We have Brandon Rhoten on the show, who, get ready for this title, is the VP of Advertising, Social Media, Media, and Digital Marketing for Wendy’s. It’s a mouthful, and I don’t know how he does it, but everything you see with a Wendy’s logo on it, is the work of Brandon and his team.
This episode is all about how Wendy’s went from middle of the pack, to a front runner with one of the strongest brands in the industry. Of course, we discuss the insane amount of publicity they’ve received from Carter’s quest to 18 million Retweets – and more importantly, how to create a culture where partners and employees can do work that gets those kinds of results.
Brandon has a history of transforming brands, and since joining the company in 2011, he’s done the same for Wendy’s in an industry that’s notorious for commoditizing it’s products.
To give you a little more context, since Brandon joined Wendy’s, their stock price has increased nearly 400%, not to mention the 16 consecutive quarters of positive same-store sales they’ve had – which is unreal in that industry.
On this episode, you’ll learn
- Why leaving silos between marketing teams is a big mistake
- How to sell a brand when your competitors are selling a commodity
- Why consistency is crucial across every customer facing platform
And much more.
Yes, this is a food marketing podcast, and yes, we talk about food marketing, but the a lot of the advice in this episode is universal to building a great brand in any industry. So grab a pen a paper, and get ready to jot down some notes, because Brandon is about to lay down some knowledge on you.
Alex: Brandon, thank you so much for joining us on the show. It’s a pleasure to have you.
Brandon: Happy to do it.
Alex: Can tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself and how you came into your role at Wendy’s?
Brandon: Yeah, so I run media, advertising, digital, social media for Wendy’s. I was brought on six years ago to go build out a digital marketing presence. And quickly after that, they kept giving me stuff to do. And, now, I run everything that’s got a logo on it.
So if you see a TV spot, that’s my team. If you see a crazy tweet thrown out, that’s my team. If you actually go into a restaurant and pick up a bag of food, the logo on the bag and the bag design and the cup design, that’s all my team.
So I run most of the consumer-facing communications for the brand.
Alex: Before Wendy’s, you were working in PR?
Brandon: Yes, I was at a agency for a while where I did public relations, media relations, and digital relation, so ended up doing a lot of kinda blogging back in the day before digital was a significant thing. But, yeah, I’ve been in either media relations, public relations, or some capacity of marketing through previous gigs.
This is my first QSR brand. I’ve never been in fast food until Wendy’s. Dealt a lot with tech clients and actually a lot of B2B work before Wendy’s.
Alex: What are some of the major differences and challenges that you see on the horizon for quick service restaurants being in the industry for six years now?
Brandon: When I first started here, the biggest challenge was the new entrants, so the Paneras and the Chipotles of the world, for example. The marketplace became flooded with options. So it used to be, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, you go out to lunch, and you have, like, four or five quick options, and that was it.
If you wanna spend less than 10 bucks and, you know, less than half an hour, you have pretty small selection of options. When I joined Wendy’s, part of the reason the brand at the time wasn’t doing that great was because there were so many options that people were starting to choose the new option.
What’s changed over that time is brand-building has become more significant with a lot of food brands and specifically in fast food. We went from a model of essentially just tell people what we’re selling to actually have a relationship with consumers. And that’s actually been the most fun of my job is to develop that relationship and develop that brand.
And it leads to people actually caring a bit more about your products, caring a bit more about your brand, and visiting you not just because, you know, their grandma took them to get a Frosty when they were a kid, but also because you actually want something from this brand and have an appreciation for what the brand is.
So, not to say…we’re not Apple, we’re not Nike, we’re not those sort of brands yet. But we’re on a good path to creating those relationships.
Alex: So when you’re starting off with a brand who is selling somewhat of a commodity, if you’re selling just food without a brand, how do you and where do you start to actually build those relationships and build the brand like you have at Wendy’s?
Brandon: So, really, and the work we did was to go back to why we were founded in the first place, because there’s a reason brands become successful. I think a lot of brands forget that the reason they became big was they were good at something, and there was something that consumers recognized them for as being different and special and interesting.
