow, but I’ll tell you in our business, again a lot a portion of what we do, half of what we do you could say, is earned media. The other is just paid digital, like paid ads, right? So, on the earn side of influencers and getting them to post, it’s just organic, and it just takes time, right? So we had two campaigns going on, and there were also two markets, and it was just that start-stop, start-stop, and then it was also the fact that influencer marketing is relatively new to a lot of people in marketing, so they don’t understand the process of it.
So we did some learning with this particular client because they specifically really wanted only certain types of influencers to post. They got so specific that our language really wasn’t exclusive enough and specific enough in our contract, so they kept on driving through the holes in the contract. They were really defining what they wanted to the point where it was almost impossible for us to deliver or very hard for us to deliver, and we had to start documenting everything. What’s great is like right now, we’re on zoom, and we’re recording a zoom, right? So we started recording all of our zooms at that time because we’re like, “Okay, let’s record all of our client’s zooms so that we can always go back and refer to the agreement,” specifically because of this person. We were like, “We got to start recording everything.”
Morgan (Host): I have two comments on that before I make amends. First, when you reach a point in a relationship where you say to yourself, I have to record every conversation with that person, that’s like a red flag. And what I also want to mention is that your contract was really specific but not specific enough; that’s actually a really interesting case.
Because often, people, including younger versions of ourselves and sometimes ourselves, think, “Oh, our contract is really specific. It has the details in it, and that’s fine,” but what happens is that there will always be clients that are assholes and unhappy. For those ones, you can never be specific enough because they’ll find some bizarre interpretation of every word to include or exclude that, so it’s a powerful catch-22 there.
Rick (Interviewee): Yeah, and what we did was, after this, we actually created terms and conditions for all of our clients. Basically, on our website and all of our agreements, we realized that our terms, conditions, and agreements were so long that it was making our agreements like 15 – 20 pages long. Nobody wants to sign 15 – 20 pages; it’s like, “What? Okay, let me call my attorney.” everybody doesn’t want to have to be on the line for that. So we just basically put it in on our website, you know, viralbrand.com, there’s terms and conditions link there. Just like those things that you sign off on or we sign on every time we download a new app, right? So we decided to do the terms of admissions link.
Morgan (Host): I read every word of it.
Rick (Interviewee): I’m sure you do, but most people don’t. Just because you’re Morgan Friedman, that’s the only reason you do. You’re a very rare human being, by the way, which I love. One of my favorite masterminds on the planet! So what we did was we basically created a terms and conditions link as a result of this client, and we were actually just going to put everything in there. But it was really a bit of a nightmare because we kept on going back, and then we would go through and get, I mean, let’s say we’d find in a local market, this is a hyper-local campaign, and we’d find people who were fantastic.
Now, this is supposed to be originally a six-week campaign, okay? This campaign would have been a year-long because of all the pauses and all the restarts, whatever. This was like a very small budget, a relatively small budget for a pretty big name client, and the campaign literally took long. We started in March, okay, maybe not a year that’s exaggerating, but it started in like, I’d say February when we started working with them, and then we wrapped up by September. That’s pretty long; the six-week campaign turned into that.
That was like a pretty extensive campaign, but it just kind of started getting ugly to the point where the client was like grilling us on every single thing about our methodology, what we do, and x y and z, and like got really specifically on our influencers. The client was almost like turning into an influencer sommelier. I was like, oh my gosh, this person. Wow, this is crazy. We’re good at what we do; by the way, we are pioneers in our field, and we’ve been doing this for 20 years.
Morgan (Host): By the way, I think I’m going to steal the phrase “influencer sommelier,” I love it. But I have a question; usually, with clients, and when things go wrong before they go wrong, there are yellow flags or warning signs that you’ll see. Usually, you can see them because you start every client engagement optimistic. If you weren’t enthusiastic optimistic, then you wouldn’t sign the contract and do it. So were there any warning signs that you saw early on that you should have paid more attention to?
Rick (Interviewee): It’s a great question; I think probably one of the best warning signs that you mentioned before is people who are really budget-conscious. Those who are really trying to whittle you down on price, that’s probably a good warning sign right upfront. Because you see, I’m the type of guy that when I hire somebody or hire an agency, let’s say like the legion agency, right? I don’t really want to wheel this person down on their price because it’s either these are going to work for them, and it’s a good partnership or not.
