Get ideas for public relations and agency mergers by listening to episode #49 of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast. I had a conversation with Jeff Bradford, President, Dalton Nashville.
Listen now to hear Bradford discuss word-of-mouth marketing, crisis management, video, and much.
This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
“Position the customer’s ‘gain’ as the direct object of the sentence,” Flint McGlaughlin taught in Headline Examples: 3 ways to load your predicate with value.
I thought of this lesson when I heard a lesson from this episode’s guest – “charge what it is worth, not what it costs.”
You can only charge what it is worth if the customer perceives that value. To help them perceive the value, your messaging must emphasize the customer’s gain.
So I asked our guest about this, specifically in regards to his story about using a celebrity endorser for a B2B event.
You can hear the answer to that question, along with many more lesson-filled stories, from Jeff Bradford, President, Dalton Nashville, on this episode of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast.
Dalton is a $12 million agency that was founded in 1989 and has 100 employees.
Bradford is the only seven-time winner of the Nashville Business Journal’s Most Admired CEO Award. He manages a team of 12 on five accounts at Dalton. He is author of the book The Joy of Propaganda: The How and Why of Public Relations and Marketing.
Listen to our conversation using this embedded player or click through to your preferred audio streaming service using the links below it.
Some lessons from Bradford that emerged in our discussion:
The problem Bradford’s team was charged with solving was the perception in the community that building a new symphony hall was an elitist endeavor – and therefore not worthy of broad community support.
They solved this problem by creating a large, 400-member organization of the most influential people in town across all sectors of the community, naming it the Nashville Advisory Council. They made it easy to recruit members by making the requirements of membership very non-taxing – which was simply to attend two events a year, during which you would be the first in town to hear about the latest developments in the symphony center project.
At these semi-annual events, Council members were the first to see the plans for the hall, the first to sit in the different types of seats architects were evaluating, the first to see the interior design, the first to hear about the hall’s acoustical refinements. They were given VIP hardhat tours of the construction site. They were the only people invited to sign a massive concrete panel that was installed on the roof. (You can still see their signatures in the symphony hall’s attic.)
Between these events, they kept council members apprised of symphony hall developments via an email newsletter that was distributed only to members.
It worked a like a charm. They had 400+ influential Nashvillians spreading the word throughout all sectors of the community about the many benefits a world-class concert hall would bring to Nashville – such as economic development, education, downtown revitalization, international renown for the city… as well as an amazing concert experience for all kinds of music, not just classical, a venue worthy of a city known for its music.
The message was that everyone would benefit from the new hall, even if they never attended a concert there, because of the many benefits it would bring to the city as a whole. And it had credibility, and legs, because it was being transmitted by the city’s most influential people.
T.S. Eliot said that April is the cruelest month, and that was certainly the case for several clients who called on Bradford’s team to help them deal with media crises one April. Fortunately, they were able to avert a full-scale, reputation-destroying result in every case. Here is how they did it.
First, they benefited from a trusting relationship with their clients. When bombs are flying there is no time to begin building trust – it has to already be there. They had earned it in advance by demonstrating that they know what they are doing and that they know things the client does not know. Every successful media placement, well-written blog entry, social media campaign or website landing page that they executed made this point.
Having the client’s trust in a media crisis allowed them to move quickly. This is essential in a crisis because they typically do not have the time to explain in detail why they are recommending a certain course of action. The client must simply trust that they are making the right calls and act on them, quickly.
Trust also applies to their relationships with journalists. Because they have proven to reporters that they always tell the truth and act in good faith, the reporters are more likely to work with them during a crisis, instead of against them. Journalists won’t roll over and play dead or avoid reporting on the story, but neither are they likely to play “gotcha journalism” and come to the story with pre-conceived notions about the client’s guilt.
Second, they followed Rule One of crisis management: get everything out there the first day. They anticipated what questions they’d likely get from the media, quickly crafted appropriate responses and immediately responded to all media inquiries. The goal is not to avoid the crisis or attempt to cover it up, which will only make it much worse. The goal is to make it a one-day story by getting out all information immediately so that reporters have no legitimate reason to follow up the next day.
Third, they decided what their talking points were and stuck with them. Talking points are not an answer to every question, but they are the basis for answering every question, because they provide the overall narrative of the story. Usually consisting of no more than four to five statements, crisis talking points succinctly say what happened, what you are doing about it and, perhaps, why it happened.
In answering specific questions from the media, or anyone, the goal is to link all of the answers back to one or more talking points, so that the client, rather than the media or the “other side,” has a better chance of controlling the overall narrative. They want to demonstrate that the client is on top of things and is compassionate.
Fourth, they always told the truth. Telling the truth is essential in any public relations effort – from pitching a story about a new product to dealing with a product recall – but it is especially important during a crisis. If you are ever caught in a lie or a cover-up, then everything else you say will be dismissed, or discounted at the least.
Fifth, they gave the crisis their total attention. Crisis management is not something you can do part time. It has to be all you do, at least for the first day – crafting responses, fielding media calls, collecting data, visit job sites… whatever it takes – until the situation is resolved.
To drive home these points, Bradford shared the story of working with a racetrack where a horse died at the finish line.
Bradford’s team once helped a client plan and throw an incredible 15th anniversary party at the home of country music star John Rich. Thanks to thoughtful planning, meticulous execution, a unique location, a marvelously gracious host and plain old star power, it was an over-the-top success – one of those once-in-a-lifetime occasions that people will tell their grandchildren about.
Of course, there are many well-planned, well-organized events. What set this anniversary party apart was John Rich. Here are the lessons Bradford learned from Rich about how to throw an event that people are clawing to get into and don't want to leave.
Don't do it if you don't feel it. Rich is not just an artist, he is also a professional with a finely tuned business sense, so he doesn't invite strangers into his home for a huge party just because it would be a blast. It was a business transaction. (By the same token, there are easier ways for a big-time recording artist to make a buck. For that reason, he does not regularly host business events at his home, though he has been known to host fundraisers for non-profits he endorses.)
So, did the team just get lucky when they approached him about having DSi’s anniversary party at his home? Maybe. Bradford is not sure. But what he does know is that Rich felt a strong connection to DSi and its entrepreneurial journey over the last 15 years. In some ways, it was similar to Rich’s own journey of combining hard work, perseverance and native smarts to create a life’s work.
As Rich made clear every step of the way in planning and carrying out this event – including his congratulatory remarks from the stage during the party – Rich really understood the culture of the client company, and the journey of its leaders. He didn't have to manufacture enthusiasm.
Help with promotion. Rich was happy to help the team promote the party to its clients’ key clients and prospects across the country. (They held the party during a national industry conference in Nashville so that important people from through the nation would be in town.) For example, Rich spent an afternoon with Bradford’s team to film a video invitation – even picking up his guitar at one point to sing part of the invitation.
Rich even allowed them to incorporate the music and images from one of his music videos. You can imagine how much more powerful a video invitation featuring a big star is than an ordinary mailed or emailed invitation. A serious buzz began in the client’s industry when these video invitations started going out.
Charge what is it worth, not what it costs. A super event like this is not a cheap date. Was it worth it to the client? Absolutely. They would say it was some of the best-spent marketing dollars in their company history. In terms of new business generated from both existing and new clients, it was worth every penny, and more. John Rich was smart enough to know that value is a function of results, not costs – and he knew he could deliver the results.
