How do you grow revenues over 400 percent in 3 years? Mason Dorner of Fattmerchant shares secrets of successful B2B digital marketing for financial services.

IN CLEAR FOCUS: Bigeye discusses the growth of payment technology company Fattmerchant with the company’s VP of Marketing, Mason Dorner. Sharing some of the tactics that have made Fattmerchant a poster child for Central Florida’s tech community, Mason outlines his team’s structure, marketing technology stack, and his personal philosophy for keeping ahead in a highly competitive industry. Mason also reflects on differences between performance and brand campaigns for high-growth companies.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re In today’s episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Mason Dorner: Once somebody commits to a brand search, it’s usually pretty tough to peel them off which is why competitive advertising and search typically doesn’t perform all that well for most people.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us for our first episode of 2021, which also marks the start of our sixth season of IN CLEAR FOCUS. According to a report from MasterCard, US retail sales rose 3% during the 2020 holiday shopping season powered by the shift toward online shopping. In fact, holiday e-commerce sales jumped 49% making up almost one-fifth of total US retail sales for the entire year. As we’ve discussed in previous episodes of IN CLEAR FOCUS, during the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have embraced new options such as buy online and pickup in store and contactless payment technologies. And it’s not just the big stores that have had to adapt – small and medium sized retailers have adopted technology to offer their customers more ways to shop and pay for goods. Our guest today sees how shopping is continuing to change for consumers and retailers on a daily basis. A seasoned, data-driven digital marketing leader, Mason Dorner is the Vice President of Marketing at Fattmerchant, an Orlando-based payment technology company. Fattmerchant offers credit card processing solutions designed for a variety of business types and it was named Best Credit Card Processor of 2020 by US News and World Report. It also has the distinction of being the region’s second-fastest-growing private firm with 467% revenue growth in the past three years. Prior to his role at Fattmerchant, Mason held digital marketing positions with Bonnier, Universal Orlando, and The Walt Disney Company. Mason, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Mason Dorner: Thank you. Appreciate you having me on today.

Adrian Tennant: So first, could you tell us what Fattmerchant does?

Mason Dorner: Yeah, absolutely. So Fattmerchant, as you said, is a payment technology company. So we compete most directly with Square and with Stripe. So Square tends to specialize in in-person credit card processing Stripe tends to specialize in online and we can actually do both through a single API. So it used to be that if you were a store owner, and you also had an e-commerce store, you actually needed two different payment processing solutions, and you’d have two sets of books that you had to reconcile two different vendors to deal with. And we can actually do both in a single API so that you’re dealing with one vendor getting one statement and only one set of books to reconcile. And then in addition to that, we’re also cheaper than both of those options that I just listed off and then cheaper than the traditional payment processing model.  What most people don’t understand is to take a debit card transaction from MasterCard only costs about half a percent, but those competitors that I just listed off are going to charge you around 3%. So that’s about a 500% markup. And so what we do is we charge a flat monthly membership, and then that gets you access to the wholesale cost of credit card processing. And that typically ends up saving business owners around 40%. Uh, So we’ve been both disruptive in our pricing strategy as well as in our technology

Adrian Tennant: What is Fattmerchant’s founding story?

Mason Dorner: So the founding story is our CEO was in merchant services for several years. And the industry has a poor reputation – deceitful sales techniques are used by a lot of companies. The service is not great. The pricing is expensive and it’s really all about, how can these companies get the most money out of each small business owner? And so they make it very hard to understand what business owners are actually paying and the rates can be variable. So your rates will go up randomly over time and there’s all kinds of hidden fees. And so just not a great experience, it’s almost like you compare it to a cable company, the way that the industry has typically run. And so our CEO was in that world and just realized there had to be a better way to do this. There’s gotta be a way to provide a good experience and still make money and be a profitable business. And so that’s where she got the idea to start this subscription-based processor that would be transparent and that would save business owners, money but still be a profitable company. And so she left the company that she was with and went out on her own and started Fattmerchant.

Adrian Tennant: Now I’m guessing that as consumers, most of us probably don’t give a great deal of thought to payment processing, other than maybe whether our personal debit or credit card is accepted, or if a digital payment method is available. Mason, could you give us a primer on the business of payment processing?

Mason Dorner: Sure. So like you said, the average consumer, they swipe their card. They don’t think anything else about it. It’s much more top of mind for small business owners though, because as I said, typically three or four percentage points at every transaction are going to go to the payment processor and that’s how payment processors make their money. Now within that three or 4%, there’s also what’s called interchange and that’s the wholesale cost that Visa and MasterCard charge. And that varies anywhere between one and two and a half percent depending on the type of card that’s used. And then the amount of above that is what the processor captures as their kind of piece of the transaction. And so what the processor does is when you swipe that card, the processor is physically taking the money off of the consumer’s credit card. And then they are moving that money into the retailer’s bank account is in a nutshell what credit card processors do in a very simplified manner.

Adrian Tennant: As VP of Marketing at Fattmerchant, what does your role typically entail?

Mason Dorner: So my role entails really anything marketing-related. So I report directly to our CEO. So I oversee everything from our branding, our PR, our content marketing, our digital advertising, anything really that has our logo on it. And then anybody outside the company sees is typically something that I’m involved with.

Adrian Tennant: And what does a typical Fattmerchant customer look like?

Mason Dorner: A typical Fattmerchant customer is a small or medium-sized business owner. They’re typically doing at least $10,000 a month in credit card transactions. And the reason I say that is because that’s the point at which they typically see the most savings. From us below the $10,000 Mark, the subscription pricing, doesn’t save them as much money. And so it’s a little bit less compelling. However, we still make sense for those smaller business owners. We can still offer rates comparable to Square or Stripe. It’s just, it’s going to be one-to-one and not so much of a savings. Whereas once they graduate up to that subscription-based plan, that’s where they really start to save money. And within that, where we work with most businesses, but there are certain businesses that we find we do really well with medical, professional services – so like lawyers and accountants – field services. So think like HVAC, electricians and then retail. So those are our four focus verticals. Again, we do work with other businesses outside of that, but those four where we really excel. Just because they get the most value out of our technology because we started out just being the cheapest credit card processor and having these transparent rates. But we’ve since moved beyond that, where we built a lot of our own tech stack and a lot of proprietary technology such as our bi-directional sync with QuickBooks and we actually beat Stripe and Square to market for that capability. And so that saves these business owners a lot of time where they can export all their transactions directly into their accounting software and save a lot of time doing manual reconciliation. So that’s just one example of the tech that we’ve built and those four business types benefit the most from that type of tech and from the analytics that we provide as part of their package. So we’re able to add the most value to those business types and really supercharge their business with the additional tools that we provide as part of their subscription.

Adrian Tennant: You have experience in both business-to-business and business-to consumer marketing. How do business-to-business customer journeys differ from B2C, if at all?

Mason Dorner: They absolutely differ. It definitely depends on the type of business. But in general, a B2B sales cycle is going to be longer. The leads are going to be more expensive. Your cost per acquisition is going to be higher. The audience sizes and the addressable market is smaller. So the sales cycles take longer. There’s typically more decision-makers involved as well versus a consumer and all of those things get bigger and longer as the business size expands. So a large business is going to have more decision-makers, a much longer sales process, probably take more ad spend and sales enablement dollar spent to get them on the hook, versus a consumer, you’re just dealing with one person a lot of times, depending on what you’re selling it can be an impulse purchase. So it’s typically a faster process to conversion and most sales take place in the B2C world, they take place directly online instantly. Whereas with B2B services, there’s more research. There usually has to be a real human conversation that happens. So like in our sales process, we bring in the leads through digital channels, such as paid search and Facebook. But once the lead is submitted, they get assigned to one of our payment consultants who then walks them through the rest of the purchase process, helps them select what products and what solutions make the most sense for them, helps them feel comfortable and build this custom package that’s going to make sense for their business. And so that’s a component that isn’t typically there in B2C marketing.

Adrian Tennant: Now you’re leading a team of data-driven performance marketers. What are your team’s key performance indicators?

Mason Dorner: So there’s actually a lot of them, I’ll try to pick the ones that are most important, but we’re an inbound lead generation marketing model. And so the way that our funnel works is we have MQLs that then convert into SQLs that then convert into customers. And so those are our three stages of the funnel. So we have volume metrics tied to generating enough marketing qualified leads or enough leads, but we also have efficiency metrics that’s tied to a cost per lead, cost per qualified lead, a cost per customer. And then also conversion metrics. We have benchmarks that we know that a lead is supposed to convert to a qualified lead at X percent and a qualified lead is supposed to convert to a customer at X percent. So we have cost efficiency metrics. We have volume metrics. We have conversion efficiency metrics. And then even beyond that and something that makes I think our marketing team unique because most marketing teams are really just focused on driving leads –  “Okay. I got this many leads and I got this cost per lead. I hit my number for the month.” We’re focused beyond that. We’re focused on lifetime value and on revenue generation. And that’s where a lot of marketing teams in the lead gen space tend to drop the ball as they generate the lead. And they say, “Okay, my job is done.” We spend a lot of time tracking the lifetime value of our customers so that we can go out and use that data to mine for more high quality customers. And so even lifetime value and upsell, cross sell opportunity after they become a customer. Those are things that we have KPIs for that we actively track and that come full circle back to the front of the funnel. We use that data to go out and find better customers.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the key components of your martech stack?

Mason Dorner: So the main piece of marketing tech that really runs our whole company is HubSpot. HubSpot has several different solutions. We use all of them. So we use their CRM. We use their marketing cloud. We use their email deployment system. Their customer service system. So all these pieces within their suite of products that bolt together and they integrate together, we use all of them and that’s really the hub of our marketing stack and any tools outside of that that we’ve acquired. And there are a couple, but the first question that we always ask is, “Does it integrate with HubSpot?” – which is our core – if so, “What does that integration look like?” Because adding additional tools that don’t necessarily talk to the rest of your stack it creates problems. You need to have everybody looking at the same data at the same dashboards and everything, talking to each other so that you can make true apples-to-apples comparisons versus having different departments working in different tools. So for, even for our additional tools outside of HubSpot, they all have to talk to each other, but those additional tools a week, a landing page builder called Unbounce. We are always aggressively A/B testing. So that’s an important tool to us. We have several hundred landing pages within that tool. We also use Google Analytics also Google ads, Facebook ads, a couple of other lesser-known ad platforms that I would say comprises the majority of our tech stack.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Mason Dorner, Vice President of Marketing for Fattmerchant. Mason, immediately prior to Fattmerchant, you managed digital marketing campaigns for Walt Disney World Resort and before that for Universal Orlando. What, if any, strategies or tactics from your time in those entertainment and hospitality driven businesses have you brought to your current role?

Mason Dorner: There’s definitely been a couple of them that were brought over. First and foremost would be just testing aggressively when it comes to new tactics, new ad, creative, new capabilities within the ad platforms. When I was with those organizations, I got to test a lot of things way before they came to market. For example, like Facebook 360 video ads that you’ve probably seen where you can move your phone around and it looks around inside of a video or inside of an app. When I was at Disney, we were the first ones to test that out. We were also the first people to do dynamic product ads on Facebook. So the dynamic carousel retargeting ads, we were the first ones to do that in the travel industry. And we saw massive ROI from it. And at the time, Facebook now has a product called dynamic ads for travel. But they didn’t, it didn’t exist several years ago. And so we actually hack together a way for dynamic product ads to show hotel inventory. And it proved that this concept could transition. From e-commerce and work really well for travel. And so now every hotel chain in the world is using this ad product that we helped Facebook pilot. And so that’s something that my team has carried forward into fat merchant is always looking for that next piece of tech, that next capability that no one else is doing, because it’s going to provide you an edge, even if you don’t do it necessarily well, If you’re the first one to use this new piece of technology or this new integration or this new capability that nobody else is using, it can do a lot to help you stay ahead of the competition. One area where we did that was with Google actually. We’re in their accelerator program where we basically get enterprise level support, even though we’re a startup company because we’re high growth and they’ve identified us as a high potential company. And we behave like an enterprise advertiser, so they treat us like that. So we actually were one of the first companies in the world to start importing our offline conversions into Google ads. And we used that to build audiences to go out and find more qualified customers. So we had actually ported over our SQL and customer information into Google automatically via Zapier. And that allowed us to then go and say, “Okay, we’ve got all these customers that we’ve piped into Google, Google now knows what our customers look like. And then they can bid accordingly against our audiences and against our search terms based on who they think looks like our customers.” So instead of most marketers at the time, and we actually implemented this almost two years ago now when we first did it, but most marketers at the time were bidding towards cost per lead. And we were actually able to leave that completely behind and start bidding towards cost per customer and cost for SQL. We completely stopped bidding towards cost per lead, and we wouldn’t have been able to do that if we weren’t up to try this new, somewhat scary integration that Google wanted us to pilot for them. So, in summary, it’s always aggressively testing, always looking for that next new magic bullet that maybe nobody else has tried yet to stay a step ahead of the competition.

Adrian Tennant: With its amazing growth, Fattmerchant is a poster child of Central Florida’s startup sector. It was announced in early December that a Knoxville-based investment firm, Greater Sum Ventures LLC, has taken a majority ownership stake in the company. What does the immediate future look like for Fattmerchant?

Mason Dorner: The future for Fattmerchant doesn’t look that much different with this new investment in terms of, we already had a really solid product roadmap. What this investment and these new partners are allowing us to do is to do it much faster and much bigger. So we started out as a merchant services company that sold payment processing and payment technology to small businesses. And we built an amazing tech stack that we provided just to our SMBs. But what we realized is there were software platforms out there that could also benefit from this API. So different business management tools that didn’t have a payment component but that could benefit from having one. So a real life example is a software for electricians. It helps electricians manage and run their business. The one downfall to the software was there was no payment component. And so the electricians would use this piece of software to do their scheduling, manage their  inventory. But then when it came time to take payment, they would have to pull out another app, pull out their swiper from another company to actually take their payment. And so this software company came to us to integrate payments into their platform. And so we were able to hook them up to our same API that we use for our SMBs to where they could process payments within their platform. Now they have a stickier user experience, their users aren’t having to switch in between multiple apps. And so it allows them to own the whole customer experience and have a stickier product. And these softwares, many of them have thousands of customers. And so by adding just a couple of software partners, we can exponentially grow our book of business. And now the end user doesn’t necessarily know who Fattmerchant is. They don’t know that when they’re running a payment through this electrician software, they don’t know that’s us or who we are, but they become our customers by proxy. And so that’s the vision that Global Sum Ventures saw because they come from the software space, they’ve bought and sold many software platforms, and they understand that it is really hard to combine payments and software and get it right. And so what they saw in us as we were the one company that figured out how to do that, and so that fit their vision and fit their portfolio. ‘Cause this is the space that they’re in. And so now we’re able to grow into this space and also help them supercharge their other software platforms with this same payment technology. So that’s really the future is that we’re becoming more and more of a software SaaS-based company, more and more of an integrated payments company focused on this independent software vendor space. So our SMB space will always be there, we will continue to grow it aggressively, but now we have this whole other business unit that is focused on the software space.

Adrian Tennant: So we’ve talked a lot about performance marketing. It doesn’t sound like there’s much of a role for traditional brand marketing campaigns in your strategy. Is that fair?

Mason Dorner: Yes and no. So we’re in a space right now in marketing, where I think we’ve almost gone too digital and too trackable to where we’re overly focused on dollar-in dollar-out. It doesn’t mean that there’s not still value to brand marketing and there’s not value to traditional media. In fact, traditional media like TV and radio is cheaper than it’s ever been. I think the challenge though is figuring out, “How does it fit into my attribution model?” Like “How can I track back some dollars or some impact? I don’t need to track all of it, but I need to have enough to have a gut feel that it’s working at least.” And so I think that’s where it gets hard. And like display advertising and Facebook advertising, even though those are digital, they’re not offline – what I was just talking about. There’s a lot of people that will see your banner ad and see your Facebook ad and then will go to your site and convert. Google and Facebook will count those conversions, but you won’t see it in Google analytics. You won’t see it in your CRM. And so when I look at my reporting and my reporting says display advertising isn’t working, it’s doing horrible because we don’t see very many post-click conversions. But then I look in Google and it says, I have a ton of post view conversions. So Google is telling me, “Hey, these hundred people converted through this channel.” My CRM is telling me two converted through this channel because it’s only looking at post-click. And so I think that’s where you have to go with a little bit of a balanced view and a little bit of a gut feel of, “Okay, my branded search is probably not doing as good as what I think it is because branded search is all driven from somewhere and my display, or even my offline media is probably not doing as poor as what my charts and graphs say it is because it’s driving that paid search where I can track everything.” And so there’s a certain level of blind spot between the brand marketing and between the performance marketing that I think we as advertisers need to be okay with and accepting of. And as long as there’s enough leading indicators on both sides to where there is some data tie up, like again, I see all these conversions in Google. I don’t see them in my CRM, but there’s enough there that I can tie up that, okay, this is an attribution problem. This isn’t a performance problem. I do think there is room for marketing and branding. It’s not where I would start. If I’m a small business, I’m starting at the bottom of the funnel with paid search and with retargeting. But as I get bigger and as I go upstream, I do think it’s important and it’s important for us. Our goal is to be a billion dollar tech unicorn, and we’re not going to get there without people knowing our name. And we’ve done a good job showing up when people are shopping for payment technology, but we’re at a stage now where we don’t want to show up just when you’re searching for payment tech. We want to be the first name that you think of in payment tech before you even searched for us, you’re already aware of us because once somebody commits to a brand search, it’s usually pretty tough to peel them off which is why competitive advertising and search typically doesn’t perform all that well for most people, because you’re trying to peel off people that have already committed to another brand. So if we can be the first brand that people think of, that’s where our growth is going to come from because the bottom of the funnel is only so big.

Adrian Tennant: Mason, how do you keep up to date with the constantly evolving landscape of marketing technology platforms? And equally importantly, how do you determine what’s most deserving of your attention?

Mason Dorner: Yeah. So I’m going to answer the first part of that here. So the digital marketing landscape is constantly changing. What worked six months ago will not work now, especially when you look at advertising and the ad platforms, what works on Facebook? What works on Google? A year ago, or two years ago, everybody was bidding by hand on Google. Now you’re, you’re crazy and you’re losing out on opportunity if you’re not using auto bidding. On Facebook, a good size audience used to be 500,000 people. Now, if your audience has less than 5 million , it’s too small to be efficient. And so with these platforms changing so rapidly I’ve made it a priority for myself and for my team to always continue learning and actually block off time during the week just to learn and see what innovations are out there, whether that is attending a webinar , going to a networking event , going to a conference for one weekend during the year, reading a book, whatever it happens to be but to make sure that we carve out time for it uh, because as marketers in this day and age, if we’re not constantly learning, you’ll be obsolete in six to 12 months you’ll fall off very quickly. And so I really think it’s just a matter of prioritizing and actually blocking that time out on your calendar every week as if it were a meeting or some other commitment so that you actually do spend that time to enrich your knowledge and get a good view of the landscape of what’s new and what’s changing. Uh, to answer your second question in terms of how to determine what to focus on. That all to me, it comes back to ROI and effort versus what it’s going to yield. So whenever we’re taking on a project within the business or adding a new capability or a new piece of software, a new tool, I’m always looking at it from how much time and effort am I, or my team going to invest into this and what’s it going to bring back? Obviously, we prioritize the low-effort, high-yield tasks first and then work backwards from there. So, you know, It all comes back to ROI and what lines up best with the business goals, because especially within the marketing and tech space, there are so many shiny objects that are very cool from afar but cool doesn’t make money. And so it’s important to keep the business context and keep the ROI in focus ahead of what’s shiny and new.

Adrian Tennant: Mason, in addition to your professional life, you’re also very active supporting a number of causes. What are some of the most rewarding volunteering experiences that you’ve had?

Mason Dorner: Yeah, so I’ve always enjoyed helping people. It’s something that I was raised doing. It was part of my family culture. We used to take trips to Mexico to help build houses in some of the poor areas there. In high school, I took several trips to the Bahamas to help build an orphanage. So it was just something that I always grew up doing and always found a lot of fulfillment from. And I would say helping people is far more rewarding than anything that I’ve ever done professionally. So some of the things that I’m involved with now I’ve done some pro bono work here and there to help nonprofits with their marketing. So there’s a few nonprofits where I’ve set their search campaigns up or I’ve audited their website, or help them optimize for SEO. So it’s a fun cross section of my professional life and this kind of personal passion of being philanthropic. And then another passion that I have is public speaking. And so I’ve built up a pretty good network over the years of influential people who have the means to help when called upon and a lot of these people have platforms and access to audiences. So like several local pastors in the area, people like that. And so when my wife and I have run across a cause or a person or a group of people that we felt like we needed to help, I was able to combine this passion for public speaking that I have with also helping people. And so I’ve been able to call some of these local leaders and say, “Hey, I have this group of people or this family, here’s their need, can I come speak at your church or can I come speak at your company and tell this story?” And they’ve been gracious enough to allow me to come in and tell those stories and to raise money, to help these individuals, which has been that’s definitely the most rewarding, most fulfilling thing that I’ve feel like I’ve ever done personally or professionally is being able to help people like this and, leverage these platforms and leverage  this network. And it’s just, it’s something that fulfills me, especially because it’s helping a real person, a real group of people that I’ve, met and seen versus giving to a charity, which is great, and if that’s what you’re into, that’s how you like to give that’s how you like to help the world, that’s awesome. There’s a lot of charities that do great things. For me personally, I like seeing where the time and the effort and the dollars are going and knowing that it’s impacting real people. So I like you, you’re doing this more targeted approach of finding a person or a family or a group of people, and then working backwards and going, “Okay, where can I find the resources to help these people?  Who do I know in my network that this would resonate with, that would be willing to jump in and solve this problem or help this cause.”

Adrian Tennant: What are your daily sources of inspiration?

Mason Dorner: I would say first and foremost, my wife she’s a huge motivating factor for me. Everything that I do personally and professionally that I’m working towards is really to provide a better life for my family and for her. So she’s a huge source of motivation. She’s always got my back, has always pushed me forward. Whenever I’m maybe starting to get worn down or burned out. So definitely she’s at the top of that list. Outside of that, I’ve always liked doing things that are hard or that are difficult, or that few people are willing to do. Just being able to achieve is something that has always motivated me personally and doing things that are difficult.I guess I have, I’ve always had a fear of like being average and that’s not good enough for me uh, to just be your average, kind of run of the mill nine-to-five type person. And so that’s something I’ve always drawn on is I want to be better than that. I want to be the best that I can be.  I don’t want to get to the end of the race, one day when I’m 80 years old and not have left it all on the field, and not have achieved all that I could achieve. So I guess I, I wake up every day, not wanting to waste that opportunity and wanting to make sure that I make the most of the opportunity that I have in front of me.