So I don’t want to be that guy who rolls people down; I’m just like, “Hey, tell me what you guys want to make, and I’ll tell you if that works for us.” I’d rather do that than try to haggle with people, you know? But when you find those hagglers, that’s definitely a good clue to back off. Also, just a general tone, when you’re talking to people, you kind of like just in the sales process can identify some of that stuff. If you have an agency that’s more boutique, then you probably could put your finger on the pulse of that. But if you’re a bigger agency and you’re scaling, that’s probably harder to figure out because you’ve got a lot of sales reps who are just trying to throw fish on the boat, right? And then the people who are in the account services team have to just deal with whatever you just throw them. Do you know what I mean?
Morgan (Host): I agree, I know exactly what you meant, and I think both have great points. I always think that specific examples really color it and make it powerful, so was there a specific thing that she said or a little detail that happened where you’re like, “Oh boy, I hope this doesn’t happen again.”
Rick (Interviewee): Well, there was a specific comment when they didn’t like the influencers that we were picking. There was one comment that was really like an eye-popper for me which was, I mean, we were looking at like women influencers very specifically, in this case, so this was a woman that we’re talking to, there’s a comment that was specifically appeared anyway to be about like a descriptor about the person. I want to say it lightly, you know, but it was about that specific person, and she was saying something not flattering or nice.
Morgan (Host): Okay, I see. So you’re talking with your client about the influencers, and for a random influencer, she said, “Oh, she is really dot dot dot,” with a bunch of not nice words about this influencer?
Rick (Interviewee): Exactly, specifically, she referred to her and told her that she is probably better for sports because her body is like a sports player of some type. I’m trying to say things lightly, but you know what I’m saying? The kind of things that you wouldn’t ever want to pop up on zoom, or go public, or be public, or whatever, you know what I mean? Especially in this day and age, it would be insulting if it is said to your woman. So this thing’s gonna be like a little tricky, but it became kind of interesting because, at that point, I was like this is just beyond out of control. So I actually went back in that case.
Morgan (Host): Wait, I just want to add to that. I hadn’t thought of this; you said it right now, but I think a really good warning sign or yellow flag for all the listeners, younger agency owners out there, or younger professionals out there is when a client or potential client is talking really negatively about someone else. And I think a lot of people don’t realize there are just some people that just like complain about people.
Rick (Interviewee): Well, that’s true when you’re hiring somebody, you’re making a new friend or anything.
Morgan (Host): Yeah, I agree with you. This is also like a bigger life lesson like they’re complainers and there aren’t complainers. But this case was a particularly bad case because it was complaining and insulting random other people that they don’t know. It’s not even like something happened, right? But I think this is a very good sign of being alert. I think the short version of the reason why is that if they’re saying all this about that person, what are they saying about?
Rick (Interviewee): Oh, I could only imagine because there was a real learning curve in this. In fact, the person that I’m talking about wasn’t the person who originally signed the deal and the person who actually was we went up working with. She was not the person who hired us, so that was even kind of like more tricky. But, you know, in that case, it felt to me like when you kind of get to that point where people are being insulting or using insulting descriptors of another human being, I’m like okay. Now, again, I’ve been in Hollywood for 20 years, and I played like Weinstein, all that stuff, right? It’s pretty long, so I would know that Hollywood is known for notoriously bad behavior, although now that’s been cleaned up a lot, which is great.
So you can imagine that there are a lot of stories that we have. But this particular client was kind of interesting because this; I actually went back to the client and confronted them on it. I finally felt like I had to put a boundary down, you know? I was like, “Look, this was sad, and it really offended some people on my team, including myself.” It was on the zoom, a recorded zoom, and she was sort of like, “Wow, I didn’t know it was on recorded zoom.” I was like, “Well, you know, I was in the background talking to you over here while I was on the team zoom over here. So then the people just overheard me talking to you because we were working on your project, so as I’m talking to you on speakerphone, it’s better for my team to listen.” I wasn’t being sneaky or weird; it just happened to be in the situation.