Don't nickel and dime. For a set fee, they got everything – all drinks and food, wait staff and bartenders, a professional photographer, security, an event coordinator, Rich’s performance – plus the star’s commitment to mix with the crowd throughout the night and pose for as many photos with guests as they wanted. He even opened up his personal cigar humidor to the party guests. Every possible facet of the event was included so there was no need to, or even possibility of, haggling over details.
As a result, things went very smoothly, no nerves were frayed and everyone was friends at the end.
Surprise and delight. The agreement was that Rich would perform a 45-60 minute acoustic set during the party. That is, just him and his guitar, which would have been wonderful and more than enough to make partygoers feel special. But, a few days before the event, Rich told Bradford’s team that he was going to bring his full band at no extra charge just because he wanted the client to have a spectacular event.
The performance, which lasted well past 60 minutes – it was a real concert in an intimate setting, just incredible – blew people away. Rich and his band put their heart and soul into it, nothing perfunctory. The room was engulfed by the energy of a man and his band who obviously love what they do.
When Bradford sold his agency to Jim Dalton, it was crucial for the two agency owners to get to know each other and ensure there is a culture fit between the two groups and the two owners themselves.
Bradford also shared lessons he learned from the people he collaborated with:
via Alan Valentine, CEO of the Nashville Symphony
Bradford learned to believe that nothing is impossible and lead people to goals they thought were unattainable, such as building a $150 million dollar symphony hall in the home city of Country Music. Bradford worked closely with Valentine on this project, as his PR firm provided public relations and word-of-mouth marketing services needed to generate broad, citywide support for this ambitious project.
As another example of thinking big, Bradford referenced Elon Musk, and Musk’s unique ability to lay out previously unthinkable goals and rally a team around them.
via Stan Nowak, Vice President of Marketing of Red Hat Holdings
Red Hat Holdings is a company that makes drones for military use. Nowak came to marketing from Hollywood, and he brought that heightened dramatic sensibility to his marketing work, as well as Hollywood’s relentless efficiency in making the most of every shoot. During a recent shot in Salt Lake, Nowak was able to create several different videos targeting different markets – and maintain a taut narrative and dramatic structure in each production.
He also referenced Daniel Kahneman’s research into the modes of thinking and discussed how video can help elicit a “System 1” response (fast, instinctive, and emotional).
via Hal Kennedy, the late CEO of Holder Kennedy Public Relations
Bradford got his start in the PR business nearly 40 years ago at Holder Kennedy. He I learned that the manner in which you present your message, and the environment in which it is presented, is just as important (if not more so) than the content of your message. For example, Kennedy was hired by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce years ago to handle the marketing of a referendum to allow liquor by the drink in Nashville.
The day before the vote, one of Nashville’s TV stations gave both sides – the “wets” and the “drys” – 30 minutes to present their case. Now, normally, you want to present your message last, as it is more likely to be remembered than the first message presented. However, Kennedy asked to go first.
He then played a 5-minute pro-wet video and instructed the TV staff to fill the remaining 25 minutes of his allotted time with the most boring documentary they could find – which caused most viewers to change the channel and never see the opposing video. The wets won.
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Daniel Burstein: Having the skills of a marketer. I think it's a bit of a superpower. I thought about that while reading this lesson in a recent podcast guest application, Charge what it is worth, not what it costs. We've got all this talk about inflation lately, right? And it brings about this very basic view of economics and supply and demand. This idea that there are cost inputs and boom, that dictates the price. In a very roundabout way, yes, it informs the price. But really, every company can only charge what a customer believes that product is worth. And in a free market economy, without monopolies, what a customer believes it is worth is often informed by marketing, we are the ones who help potential customers perceive the value of a product or service. And therefore every person working in an organization has that job because we're able to teach customers what the product is worth. We'll discuss a great story behind that lesson. Charge what it is worth, not what it costs. Along with many more lesson filled stories from our guest today, Jeff Bradford the president of Dalton, Nashville. Thanks for joining me, Jeff.
Jeff Bradford: Thank you, Daniel. Thanks for having me.
Daniel Burstein: Now, let's take a quick look at your background here. You started your career as a reporter. You moved into public and relations and marketing. You've been an agency owner where you were the only seven time winner of the Nashville Business Journal's most admired CEO award, thank you, that’s really fantastic. And you were author of The Joy of Propaganda The How and Why of Public Relations and Marketing, a new book that's out. You sent me a copy. You know, Jeff, you sent me a hardcover copy. I really appreciate that it wasn't a paperback. So I was like, okay, this guy is he's going to be a good interview.
So let's look, you are as I said, you're now the President of Dalton Nashville, where you manage a team of 12 on five accounts. And Dalton was founded in 1989, has 100 employees and is a $12 million agency. So, Jeff, give us an understanding. What is your day like as President at Dalton, Nashville?
Jeff Bradford: Well every day is a little different, but every day generally involves writing and thinking and making things happen. So, for instance, last week we were very focused on a little crisis. A client we had with some crowd shifting barely beneath homes and not far away. We had to make that last just a day, which is the goal of all crisis management, right, is to simply keep it to a one day story. And so that was that was that day. And other days might be editing copy or press releases or white papers or other days might be figuring out which reporter to pitch. It’s a very fluid profession.
Daniel Burstein: And we've got an interesting story about crisis communication in just a bit in the podcast. But first, let's start with some stories from the things you made. And I want to start with this one, this lesson here, harness word of mouth marketing by making influential people feel special. So how did you do that, Jeff? Tell us that story.
Jeff Bradford: So this was a case We were hired by the Nashville Symphony to raise awareness and support for building a new $150 million concert hall in Nashville. The problem that we faced was people saw this as a somewhat elitist enterprise, and our goal was to truly show how it benefited the entire town. So we did that by creating an advisory council. We called it the Nashville Advisory Council of about 300 community leaders, and these were leaders from across a broad swath of the city, leaders in real estate downtown, the arts, religion, medicine. Anyway, all the ways you could stratify community.
And then we simply told these people things that no one else knew about this very dramatic building.
And they told their friends. And these were because they were influential people and they were saying good things about our client. We succeeded in generating a pretty widespread support for this somewhat elitist structure as many support the entire city. We did things like when the concert hall it was made of these large concrete panels because it has to acoustics wise. And so we had the last concrete panel of about eight foot by ten foot two foot thick. People got to sign that panel and watch it be placed into place on top of the symphony hall. That was one of the experiences we gave to this group of influential people.
Daniel Burstein: So give me a sense when you're building an organization like this, what is the value proposition to them for joining? Like, why should they join? What is the value exchange? Because you're talking about 300 influential people in Nashville, like I'm sure they're busy people. This is not just a B2C less I had earlier on the podcast. And in the B2B space, you know, someone telling us about before they launched an open source software product, how they got their open source community on board. So it wasn't just it’s company launching this product, it was this whole community behind it this B2B open source software.
Jeff Bradford: What you gave them was really the opportunity to have prestige and recognition as someone behind a very important civic effort. So you gave them the ability to virtue signal, if you will, that, you know, hey, I'm involved in this important project, let me tell you how I got involved in this thing. And therefore my personal prestige and image is heightened because of that. And that's what influential people want. They need to be able to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack. That's part of what it means to be influential.
Daniel Burstein: So you made them look good. You're saying we're going to make you look good.
