Jack Appleby, Director of Creative Strategy at Midnight Oil, chats with Adam about the importance of transparency.
Adam Pierno: Sounds good. Here we go. Welcome back to another episode of the Strategy Inside Everything. Once again, this one is brought to you by Twitter, not as a sponsor but as a connector and conductor [laughs] of these topics in conversations. I published a tweet as I’ve been trying to get ready for 2019 season of this show and I’ve been reaching out to people, not just in the agency world but producers of content– God,I hate the word, content.
Producers of shows that I like and entertainment that I like along with people on the brand side. I really try to bring more perspectives. I’ve been surprised how many times I’ve been shut down by their PR people who are just of general fear that, hey, I want to come on and talk about this, but I can’t. Somebody raised their hands via Twitter and say, “Hey, I want to [chuckles] I want to come on and talk about that.” I thought, “This is perfect,” so, welcome Jack Appleby. How are you doing?
Jack Appleby: Hey, I’m great. How are you?
Adam: Jack and I have been connected for, I don’t know how long, but maybe a year or so and chatting a lot. I posted this Tweet and I thought– He said, “Hey, I’d love to come on and talk about that.” I was like, “Let’s do it because you are uniquely qualified and I would love if you could give a little bit of your background and then I think it will become apparent why I think you’re the right guy to start this conversation.”
Jack: Sure, yes. I think it’s a fascinating topic how agencies are so happy to talk about themselves, but maybe aren’t empowering people to do the talking for them. They’re not allowing them to transparently discuss things that are beneficial for everyone.
Jack: Yes, but to your question, a little bit about my history. I’ve been an agency guy my whole life. Fell into it not fully understanding advertising. I was a marketing major and got hired by a social media agency back in early 2011 when we were all discovering that social budgets were going to become a thing. I spent many years at an agency that was purchased by a larger agency called Ayzenberg Group where I was a social media strategist. Worked my way up to senior strategist.
Did a lot of cool gaming work there. Worked with WB Interactive. Worked with DC Comics. Did some Microsoft work. I was the strategist on the Xbox social media EMC of Record Account as well as the lead strategist on Microsoft surface, Mindcrafts there for a spell, and a bunch of other games. Rock Band 4 was one that I got to work on. That was a lot of fun.
Adam: Yes, that sounds fun.
Jack: Yes. All kinds of fun entertainment and gaming stuff. From there I went on to an agency called Laundry Service where I was the Director of Strategy for the LA Office. My main account was Beats by Dre, social media EMC of record. Since then I’ve been at a couple of other agencies. Recently worked with gaming agency called Petrol where I worked with a lot of Bethesda games, if anyone’s familiar with a lot of the first person shooters they work on.
Then as of the last couple of weeks here, I’ve actually started as Director of Creative Strategy in the gaming protocol at Midnight Oil. MC in Burbank. Got 300, 400 employees with 360 offerings that I’m there as part of a new team that’s building the gaming protocol.
Adam: That’s awesome. That’s an awesome background, thank you very much. Part of your job actually is to create the strategy for these brands to figure out how to communicate on social and what they’re going to say, what they’r not going to say, how it’s going to make people feel, how it’s going to move people down the funnel or how it’s going to make them react towards the brand and the products. Your own personal feed, it’s pretty wide open.
Just from reading your occasional tweet, I know a lot about you. I know you love the NBA, I know you’re into gaming. I thought it was pretty interesting how quickly you jumped on this topic.
Jack: Yes, I’m a big believer in transparency and just being candid and even let’s go as far as saying, vulnerable. As far as who you are as a person or an employee and even as a brand. I think that a lot of that comes from having come from the strategy route of social which it’s becoming more and more common now. As I’ve hired strategists over the year, a lot of people are starting in social just because there’s so much availability with that title at the moment versus the kind of traditional planner or junior account planner, all the traditional variations of strategy titles.
Because of that, coming from an editorial background and a social background, we’ve just always seen from a long time that being honest and open with communities or consumers or whatever buzzword you want to call them today, it just always performs better and it builds so much more brand trust. Just admitting when things are going good or bad. It just the works and I think being very real with people is something that you see a lot of marketers called out today. “Be authentic,” is the favorite phrase that everyone shouts. I always laugh that so few marketers or advertisers with the way they handle their personal socials, they’re clearly not comfortable beings themselves.