At this point, it was cool because she explained what she meant and how she felt. So we really kind of like unpacked it, right? Whatever that was, what was cool was me putting that boundary out there really drew the line for self-respect and respect for our agency and our people. Before, I’d been kind of pandering just to not have a complaining customer; I wanted to have her like be totally happy, whatever it took, and just kept on going and going to the craziness. But then I finally put that boundary out there, and I said, hey look. Then there was like a really tense moment, but then this shift where there was like mutual respect. All of a sudden, after this whole kind of craziness, there’s this like shift in mutual respect of like, “I heard her, I put a boundary up, I understood her, I tried to validate her feelings, and where she was coming from and what she meant.”
Morgan (Host): How long into the seven months relationship was this?
Rick (Interviewee): It was probably by August, or maybe July. It’s probably like four or five months on this kind of nightmare. This client just kept on coming back and dragging out. But the client was just a tiny client from a dollar standpoint, but it was kind of interesting. We had this shift, this kind of mutual respect, and then I kind of settled and understood where she was coming from, and she really understood where I was coming from either.
So we kind of like to get this little bit of a rhythm together, and I finally learned to put the new terms and conditions on our website. I got more hyper-specific about very specific things for future reference, right? I just had, at some point, chalked this up to a learning experience for our agency, and that’s exactly what I did. I chalked up the learning center, and at one point, I had to shift gears, put a boundary up, but also shift gears and think, “Okay, this client is gonna suck, but it doesn’t have to suck because I could look at this as being a really great learning experience for our agency. I’m the CEO of the company, so it’s better for me to go through this and learn to put the right thing so when we get to our scale zone where we really are scaling, we have everything set.” So I kind of shifted my perspective as well, from being like a nightmare client to going like, “Hey, actually, this is an ideal client for me to actually cut our teeth and put different systems in place that are going to allow us to scale as an agency.”
So as soon as I shifted and she shifted, it was kind of interesting. We all suddenly started getting along and kind of liking each other. It’s almost like this mutual respect for each other was so weird. Then we got on the phone, and instead of her just being a straight-brow face, she would get on the phone, she’d smile, and I’d smile. We started liking each other, and it was weird. Then on top of that, we wrapped the campaign; I’ll be honest, she took our professional advice. She had never done that from the start of our campaign, but now she would take our advice a little bit more to the heart. But still, she was still the influencer sommelier who had just learned about influencer marketing on our campaign. We really had to go through and train her on every detail about our campaign process and what it is because she really wanted to understand every little granular detail. It actually turned out to be a good positive experience, and I was shocked.
Now the campaign was over; we wrapped the campaign, we did a great job, the campaign was fantastic, and it turned out great. We didn’t get all those big kudos out there, and we kind of wrapped it. I said, “Hey, look. You helped us actually learn so much on this campaign. I’m gonna offer you guys a free campaign.” I went the total extra mile and said I was going to offer them a free complimentary campaign. Now, six months had gone by; they just resigned up, whatever.
Morgan (Host): Did they take you up on that free second campaign or not?
Rick (Interviewee): Not right away. Maybe seven or eight months gone by, I don’t know, maybe by six months, I can’t remember. I got a phone call from her, and she reached out and said, “Hey, I was doing some analysis with our stores, and we asked them what effective our marketing last year was, the x,y,z, whatever. They said that one of the most effective things that we did was that influencer campaign, and it was really effective. What’s interesting about it was that it didn’t all happen at once, but over time, we kept on having more and more people come in saying that they heard about us from an influencer. When we’d asked where they heard about us, they kept on saying that, and it just kept on happening over and over again. The campaign actually wanted to be a big success for us.”
She called back and told me that and hired us again. Not only that, but she took us up on the free campaign and hired us for another paid campaign. By the way, she and I are total buddies now, and we really did learn a lot from each other in both cases. I like the story because it was sort of like really, really miserable. It was like this point where you could be like going through a contract and thinking like that’s one of the legal loopholes here and this and that whatever. You just want to make through and get to that point where you’re like, “How do we get out of this?” We are just stuck in this nightmare scenario, and it transitioned into totally and absolutely love each other. It can happen, it really can happen, but I think in the middle of it, one of the big things that you got to realize.
