Tech Cat Interview with John Durham
Lori: Hello, you crazy and wacky, wild audience. This is Lori H. Schwartz, the Tech Cat, coming to you with tech trends impacting your business, and today we have a really exciting show. We have one of my favorite people, I think in the whole world and it’s a big world, Mr. John Durham, who I’m calling The Gentleman Marketer, and John is currently the president of the Catalyst S+F and many other things, as well, and if you’ve ever been in advertising, marketing, in ad tech or martech, you’ve heard of John Durham. He is a legend. People part when he walks in a room. He’s one of the biggest minds in marketing today. Ladies and gentlemen, John Durham!
John: Good afternoon. God, you’ve got me blushing. Thank you.
Lori: [unclear] going wild. So, John, for people that don’t know you, I would love for you to just give a kind of summary of who you are and what you’ve been up to, because, pretty much, literally, if you’ve been working in advertising, you’re sort of a legend, but I’d love to hear you explain yourself to people who maybe are outside of the industry and don’t know who you are.
John: Well, I run a firm here in San Francisco, based in San Francisco, in which we do strategy and working for clients. I also teach at the University of San Francisco, which is a lot of fun, both undergrad and MBA in advertising, which I’ve been doing that for, gosh, twenty-three years. And I’ve worked on both the publishing side and the agency side, and I liked them both, and I think it’s a significant amount of fun. I’ve built sales forces and startups and have sold them and started Catalyst with a couple people about eight years ago, and we work on strategy and startups and brands who want a digital roadmap.
Lori: When you navigate the advertising world today, have you found it just immediately to be very different from what it was when you started Catalyst those years ago?
John: Absolutely. I think it’s probably a more interesting time than it ever has been. I also find that it’s also, you know, with that opportunity comes a bit challenging, but I think it’s actually a fun time. I think this is the best time to be in this business.
Lori: When you—so, the way that I met John was at a series of conferences through a company called iMedia, where you were actually running a sort of side event there, where you were gathering together marketers, and was that the Aspen Group? Is that what that was called?
John: Yes. Yes.
Lori: And I know that over time you would come back and report on things that are going on in the industry, and I’m wondering from that experience what you’ve learned over the last few years about where the business is going.
John: The business is—actually, that’s a great question. It’s one that I’ve thought about in anticipation of today. I think we have serious talent challenges. I think technology is probably as opportunistic it has ever been for marketers and all the different things that come with it. Brands are facing big challenges, and they’re looking for big solutions, they’re looking for big ideas. And there’s just a lot of smart, fun people, Lori, in the business now, and I think that’s very exciting. It’s just about energy, it’s about enthusiasm, and I don’t think I’ve seen that in a long time. I think it was a couple years, ’09, ’10, ’11, that I think a lot of people questioned, oh my gosh, am I in the right business; is it going? But we’re now entering a—you know, like, digital’s now twenty-one years old. So it’s the young-adult phase, and it’s just so much fun.
Lori: Well, so what—you and I, in preparing for this, you had four specific areas that you wanted to talk about, and I’d love to dig into them, because they’re certainly the four topics that you mentioned is what everybody is talking about right now, and I’d love to hear your insights about them, especially coming from having been in the business for so long and having seen trends come and go and tech platforms come and go and many different business models come and go, and so the first one that you mentioned to me that you thought was a really interesting area of change was virtual reality. So, obviously, that’s a really hot topic right now. Everybody’s talking about that. There are tons of companies launching, and I don’t think I’ve seen this much money being invested in Hollywood in a long time. So what are your thoughts about virtual reality?