So what we did was, like most good brands do, like Starbucks did, what a lot of brands do, is dig into what made us great at one time. And as we dug into that, it was very clear what made us great was the fact that we were unique in the category, that we didn’t settle for fast, cheap. We wanted to actually serve individuals and not billions and billions.
So, for us, the reason Dave Thomas founded this brand, you know, in 1969 was he was totally dissatisfied with the options in the market. The guy loved cheeseburgers. He loved restaurants.
And he thought that the competition that was out there was essentially not looking at actually serving people well. So he said, “I’m gonna do things differently.”
And I think that comes through very clearly. Look at our products, right? We have square cheeseburgers. We’re the only brand that does that. We do that because Dave thought they tasted better, because the corners stick out of the bun, and you get more meat in every bite.
And we kept it because it’s kind of what our signature is. It’s quirky, it’s different, its unique. And we embrace that. We’re very comfortable with that.
Look at the Frosty. You know, this thing is not a milkshake. It’s not a ice cream. It’s something weird in the middle. But it’s unique, it’s different, it’s quirky, it’s us.
So, well, really, the work we did was to rediscover who we were. Why “Where’s the beef?” was a sensation was we were a bit of an outlier in the market. So as we rediscovered that, and we actually worked with a company to help us do that, we discovered that, we built what is our brand voice based on how we should exist as a company.
And that was really the genesis of all the work that you’ve seen over the last several years. The changes in our marketing, in our social media, and in our digital marketing, even our television, it was all of this fundamental shift back to who we really are.
And to your point, the industry that we’re in tends to commoditize itself. It tends to make everything just about here’s a thing to buy and a picture of it on TV with our logo next to it.
Everyone does that in our industry. And in many cases, you can cross out the logo and not even know which brand it is.
What makes us special is the fact that we have a totally different voice than everyone else, that we do things differently. We go the extra mile to do things, like not freeze our meat for our cheeseburgers. And we don’t create just a chicken sandwich. We create a spicy chicken sandwich.
And we don’t just create ice cream. We don’t have a soft serve machine. We have a frosty. Everything we do is just a little different, a little unique. And we have to embrace that as a brand.
For example, I have a cutout in my office sitting right behind me right now of Chris Pratt from “Guardians of the Galaxy.” That is what we look to actually as our brand voice, believe it or not.
And he came on the scene just a few years ago, so that’s a recent addition to the kind of iconography we use. But he represents what we are as a brand, a family guy who is a little different. He doesn’t have any superpowers.
He’s just funny and smart and clever and resourceful. That’s our brand. We’re not Tom Cruise. We’re Chris Pratt. We’re this kind of easygoing, family-oriented connected brand.
So, to answer your question, really, what the shift has been is I think we’ve rediscovered ourselves. We’ve rediscovered what we are as a brand.
Alex: So one of the things that I really love about you guys as a brand is your willingness to really go out on a limb and do things that most companies wouldn’t even consider doing, even ones who know their brand really well.
So, for example, the Twitter burns that you’re doing during the Sriracha campaign and, just yesterday, the response to that dude asking, “How many retweets do I need for a year of free nuggets?” which is hilarious when you guys responded “18 million.”
So is that a result of having a team that knows the brand really well? Or how do you foster that kind of culture where people feel comfortable to go out on a limb or just be themselves as the brand, I guess?
Brandon: Yeah, so I think that’s being very clear with what your brand voice is and then hiring awesome people and letting them do their jobs. That’s really what separates, I think, us from most brands that aren’t as successful as we are in the space.
And we’re not perfect. A lot of people are beating us soundly. But in our space, we do pretty well, I think, because we have great people that understand the voice, and we let them do their jobs.
Things like having that Chris Pratt cutout behind me, every time my team sits in my office and we talk, every time we go to a meeting anywhere in this building, we remind ourselves, what is our voice? Who are we as brand?