Jeff Bradford: Well we didn’t say that but yeah that’s what we did. We gave them a reason to feel special.
Daniel Burstein: I mean that is what you communicated yes, obviously you didn’t say that but you communicated that.
Jeff Bradford: That you are special, we picked you because you're special. And because you're special, you’re going to be told things no one else knows and we hope you'll tell your friends. It was that basic and it worked.
Daniel Burstein: That's fantastic. Yeah. I mean, the best way is to have a community sell the entire idea. Because this is.
Jeff Bradford: Yeah because we aren’t prompting work because you have no reason not to believe your friend or your or your relative or your business to someone that you know. You have no reason to think that they had any other motive than telling you the truth, right. That's why word of mouth marketing works. And what we've discovered, there's lots of psychology behind this is that you can actually channel that stream of messaging, if you will. And it's very believable.
Daniel Burstein: All right. Okay. So let's talk about another lesson. You hinted at this when we I was asking you about your day. This is obviously something you've probably had to do many, many times in your career. You said handling a media crisis begins long before the crisis. So why does it begin long before the crisis? And maybe you got a story about how you've handled the crisis before.
Jeff Bradford: Sure. Well, it begins by establishing credibility for yourself. That is, if you're the person the public relations counselor called in to handle a crisis, you're much more likely to succeed if you are known by the person who calls you in and you're known by the media that you're going to be working with. You bring to the party credibility that speeds things up, if you will, in the process. That's what I mean by it starts long before the crisis.If you’re looking for an example of a crisis , then sure.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah. Before you tell us story. Let me follow up on that, cause I think that's a key point, really for any public relations pitch. You know, I write for Marketing Sherpa I get pitched all the time. And there's so many PR folks today, there are great PR folks, too, of course, right? There's so many PR folks today that are focused on their message and their story and getting it in there and getting the right link back and getting that domain authority, right. And I hear a lot less that are focused on what I have to focus on every day is Marketing Sherpa’s readers, to Marketing Sherpa’s audience. Because they overlook the fact that if this doesn't serve the readers or the listeners of this podcast, it doesn't matter. I could write all day about your company. It doesn't matter. Tell me just a bit about that, you mention it's important for crisis communication, but I imagine that relationship building is essential to all public relations.
Jeff Bradford: It is. And I write about that in the book to about how to think like a journalist. And what that means is what you're saying, Daniel, is that you're not selling them a story. You're helping them solve their problem, which is giving their readers interesting information that no one else knows that they care about, right. So, hey, that's a good pitch. Don't care about my story. But hey, here's this cool thing about something that happened that your readers care about. And here I've already lined up a few people to talk with. Here's their phone number, here's their email address, right. So it's to me, successful PR is helping a journalist solve their problem and helping them get the work done. And that's really I think the simplistic idea of what Public Relations is about.
Daniel Burstein: I mean I'd say it's good marketing too helping, not selling, right. Well, let's talk about this crisis communication specifically. You mentioned it involved a dead racehorse.
Jeff Bradford: Yeah, well, one of the most dramatic crisis situations that we've been involved in. So our agency represented a horse race, the Steeplechase, the Iroquois Steeplechase, which is the second largest Steeplechase in America in terms of size, that's a pretty big deal, a pretty big race. Been going on for about 80 years now. Anyway, one day and the steeplechase is a series of six races throughout the day. It's a whole meet, the feature race is the Iroquois, the big stakes race. And one year, just as the winning horse crossed the line, it collapsed and died of an aneurysm. And so you could imagine the problem we were dealt with there. And we were able to successfully basically keep it to a one day story. And we were most importantly, were able to communicate the message really throughout the whole thing that it would have happened, that the horse did not die because it was racing, that it did not die because of overexertion, that aneurysms can happen when they're walking from one part of the other or in the field.
And so we accomplished two things. We communicated a reason why this happened that did not reflect poorly on the organization who was our client. And B, we kept it to a one day story. This did not drag out over a week of uncovering yet another reason why this happened or, you know, the nefariousism behind the organization itself. And we accomplished these things basically by telling the truth quickly and to everyone that we knew and answering every question we could that day.
So there was no more questions to ask the next day, right. So we did it by being honest and open, which as odd as it may sound to people who don't do PR. That's what crisis communication is, it's not lying and hiding things. It's giving people access to information that they want within a context that you provide of course. So our context was an aneurysm is not caused by exertion. An aneurysm happens randomly at any time. And that's what has happened today. So that's that story.
Daniel Burstein: Well, let me play the role of skeptical reporter for a minute.
Jeff Bradford: Okay.
Daniel Burstein: Because one could also hear that story of, you know, there's something bad that happened because of a company's product and not surprisingly, the companies line on that is it's not our fault.
Jeff Bradford: Right. But we were successful because the first, or second rule I guess in PR that Edward Bernays, the father of PR said years ago, was have someone else tell you the story for you if you want to be believed. So we didn't tell that story. The track veterinarian told that story and very convincingly as an expert on equine medicine, that this is what happens. And so, yeah, that's how we were able to assuage feelings that we were trying to hide or lie about something. We didn't tell it. Someone else told it who had credibility.
Daniel Burstein: Yes. That's fantastic. That's what I was going to ask about credibility. Whether in your PR for crisis communications or in your marketing messaging, you can say whatever you want, right? It comes down to the credibility. All right. Let's talk about another lesson. I like it so much. I opened the podcast with it. Charge what it is worth, not what it costs. And you actually learned this, I think not from someone in marketing, but from someone in entertainment. So how did you learn this lesson?
Jeff Bradford: I did. I learned this from John Rich, country music star John Rich, who I don't know is not a personal friend of my, but whom we had a party at his house one time for a client, a client had theirr 50th anniversary party that really knock out all the stops, have a big deal. And John Rich lives in a home that’s kind of designed for this sort of thing, he's never doesn't do it very much. Anyway, the long and short of it is we had an over the top event for this client that impressed everyone there, all the clients, all the prospects were there and it cost a lot of money, but it was more than worth what it cost.
That's what I mean by charge what it's worth, not what it's cost. That was really the image that we learned from John Rich was that he didn't nickel and dime us. He didn't talk about every extra piece of shrimp he's going to have to buy for the evening. It was simply, here's the price and I'm going to give you the best thing you've ever had in your life for this amount of money. And he did. So rather than just him singing, he brought his entire band in and actually gave an hour concert in a room of about 200 people. He personally had his picture taken with everyone there. He spoke with everybody. It was a lifetime experience people will remember the rest of their lives, and that's what it's worth.
Daniel Burstein: Well, who approached who did you reach out to, John Rich and said, Hey, we're trying to have this thing?
Jeff Bradford: We reached out to John. I'm in Nashville so these kind of things happened here. We had a contact in the music business, who let it be known that he used his house as an as an event venue and for the right amount of money and the right and the right terms, he would do it again. And he did. And again, he went the extra mile throughout the whole thing. Even we went over there. I mean, we spent the afternoon filming an invitation video that we sent out to everyone inviting them to the party. So it wasn't just a written invitation. It was, you know, this country music star, Hey, I'm here this client is having a 50th anniversary party. He picked up his guitar and a song on the spot for this video. So I guess what I'm trying to communicate is that if you’re going to do something do it wholeheartedly. And with both feet.