John: I just think it’s the hot—I mean, it’s hot because it’s fun. I think it allows just a great opportunity for a brand to get totally—you know, people to get totally immersed into an experience. I think it’s
real. I think the people who say, oh, it’s much ado about nothing, I think they’re on crack. I think it’s exciting. I think it’s engaging as could be. I recently saw a virtual-reality experience, Lori, of the building of Rome. I’m in the Colosseum and the excitement when Rome was the center of the world, and I felt like I literally was in the midst of being in the Colosseum and Julius Caesar was around; and, literally, I took the glasses off after about seven or eight minutes, and I just had to sort of shake myself back into being in reality, because I felt like I, literally, was transported and so engaged in almost every part of being in Rome. And as someone who’s—I’d been there several times, it literally brought it alive for me. And I think if I’m a brand, I’m looking at this, I get my customers engaged, time becomes inconsequential in this because you’re there for two, three, four, five, six minutes, and you’re just so immersed. And that immersion can pay off if it’s done right. Right now it’s Hollywood, and yes, it’s excitement, but I think the Samsung glasses that are out, I think the Oculus glasses that are coming out in early January are really going to get people very excited. We’re actually working with a couple of clients right now that are looking at virtual reality in fields that you wouldn’t necessarily imagine, and we’re actually going to create some experiences that I think are going to be very exciting for them. I’m very high on it, and it’s not going to go away.
Lori: Well, when you talk about clients and other categories, because when we talk about revenue generation from virtual reality, what a lot of analysts are saying is that the money is going to flow, not from entertainment but from healthcare and automotive and other business categories that can really use it to create customer engagement. Is that the type of conversations that you’re having right now with brands, or is—
John: Absolutely, absolutely. Lori: So, okay, so it is.
John: Their financial services. Think about, you know, financial service is relatively traditional and their approach even digitally. They’re the ones looking at it. Look, you know, Hollywood is always out there. It does great stuff, and it’s ahead of the game, but where it’s going to take off—and the analysts are right—when it is in the basic, what I call, basic marketing spin—healthcare, travel, CPG—you know, again, coming back to healthcare. We’re working primarily and looking at financial services in a healthcare opportunity because they
are exciting, and they actually do allow a brand to get in front of you in a way that’s not going to just make you mad.
Lori: You mean, make you mad in the sense of being too much of a message but actually being a—
John: Yes, way too interruptive, way too getting on your nerves trying to sell you. In a way, the virtual-reality experiences that we’re seeing and the ones that I’ve been looking at that are coming out of the UK, the brands are just a part of the experience, which is really great because they’re your allies. You’re engaged with them, but you’re just not turned off by them.
Lori: So is it more like, then, the old sort of sponsorship model of the Colgate Hour, or is it more a newer model of we’re providing you a utility?
John: I think it’s a combination of both [unclear] you say that because I actually do believe it’s that original soap opera sponsored by Palmolive, sponsored by Tide. I do believe it’s that, and I—while there is the opportunity for some direct-messaging opportunities, it is that sponsorship. It does surround you, and one of the reasons why sponsorship is and always has been is because it’s a way that made people feel very comfortable and the association with the brand, and I think VR is going to do that.
Lori: You know, as a technologist, I’ve been looking at VR for the last couple of years, and, obviously, now that it’s exploding, a lot of people are calling me about it. Personally, I haven’t seen anything—and this is totally a gender thing—I haven’t seen anything that’s really made me personally excited because I’m not a gamer and I’m not into
shoot-‘em-up or horror films or anything like that. So I’m aching for a VR experience that is relative and relevant to me as a woman navigating my life. Do you think that that’s going to come soon, because right now it just seems like it’s pretty picture, drop me in a cool place, or it’s gamer kind of horror-showy stuff.
John: I want to say that you are where we want to be. I think that’s probably in the next six to eight months. Right now the stuff that’s out there that’s pretty engaging is brands like Heineken, brands like Stella. And you’re right: it is gaming, it is very young, it is driven against that high-entertainment pitch. We’re looking at financial services’ brands that are—and the product that we’re working is targeted to the men and women, twenty-five to forty-four, still playing
on some traditional audience demos. But I do think where you’re going and probably what you’re asking is about six months away. Healthcare is definitely—I think healthcare will be very strong for women. At least some of the initial stuff that I’ve seen and particularly the brief that we’re working with right now is targeted for women in their late twenties.
Lori: That’s good to hear because it’s hard for me to get excited about it right now, outside of my profession, but as a person.
John: And I would caveat that with the other concern that you should have, that you and I both have to think about a lot, is, you know, where’s the beef in terms of where’s the money—
John: —because it’s still squishy. You know, you have the Hollywood craziness of production, but then you want to start trying to figure out how do you take these messages and how do you get them in places, because you just can’t set up VR experiences for people to come in.