We have 250,000 employees as a brand. It’s really hard to have that many individuals speak as one brand. Frankly, it’s impossible. But if you make clear distinctions of what your brand is and isn’t and if you hire people that are genuinely good at this sort of work and have a love for the brand, your chances of actually expressing your voice consistently go up dramatically.
Digital Marketing for Wendy’s
Alex: And the perfect example is this…I guess, the challenge to get a certain amount of retweets. I don’t know who it was internally that responded with the 18 million retweets to get a year of free nuggets. Can you talk to that a little bit?
Brandon: Yeah, so we have a team of a couple social people here, and we have a team at VML. Actually, our advertising agency team channel interlink from our TV to our social content.
And, essentially, what happens whenever we have the sort of situation…we’ve had a dozen of these that got really big, and actually three or four in the last six months. And what typically happens is we give them guidelines, the plan. They’ll respond in real time to most things, and in some things, they ask permission.
You know, the last couple that have gotten big, there’s been a conversation before there was a reply posted, just because it’s, you know, potentially very impactful to the brand. Most of these things actually end up on my cell phone. So the way a lot of times this works is “Hey, this just happened.”
I get a text from my agency or, most likely, my internal people saying, “Hey, this just happened. We’d love to respond like this. What do you think?” And sometimes we’ll go back and forth and tweak it a bit. But, more often than not, I say, “Go,” because, again, they know the voice, they know who we are.
In this particular case, our agency actually responded to this guy. We did have some back and forth to get it running the way it was, because we obviously do agree giving away a year of nuggets isn’t, you know, a few bucks. But, you know, it’s a conversation that we have internally that us gets to these external conversations.
We also have clear guidelines from our legal team. So I think what tends to stop a lot of companies…it’s a few things. One, they don’t know their voice, I guess, is the biggest thing.
But the second thing is that it’s risky to do this sort of thing, right? Any marketing is risky, but it’s risky to do this sort of thing. So a lot of legal mumbo jumbo rears its head and causes problems.
In our case, we’ve set up kind of a bumper bowling kinda scenario where we know what our limits are, we know what we can and can’t do. I control all advertising. I have a pretty significant budget. I can leverage when needed to do things, like give away a year of free nuggets and promote a tweet and talk to an influencer, all that jive.
But, ultimately, I think it does boil down to knowing your voice and hiring awesome people and letting them do their jobs. If you do those three things, it’s really amazing what can be accomplished.
Alex: Just out of curiosity, that retweets number, did it start at 18 million? Was it, like, 5 million, “No, we should go to 18.” Did you go to 30, or no?
Brandon: So the record of this one is three million. That was Ellen DeGeneres. She did a selfie from the Oscars, I think, a couple years back, and got about three million. So the number 18, it was something that, you know, the agency just came up with…a guy at the agency saying, “What about 18?”
But to me, it felt big enough that it was hard. You know, it would get attention. And it was actually a challenge to accomplish, but not so big that was totally unobtainable.
I mean, it’s big. It’s, you know, six times what Ellen’s got. But I’ll tell you, the world needs some positivity like that right now, doesn’t it? It needs, like, “Let’s rally together over nuggets.” That feels good, right?
And that’s what our brand brings to the world, frankly, I think. We bring you that little smile, that little moment, that little bite of Frosty, that Baconator when you’re starving and, you know, you just wanna devour all the bacon and cheeseburger you can handle.
The world needs a little positivity. And if it can come in the form of everyone to rally together to get this guy nuggets, amen to that. That makes me happy.
Alex: So another great thing that Wendy’s has been consistently good at over these past few years is having that same customer experience across all of your different channels, whether it’s advertising, in-store, on social media and digital, and your website. Does that stem from the top? Or how does that come to fruition?
Brandon: So the magic behind that is really that we don’t have silos. So we have a team here called the advertising team. And, obviously, with chief marketing officer… I run the advertising team.
I report to the chief marketing officer. And my advertising team doesn’t…the team here doesn’t have delineation between hard silos.