Daniel Burstein: I hear that. And let me ask you, too. So when we talk about this, you know, I think there's a lot of perceived value here, right? So someone hears, you know, you're using John Rich to help promote your event. John Rich there's a lot of perceived value, but and I want to say a story real quick, but I want to get you thinking, how did you communicate that perceived value to someone, Let's say like me, who isn't a big John Rich fan or would barely know who he is, right? Celebrity is a very funny thing. Celebrity to one person is very powerful to someone else who don't know who it is, it's nothing at all.
As an example, real quick I want to give you, we have a free marketing course. And in FastClass 12 our CEO Flint McGlaughlin teaches position the customers gain as the direct object of the sentence, right. Position the customers gain as a direct object of the sentence. And this is obviously it's key for marketing it’s key for anything you're selling. But when we're talking about a celebrity now we've got this thing influencer marketing, where we've got these micro celebrities, right? That customers gain is going to be so variably different if they are big, for example, John Rich fan, or if, you know, they don't really know who he is. So how did you use that? So you paid what is worth. That's great. How did you use that to promote to people that also might not even know who this was?
Jeff Bradford: That's a really good question because really no one who we invited did not know who John Rich was. So I guess that's the answer to that question is that we held this event during a time of a big convention in Nashville for people in this client's industry. So these are people already in Nashville because they wanted to experience the Nashville thing, right. Which is country music in that whole pizzazz. So you offered those people the opportunity to go have a party at the private residence of one of the most well-known country music stars in the country when they're already wound up in the country music vibe. It was a no lose, we didn't have a need to convince people that it was a big deal. I guess that's what it's trying to say.
Daniel Burstein: Well, I think the lesson from there and this is a challenge, right? Because again, if you are a brand big enough, I, you know, interviewed someone earlier who worked with major fashion labels and got Scarlett Johansen as the Global Brand Ambassador for Louis Vuitton, right, makes a lot of sense. But every small brand now even can use those. What we call influencers or micro-influencers. And so if I hear what you're saying it's finding that right value for whoever you're going to hire on their value proposition as an individual celebrity, as an influencer that's going to naturally align with your audience where they're going to want to kind of slide into that without you having to do two things, sell the value of, Oh, this is a great person you're going to hear about in this experience and this is the value of our brand.
Jeff Bradford: And it was also easy with Rich because he is an entrepreneur and his message was very much in line with what the people who were at that party believed in. Which is, you know, value propositions. Seeing what the market needs and providing it, you know, working hard and not giving up and all those sort of things and entrepreneurs cut their teeth on. That was what he spoke about during this event. So yeah, he didn't need to be convinced or prepped to relate to the audience. It was a pretty direct match.
Daniel Burstein: And that's awesome because, you know, again, finding that right message is key to tie into your message. I went to an event once and I, I don't want to name the event or the celebrity because I don’t want to call them out, but it was a marketing event. They had a name that wasn't their birth name. And when they were asked on stage about branding, they're like, I don't believe in branding. I just sing music and play really good music. And then they gave a speech about social justice and prison reform, all great things. But you had an audience of marketers who were really interested in how did this person create this brand and how do they do these things? And they had decided that they were a different thing this day and didn't want to talk about it, which they still played great music. It was entertaining for that sense. But my gosh, you know, I really don't think that organization got the bang for the buck they could have from because of that.
So, you talked about some things with different brands you've worked on, different clients you've worked on. But you yourself, this story is more about you personally. As we said, you owned an agency now you're part of another agency and I'll let you tell that story. But the main lesson, is the most important thing when merging companies is the two owners should understand and trust each other. So can you tell us a bit about your journey? I mean, briefly, you built an agency. You got to the point of selling it. Take us from there.
Jeff Bradford: Yes. So I built the agency was there for 20 years and that was time to do the next adventure. So I decided to sell it. And in doing so, you know you do what you do. You hire a business partner to find people for you. And I talked to several different people and the lesson that I learned here is, as you said Daniel, the key to a successful sale of a business merger of two businesses is that the two owners need, like, admire, and trust each other. Because everything really flows from that.
Just like in any business, the culture of a company really flows from the personality of the CEO based on my experiences. The kind of the things the CEO cares about, what the company cares about. Well, when the two owners of two companies come together and they both care about the same things and are honest about how the deal is going to go, then it goes really well. I mean, it's been three years since we merged the Bradford Group with Dalton Agency and all of our employees are still here. And happily, all of our clients are still here and happy and we're growing. Because there wasn't any, you know, spare’em and drama. We both agreed upon what kind of culture made sense for the company? We both agreed on how to proceed. We both agreed on basic our business philosophy. So yeah, that would be my secret to a successful merger.
Daniel Burstein: Well, can you take us a bit into the room of how you did that? I imagine this is a maybe a little bit. It's like one part dating or one part, you know, hiring someone, one part, all these different things. And you did it. I think most of this happened because I know you merged right at the beginning of COVID. So I think most of this happened when you could spend time together. You're in two different cities. So take through, like how long did this take? Did you visit, you know, that agency? Did they come and visit you? Did you spend time together? Did you spend time with the employees? Did you talk about people they knew? Did you talk to their ex-wives, ex-fiancee? You know, I mean, what did you do to kind of like kind of get into the sense of you really understood people. Because I’ll mentioned too, you were a para-exec all of your life. you were a pure exact all your life. You sit down and talk to Jeff Bradford it's going to be engaging, you know what I mean? But like, how do you uncover that when it's two kind of marketers/PR guys, uncover really what's underneath there and really get to know each other?
Jeff Bradford: Well, like you say, you spend time with each other. So Jim Dalton, the fellow who bought my company, you know, we met here in Nashville probably three or four times over a period of six months. He would be in Nashville. He already had an agency here. He'd bought a small agency here already. So he already had reason to be here. And then, yeah, when we got serious. Then I went down to Jacksonville, where Dalton is based, and met all of his key people and made sure that there was a good chemistry there. And then I went to the Atlanta office and did the same thing and make sure, yeah, and that was seeing the people there. So yes, it was a sort of a dating process, if you will getting to know the people, make sure that you can look at them eye to eye. That they knew what they were talking about and that they were committed, as you were. And then when we consummated this sale, then yeah, Jim came to Nashville. We had a meeting with all the employees here. I said, here's what's going on and here's our new partner. And he was very open and honest with them and they were the same with him. So yeah, throughout the whole process it was a kind of feeling each other out, vetting each other. And then with the company, with employees it was being honest and open with what's going to happen going forward and here's how you will be involved, here's how you can make it better.
Daniel Burstein: So is that something to they are you communicating with the employees before this ever happens? They're like, hey, kind of here's where I am in my career. I'm thinking of finding, you know, an agency to merge with, you know, so I can kind of move on.
Jeff Bradford: You would never do that. I mean, you don't want to tip your hand as you're selling your agency before your agency is sold. That that tends to cause storm and drama in the market. If words on the street oh the Bradford's for sale, the clients start heading for the door. The employees start getting nervous. No, not till the deal is done.
Daniel Burstein: Okay, great. So let me ask. that's kind of a capstone of your career. I want to ask you about something earlier in your career, kind of how you started out. And I'm going to read two little quick excerpts from your book. And I won't embarrass you by reading the whole book. I do want to read these two little excerpts.
Jeff Bradford: Go ahead. I’m fine with that.