Right now it’s still driven as a place-driven opportunity, and there are people who are looking in building VR ad networks, VR television programming, you know? So I think that’s a key question to me is, you have this great opportunity, now how are you going to take it out to your various audiences. And it’s something that we’re thinking a lot about and right now it’s very nascent in terms of some real intelligence.
Lori: Right, so you’re really talking about the infrastructure that will follow any sort of platform that kicks in. So, we’re going to take a break in a moment, but when we come back, I want to talk to you about what the role of strategy is now to a marketer, because you used to have these big agencies that handled the strategy and handled the creative and handled the media and then it got very siloed, and now it’s coming back to a more integrated model, but who now really handles the strategy for clients, and what type of strategy, and is it just digital or is it just media, and where does a brand go? So, we’re going to be back in a minute with the fabulous John Durham, talking more about strategy, the future of the agency model, and also where do ideas come from. So more insights from John Durham and the Tech Cat when we come back.
Lori: Hello, everybody, and we’re back with the fabulously insightful John Durham, talking about the role of strategy for marketers, and where are brands going right now to engage with strategy, to get their strategy, because the role of agency is changing so much. So, John, what are your thoughts about that?
John: Well, we built an agency. You know, we built our business predicated on strategy because so many people immediately want to go to execution, particularly in the digital space, and I saw that from ’96 to very early on, and we saw it all through as you need strategy, you need some kind of game plan. People were funding—venture guys were funding—men and women were funding all sorts of companies but there was no plan, like, let’s just go do television, let’s just go do this, let’s go banners and let’s get customers, without some kind of thought and process to do that. So we organize around strategy. It’s really been interesting because in the last few years, we’re seeing more and more players get into it. We run up against the McKinseys, the Bains, the Deloittes, because that’s something they understand critically is business strategy. Now they’ve added the elements of marketing strategy to the play, and they’re helping drive activity, because brand CMOs, who are significantly part of the C-suite executive team, you know, it’s not a digital strategy more; it’s not a traditional strategy, it’s just a strategy, because digital is so mainstream. And anybody says to me that it isn’t, I’m, like, you know, you’re twentieth century. So marketing strategy is so important. The big holding companies are realizing that they need to go back to their roots because they’re losing some of that business to the McKinseys. And once McKinseys start getting in the tactical side, or the Deloittes and other players, it’s going to be a significant game change in the whole agency environment.
Lori: Do you think that that’s going to be what’s ultimately going to happen is that instead of going, say, to an Interpublic and a McCann Worldgroup—and I just mention it because that’s my old home—that I would go instead to a Deloitte or a McKinsey, who would start to have all the different pieces of the puzzle for me?
John: It’s an interesting question. It’s one that I’ve really been looking at the last two years. I know when I used to be—business development, ran business development for Carat, part of Aegis, the biggest challenge, some of my bigger competitors—at the time—or not just IPG or Starcom, we would occasionally get a McKinsey or a Deloitte or a Bain or somebody in there and a cincher, because, oh, they just wanted to sort of get in, not necessarily they were winning
the business but they were beginning to, like, let’s dabble in this, let’s understand, because it’s significant dollars. I still think the holding company’s can win this, because they fundamentally understand not only the beginning but they also understand the middle and the end game, and they have better people added. It’s not just a science; it’s an art in science. This is where I do think the holding company’s and this is where I still think the agencies can win in the game, but if they let them continue to get this front-end part, they’re going to start nibbling at that middle, and I think that that’s going to hurt, but they have—I believe wholeheartedly, Lori, that the holding companies do understand that, and they’re beginning to really see the opportunity they need to invest in that front end, and you’ve seen that with some of the hires that you read about in all the trades.
Lori: Well, what are they going to do, though, when I think about my years at the big company, they can’t really be nimble, right? They can’t move fast. Everything is so process driven. They have to figure out ways to pay for all those FTEs, or full-time employees. It’s all about butts in seats, right? So what do you do in an environment like today where VR has just hit the world, and all of a sudden you have to be able to figure out VR, and what does that mean, and what’s the cost structure, and what talent do we have, and all these things that some of the boutique agencies are doing better, and, frankly, the technology companies are doing better, and they’re starting to also be competitive to the agencies. So are you really so sure that the holding companies are going to be able to handle this?