Adam: Well, they want to be authentic but they want it to all come through one speaker. They want it to come all through the public voice of the company when a company like– Just picking one at random, not anything that we’ve discussed, but take a brand like Converse. They’ve got how many employees? Let’s say they have 5,000 employees that work at Converse which is a sub-brand of Nike.
Why not let those employees, and I don’t know that they were restricting them, but wouldn’t you encourage those people to continue the authenticity of the voice by speaking out and being free to speak?
Jack: Absolutely. I forget what I had read. Apologies to whoever I’m quoting here and not giving credit to, but there’s a piece I’d read where they’re talking about how all of your employees should be treated as micro-influencers for your own company and how these are the people who like, if you can’t educate the people that work for you on how to speak about your company, good luck trying to actually influence creatives or another- a third party, EMC or anybody else on what you’re trying to achieve.
Adam: Yes. It’s pretty crazy. Is it more of a fear that the people would get the message wrong or is it like, “Hey, if we encourage them to speak about our brand message then they may feel free to speak about things that are secret or bad stuff that happens and we just want to squash it altogether.”
Jack: I’m not sure to be honest. Because I came from social agency as a start, it was so opposite in some ways that it was almost like jarring to me to learn that some of my superiors or even clients did not want certain things discussed publicly. Now there’s the stuff that’s common sense. There’s certain metrics you can’t share and once the client’s comfortable with that. We all know that. There’s plenty of NDA material.
That said though, the amount of case studies that are shown, to me, is almost shockingly low. That there’s not more public knowledge out there that agencies and their employees are comfortable sharing. Like, “Cool, this is how we accomplish things. This is how we worked on it. We can do this for you.”
Adam: Right [laughs] You can go to the websites and find their case studies, but if you try to ask people to go to speak about it, it’s like, “Well, I’m not allowed. I really can’t speak about that.” It’s like, “Well, I’ve actually read every detail about it in Ad Age and your case study that’s on your website and the [unintelligible 00:07:55] video. What do you think you’re going to reveal that hasn’t been already put out by your own PR team?
Jack: It’s fascinating. I worked with the clients in the last couple of years who- it’s interesting obviously. Won’t call them out by name, but they were very adamant about- for their company culture, they didn’t want people posting even on their personal LinkedIn’s about the work that was going out. Whether that was an announced trailer or some sort of YouTube series or social content, they actually didn’t want their employees personally promoting those.
Because in their mind it caused an individual like, “I achieved this type of mindset,” which, that’s one way to take it. I think it’s a unique perspective on that to say the least. It’s not how I personally would manage it kind of thing but it seems like that exists more often than not.
Adam: Yes, I know. That’s interesting. Back in the early days of the really, the truly social web, the early 2000s, like even pre-Facebook when people were starting to put up their own websites, creatives were posting videos and speck spots and other stuff. I can remember at an agency that I had already left but people that I knew worked there were getting not quite seasoned assists, but emails from the brands saying, “Hey, you have this up on your website,” or, “An employee has this up on their personal website, please have them take it down.”
It was like, What? How much control does the brand get? I understand why they want to protect their image but it’s that alternate take or something like that, that doesn’t really make the spot any different, doesn’t hurt the brand. Nobody’s seeing it, it only gets sent to a recruiter. Nobody’s going to a copywriter’s website for Christ’s sake.
Jack: Don’t get me wrong.There’s a common sense line somewhere. Maybe that’s more difficult to define than we realize and that’s why these rules exist. I remember there was a game that the title leaked because an old designer of the game had put it on their LinkedIn that they were working on it when the game hadn’t been announced. To me that should- I would hopefully fall on the common sense side like maybe don’t put it on your LinkedIn unannounced products, but at the same time, it’s this thing where I’m trying to understand why these companies don’t see the value in letting employees pridefully discuss things that they are working on or even if in the past worked on.
I had one employer who very adamantly did not ever want me to discuss with a current client something that I worked on at any previous agencies, which was interesting. As I’ve talked to my peers, I found that that’s not totally unique to have that perspective, but at the same time, I think it’s such a limiter. Like as I was hiring for my team and I hired some really great people with incredible backgrounds, I think there’s real value in letting employees be very proud of the work that they’ve shown and bring case studies from their personal experiences. That’s why we make outside hires, to bring people in with new experiences who can show our internal teams and other clients, these are other ways to do this.