Adrian Tennant: If IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners want to learn more about Fattmerchant, where can they find you?

Mason Dorner: They can find us at as well as on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. Be sure to give us a follow.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Mason, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Mason Dorner: Thank you. It was great to be here.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Mason Dorner, Vice President of Marketing for Fattmerchant. You’ll find links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under insights. Just click on the button marked podcast. And if you haven’t already please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, or your preferred podcast player. Next time on IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Lana Novikova: We market researchers have responsibility to understand our consumers and shoppers at the deepest possible level. And I wanted to build a tool that can reflect the nonbinary nature of human emotions. Heartbeat is all about emotions.

Adrian Tennant: An interview with consumer insights expert Lana Novikova, creator of Heartbeat AI, a unique text analytics tool. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


Startup marketing agency Bigeye’s podcast features five female entrepreneurs with flourishing businesses sharing their founding stories and business models.

IN CLEAR FOCUS: Female entrepreneurship in the US has increased by over 30 percent since 2007. In this episode, five female entrepreneurs leading flourishing businesses share their founding stories. We hear from a direct-to-consumer pioneer who created the top-ranked cat subscription box, a beauty industry professional creating a CBD line, an Influencer-turned-CEO, a journalist who found a new creative outlet in podcasting, and an advertising matchmaker connecting podcast producers to sponsors.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us for the last episode of this season and of this year. During the course of 2020, issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion have been front of mind. In November, a century after women first gained the right to vote, America chose Kamala Harris to be the first ever female to hold the office of Vice President. The organization SeeHer, led by the Association of National Advertisers, seeks to improve the accuracy of portrayals of women and girls in US advertising and media. Women have long been underrepresented in the media’s depiction of entrepreneurship – yet the number of female entrepreneurs in the US has increased since 2007 by over 30 percent. And their firms have grown at a rate one-and-a-half times greater than other small businesses. Female business leaders also tend to begin their entrepreneurial journeys earlier in life than their male counterparts. According to a survey, 51% of female business owners were under the age of 50 when they launched, compared to 44% of men. The National Association of Women Business Owners reports that there are 9.1 million women owned businesses nationwide, employing 7.9 million employees and generating $1.4 trillion in sales. So in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS, we’re going to revisit conversations with five female entrepreneurs who were our guests this year, and learn how each of them arrived at the ideas for their own businesses. In June, we spoke to Kristen Wiley, founder and CEO of the influencer marketing agency Statusphere.


Adrian Tennant: When did you first realize that you wanted to pursue a career in marketing? 

Kristen Wiley: It’s kind of funny, although it’s probably not what most children want to grow up to be when they’re little. I actually always wanted to be in marketing. I thought advertisements were actually super cool on TV. I would watch TV just for the ads and I would even make ads myself. So I knew I always wanted to go into marketing, but of course, when I was little social media wasn’t even a thing, so that evolved over time. But I knew from when I went into college that I wanted to go into advertising and marketing. 

Adrian Tennant: So in 2016, you founded Statusphere with a mission of matching consumer brands with influencers. What’s your definition of an influencer? 

Kristen Wiley: Yeah. My definition of an influencer is anyone who influences a buying decision. I actually quite often talk about how specifically influencer marketing, everyone views it as online, but it’s really just word of mouth marketing in the new age. Social networks have allowed real people to build audiences and actually influence outside their sphere of just who they can talk to. So it’s been very interesting to see how platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok allow you to go outside of just your little sphere of influence – where it used to be big movie stars that could do that before social media was a thing. 

Adrian Tennant: So Kristen, what insights sparked the idea that ultimately became Statusphere?.

Kristen Wiley: So actually, when I was in college, I had a professor who told me the best thing that I could do to actually learn about marketing in general was to start a blog. He said, “You’d learn way more than anything you’ll learn in my classes.” What he said. His name was Jim Hobart. He’s actually pretty popular in the Orlando community. He’s a photographer, but he was an adjunct professor at the time. He told our whole class that, and that night I went home and I started a blog and he was so right. I always say that’s the best career advice I’ve ever gotten. I started this blog, had no idea what I was doing. I had to learn how to build a website. I had to learn SEO. I had to learn, you know, photography, really content. If you look at my first blogs, they were just horrific. But, um, but I did learn so much. And that was actually what even spurred me to get my agency jobs, all of my jobs, where they saw my blog and they were like, “We don’t even care about your GPA. You did that? We’re hiring you.” Um, so I always give him major thank you for that, that piece of advice. Um, so I did have that experience. And then when I started working at different agencies, I always got thrown into doing influencer marketing because I was the only one that had experience with it. So they were like, “Oh, you’re young, but no one else on our team has really influencer marketing experience” – this is 2011, 2012 – “but our brands are asking for it. So can you help us?” So I was in this unique position where I was given a budget, I got to test out other influencer marketing platforms. I was on them as an influencer and as a brand. And that’s where I started seeing all these holes where I was like,” there just has to be a better way.” On the influencer side, I was a food blogger and I would get pitched mattress companies and really strange things that had nothing to do with my blog. And I was like, “This is a waste of my time and why is it this way?” And then on the brand side, I was sifting through hundreds, if not thousands of influencers trying to find the right one. And I was like, “there just has to be a better way where we can match the two.” And that’s where the idea was born. 

Adrian Tennant: Now, prior to founding Statusphere, had you any interest or experience in entrepreneurship?

Kristen Wiley: I had interest in entrepreneurship, but I didn’t think that I would become an entrepreneur. Looking back when I was younger, I was one of those people who did always have a side hustle where I sold like really random things door to door. I’ve sold everything from like bows to like purses. I used to like buy stuff from Marshall’s and resell them on eBay. So I used to always do those type of like weird entrepreneurial things to make extra money, but I never thought I was going to start a company. So that being said, I started working at one of the agencies locally  and one of their verticals was startups. So I worked in sales in that, and I started interacting with lots of startup founders. And that’s when I started, I think, realizing in the back of my head, like “This is something I think I could do.” Like I started meeting other female founders and seeing them do it. And I was like, well, you know, “I’ve had this idea for a while. Maybe I should try it.” 

Adrian Tennant: So from idea to establishing Statusphere, what did that look like? 

Kristen Wiley: So I had the idea for Statusphere for a while before starting it. I bought the URL actually like two years, probably, or year and a half before ever launching anything.  I think that’s a story that a lot of entrepreneurs talk about because it just takes so much effort to actually make the jump because, you know, you’re so nervous, like, “Is this what I should be doing? I have a great job.” I actually loved my current job at the agency. So it made it even harder. Like “Why would I do this?” But the way that it looked was I actually had told my boss at the agency about it  and he was very supportive, which I think is also unheard of. And I thank him a lot for being so supportive. Because that was a big thing that pushed me. Like “He thinks it’s a good idea. Maybe I should try this.” And I did on the side. And the way I started was I reached out to a bunch of  influencers with a simple landing page that was like the first subscription box for influencers. It was a really ugly landing page with a form on it, where you could apply. Um, and I just messaged it to 10 influencers that I personally followed that didn’t know me personally. And I woke up the next day and had 12 applications. I was like, “Well, maybe this is something, this is a good idea!” 


Adrian Tennant: Kristen leveraged her agency-side knowledge of social media and her experiences as an Influencer to identify a gap in the market and then create a solution to satisfy a previously unmet need. If you’d like to hear the full interview with Kristen Wiley, you’ll find it on our website with the publication date of June 18th. Over the past 15 years, Holly Kapherr has made a name for herself in the world of culinary public relations, building on a career that has included cookbook and magazine editing, recipe testing, and food styling. But in 2019, after a personal health crisis had forced her to reevaluate Holly launched The Culinati Podcast with the stated mission of exploring big ideas in the galaxy of gastronomy. We caught up with Holly in October.  


Adrian Tennant: So what inspired you to launch The Culinati Podcast?

Holly Kapherr: Well, it was kind of a roundabout way. I’ve always had NPR dreams. I’ve always loved listening to public radio and particularly the interview shows like Fresh Air. And I often thought about what it would be like to have my own radio show. And as a journalist, I spent a lot of time interviewing people. And truly that was the best part of being a journalist was being able to get in touch with people, learn about them and learn about the things that they are passionate about and the cool things that they’re doing. And it came to me that most of that stuff that we were talking about, wasn’t going to make it into the articles that I was writing because that wasn’t the subject of the article. So a lot of those amazing interviews and stories were just lost. So they weren’t the things that were being covered. And so I was like “there has to be a place for those things, because those are the real interesting stories.” So, um, I had this idea for a little while. And a friend of mine had a beer podcast. It was a female-focused beer podcast called Pretty Little Pints. And she invited me on the podcast and it was my very first time doing it. And we were going to talk about Beaujolais Nouveau. It was Thanksgiving time. And she wanted to do a wine podcast and wanted to taste the new Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau. And she’s “Let’s talk about it. And let’s do it on the air.” And I said, “Okay.” So I went on it and I had a great time. And after the show was over, she was like, “My husband and I bought this domain. And we’ve never done anything with it, but if you would be interested in doing a podcast called The Culinati, we would love for you to record at our studio.” They have a really cool studio that’s located in their house. They’ve turned a bedroom that they don’t use into a full-on podcast studio. And so people can come in and just record their shows. Instantly I was interested. And then a couple of months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Everything that I had been working on, as far as creative sort of got pushed to the side, I had to just focus on my full-time job and getting better of course, going into treatment. So my entire world was going to doctors and getting treatment and trying to maintain my full-time job and that kind of thing. So I had to push everything to the side. So as soon as I was done with active treatment in December of 2018, I said to myself, “Okay, I’m going to pick this up. This is something that I really want to do. I need a creative outlet. I want to do something completely different.” And so I went full speed ahead. I started. I had the logo in my head already. And so I got in touch with a friend of mine – Tim Eggert, the graphic designer behind the city of Orlando flag. And so as soon as I got the logo, it felt real. And so I learned everything I could, I read everything I could, I listened to other podcasts on how to do podcasts and thought about the people that I wanted to emulate in my shows. My previous life was in magazines and so I did the same thing that you do in magazines, which is you put together a front of book, you put together a feature well, and then you put together a back of book. And so the intro and all the stuff that we do at the beginning, it was like the front of book. And then I was like, “Okay, now I have to have features.” And so I would say, “Okay, who are like the big people in town that I definitely want to have as my first three guests?” And I chose people who were like very inspiring to me and people who were really interesting and did things in the food world that I thought people would love to hear about and would be a great hook for my first three episodes. And then I put together a back of book, which is a little bit more like a wrap-up and then also we do a really cool section called Short Order. And it’s just quick association questions that I ask my guests that are really lighthearted and food-focused, just so that our audiences can get to know the guests a little bit – a little bit more on it on a different level. So that’s what inspired me. I’ve always loved the radio and always love that medium. I feel like it’s a really intimate medium, being in someone’s ears, going into their brain, getting them to think about something else. And I feel like there’s something really magical about a really good interview. So that was the main inspiration.

Adrian Tennant: Holly, do you monetize your podcast? Do you run paid advertising, special sponsorships or partnerships with any of the businesses that you highlight?

Holly Kapherr: I don’t have any more monetization in my show yet. The reality is that I am doing this show to glorify, to showcase, to feature the people who are doing amazing things. And I have not looked to make any money off of this. The money that I hope that is changed hands is for the businesses that I work with. I hope that the 300 people or whomever that listen to each episode, that they go to the restaurant or go to the website that we’re talking about, they spend their money there and it helps my guests do other cool things or continue doing the cool things that they’ve been doing. The money goes to my guests. That’s the intention. 


Adrian Tennant: As you heard, Holly found a new creative outlet for her love of interviewing people. And one that helps the restaurateurs she works with attract and connect with new guests. If you’d like to hear more of the interview with Holly Kapherr you’ll find it on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page with a publication date of April 24th. Now, if Holly does decide to monetize The Culinati Podcast, our next guest will be a great resource. Heather Osgood had been selling advertising for over 20 years on radio, print, and trade show booths, but was so passionate about podcasts that in 2016, she founded True Native Media, a firm dedicated to connecting podcasts with advertisers. Heather was our guest in November.


Adrian Tennant:  What was the insight that led you to found True Native Media?

Heather Osgood: I founded True Native Media because I became a bit of a podcast-obsessed listener. I sold a trade show production company that I had before for about 10 years and for the first time in my adult life, I had so much time to spend listening to podcasts. And the more I listened to podcasts, the more I consumed all of this audio, I was shocked to find that there were so few ad messages in podcasts. And when we look around the landscape of all of the media out there, what we find over and over again are ad messages. And so it seems strange to me that podcasts, almost like this island and while some of the very biggest shows had advertisers, most of the shows that I listened to, which I would classify as mid-level shows did not have advertisers. So I took a look at the industry and I found that, yes, those 1% of top shows were being served by firms that were happy to connect them with advertisers. But then there were all of these essentially hundreds of thousands of impressions that were going unserved without ad messages. And I just felt like there really was a hole in the market and I wanted to help fill that, and given my ad background and my experience as an entrepreneur, I felt that really, founding an organization like True Native Media to really help connect those mid-level shows with advertisers was something that was really up my alley and something that I could really contribute. And so that’s why I founded the organization.

Adrian Tennant: What services does True Native Media offer?

Heather Osgood: So True Native Media is a podcast representation firm which means that we represent podcasts. So currently we work with about 70 different podcasts in the industry and our role is to connect those podcasts with advertisers. So we work with agencies, we work directly with brands, and go about getting advertisers in any way we can for those podcasts that we serve, as well as the advertisers that we serve. But really our focus is to try and fill the podcasts we represent up with ad messages.

Adrian Tennant: Heather, you’re not only involved in the representation of podcasts, but you also produce and host a podcast of your own called The Podcast Advertising Playbook. What topics do you typically cover? 

Heather Osgood: So I created The Podcast Advertising Playbook, because I wanted to share with the world as you can tell, by listening to this episode, I could talk about this for hours. There are so many different topics to be covered. And so I started that podcast specifically to talk about the ins and outs. What is dynamic ad insertion, and how can that serve you? How can you find podcasts to purchase when you’re looking at creating success? What does that look like? How can you track results? What does privacy look like? So we cover all of these important topics and I would say part of the most fun of producing that show is interviewing other industry experts. So we talk to people from these attribution companies, we talk to other  brands and we see what kind of experience are they having in the podcast ad space. What have they done to perfect the results that they’re getting? So it’s really meant to be a place where if people are interested in learning more about how to utilize podcast advertising and make it effective, that they can go to the show. 

Adrian Tennant: Now, do you think the experience of regularly producing your own podcast helps you relate to the challenges many other podcasters face?

Heather Osgood: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I think it is. It’s been great. So I want to say that we’re on episode 35, I will be totally transparent and that I have lots of help with the show. So my marketing team is very effective in helping keep me on the straight and narrow. And what I mean by that is actually produce those episodes because that’s one of the hardest parts about a podcast is you have to produce regular episodes. And I think, oftentimes, when people imagine starting a podcast, they think it sounds like so much fun and it’s going to be so easy or it won’t take that much time. And realistically, it is a lot of work. And so it’s been nice to go through the whole experience alongside the podcaster, and really understand and identify what you know, their needs and concerns firsthand. 


Adrian Tennant: Taking advantage of a career hiatus, Heather combined her love of podcast listening with her professional experience in the advertising industry to seize a new opportunity, one which she uses her own podcast to promote. You can find the full interview with Heather Osgood on our website with the publication date of November 13th. Some of the earliest adopters of podcast advertising to acquire new customers were direct-to-consumer brands. DTC has been a recurring topic on IN CLEAR FOCUS throughout 2020. In October, I discussed the findings of Bigeye’s National Study of CBD Use with Alexandra McClay. Having worked in marketing leadership roles for Johnson and Johnson, Elizabeth Arden, and Burt’s Bees, Alex is now launching her own direct-to-consumer brand in the CBD and supplement space.


Adrian Tennant: What first sparked your interest in CBD as an ingredient for beauty and wellness products?

Alexandra McClay: I think my first interest was sparked, quite frankly, on a personal level. Once I found out that my mid 70 year old father was using CBD on a daily basis, it piqued my interest. And so I quickly started to study up on the benefits of CBD and started to become  sort of a connoisseur of taking CBD myself. And from there, really just looked at all the multi-benefits of this new active ingredient in what it could do for the industry that I’ve been in my whole career in beauty and wellness. And so from there, as I continued my journey and educating myself in the space, I was bridged to large cannabis companies that were looking to develop branded products within the beauty and wellness space. And from there everything just started to explode.

Adrian Tennant: Are there any special considerations for how products containing CBD designed for application to the skin need to be formulated?

Alexandra McClay: Absolutely. And what we’re doing that we think is a little unique and proprietary is that we actually have some technology and some patented delivery systems that are enabling us to formulate in a new and more novel way with the CBD. Mainly a lot of CBD you’re going to see is going to be oil-based. And would you get it’s problematic if you want to have a water-based formula for any type of skincare products or even a vaginal lubricant, it’s more natural to be water-based. And so we have a water-soluble, a sort of nanotechnology. We also have a delivery system that helps penetrate deeper into the skin that is more efficacious in terms of the delivery method. And so you’re going to get faster, better relief, but it’s a little more challenging to formulate with because it is a powder and it’s an encapsulated powder and it can, at times tweak the formula in terms of the scent or the aesthetics. And so we do have to play around quite carefully with the different aesthetics. It also helps to have a very high quality CBD, but at times the higher quality CBD might have more of that hemp aroma. And it’s a little more difficult to formulate a way from having that really strong, hempy aroma. So there’s a lot, it takes them a long time and a lot of careful consideration to really design something that you’re putting on the skin because you want it to not only feel great, smell great, but work really well.

Adrian Tennant: Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart launched her own CBD wellness line in partnership with a Canadian company, Canopy Growth Corporation, sold online through Canopy’s site. The line includes flavored oils, soft gels, and gum is apparently inspired by French baked goods, including blood orange, cheesecake berries and cream tartlets – sound delicious! Alex, is Martha Stewart’s involvement designed to appeal to an affluent female demographic do you think, or is it more about connecting with Boomers?

Alexandra McClay: That’s a great question. I think, specific to Martha Stewart, her brand I think really does span across multiple generations through some of the partnerships and work that she’s done with Snoop Dogg. I think there’s a Boomer appeal. There’s certainly a Gen X appeal, which is my generation, who grew up listening to Snoop Dogg. So I really think that in general, when these large companies are looking to utilize, whether it’s Martha Stewart or Rob Gronkowski or any of the other celebrities, I think it really is about one dispelling any myths, making CBD mainstream, and also it’s about what size of a megaphone does that give you as a brand? I don’t recall the exact number of followers that Martha has, but it’s in the millions in social media. And with some of the restrictions that are placed on advertising for CBD, having a celebrity who can speak to the masses just helps generate that brand awareness. As well as creates a comfort level for people who are canna-curious and want to jump into trying the products. So as it relates to Martha Stewart, they are looking at her to have a broad appeal across different gender bases and different generations. 


Adrian Tennant: Inspired by her father’s experience with CBD, Alex used her business knowledge of the beauty industry to create an entirely new brand designed to appeal to customers, seeking multifunctional benefits from skincare products. You can hear that interview with Alexandra McClay as part of our podcast episode about Bigeye’s National Study of CBD Use published on October 16th. Staying with direct-to-consumer brands, in early October IN CLEAR FOCUS featured a true pioneer in the DTC space. Olivia Canlas is the co-founder and CEO of Meowbox, which she launched back in 2013. Olivia spoke to us from her company’s offices in Vancouver.


Adrian Tennant: Can you tell us a little more about what Meowbox is?

Olivia Canlas: Of course. So I like to think of Meowbox as monthly deliveries of cat happiness. So it is a box full of themed cat toys and treats that we choose exclusively for our subscribers. And we deliver that monthly or bi-monthly  in the subscription model.

Adrian Tennant: Now back in 2013, when you launched Meowbox, direct-to-consumer wasn’t nearly as well established as a business model as it is today. What inspired you to start a subscription box for cat owners?

Olivia Canlas: I was a subscription box customer maybe two or three years before I thought of the idea of Meowbox. I was a subscriber to cosmetics. So I knew that was something that appealed to me, to my friends, people in a similar demographic as I was. And so I was aware of the concept of subscription boxes, but specifically like the moment where I thought, “What there needs to be is a Meowbox in this world” was when I started getting targeted on my Facebook for a dog subscription box. And I thought, you know what, instead of just ignoring it, thinking that doesn’t apply to me. I don’t have a dog. I wondered because I’m more of a cat person, I wondered if there was a box for cats and upon my initial research there wasn’t a box that was dedicated just to cat parents.

Adrian Tennant: Clearly the business is successful now, but looking back, do you think being a woman meant that you faced additional challenges as an entrepreneur?

Olivia Canlas: I like to think that everything that I do and that I did to build the company It’s not tied to gender in any way, but I didn’t look at my gender as something that was going to hold me back from succeeding. But in reality, there were a few moments where I was reminded that maybe I might be viewed a little bit differently in terms of, you know, male versus female business leaders. And one example that I can think of was I was at a trade show once looking for some new product with my co-founder, who’s male and a handful of times, the brand representatives would initiate the conversation, speaking to him instead of me as if just automatically thinking that he was the one who was the decision maker. And it was just something that I noted. I wasn’t like offended or insulted, but it was definitely something that I noticed at the time and just little things like that. I mean, very easy for me to step in and  let them know I was the one who was doing the product selection. So it could have just been like a subconscious behavior of people to expect maybe that it was the male who was in charge of making the decisions.

Adrian Tennant: Now in the seven years since you launched Meowbox, have things changed for women interested in starting businesses, do you think? 

Olivia Canlas: Yes. So it’s a lot more commonly seen or at least that it’s apparent to me that there’s more women who are heading businesses. Now, I don’t know if that’s just because I’m exposed for it. Maybe I might have my eye out for that, but I know so many more women-led businesses and female entrepreneurs than I did years ago. Now it could be the way that the landscape of business is changing and it’s just something that was being more brought to our attention. Maybe women in business are being highlighted more than they used to be. Which may in turn encourage more women to want to aspire to be in charge of businesses and turning their ideas into businesses. But definitely from when I started my research into subscription boxes and pet businesses It was a lot more men  leading those industries as opposed to now. And now I just have an endless contact list of colleagues who are women who own businesses.