John: I think the holding companies and the agencies. I’m a big believer. I mean, when people tell me the agency model is dead or broken, I said, you’re on drugs. That’s like saying television is dead. It’s being re-engineered. I think the holding companies, I think the independents, because they still understand that it is still about messaging, and it is about media, and they understand how to bring that together, and if they can find strategy. Right now I think the independent agencies are probably doing a better job of it. It’s going to be a different cost structure. It is going to be nimble. You’re going to have to be on top of it. The communication planning side is going to be very critical. So understand planning, and I think the McKinseys of the world don’t necessarily get that as well. They wouldn’t know how to look at VR. They would not know how to look at the Internet of Things or how mobile and tablet is playing in interesting ways, from both a messaging and a media perspective. Now as a stockholder in each of the holding companies, I do believe that they are going to figure it out. They’ll either do it through acquisition; they’ll bring in
some high-powered people, because their brands are demanding it. The brands are not unwilling to spend money. In fact, now more than ever they need—this attention economy is going to be extraordinarily visible for the next five to seven years. Who’s going to win this battle is who’s going to win the front end, because the strategy has to be right. You can’t afford not to know what’s out there, not to know what your competitors are doing, and not to know where that hidden competitor is, because who would have thought, the idea of, literally, five to six years ago, with the whole taxi industry would have been disrupted strategically. So what does that mean for the car business? Does Detroit thinking about—is the thinking about riderless cars and how is that messaging? And the other thing that you did allude to is one that I think is scary is the big publishing companies aren’t saying, you know what, to brands, we can provide those services, because that leads in to the real core question where ideas coming from, and CMOs are asking everybody. There’s no longer this linear path of, hey, I’m going to go to my account executive at the agency to ask him or her with this, this, and this. They’re going to go where people are bringing them ideas. And right now, probably some of the better ideas are coming out of publishers, but if I were an agency, I am not going to sit around and let other people win these battles.
Lori: But, just to—and I don’t mean to be the picking-on-the-holding- company girl, here, but just for the sake of conversation—are agencies able to rejigger their operations to get to what you’re talking about, because they really are built on an old manufacturer model, right?
Lori: So, even just procurement, I mean, I can’t tell you how many colleagues of mine who are vendors end up calling around to see who’s already a vendor with some of these big companies so they don’t have to wait a year to get paid on something, right? So, do you think they’ll be able to become more fluid and flexible, or will they have to downsize, or what’s it going to take to get them to be able to compete in this environment?
John: Boy, if I could answer that right now, I think I would be able to make [unclear].
Lori: Give me the answers!
John: You know, with the CMOs that I interact with is, and we talk to a lot of them on behalf of clients and publishers and, in some
instances, agencies and, in some instances, brands are wanting to know what other people are doing and how they’re thinking about this front end, is they do believe that the holding company can provide very tactical media buying at an extraordinarily high, efficient level.
Creative is all over the road. I would actually worry, if I were a holding company, about if you’re heavily invested in creative, because that is, to me, a big yellow light, and a lot of interesting independents really do very well with theirs. So that holding model is going to be about acquisition. Strategy firms are going to be five to seven to nine women and men in key places in the country, not necessarily in New York, such as Austin, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, even the East Bay, Seattle, all sorts of places that do understand and think about the business and think about the marketing business overall.
And, again, a lot of them like being independent. They like being able to go to clients elsewhere. As far as getting paid, I think that’s going to work out. I think this whole procurement thing, we’ve gone through so much, and you can just beat the crap out of people in price and sooner or later, then, when you start doing that, value goes away.
And you talk to a lot of CMOs; and in the past two years I’ve talked to over a hundred of the Fortune 500, and they’re biggest concern is the talent drain, and I come back to, well, you’re not paying for it. So sooner or later you have to pay for it. Either they’re hiring them in- house, which is, to me, very scary, or they’re smart and let them go to the right places, build the nuances, and pay fair prices. The idea of paying outrageous is going to go away, but I do believe that they’re going to pay fair, and I think we’re going to find pricing models in ’16 that are going to work.
Lori: Do you think—
John: I’m beginning to see some early stages of that.
Lori: Well, do you think it’s going to be so that agencies will start to work with a lot of third parties because they have that expertise like you’re saying, and that’ll be a more comfortable model rather than a sort of very protective-against-consultants model?