By the way, we have tons of movie campaigns where we’ve also hit the same one, so I think another big thing to think about in the middle of this, especially on movie campaigns and also startups. It’s really necessary to manage expectations and be really clear about what it is you’re going to deliver. Here’s what we’re going to deliver, exactly what we’re going to deliver, right? And even like you said, that still could be up to interpretation, but you got to put as much out there, as many details out there. But I think there is still this what we call the delusional button. That’s what we call the delusional button; when the client gets delusional, we talk about hitting the delusional button. I’m just gonna physically put the delusional button on the table, like a big red button, that you can just slam on it and be like, “You’re being delusional, not gonna happen.”
Morgan (Host): You should sell that “The big red button,” which is a delusion.
Rick (Interviewee): Oh dude, my old partner and I, Paul, who’s a great mentor of mine, would always say like, “Dude, delusional button.” We gotta hit the delusional button because example, in an Indian movie, we probably had an eight-million-dollar weekend coming in, right? And the producer says to me, he’s like, “Hey Rick. What do you think we’re gonna do this weekend? We’re about to release opening weekend.” I was like, “Ah, tell me first what you’re thinking?” The guy says 80 million dollars.
Opening weekend for a movie, bro? That is literally going out in like probably 300 screens; then you make any sense, it’s not even mathematically possible. Maybe it’s gonna be like on 500 theaters or something like that, so mathematically impossible. I didn’t even tell him my number because he’s just so delusional. I never pointed out my partner who sold the deal; I don’t know what he had talked to him about, but the reality was like the way on the front end, that guy should have understood that’s not even possible. He should have understood that’s not even the possibility; it’s not even mathematically possible because 500 theaters can’t turn out 80 million dollars. If you look at the cost of a movie ticket back, then it was probably like five-six bucks, you know, 15 years ago, that’s the specific case that I’m thinking about.
But it’s always been that way with different movies now; when we work with big companies like Paramount, Disney, and Universal, they’re not delusional at all because they are grounded. Now sometimes we do end up doing a lot better, and it’s fantastic; in the other direction, when we wind up exceeding expectations, that’s what we all like to call “Under promise, over-deliver.” You can win that way all day long, just not the other way. We launched the Purge, the very first Purge movie with Universal, and that movie was tracking to do eight million dollars on opening weekend. They were expecting to do about eight million dollars, maybe 10, I can’t remember, and one of them thought that it was almost 30 million dollars. It was a big big surprise that made us look great. So Monday morning, we were talking about our company and all the work that we did; it made us feel awesome.
Morgan (Host): I love the delusion button, and I want to add that this ties into what we’re saying about the really cheap clients because I’ve also found that the most delusional clients are also the cheapest ones as well. I’m gonna give you a thousand dollars, and that’s gonna make me millions of dollars in e‑commerce sales, oh yes, of course!
Rick (Interviewee): Yes, that is exactly right, and I could not agree with you more on that. Also, you just really can’t over-explain specifics of what you’re going to deliver. So your contract as an agency really has to be specific to what you’re going to deliver, not the outcome, right? So they’re hiring you, look, the best way to put it is like, for example, Mcdonald’s could buy tv commercials on NBC, right? Go back to old-school marketing, and it still happens. They still spend the most money on that or a lot of money on that.
So the agency is going to produce a spot, the NBC is going to let that spot air, and the brand’s going to pay for that transaction. Agency creates a spot, the agency places a spot, the media firm places a spot, then the NBC airs it, right? Now you still got to pay everybody for what was done, regardless if people love that big mac ad or not. It can create a lift in sales, not lived in sales, but the agency still has to say, and the NBC is gonna say, “Hey, we’re gonna sell you this media for this amount, agencies okay we’re gonna produce a spot, and you either fire the firm or don’t find the firm. Keep the firm, don’t keep the firm.” I think right now, in the era of performance marketing, which we do a lot of, right? We do, you know, a combination of influencer and performance; you still got to just be very specific.
You show them case studies, but everybody’s totally different. I mean, this client is coming from that client, whatever. So you can show them case studies, and you can have wonderful endorsements. But at the end of the day, still, everybody has their own situation. You can’t control people’s marketing mix; you can’t control how awesome their product is; you can’t control how good the movie is; you can’t control their product experience, their user interface, you know their UX and UI. There are a million different factors that go outside of what they hired your little agency to do, so you really have to be super specific about, “You hired us for this thing. We’re going to do this thing, and we hope it does awesome because we want to keep on working with you, and we’re going to keep on XYZ. We like winning so, of course, we want to win, we want to see you win. It takes a long time to acquire a customer and get them on-boarded; it’s no fun to do that, and let’s just keep working with the people that we got.”