So the guy who does video does video online. He does video for TV. He does radio. He does streaming audio. Now, you have to have specialties because they have to do certain work.
But we don’t have a lot of separation. I have a director who’s in charge of integration. That’s her job. It’s across all channels.
So I think it’s a conscious decision to say, “We’re gonna communicate as a voice, as a brand, and we’re gonna use whatever channels make sense to communicate to the person we’re trying to talk to.” So if the target is on YouTube, we’re on YouTube. If the target is on TV, we’re on TV.
Most likely, given our scale, we have at least 7,000 locations, we’re gonna be everywhere. You know, my title is 40 feet long because, you know, marketing is very complicated now, and that’s good. Our toolbox for marketing is huge.
And a lot of companies just decide, “I’m gonna get good at one thing. I’m gonna get good at television. I’m gonna get good at social.” I don’t think that’s the way the world works anymore, not for big brands, not for brands doing billions of dollars in business.
You have to actually be good at a lot of things.
So the ad team this year…and I gotta give huge credit to our chief marketing officer, Kurt Kane, and huge credit to the board and huge credit to my C suite here. What they’ve done for us is they’ve given us the permission to speak as a brand through whatever channels are needed to communicate properly.
And that extends everywhere from the napkins in the restaurant down to the tweets, to the television spots. Big responsibility, but, you know, I have a meeting in a half an hour about the next tweet we’re gonna send out.
Then I have a meeting in the next minute about the upfront that’s hundreds of millions of dollars for a TV buy. That’s all the same stuff. It really is.
I mean, think about how you consume media today, right? My daughter, who’s, you know, eight, we’re watching TV, and the commercials come on. She looked down at her iPad. It’s the way it works.
These mediums aren’t separated in the minds of consumers. Consumers are totally media agnostic. They don’t care.
And the fact that brands care so much about just television versus print versus digital versus whatever, I think, is hurting them. It’s hurting them a lot.
Alex: And I completely agree. And I think one of the interesting and, I guess, enlightening insights that you just mentioned is that people are completely media or channel-agnostic. And I feel like a lot of brands are going out there starting with, all right, what’s the most expensive part of the production process or what gets the most of the budget? Usually, advertising or production of a commercial.
And then they leave social media on the backburner to somebody who…if you were to bring a tweet up to the C suite or one of the VPs and ask, “All right, what should we do here?” they’d probably be like “What are you asking me this for?”
So it’s interesting to hear that you have that focus that puts an importance across all of the different channels, and it’s clearly paying off for you guys.
Brandon: I think you’re totally right. Consumers just don’t care. They don’t. And, fortunately, this organization does recognize that, you know, our voice ultimately is what’s guiding everything and where people are. So I think it’s been very successful for us.
I think a lot of companies would benefit from taking a step back and actually watching their own families and how they interact with media today, because it’s not separate. Everything is connected. That’s the magic of modern marketing. That’s why it’s so fun.
Alex: So marketing has definitely changed over the course of the time that you started at Wendy’s just a few years ago. And I know that you have a personal history of going in and revamping especially the digital side of brands, getting them to where they need to be.
And Wendy’s, as an example, being the first QSR on Facebook, how do you get the decision makers to take that initial leap of faith into untested waters like Facebook when nobody else is on there?
Brandon: So I’m not actually sure we were the first brand on… We were the first brand to do…we might have been. I don’t remember. But we were definitely the first brand that seriously engaged in the space. We’re the first brand to hold a all-hands team meeting in Facebook and actually developed a voice and developed our strategy.
Really, you know, the way the C suite works, and I’m an officer, I’m a VP, so, you know, I do have direct access to these folks, which is great, because then I can hopefully influence decisions that are above me.
But the way it works is you have to show them it’s gonna improve the business. It’s literally that simple. You have to talk in the language of the constituents that you’re talking to.
So I think a lot of companies fail…or a lot of, you know, potential change agents for companies, people who come in to do things like build out a digital function in an organization, fail because they try to use vanity metrics.