John: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Lori: Well, that’s comforting to us consultant types.
John: They’re going to want to pick your brain and pick your expertise and pick your knowledge, not only because you understood what was but you also have a vision and a lens into what will be, and because
the talent drain is so challenging and so damning right now that you’re able to come in and provide that lens, and they’re going to pay for it. They’re not going to pay outrageous, but they’re going to pay for it.
Lori: Hey, I’m a girl of simple means, really. John: Simple or elegant, come on.
Lori: Well, one of the things that comes up for me when I talk to a lot of my agency friends is fear. They seem to be operating in a very fearful environment right now, especially the media folks. Do you think that fear is going to dissipate?
John: Well, I think if you’re approaching this from a fear perspective, you need to go to Starbucks and be a barista and just get out of the business. You need to approach this as risk; I think that when you view this opportunity with risk, you’re going to win the game. Yes, it is challenging, but it is risk. Brands are at risk. You walk into a grocery store or you walk into Union Square, how do brands stay out? They’re looking for women and men to help them better find ways to tell their story, and in doing so they’ll not only pay for it, they’re going to embrace it. I’ve never operated out of fear, because when you operate out of fear, you’re not going to want to make the smartest decisions. I think you operate when you operate with the risk, and when doing that and you work with brands who bring that sense of risk because they realize risk is an integral part of competition and an integral part of marketplace, they’re going to do well. And I’ll tell [unclear] a good story. I take my students every semester shopping at Union Square on a Saturday. I say, let’s go down; we’ll take about a three-hour shopping; and they can go in a variety of different stores—all the high-end stores in Union Square in San Francisco.
They’ll walk into a San Francisco shopping center, the big mall and different places. And they have all these different questions that they have to do in small little teams. And part of it is visual and part of it is, you know, like, how do they package in stores, how do they seduce you in there with sights and smells and sounds and words. And when they come back that next time in class, they talk about all these things, and all of them talk about stores that really do interesting things when they approach, how they use interesting windows, how’re they doing things, and it’s because they about taking risk for that customer. Customers like risk. Customers like opportunity. They don’t like fear. And I think we, as marketers, if you operate out of fear, you’re not going to win. You’re not going to win in today’s environment.
Lori: Right, they can kind of smell it. Well, when we come back, I want to dig a little bit into what’s happening out there that really intrigues you from the tech trends’ perspective. What tech is out there that, besides virtual reality but just in general, that’s really turning you on and that your clients are inquiring about and that all these great CMOs that call you for advice all the time are talking to you. So when we come back, Mr. John Durham and the Tech Cat.
Lori: Hello, and we’re back, talking with the fabulous John Durham, who’s the CEO and managing partner for Catalyst S+F, and John is a long-time marketer and someone that major CMOs, from many of the large brands across the country, call up and ask for his advice on what’s happening in the industry. So, John, I was asking you about what tech trends are bubbling up out there that you think are interesting and that some of these CMOs are calling you and either are fretting about or looking for guidance.
John: Everybody’s talking about what screen is really relevant. It’s no longer television or mobile or laptop. It’s which screen do we effectively want to talk to our consumers or any of our customers—I dislike using that word consumers—where do we want to talk to our customers. So I think screen, the mentality of it’s any screen, any time. With that comes a play that they realize that intimacy of the mobile, the phone, is the one they have to really think about, Lori, and, gosh, how do you message on that, how do you get people’s attention; and they’re so engaged in it, so as a brand, how does it cut through? I just got the new iPad Pro. I am, oh my gosh, I am like a little kid. That is the most fascinating—it’s like everything I liked about my laptop, everything I liked about iPad, I just feel like I’m on a whole new canvas. And I was watching some stuff on Hulu last night on it, and it is just so stunning HD, and you just feel like you’re engaged. It almost had a VR effect to a degree. It was really nice. I think Apple TV is something that everybody is looking to see how that’s going to play, but everybody’s talking about the mobile screens, you know. And whether it’s three inches, five inches, seven inches, or a hundred inches, which screen, and then how do you effectively message? And I think that’s the thing that everybody is secretly asking, you know, what are you doing about messaging? How are we bringing that into the forefront, because that’s what’s going to cut through the clutter. I think we figured out the science and media. I don’t think we’ve figured out the art in messaging yet.