Adam: Yes. Isn’t that the value of having– Otherwise, everybody could just be a freelancer and have one way to do things.
Jack: Exactly. Yes. It gets so homogeneous if everyone’s just only speaking from their experience at one agency or on one brand. We see that. The age of the employee that’s been at a company for 15, 20 years, that’s becoming less and less frequent and a lot of the companies that do have that type of culture are having harder and harder times adapting to new thinking.
Adam: Yes. You said something earlier that I jotted down here. You used the word vulnerable. You used it in relation to your own communication style and your own social platforms, but how do you apply that to brands? How do you explain that for them and make it meaningful to them as part of the strategy or is it something that you leave out?
Jack: Yes. No. This is where– I’ll bring up a current example I thought was handled really, really well at Epic Games which I think people far outside the gaming space are learning about now because they’re the company behind Fortnite. They recently put out an item that was overpowered and was causing problems in the game. They very publicly came out on their Twitter and with a message that was essentially like, “Hey, we messed up. We didn’t do this correctly. We’ve removed it. Hopefully, we’re good,” type of language.
Very casual language that was very well received. They were able to go back on something they did that didn’t work and people were thankful for that. No one faulted them, no one pointed a finger and said, “We told you so.”
Adam: They didn’t pull the Instagram, “Oh, it was just a test that got out of hand.” That just happened. It was like, “You’re owning this.” “We goofed up,” this is too powerful.
Jack: Yes. I think that’s the point where the vulnerability becomes the biggest question for brands. It’s like when you have a mistake or something bad goes down, I think the thing that I’ve always asked of the clients I’ve worked with is, “What is the downside of actually admitting that you’re self-aware and saw that this was mishandled?”
Jack: There’s a lot of fear in that and it can be a scary place, but at the same time, those opportunities were at where we’ve been allowed to work in ways where we’re honest and we made a mistake type of language or we’re making this choice because of X, Y, and Z. The responses had been pretty significantly positive or at the least, not negative.
Adam: It’s not really radical. That response was refreshing when I read the Fortnite thing, but it wasn’t like, “Oh, I’ve never seen anybody do this.” It’s just saying, “Hey, oops.”
Jack: Exactly. I think that’s where it’s so funny because we keep shouting these. How many people do we see like, “De human, be authentic.”? There’s apparently these asterisks that we’re not allowed to use which is when a brand makes a mistake or when a cut when you’re an employee and want to speak about what’s going on at your company, there’s apparently these guidelines where it’s like, “Be authentic except for these moments.”
When there’s so much- there’s honestly more value in being real with that type of stuff. Even with my personal Twitter, you and I connected because of Twitter and I’ve made plenty of– Most of the strategy teams I’ve worked on are small teams. Many of my connections and who I’ve learned from had been through just building my Twitter friendships.
Adam: Right. It’s true. Mine too.
Jack: What’s really accelerated that for me is just being really honest about where I am at as a strategist, where I’m at as a strategy director and things that I’ve worked on and want to continue learning and learn from. That definitely took a little bit of a leap of faith. I have taken a different route to strategy director than many other people do. I’ve never worked at a massive, massive agency. I come from a lot of social agencies where some people really value that and some people have a lot of question marks as far as what that means to take that route.
Adam: Yes. It’s because there are so many definitions of strategy to begin with. It’s true. It’s like it leaves everything open to question depending on which path you’ve come from.
Jack: Yes. I’m very open in that I’ve probably written less briefs than anyone with a strategy director title in America. That’s just because the agencies I’ve worked at didn’t really work in those methods. Doesn’t mean that much strategy work I did wasn’t incredibly valuable and worked in different ways, it’s just how different organizations works, but it did- honestly, it took me some courage to get to the point to admit that because there’s these certain standards of you want to maintain, “Oh, I’m at this level, I’m supposed to do X, Y, and Z.” Then I see myself fall onto the trap against what I’m preaching about, “Be vulnerable, be honest. That’s what makes you most human and people want these human connections anyway.”
Adam: Yes. For brands too, they want to be- they say they want to be authentic, but I think when they say that, for a lot of marketing directors or people inside a company that has a brain communication through social or elsewhere, they mean it through a very narrow lens like be authentic in these instances and these places, but otherwise, we’re going to follow these messaging points that we’ve crafted.