Even retweets, saying impressions and views and retweets and view time and unique users and likes, I mean, let’s be honest, that stuff is garbage. It’s not real to a CFO. It’s not.
If you don’t care, it has no context. To say you have 10 million likes on your Facebook page means absolutely nothing to somebody whose day is spent trying to grow the business, because of the context of how it actually affects the business.
What you have to obviously do is tie it to the business and the results for the business. So, you know, the work that my team does essentially is to try to tie together what is the impact of the work we do.
And once you can show examples and show cases and show business change that occurs from the marketing, it gets a lot easier.
Now, it doesn’t mean it’s easy. You still have to sell in a lot of things to folks that… They don’t use these certain platforms. They don’t understand how consumers are using Snapchat or Instagram or whatever.
But, ultimately, you know, the business results guide everything in a successful company.
So, you know, translating what we’re doing into “This is how it actually affects people’s behavior and, therefore, affects our business” is totally critical. I don’t go to a C suite meeting, our senior leadership meeting, and talk about retweets. I don’t.
I can talk about a CNBC article that just ran talking about a retweet, because that’s relevant. That affects the stock. That affects the company.
I can talk about a Fortune or a Mashable article that talks about our great social media presence and use as examples of retweets. So I can use things that consumers feel and that are external and that influence our company.
But, really, the magic is saying, “Here is what the business did and, in major part, due to the activities that we are undertaking.”
I think a lot of folks fail to do that. They fail to connect those dots. I don’t blame a CFO for saying, “What the heck does video view time mean for our business?” They don’t know. Most marketers don’t know. And that’s our job is [00:20:18] connect all those dots.
Alex: And that kind of leads into another question. How are you guys measuring or, for example, influencer marketing or Instagram, which is primarily brand awareness, how do you view the traction as a business case?
Brandon: Well, brand awareness for now, you know, you click through, they have a direct response model being…it just was released. So, now, you can actually click on a product and go straight to a retail location to buy it. So I think all these things are gonna merge eventually.
But there are a lot of ways you can potentially track. We do use media metrics in some cases, things like reach, to understand how reach impacts behavior at scale. You can do studies.
You know, Nielsen has some great studies, like their brand effect studies that let you understand reach across channels and duplicate of reach and unique reach.
And you can look at the neutral targets to understand how that reach affects them. You can look at studies that look specifically at purchase intent so to give you an indicator that someone’s interested.
In a perfect world, though, you actually tie it directly back to the behavior of the individual. So you actually can track from exposure to sale if you have an anonymized user, if you have an unknown user.
That’s why certain platforms, for example, are so big with a lot of companies now, because you can, in theory, track what someone is interested in.
It’s anonymized. You don’t know who. But we know that people who were exposed to an ad in a certain place are actually coming into your retail location buying the product.
So in a perfect world, it’s actually an end-to-end, you know, viewability over someone’s behavior. But, more likely, you are making very educated guesses on how you’re affecting people’s behavior.
We use a lot of external studies. That’s our primary metric actually of understanding whether or not we’re influencing behavior. But I can actually make our market move pretty quick.
We can influence our business within a few days with the right tactics. And it’s not always the same tactic. In depends on what’s going on in the world. It depends on the product you’re trying to sell. It depends on the target you’re trying to talk to.
But QSR responds pretty quickly to advertising, advertising in general. I say advertising, I don’t mean just TV. I mean any communication that’s external push to consumers at scale.
But a lot of times, you will start with studies. That’s usually the first good step, to use Nielsen, use an MTA like Google 360 or Marketing Evolution or whatever tools help connect the dots for you.
Alex: It will be really interesting to see over the next few years how the interconnectedness of everything starts to paint a more accurate picture or a direct picture of saying, “This person saw this ad while…then, a few days later, went to the Wendy’s drive-thru just through…whether it’s the cell phone companies or the internet connection. It’ll be interesting. It’s coming.