Adrian Tennant: So Olivia, what inspires you on a daily basis? Are there any journals, podcasts, or social media accounts that you follow – cat related or not? 

Olivia Canlas: You know what? I have to say, my source of inspiration comes from my fellow female entrepreneurs. I have a small group of female entrepreneurs who I look up to whose businesses I follow, whose social media I follow. We’re in communication for best practices or problem solving advice and that kind of thing. And It’s really blossomed and become a resource for me that I’ve come to you know, rely on and go to as of late. And I guess I didn’t really realize how important it was, maybe in early years to have that kind of a network of colleagues. But as time goes by, it’s just, I don’t know, maybe you lose a bit of your ego and are just more open to sharing your challenges with other people, especially people who have, maybe dealt with that before people in a similar businesses to you, and that’s where my inspiration comes from. I see ladies who are running businesses that do certain things better than me, or certain things that I’ve never done before. And I’ll ask “how can I do that? How did you reach that?” And then, and vice versa, it’s the same where there’ll be something that I’m doing really well at Meowbox. And they asked me, “How did you do that? What tools did you use to reach that?” And it’s just this feedback loop of all of us sharing and each of us supporting each other and just doing better and better.


Adrian Tennant: Olivia thought about her personal experience as a makeup subscription box customer and saw the opportunity to apply the same business model to delight cat owners like herself. During the full interview, Olivia is very candid about what marketing tactics work and what doesn’t work in the DTC space. You’ll find it on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page with a publication date of October 9th. I hope you enjoyed this recap of some of the inspiring stories we heard this year from successful female entrepreneurs. My thanks again to all the guests you heard in today’s episode, Kristen Wiley, Holly Kapherr, Heather Osgood, Alexandra McClay, and Olivia Canlas. As always, you’ll find links to the resources we discussed on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” Thank you for listening to this, the final episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS for 2020. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. We’ll be back with a new season of IN CLEAR FOCUS in mid-January. So until then, goodbye!


Direct to consumer marketing agency Bigeye discusses impactful DTC brand packaging with Brandon Frank, President of Pacific Packaging Components in Los Angeles.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: As millions of views of “unboxing” videos on social media demonstrate, packaging is an important part of the customer experience. Industry expert Brandon Frank explains how evolving consumer attitudes are leading brands to embrace sustainable packaging solutions. Brandon shares the inside story of innovative packaging his company, Pacific Packaging Components, developed for premium beauty brand Drunk Elephant, and his role as a member of Credo’s Clean Beauty Council.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Consumers’ perceptions of products are affected by intrinsic and extrinsic cues. Intrinsic cues are a product’s specific attributes, such as their sensory properties: what a product looks, feels, smells, tastes, and sounds like. Extrinsic cues are purchase consideration factors, which in a retail setting, typically include point-of-sale displays, product placement, and the packaging that surrounds or contains the product. Of all the extrinsic cues, packaging is one of the most important since it’s often a brand’s first physical touchpoint with the consumer. Packaging needs to be impactful on store shelves, and, depending on the product, may also incorporate claims, descriptions, and ingredient lists. Designers also have to consider the weight of packaging, their physical dimensions, the visual form, opening and closing mechanisms, as well as color and texture. Packaging is then a really important consideration in the marketing mix. Being impactful on a store shelf while also looking good on a kitchen table or a bathroom vanity presents unique challenges and opportunities. Combining marketing elements into the design of a product’s packaging has been dubbed “packvertising.” For designers, this offers ways to bring a brand’s proposition to life on the shelf or online. And, as millions of views of “unboxing” videos on social media demonstrate, packaging can actually be an important part of the customer experience. To talk about how companies can use packaging to amplify a brand’s qualities, I’m joined today by a packaging industry expert. Based in Los Angeles, Brandon Frank is the President of Pacific Packaging Components, which this year celebrates 50 years in business. Brandon is also President of the Southern California chapter of the Institute of Packaging Professionals. Brandon, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Brandon Frank: Thank you very much.

Adrian Tennant: So, could you tell us about Pacific Packaging Components’ history and what the company offers today?

Brandon Frank: My grandfather and grandmother started the company, like you said, about 50 years ago and my parents joined the company about 40 years ago. And so I was basically raised in the world of packaging. I like to joke that I knew about net finishes before I knew my ABCs, but that’s not probably totally accurate. And it was set up as a packaging distribution company. And that’s what we still are today. And so for, the listeners that don’t know what that is, basically we represent the customer and we figure out what they need from a packaging perspective. And then we go to our preferred vendors around the world and find the perfect manufacturer for their specific situation. And then we broker the deal. We buy the packaging from the manufacturer and sell to the end customer and manage the entire supply chain.

Adrian Tennant: What kinds of businesses do you serve? Is there a specific vertical that represents a significant portion of your business?

Brandon Frank: So I like to say that in 50 years, we’ve learned how to get in trouble in a lot of different ways. But we’re in three primary industries: beauty/personal care, food and beverage, and pharmaceutical and nutraceutical. I would say that our main specialty though is in primary rigid packaging. So think of like, glass bottles and jars, plastic containers, dispensers, closures, tubes, things like that.

Adrian Tennant: Now you mentioned one vertical for your company is beauty and skincare. I understand that you advise several companies in this space, and that you’re a member of the Credo Clean Beauty Council. What does your role with Credo entail?

Brandon Frank: So, the title they gave me was Sustainable Packaging Expert and I’m always quick to qualify that there are brilliant people in the sustainable space, and I don’t consider myself at their level but I am certainly passionate about the topic. And so Credo is a really innovative retailer – they’re actually the largest clean beauty retailer in the United States. And their whole focus is to do things the right way. And so they started with ingredients, basically creating approved and unapproved ingredients for all their products. And so, if brands weren’t able to fulfill those obligations, they couldn’t sell their product through their channel. The next step was to create a sustainable packaging guideline that would inspire brands to choose more sustainable packaging. And that if they didn’t comply with the standards they were setting, then again, they wouldn’t sell those items through their platform. And so they brought me on to basically help craft and create those guidelines and then to serve as a resource to all of the brands currently in Credo and that are trying to get into Credo, to be able to help them make that transition to more sustainable packaging.

Adrian Tennant: Now Credo is an example of a retailer that’s really engaged in the “clean beauty” movement. How do you define “clean beauty?”

Brandon Frank: It’s a great question and I think there’s a lot of different ways to answer it, but generally I see clean beauty or even the topic of sustainability as looking at the entire value chain. And choosing ingredients or materials that are going to be more sustainable, more renewable, easier on the planet, far more natural or more organic sources. You know, there’s always going to be an impact to any type of consumer product, but I think it’s trying to minimize the impact as much as possible.

Adrian Tennant: There’s a lot of competing sources of information about what makes a beauty product clean. What are some of the things that consumers really need to watch out for?

Brandon Frank: I think that the actual ingredients in the product tend to be the primary focus. And so Credo, for example, has their quote-unquote “dirty” list. And that dirty list has a list of ingredients that are the really big no-nos  for their brand.

Adrian Tennant: Now Pacific Packaging Components developed custom packaging for the skincare line Drunk Elephant. How did that partnership originate? And what did the design process look like? 

Brandon Frank: Tiffany Masterson is the founder and owner of Drunk Elephant – and they actually recently sold to Shiseido – but when we started with that company, they were still relatively small and still getting started. Their story with Drunk Elephant is very consistent with a lot of our kind of interactions and processes that we have with a lot of our other brands to where it starts off with a vision from the founder or from the owners or from the people in charge of kind of developing the packaging. And we were right there to basically guide and support and to go bring those things to reality. The other part too, is that we knew that there was going to be scaling with Drunk Elephant. She had a great idea, a great concept. And so we were expecting really great things. And so we weren’t just trying to supply the first round of packaging, but we were looking down the supply chain as well, to be able to make sure that as the brand grew, that there weren’t going to be supply chain issues from a packaging standpoint. But the creative process is really different, you know, for everybody. Sometimes it’s really straightforward and it’s really easy to be able to deliver on what the vision is. Other times it’s a little bit more fluid and a little more dynamic. And I think our agility is a real benefit in that regard because if things start to pivot away from kind of the initial concept or we’re going in a different direction, we have no problem changing manufacturers and going to someone else that can accomplish what we need to in order to make the customer happy.

Adrian Tennant: A lot of direct-to-consumer brands engage with social media influencers to reach potential customers. At Pacific Packaging Components, you develop “influencer kits” for brands. Can you tell us more about those?

Brandon Frank: So influencer kits are basically a way a brand can create a special gift that features their brand,  that gives that kind of special feeling of opening something really unique and innovative. It’s kind of like their own brand, their own vision, their own products, all encapsulated within this box. And sometimes it has a really big focus on the story of the brand or what they’re trying to accomplish; other times it’s filled with lots of different products. And we can make some really creative ones. We’ve had some, with even little mini flat screen televisions that when it opens the video starts and it has an explanation of what’s in the pack. And then from there, the influencers are encouraged to be able to try the products, document what they think about things, review it online, and hopefully tell their followers to go and check it out.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the differences, if any, between packaging components used for beauty and skincare products versus food  packaging? Are there any regulations that you have to take into account when dealing with food or drink?

Brandon Frank: Yes, absolutely. Really any time, you know, it’s going to be a CPG product there are going to be regulations that are going to be relevant, but if it’s going to be food beverage, anything that’s going to be ingested, there are strict laws through the FDA and other governing bodies. With beauty and personal care, there’s kind of less barrier because most of the products obviously are not being ingested. They’re kind of more topicals. But it’s still a really good idea to be able to use products and develop products that can be certified to some degree.

Adrian Tennant: What tend to be the best materials to use for safe food packaging?

Brandon Frank: Boy, that’s a big question, ’cause you could approach it from a lot of different standpoints. So most of the time with food and beverage, the packaging has to be functional. And so it has to protect the product, it has to extend the shelf life or do other types of just really functional, practical things. Usually the cost of food and beverage packaging tends to be one of the most important drivers, because of the margins and the cost of those goods are usually relatively low. For beauty and personal care packaging, the cost of the packaging is significantly higher and usually the price points for those items are also higher. But beauty customers tend to want to feel the quality of the packaging. It’s kind of a representation of the product itself. For food and beverage, it’s a little bit less so, at least that’s been my experience.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Karen Hidalgo: I’m Karen Hidalgo, Associate Account Manager at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as advertising account professionals. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers. By conducting our own research, we’re able to capture consumers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. This data is distilled into actionable insights that inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – and guide strategic, cost-efficient media placements that really connect with your audience. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant:  Welcome back. As I mentioned in the introduction, brands that invest in packaging design do so to make them distinctive and instantly recognizable to potential customers. CPG giant Proctor and Gamble refers to this as the “First Moment of Truth” – that is when a consumer chooses to purchase one brand over competitors. Of course, during the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen more e-commerce activity and a greater focus on hygiene. In other words, consumers are discovering another moment of truth: after they’ve used the product, they must dispose of the packaging. International research from Ipsos undertook a study published on Earth Day this year, which found that globally, “dealing with the amount of waste we generate” is a top environmental concern for around one-third of people, just behind “global warming and climate change” and on a par with “air pollution.” Research from Ipsos also shows that “avoiding products that have a lot of packaging” is one of the key actions that a majority of consumers – 57 percent – say they’re likely to do to limit their own contribution to climate change. To quote from the Ipsos study, “if the finished packaging has a large number of components and materials, if it has a high use of plastic and, or is not obviously able to be recycled, this might well have an impact on whether that product will be purchased again.” To talk about this, let’s return to our guest this week, Brandon Frank, President of Pacific Packaging Components. Brandon, I had the pleasure of speaking with Chris Harrold of Mohawk Fine Papers in New York in an earlier episode of our current season. Chris told us about Mohawk’s Renewal line of papers that use non-traditional fibers, such as hemp, straw, and cotton scraps, which are a by-product of denim and t-shirt manufacturing. Chris explained that younger designers were really drawn to these papers for use in packaging projects, in part because they demonstrate respect for the environment and an embrace of sustainability principles. We know that the youngest consumers – Generation Z – are very concerned about environmental issues. How is Pacific Packaging Components approaching the use of sustainable and recyclable materials?

Brandon Frank: Sustainability is incredibly important to us. And it’s been something that has kind of been, I would say, a focal point of how we’re viewing our own company and then the kind of industry as a whole. Obviously, we have been producing millions and millions of units of plastic and glass and other types of packaging for the past 50 years. And, as a family company, I’m looking at the legacy – what are we going to be a part of for the next 50 years? And so we want to be a part of the solution, and we are, you know, actively trying to improve, not only the sustainability of packaging, but really looking at the entire value chain. You know, I think traditionally we’ve really approached packaging from two central points: is it going to be functional? And is it going to look great and is it going to be on budget? And what’s really required right now is we need to take our blinders off – consumers, brands, packaging companies, packaging manufacturers, everyone involved – and say, “What materials are the best to use right now, according to the capabilities of our recycling stream?” So it’s really looking at the end and saying, “Okay, how can we design and choose packaging right now that it is going to be recycled?” Because it’s not enough to make something that’s quote, unquote “recyclable” if it’s not going to be recycled. We see this a lot with tubes and monolayer tubes people call them recyclable all the time, but they’re never going to actually be recycled, especially here in the US. And so we’re taking a really active stand. We’re inspiring companies to be able to really consider and make sustainability a part of their brand and their ethos. You know, 81 percent of consumers in the US think that brands should be making decisions that are benefiting the environment rather than hurting. You know, we’ve seen the popularity of sustainability really come and go every decade for the last 50 years – It kind of comes, it’s really popular,and then it fades away. But something’s different this time. We feel like the levee’s kind of been broken on the topic of sustainability – whether it’s because of social media, or Netflix documentaries that have kind of shown the amount of plastic waste that’s in the ocean, but sustainability is going to be here to stay. And that’s why I think we’re seeing a lot of large multinational companies and brands like Credo that are making really big statements that 50 percent or one hundred percent of our packaging is going to come from recycled sources. Now, by 2025 is kind of a popular year right now. And we’re seeing massive investments on the recycling stream because there’s going to be this really big opportunity for all of these brands that are demanding post-consumer recycled residence – sorry, that’s what PCR stands for – basically, it’s ground-up plastic that turns back into resin that can be reused to be able to make more plastic items. And that’s going to be kind of the standard going forward is that if you’re going to be using plastic, then there needs to be a percentage of PCR in that plastic and the whole recycling stream is going to really improve to make sure that the plastics is able to be processed, cleaned, and turned into a really reusable plastic resin.

Adrian Tennant: Well, as you point out, sustainability comes in many guises.

Brandon Frank: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, there’s some really practical parts about not reusing or touching lots of packaging, too. I think the days of going into a retail store  and touching a lotion pump that everyone else has touched and sampling things are going to be behind us. And there’s going to be a new normal going forward about those things. And there is an adverse relationship between those two, because really the most kind of sterile way to do it is to have a single use sachet that is opened, used, and then discarded. But even there, there’s going to be more opportunities for innovation. I’m seeing more compostable and biodegradable films, so if they do end up in the landfill that they’re breaking down a lot quicker.  You mentioned fiber-based earlier: I think fiber and different materials in fiber – so paper, hemp, mushrooms, sugar cane, corn stock, – I mean there’s going to be a lot of different, more renewable, natural sources that are going to be used to be able to make packaging that can be effective, that can be affordable, and it will hopefully look good too.

Adrian Tennant: How do you work with design agencies that want to build sustainability into their packaging designs?

Brandon Frank: So most design companies, I’ll be real honest, don’t have a lot of packaging manufacturing experience. It’s really rare to find a really good designer that knows kind of the manufacturing limitations when it comes to sustainable packaging. And so we’ve tried to work as closely as we can with those designers, whether they’re inside of the organization or they’re of a private firm, because really it’s a partnership – ‘cause the customer is going to end up telling the designer, “We want to do this.” And then they’re going to try to draw it up and create it. And before they go through all the trouble of creating this, they need to run it by us and say, “Hey, is this even possible?” You know, “Can we put this number of colors on a glass bottle?” Or, you know, “Can we really do a 360-degree artwork on this type of tube?” Or something like that. So, I’d say it’s a really great partnership and a lot of collaboration and communication.

Adrian Tennant: For designers that are new to packaging design, what are some best practices that you can share when it comes to packaging for say, beauty and skincare products?

Brandon Frank: When it comes to sustainability, one trend that we’re really seeing is don’t make things too complicated. Try to simplify the designs, simplify the amount of materials that are being used, if it can be eliminated or can be reduced, make those decisions. You know, hot stamping was a really popular way to kind of make your item pop. It’s like having a – basically like a metallic look or metallic decoration on the outside of a bottle. Well, for plastics or even glass, having metal on the outside of the packaging is not a great sustainable form of decorating. And so we’re seeing less and less hot stamping. Now people are saying, “You know what, let’s just stick to one pass. Let’s do you know, maybe just multiple colors. Let’s try to achieve that as close as we can with a silkscreen deco.” And so that’s kind of just one example. I think how sustainability is coming into the design process and designers are kind of modifying what they’re doing to kind of accommodate those goals.

Adrian Tennant: Now you mentioned that you foresee new consumer behaviors emerging from COVID-19. What are some of those behaviors that you’re most excited about for the future of packaging?

Brandon Frank: Well, I think, you know, I mean, certainly online shopping and e-commerce is only going to continue to grow. And so I think brands are going to continue to look at the packaging that’s being sent to the brand. I have three young kids and my wife ordered a brand, I think it’s called Hello Bello or something like that. But the box came and there were a bunch of diapers in it and lotions and, All sorts of different baby items, but the box on the outside could actually be converted into a Jack-o-Lantern pumpkin and the kids could interact with it by kind of punching out these different designs on all four sides of the box. And then it would all come together and it would be this really cool thing. It even had a handle on it. I think that the kids could put stuff in and the moms or dads could easily move it around the house. And so typically that box would just be a box. It would show up and it would be discarded. But now it’s coming into our home and we’re actually using it. And it’s having a second life as a toy before it’s being – hopefully – recycled. And so I think there’s going to be more opportunities for creativity in that regard. There’s some really popular blogs out there about how to convert plastic bottles that you’ve consumed into other really helpful household items or in your garden. How to reuse glass packaging by having refillable pouches sent to the house and then you refill this beautiful glass soap dispenser that has a really durable pump on it. So you’re not going out and consistently ordering or buying or having shipped, just more plastic bottles. And so  think that’s going to be one of the significant trends going forward is that there’s going to be a lot of innovation with refillables and reusable packaging, and then also creating fun and innovative packaging that maybe has a second life within the home before just thrown away.

Adrian Tennant: Brandon, it’s interesting, you’re the third generation of a family business. If you hadn’t been working in the family of business, what else might you have done?

Brandon Frank: So, my grandparents and my parents actually had a rule that before I could have a leadership role in this company, I had to go out and the way they said it was, I had to “go make mistakes on someone else’s dime.” And so I went to college and got my degree and right out of college, I pursued a career in real estate. It was a startup company. We did 1031 exchanges into tenant and common properties. And predominantly we’re doing online advertising to be able to find our customers. A fascinating startup experience. And then from there  – I’m a big soccer fan and really enjoyed playing and coaching. And so after I had this stint in startup, I kind of missed just coaching. And so then I went back and I became a soccer coach again, and started running a summer camp in Maine – an all-boys, residential summer camp. I did that for four years. During that time, it was a lot of leadership, a lot of on-the-job training in terms of bringing a group of people together, crafting a clear vision for us, and then making sure that I was taking care of everyone and making sure everyone was having a great summer. And then from there, I’ve always fallen in love with brick and mortar businesses. I don’t know if it’s just because I like going in the opposite direction of the direction society’s going in, but I kind of started from scratch and went to work for a friend that owned a bunch of retail stores across the country and learned the business from him, and then opened up my own store, that I built up for three years and then I sold it to also a good friend of mine. And it was at that time after all those experiences that I felt ready to be able to come back home and end up where I kind of knew I was going to end up anyways, back here at the family business.

Adrian Tennant: What are your daily sources of inspiration? Are you a reader? A podcast listener? Music listener? What’s your thing?

Brandon Frank: So being a kind of lifelong jock and athlete, my best meditation is my daily workouts. I turn 40 next year and I have this goal of doing an Ironman, which is a really long triathlon, and it hurts a lot to do it. But it’s kind of been this goal that I’ve wanted to do. So I try to wake up early every morning, four thirty, five o’clock, and go for a good long run, ride, or a swim. I also try to do as much as I can with my kids. And I’ve gotten them into bike riding at an early age, so when I’m running, they’re usually riding their bikes next to me. I try to make that time as special as I can. I do like to read, but I really like the convenience of audio, of podcast news and other sources. I don’t have as much time as I like, so I tend to just do 15, 20 minutes of three or four different news sources in the morning to just kind of get caught up on what’s happening. And then, I love books on tape as well. So usually when I’m riding a bike or I’m running and I’m listening to some sort of audible, book recording

Adrian Tennant: Brandon, if listeners want to learn more about Pacific Packaging Components, where can they find you?

Brandon Frank: Yeah, so I encourage you to go to our website, and it’s really easy to connect with me on LinkedIn as well. You can search for just Brandon Frank. I’m pretty active there. Or you can shoot me an email at

Adrian Tennant: Brandon, thank you so much for being our guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Brandon Frank: Thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: According to data from McKinsey and Company, across 21 international markets they surveyed, an average of 29 percent of consumers said that compared to before the Coronavirus outbreak, they’re making more buying decisions based on healthy and hygienic packaging. And as we heard earlier, while consumers’ desire for sustainable packaging designs presents significant challenges for manufacturers and retailers, it also presents opportunities. Brands today have much greater permission, it seems, to more radically reinvent their packaging solutions potentially resulting in greater engagement with consumers. Thanks to my guest this week, Brandon Frank,  President of Pacific Packaging Components in Los Angeles. You’ll find links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast player. And remember, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


Bigeye’s podcast discusses direct to consumer advertising and promotional tactics with Claire Knebl, Sr Director of Marketing at DTC multivitamin brand Ritual.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Direct-to-consumer multivitamin brand Ritual’s Senior Director of Marketing, Claire Knebl, discusses the evolution of the company. Claire explains how her previous role with Glossier has influenced the way she approaches building the Ritual brand. Sharing the challenges of managing a distributed team during the pandemic, Claire reveals lessons learned in 2020, and offers practical advice for students and recent graduates seeking to secure their first marketing role.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. According to a 2019 survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association, more than four in five American adults, 86% regularly take vitamins or nutritional supplements. The types of vitamins with the highest levels of penetration in the US market are adult multivitamins, which were first introduced in the 1940s. Although private-label multivitamins generated the highest level of sales last year at around $315 million, the top-selling name brand multivitamins are Bausch and Lomb PreserVision, which supports eye health, and Centrum Silver, a multivitamin specially formulated for adults over the age of 50. Centrum is owned by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. Research from the National Institutes of Health found that the consumers most likely to take daily multivitamins include women, seniors, people with higher levels of education and higher than average household incomes, and those who have healthier diets and lower body weights. People in the western United States use multivitamins most often. Someone who is intimately familiar with the highly competitive world of multivitamins is our guest this week: Claire Knebl is the Senior Director of Marketing at Ritual, a Los Angeles-based direct to consumer multivitamin company. Claire has a decade of marketing experience, encompassing campaigns, products, innovation, and launches, social media,  brand strategy, media, editorial, community, and partnerships, including positions with Glossier and Conde Nast. Claire is joining us today from our home in L.A. Claire, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS! 