Morgan (Host): Yeah, agreed. And getting a customer requires so many different pieces that you, your team, and your agency will only do one little piece. You don’t control the website, and if the website sucks or is slower and it doesn’t work on mobile, that doesn’t kill everything. But you’re never going to be hired to do everything.
Rick (Interviewee): Yes. Dude, a really great example is that we did a campaign, and we focused mainly on influencers and cost per click, right? But the client had this horrible UXUI, horrible user experience, and user journey. I mean, I was confused; I was like, I don’t even know how to buy this. So I kept on telling them they got to fix that; I was like, “Look, we could just do our job and get them there.” So we’re doing the lead generation and getting people to that page; after that, it’s not our job because you didn’t hire us to do your website.
You didn’t hire us to do your landing page, so I can tell you to go call the guys at the landing page guys.com because those guys do really good jobs on creating landing pages. Do you know those guys? They’re over in like Ireland; they are called the landing page guys. They’re really good, and I love it when you find people who just specialize in one thing. I know these guys are gonna do a great job; yeah, so these guys are, I think, still called the landing page guys; I’ll try to google it real fast. Maybe they change their name, oh yeah, they change their name to conversion-wise.
So they were formerly landing page guys, but yeah, these guys do a great job on building. That’s what they do all day long. There’s a lot of people who specialize in stuff like that, but just gotta figure out what you do, and I think for me, the way that we’ve decided as a company to get more specific is to get really good at a few things and aspire to be the world’s best at those few things. So we would use the world’s best data to get influencers at scale, engaging and activating influencers at scale to celebrities and three performance media as it pertains to utilizing and fanning the flames of the conversation we got going. So whatever it is for you, just get really awesome at that one thing, and you can scale a lot better and a lot faster.
Morgan (Host): By the way, I personally would always use performance media to scale viral conversations. So people usually don’t say that out loud, and I usually don’t hear other people repeat those strategies back to me, but I’m totally on board.
Rick (Interviewee): That’s why we’re soul brothers! That’s why when I met you like 11 years ago in freaking Buenos Aires, bro, we clicked right away. I can’t remember how I met you guys; I remember we were standing outside talking to you guys, and you’re like, “Do you want to come over to our house?” and I was like,” Yeah, sure!” and like we came over. Do you remember who introduced us?
Morgan (Host): I don’t remember.
Rick (Interviewee): I don’t remember either. I have no idea, but I remember meeting you and your wife, you guys are so cool in this cool flat and BA. One of the big things for me down in BA was when I got shocked when I went down there. I didn’t realize that nobody spoke English. Not that many spoke English. It’s not like Mexico, where everybody speaks a little English like you’re down in Buenos Aires and like I run into people who don’t speak any English. Cab drivers don’t speak any English, and I was very surprised.
Morgan (Host): It definitely feels like you’re in a foreign country.
Rick (Interviewee): You definitely feel like that because you know what I’m saying? In Mexico, you don’t speak English to people and like to make your way around fine. Most people know English a little bit, at least.
Morgan (Host): Part of the charm of Argentina is its complete isolation from the international system, so as a consequence of that, Argentina has fewer complaints. There are fewer imports, less than what’s happening internationally, and I actually think that’s a good thing because they miss so much of the craziness happening in the rest of the world. But as a result of that, there’s just less English in the schools and English media as compared to places like Mexico, where Mexico is 98% American culture and 2% telenovelas; it’s not like that here.
Rick (Interviewee): Yeah, totally, it got a whole different vibe down there. And I absolutely loved it, but it was weird when I left Buenos Aires. I loved the city so much because I spent like a month down there or a few weeks, and then I was so in love with the city; I actually was sad to leave, and I was a little emotional about leaving. I don’t know if I’ll ever come back here because it’s so freaking far away, and there are so many other places to go explore in the world. But this is such a cool city, though; I absolutely loved it.
Morgan (Host): Yeah, there are lots of corners. This is a nice note to end on.