Daniel Burstein: Because one thing I've noticed is we have all this. Everyone wants to be a thought leader now, right? I mean, everyone I hear from is a thought leader, they think they're a thought leader. They could be starting out, it could be their first day in their job or at college. Everyone's a thought leader and they have this idea. And I think it's not just in business. I think, you know, we have this idea and we see it in bigger society. We see the Kardashians and all these people and they have these careers that are built on just I don't know. I don't even know if that is even being a thought leader. But so let me read you these two excerpts. Then I want to ask how you are a thought leader and also want to tie it into, I love what you're saying because it's kind of how I set up this podcast. So one thing you say, being a thought leader, you have to be an innovative thinker. You say, How do you become an innovative thinker? The process begins by reading a lot. My suggestion is at least two books a month The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Every day, 3 to 5 blogs of thought leaders you admire in relevant trade publications and read widely outside your field. Read about many things that interest you, which will result in cross-fertilization from whence innovative ideas spring. So I really like that talking about kind of doing the homework, doing the work it takes. I think that's something we see less of these days.
Now I just want to read on the other side of that. Here's a negative of what happens if you don't do that. You talk about jargon, which is way overused today. And you say watching someone use jargon in a business meeting or sales pitch is like watching a child curse for the first time. He doesn't really know what he is saying, but he's seen grownups say it and it sounds powerful. And that's the downside when you try to be a thought leader before you are. So let me get a sense from you just from your experience, what did you do? How did you build up to the point of being a thought leader, being an agency and doing these things? Sounds like you put in the work.
Jeff Bradford: I'm not sure I'm a thought leader. I'm a hell of a PR man. I think that is an overused term thought it is somewhat kind of comical. So how did I do it? Yeah, I just I did the work right, And I think that most entrepreneurs,, most business owners, I'm sure you would say the same thing, Daniel. It's a matter of I think Thomas Edison or Einstein, Edison said it I think right, that success is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration that it's a matter of deciding what you want to do. Of focusing. First it's a matter of discerning what you want to do. And that requires, I think, a larger education. To me, it was liberal arts who helped me do that, being able to understand culture and literature and art. It's different things for other people. And I think first you discern what is important to you and then you focus intently on doing that thing. I think when you when you do that, then the discipline simply arises as a result of that commitment. I think it's difficult to be disciplined without focus, right. Discipline. That means you're disciplined about what? You need a reason to be. So I think once you’ve done the work and then when you focus, you realize, okay, in order to be successful in PR I need to be a good writer. I need to know how to talk to reporters. I need to know how to convince them that what I have to say is worth listening to. I need to be able to understand how to explain to clients how marketing works and how stimulus response and medium works and how each of those come together to make a successful public relations campaign.
So, yeah, you're doing the work. You're constantly learning. And that's what I like about my profession, about marketing in general, is that it requires you to be constantly learning. Because unlike more staid occupations I guess, or those that are based upon using the same rules over and over again. Marketing and public relations is about finding out what is new constantly and incorporate that into the mix that you're creating to get people's attention and cause them to do what you want them to do. That's what marketing is, it’s making things happen, right? It's making people buy something, vote for something, go somewhere. It's action. So it's not just words and pictures, but it's creating an action on the other end of that process.
Daniel Burstein: No that’s great, and you mentioned to do that you need to be deeply knowledgeable about all of your clients industries, too, so you know when something is newsworthy, so you know when something is worthwhile and that takes it, it takes homework.
Jeff Bradford: I mean, you need to be knowledgeable about two things. Knowledgeable about the industry that you're in or your clients in. You need to be knowledgeable about the larger culture within which you move and live. Because it's the interaction between those two things, where things happen, where news happens, where diversity happens, where growth happens. What you're doing interacts with what the culture is doing, and that's the foundation of public relations really.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah. And let me say, I pulled out of that part of the book for two reasons, and I want to mention it specifically too. Because it's how I specifically set up the How I Made It In Marketing podcast, how it functions. So the first part where you talk about essentially doing that homework, actually learning before you put yourself out as a thought leader. As you know, when I set up, you know, people would come on this podcast, we have an application and that application is all about their stories, right? And so people pitch me to have guests on here all the time. They're like, oh, it's the CEO of this or the CMO this, and I'll be great. And I understand that's how PR guests are traditionally pitched they’re like, it's this person, they're this thing, right?
But, you know, we have the application it’s like, what have you actually done? What have you actually learned, done? Teach us? It doesn't really matter to our audience who the guest is, right? It does a little right If they see someone, Hey, that person's in my industry. I want to learn from them. Mostly what matters. My guess is from people listening to this is that they can learn something, right? That's what they got out of it. I'm going to learn something from the listener. So if you're pitching this instead of pitching, hey, it's this person. Pitch what have they learned and what can they teach? Right? And that's why I love where you say, Hey, if you want to be a thought leader, the first step is read The New York Times read The Wall Street Journal, read all these influencers, read, read, read, learn, learn, learn before you can teach right.
So, the second thing I like is when you talk about jargon, obviously incredibly overused. You use my favorite example in the book, scalability. My gosh, what does that even mean? And the way that it relates to how we've set this up and kind of we were talking in the beginning of this podcast before we recorded it is, that's why we focus on stories here. I've heard so many podcasts, I've seen just so many different types of communication, marketing ads where they're talking about the same industry jargon, you know, be authentic, be real, whatever. And it's just, you know, the same and it just kind of washes over you. And it's something that I've written about. I've called it blandvertizing, right? You've got to fill a certain space with copy, it all sounds right, all the right words are used, but when you stop and think, they didn't really say anything. And that's why we focus so much on stories.
Jeff Bradford: There's no soul in it, I was just reading about that recently, the difference between sociology and mythology which is what I talk about. I believe that marketing is a mythology that is tapping into things that we know unconsciously and have known forever. And that's why mythology beats sociology, because it has a reason why it has a direction it’s moving in. It's not just a collection of facts that you talk about, but it has a real, it has value, right? Something is better than something else. Yeah.
Daniel Burstein: I like that. Well, and here's my theory is that is hard, right? It is hard to put in that work and get that knowledge and build to a subject matter expertise. And it's hard to find what I think you're talking about as a value proposition. So what we do is we kind of do the lazy thing, just refer to, okay, like I've got this jargon and I started my career as a copywriter, I've had clients come to me and there is this ad that needs to be written this thing that needs to be done. There's nothing really to say it about, right? So what I've said before about writing is it's 80% having the right thing to say and 20% saying it well. So we just go back and we use jargon you use. That's why I love what you said, where it sounds like, you know, that kid they heard for the first time, they were saying those words, they see adults react, but they don't know what it means.