Lori: Have you read about Google’s sort of conversation about micro- moments, which we’ve identified as a trend for CES, which is this idea that all the action is happening in that moment when that phone comes out and that’s where brands should start to play in these micro- moments?
John: Absolutely, and there’s even a mobile ad network Aki called the moments mobile network. Moments, to me, really come from what I believe is what it’s all about and that’s audiences and behaviors. And if you understand and know who your audience is and understand and get into their behavior, then you’re going to be able to really effectively message in media to them, and I think moments is such an integral part of behaviors. I think we act, sometimes as marketers we forget we’re customers. We go to grocery stores. We sit at home on Thanksgiving afternoon multitasking, buying online, and looking at television and being passive. And I think you have to think about life as a series of moments, and when you do that—I think it’s something that’s always been there. I think Google hit us in the head in saying, duh, it’s the V8 of thinking. You know, I really do. I’m a big believer that it’s A, B: audiences and behaviors. That’s how I predicate everything. Who’s your audience; what’s your audience; what are their behaviors’ and now, ultimately, you can throw the third part, which is the why—the whole TED thing about the why.
Lori: Well, what is a brand do if they haven’t built in a mobile infrastructure yet? Are they screwed, or is that something that you can get it together on?
John: I think you can get it together. I mean, it’s still decently enough early in the sense that you can, but, of course, if you and I are having this conversation in 2020, that brand is going to go the way of brands in history books that were good at one time and are no longer relevant. You have to think about what a mobile experience is; you just have to. If you don’t you—and what that mobile experience means. That personal screen is so in the forefront of the customer.
Lori: I was going to ask you because this is the question that I get a lot, and everyone is asking me, if I go Apple, am I all Apple, you know, or should I go Android, or what do I do; and is it really going to be the war of Apple and Android, because even now, as we’re starting to look at new platforms and new frontiers like the connected home and the car, it seems to be an Apple and Android war again. So what are your thoughts on those two worlds?
John: Well, that’s a big one. Yeah, you’re right. I mean, you know, who’s going to win that supremacy? I’m an Apple person, so I get a bit frustrated because you stay in that whole engagement with them and every time you get something new, you have to almost buy new toys, buy new accessories, but we all do it because we’re there.
Android is doing some fascinating things, as well. I mean, I’ve seen some of the Samsung phones and the stuff that they’re doing, as well as some of the other producers. I’m going to bet on Apple. Are they going to play well in the sandbox, I don’t know. Gosh, I don’t have a total read on that yet. My gut is that Apple—maybe because I’m very biased.
Lori: Yeah, I mean, I think we all are to a certain extent. I mean, it’s really interesting just to see what’s happening in the connected-home arena, because a couple of years ago, there were a variety of different protocols out there, and you saw all the coalitions launching that were trying to unite them all, and now it feels like, once again, it’s Apple and Android. And it’s the same thing with the car, where you had all the OEMs doing their own thing, and now it seems like it’s Apple and Android again, you know, which I don’t think is a bad thing.
John: That’s the interesting screen to me. That’s the interesting play is who’s going to win in that screen in your car, you know? Right now I can plug in my Apple into my Audi, and it plays my music really well and it does good stuff. Who is going to win that screen, because I think that transportation piece is an integral screen that is going to be the battle.
Lori: Yeah, I think that’s the area that people are the most excited about as we head into the Consumer Electronics Show and South by Southwest and all these other industry shows that are coming up in the next year. Everyone’s kind of really curious about automotive, and will they have to develop an expertise for creating content in that experience.
John: They will. I mean, as more and more people are in these vehicles, it’s going to be interesting to see what’s in that backseat, how these screens play. I mean, I like Waves and Waves tells me how to get from point A to point B. In today’s environment, when someone is doing that, why couldn’t there be an interesting audio play with that. They already know a lot about me. My car knows significant about me. And it’s in such an interesting place. They know that I like to stop every morning on the way at Peet’s Coffee, and they could be
doing a lot of stuff getting me ready for that stop. It’s an interesting environment, and I’m convinced that both Apple and Android, and probably right now Android’s probably a little ahead of the game in the car because Google’s been playing there a lot longer, but I don’t discount the Apple game. They have strong relationships with Tesla.