Claire Knebl: Thanks so much for having me. I’m happy to be here and happy to speak with you today.

Adrian Tennant: The market for daily vitamins and supplements in the US is highly competitive. Why did Ritual decide to take on such well-established brands in this space and to select a direct-to-consumer business model?

Claire Knebl: About four years ago, our founder and CEO, Katarina, was pregnant with her first child and was looking for a prenatal vitamin because, you know, for many women, even if they don’t take vitamins, pregnancy is a time when, prenatal vitamins are really made a priority by oneself, driven by doctors, for the most part, it’s just widely accepted that prenatal vitamins are part of what you do, so to say. So she was looking for a vitamin that matched the standards that she has for the other parts of her life – that’s high quality, one where she knew where the ingredients came from, and why they were included. And not only that she knew where those ingredients came from, but she was really happy with them and felt really confident in each ingredient. So she couldn’t find one that she trusted, which led her to launch Ritual with the help of many of the best scientific minds in the space.  Ritual is a very different multivitamin. It’s entirely vegan. It takes a “less is more” approach,  where most multivitamins have many ingredients Ritual has just exactly what you need. So our Essential for Women 18-plus Multivitamin has 12 nutrients versus the 30 to 40 you would see in other vitamins. Long story short, there was a need for a different type of vitamin, and Ritual became that vitamin, but our business isn’t just the physical product, our business is really the relationship that we have with our customers. So, like you mentioned, the company is entirely direct-to-consumer and on top of that, it’s entirely subscription-based. And the reason why that’s important is because Ritual thinks of itself as a habit company: our mission is to turn healthy habits into a ritual. And we take the products, the things that you use every day, that are foundational, but in time have an impact on your health,  and we help people make those products into rituals. So it’s really important that we help our customers with habit formation and that we help them develop a habit that sticks. So that’s part of why we’re direct-to-consumer because we take pride in managing that direct relationship with the customer.

Adrian Tennant: Claire, what led you to your position with Ritual?

Claire Knebl: I was living in New York before I joined the Ritual team and I was taking their products. So I was an Essential for Women customer, a very early customer of the brand. I grew up taking a multivitamin and was looking for something better and stumbled upon Ritual, and joined the company because as a customer, and someone who observed the brand very closely, I saw that there was a really interesting opportunity to grow the brand that was rooted in and surrounding these excellent products because I can’t stress enough, Ritual products are really best-in-class, the best of their kind. But, when I joined two and a half years ago, there was an opportunity to build and amplify the brand that surrounded those products. So we did our first brand campaigns. We really honed in on brand positioning. And we’ve grown incredibly from there. And that’s still exciting to me today because when I joined the company, one of the things I was really excited about is that Ritual is part of a category of the vitamin, mineral, and supplement space, which is riddled with skepticism, which makes sense – there’s a lot of things to be skeptical about when it comes to vitamins. But I have been really excited and remain excited about this mission to build trust with our customer base and to really uncover the stories around our ingredients, and everything that goes into the products that our customers really want to know in order to form that connection and make sure people feel really good about what they’re putting in their bodies and know exactly why they’re doing so.

Adrian Tennant: What does a typical Ritual buyer look like?

Claire Knebl: One of the interesting things about our brand, and this is both an opportunity and a challenge, is that we at this point essentially have one single product or multivitamin but for every adult stage of life, as well as now kids and teens. So we have a quite wide audience. But I would say our focus has been on developing a relationship with our female customer base. So the Ritual customer – we think of her as a woman, she’s in her thirties, what we know is that all of our customers prioritize their health. So in whatever way they’re doing that, all of our best customers have that in common.

Adrian Tennant: You mentioned the fact that Ritual started with a focus on vitamins formulated especially for women. Today, Ritual also offers vitamins for men, children, and teens. Was that always part of a strategic plan for Ritual or is it something that company introduced in response to customer feedback?

Claire Knebl: We certainly have always thought that everyone deserves a high-quality multivitamin, because we think of a multivitamin as serving a really key need in your everyday health routine. So we’ve been really thrilled to be able to translate Ritual to all of these different audiences. And it certainly speaks to our strategy of really developing our relationship with our core customer base, who I just mentioned as well, because we found that women like myself who are taking Ritual from the early days, have other people in their lives that they want to introduce Ritual to. So that was both – definitely a strategic decision, as well as something that we see mirrored in customer feedback. You know, now that we’ve expanded into new audiences, there’s always something that our customers want. And, that’s always a really interesting input to consider.

Adrian Tennant: Ritual’s brand as expressed in its visual language is distinctively different from the conventions typically found in ads for multivitamins and your signature brand color is a bright yellow and the bold style of photography feels like something we might see in the pages of Bon Appétit. Are these visual elements intended to disrupt the category?

Claire Knebl: That’s a very interesting question. I’m not sure that the colors were intended to disrupt the industry more than the product itself was and is, but I think what we’re doing, in general, is very disruptive and very much necessary in the vitamin space. And I think that the brand really speaks to everything we stand for. So for instance, the choice of the color yellow really speaks to the morning, which is not something we talk about really, but it’s a nice nod to when most people are taking their Rituals, starting the day with us. And I think that beyond the color choice, when you look at our brand on someplace like Instagram, which is where I spend a lot of time with my team, you can see that while we have a range of different types of content, I think everything feels very cohesive, which the really strong branding that has been part of the brand since day one definitely helps guide. So it makes it really easy for us as a team to,  well, not really easy – I… creative things are never easy, I should give them much more credit that they deserve. But I think the colors and the strong sense of brand does make it easier for our team to really create new content within that umbrella on a daily basis. So we can take UGC – user-generated content – or an original meme or something like that, and really make it fit into our brand world by nature of having such strong branding and brand identity.

Adrian Tennant: Ritual details its vegan ingredients and provides information about how it sources ingredients and provides advice specifically for people who identify as trans and nonbinary. What’s the strategy behind this more inclusive approach?

Claire Knebl: That’s a great question. We would love for everyone to have a Ritual product for them, so we do whatever we can to make sure that whoever comes to our website and is interested in our brand gets the direction that they deserve in order to find what’s best for them. And on the vegan component of the question, this is something that we really believe in just from a product quality perspective. We believe that it’s possible to create an amazing, high-quality multivitamin that’s vegan. And I think that’s great for, of course, the vegan community, but also for everyone, because there’s really no need for a non-vegan multivitamin.

Adrian Tennant: How far in advance do you typically have to plan and design new products to allow for the sourcing of materials and the manufacturing process?

Claire Knebl: We are a startup company, so we work on an annual product innovation roadmap, and we have some very exciting things in store for 2021. So I would say we move at a fast pace, but we also have a strong sense of where we’re headed and plan as far out as possible.

Adrian Tennant: Now the COVID-19 pandemic has created heightened concerns among consumers about self-care and preventative health. Multivitamins and dietary supplements that focus on immunity may help defend consumers against infection. I’m interested, has Ritual seen an uptick in sales since the outbreak of the coronavirus?

Claire Knebl: We’ve certainly seen that many people have been prioritizing their health more than ever during COVID, and it’s something that definitely relates back to our brand in terms of new people discovering it. And we’ve also felt a sense of responsibility as a brand throughout COVID, to do whatever we can to support the health of healthcare workers who are on the front lines of our crisis. Because we think that, you know, if our multivitamin can play some small part in supporting their foundational health, that’s such a huge win. And we really just wanted to say “thank you.” So, back in March, we announced an initiative to provide three months of multivitamins free to all healthcare providers on the front lines. And within 24 hours, we received about 4,000 submissions from people all across the country, which I thought was really incredible, and speaks to the fact that everyone is really looking to take care of their health right now,  whether you are a healthcare provider, or whether you are working from home like I am, whatever field you’re in.

Adrian Tennant: You are working from home. You’re based in Los Angeles. How is that remote collaboration working for you?

Claire Knebl: This year has been key in my understanding of how to effectively lead a team into new territory while being remote has really helped us hone in on our communication practices and it has really helped us understand where we succeed in efficiency of workflow and where we don’t. So this year has been so huge in terms of learning. I think it’s been a huge growth year for me and for many people in similar positions. It’s been challenging at times, especially because earlier this year we launched four new products in the span of just about two months. But I’m also so incredibly proud of our team. And I think we’ve really done our best work this year, all while being remote. So we adapted really quickly and successfully.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Claire Knebl, Senior Director of Marketing for the direct-to-consumer multivitamin brand, Ritual. Claire, if you had zero budget or very close to nothing to spend on marketing, what would you not want to stop doing at any cost?

Claire Knebl: It’s a great question. I think marketing at its core, the way I define it at least, comes down to introducing someone to a good idea. And then hopefully that person introduces someone else to that good idea. So if I had a very small marketing budget, something that I would not want to stop doing, what would be to gift our product to influential figures. And that doesn’t mean just influencers with a capital “I” but really just people, bringing additional people into the brand who we think have powerful voices and we would like to get the product in front of. I think that’s a small but effective way to start more word of mouth-driven marketing, to start getting the word out on social, and is something that you can do effectively for a lower budget if you’re really strategic about who you’re gifting to and why.

Adrian Tennant: Claire, prior to Ritual, you held a position with Glossier. What lessons did you learn from Glossier that you’ve applied to the Ritual brand? 

Claire Knebl: Yeah, so I was part of the very early team at Glossier. I built the brand marketing function, so leading many of the product launches at the time from a brand marketing perspective. And I learned so much, you know, I think between Glossier and Ritual, I’ve been very fortunate to be part of these fast-growing companies that, really, you know, in the earlier days, felt like a training ground for my marketing experience. And it helped me develop my own unique point of view. But I think one of the things that I learned, that I really believe in personally, is that I think the quality of your work externally is really only as strong as your culture internally. So when I was involved in creating our go-to-market process for new launches and new initiatives, I really emphasized, you know, just the quality of cross-functional work and the way that we work together to get from the beginning of a project all the way through the project being live in the world, because I really felt like the more we were speaking the same language as a team and really just finding joy in our work for lack of a better phrase, the better chance that work had in succeeding in the world. So I really appreciate a lot of team-building activities and really think that your internal culture is so important. So that’s something I learned there in the early days that’s very true to how I think and operate every day. 

Adrian Tennant: Now you’re a decade into your career. How do you keep up-to-date with the constantly evolving landscape of technology platforms and the myriad of digital tools now available to brand marketers?

Claire Knebl: Yeah, that’s a great question. You know, we’re always looking to learn. We’re always looking to understand our brand in the world. And we’re also looking to understand consumers as it relates to our brand and our customers. So, you know, we spend a lot of time thinking about the best ways to measure these things and we have both set practices that we really rely on. So there’s a specific brand sentiment survey we’ve been running for years that we really rely on internally. But at the same time, we also talk to different new vendors and try new things as we think it’s relevant with our goals. So we ran a brand study with a new group that I wasn’t previously familiar with called Whisper, a few months ago. And that was a really helpful way for us to understand our brand in comparison to some other brands and the industry overall. So it’s a mix, I think, of building on what we already know and our routines and rituals, as well as having your ears and eyes open and being open to trying new things, as they make sense for you.

Adrian Tennant: Are there any products that are on the roadmap for introduction in 2021?

Claire Knebl: There are no products that I can tell you about. But what I can tell you is that we are in a very exciting period for the company. And I think that all of the growth this year that you touched on in terms of introducing Ritual to men, men 50-plus, teens, for him and for her and then kids, are all really good examples of sort of the rate at which we are innovating as a company and we have some exciting things up our sleeve that we’re excited to share soon.

Adrian Tennant: Claire, as you know, we have an internship program here at Bigeye. For anyone who is currently studying marketing communications or has recently graduated, what advice would you give them for securing their first position?

Claire Knebl: When I graduated college, I actually got started in editorial, in magazines. So I didn’t start in marketing. And I think that’s totally okay. I think you can start in any industry and end up in marketing, if you work towards it, because I think that, like I was mentioning before, I think marketing comes down to really strategic thinking at its core and that’s something that can be honed in many different types of ways. So in terms of exact advice, I think one, I would say, to not be worried about exactly what that first step is like I think the most important thing is to take a step, and whatever that step looks like for you, you can continue shaping your career from there and you have years to do that. The other thing that has been so important to me in my experience, and this was how I landed my very first internship, was personal outreach. So I reached out to  a magazine editor who I really admired. I did so in what I thought was a pretty thoughtful and personal way. And that turned into an internship, which turned into a full-time job, and really was the on-ramp to the rest of my career. So I know it’s not always easy and sometimes people don’t reply or they’re busy or whatever it is, but it doesn’t hurt to try. So if there’s someone whose career you really admire, write to them and see what happens. I think that’s a really good thing to do, and you have nothing to lose.

Adrian Tennant: Claire, what are your daily sources of inspiration? Are you a music listener, a reader, or a listener of podcasts?

Claire Knebl: I try and make time every day to work out in some way. And now that I’m working from home to go on multiple walks a day if I can swing it. I try and do walking meetings whenever possible. And that’s really important to me because I find that I really get inspired just by giving my mind time to do its thing. And that happens most when I’m moving my body. So that’s something that’s really important to me. And I also listen to podcasts. I try and listen to The Daily just to stay really informed. We also advertise on a number of podcasts, so I always think it’s fun to listen to some of the podcasts that we advertise on. I think number one for me is really just movement and giving my mind time to do its thing.

Adrian Tennant: It’s so interesting to hear you say that. We started this season with an interview with a creative director and when he’s looking for inspiration, he goes to the gym.  

Claire Knebl: Totally. Oftentimes I think that if you’re struggling with a challenge, I think sometimes the answer is there, you just have to give it some time to make its way out and make itself visible. So I find that for me, working out as a really clear way to do that. So yeah, I love it. That’s one thing I would never want to give up.

Adrian Tennant: You mentioned advertising in podcasts. Has that become a very important channel for you over the last year or so?

Claire Knebl: Yeah. I can take no credit for it. it’s a different team who oversees it and they do an excellent job. But podcasts, in general, have become a very significant channel for us and it’s something that our team has grown over the course of several years. So it’s been really interesting to see that momentum compound year to year. And I think it’s a really interesting channel from a brand perspective because, you know, I mentioned the power of word of mouth and that it’s hard to scale, but I really believe in introducing someone who has influence – and by the way, we all have influence – to your brand and then hearing them talk about it is such a powerful driver for the brands. So podcasts are really interesting because it’s a more scalable way to hear personalized takes on advertising. It feels very personal because the host is speaking oftentimes. and I think that makes it really special.

Adrian Tennant: Claire, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about Ritual, where can they find you?

Claire Knebl: You can find us at and I hope you’ll check us out.

Adrian Tennant: We certainly will. Claire, thank you very much indeed for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Claire Knebl: Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed it.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Claire Knebl, Senior Director of Marketing for Ritual. Now, if you’d like to try Ritual’s multivitamins for yourself, go to Claire has arranged a special offer for IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners. To receive 10% off your first three months, enter the code INCLEARFOCUS – that’s all one word – at the checkout. You’ll also find a link to Ritual’s site and this offer code on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” And if you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, or your preferred podcast player. And remember, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


Consumer insights company Bigeye explores research focused on minorities and under-represented groups with Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais, the co-founder of Versiti.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Bigeye discusses the results of a Market Research Society report with its author, Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais. Co-founder of Versiti in London, UK, Dr. Gervais conducts research with traditionally underrepresented groups in society. She explains the roots of many market researchers’ unconscious biases, the benefits of engaging with minority audiences, and suggests practical steps we can take to ensure consumer research is truly diverse, inclusive, and representative.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. In 2020, diversity, equity, and inclusion – or “DE&I” for short – has shifted from being an initiative of corporate HR departments to a more broad-ranging conversation, prompted in part by the international Black Lives Matter movement. Today, we’re going to consider some of these DE&I-related subjects such as gender and racial equality, disability, neurodiversity, and the LGBTQ+ community, in the context of consumer research. Software company Adobe published a study last year that found that 38% of US and UK consumers are more likely to trust a brand that shows more diversity in its ads. Nearly one-third of consumers overall say that they are more likely to purchase products or services from brands with ads that reflect diversity. That percentage rises to over 50% among respondents identifying as members of the LGBTQ+ community and those who identify as African-Americans. Authentically reflecting diverse identities and issues requires a more nuanced approach to developing advertising messaging, which in turn requires marketers to develop real empathy for minority audiences’ lived experiences. To talk about conducting research with underrepresented groups, my guest today is Dr. Marie-Claudie Gervais, the co-founder and Director of Research at Versiti. Based in London, England, Versiti helps clients in the public, private, and third sector understand and mitigate against inequalities and strive for greater inclusion and a fairer society. The research firm unearths and explores the experiences, attitudes, and behaviors of Black, ethnic minority and faith communities, disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, women, the young, and the old. Marie-Claude, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais: Hi, Adrian! Thanks for having me. I’m very glad to be here.

Adrian Tennant: So Marie-Claude, what led you to co-found Versiti?

Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais: I think it’s been really a mix of professional, business, and personal factors. So I started my Ph.D. at the London School of Economics many years ago, then I was a lecturer in Social and Cultural Psychology there. And so there’s a very long-term kind of commitment and interest and understanding about what makes people feel and think and behave in the way that they do and the role of social groups and communities and culture in shaping all of that. I had a wonderful time at the LSE, but in 2000, so 20 years ago, I could see that issues around diversity, inclusion, and equality were becoming important and that there were significant ethnic inequalities in particular, in relation to very many different issues. So, keen to have a greater impact, to drive change, I left academia to create an agency that specializes in research with people from ethnic minority backgrounds. And that was a great experience. But for factors that are personal more than anything else, I left that agency to my then ex-husband and joined forces with Stephen Cribbett, who is a wonderful guy and a research industry veteran, and together we launched Versiti. And now the scope of Versiti is not just ethnicity, but it’s extended quite beyond that to encompass work with any minoritized group. I said at the beginning that it was also personal factors. So on a personal level, I’m French Canadian, living in London, and I was married for 20 years to a British Pakistani man and we have two wonderful children that have been much enriched by being raised in three different cultural traditions. So Pakistani, British, and Canadian, and it’s the personal level really hugely important to me to get diversity, inclusion, and equality right because I want my kids to grow in a world where they will have the same opportunities to thrive as everybody else.

Adrian Tennant: Marie-Claude, you are the Director of Research. What methodologies does Versiti typically use?

Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais: That’s a good question. We’re not really wedded to any specific methodology. I would say that we, in fact, pride ourselves on being creative and thoughtful in terms of adapting the right methodology for each brief. When I was at the LSE, I also taught research methodology across the whole university. So I’m a nerd when it comes to research methods and I like to try new things. So yesterday, for example, we launched a report which looks at the state of diversity, inclusion, and equality across the whole market and social research, data analytics, and insights sector in the UK. It’s a big piece for the Market Research Society – so that’s the world’s leading research association. They have members in 60 countries. It’s very big. So of course, for something like that, we did a survey. It made sense. But for most projects, we tend to use qualitative research, all sorts – face-to-face, online, individual, group-based, ethnography, – all sorts because qualitative research is just more appropriate because the issues that we are researching most of the time are complex. They are not well understood. So they require more in-depth exploration, more sensitivity, and ability to really adapt to what the participants are saying and to adjust to that and to kind of find our way really in their world. Also, almost by definition, many of the research participants will have experienced exclusion, discrimination, and might have a degree of distrust towards the research industry. It takes time for them and the issues we tap into can be very sensitive, right? So it takes them for them to build rapport with us. The closer we can be to their environment, their home, their workplace in their family, in the shopping malls where they go, in their living room when they watch TV, that kind of stuff, the better it is. Now I would also say that over the last 10 years, we’ve certainly made very extensive use of online research communities. They unfold over a fixed period of time, say a week, two weeks, a month – and they give us time to build rapport and to get, I guess, the closest to some kind of ethnographic approach as, you know, client budgets will typically allow. And also online communities make it possible for participants to share their lives, in the moment. So they document what’s going on in their lives, but they can also give a much more thoughtful, considered view on things. They can upload their experiences or perspectives or views, opinions, feelings through text, or images, or video. They can give us feedback on content, concepts, product, services, advertising, whatever. So for many reasons, that tends to work well and really we’ve delivered many award-winning, kind of transformative insights, really for our clients using that methodology because precisely of the customer closeness and immersions that this makes possible.

Adrian Tennant: We’ve actually addressed online research communities previously on this podcast and we’ll include a link to that episode in the show notes. Minorities are by definition, not the majority of consumers. So why do you think brands now seem more interested in addressing sometimes tiny percentages of a given market? 

Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais: In this sense, a lot hinges on how you define minority, and I – alongside many people who have a more kind of a legalistic mindset when it comes to this – tend to define the minority not by their demographic size, but by their access to power. So that’s why women are protected by the equality legislation. For example, of course, women are 50% and a little bit more of the population, but because historically women are experiencing discrimination, we are protected by law. And so the size of the group is not what defines minority status. And I sometimes say to people, if you consider white people, especially during Apartheid in South Africa, clearly they were a demographic minority but a political majority – in a sense – they had the huge amount of power. So I think we need to complexify our sense of what the minority is you know, if women are half of the population and people from non-white backgrounds, I think in America it’s currently about 40% of the US population and it’s expected to reach 50%, in the next 25 years. So 50% will be from a non-white background. And then disabled people on top of that would be 26% I think of the adult population. And, probably LGBTQI+ people would be a little bit less than 5% – it’s similar to the UK percentage. So even if you allow for overlapping categories, the net kind of percentage would be more than half of the population. Now, people who belong to minority groups are particularly interesting because if you understand their needs, you get things right for the majority of the population as well. For example, you know, most of us will have an iPhone that has some kind of a fingerprint for opening your iPhone, right? So a way of identifying yourself and it saves you having to remember yet another password, and that was designed, in order to address memory deficit and dexterity problems with some disabled people. And wow, it’s a lifesaver for so many of us, right? So getting things right for a minority can really serve the needs of a majority. So I think the import of your question is more about why brands should care and why actually have some started to care? And clearly, Black Lives Matter and COVID-19 have both shined the light on structural inequalities, especially in relation to race, of course. And that’s triggered a whole raft of reactions. So in some cases, brands have been jolted into action because they suddenly became aware of the nature and the scale of racism. So that became a moral imperative, right? An ideological and emotional reaction with brands, deciding that they need to do more and to focus, addressing these inequalities. I was listening to Lewis Hamilton, Formula One driver, who was saying in an interview that it’s not enough not to be racist; you have to be actively anti-racist. And I think that’s the kind of attitude that many brands have taken. But we also have brands who came to us because they were under pressure from their own staff. And so their diverse workforce approached them and demand that they would do something to respond to Black Lives Matter, in particular. So then it’s brands as employers that are beginning to think, “Whoa! We have to react to this and to somehow demonstrate our commitment to social justice, otherwise our staff are going to go!” right? And then more generally there’s purely a commercial imperative because there’s growing evidence really that brands, as you said in your introduction, you know, brands that embrace diversity and inclusion perform better. A study by Heat, which is an agency that is owned by Deloitte, shows that brands that include a broad variety of demographic and cultural groups in their ads improved perceptions amongst their consumers and actually gained a significant stock market value. The average stock gain was 44% in that study and brands with the highest diversity scores showed an 83% higher consumer preference. And that’s because for more and more consumers, especially younger people, that brands that are seen to be diverse are more trusted because diversity makes them seem caring and relevant and progressive and innovative and dynamic. So for tons of reasons, they appeal more. Now, I would also say that it’s really important to avoid thinking only in terms of representation. So having, an Hispanic or gay person or disabled person just plunked on an ad because it feels very quickly tokenistic or box-ticking, or exploitative in some way, kind of just jumping on the diversity bandwagon without any connection to the brand’s purpose. Right? So it’s the way in which diversity is portrayed that matters. And people want to see authenticity. They want to see full people, three-dimensional characters, people in situations that they can relate to, that share their concerns, their strengths, their values, their lifestyle. So it’s much more subtle. It’s much more nuanced, as you said and it’s about normalizing diversity and kind of getting everyone to see that actually everyone uses washing powder, everyone uses tomato ketchup, everybody drives cars, you know, we all love chocolate. And that’s the shape of the modern consumer. We can’t pretend that they don’t exist.

Adrian Tennant: In my introduction, I framed our conversation today as a reflection of a broader societal focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. Marie-Claude, could you explain how you typically define these values?

Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais: Diversity is a little bit more factual, a little bit more like a head 

count in a sense. So it refers to the full spectrum of differences and similarities between individuals. Typically, we think about that in terms of socio-demographic variables, like, you know, people’s age and gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, social class, but diversity is also more encompassing than that can be of course, a diversity of beliefs and values and life experiences and personal preferences. So catering to that breadth of life experiences, and preferences, and needs is what diversity refers to. Inclusion – it’s more about a feeling and a set of behaviors and practices that are about making individuals, whatever their background, feel welcome and valued and confident that they’ll be treated fairly and respected. So for me, inclusion is almost like the normalization of diversity. It’s the point when we take it for granted that the whole world is diverse and we build this awareness in everything we do. I don’t know if you’ve ever come across that, but it’s a lovely way of thinking about the difference between diversity and inclusion: some people say diversity is being invited to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance. And I think that’s just a very nice way of putting it. Now, equality is more complicated. It can mean equality of access, equality of opportunity in that sense, but also equality of experience and equality of outcomes, which is a trickier still way of thinking about equality and it might be more precise in fact, to talk about equity than equality. So too often people assume that they are fair because they treat everyone the same, right? They equate in their mind sameness with equality. So if you treat everybody the same, that surely that makes you fair. When in fact, fairness might very well be treating people differently saying, “Ah, okay, I’ve looked at your specific needs. And in order for you to achieve the same outcome, I’m going to have to give you a slightly different approach. Maybe I need to give you a bit more training on this, or create an ad that will be tailored to your life experiences and not somebody else, or a product that will meet X need and not another.” So equality of outcomes, I think, in a sense, it’s a richer way of thinking about that.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Lauren Fore: I’m Lauren Fore, and I’m on the operations team at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as agency professionals and reflects the way that Bigeye puts audiences first.  For every engagement, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers. This data is distilled into actionable insights that inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – and guide strategic, cost-efficient media placements that really connect with our clients’ audiences. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais, Director of Research at Versiti. Of course, a word we’ve heard a lot in 2020 is intersectionality, which can be defined as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations, such as race, class, and gender, as they apply to a given individual or group regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” As a researcher, how do you identify intersectionality and assess its influence on the ways in which participants respond in studies?

Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais: Our thinking keeps evolving on this. I think to be fair, 10 years ago, I did a piece of work for the government, it was called “Ethnic Minority Women: Routes to Power” And it was specifically doing interviews with the 23 most powerful ethnic minority women in the country to map out their roots to positions of power and, you know, work backwards from there and identify what had worked and hadn’t worked for them. So that was an early study into intersectionality. Earlier on in this podcast, I talked about the survey we just published for the Market Research Society, and in that report, the way in which we kind of grappled with intersectionality is we looked at all of the data and we analyzed it by three types of researchers. So we created a type – type one, which I really don’t like the expression, but I think it’s going to be the simplest way of conveying what I mean about people that are known as “pale, male, and stale.” 

Adrian Tennant: [laughter]

Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais: I know, not very nice! But older, white, straight, able-bodied men who typically have never experienced much discrimination. So they don’t tend to perceive it. So that was one type. Then there was another type, which was essentially the same thing, but instead of men, women. So women who are white, British, straight, age 35 and over, and able-bodied. And then the third type we group together, researchers who belong to any visible minority over which they didn’t have control. Right? So people see that you’re Black or Asian, or you wear a hijab or you are a wheelchair user – so visible minorities. And when we analyze the data by these types, which really were heuristic devices in a sense, right? It was just about seeing how advantages and disadvantages cohere, when you start considering intersectional factors, the results were fascinating and they’ve really revealed radical differences in perceptions of discrimination. Of course, in pay and rewards. And of course, in, you know, commitment to driving the change. So to me, that’s been a really, really valuable way of looking at the evidence because actually older, white men, straight, and able-bodied, hold so much power in society and if they never experience discrimination, it’s so much more difficult for them to see that it exists and to be motivated to do something about it. I think that from what I’m looking at in the communications on LinkedIn or whatever, that’s resonating with a lot of people they’re suddenly getting it and going, “Wow, we need to address that.”  I talked a bit about online communities and why they have advantages for that kind of research. Another reason is that it may be easier to explore empirically intersectionality. So you’ve recruited your participants, right? So they’ve taken part in the community and then you can analyze your dataset by discrete variables. Right? So the experiences of men versus women, or older people versus younger people, or middle-class versus working class, or whatever, but you can also compare data, say, for working-class gay men versus working fast lesbians, or young Black men versus young Black women and bring out all the data for these kind of combined characteristics and see the patterns. So I find it much easier to see patterns and to test hypotheses about intersectional experiences in that research platform.

Adrian Tennant: For your clients,  what does an engagement with Versiti typically look like?

Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais: We have a few guiding principles. So the first is, before we start working with anybody, we’re a bit nerdish so we do a lot of research on the client and the sector. We try to learn as much as possible about the clients or their organizational culture, their corporate aims, their business objectives. And we look at the literature to identify interesting things to start an interesting conversation with the clients about their circumstances, but also opportunities, new target audiences, whatever. We’re very aware that for many people, the world of diversity and inclusion and equality is very tentative. It’s a bit scary. And they don’t want to work with people who are so ideologically committed that they fear that the hard left is walking into their office somehow. So for us, meeting with clients, connecting, building a relationship and a sense of trust is really important. And once we have that, then the relationship is so much more fluid anyway. It’s wonderful. In the kind of same vein, a little bit, we always have a good kickoff meeting with internal stakeholders to make sure that everybody is aligned and that we are very much attuned to the diversity of agendas in a room normally, and the insight requirements across the organization and there will typically be different people with very different understandings around diversity and inclusion. So being mindful, sensitive to that, is very important. And of course it’s the standard stuff about, you know, firming up the aims and objectives and the methodology. And we sometimes, depending on the scale of the project, we’ll have a whole risk register. It’s also, you know, agreeing timeline and deliverables and the standard stuff. We are very diligent in terms of having regular touchpoints so that it’s part of the trust-building and the open communication, and giving clients an opportunity to ask questions, right? In our reporting, we try very hard to make sure that clients obviously understand the issues and get the insights and go, “Aha! Wow! Okay, I get it.” But it’s also empathy. To us, it’s so important to bring consumers to life. Usually, we use quite a bit of video so clients get people and they also feel much more confident and empowered to have new discussions within the business and externally. And then I would say also our strapline, right, is “Evidence to drive change.” So, for us, research is never, ever an end in itself. It has really no value until it’s used. If it sits on the shelf, we feel we have absolutely failed. So we focus a lot on activation, and impact, and change. So we want to have an activation workshop at the end of the project. Once all the stakeholders have digested the insights, then we meet and we really workshop hard the implications for the wider business and begin to think through the next steps. Sometimes we bring research participants in the room, right? So that lived experiences are found in that conversation. A lot of it depends on how the client relationship started. So most of the time, I would say people come to us with a brief, some have a very strict brief – so government departments, for example, would have a very strict brief and so we adhere to that, but often it’s much less well-defined. So we did various pieces of work for Jaguar Land Rover, the kind of luxury carmakers. They needed to understand  – they knew they lacked an understanding of ethnic minority consumers, but they were not prescriptive at all about how to do that. So really left it to us to develop the approach. I think, if I recall, that combined an online research community with I think minority owners of luxury cars, but also ethnographic visits in car dealerships – so where we accompanied owners of luxury cars to kind of shop in a car dealership for their new car. And we also did interviews with ethnic minority members of the company, their staff, to understand the culture of the business. So that’s one thing. And then the really exciting thing for me is that we often completely generate a brief from scratch. So a good example of that is work we’ve done with RNIB. American audiences might not be familiar with that, but it’s the Royal National Institute for the Blind. So that’s a big charity that is supporting blind and partially-sighted people. And I kind of knew that some research had shown that the biggest barrier to full civic participation reported by blind and partially-sighted people was not their sight loss, was not their visual impairment. It was public attitudes towards them. So I went to the RNIB and I said, “Well, what are you doing about this?” I suggested five different programs of work we could do for them. And they went, “Okay, we would like this and this.” And actually, we were kind of finalists for an Insight Impact Award this year together. That piece of work led to a complete rebrand, a new logo, new strapline, a new website, a new corporate strategy that reduced their strategic priorities down from five to three. Now the research is a part of the induction of all new staff, it’s really been helpful and impactful. So yeah, sometimes we see the opportunity and we go, “All right, let’s set up a call.” And if people are open to that, it tends to really work well

Adrian Tennant: Marie-Claude, from a practical perspective, how do you recruit participants for qualitative studies or find respondents for quantitative studies from underrepresented populations?

Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais: So if you don’t have the right people in the room, you’re never going to get the right data. So it is clearly very important to recruit the right research participants, but I would say the more fundamental question where the expertise is required is more about creating the right sampling frame in the first place. So “Who should we be speaking to?” Not just, “Where do we find them?” but “What’s the profile of the people that we should be speaking to? Do we expect generational differences? Do we expect regional differences, age differences?” So that basic thinking – it’s really quite important. So let’s first of all, kind of,  think about the sampling frame and then it’s the process, which is kind of, you create a screening questionnaire, right? And we work with a team of specialist recruiters – so people who have a lot of experience in recruiting underrepresented groups often called, “hard to reach,” which we never use that word. We talk about “seldom heard” people because we think that the onus, you know, should be on institutions and organizations to reach out. So we work with people who have deep networks in communities in some cases, community-based organizations in order to meet quotas. So, yes, most of the time we work with quota samples, but we might also use nat rep samples. 

Adrian Tennant: That means nationally representative samples – is that correct?

Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais: That’s right. Sorry about that. And if it’s relevant, for example, a study of perceptions about people from minority groups, we sometimes use maximum variation sample, if that means anything. So that’s kind of for deep insights piece, we would find people who are extreme in one way or another. So they are really early adopters or they are real laggards or they are, I don’t know, in the world of sport, it might be they do Extreme Sports, for example, or they have never, ever lifted anything more than a fork and a spoon and the knife in their lives. So extreme people to try and understand what’s going on. And of course, we also work with clients’ own databases. What we try desperately to do is to avoid snowballing and all sorts of kind of convenience sampling which makes it really hard to derive like really valuable, robust insights from.

Adrian Tennant: Marie-Claude, thinking about the work you’re doing with Versiti, what are you most excited about in 2021? 

Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais: There’s so much uncertainty about it, that it becomes exciting. The political landscape is changing. In the States there’s of course, a lot of uncertainty still in relation to the results of the election and how President-Elect Biden’s going to be in power. In the UK, of course there’s COVID, and Black Lives Matter. It’s now, you know, an international movement that has affected and made people much more aware of structural inequalities in the UK, even though the triggers might’ve been in America, so that political landscape is making everybody much, much more aware of structural discrimination. For 25 years, I found it incredibly hard to talk about discrimination and sexism and racism because people were individually defensive. They’re like, “Well, I’m not racist. I’m not sexist.” And now they see that it’s not about individual attitudes and prejudices. It can be that your customer segmentation is biased in favor of certain customers and not others. So, you know, it’s processes as opposed to individual behavior and that awareness is making it so much easier to have different and more productive kinds of conversations. So I think the dial is moving. I’m excited by the sense of community. Also a sense of, you know, grassroots power that is emerging, which is great. I’m also excited to see how digital research is becoming the mainstream as we can’t do face-to-face research. So driven by necessity or by big COVID constraints, we might have an explosion of really good quality research if people embrace that and do it well. And I also have a sense that we’re going back to basics in a sense there’s a kind of resurgence of great quality qual and big data and, you know, artificial intelligence and that the miracle cure has not been delivered. So we go back to great insights and people who can do that will be hugely prized, I think, and, and valued. That’s the hope anyway. 

Adrian Tennant: If listeners want to learn more about Versiti and your research studies, where can they find you? 

Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais: The simple answer is just our website so, which is and you will find Versiti and our work. 

Adrian Tennant: Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais, thank you very much for joining us today! 

Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais: It’s been a real pleasure. I’m very grateful for the tough, challenging, and interesting thought-provoking questions. Thanks, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais, Co-Founder and Director of Research at Versiti, based in London. You’ll find links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under Insights. If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, or wherever you get your podcasts. And remember if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


Full service marketing agency Bigeye’s podcast celebrates Orlando-based hydration brand Corkcicle’s first decade with guests Amanda Nelson and Morgan Jenkins.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Bigeye celebrates the first decade of Orlando-based consumer lifestyle and hydration brand Corkcicle. The podcast features Amanda Nelson, Corkcicle’s VP of Ecommerce, and Morgan Jenkins, Director of Content Marketing. We learn what led to the company’s founding, how Corkcicle develops new products, and the structure of its MarTech stack. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can use the code BIGEYE20 to receive 20 percent off an order at Offer valid through 12/31.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Founded in 2010, Corkcicle is an Orlando-based lifestyle and consumer brand focused on hydration. Corkcicle develops, markets, and sells innovative branded products across several categories, including premium insulated drinkware, barware, soft-coolers, and more. Its products are sold direct-to-consumer, through retailers, and via promotional programs. Corkcicle enjoys enthusiastic brand loyalty, thanks to its unique designs and innovative product portfolio captured in its tagline, “We make things that cool. We make cool things.” To tell us more about Corkcicle and explain how the brand has evolved over the last 10 years, I’m joined today by Amanda Nelson, Corkcicle’s Vice President of Ecommerce, and by Morgan Jenkins, Corkcicle’s Director of Content Marketing. Amanda and Morgan, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS! 

Morgan Jenkins: Thank you for having us.

Amanda Nelson: Yeah, we’re excited to be here.

Adrian Tennant: Morgan, what is Corkcicle’s founding story?

Morgan Jenkins: So Corkcicle started, as you said, back in 2010, with one product and that product was an in-bottle wine chiller.It became pretty popular very quickly, thanks to an appearance on “Oprah’s Favorite Things” that year, which really accelerated its growth. The concept is that it looks like an icicle, and it’s actually an aerator. So instead of putting your wine bottle in the fridge, if you’re at a party or a get together, you would take the wine chiller, put it in the freezer and then insert it into whichever kind of bottle you’re drinking. And you’d be able to pour through it and chill the wine from the inside out. So it was really this cool kind of first innovative product of ours. And it really set the precedent for the brand in terms of innovation, which is still a hallmark of the brand today. It, as I said, gained pretty quick popularity, in the gift market specifically, and it’s still really one of the bestsellers, around holidays, around this kind of time of year, which is really great. Now we have a bigger portfolio of products from drinkware, triple-insulated, stainless steel, wine cups, tumblers, canteens, to these really cool coolers that kind of look like handbags, very discreet and fashion-savvy. So we run the gamut nowadays, but that’s the origin.

Adrian Tennant: What led each of you to Corkcicle? Let’s start with you, Amanda.

Amanda Nelson: Yeah. So before Corkcicle, I was actually at Nike out in Oregon. And then my husband’s company relocated to the Orlando area and then I took some time to try to learn what companies were in the market and what I wanted to do when I was here and just learned about Corkcicle and thought the product they had and the brand story was really interesting, and so joined the team.

Adrian Tennant: And how did you first encounter Corkcicle, Morgan?

Morgan Jenkins: So it’s a funny story. I was actually working remotely in Orlando around five years ago for a company out of Jacksonville. I was doing remote work for a marketing agency on the client services side. And I was actually on a trip up in Pittsburgh to visit some family, and I saw this really cool bottle in the window. And I thought it was just a really unique design. It was this really pretty turquoise color and I picked it up and I looked at the back to learn more about the information about the company on the sleeve of the product. And it said, “Designed in Orlando, Florida”, and I hadn’t heard of the company yet. so I was in a position where I was looking for a new job. I wanted to be able to go into an office every day and really have that lifestyle and comradery back into my workday. So I filled out a general inquiry form on the website four years ago. I was the eighth hire at the company, and I’ve been with Corkcicle ever since.

Adrian Tennant: Corkcicle is celebrating a decade in business this year. Morgan, how has the company changed over the last 10 years?

Morgan Jenkins: So, as one of the first employees, I think I’ve had a really interesting look into how we’ve grown over the past four years since I’ve been with the company. But I can tell you within the past 10 years, which is crazy that it’s already been a decade of business, the brand really started with the four founding partners of the company. There was a person who headed up all of the marketing initiatives, and then CEO, a VP of Logistics, and a VP of Sales. And everything else was outsourced from customer service to creative for advertising to marketing expertise. It was really all outsourced. And then when I got hired, four years ago, they were just starting to bring everything in-house. So I started as I guess a “Jack of all Trades” in marketing. I did a little bit of everything from PR to copywriting, to just again, running the gamut. But really just watching the company grow and seeing how they’ve shifted all of that outsourcing in-house. They’ve built up this amazing customer service team that I think is really just a pivotal aspect of the company especially as we shift our focus a little bit more towards the direct-to-consumer channels, like our website and Amazon. Really focusing on adding that level of hands-on customer service, where our customers can get on the phone and actually talk to someone, that’s been a huge game-changer. And then just seeing the different verticals we’ve been able to kind of expand into, we have an incredible sales team. Again, we started in the gift industry with a lot of our clients being retailers, such as kind of mom and pop stores, gift shops, boutiques, things like that. Really seeing how we’ve evolved into new markets, like golf, and outdoor, and then into more specialty markets, like gourmet shops and kind of cookware shops. It’s been a really interesting experience to see the key accounts grow in that way too. And then of course, I’m very closely attached to the D-to-C side of the business, the direct-to-consumer side, as is Amanda. So really focusing on growing that channel has been a huge endeavor for us over the past couple years, and really where we’ve shifted a lot of the business focus lately. So, really just in summary, expanding all of our channels and seeing us grow into all of these different verticals has been really exciting over the last 10 years.

Adrian Tennant: So staying with the DTC vertical, what does a typical Corkcicle buyer look like?

Morgan Jenkins: So Amanda and I, like I said, we’re very well-versed in our D-to-C customer. Most of our audience is female – so. I think it’s about 60 percent female right now. We’ve done some new collections like Star Wars  and are starting to make some more kind of androgynous products in the cooler space. So we’re appealing to more men, but it’s primarily female within the age range of that 18 to 40 range. So a lot of Millennial buyers, some younger Gen Z buyers, and then a lot of our kind of foundational products like our Corkcicle Air, our Whiskey Wedge, a lot of our barware is typically bought by that, I would say, 35 to 45 kind of segment.  So I think really just people who are looking for products to elevate their everyday life. People who want their coffee hotter for longer in the morning. People who want to be able to go on a run and leave their water bottle in the car and then come back and there still be ice in it, five hours later. Really just those kinds of people who are looking for ease and simplicity and beautiful design in their everyday life.

Adrian Tennant: What have been some of your customer’s favorite products? 

Morgan Jenkins: So I would say really over the years, it’s changed as we’ve continued to innovate. This year we actually received the honor of being on “Oprah’s Favorite Things” list again, for our mug. So that is a really popular product for us right now. It’s the kind of standard nostalgic coffee mug shape, but a stainless steel insulated version that keeps your coffee and tea and hot beverages nice and hot. So that’s been a huge seller for the holiday season. But, I would say over the past several years, really our stemless wine glass, our canteens and tumblers, those kind of stainless steel, triple-insulated drinkware products have really been our bread and butter. And really, when we first came up with that initial product, the Corkcicle Air in-bottle wine chiller awhile ago, these stainless steel products really took our business to the next level and continue to do so today.

Adrian Tennant: Corkcicle has embraced an omni-channel approach, selling direct to consumer, as a wholesaler for traditional retailers, and through promotions. Amanda, what kinds of systems and processes do you manage to fulfill the direct-to-consumer business?

Amanda Nelson: That’s been something since I started with Corkcicle about a year-and-a-half ago that Morgan and I have been building up, finding the right partners and tools to really expand the DTC business. So our website’s on Shopify, which makes it really easy to add apps and extensions to the site. And so we have partnered with Yappo for reviews. We’ve partnered with Narvar for shipping updates and emails. And then we’ve also partnered with Wunderkind for text messages and abandoned cart series emails. And I think all those partnerships combined have really set us for growth and for continuing to build the direct-to-consumer business.