Jack: Sure. Don’t get me wrong. I think there’s value in those. I think there’s plenty of people who maybe aren’t as strong of communicators either through public speaking or pitching or social and those type of talking points can be invaluable, but at the same time, I think you can teach the guidelines in a way where it’s like if you’re providing a strong company culture and your employees are excited to be there and understand the differences between NDA at work and non NDA at work or what can and can’t publicly be revealed, you can empower your employees to tell some really incredible stories about why they like working there? What was amazing about a brand? Why that worked? Even if you just want to look at a biz development like path, there’s plenty of work that can be brought in from a surprising employee who happens to know somebody who just feels comfortable talking about what you’re working on.
Adam: You can say a lot without being specific to a given product or some detail about your internal workings and still communicate expertise without giving away any trade secrets or outing somebody inside the company. At some point it’s good faith in assuming that people are going to be positive and have positive things to say and not just come on a show or write a blog post that shit talks the company or gives away some critical detail.
Jack: Sure. Yes. That’s actually a big part of why I ended up joining Midnight Oil as I was looking for my next role and see where I would end up. You’re doing your basic interview practice and making sure you’re boned up on all the right questions and everyone asks you what you’re looking for and one of my big things was just a culture of curiosity.
I want to work for a company that had a bunch of people who are very smart and very open to analyzing things and always looking at new ways to do things. It doesn’t mean we’re always going to land on something that’s incredibly innovative. Maybe that’s a tried and true method is the right way to advertise a product, but frankly, I just hadn’t worked at enough ad agencies where I felt like their main metric of success was how do we properly sell these products?
Jack: I worked at a lot of places where it was, “We want to sell this specific type of creative or this specific type of work that we do that’s better for our bottom line.” I want to be part of something and it was like, “Great. We got an RFP, what’s the right way to sell this product?
Jack: It’s funny. You’d think it’d be the step one, but with the way strategy has or has not evolved in a lot of agencies, sometimes it’s totally overlooked because it’s the bottom line on strategy can be difficult sometimes because it’s not creative and it’s not media.
Adam: That’s part of why companies want to camp down people from talking outside of the management team where the way they make money may not be transparent or the way the products that they sell or the products that they treat as loss leaders and what they’re really trying to do or things that they are protective of. Agencies are- there’s only a couple things they make money on and there’s a lot of things that are loss leaders or ways to get people in the door that man,- and that can be a scary place if you’re running an agency or if you’re at the top. That’s why so many agencies lead with, “We sell this kind of work,” versus, “We solve this kind of problem for our brand clients.”
Jack: Yes. Again, that’s how I ended up landing at Midnight Oil. As I was chatting with them because I’m working on a new vertical or a rebuilding of a former vertical, let’s say. I was asking for their vision and what they’re trying to accomplish here. There was a lot of transparency on like, “Honestly, right now, what we’re trying to do is we want to hire some of the best minds that have worked in this space across strategy, creative production and accounts. We want to hire a bunch of really smart people. We want to really look at agency models and see what’s working and what’s not working and we’ll go from there and we’ll figure this out. We want to hire people whose backgrounds we’re very proud of and we’re excited about people that have worked on big things that have been successful and we want to tout all of the combined experience of the team that we’re building to show what we’re capable of.” Which it seemed so straightforward and clear and obvious but it’s funny how a few agencies are actively messaging themselves that way.
Adam: Well, or if they do, they’d get categorized as performance agencies which is somehow a different thing.
Adam: Even though I think what we’re all trying to do is create performance for our clients.
Jack: [chuckles] You’d think, right?
Adam: That’s how it should be but who knows.
Jack: As I was discussing, as I was finalizing my deal with my new agency, something I had talked about and obviously, how you and I connected was I do take a lot of effort and time into, for lack of a better phrase, my personal brand, if you want to call it that. Which is really just– You’ve seen my Twitter. It’s a lot of me throwing a lot of strategy thoughts and ridiculousness into the ether among me and my little group of strategist friends. I just like discussing this stuff. I can talk about this stuff all day long. My employer and I talked a lot about that. I was like, “I enjoy speaking on panels. I enjoy podcasts like I’m doing right now with you. I enjoy writing.” These are things that I do for me and I’d love to do it for the company.” In previous companies, some of them have not wanted me to do that stuff. They gave me a side-eye and were like, “No, no, no. We want you to go be Jack Appleby. Go be Jack Appleby for Midnight Oil but go do that stuff. Any press you get for yourself or any friendships that you’d make, that’s good for our company.”