Jeff Bradford: So it's like the saying jargon is about predigested ideas. Somebody already thought an idea and it’s been worn out over time. That's how you use it is no longer has any juice in it. Like scalability, you know. Jargon is for people who don't think basically to simply just use words as a way to fill space like you say Daniel.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah. I think also, too, in fairness, you know, I was I was asked before by a non-native English speaker how they could become a copywriter. And I said is we're all non-native to begin with. So in my career, I went from high end real estate and some of those things I went to B2B and technology and I didn't know it at all. And so one thing is and I do think this is my not defensive jargon, but where it comes in is, you need to be able to speak the language, right? Every industry has a language. But that's why I love what you say. Like if it's off a bit, people sniff you out pretty quickly. And that's where your analogy is so great about the child cursing, it’s just off a bit,it doesn't seem right. I'll give you one just quick example. You're welcome to share an example then we can move on. I don’t want to spend all day on this. But here we use a CRM and an email platform, marketing automation platform I won’t mention the company. But we use basically one of the biggest companies in the space. The other biggest company in the space I had a sales call with them, we were interested in talking about it. And the sales rep kept using the term scalability and he just kept using it and I was trying to figure out what he was talking about because again, we're using one of the biggest companies in the space, it is cloud based. It is infinitely scalable. We just have to pay more money if the database grows like he kept just throwing around, oh scalability issues and this? And so, you know at one point I just stopped the conversation and I asked him, I said, I have an understanding of what scalability means. What do you think scalability means that I don't think we're on the same page. And at the end of the day, I'm not trying drill him, I feel bad.
Jeff Bradford: I don't think your word is doing what you think it means.
Daniel Burstein: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. Inconceivable, yes, that's exactly right. And so what I think with jargon is I think it's a two edged sword. It's one, when I came into the technology in the software industry, man, I did the work I read E-Week, I read all these things. And I talked to some of the smartest people in the company, one of the companies I worked with was IBM. And I wanted to know and understand because wanted to be fluent in that language. But on the flip side, boy, if you don't know it yet and you try to use it, you will sound like the toddler that's cursing right?
Jeff Bradford: There is good jargon, and bad jargon, right? So jargon in its purest sense is actually good writing and good thinking because it economizes a whole way of turning hundreds of words into a couple of words, right. So in the book, I talk about, you know, the consubstantiality for instance. It’s jargon, but if you're a Catholic you understand, right. In one word it encapsulates something that would take about 400 words to describe. But you use that term you know down at the pub and you will be looked at like an idiot. So you have to use your jargon in it’s content. If you're at a tech conference, you need to be able to talk about acronyms that make sense to them. But my main beef is with jargon in the managerial profession, which is not about communicating a tangible thing like it isn’t technology, but it's about obfuscating, really? What you are not doing. It's about talking about vague concepts that have nothing to do with reality, but they somehow get you through a meeting. Or that somehow get you on the next desk in the bureaucracy. It’s not about making something happen in the real world. That's my problem with jargon.
Daniel Burstein: And it's not about actually communicating, right?
Jeff Bradford: It’s the opposite of communication. It's obfuscation, yeah.
Daniel Burstein: All right. Well, in the first half of the podcast, we talk about lessons from the things you made. That's what we do as marketers, as PR people uniquely, we get to make things. I've never been an auditor, a podiatrist or something. I don't feel like they leave every day having made things. We've made brands, we've made companies, we’ve made things happen. In the second half of the podcast we talk about lessons from the people we collaborated with. It's another great thing we get to do is work with people, collaborate with people. Your first lesson, you say, think big and you learn this from Alan Valentine, the CEO of the National Symphony. So I think this kind of goes back to that original story we were talking about, about building a symphony hall. How did you learn from Alan to think big.
Jeff Bradford: Well because he did, so he came to the National Symphony at a time when it was not a very well known national orchestra, when it was playing in a second rate concert hall. And it wasn't that big of a deal. But he simply he had a vision for it to be one of the best orchestras in the country. And he had a vision to go to Carnegie Hall, and he had a vision that they would build one of the best concert halls in the world. And he did all those things. And I think it was really just through his force of personality. No, let me take that back. I think it was just something through his fervent belief that something could happen, that it affected other people.
There’s another story in the book about Russian propaganda, one of Russia's best techniques is to invent a reality and insisted that it exists. They did this in the Ukraine, for instance. They invented a part of Ukraine they call Russia and say that it now exists. Well, that's a large and I think that's what people who think big do, that they invent a reality. We talked about Steve Jobs, reality distortion field, for instance. Steve Jobs invented a reality that we needed to be able to look at a phone and have it do these sorts of things. And it happened and it succeeded wildly. Alan Valentine, the CEO of the National Symphony, saw the reality of a world class concert hall that he to the orchestra to the Carnegie Hall to show people what a world class hall sounds like. So what he did was he took basically all the wealthy people in town, they went to New York for a year and heard our symphony play at Carnegie Hall. And he came away and said see that’s the difference. Because they couldn’t understand what was wrong with our concert hall, it sounds fine to me. But when they heard what it could sound like, then he was able to transfer his reality to their heads, if you will, right. He was able to say that’s what could happen here and now let’s go make it happen. And that was inspiring and it worked. And within six years they had a $250 million world class concert hall.
Daniel Burstein: Well, in fairness, you also mentioned Elon Musk in the book, which I think is probably the more positive example of.
Jeff Bradford: Elon is the same sort of guy, right? I think he is successful. Thinking that Elon, who has done some remarkably stupid things, who is autistic, who is off the charts just kind of weird. But he's successful, and his people talk about a lovable mad scientist because he thinks big and he accomplishes big things. He just doesn't brag. He actually, like you say Daniel, does the work to make big things happen. And I think people are attracted to that. I think they're attracted to people who see things differently and who have the focus and the dedication to making them happen.
Daniel Burstein: And I think there's a lesson there for all leaders, you know, listening. It's not just enough. You know, again, I say the worst ad’s that are written are just it's okay we've got this space. We've got this space in the newspaper now fill it with an ad. And so backing up from that, the worst marketing plans are marketing plans for something that's not really a good strategy. And so it begins with, like you said, think big. What is your I've heard it called the big, hairy, audacious goal. What is that? Where are we driving organization to? Then marketing comes in with great things like value propositions and plans and messaging and communicating. But you need that vision. And I think personally, if you're looking for it from your agency or your copywriter or whatever you're looking in the wrong place. That is the soul of an organization.
Jeff Bradford: You're right. It needs to come from the organization itself, and that needs to come from deep within the organization, right?
Daniel Burstein: Absolutely. All right. You also mention, here's another lesson. Well-crafted video can shape perceptions by connecting emotionally with your audience. And you learn this from Stan Nowak the Vice President of Marketing of Red Hat Holdings. So how did you learn this.
Jeff Bradford: Wells actually it is Red Cat.
Daniel Burstein: I'm sorry, Red Cat. Red Cat. How did you learn this from Stan?
Jeff Bradford: Well, by seeing him do it. So Stan is a relatively recent joined Red Cat, which is a military drone company. And he came to the organization for marketing background, but also from a film background. He had a lot of experience in Hollywood. And so he brings that sensitivity that a cinematographer brings to marketing, which you’ve probably seen, Daniel. That sensitivity is being able to understand how you can communicate beyond words, how they how they tilt the head, the way light reflects of something, the way something is set up, the pause between words, how those things communicate just as well as the words on the page communicate. And I think that it takes that cinematography sensitivity to understand that.
And then that's what I mean by a well-crafted, emotionally connected videos. It is not just the script itself that’s well done. Because there was no script, what he was putting together throughout, what I saw happened with Stan in Salt Lake City in that whole day of filming was really just talking to people and filming. But being aware of what they were saying, being able to pick up on the subtle cues throughout that day.