They are doing interesting things. BMW has worked with them. I think it’s going to be interesting what you see at CES in 2016 and 2017, as well as South by Southwest.
Lori: And have you had any clients come to you and ask for automotive strategy?
John: No, because—not yet. We have worked with a couple—I don’t want to say they have their head in the sand—but they’re sort of waiting to see who’s going to get in the ballpark first, with some kind of direction.
Lori: Yeah, it’s so interesting because think about it. If you’re in an autonomous car and you’re not having to pay attention to driving, what are you going to be doing?
John: I’ve seen takes on shopping, ordering, communicating, the whole world is opening up, and the living laboratory right now, we don’t know.
Lori: Yeah, it’s a fascinating time. Well, we’re going to take a break in a moment, but when we come back, I’d like to know what inspires you, because you have so many people calling you, all these wonderful senior leadership at brands, and I’m just wondering what turns you on, what do you go to, what do you read, where do you get your inspiration, because there’re so many shows out there, and, for god’s sakes, you’re in San Francisco. Are you constantly going to startup battles? I mean, how do you separate out what to go to and what to listen to and what to read?
John: You want me to answer that now? Lori: Yeah, sure! Give it to me.
John: I am a voracious reader because I love getting out and observing. I go to events. I subscribe to about sixty magazines. I love looking at the ads in them. There are several that I actually love reading the content. Many podcasts. I read many daily newspapers
online. It used to be about eighty magazines; I’m slowly drifting them off—
Lori: Oh my goodness.
John: —because they’re all beginning to move online. I’m a bit of an Anglophobe, though. I think a lot of interesting intelligence and insights come out of the UK. I’m a big fan of The Drum. I like marketing. I like campaign because you see interesting thoughts, strategy, and good ideas. I think The Drum is probably one of the best media trade publications out there.
Lori: All right. Hold on, John, we’re going to take a break and come back and hear some more of that. I appreciate it. And when we come back, more with John Durham and the Tech Cat.
Lori: Hi, everybody, and we’re back, talking to the fabulous John Durham, and we were just talking about what you like to read and where you get your inspiration from, and you were mentioning The Drum and sort of comparing what the UK does well in terms of live cast studies versus what we do in the States and sharing information. Will you talk a little bit more about that because it’s really interesting.
John: One of the things, and this is really an important issue or me, one of the things that I think digital does really well is it democratizes information and accessibility, because I sit in class, and you’ll say something and people immediately will go to their phone or something. They’ll say, yeah, but it says this, and they’re, like, yes and look at this. They get so engaged because that’s what digital does. It is very disconcerting when you’ve been in a meeting or you’re at a conference and someone puts up this wonderful case study about this technology or this ad or did something and it moved that, and they say “a well-known car company” or “a very large consumer- products company.” Why are we afraid to name it? Why shouldn’t— you know, we live in a world where people can still find out. But in the UK, the men and women who write for The Drum and the other publications and the brands and the agencies, well, they actually share—they actually share. It increases knowledge. It increases value. I don’t know why we’re afraid to do that in the U.S., maybe that’s that fear element that we talked about earlier, I don’t know, but it is a bit galling to see a case study that says “a well-known car manufacturer.” You’ve been in those meetings.
Lori: Yeah, all the time.
John: You roll your eyes and you say, really? I know it’s Ford, or I know it’s BMW. That’s fine. In the UK, and one of the reasons why I enjoy reading it is they push you to the envelopes of thinking, they share knowledge. Some of the stuff that some of the people write is, you know, it’s wacky, but guess what? At least it gets you to think, and you’re reading about something; and you see Coca-Cola move sales in the UKX and you see why and how it happened, you’re, like, wow. That’s a true learning. And I think it comes back to me, Lori, that I think digital is just so transformational in the sense that it’s such a knowledge opportunity for us all.
Lori: Well, you were also talking to me about what inspires you outside of just what you’re reading, so tell us some more things that inspire you, because people come to you to be inspired, so I’m wondering where are you going.