Adrian Tennant: How does this compare to the stack you had with Nike?

Amanda Nelson: We have different tools, but it’s the same kind of stack. A reviews platform, an order tracking platform. Nike used Narvar too. BounceX – used to be BounceX, now it’s Wunderkind. Nike uses them too. Klaviyo is another one that Morgan manages for email, I know Nike uses a different email service provider, but a lot of the foundations are the same building blocks, but just different partners because of the size of business.

Adrian Tennant: Great, thank you. Morgan, Corkcicle offers a pretty broad spectrum of products in the hydration category. How does your product development team set about appealing to different target audiences or markets?

Morgan Jenkins: So we are very lucky. We have just a really great group of talented product development people with us. Meredith Hollinsworth is our Director of Product and she does a great job thinking about new products for new seasons. The good thing about hydration is that it’s really for everyone. So, when we think about design, we look to fill certain buckets for different consumers. When we think about each consumer, we consider their everyday life and how we can elevate those moments, like I mentioned earlier, of their day-to-day. And then we also take into consideration the opinions of the entire team, obviously our leadership team and the whole company, in general. And then we have an amazing diverse culture at Corkcicle. And everyone has a really different perspective to offer, which adds just some really great opinions to the table. So it’s a mix of things, but really looking at the different markets and how they would use products that we create in their everyday.

Adrian Tennant: Through commercial partnerships, Corkcicle offers branded products. How did you plan for the launch of your Star Wars-themed product line?

Morgan Jenkins: So, this is a really interesting partnership to work on. And I think I speak for the entire creative team, who really just took the lead on this product line. We have just an amazing creative team that really, I think, led the charge in terms of coming up with amazing, really breathtaking imagery. They always do such a great job, but our Art Director, Greg Perkins, and then our Creative Director, Dylan York are just really top-of-class in terms of artistic direction and vision. So this project was super-different just in terms of Lucas – being a big entity – Lucasfilm, who own Star Wars™, you have to get everything approved. There are multiple layers of approval for every single piece of marketing information, for every advertisement that we want to run, for every social media post, and caption, and hashtag that we use. So it really was a great exercise for us as we grow and working with a really big partner. But this was certainly a fun exercise in just learning how to work with a larger business entity. So yeah, I would say that really, planning for this launch was unlike any other and it’s been one of our most successful collaborations to date. So we’ve been really happy with it so far.

Adrian Tennant: How far in advance do you typically have to plan and design new products to allow for sourcing materials and manufacturing?

Morgan Jenkins: So I think this is still something that we are learning to grow within, with our product development team. Pretty much a year give or take that’s the time frame. And, in terms of when we think about new designs and then put all of the effort into kind of narrowing down which products will move forward, which ones maybe aren’t a good fit for the time period we’re releasing them in. But we have two main seasons every year: a January season and then a June season. And they kind of correlate with the big gift shows, the big trade shows that we go and show a lot of our new product lines at. So there’s some seasonality there. And then there’s also demand for kind of the industry that we’re in, the gift industry. But I would say probably around a year, but we’re always looking for ways to improve that process. And again, I think we have a really talented product team that’s making all kinds of headway there.

Adrian Tennant: Corkcicle also supports a non-profit organization called Charity:Water, which provides clean, safe, drinking water to people in developing countries. What was the motivation to support that particular nonprofit?

Morgan Jenkins: So Charity:Water has been an amazing nonprofit partner for us over the years. We’ve been working with them for – I want to say – close to four years now. Since I came on and really the thought process with selecting them as a nonprofit partner, is just the water tie-in. I think our product inherently lends itself to hydration, to drinking water on a day-to-day basis. So when we were thinking about who to partner with, from a charity standpoint, they really stood out. We liked a lot of things about them off the bat, but I think probably something that was most refreshing to us from a partnership standpoint is that they’re very transparent, about where donations are going, all the way down to the specific water projects around the world that they’re funding. You can actually pinpoint through Corkcicle donations that have been made over time, which well, in which country, that we’ve helped to grow and which communities we’re making a big difference in, and that information’s all available on our website. You can go there and see different communities in Bangladesh and Africa and these other countries that really need clean water to develop and to put people in work over there. So, I think it’s a few different reasons, but really the transparency and their business model was very attractive. And they’ve been a great partner to work with over the past several years. We’ve developed our program out so that now a portion of every single sale, both direct-to-consumer and retail goes back to Charity:Water, and Giving Tuesday is also coming up here pretty quickly. We’ll be running a big initiative where we have a Charity:Water-branded product and a hundred percent of those proceeds will go to Charity:Water for the day. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, we’ll make sure that that information is included in our show notes and this episode will be available around Thanksgiving, so great timing. Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Amanda Nelson, Corkcicle’s Vice President of Ecommerce, and Morgan Jenkins, Corkcicle’s Director of Content Marketing. Ecommerce has seen a boost during the coronavirus outbreak as more people have opted to have goods delivered to their homes. Amanda, has Corkcicle’s direct-to-consumer business seen an uptick? 

Amanda Nelson: Yes, we’ve seen a pretty sizable uptick. So March was just a very uncertain time, a pretty tough month. We didn’t really know what the business would do and what we should expect. The leadership team really pivoted to support our local retailers. So we did a campaign talking about “support local” and gave a portion of our digital sales to local retailers, if you input the store into our checkout process. So I thought that was a really great way to support retailers, since that is what our business was built on. And then we also just pivoted to direct-to-consumer and didn’t take out any budget for, you know, advertising and kept pushing there. And then we saw some huge growth over the last few months and continue to see that. I think our product just does well for people being at home and wanting an accessory to their work from home lifestyle. And, we’ve seen some amazing growth.

Adrian Tennant: What, if any, challenges have you faced during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Amanda Nelson: From an industry perspective, the uncertainty of how consumers are going to react and where they are in their journey and all that has been tough. And then also from just a logistics side – inventory. We had a time when our factories were shut down, the boats are slower, the ports are slower. There’s just a lot of logistical issues right now. So when we try to plan for marketing and launches and all that kind of stuff, it’s just harder because things aren’t as on-time as they used to be.

Adrian Tennant: In the direct-to-consumer channel, have you seen any new customer behaviors emerge?

Amanda Nelson: We have seen our average order value go up over this time, so people are buying a little bit more per order. And then we’ve also seen people wanting to track their orders and get more visibility on where their orders are because there were issues with shipping times during COVID as well. So I think people are just really trying to see where their online orders are and so I mentioned it before we launched with Narvar, which is like an email tracking program and that has been amazing. Our consumers have really been excited about that.

Adrian Tennant: Now you mentioned that you deploy the Shopify platform. What do you think about Shopify’s initiative to offer TikTok users shoppable advertisements?

Amanda Nelson: TikTok isn’t something we have tested yet. We definitely know that is emerging and something we need to keep our eyes on. It’s very interesting. I don’t know when we’ll enter that channel. We have recently just started on YouTube. So, something we’ll keep our eyes on over the next year.

Adrian Tennant: Morgan, how do you think consumers are feeling about the holidays this year? 

Morgan Jenkins: I think there’s an interesting mix of anxiety and just anxiousness over the year in general. Obviously, the pandemic’s been a really hard time for people, just in terms of job loss and uncertainty. And then coupled with an election year, I think it’s been a really strenuous year for everybody. But I think the holidays always offer that kind of hopefulness and kind of sense of security and really bring people back to thinking about family and what’s really important. So, I think it’ll be a positive experience for us in terms of sales and thinking about how our consumers are feeling. I think an approach that we’ve taken this year with our gift guides, which we do every year on our website, is thinking about the context of where the consumer is a little bit more in the context of the pandemic. So thinking about doing a gift guide for working from home, a gift guide for at-home fitness essentials. Really just meeting our customers where we are is really important to us right now. 

Adrian Tennant: You mentioned that you have an in-house creative team at Corkcicle. How are you both dealing with working from home during the coronavirus outbreak?

Morgan Jenkins: So our in-house creative team is pretty lean. We have two people who really handle most of our photo assets, shooting new lifestyle images. We’ve done a lot of really amazing creative for the holidays this year. And then we have a new catalog coming out, as I mentioned, for the big gifting shows, that’ll take place in January, February. So they’ve been at the studio, here in Orlando shooting, just the two of them. And then really, I think we’ve all – as a marketing team – just gotten really accustomed to working through Slack, and through our project management tool, Wrike. So really just leaning on these platforms that make communication super easy. And then Zoom of course, has been helpful for meeting. So I think, dealing with working from home for Amanda and I has been a Catch-22, just in terms of we love meeting in person and having face-to-face conversations. But what a day and age that we have all of these tools at our fingertips to be able to have productive meetings and stay focused throughout you know, the year and the holiday season. I think we’re both handling it pretty well.

Adrian Tennant: Amanda, do you concur?

Amanda Nelson: Yes, definitely. I mean, like Morgan said, we miss the energy and the creative energy that you get working with people, but have figured out how to work together remotely. And it’s crazy – like, I feel like I’m actually much busier at home because there’s really no breaks; nine to whatever time you end your day. It’s just meeting after meeting, which is good. But, yeah, it feels even busier.

Adrian Tennant: Morgan, what have been some of your most successful customer acquisition programs for Corkcicle?

Morgan Jenkins: So I would say email has always been a really productive channel for us. We’ve done a lot of segmentation with our customers through Klaviyo, our email tool, where we can talk to our VIP’s in a way that’s different maybe than people who haven’t purchased for three months, for example. So that’s been a really effective tool for us over the years. I think a tool that both Amanda and I had a certain level of skepticism towards, that’s really turned into probably our most productive acquisition channel, is text marketing. Our VP of marketing had heard about different brands doing text marketing, and I think Amanda and I were both just a little skeptical about texting our customers, just directly to their phones, since it does feel a little bit more invasive than emails since you get an alert about it. But it’s really shown to be a super-productive channel for us. We see amazing return on investment in that channel and just highly engaged customers and prospects. So that’s been invaluable in terms of growing our marketing.

Adrian Tennant: The platform for that?

Morgan Jenkins: We are using Wunderkind for text. We use them, as Amanda said, for on-site email capture where they get like a 10 percent off discount for signing up and subscribing with us. So they’re actually running our text platform too. It’s nice to have everything under one platform because the email subscription path and the text subscription path play really nicely with each other and make for a better user experience on our website.

Adrian Tennant: If you had zero budget or very close to nothing to spend on marketing, what would you not want to stop doing at any cost?

Morgan Jenkins: Honestly, I would probably say text marketing at this point, just knowing how effective it is. I mean, we don’t spend a lot of money on that channel and just the click-through rates and conversion rates that we see are insane. It’s just a really high level of engagement. So definitely text.

Adrian Tennant: Well, it’s that time of year, we spend looking back on the year that’s been. But what about the future? Amanda, what are you excited for for Corkcicle in 2021?

Amanda Nelson: I think as a company we’re really excited to focus on direct-to-consumer and really become best-in-class in that. And so we have things set up and investment in place to really continue to grow that channel. And Morgan and I are excited to keep talking to our consumers and learning about our consumers and making sure we’re serving the people that are loving Corkcicle’s products.

Adrian Tennant: Morgan, if listeners want to learn more about Corkcicle, where can they find you?

Morgan Jenkins: So you can find us at our website We’re running a lot of really great promotions for the holidays right now. So it’s definitely a good time to check us out if you haven’t heard of us before. You can also find us on social media. We’re on Instagram @Corkcicle, Facebook we have our own page, and then Twitter is @Corkcicle as well. And then we also have a special code for Bigeye listeners. If you use the code BIGEYE20 from now through the end of the year, so now through December 31st, you can take 20% off your order.

Adrian Tennant: That’s fantastic! Thank you! Amanda and Morgan, thank you both very much for being on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Amanda Nelson: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Morgan Jenkins: Yeah, thank you. It’s been such a pleasure. We really appreciate it.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guests this week, Amanda Nelson, Corkcicle’s VP of Ecommerce, and Morgan Jenkins, Corkcicle’s Director of Content Marketing. You’ll find links to the resources we talked about on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” And a reminder that Corkcicle has extended a special promo offer to IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners – use the code BIGEYE20 to receive 20 percent off your order. The offer is valid from today through December 31st of this year. Thanks to everybody at Corkcicle for that offer. If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, or wherever you get your podcasts. And remember, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


Integrated marketing agency Bigeye explores creative audio with sonic branding experts Jon Rhuff and Yeosh Bendayan of Push Button Productions in Orlando.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Audio branding experts Jon Rhuff and Yeosh Bendayan of Push Button Productions in Orlando invite us to be the first to record a show in their new, dedicated podcast studio. Jon and Yeosh discuss how they work with clients and share some case studies. We learn the neuroscience of why jingles are so memorable and how COVID-19 inspired Push Button’s innovative “Studio in a Box.” Plus, Jon and Yeosh offer tips for agencies to ensure successful, creative audio projects.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. The amount of time consumers are listening to audio streamed by services like Apple music, Spotify, and Pandora has increased by almost one third since the beginning of 2020. Today, more than half of all US adults listening to their favorite music talk shows and podcasts are doing so on these streaming platforms. Unlike traditional AM/FM radio stations, thanks to technological innovations, digital audio provides connectivity, accessibility, and personalization options. As we’ve discussed previously on IN CLEAR FOCUS, the devices and applications we use to access music and spoken word audio are themselves creating new opportunities. Think of the sound your computer makes when you switch it on, the distinctive Netflix audio identity, or a notification alert on your smart speaker. These are all examples of sonic branding, as carefully and thoughtfully designed as any corporate logo. To talk about how brands can use audio creatively and persuasively, I’m at the studios of Push Button Productions in Orlando owned by Jon Rhuff and Yeosh Bendayan. Jon and Yeosh oversee a team of audio brand strategists that help clients develop distinctive messaging used for jingles, audio crafted for radio and television, sonic logos, on-hold messaging, podcasts, and more. Jon and Yeosh, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Jon Ruhff: Thanks for having us.

Yeosh Bendayan: Yeah, absolutely. 

Adrian Tennant: First of all, thank you for inviting me to record this episode with you here in your new studio today.

Jon Ruhff: Nope, thanks for coming. 

Yeosh Bendayan: Yeah, this’ll be the first official anything podcast-related in our new podcast studio. So it’s nice to have you here. We’ve been working on it for a while. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, thank you for having me. Now, you’re co-owners of Push Button Productions. How did you guys first meet?

Jon Ruhff: There’s a radio station in Gainesville, Florida called WRUF. It’s actually the oldest-running FM station in the state of Florida. The state of Florida owns it and it is fully funded by ad dollars. And it’s got a full-time staff of salespeople, a full-time program director, full-time station manager, but it’s run by students. So students get to learn how to be DJs, students get to learn how to write copy, students get to learn how to produce radio commercials. It was a really fantastic hands-on opportunity. We got paid for it, which was nice. 

Yeosh Bendayan: Right, right. 

Jon Ruhff: So that’s where we cut our teeth and figured out how to learn what we do today. And so what’s happening is most students would just produce on their own and then have a commercial and then it airs. But when Yeosh and I got together to start producing spots, it just elevated to a whole new level that I had not even considered before. And we started winning Addy awards. Local brands started wanting more productions that we were doing, and we looked at each other and it was like, “This is a no-brainer, let’s start a company!” 

Yeosh Bendayan: It’s interesting. ‘Cause that station it’s unlike any other college station. I mean, it’s kind of a college station in that it’s on a campus. But it was generating multi-million dollars in ad revenue annually, even though there was largely student staff running it. But the professionals were so good at engaging and working with the kids and making us feel and look professional that it was good, but the real story of the specific day that we met though…

Jon Ruhff: No, you’re not going there right now, man..?

Yeosh Bendayan: Well sorry. I have a vague memory of it, ‘cause he had just been hired as the – where were you? 

Jon Ruhff: The Creative Services Director… 

Yeosh Bendayan: … Creative Services Director. And I was just coming in to do the mid-day shifts. And so I walked in and I made a dumb joke. I don’t even remember what it was. And he immediately was like, “No, I’m not working with this guy.” And it was awkward. And I think we probably spent the better part of the next three months just working around each other. Yeah. Just working around each other, not really working together because we were just – it wasn’t a good start. 

Jon Ruhff: And to this day we still work around that awkwardness. 

Yeosh Bendayan: Central tenet of the company. 

Adrian Tennant: Could you tell me a little bit more about the different types of projects that you undertake here at Push Button Productions? 

Jon Ruhff: Well, it’s not never a dull day, which is great for our attention spans. Make no mistake, a large amount of what we do here is we write creative for radio. We cast for talent. We produce the spots for radio. We produce custom music for brands across the country. That makes up a majority of what we do. But some days, we’re creating a soundscape for a three-minute video. Some days we’re editing Nintendo music for a game show that’s going to air on the Today show. Some days we’re just simply doing a voiceover session. So there’s just a variety of things that we do. Lately, it’s been a lot of podcasting. 

Yeosh Bendayan: Yeah. I think people are generally confused about what we do and especially in this market, because I think – well, the majority of our work is out of market. And very out of market. Like if, even if you just look on our list today, it’s just like who we’re working on after this podcast, it’s like a client in Bermuda, client in Idaho, client in Hawaii, California, Louisiana. And we’re working on OUC right now on some stuff. 

Jon Ruhff: Actually, there’s two or three projects going on in Central Florida, which is rare for us.

Yeosh Bendayan: Super unusual. Like it’s nice to have some going that are like, “Oh, somebody that we actually know and can kind of go meet for lunch.”  

Adrian Tennant: You’re co-owners of the business. Do you each have very defined roles or is there some overlap? 

Yeosh Bendayan: Okay. So you have to remember, we were very young when we started this business so I was 22 and John was 25 – ? 

Jon Ruhff: Something like that, yeah. 

Yeosh Bendayan: We’d never had a real job in our lives. I mean, to be fair, like we worked at this radio station. I had had a bunch of internships. John had worked at Publix and stuff, and so we knew how to be professional, but we did not know how an advertising agency operated or a production company operated. Neither of us had had that experience. So the way it started was kind of like, “Where are our strengths?” And “What can we do?” And everybody, like, we just kind of like filled in the gaps where something needed to be done. And then over time we’re like, “Okay, well, this isn’t really working,” and then we started to do, like where we were two independent silos where John had his clients and I had my clients and it’s like, “Okay, we’re gonna let each other know when we need help on our list of clients and we’ll collaborate.” But then eventually a few years ago it became more where I’m leading on the sales side and Jon is in charge of all the creative and production. So, I set the tee ball up and he knocks it out of the park. 

Adrian Tennant: Nice! Jingles have been around since the advent of commercial radio in the early 1920s. I imagine everyone listening can probably immediately recall at least one or two jingles that they heard growing up, watching TV or listening to the radio. So what is it about commercial jingles that make them so memorable? Jon?

Jon Ruhff: So we’ve given a lot of presentations on the history of the jingle, the effectiveness of the jingle, and there’s actually a lot of science behind it. So the thing about music in general, when you listen to music, so you’ve got parts of your brain that are in charge of your language and in charge of your movement. And they’re just very specific parts of the brain. Well, there’s no specific part of the brain that actually helps you take in music. So you’ve got one part of the brain that helps you work around the melody. You’ve got one part of the brain that helps you work around the rhythm. And you’ve got the other part of the brain that processes the guitar and things like that. So when you listen to music, if you’re under a scan, your brain is lighting up like a Christmas tree, because it takes all parts of your brain to process music. You have no choice but to be present when you’re listening to music. And that’s why you can always remember where you were when you heard your favorite song for the first time, because you’re present and aware when you’re listening to music. And so brands have taken advantage of that for decades. And you know, the golden age of the jingle was anywhere from the Fifties through the Eighties. As a matter of fact, Yeosh sent me a Cadillac jingle from 1989 the other day. That was just – it was so awesome. It made me want to go upstairs and get my GI Joes out! 

Yeosh Bendayan: The Cadillac Katara…

Jon Ruhff: Oh Cadillac style.” 

Yeosh Bendayan: It was the “Cadillac of Cadillacs.” Yeah. 

Jon Ruhff: So we always say for jingles, it’s the short, repetitive nature of the melody is that – that’s what gets stuck in people’s heads.

Yeosh Bendayan: Yeah – what is it? The reptilian brain. 

Jon Ruhff: Yes. 

Yeosh Bendayan: It’s like the part of the brain that’s almost not directly controllable by us. Right? It’s your base instinct, which is why it’s so hard to get out. 

Adrian Tennant: So Jon, what does the process of creating a commercial jingle look or sound like?

Jon Ruhff: So most people don’t think in terms of musical genres or styles and things like that or terms. So it’s our job to get that out of the clients who come to us for a jingle. So what we do is, we have a 20-, 25-minute brief call where we really get to know the brand, we get to know the target demo, we get to know the personality of everyone involved. We get to know the stations that it’s going to be aired on. And then what we do then is we gather stock music tracks or popular tracks, depending on which way we’re going to go for this particular project. And we send that over to the client for feedback. And what we do is we’re getting out of them, the things that they probably have never considered before, like, “You know, I actually do like the way that acoustic guitar sounds,” and “I actually never considered how much I hate the banjo” and “I know I absolutely do not want banjo in this piece, but I liked the way track five made me feel. I don’t know why, but I liked the way track five made me feel.” So we take all of that feedback and compile it. And that’s where we lay the foundation for the custom music that we bring out for brands. 

Adrian Tennant: So this is a little bit like creating an audio mood board as you would with a visual identity?

Yeosh Bendayan: Yeah. That’s exactly right. Yeah. And it’s just like you would, with a visual mood board, the goal of all of that upfront research is to start pulling at common threads. And for us it’s like, “Okay, well the client liked this track, this track, and this track – well, let’s look at the beats per minute and let’s look at what keys it’s written in, and let’s look at the different instrumentation stacks that they’re using.” And then we can sort of say like, “Oh, okay, well, like, this is the general vibe that the focus group or that the client seems to like.”

Adrian Tennant: What have been some of your favorite jingle projects – and what makes them special? 