Brandon: Yeah, I think it is coming. And, obvious, there’s a lot of privacy concerns to be considered in that process. You know, I’m a marketer. As a human being, I don’t want my privacy being invaded.
But at the same time, I do want relevant communication sent to me. I really don’t wanna get ads sent to me that I could care less about. I would much rather a company send me ads about topics I actually am interested in.
So I think there’s a absolute balance to be struck over time. A lot of this can be aggregated and anonymized very easily, I think, like social platforms where I don’t know if I’m talking to you or I’m talking to the person staying next to you.
It’s just you have an interest, and I’m delivering you an ad based on your location or your interest or whatever.
But I think you’re right. I think as TV become more connected, as all the technologies begin to merge, you have things like single sign-ins across multiple platforms, what that’s gonna lead to is a world where marketers have a much better view of what marketing works, which is gonna reduce waste in marketing, which will actually lower the cost of many products and, ultimately, will allow people to receive the communications they care about versus being bombarded with millions of messages a week that are irrelevant to them.
Alex: Yes. If people can get past the privacy issue I think that, in some, ways, it’s definitely for the better. You don’t wanna see ads that are completely irrelevant. I agree with that.
Brandon: I think it’s just as much on the side of the platforms and the brands to work with technologies to make privacy something people don’t have to worry about. So I think, you know, the idea, I think, you hear on two sides is, one, you know, if you’ve got nothing to hide, so let all the information free. And the other side is “I’m gonna lock everything down.”
A lot of people are somewhere in the middle.
And that’s probably the right place to be is somewhere in the middle, to say I’m gonna expose enough to brands and the companies and the platforms that it benefits me, and maybe they see some benefit of it, but not so much that I feel like I’m being invasive and it’s uncomfortable or in a situation where brands or platforms, whatever, know too much.
I’m a huge advocate for data privacy. I believe in data privacy. I also believe in effective and efficient and relevant marketing.
And I think, you know, the brands that take that seriously, that say, “We are recognizing that people’s individual privacy is critical to this process,” do things a little different.
I mean, I don’t buy ad networks that I don’t feel comfortable they’re handling data properly. I don’t buy ad networks that are purely programmatic without any kind of conscious to them.
That’s part of the reason you don’t see our name show up in a lot articles that talk about brand safety problems, because, a lot of times, what happens is if you buy these huge networks that tend to be, you know, purely driven on people’s behavior and that’s it, with no acknowledgement of what’s right or wrong, is your brand ends up in places it shouldn’t.
And there’s a lot of products within these companies. Like YouTube, for example, I buy a lot of YouTube. I don’t have any brand privacy or brand safety concerns or personal privacy concerns because of the way we buy.
You gotta be clever about how you’re buying, know the market, and make sure you’re keeping in mind both the company’s desires and consumers’ desire for privacy. There’s no reason those two things can’t coexist.
Alex: Kinda changing gears a little bit, Wendy’s works with a few agencies on a consistent basis. I shouldn’t assume. So is VML the primary agency, or are you working with multiple different creative media agencies?
Brandon: VML is our primary creative agency, in Kansas City. VML, I brought them on as a team, I should say, but I brought them on as our digital agency of record a few years ago. And we gave them all the business, all the creative business, national creative business about two years ago now, a year and a half ago.
We have Bravo in Miami that does our Hispanic marketing. They do an amazing job. They’re also part of the WPP.
We have Mediavest doing our media buying, and they’re great. They buy a lot of our stuff that’s scalable and significant. They buy digital and traditional.
We have an agency that does our in-store merchandising. We have a couple other niche agencies, but, by and large, VML, Mediavest, and Bravo are our three significantly scaled agencies. And notice none of them have next to them a designation of digital or traditional, again, playing off of our internal kind of view that media is media is media. It doesn’t really matter where it shows up.
Alex: So what I’m curious about is, working with these different agencies, how do you empower them to be creative and do great work but still remain focused on Wendy’s objectives?