Adam: What’s the downside? This is the part I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t you want your strategy director or somebody inside the tech of your company to be able to get out there and speak? If you don’t trust people to represent themselves on your behalf, then who is in your HR team? What are you doing?
Jack: Sure and maybe it’s a little less fair for me to be speaking now that I’m at a director role and have been for a couple of years but even in my earlier years when I held a strategist or a senior strategist title, these were things that I liked doing and was comfortable doing and sometimes was discouraged from doing. I can only speculate. I think there’s a couple things. I think one is control like we’ve talked about. There is the desire to constantly control the message, which frankly I think is somewhat of a fool’s errand and a lot of the time is misunderstanding that there are people who can tell the story in different ways and it’s still true to whatever your company or your brand is trying to achieve just through a millennial lens, a Gen Z lens, a pick your generation lens.
I think the control is part of it. I do think there is a little bit of a generational thing there where it can be a little scary to see all of your employees tweeting about things that you’re working on. Then I definitely have seen there– This is a slightly different topic but for companies that really push the team effort thing, well, I don’t want to sound like I’m saying there’s a downside to team effort. I’m a big believer in it takes a village.
Adam: I know I can’t wait to hear what comes next.
Jack: I promise that we’re coming to a point with this. I’m a big believer in allowing employees to take ownership and giving credit to all kinds of people. Take a TV spot. Give that copywriter who wrote the spot, individual credit and let them know how much they were valued and let them say, “Hey, I wrote the copy for this TV spot.” That’s good for them. That’s good for your company. It’s good for everybody. There’s no downside to that. Let your producer say, “I produced these TV spots.” Those are wins for individuals as well as the company.
I have found there’s some companies who they don’t ever want anyone speaking in that type of language, any type of I language, right?
Adam: Well, it gets to that place where I’ve witnessed that from the inside where we want to produce great work. We want to let people know we’ve done great work, but if I tell anybody who was a part of the team that did the great work, they’re going to get poached. I understand that hiring is a big investment of time and resources and replacing great people is impossible but my gut feeling on poaching, and this comes from being an entry-level employee all the way up through a C-level person, is it takes two people to participate in that.
Just because a recruiter calls, doesn’t mean the person has to go or will go or wants to go. They may come to you and ask for a raise, but if they’ve done something that won every award in the book, they probably deserve it.
Jack: Sure, yes, and it’s funny that you mentioned the poaching thing. I’d actually never even thought about that and from the situation that I’ve been in where I felt like I was discouraged from talking about work, I had never gotten the sense that it was out of fear of potential moves. That’s a whole another angle I’d never even considered before is the worry that public notoriety for individuals could result in losing that employee. I think it, again, gets to– I’ve been a big believer, I’ve led strategy teams or groups or even just creatives I’ve worked with.
I’m the first person to champion that employee, that team member where it’s like look at the incredible work that this person did. Let’s make sure they feel good about what they did. They feel valued for their contribution. Maybe that’s a very millennial type of mindset but I think the workforce is mostly millennial at this point and I think there’s real value in that and making sure people do feel ownership. I’m a big believer in that people do their best work when their ownership is clear. That doesn’t discourage team efforts and that doesn’t discourage that it takes a village, but it allows people to build who they are.
Especially as we look at for, again, for the way you and I connected. The way people are going to talk about social is these are things that I worked on. Here’s how I worked on it. I think that’s okay.
Adam: Do you think it’s a– I don’t think it’s a millennial thing. I’m Gen X. There are people that want to be out in the limelight and people that are comfortable being on Instagram every day and showing every detail of their life. Then there are people who aren’t. My parents are on Facebook putting selfies and pictures up all the time. I don’t know that it’s an age thing that millennials are more inclined to want to get credit or talk about it. I think people just who have done the work deserve the ability to take credit for it and be congratulated for it and showed off in some way.