John: Well, I like, as I said, I like—one of the reasons why I enjoy teaching is it keeps you fresh; you get to see students who are using media, consuming media; they’re also customers, and you can ask them all sorts of questions; and that has, through the years, allowed me to stay on top of things well in advance and also to share with clients and friends and even people I don’t necessarily like come talk to my students. They’re great in the business. A lot of them are working in a lot of different places. What I’m particularly intrigued about right now—and this is probably, you know there’s an old adage, you never talk politics or religion—I am intrigued by what is happening in the U.S. and the presidential election, because all the rules that we know about political marketing, all the rules that we know about the conversation and discourse are totally destroyed, and Donald Trump is disrupting the presidential election in ways that I don’t think anybody, anybody, can comprehend. This morning I saw an interesting stat on one of the—I’m a big fan of MSNBC, and they said Trump—and they said Rubio, Cruz, and Bush have spent forty million dollars; Trump has spent three hundred thousand. I mean, so it’s all the thing about political advertising, moving messaging does stuff; that’s thrown out the window. Here is a man who is just saying outrageous things, truth be damned, and he is consuming liberal and conservative talk shows. He is disrupting politics, which I did not think would be disrupted for a long period of time. I just find it fascinating. So what does that mean for brands? That means, you know, what does it mean for us as
customers? Gosh only knows. I just think it’s a fascinating thing to think about right now.
Lori: Do you think that he has a chance of being elected, or is it just a side show, because, I mean, I think it’s great entertainment, but I can’t take him seriously.
John: Because you and I live in California, where we’re all smart. It’s an interesting question. I think Trump is both at a floor and a ceiling because his numbers stay consistent. I think his people that like him take him seriously. I don’t think he can. I think the Republicans, I think they are going to have a tough time finding somebody to beat Secretary Clinton. I just, I hope not. What is interesting it is, he is the culture president. He is the first person to utilize culture and technology in a way that no one else has done in politics, because he’s played the television game, he knows how to work TV, he’s a voracious user of Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat. He’s made those technologies almost as his best friends. Plus he’s played culture really well. He knows how to work Fox and MSNBC, as well as ABC, NBC, CNN, and all that. And he just says these outrageous things and nobody calls him a liar, because they don’t know what to do.
John: It’s just fascinating.
Lori: To me, it strikes me as just shocking and entertainment but not presidential.
John: Absolutely. But again, but what is—as he would say, what is presidential? Look, I’m not for him, by any means. I just find what he’s doing disrupting an industry that I thought would not be disrupted. I mean, I knew technology was a tool with what Obama has done in ’08 and ’12, and Romney as well. I did not think he would disrupt the basics of political discourse the way that he has.
Lori: Yeah, it’s pretty creepy scary. Well, where are you publishing? So, as we wrap up the show, where can people hear more from you?
John: Well, we do a series on Catalyst called “Bespoken,” in which I do book reviews. I like to read, so I’ll, like, read a lot of the business literature out there. For the most part, I’ve liked most of the books that I’ve read, a couple of them I’ve trashed because I thought they were the biggest waste of money. We do that two or three times a
month. That pretty much is it. I’ll occasionally do some things in some various circuits, but I like being in the back, listening and watching other people. But we do “Bespoken” to stay on top of trends and what’s out there in literature because there are a lot of people writing good stuff.
Lori: Well, we can find “Bespoken” on YouTube and on Facebook, if we track John Durham and Catalyst?
John: Yes, you can. Yes, you can.
Lori: Fantastic. We have to wrap up now. It’s been such a great pleasure talking to you, and I think you literally are that person that everyone calls to find out what’s going on, and I think your university association is a smart one, as well, because I do teaching second semester and I think you’re right: being around those millennial minds and just students of any age is so insightful.
John: It’s fun. I mean, you walk away as much of a student as you do a teacher.
Lori: Well, is there anything that Catalyst just worked on that we can look out for before we go? Anything to check out?
John: Pretty soon a VR project that we’ll be pretty excited to announce. We don’t want to break it before early January, but you’ll see what it is. It’s in a category that’s non-sexy; it’s in the financial- services category.
Lori: Fantastic. Well, thank you, John, so much. John Durham from Catalyst S+F and a man with a deep history in marketing and someone who knows a lot about wine, too, which we didn’t talk about, but you can track John on all the social-media platforms and “Bespoken,” and thanks so much for talking with us today, and we’ll see everyone and hear from everyone next week on the Tech Cat Show.
John: Thank you.