Daniel Burstein: Well, I think to me that helps a communicate a message. But I want to ask you in a second about how to identify that right message to communicate to the video. Right. Like kind of almost that instructional element of the video. And I'll give you an example real quick while you're thinking. There’s something we talk about, is the prospects perception gap, right. So we as human beings, we have a difficult ability to perceive value, right? So one example is I'm here in Jacksonville and one client I had way back in the day. There's beautiful, huge community, it's called Queens Harbor. There's yachting and golf and all these things. But when you drive up to Queens Harbor and you see the entrance, the entrance is like Versailles, I mean, it's this amazing entrance.
Jeff Bradford: I’ve been there, Dalton had it’s anniversary party there a couple of months ago.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah and so you drive up and it's like Versailles and so now when you get actually into that community it could be mobile homes or trailers, like you don't know what it is and you can't even if it's nice homes like, you know, we're not smart enough if we're buying a home to know like, okay, that the structural integrity of the home or the real ten year value of a home I buy here are all the things that are actually the true value of finding where to buy a home or how will my neighbors be, what it would be like to live here, what's the air quality, all these other things right. But what we can drive up and see is like, this is an amazing and beautiful entrance. I can tell that.
So when I drive up, you know, I will get a sense there must be something good inside or, you know, once I buy the house when my friends drive up, but they'll be impressed right again. So we can't perceive value. So we take that as a shortcut. We look at that amazing sign and then we consider that for whatever value we really should be considering, like how well the homes built or, you know, whatnot. So when it comes to video, I think video is kind of doing the same things for the customer, right? It's kind of giving it's kind of trying to close that prospects perception gap. Right. So you talked about a military client. Go ahead…
Jeff Bradford: I think what you're talking about, you know, Daniel Kahneman wrote a book called Thinking Fast and Slow. I don’t know if you have read that or not. And he talks about it's actually a pretty old idea that we have two ways of thinking. One is the automatic instinctual way that we will make most decisions. But we know we use visual, auditory, olfactory clues to do that.
And the other is, I guess you call it thoughtful thinking, right. Where we actually step back and consider like you're saying is the home well built, is the details of this situation actually bear out the impression that it gives? And yeah, I think good marketing knows how to tap into the levers in our brains to think in level one really, to use our instincts to help cause people to act when we want people to act.
And I think video is particularly good at tapping those level one words, if you will, because it does communicate on more than just the auditory level, because it does engage our sense of sight and our sense of myth and our sense of story. Which is what level one taps into level one thinking, taps into myth and story, and wanting to be part of something larger than yourself and really just instinctually moving towards something. So yeah, that's what I think video does. It taps into that, you know, that sort of emotional thinking.
Daniel Burstein: And correct me if I'm wrong, I think what Kahneman taught or discovered was even when we think we're making decisions because of level two thinking, right, actually because of that level one thinking. And so I think as marketers…
Jeff Bradford: I think we back rationalize our decisions. In other words, like you know, all buying decisions are emotional decisions. But we then overlay that with the rationalization of why we did something. Well, you know, I bought this red Corvette because this car has these kind of specs and this sort of thing. But we bought because we think it's a beautiful car and we want to have it, you know.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah. And also partly too. We wanted a person to think a specific thing when they saw us driving up in it, right.
Jeff Bradford: We want to be seen in a particular way and our possessions typically are our clues on how we want to be seen in.
Daniel Burstein: So I think great lesson for that for me as a marketer from that always is when we're communicating, especially through something like video, when you talk about some of the emotions that come through to really any of our communications, what real value are we delivering and what signifiers can we use to communicate that value to get that message through to someone. So for example, if the real value we're delivering, like when someone's buying a Corvette isn't necessarily that this is a reliable quality automobile or whatever, but it is you will be seen as a cool and successful person when you drive up. How can we communicate that? Is it having I don't know. Brad Pitt You know, driving up in the car and stepping out, right?
Jeff Bradford: You show the most successful people who drive the car. That's pretty oldl right. That's a pretty tried and tested tactic, exactly.
Daniel Burstein: And so for anyone's product, whether it's B2B or B2C, B2B, sometimes the thing that we want people to understand is you won't get fired for making this decision. Right? It's not really that.
Jeff Bradford: We said that ‘s an emotional decision, right.
Daniel Burstein: Right. That it's just about the technology. So that's just something to consider when you're just sending your own messages. Think about that prospects perception gap. Think about what Jeff's talking about as well, is what is the customer really buying? What value do you really need to communicate? It might not be the speeds and feeds.
Jeff Bradford: It's just benefits and features, right? These are old ideas. I mean, right? We see self benefits without features, right? So benefit. How does this product make you feel? A feature is what are the things the product does that has these switches, this color, you want to see how it makes you feel.
Daniel Burstein: Well put and well summed up. Not a new idea, but I will also say I will quote Stephen Covey and say common sense is not always common practice. And I often, very often see features, especially in B2B promoted a lot more than in benefits.
Jeff Bradford: Oh, yes, exactly. Just got real quick on that, though. Look at the difference between, it's not as bad today as it used to be years ago. But packaging for an apple peripheral versus a Microsoft peripheral, there used to even be a joke about it that, you know, the Apple package is very sleek and communicates that emotional connection of, I don't know, esthetic beauty, peace, you know, harmony. And whereas that Microsoft package communicates features, you know, this amount of ram, this amount of rom you know this X number of ports. So which has nothing to do with satisfying your desire for anything, right? To me that’s a real dichotomy there between those two companies.
Daniel Burstein: And who has the higher margin and more cash than anyone else in the world.
Jeff Bradford: I know right, exactly! They sell the machines for a premium because they're tapping into archetypical needs. I actually write a chapter in the book about this, about why technology needs these English majors. This because English majors like me, like you maybe. We sell the myths that that these products need to be bought by people.
Daniel Burstein: I'm glad you said that. So I want to actually pull out one other thing from the book, and I want to ask you your thoughts real quick about a specific technology. I don't know if you've seen some about ChatGPT or some of this genitive AI. Yeah, and I've heard some things about how, you know, well, and maybe I'm taking this a little personally cause I'm a writer like, Oh, how we will not need writers anymore because, you know, the AI’s going to be able to write some stuff for us. And what I thought was really interesting about your book, too, is you have many chapters you have about PR marketing, all sorts of things, but your first set of chapters, your whole first half stories is about writing, right? It could be for an agency owner, it could be about finding clients that would be a sensible, you know, first set. It could be about, you know, a lot of things running an agency.
Your whole first set is about writing and you get deep into normative Anglo-Saxon words and all these things. But I want to just mention this also this quote, first, as this book notes more than once, good writing is simply good thinking made visible. The process we follow when we write well is very similar to the process of thinking clearly and clear organized and honest thinking is behind every successful marketing effort and anything done well for that matter. So I just want to get your thoughts. There's this buzz now about AI it can write for you. Do you even need writers and designers anymore the AI will create everything? Do you have any thoughts about that?
Jeff Bradford: I do. I think it's kind of scary. I've test driven ChapGPT as I'm sure you have too. I was astounded at how lifelike it was. This is the best way to say it. But upon reflection, I think that you're right. I think it's like you said earlier on, Daniel, sometimes copywriting is just filling in the blanks of space that you've purchased. I think that the AI produced copy, at least for now, is that sort of filling in blanks of the space that you purchased? I don't think it has a soul or spirit or an animating idea behind it. And I think it can mimic that because it does organize thoughts into logical sequence that, you know, one, two, three, there’s the three supporting arguments. But it doesn't have that. What would you say the animating spirit, the passion, the overarching soul to something that human produce writing does. Now who knows? I think it could possibly get there, but it's still, what AI cannot do is decide what's important and what's not important. And that's I think what humans will always do, hopefully, if we get beyond that, then we will ourselves become autotomized. If we get beyond making ethical decisions based upon fundamental values. Then we are machines. I think.