Rick (Interviewee): Well, I will come; I will come back and bring my wife because she is in such a special place.
Morgan (Host): Actually, I want to tie back to the core subject for a minute because you did mention about 10 minutes ago something in passing that I thought was super interesting, but you just glossed over for a millisecond. I want to call attention to your good insight, and then we will really wrap up. One of the threads of today’s conversation has just been about clients with crazy expectations between really cheap and expecting magic, the delusion button, and managing that, so that’s been one of the themes, and it came out in different ways, but I love it that’s a really good point.
Then you mentioned in passing, one second, you’re like, “Oh, you know who has really realistic expectations? Paramount, Disney, Universal, and Big studios.” I actually think that’s actually a really important point, which is a lot of the crazy expectations and crazy behavior comes from inexperience. They’ve never done this before; they are like, “Okay, I’m gonna make a movie, I don’t know, maybe 80 million dollars.” But then, at the other end of the extreme, when you have these mega-media companies that run the world, if anyone is experienced and can predict what’s going to happen on an opening weekend to like the decimal points, it is these guys who already have an experience.
Rick (Interviewee): When I worked for Disney, I could tell you as we would run; in our business, they called it the waterfalls, so a movie would come out on an opening weekend, and by Monday, they run the waterfalls just because it all gets plugged into a financial model, right? And you’ll see, just based on the opening weekend, how much that property, that movie, or whatever is gonna make for the whole life of the movie. So we know by Monday morning, just based on the opening weekend, how much that brand or that movie would mean to us, so we’ll know how much more money to put into marketing.
We’ll know everything by Monday morning, so just that one weekend, Toy Story comes out or whatever movie comes out, and boom Toy Story 5 comes out, then all of a sudden, like Monday morning, we know it’s done. But it does get pretty intense with movies because it’s a make it or break it. It’s like political, you’ve done politics, so it’s like politics. You basically have the opening weekend for a movie; you have Tuesday in America in any way; you know it’s always the first Tuesday in November when the big national elections happen. That’s a make it or break it moment for a candidate or a movie, the same same thing.
A unique situation, but yeah, I would say the other difference in thinking about the people in experience is that you’re also looking at people who might be entrepreneurs and are emotionally very involved. For two reasons, number one, they created the thing, so they’re really emotionally involved. Then number two; they’ve put, probably in a lot of situations, their whole life savings into it. In some cases, they’ve talked to their parents and their friends about investing and putting their life savings into it, so you are in a situation of inexperience, like you said, but also really high emotional stakes across the board. For them, it’s like going to Vegas with all their money and putting it on the table. And when you deal with people at a studio or a major brand, you know you’re dealing with someone who cares about their job, but they’re getting paid the salary from a big company, right?
Morgan (Host): Exactly, you’re dealing with, in the best case, professionals. I’m there to do a job; they’ll do a good job, let’s optimize their numbers, how do we get the best results, and then like 5 pm comes they don’t think about it at like again until 9 am tomorrow.
Rick (Interviewee): That’s exactly right, yep. There’s definitely a difference that you notice, and I’m sure you have experienced that, right?
Morgan (Host): Many times and I want to point out that it gets complex and interesting because, on the one hand, I happen to prefer the serious professional style, and it’s just the job of the big companies. On the other hand, that comes with this bureaucracy and bullshit, assholeness, and time-wasting, because they truly don’t care; it’s just a job, and everything just fills it with bullshit that makes me hate it so much. I’m like, I’ll put up with the inexperienced people, I’ll teach them, and I’ll hold their hands and be more experienced just because I don’t want to deal with all that.
Rick (Interviewee): It’s just like everything in life; there are the positive and negative sides. There’s a positive and negative side, and I think that sometimes when you work with big companies, a good amount of times you work with a big company and the people that you’re working with would feel emotionally disconnected from their work. They would feel very robotic. We are both MBAs, these guys are MBAs that go to a big company, and they’re brand managers. I just feel like some of these guys can just be emotionally disengaged and like be very matter fact feel like you’re talking to a robot.
Morgan (Host): That’s exactly the pain of big companies; everyone is like a robot-like their souls are sucked out from them. Not only just as you work there but also while you are interacting with them, even as an outside agency.