Jack: Maybe it’s not generational. Maybe it’s held over work culture things from old structures. Who knows what exactly is causing that stuff but I’ve been seeing, I had a copywriter that I worked with that was great. He was actively discouraged from mentioning that he is the one that wrote a trailer. What is the downside of this? For anything he does publicly, it’s good for him and his career. It’s good for us because we have this guy as an employee and it’s good for our clients to know this is the– Unless there’s some weird situation where you don’t want that person to be client-facing, which he wasn’t. It’s good for everyone to know that he did this type of work.
I do think there are some companies and some management systems where they believe that attributing credit to someone on an individual level somehow deters from an overall team environment, which I think is ludicrous. I think you can do both.
Adam: I agree. You want to pump that person up and empower them to improve and encourage them to promote themselves and promote the product and tell everybody how much they enjoy it, as long as you have them, as long as they’re there with you.
Jack: Maybe this is some of my team sports background in me, but I think competitive environments, as long as they’re not toxic environments, is a good thing. I worked at an agency where even for internal stuff– We were very young. This was when I was at Ayzenberg Group and we had a significant part of our department was below 27. A huge part of our hundred-person department was below 27. When we’d get a pitch or new work, it was very open brainstorm and sometimes it was anyone could throw something in and other times it was here’s two strategists leading two different teams.
They’re going to pitch against each other internally and then we’ll pitch something in the final pitch that’s based off of that type of work. There was honestly very little toxicity to that at the time. Everyone was so young and excited about just working on this kind of stuff that it was healthy competitive. People were proud when they won but they weren’t sour when they lost because there was plenty of work to go around.
Part of it that I wonder if it is signs of other toxic elements of agencies or other maybe things that aren’t even toxic are just harder to control. Whether there’s enough work to go around or any number of factors but I do believe you can build work culture where employees can speak very freely about their work environment without worrying about what their manager is going to think. Where you can have these competitive cultures where you’re allowing teams to think like and be proud of the work that they’re doing and publicly speak about the work that they are individually doing -without detracting from the it takes a village mindset.
Adam: When I hear a company or somebody’d say, “Well, I want to come on your show or I want to talk to you about this but I really can’t. I’m not allowed to,” or, “I’m not able to,” or, “I’m not comfortable.” It makes me not only wonder, “Well, I have this policy outbound where they have some policy that puts fear into people. I wonder what it’s like inside that company.” This applies to beyond agencies. Some of the people I’m talking about are in big corporations, Fortune 500 and closer to Fortune 10.
I just think, “Wow, that place must be a terrible– That must be a gulag they’re working in if they can’t even– They’re saying they’re not even comfortable asking for permission to talk about something relating to their expertise.” That’s a scary feeling to me for free speech and for individuals willing to just say, “This is what is on my resumé.”
Jack: It’s funny you mentioned that. I do some personal career consulting on the side just mostly for fun, just for people I care about. A piece of advice that I’ve given to two different individuals over the last two weeks is you’ve done incredible work and not enough people know about that. These two friends of mine who have done truly sensational work where when people find out that they contributed to that, they’re shocked because it’s campaigns that everyone knows about. I’ve told them, “You need to work on, again, for lack of a better phrase, your personal brand because people, not only want to hire you but they want to learn from you. They just want to talk to you because you’ve done things that people didn’t know that they could be doing in this career path.”
Both of them had the initial, “It’s weird for me to do that. I don’t even know exactly how to do that.” I think part of it is it can come down to personal comfort and talking about yourself, I do think is a different part of that but there is always that company fear of, especially if you work in a big agency, it’s like, “What can I say without infringing on what my manager or my client thinks?” It’s just such a, for lack of a better phrase, it’s such a bummer that that’s the current environment.
Adam: Yes, it really is. It really is. Not everybody has to be out there. I’m on Twitter a lot but I’m not always talking about the work I’m doing. I’m definitely not getting specific with it, but a lot of what I’m talking about is subtweeting things that are happening without referencing brands or products or projects. If you’re not comfortable doing that, I think that’s a different thing. If it’s fear, that’s a second thing and if it’s a policy, then it’s a third and more scary thing to me.
Jack: Yes, and this is a topic I could go on forever about. A piece of advice that I remember, I don’t remember who had told it to me but I remember it was a manager at some phase of my career, was they had seen how I use Twitter and the advice they gave us like, “Make sure to not offend a future client.” Because I do openly talk about brands that I follow, brands that I don’t follow, good campaigns, bad campaigns and it’s something I have considered and it’s like, yes, there’s theoretically some world where someone would not want to work with me because I put up one tweet once criticizing a brand campaign.