Daniel Burstein: That's ell put, we're just following an algorithm ourselves. I think what it comes down to is you mentioned think big. Because if you're the CEO of a company, you cannot outsource your reason for being. You're, as the French say, a raison d'etre. You cannot outsource that to your agency and if you are the CMO and the marketer or whatever in the marketing organization. Yeah, I think, you know, like I said, 20% of writing is saying it well and maybe use the AI to help say that stuff well, but you cannot outsource determining what your value proposition is and some of these fundamental questions that you essentially answer. I know for me personally, when I'm trying to figure something out, I start writing, I'm writing a landing page, I'm writing an email, I'm writing an article, I start writing. That's how I figure it out.
Jeff Bradford: I think AI generated copy will become a tool rather than a threat. So I've talked to some friends of mine who are in the academics and I say, How are you going to grade papers going forward? How do you know if it's written by a person or human, or a human or a bot? And they said, you know, there are already programs online to solve that. What he said that was interesting to me is I think we'll get through this just like math got through the calculator. So you know, so the calculator became a tool to enable math teachers to do more than they could do before. They could teach their students higher level concepts. Because the know the rotework, if you will, is taking care of by technology.
I think that's how we'll see AI generated copy going forward. It will be a tool to enable us to do things that we couldn't do before. So I'm optimistic that I think that humans will still rise above these tools and use them to think in ways that we couldn't think before. And that's very exciting to me Daniel. As you so showed them all the rotework, if you will, of, you know, the hard work of fundamental thinking is done by AI, and then you're able to take it to the next level of discerning what's worth doing and what's not worth doing right?
Daniel Burstein: I like that calculator analogy, that’s a really good analogy. I mean, one thing I've always thought too. Yeah, it's the paintbrush. It's not the painter. And just one quick anecdote and we will move on to your next story, but we we're doing a wrap up article at Marketing Sherpa about, Hey, what did you learn from Marketing Sherpa this year? And we had earlier on the How I Made It In Marketing podcast one marketer talking about, you know, we're such a data driven market, it has become so data driven. How do you understand the human element, where you trust your gut, where you actually make decisions? It's not all about data. He said it was really helpful to him because they were creating content, they're doing content marketing, and they were very driven, data driven content marketing, and then they realized, well, all their competitors were as well, right? Because everyone had access to the same data, right?
So they're all just doing the same thing. And so they didn't differentiate. And that's when they realized this is kind of where the human component comes in, where we have to come into and decide like, okay, well, here's the data, here's what customers want. What do we want to be and how do we want to say it, and how do we have that unique value proposition, unique brand, and not just same thing everyone else has. Because it'll just be an AI arms race. We'll all be doing the same thing the AI is telling us, and we’re spending more on the Google ads or whatever.
Jeff Bradford: Then pretty soon you will have the AI reading the AI copy, and the humans are out of it entirely.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah. It's like there's a Disney movie where everyone's just so lazy because the robots do everything, Wall-E that that cute little robot Wall-E, I don’t know if you ever saw that. And humans have become so lazy they can't even walk because the robots do everything for them and they just float around eating and watching movies.
Jeff Bradford: Oh, that's scary.
Daniel Burstein: Let's take a look at one final lesson from very early in your career that you mentioned ,the manner in which you present your message and the environment in which it is presented is just as important, if not more so, than the content of your message. And you learned this from Hal Kennedy, the late CEO of Holder Kennedy Public Relations. So how did you learn this from Hal?
Jeff Bradford: This is a great story. So Holder Kennedy is sort of the ur-PR firm in Nashville, everything sprung from this agency. And Hal was one of the original PR men in this part of the country, and he was a character like all of the early PR guys in this town. Hal was in Texas. He always wore cowboy boots. He always had these one gun on him at all times. At least one is boot, sometimes a shoulder holster as well. He was constantly smoking. He drank like a fish and was a philanderer of epic proportions. He was a man who lived very large. He actually had on his desk, he had two things, he had a pillow on the couch in his office, it said the 45 beats a full house, it was just you know this big Texas thing. And on his desk, he had a placard that says, thank you for holding your breath while I spoke. But the thing about this is a PR guy, you think they weren’t supposed to be very, I don't know, not offensive.
Anyway, long story short. So Hal was a genius at PR. He had a little knack for understanding how to read a market and how to manipulate a market to make them do what you want them to do. He was hired by the Chamber of Commerce in the sixties when Nashville was having a wet, dry referendum and is a referendum on whether you'd be able to serve alcohol by the drink in Nashville. The chamber was behind it because was it was slowing the city's restaurant and dining industry not being able to serve the glass of wine. It kept Nashville in the dark ages. So Hal was hired by the wet’s to get this thing passed? The day before the vote, the local Channel 5 station gave both sides 30 minutes to present their case to the citizens of Nashville. And they gave Hal the chance to choose whether he was to go first or second.
Now normally Daniel, PR advice is go last not first because the last is most likely to be remembered by the people who saw the presentation, but this time Hal chose to go first. So he proceeded to run his five minute spiel about why you should vote for liquor by the drink in Nashville. And then he instructed the station staff to run the most boring public service 25 minutes of statement that they could find for the remaining remainder of his time. So what happened was , Daniel, people all over Nashville saw his five minute video and then simply switched channels after that because this boring content came on and never saw the opposing side and as a result well and the wet’s won and the rest is history, I should say.
Daniel Burstein: Very clever. So yeah, sometimes, you know, a better strategy is just better. I like that. All right. So, we've talked about all different things. About what means to be a marketer. So let me ask if you had to sum it up, what are the key qualities of an effective marketer?
Jeff Bradford: You know, I think the first key is empathy. I was listening to the podcast of someone else this morning talking a voice talking about, you know, that capitalism is often seen as often castigated as a selfish philosophy. Capitalism is about doing what's best for you. But what this person said was, no, actually capitalism is about making the customer happy. And that means that you have to be able to empathize and sympathize with the customer in order to make them happy.
So really the business and what we do for a living, Daniel, is about thinking about other people as often as that may sound. But being able to empathize with people I think is the number one criteria for being a good marketer. It's the same thing, it's the number one requirement to be a good writer as well. If you don't care about your reader, if you're trying to impress your reader versus inform your reader, you're doing them a disservice and they're not going to be read. Again, you have to do what the other person cares about and you have to understand what they care about and then be able to translate that back to them, right?
So I think that's the number one thing you need to be a good marketer. And the other thing that you do, I do think is writing ability, because I think writing is good thinking. And I think being able to organize your thoughts in such a way that you can see a beginning, a middle and end and can help people traverse that journey is the secret to marketing. It’s moving people from point A to point B and you need to be able to communicate well to do that.
Daniel Burstein: Well, put empathy. One of the most important things to be a good marketer, probably also one of the most important things of being a good human being. So I think that sums it up well, yeah.
Jeff Bradford: Yeah, I think so.
Daniel Burstein: Oh, great. Well, thank you so much for your time, Jeff. Thanks for sharing your career with us. I learned so much.
Jeff Bradford: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Daniel Burstein: And thanks to everyone for listening.
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