Rick (Interviewee): Totally, and guys like you and me, we are very heart-driven guys, and we’re so passionate that when you get on the opposite end of an emotionally dead person, well, I mean, you know they’re not dead in their whole life, it’s just in this persona they’re putting. It’s like this emotionally dead persona that’s very transactional; in fact, I’ve worked in chick-fil‑a a lot, and the guy who was old had marketing there, a guy named David Sawyers, and he’s a super dude, and he’s taught me so much, but he talks a lot about being transactional versus relational style.
So you just kind of feel like things just can sometimes, in those bigger companies, get transactionalized; you probably don’t know because you probably have never had chick-fil‑a, but most people have eaten at chick-fil‑a even though it’s a massive billion-dollar enterprise, when you go there you feel very cared for, and they do a great job at scaling care. They do a really amazing job at scaling care, so I think that’s probably the thing that is most unique about the company; in fact, we’ve been a big part of that journey with them over the last 12 – 13 years, so it’s been fun.
Morgan (Host): I’m glad we did that addendum because it brought a bunch of interesting points, and I love that phrase, “scaling care.” I think I’m gonna use a few of your phrases from today, “Scaling care,” “the delusional button,” and the “Influencer sommelier.” Those were like your awesome witticisms of today; I admire your virtuosity.
Rick (Interviewee): Oh, that’s awesome! I think these are all phrases I just invented on the spot today. No, no, I take it back, the delusional button we’ve been using for like 20 years. The delusional button, you probably know that thought very well, though, right?
Morgan (Host): I had never thought about it as like a button press, but to me, it’s like the “roll your eyes moment.” Then it always happens where you realize that their expectations from the campaign are just so completely divorced from any sort of reality.
Rick (Interviewee): Well, in my partner, Paul, to his credit, you know, I think that he was older and wiser and that was the time especially, he called it a delusional button because he would actually proactively like put his hand down on the table and say, “Hey guys, I’m hitting the delusional button.” and he would actually say it to the client. He’d be like, “Hey, this is delusional. I’m hitting the delusional button.” So instead of rolling his eyes, he’d actually call him out on it straight up.
Morgan (Host): It requires a lot of art to call people out on it while avoiding a war.
Rick (Interviewee): For sure, no doubt about it!
Morgan (Host): I’ve been on both sides, I’ve been on the side where I just rolled my eyes, and I’ve also been there where I would tell them that you are in outer space. That’s a little bit nicer than saying that you’re delusional.
Rick (Interviewee): Knowing you, Morgan, I can imagine you’d say in a very nice way because you’re just a nice but also a very transparent guy, so I’m sure you wouldn’t get yourself into that situation. You’re just very transparent.
Morgan (Host): And I think this is the art that I’m trying to practice, the Morgan magic of being both clear and strong when you need to be, including when they are delusional. At the same time, doing so in a way that’s both strong while it’s respectful, with boundaries, and not insulting.
Rick (Interviewee): My last little tidbit before we can really wrap up because we had a couple of false endings, but I will say for the viewers. If you had to put together an avengers team of marketers for your favorite people that you would want to launch something with, you are definitely on my avengers team for sure; Morgan Friedman would be on my avenger team.
Morgan (Host): That sounds like a fun project, and I love how the Hollywood guy uses the Hollywood movie metaphors. I would think of, like, you know, the basketball dream team, I wouldn’t have even thought about a Hollywood metaphor, but I love it, yeah.
Rick (Interviewee): You are in my avenger’s squad, bro. This is true, I have met a lot of people in 20 years, and you’re literally my top 10 favorites and favorite masterminds. I have worked with many people in my 20-year career, and you’re definitely one of my favorite masterminds.
Morgan (Host): I appreciate being part of your top 10; it’s an honor. I’m humbled.
Rick (Interviewee): You’re right there, bro, you may get that avenger call one day, and I’ll send a signal in the sky calling you out.
Morgan (Host): I’m gonna look it up tonight. It was great having you on the podcast. I loved the stories and the lessons. I feel like we should do this again with other stories just because it is fun.
Rick (Interviewee): Just tell me when bro!
Morgan (Host): That sounds good; everyone who made it to the end, I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. Bye!
This transcription belongs to Episode #22, please watch the complete episode here!