That is a theoretical thing that could happen and it certainly has happened in the past to people. For me, personally, I feel like what I’ve gotten to is this phase where I can provide critical analysis of things. I’m not overly rude about anything that I do and it’s more thought leadership and discussion based and allowing people to contribute to this thing.
Adam: Right. It’s not the bashing.
Jack: Right. It’s not going out of my way to go criticize a brand or something like that. It’s a lot of more like, “I wish they had done this this way,” or, “There’s way that you can improve upon this,” which has started discussions with people who I’ve been critical of in the past in positive ways. Where it’s like, “How could we do this?”
Adam: Have you ever seen– This was an old– I think it started on a blog. It may have started on Reddit where somebody was shit-talking the American Airlines website. Then someone from the American Airlines digital team responded and said, “That’s a fair critique. Let me tell you why,” and responded with this 10,000-word with images and visuals and wire frames and explaining the way the company was structured. Why it couldn’t be as simple as this person wanted. It’s probably 15 years old.
Maybe I’ll try to search it and put it in the notes if I can find it but someone started with a critique and them someone else very rationally, not defensively said, “That’s fair, here’s why.” A lot of times when I go to Twitter and I say, “Why is this broken this way?” Someone will reply and go, “You don’t understand this part of it. Here’s something that happens below the surface.” It’s shaped my viewpoint of assuming that smart people are working on these things and solving problems first before going, “Well, this is broken. They must be dummies,” which I think is what a lot of customers think when they encounter some bad UX or have a bad time with the brand.
Jack: Definitely. I hadn’t heard that exact example before but that’s a tremendous showing of the company showed some transparency and probably earned a lot of credit for that with a very niche community. That’s a wonderful way to do that and allowing someone to speak that way certainly garnered them more positivity than negativity at that point.
Adam: I should try to track down the author of that and see if he was actually allowed to or he or she or if they just wrote it off the cuff, sent it out and then somebody came down, [chuckles] someone from- some lawyer sent him an email and was like, “Please do not do that again.”
Jack: What you mentioned is an interesting topic in that assuming that there are smart people working on things and there’s a reason the way things are. It’s something that I’ve wondered as I do, as you’ve seen on my Twitter, I do a lot of critiques both positive and negative about various types of social campaigns.
Something I know, having worked on a tremendous amount of these campaigns now is I can tell a lot of the time when something that’s limiting a campaign is lack of funds or lack of creative budget. That’s something I know and it’s something that maybe doesn’t make it into the 280 characters that I’m mentioning on this. Something I’ve wrestled with is, “Do I critique this knowing that the reason it probably happened is they don’t even have a creative team? They’ve got a social media predator editor type of person that’s doing this on their own.”
Adam: Absolutely. The more experience we have, the more intuitively we can dissect a bad execution or something that’s just off by a little bit and what I will now do is if I know someone at the company or the brand, I’ll say, “Hey, I just saw this thing. Here’s my hunch of what happened.” I’ll do that offline and in private just because I want to see if I’m guessing correctly and it’s funny how often they’re like, “How did you know that?” I was like, “I’ve seen that movie before.”
Jack: It’s something that I try to weigh in when I do these critiques of work and it’s why I honestly try to do– I try to highlight more positive work than critique work that’s maybe missing the mark. Exactly for that reason. It’s a lot easier, it’s a lot more palatable and I frankly just enjoy highlighting people’s incredible work more than giving analysis of things that I don’t think are working well.
I think on the other side of that, there is value in great. Regardless of what the team behind this was like, is it working in the social space or not? Because the general public also doesn’t know this stuff and they’re not thinking about that element of the work.
There are different ways to analyze that where it’s maybe even if there’s limitations on X, Y, and Z, that it still needs to be approached differently.
Adam: Totally agree. Well, this was a really good talk. I’m glad we were able to dig into this and I wanted to thank you for coming on and I wish you good luck in the new role at Midnight Oil.
Jack: Thank you very much. I had a blast.
Adam: Yes, man. We will do it again soon. Coming up with some new topics for this season. You’re on my list.
Jack: That’d be great.
Adam: All right. Thanks a lot.
Jack: Thanks, bud.
If you like these chats, you will like Specific, the new book from host Adam Pierno. Go get it on Amazon asap.