Yeosh Bendayan: So I will start by saying this: we are not unaware of the fact that jingles are cheesy, okay? And I think it’s funny that a lot of people assume that we’re unaware of that, like that we don’t realize that this is a means to an end, we’re creating something to drive product awareness or brand awareness. Right? So we’re not unaware of the fact that they tend to be on the cheesy side, even some of the ones that we’ve done. Okay. So we’ll start with that. I will say we have worked on a lot of regional and national pieces that are fantastic, that I know Jon’s probably going to reference. For me, the best jingles that we’ve done have been for very small businesses and businesses that, maybe felt like – we’ll get businesses will call us and say, “Oh, you know, I need something for radio. I don’t like what the radio station is doing for me. I, I just need something.” But we take that and we do something really spectacular and, you know, it’s totally unexpected for them and they feel so pleased with the end product. Like that for me is the most satisfying. I mean, I don’t know if speaking specifically to jingles that I like, I mean, I think I like everything we do, even if it’s cheesy. I don’t know, Jon, do you want to reference any specifics? 

Jon Ruhff: So when we were just getting the company off the ground, a national restaurant chain came to us and said, “We’re paying too much for stock music and we want to do a custom piece that we can run for a while.” And so they said, “We just kind of want something with acoustic and blah, blah, blah.” So we got to know a lot more about the brand and found out that Genghis Khan was their brand ambassador. And so… 

Yeosh Bendayan: … well I don’t know that I would equate Genghis Khan with a lot of fun.

Jon Ruhff: Well… 

Yeosh Bendayan: They did. 

Jon Ruhff: Yeah. It’s amazing what a couple hundred years can do, you know? 

Yeosh Bendayan: Right, yeah. 

Jon Ruhff: It’s the [HuHot Mongolian Grill] hibachi chain of restaurants. So what we did is we were able to incorporate a lot of the sounds and then sizzles that you would experience when you go to the chain. We incorporated that into the music and we were also able to make it aggressive, but something that wouldn’t frighten small children, and they rolled it out and they ran with it for a long, long time. And we won an Addy award with it. 

Adrian Tennant: Let’s listen to that.

[HuHot Mongolian Grill music]

Yeosh Bendayan: Our national pieces are definitely nicer and more fun because they have the budget to be nicer and more fun. But the piece we did for Pyrex, I just love. I think it’s so cool. 

Jon Ruhff: Well, when they came to us, they had pretty much everything ready to go and we had to sign like a thousand NDAs, right? It was a new product that was coming out. 

Yeosh Bendayan: You know what Pyrex is, right? It’s a baking dish and I appreciate when a brand really loves its products – and they do, and they’re wonderful to work with – but I will say they made us sign a whole lot of NDAs for this new product, that we thought, “Man, Pyrex is really getting ready. They’re going to zag. They’re going to go hard. They’re going to start making cars or something…” 

Jon Rhuff: … they’re going to change the world. 

Yeosh Bendayan: Wow! That’s something big is about to happen. And I mean, this was a few years ago, so the product’s out now, but it is that baking dish that, you know – it’s a little deeper. So you can now have an extra layer of lasagna. Like that was the, that was it! And so, when we did this audio logo for them and… 

Jon Ruhff: A ten second piece…  

Yeosh Bendayan: I mean, look, maybe if you’re a cook, this is a big deal for you. I’m not a cook. 

Jon Ruhff: Well, it’s a heritage brand that they haven’t really changed much over the years, you know? 

Yeosh Bendayan: It’s a pretty quick ten-second piece and I’m sure you’ll play it. It’s so cool. They kind of let us run wild with it. They’d let us do whatever we wanted within the confines of the brand. And we came up with this really cool thing. And now, it’s probably the most referenced thing that we get when people call us and they say, “Hey, I heard this piece on your website,” or “I recognize this piece,” or whatever. And that’s oftentimes they’ll want to, do something in that style because they’re so happy with it. 

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a listen to that.

[Pyrex music] 

Yeosh Bendayan: We’ve probably written 500 jingles in the time we’ve been in business. Most of America probably knows one of our pieces.

Jon Ruhff: Yeah, one of our singers was taking a road trip and was driving through Georgia and heard themselves on a Honda commercial. And they’re like, “Oh yeah, I forgot we were on a Honda commercial in Georgia.” 

Yeosh Bendayan: You know, I think the weirdest of all is finding tribute pages on Facebook and like it’s sometimes if we hear a piece is doing really well, we’ll go search for it on YouTube to see if anybody’s uploading and read the comments, which you’re not supposed to do. But it’s just weird. It’s weird whether they love it or they hate it, I get a kick out of it. Just very interesting to see that somebody has invested time in, like, uploading something that you made and then people will comment on it. It’s very strange. 

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Lauren Fore: Hi, I’m Lauren Fore on Bigeye’s operations team. Property development and management present their own unique sets of challenges. Growing a powerful, lasting brand takes industry expertise, strategy, and insight. Bigeye’s portfolio of property clients reflects our award-winning, extensive experience in all aspects of creative marketing – for multifamily and mixed-use developments as well as student housing, senior living, and real estate. To see case studies and learn more about Bigeye’s creative and media solutions tailored to property development and management, please visit

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with John Ruff and Yeosh Bendayan, co-owners of Push Button Productions in Orlando. I mentioned in the introduction that mobile devices, smart speakers, and apps present creative opportunities for audio branding. How do you approach these kinds of projects? How similar or different are they from other creative challenges? 

Yeosh Bendayan: I do a lot of presenting on audio branding, all around the country and it’s a question that gets brought up a lot. And the first thing that we ask and just like, I’m sure most ad agencies will do, is why? You know, we’ll get the, “Oh, we’re thinking about running digital ads, for Pandora, Spotify,” or “We’re thinking about doing something with Alexa, a skill,” or whatever. The first question that we typically ask is, “What are you trying to get the audience to do? What sort of behavior or, what are you trying to drive home by doing it this way?” And then working within the confines of the application is often a little challenging for us. I think a lot of people don’t realize the limitations that many audio applications have. When we’re designing a commercial for car stereos, it’s a very different process, especially when you’re talking about mixing than if we’re doing something that’s going to be consumed digital because we have to assume that people have laptop speakers. Right? They’re not great quality. And the same when you’re talking about Google Home, like those aren’t necessarily the best speakers, so it can limit some of the things that we try to do. And we have to make sure that the way that those speakers process, what we’re doing, isn’t flattening the sound and creating a problem, right? Creating something unintended. So the process – in getting specific to your question – it’s not really that different creatively because we’re still ultimately trying to solve a problem. And now it’s just happening on a new platform. It’s more of the technical execution. So it’s the stuff that clients are usually unaware of is all the things that we’re doing on our end creatively, as we’re developing the creative, where we are coming up with ideas and going, “Yeah, but is that going to work on this platform?” And particularly, I think the biggest challenge for us is time constraints. Like, you know, yesterday we were facing a challenge with a digital pre-roll, six-second ad. And it’s like, not just us – it’s everybody in advertising is facing this challenge. How do you attack this problem in six seconds? You know? That’s probably the biggest challenge. 

Adrian Tennant: 2020 has seen a really significant increase in podcast listening and Spotify in particular has been investing heavily in talent, content production, and digital ad serving technology. Have you guys seen an uptake in podcast related work here at Push Button Productions? 

Yeosh Bendayan: Yeah, funny you say that – we have noticed that as well. Here at Push Button, we were in the middle of doing the architecture and design work on this space and we had approved the plans and between when the architecture plans drawings were done and when we started construction, there was such a dramatic shift in that demand that we went back to the architects and said, “We need a podcast space.” Like, “We have to redesign our studios now because we need a room that’s going to be able to accommodate people, coming in to do podcasts.” And also for the amount brands that we anticipated were going to be wanting this sort of thing. So it actually affected immediately our plans because originally these were going to be two separate voiceover spaces. And in that amount of time, within the last two years, the amount of podcasting work has gone up significantly. Now, bear in mind, we specifically work with advertising and brands, so we make jingles, but we don’t work with bands. Like, don’t come to us because you want to record an album – because that’s not what we do. You know what I mean? Like, so with podcasting, it was like, “We want to take brands and help them get into that podcasting space.” But we are not producing some comedian’s podcast here. Like that’s not at all what we’re intending to do. So probably about two years ago I started presenting on podcasting for brands because it was kind of a topic. So I’m involved with the Advertising Federation all around the country. And I would say it’s really weird because we have had products for the last 15 years that have had very low levels of passion from people. “What do you do?” “Well, we do jingles.” “Cool, whatever.” “Oh, we do radio ads.” “Oh, why?” Like it, like, what do we still need production companies for radio? I mean, thankfully we do, this. Podcasting is the first time that we have a product now that people are so passionate about. And almost every single time I bring it up in conversation there’s always that moment of, “We were just talking about this in our marketing meeting last week that we want to start a podcast” And it’s just such a bizarre thing that they now want to speak to us. So like within the last six months, especially since the pandemic, I’ve probably done 25 or 30 speaking engagements all over the country, mostly through Zoom, obviously. But all about just brands that are trying to get into the podcast space, there’s such a high demand and nobody knows A) how to do it, right? Because ultimately everybody says it, even in terms of content, they think, “Oh, I’m just going to take what I do and put it on a podcast.”  

Jon Ruhff: I think they underestimate how much work goes into it. 

Yeosh Bendayan: Even just, pre-interviews like, there’s an insane amount of things. And then the technical side of it, which most people are not technically-savvy,  that’s why you hire a production company, but there are a lot of rings close to this that I don’t think people totally understand and they get into the process. And sometimes the calls that we get are, “I tried to start a podcast. We did two episodes. People got really sick of it.” It’s very similar to how blogging was 10 years ago. It was like, “We’re going to start a marketing blog.” Or “The whole company is going to be writing white papers.” And it lasted four or five months. And then it was exhausting and figuring out topics is hard work and figuring out who you’re going to interview is hard work. And, with audio, there’s a whole other layer of technology that you have to know about or it just goes sideways. 

Jon Ruhff: What we’ve noticed is that a lot of CEOs who were having to quarantine and they’ve always wanted to do a podcast, they never had the time to do a podcast, were now pushing to do podcasts. And so we were getting contacted by marketing agencies and saying, you know, “How can we do this? Can we just do a Zoom and we’ll record it?” And we’re like, “No, because, you know, he’s the CEO of a Fortune…” 

Yeosh Bendayan: …“100 company.”

Jon Ruhff: Yeah. And so “Let’s, let’s make him sound like a rock star,” so … 

Yeosh Bendayan: Right. And you know, this is now middle pandemic and we have just spent a lot of money buying a building, and then building out a studio. So we’re like, “Cool, this is awesome for us.” And it wasn’t just, you know, Fortune 100 companies. This is just random people saying like, “Oh, you know, we’re going now and we’re pulling these long-term marketing projects that we can do from home.” And Jon’s right. They wanted to Zoom and we’re like, “Well, you called a production company. So we’re not going to advise that you record a Zoom call. Why would you call us if that’s what you were looking for?” So we pivoted really very quickly into something that we didn’t even realize was possible, technologically, which was, we created a virtual studio. So we worked with one of our suppliers and we put together – essentially it’s four pieces of equipment in a Pelican case that gets shipped. And this box, it’s like everything that you need for virtual studios. So everything’s already connected and all they have to do is open it, prop the mic up, and turn it on. And we handle everything from here. So, and I think that, that’s the thing that gets people is like, they think, “Oh, well you send me equipment and then I have to record it and send the bag.” It’s like, “No, no, no, we send it to you. You open it. Everything is done through remote login, even the physical hardware, we have the ability to manipulate it on our end.

So you don’t need to know anything about anything except how to turn a computer on and connect to the internet. And we’ll take care of it.” It’s really been cool. Like, I didn’t even think that was possible. And so now we’re using that application for lots of things. It’s been really cool, like, I did not expect 12 months ago that that’s where we would be doing.

Jon Ruhff: Yeah, if you would have said 12 months ago that we were buying equipment and shipping it out to clients across the country, out of it, I’d have been like, “Oh, that’s interesting!”

Yeosh Bendayan: We’ve bought more equipment in the last five months than I thought we would ever need. And it’s all just floating. It’s all this it’s all out there. It’s just scattered around the country. 

Adrian Tennant: How do you typically work with marketing communications agencies? How early in the process do they typically reach out to you?

Yeosh Bendayan: Well, it’s never too soon is my answer to that. It’s important to recognize that you don’t know what you don’t know. And for us, the biggest challenges are when we’re brought in and they say, “We promised the client this…” And now we have to deal with it. Right? Whereas if they had just brought us into the process sooner, we could have nipped that little problem right away. Right? As it was sort of being thought of.

Jon Ruhff: Like, maybe promising that they could rip off a current pop song. 

Yeosh Bendayan: Correct. That’s a big one and that’s a major, major one.

Jon Ruhff: That’s a no-no.

Yeosh Bendayan: Right – and I would say that that’s a conversation we have twice a week with different brands and agencies and, you know, you don’t know what you don’t know. I would say 15 years ago, the majority of the clients and agencies that we were getting were pretty savvy about broadcast. And they were people who maybe didn’t understand digital so well. And they were coming to us and saying like, “Okay, like, yeah, I’ve produced a ton of radio spots.” Now what we get is the opposite. And I would say [for] the majority of our clients, we become an extension of the team because we have the broadcast experience that their team usually doesn’t have any more.

Jon Ruhff: Not to mention the podcast experience, because again – so you’ve got people who have not dealt with broadcast, and you’ve got people who have not dealt with podcasts, and we’ve dealt with both of them. So now we’re that resource. 

Yeosh Bendayan: Right. 

Adrian Tennant: Jon, what are some best practices you can share for a successful agency- audio production partnership?

Jon Ruhff: So I think we’ve touched on a lot of it so far. So bringing us in as early as possible so that we can help set those expectations as far as what to expect and more importantly, when to expect it. Because there are times where we can deliver very, very quickly. And there are times like right now it’s our busy season. So help with deadlines is really, really helpful. And coming to us with a brief is great. You know, that way we can see what’s already been answered, maybe some things that we hadn’t thought about, and then we can also deliver any additional questions that we have by looking at the brief that’s already been done. I guess not over-promising to the client before reaching out to your audio production partner. 

Yeosh Bendayan: I’m glad you brought up the brief. Like, ‘cause when clients say, “Run with it, just do whatever,” that’s the most frustrating thing ever. Give me a very well-defined brief and we’ll work within the confines of that to do something spectacular. 

Jon Ruhff: So it’s funny, you mentioned that because, kind of going back to what you asked earlier about how you produce a jingle. So, thirty years ago we had these guys called “Jingle Gypsies.” And they would come into town to your radio station and the radio station salespeople would gather the local accountant and the local plumber. And they would put them in the sales office and the Jingle Gypsy would say, “What do you think you’d like?” And they’d say, “I don’t know. I like Country.” “Give me five minutes.” He goes in the other room, plays a piece, they buy it, and they run with it. We have a much more sophisticated process these days as to how we do something. And granted, you know, jingles from the Eighties and the early Nineties, they all have a special place in our heart. Don’t get us wrong. But we produce things that sound like something you hear on the radio today. It sounds like a modern piece. And a lot of it is due to the way we do our research. The way we go into depth with our clients,  as well as the producers and singers that we use. We use a lot of talent that’s out of Nashville right now, which is a hotspot. And our producers are younger and they’re also trained in advertising because we’ve been working with them for a decade. 

Yeosh Bendayan: Yeah. We’ve been, you know, we take people who are really great, technical musicians and we’re the advertising professionals that are coming in and working with them to sort of refine that. But I mean, you brought up the fact that it sounds like pop songs. And the reason for that is because they are writing songs on the radio right now. The jingle writing of 30 years ago was, you know, a husband and wife in the garage. And they were like producing and it’s the same, they’re selling the same piece in, you know, Yakima, Washington to a dentist, and then they’re turning around and selling it in Georgia, and then turning around and selling it again in Canada. And they’re just spitting the same piece out over and over. And we don’t do that. Part of working with us is custom brand audio. We create a piece and we’re working with one brand at a time, we’re coming up with something for them and then it’s theirs. 

Jon Ruhff: I’m glad you brought that up.

Adrian Tennant: What are your daily sources of inspiration?

Jon Ruhff: Running your own business. You don’t have a boss to tell you when to get in when things are due, how to do it, the way you’re supposed to act. And so I think that what we do on a daily basis is finding that balance of keeping the motivation to work on the projects that need to get done and keeping things fresh, you know. We’re constantly innovating around here, especially with the “studio in a box,” like you touched on. And just also showing to my kids that you can start a business and you can be successful. It takes time. It takes a lot of work, but it can be done. And even an audio production in Central Florida, you know, who knew? 

Yeosh Bendayan: Yeah. We get a lot of calls from people who are like, “What’s the secret sauce?” We’re not telling. Something very important to point out – we have never been the kind of business people that pretend things are good when they’re not good. You know what I mean? And business is hard. It’s so hard. And probably once a year, we look at each other and go, “Well,” like, “Should we be doing this? Because it seems really hard.”

Jon Ruhff: Ten minutes before you got here!

Yeosh Bendayan: But like winter time, like when things get really busy for us, like our very, very, very busy season is August to about February. And then from like February to August, it’s summer. And we’re just kind of like, sometimes it’s hard. And I think that that’s probably the biggest lesson that I’ve learned as business goes on and on and on. It’s like, “Man, like sometimes it really sucks!” Sometimes being in business is very, very difficult. I don’t think people who haven’t started a business really get that. There’s great highs and the highs way outweigh the lows. But man, when you’re in a lull, like when things just aren’t clicking, when you’ve got a couple projects that you’re not passionate about, and the clients aren’t great, and you know, the money’s not there – there’s just days, even still, even 15 years in the business, there’s still days where you’re like, “Man!” 

Jon Ruhff: Reading helps. I read a lot. I listen to a lot of podcasts. But for me, it’s finding that balance.

Yeosh Bendayan: I don’t read, sorry. I wish I was a better reader. I’m not.

Jon Ruhff: You watch Shark Tank

Yeosh Bendayan: I do watch a lot of Shark Tank. I do love Shark Tank.

Adrian Tennant: If listeners want to learn more about Push Button Productions, where can they find you? 

Yeosh Bendayan: Literally, where can you find us? Like where do we go? We go to Moe’s a lot. We go to Jersey Mike’s a lot. We have a very solid lunch rotation. We don’t play around with it. We don’t falter.

Jon Ruhff: is our beautiful website. And then we will follow you around once you’re there. So get ready for that. 

Yeosh Bendayan: Yes, our retargeting is – our retargeting game is strong.

Jon Ruhff: We both volunteer heavily for the American Advertising Federation. Yeosh is actually just finishing up his term on the national level. So it’s a three-tiered organization, national, district, and local. We’ve both served as Presidents here in Orlando and we’ve both served at the district level for gosh, over …

Yeosh Bendayan: Ten years.

Jon Ruhff: Yeah. So it’s a great organization. I highly recommend being a part of. 

Yeosh Bendayan: Yeah. Especially if you’re a local or – anywhere you listen to this podcast, there’s probably an Advertising Federation near you. And we highly recommend getting involved because for us, in our business, it’s been really great. Yeah. 

Adrian Tennant: Jon and Yeosh, thank you both for being guests on IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Jon Ruhff: Thanks for having us. 

Yeosh Bendayan: Absolutely. Pleasure to be here – at our own studio! 

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to our guests this week, Jon Rhuff and Yeosh Bendayan, co-owners of Push Button Productions in Orlando. You’ll find links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS Page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast player. And remember, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use theIN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


In this week’s episode: Media planning and buying agency Bigeye interviews ad industry expert Heather Osgood, the host of The Podcast Advertising Playbook.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Some of the secrets of successful podcast advertising are revealed by industry expert Heather Osgood, the host of The Podcast Advertising Playbook and founder of True Native Media. With the medium seeing a boost in listenership this year, Heather explains how her company connects podcast producers with advertisers, why she is excited about Spotify’s big investments in podcasting, and offers practical tips for media planners looking to add podcast ads to their buys.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant VP of insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Last month, National Public Radio and Edison Research reported that in the US, the overall share of time listening to music has been decreasing over the past six years – down by 8 percent – while the share going to spoken word audio has increased by 30 percent during the same period. NPR’s CMO, Michael Smith, revealed that his network’s podcast downloads are up 46 percent this year. NPR is not alone in seeing a boost in podcast listening. Podcasts now reach a hundred million Americans each month and attract increasingly diverse audiences. As more people have been working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, engagement with podcasts has increased significantly for both information and entertainment. Widespread adoption of podcast listening has meant that many direct-to-consumer brands have found success with advertising to niche audiences in this space. In a study published earlier this year, consumer insights company Claritas found that advertising in podcasts can boost brand awareness as much as 30 times the lift rates of other media channels. It’s no surprise then that eMarketer forecasts that US spending on podcast advertising will grow 45 percent to $1.1 billion in 2021. To talk about how brands and advertisers can reach audiences at scale through podcasts, I’m joined today by an industry expert. Based in Morro Bay, California, Heather Osgood has been selling advertising for over 20 years on radio, print, and trade show booths. But Heather was so passionate about podcasts that in 2016, she founded True Native Media, a firm dedicated to connecting podcasts with advertisers. Heather is also the producer and host of a weekly show called The Podcast Advertising Playbook, which covers topics that help brands develop and run successful campaigns to attract customers and generate business. Heather, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Heather Osgood: Thanks so much for having me. I’m really excited to chat with you today.

Adrian Tennant: What was the insight that led you to found True Native Media?

Heather Osgood: I founded True Native Media because I became a bit of a podcast-obsessed listener! I sold a trade show production company that I had for about 10 years. And for the first time in my adult life, I had so much time to spend listening to podcasts. And the more I listened to podcasts, the more I consumed all of this audio, I was shocked to find that there were so few ad messages in podcasts. And when we look around the landscape of all of the media out there, what we find over and over again are ad messages. And so it seems strange to me that podcasts are almost like this island and, you know, while some of the very biggest shows had advertisers, most of the shows that I listened to, which I would classify as mid-level shows, did not have advertisers. So I took a look at the industry and I found that, yes, those 1% of top shows were being served by firms that were happy to connect them with advertisers. But then there were all of these, essentially hundreds of thousands of impressions that were going unserved without ad messages. And I just felt like there really was a hole in the market and I wanted to help fill that. And given my ad background and my experience as an entrepreneur, I felt that really founding an organization like True Native Media to really help connect those mid-level shows with advertisers was something that was really up my alley and something that I could really contribute. And so that’s why I founded the organization.

Adrian Tennant: What services does True Native Media offer? 

Heather Osgood: So True Native Media is a podcast representation firm, which means that we represent podcasts. So currently we work with about 70 different podcasts in the industry and our role is to connect those podcasts with advertisers. So we work with agencies, we work directly with brands, and go about getting advertisers in any way we can for those podcasts that we serve, as well as the advertisers that we serve. But really our focus is to try and fill the podcasts we represent up with ad messages.