Brandon: That’s kind of a constant battle, right, is a lot of folks in marketing just wanna say, “Here’s a bunch of information I wanna push to the world and be done with it.”
And there are folks on the advertising side or even on the marketing side who just want art. And there’s a balance between communication and art. Though they can exist in the same world.
And I would say we do a pretty good job of that, not excellent. Sometimes, you see work that, you know, is imperfect. Like any brand, we do a lot of communications every day, and, you know, literally, a million dollars or more a day of production media goes out the door nationwide.
But I think the way we generally are consistent is we provide clear direction to our partners. They know our brand voice very clearly. And, ultimately, we hold ourselves at pretty high standards.
We have a team here that is very good at what they do, and our agencies are very good at what they do. And we try not to push work into the world that we aren’t superbly proud of, we aren’t totally proud of.
But I think clear direction goes a long way, and a clear brand voice goes a long way to help actually produce work that everybody’s proud of and his own brand.
Alex: Well, you’re clearly doing a lot of things well, and your leadership is definitely putting or has put Wendy’s in an amazing spot as far as their social, digital, TV, in-store presence. We’ve got a few closing questions to wrap up here. Is there anything that you have learned over the course of your current role at Wendy’s that you wish you could go back and tell yourself when you first started?
Brandon: Good question. I think the biggest thing that my team has learned is it’s better to speak up and be a little uncomfortable in a meeting than regret not speaking up when you put work into the world that you’re not proud of.
And, again, it doesn’t happen a lot here. It hasn’t happened a lot over the last several years. But once in a while, something will go out that we’re not totally in love with, and we knew we wouldn’t be in love with it, because we just didn’t say the right thing at the right time.
I often say to my team, you know…and I’m sure I stole this from someone. It’s too poetic to be mine. But, you know, “The pain of dissent is better than the pain of humiliation.”
So, you know, I’d rather someone be uncomfortable in a meeting and push a little bit, you know, be professional, be nice, don’t be mean, but push a little bit and get better work into the world than push work into the world, and then there’s a backlash.
You know, there’s actually several brands in the last week that have experienced huge backlashes over their creative. And I would argue that there were probably meetings leading up to that creative being in the world where there were people that held their tongues.
You know, a lot of people at big organizations try to keep their jobs and try to please their bosses. And it’s important to keep your job. It’s important to make sure your boss is happy. But, ultimately, good work is what wins.
And it doesn’t always win, but usually it wins and makes everyone look better. So being brave in that moment and standing up for good work is probably the most important job you have as your role.
And I always tell my team, “If you ever get fired for standing up for something that you truly believe in here, I’m gonna support you all the way. I’ll go with you, because we’re in this together to produce great work.” You don’t have to put garbage work into the world, even though we all compromise sometimes.
Alex: So from the perspective of a leader…and this is kind of a side tangent…for any of our listeners who may be in a position where they feel like they should interject their opinion on something that is not what they feel is up to par, what would you as a leader like to hear…or how would you like to hear that phrased, and in what part of the process?
Alex: Yes, so it happens every day. I do it every day, and it happens to me every day. The best way usually to counter something that you feel like is going off the tracks is with data and examples. If you can use data and examples, immediately, it doesn’t become personal.
Creative is an area where everyone has an opinion. Everyone thinks they’re good at creative. Every single human being in the world is a critic to a television ad, to a social post, to a video. Everybody says, “I like it,” or “I love it.” And their opinion is the only thing that matters in many cases.
What you have to do is bring to it data and examples that say, “This is why what we’re getting ready to do isn’t the right thing to do. This is why we should think about this in a different way,” and eventually get to the point where you have enough examples where you are right that you don’t have to bring as much data and example.
So, you know, you think about it. You go into a big company, and there’s the executive creative director. And, you know, an executive creative director is a good creative director usually, because they have brought enough valid direction to meetings like that that people say, “This guys knows what he’s doing,” or “This woman knows what she’s doing.”
But data and examples are supremely helpful there.
We actually have an entire process that we go through, our ad team does, where we say this is how you argue with creative. We have a whole presentation that we have, because it is an extremely important part of what we do.
We don’t always do it effectively, but it’s extremely important. So I would do your best. If you know in advance going into something that something’s going to go sideways, do some research before you show up and say, “Hey, this is why we ought to think about this differently.”
You know, just be respectful, you know? You can’t just be the jerk in the room who says, “I hate all this.” And the truth is if you do that a lot, it totally lowers your credibility. It’s gonna be like crying wolf. No one will listen to you.
So you have to bring examples. You have to bring any data that you have to support your opinion. And once you get really good, you don’t need to do as much research walking in the room.
Alex: Second to the last question here, your job title alone is…or your role could be broken down into three different VP roles, honestly. But what is it that you do that helps you maintain, I guess, a high-level performance on each of these different roles that you’re overseeing and what you’re doing and stay productive in general?
Brandon: So I trust my people. I hire really good people, and I trust them to do their jobs so I don’t have to do their jobs for them. I think a lot of managers micromanage, and that’s why they are in meetings 12 hours a day. I’m not saying I don’t have a lot of meetings. I do.
But I think you hire great people, let them do their job, and give them clear direction, and you can go higher and actually accomplish even more than you ever could if you were micromanaging. I really do think it’s that simple, provide clear direction and hire great people and let them do their jobs.
I have an excellent team here. I have an excellent, excellent agency partners. They’re amazing. And I remind them of that whenever I can, because I rely on them to do the work. So the short answer is don’t micromanage.
Alex: So last question, is there a book that you ever recommend to people as far as business or career advice?
Brandon: I actually don’t read a lot of business books. I really don’t. And I don’t because I find a lot of them…and there are some really good ones. I haven’t read all of the, you know, the biggies, the Dale Carnegie kind of books, the ones that everyone reads.
But I find if you just actually be a normal human being, you’re much better at your job than if you try to hold up some lofty, you know, attributes of your work.
I mean, think about how you wanna be treated, right? You wanna be left to do your job well. You want support in doing your job. You want clear direction on what’s expected of you and what your performance should look like and what your ultimate outcome should be.
I really think the best advice is just treat people how you’d wanna be treated.
And, ultimately, you’re all trying to achieve an objective. Keep that objective in mind. You’re trying to grow a business. Don’t get stuck in the idea that, you know, you’ve got an office or you’ve got, you know, a huge budget or you’ve got a huge team.
All that stuff is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. If you got 2 people or you got 200 people, it does not matter. It’s treat people like they wanna be treated and find really good people and let them do what they do.
So I actually don’t read a whole lot of business books. I read a lot of fiction, frankly. I’m working my way through “American Gods” right now. I know that Showtime is gonna have a series hitting soon. I read, you know, the whole series for “Game of Thrones,” you know, “Fire and Ice” books.
I read stupid spy novels and action novels. Reading for me should be pleasurable. It shouldn’t be homework, I guess. And I read a lot of work for…you know, I’m reading business magazines.
The only thing that I read consistently in the business world is “Harvard Business Review.” I love “Harvard Business Review.” I’m a subscriber to it, and I read it online. I get a copy of it. It sits at the corner.
But if you don’t follow them on Twitter, you’re doing yourself a disservice as a leader, I think, because they do an excellent job of helping you break down individual situations and deal with individual situations.
But I wouldn’t point you to, like, you know, “Here’s my bookshelf of business books.” It just doesn’t exist.
Alex: Well, Brandon, thank you so much again for coming on the show. It’s been an absolute pleasure. And this has for sure been one of my favorite interviews. Wendy’s is killing it, and you are killing it as well, so keep up the good work. And I really hope that that guy gets to 18 million retweets. I think it’d be good for both of you guys.
Brandon: I hope he does too. I’m sure he’s gonna get some free nuggets regardless. And you do me a favor and go get a Frosty today.
Alex: All right. Let’s both do.