Adrian Tennant: In a recent episode of The Podcast Advertising Playbook, you identified seven of the biggest trends in podcasting – one of which is privacy. Since you recorded that episode, we’ve had an election of course. Voters in the Golden State supported Proposition 24, which will expand California’s existing privacy law to cover more sensitive data sets and establish a new state agency in charge of enforcing these rules for consumers. Can you tell us more about what you think it means for advertising generally and for podcast advertising in particular?

Heather Osgood: Yeah. So when we look at privacy policies, they obviously are certainly very important. None of us wants to have our identities exposed. And I think that it is such a timely and important message because I obviously do live in California, this forefront in the United States in terms of privacy policies. So it’s important for us to make sure that we are all aware of our privacy and what is happening. We enter the internet many different times a day, right, in different forms, through computers and smartphones and a bazillion different devices that we have now. And I think that it’s interesting in the world of advertising, because if you were to take what is happening in most of digital marketing, there really isn’t a lot of privacy that’s happening in most of those spaces. So there are obviously the occasions where all of us are chased around the internet by different ads when we are clicking on things. There’s so many insights and information out there about each of us. And when we look at podcasting, I think that it’s important for us to realize that while it’s certainly significant for us to be mindful of privacy and keep that at the top of our decision-making, we also have to realize that with podcast privacy issues, really the user agent and the IP are the only things that are currently being quote-unquote “tracked.” And I’ve had many conversations about how that is a unique identifier, and does that actually compromise your privacy? And certainly there is a case to be made that information can lead back to you as a person. So it is important for the podcast industry to really examine that information. And to be clear, not everyone in the podcast space is tracking that user agent and that IP information. About two years ago now, new attribution companies – there’s Podsights, Claritas, and Chartable – came out and those attribution companies really have done a lot for podcast advertising in that they’ve allowed us to see who has listened to the podcast, and then through the use of a tracking pixel, who has come to the website, who has made a purchasing decision, who has signed up for that newsletter, who has taken different actions on a website. So it allows us – really for the first time in podcast history – to track conversions, which is so important and so necessary if we’re looking to attract bigger brands and bigger interest from advertisers into the space. The challenge of course, is this privacy issue, because those companies do, you know, track the user agent and the IP address. So those are really important things for us to consider. One of the cases that has been made is that if we can really enter into the agreement at a player level about where our comfort is and being tracked, that is the best place to really implement privacy within the podcast space. Because obviously if you’re listening to a podcast, it’s an audio – you don’t have an option to click, “Yes, I’m okay with this”, “No, I’m not okay with this.” And so there’s that I think as an obstacle, but we all are listening to podcasts through platforms, whether we’re listening to it through Apple, whether we’re listening to it through Overcast or Stitcher we’re all listening through a platform. So if that platform can help us and give us that tool to say, “Yes, I’m opting in” or “No, I’m opting out” that I think really will be the move that we need to, I would say, regulate that privacy. And really, that does fall then within GDPR and CCPA and really those propositions, like Prop 24, those laws that are going to come about. When we think about that though, that requires all of these players essentially to get on board and say, “Yes, we’re going to integrate this.” There is a player called Overcast that has recently added a feature and I would recommend anybody go and check it out, just cause I think it’s interesting to look at. So when you go onto Overcast, that podcast will tell you are you being tracked, essentially. So if I listen to this show right now, am I going to be served ads? And am I going to be tracked? So it really is giving the listener then to say, “Oh, if I listen to the show, I’m going to be tracked and I’m interested.” I hope that kind of unpacks it just a bit, but I would definitely say that privacy concerns are at the forefront of conversation that we’re having in the podcast industry right now.

Adrian Tennant: Heather, on your podcast, you’ve also talked about the increasing domination of a handful of podcast apps, including Spotify. What do you think about Spotify’s well-publicized partnerships with Joe Rogan, Michelle Obama, and Kim Kardashian and its many content production company acquisitions this year?

Heather Osgood: I think that it is exciting to see that Spotify is making such a big play within the podcast space. Having been in this space now for nearly five years, it’s been such a fascinating experience to see the growth. Having come from radio and print, those industries didn’t have a lot of innovation or a lot of changes, so it’s really exciting to be part of an industry that is growing and changing so much. And I do think that it is a benefit that large corporations like Spotify are paying so much attention to the space, because in a lot of ways, it validates the value that podcasts in general bring to society as well as from an advertising perspective. There’s a reason that they’re investing in this: they’re not spending all these millions of dollars because they just want to support the industry; they’re doing it because they really see it as being a viable business opportunity where they can really come in and contribute to the space because they expect that space to grow. Now, I think one of the big questions that has been on everyone’s mind is how much censorship might be happening with some of these larger podcasts that they are controlling. And I think that is again, a very hot topic right now, given, you know, everything that’s happened in 2020. I think Joe Rogan’s show in particular, the show has been with Spotify for not too long. And there certainly have been comments and things that have come out about how is his content being censored and is that okay? Are we okay with that? Do we feel as a society that it’s good that it’s being censored? Because if we have hate speech out there, of course, we don’t want to propagate that. On the flip side, is it an issue with our rights and our ability to have a voice and have that heard? And then what is Spotify’s role in all of this? So it’s very interesting to me because the industry is answering big questions right now. They’re societal questions and of course that is being mirrored in what’s happening in the podcast space as well. I think that it’s really interesting that they are trying to have exclusive relationships with some big names, because of course, at the end of the day, it appears that their goal is to require that, “Hey, if I want to listen to Joe Rogan, if I want to listen to Michelle Obama, I’m going to have to go onto Spotify to listen to that.” And what does that do? And when we look at the open-source feel of the podcast space, which is really where podcasts got its roots in this very independent, open-sourced manner, how is that being impacted by bigger companies? You know, I think we have to take the good and the bad, and we also have to realize that the industry is going to continue to change and really, the way I see it, these are just the very beginnings of the changes that are going to be happening.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Heather Osgood, founder of True Native Media and host of The Podcast Advertising Playbook. There are estimated to be around 1.4 million podcasts now. Not all of them are active and not all accept advertising. So for brand managers and agency media planners listening to this, can you explain what the options are for finding podcasts to advertise on or to sponsor?

Heather Osgood: You certainly can reach out and individually connect with podcasts. So depending on who you are, if you’re just a media buyer, if you work with an agency, if you’re looking to buy at scale, if you’re looking to buy Joe Rogan, or if you’re looking to buy “Alison’s Gardening Hour,” these are going to be very different purchases, right? And so you can certainly go and connect directly with the podcast, but I would say if you’re going to connect directly with the podcast, really you would be looking at either the medium to the smaller shows out there. If you are looking to go bigger, then you really would want to go to a podcast advertising agency. So there are certainly agencies out there that can buy on any show for you. And those are really good ways to go. Other options can be networks or representation firms. So a network is a group of podcasts, typically within a specific genre. So if you were interested in buying tech podcasts or true crime podcasts or business podcasts, you can find different networks or groups of shows and networks typically are going to help with the production of the show, the promotion of the show, they do a lot of cross-promotion between shows and within networks. And then they usually also handle ad buying. So you certainly can go to networks. And then the last choice is a firm like True Native Media, where we are a representation firm. So if you’re an agency, representation firms can be great for you because you wouldn’t necessarily need to go to an agency yourself. When you’re representing your client, going to representation firms that have all of the podcasts is a good way to go about it.

Adrian Tennant: What level of audience or download numbers do podcast producers need to be generating to be potentially attractive to advertisers?

Heather Osgood: In my experience, 10,000 downloads per episode, within a 30-day period is a really good number. Now, just to put it into perspective, hardly any podcasts out there actually get over a thousand downloads per episode. There’s lots of shows out there, but most of them don’t actually get more, truthfully, than a couple hundred listeners. So you do have to be really judicious and do your work and know exactly who it is that you’re working with when you’re looking at a podcast, because I have found oftentimes podcasters really don’t know their numbers. And if you’re doing embedded ad reads, which about half of the podcasts out there are doing, you want to make sure that they’re getting enough downloads per episode in a 30-day period. And like I said, that’s at about that 10,000 range. If they are doing dynamic ad insertion, and you can insert that ad into their full catalog, then we can look at, I would say, 20,000 and over is a good place.

Adrian Tennant: You’re not only involved in the representation of podcasts, but you also produce and host a podcast called The Podcast Advertising Playbook. What topics do you typically cover? 

Heather Osgood: So I created The Podcast Advertising Playbook because I wanted to share with the world – as you can tell, by listening to this episode, I could talk about this for hours! There are so many different topics to be covered. And so I started that podcast specifically to talk about the ins and outs: what is dynamic ad insertion, and how can that serve you? How can you find podcasts to purchase? When you’re looking at creating success, what does that look like? How can you track results? What does privacy look like? So we cover all of these important topics and I would say part of the most fun of producing that show is interviewing other industry experts. So we talk to people from these attribution companies, we talk to other brands and we see what kind of experience are they having in the podcast ad space? What have they done to perfect the results that they’re getting? So it’s really meant to be a place where if people are interested in learning more about how to utilize podcast advertising and make it effective, that they can go to the show. 

Adrian Tennant: Does the experience of regularly producing your own podcast help you relate to the challenges many podcasters face?

Heather Osgood: Oh, absolutely, yeah! I think it’s been great. So I want to say that we’re on episode 35. I will be totally transparent in that I have lots of help with the show. So my marketing team is very effective in helping keep me on the straight and narrow – and what I mean by that is actually producing those episodes because that’s one of the hardest parts about a podcast is you have to produce regular episodes. And I think, oftentimes, when people imagine starting a podcast, they think it sounds like so much fun and it’s going to be so easy or it won’t take that much time. And realistically, it is a lot of work. And so it’s been nice to go through the whole experience alongside the podcasters and really understand and identify their needs and concerns, firsthand.

Adrian Tennant: What are your sources of inspiration?

Heather Osgood: I really am inspired, I would say, by books and other people and what they have done. So I am definitely a podcast junkie, but I’m also an audiobook junkie. I listen to lots of audiobooks. I also read, but I can get so much more covered when I listen. And I like to hear the experiences that other people have had, especially as business owners, as entrepreneurs. So really for me, looking at what other people have been able to accomplish is really inspirational. Somebody said the other day, and I should remember who it was, but they said, “if somebody can do it, anybody can do it.” And I thought that was such a good statement because oftentimes in life, I think that we sell ourselves short, right? We look at our own shortcomings because we know those so much more intimately than anyone else. And we assume that we aren’t going to be able to reach our goals, or we’re not going to be able to get to the place that we want to get when in reality, we can, and I’m not necessarily one of those people that says you can accomplish anything. I’m definitely never going to become an astronaut. That’s just fine. I’m totally cool with that. But I do think that if we have big goals and big dreams, we can do it. And really, when we look around ourselves, when we see other people accomplishing great things to me though, that’s our example, that’s our roadmap. And for me, that’s the inspiration I need to create every day

Adrian Tennant: Of course, you’re a female entrepreneur and you had a company before True Native Media. What were your experiences like when establishing True Native Media compared to say your first company?

Heather Osgood: My husband and I actually established a few different companies, but the main company I was involved with was my trade show production company, Simply Clear Marketing, prior to True Native Media. And I founded that company with my best friend and it was an amazing journey. I think I was super blessed to have partnered with someone who had a very similar work ethic, who had very similar life goals, and her and I worked amazingly well together, which isn’t always the case, especially when you go into business in your mid-twenties with your best friend. But it really was such a good learning experience. And I think what has been so amazing about True Native Media is that I have been able to take those lessons that I learned at Simply Clear Marketing, and I’ve been able to apply them to True Native Media. And one of the most important things, I would say, the compass that I live my life by – but in business especially – is really this idea of starting with the end in mind. What is our goal? Where are we trying to head? if you don’t know where you’re going to go, then you can go anywhere. And if you’ve got a path for where you’re headed, it really helps you keep you focused on what is most important. And like I said, I feel like you can apply that to business, but you can also apply that to life. Where are you headed and what are you doing to get there? And that’s a main goal and a main objective for me at True Native Media.

Adrian Tennant: Based on all the advances that you’ve seen in the podcasting industry this year, what are you most excited for in 2021?

Heather Osgood: I’m excited for continued growth. I would love to see us get to the $1 billion mark, which we’re slated to in podcast advertising in 2021. So I’m excited about that, but I’m also really excited  about the advancements in technology. I think that we’re going to continue to see a lot of this consolidation. That’s happening because we’ve had so many independent companies and they continue to pop up. It’s like every day, “Oh, look, there’s this new podcast company” and “that new podcast company,” right? They’re all over the place. But I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of consolidation because right now I do think we need some – like we talked about Spotify – I think they are obviously making this play to try to become a major player in the industry, but who are the other major players that we’re going to see pop up? And what does it look like to have some industry leaders? I’ve been talking to several people in the podcast space about creating a podcast industry association where we all meet together, we’re all on the same page. And we talk about common issues and things facing the industry because it’s so fascinating to be part of something that is growing so quickly. But when you put up there and you say, “Okay,  there’s 1.5 million podcasts out there.” Yeah? Well, there’s 600 million blogs out there. When you say, “Oh yeah, we’re going to reach a billion dollars in ad sales.” That’s awesome – but how many hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent in radio and TV? So even though as an industry, we really feel like we’re growing – because we are, and it’s exciting – when you put us up to other  mediums we’re really still in our infancy. So I really am excited to see how we can grow and how we can come together as an industry to help arm one another to really fortify us to grow.

Adrian Tennant: Heather, are we at a point where media planners should be thinking about integrating podcast advertising into buys?

Heather Osgood: So I think that when I consider podcast advertising, I often see that people don’t integrate it into their overall marketing strategy. And I would like people to approach podcasts in that way. I find oftentimes it’s like people just dipping a toe in the water, right? They’re like, “Oh, I hear podcasts are good” or “I hear I should try podcast advertising.” So they come in and I’ll talk to companies, even large companies sometimes were like, “I want to place two ads on one podcast” and I’m like, “That’s a bad idea! Let’s actually look at your marketing strategy. Let’s look at what you’re doing and let’s look at how we can integrate podcasts into that overall marketing strategy or at least your audio strategy.” So I do think that when people are considering podcast advertising, if you’re really wanting to see its value and if you’re really wanting to see if it can produce results, you’ve got to commit to it at a big enough level and integrate it enough into your campaign to really see true results.

Adrian Tennant: Heather, if listeners want to learn more about True Native Media, where can they find you?

Heather Osgood: They can find us at I’m also super active on LinkedIn, so if you’re interested in coming over to LinkedIn and finding me there, I do a live every Wednesday at 10:00 AM Pacific. Of course, you’ve mentioned The Podcast Advertising Playbook, which is available on any podcast-playing apps so you can go find that as well.

Adrian Tennant: Heather, thank you so much for being our guest today on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Heather Osgood: Thank you for having me. It’s been a real pleasure.

Adrian Tennant: Many thanks to my guest this week, Heather Osgood, founder of True Native Media and the producer and host of The Podcast Advertising Playbook. You’ll find links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked, “Podcast.” If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast player. And remember, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


Full-service advertising and influencer marketing agency Bigeye interviews serial entrepreneur and digital industry pioneer Ted Murphy on this week’s podcast.

IN CLEAR FOCUS: Bigeye’s podcast features Ted Murphy of IZEA, which provides influencer marketing software and services. On the podcast, Ted shares his entrepreneurial background from his first venture, a t-shirt printing company, to interactive agency MindComet, and the revolutionary but controversial Pay Per Post. Regarded as “the father of influencer marketing”, Ted talks candidly about challenges faced during COVID, startup funding strategies, and shares his take on social media and fake news.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant VP of insights at Bigeye, an audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency. We’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. It’s my pleasure to be talking today to a real digital pioneer. Ted Murphy is an Orlando-based serial entrepreneur who has founded six companies since 1994. He’s raised over $90 million in both the private and public equity markets and has created over $2 billion in shareholder liquidity. Today, Ted is the Founder, Chief Executive Officer, and Chairman of IZEA, a company that provides software and services for influencer marketing. The company’s mission is to develop technology that helps marketers and creators connect. Ted is a prominent digital industry pundit, speaking and presenting on television and at conferences around the world, and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the  New York Times, Wired, and Entrepreneur Magazine, among many others. Ted, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Ted Murphy: Thank you very much. Happy to be here.

Adrian Tennant: So from a very young age, you knew that you wanted to be an entrepreneur. Could you tell us a bit about what led you to that and how you founded your first company?

Ted Murphy: Yeah. I come from a family of entrepreneurs. Growing up, my dad had everything from radio stations to a furniture store. He was the CEO of two different public companies, and I always just looked up to him. He was my hero. I admired everything that he did. And I got to the part of my dad’s experience as an entrepreneur. And because of that, I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I started my very first company when I was in high school. I started a t-shirt printing company and at the time I actually didn’t have enough money to print any of the t-shirts that I designed. I would go around to my classmates and show them a piece of paper with the design. I collected all their money upfront. And when I finally had enough money to do my first run, then went out and started making t-shirts. It was a very primitive Kickstarter.

Ted Murphy: I have always been super passionate about entrepreneurism as well as marketing and technology.

Adrian Tennant: So Ted, I’ve been in the Orlando market for 15 years now, when I first arrived here, you were the founder and CEO of MindComet, the most respected web design and development agency in the region, working with clients like Disney, Turner Networks, Red Lobster, Burger King, Coors, and many other well-known brands. You founded MindComet in the 1990s, making you one of the web 1.0 pioneers. What were some of the highlights of that period for you?

Ted Murphy: That was such a fun period of my life. I was in my twenties. I thought I knew everything, but knew nothing. But because I thought I knew everything, we tried big,  audacious projects and we were always experimenting and tinkering. And when I first started that company, the idea was that we would build these online experiences that were very grand in scope, and they were expensive projects for our customers, and they really were only able to be used by a very small portion of people that were on the internet at the time. Back then, most people had dial up modems. High-speed connectivity was not really a thing – I think a T1 line cost like $1,500 at the time, and it was at 1.5 megabits – but right out of the gate, our idea was that we were going to build these really rich experiences that had streaming video and lots of interactivity. And it was just a blast. We were really trying things that people had never done before. And that’s something, when I look back at what we did create, it was a very special and unique time.

Adrian Tennant: Well, in 2006, you left MindComet to found a new company called Pay Per Post, which was the first marketplace for advertisers to pay bloggers to write about products. First, what was the insight or idea that motivated you to establish the company?

Ted Murphy: Pay Per Post was really incubated inside of MindComet. In 2004, as we were building all these rich multimedia experiences, what we recognized was that the avenues that were available to us for online advertising consisted primarily of banner ads and search, and those mediums were not necessarily great for driving discovery of new experiences. Search was great if somebody knew what they were looking for, but when you were creating something new, they didn’t know what to search for. So we started reaching out to people that were on message boards, early MySpace users, very early bloggers. And we started asking them to create content about the sites that we launched. And what we recognized was that it was incredibly viral when we would get placements on any of these sites. But it was also very hard to scale. Like, we just couldn’t get enough content out there. So we decided that we were going to start paying people. And in the early days, we would give people gift cards or free products, but that also wasn’t very easy to scale. So then we decided that we were going to build a marketplace to allow these things to happen more easily. And at the time I was a really big user of eBay and I looked at what they built with their online marketplace. And then we started building Pay Per Post.

Adrian Tennant: Pay Per Post certainly attracted a lot of attention. It stirred up some controversy and spawned several imitators. You created the first platform for facilitating what we now call influencer marketing campaigns. Did you foresee back then that Pay Per Post was pioneering a business model that would one day be generating billions of dollars as it does today?

Ted Murphy: That was always the vision. You know, the big idea was that once people had the opportunity to create content online, publish that content, monetize that content, that everybody would want to do that. What I didn’t recognize when we started with Pay Per Post is that in a few years, the iPhone would be introduced. And that is really what accelerated this entire space. When everybody had the ability to create content on their phone, publish photos and videos, have access to social networks and ways to connect with other people much more efficiently, that is what allowed this influencer marketing space to really take off like a rocket ship. But in the beginning it was, as you said, it was incredibly controversial. This idea of paying people to create content on behalf of brands was somehow looked at differently because it was social media, even though it was happening in movies and it was happening in radio. You would hear the DJ say, “I went to McDonald’s this morning and got my McDonald’s coffee.” And that content wasn’t necessarily disclosed, but when people – it wasn’t disclosed as sponsored that is – but when people started creating that content on their social handles, it became very clear that that content was consumed a different way by the people who were either watching videos or looking through a social stream. And there wasn’t necessarily an expectation that there wouldn’t be a financial relationship between a social media influencer and a brand. And the big thing that we had to solve in the early days was how do we make sure that people understand that this content is sponsored, that we’re being transparent with them? And we establish a level of safety for the brand, the creator and the consumer.

Adrian Tennant: Now I understand that you have personally negotiated influencer marketing deals with some internationally known celebrities. Are you able to name some of the notable ones?

Ted Murphy: I’m not as involved in that these days, but one of the ones that were most interesting to me in the early days was we did the first sponsorship with Kim Kardashian on Twitter. We paid her $10,000 to do a post for Armani Jeans, which at the time, the average cost first a sponsored tweet was about $3. So this was unheard of, but she was really starting to gain some notoriety and she put this tweet out and it talked about her butt and the jeans and it crashed the Armani server! And that’s when I really understood just how powerful this could be when you mask the right brand with the right creator.

Adrian Tennant: Certainly today, it’s hard to imagine that there was ever a question that it would work, but it’s so interesting. So how did Pay Per Post evolve into IZEA, the company that you’re CEO of today?

Ted Murphy: After we incubated that inside of MindComet, it became pretty clear that there was a big business opportunity that it was going to take time and investment in order to really help it mature and create an industry around the vision. And that it was going to be incredibly capital intensive. So I wound up taking on some venture capital funds in 2006, spun out Pay Per Post from MindComet and made it its own entity. And part of that agreement with the venture capitalist is I couldn’t really have any ongoing involvement with MindComet and day-to-day operations. So that led me to split ways with MindComet, which was tough because that was my baby. And I had built that from the ground up. And as you said, we had enjoyed a lot of success, but in 2006, I had to kind of part ways and focus all my efforts on Pay Per Post, which then became IZEA a year later, as we started rolling out new products, designed for different types of activations, outside of sponsored blog posts.

Adrian Tennant: What products and services does IZEA offer for marketers?

Ted Murphy: So today what we have is a couple of categories of products and services. Our flagship is IZEA X Unity Suite, which is an enterprise influencer marketing platform that allows brands to go in, discover creators, create campaigns, onboard the creators, measure the effectiveness of those campaigns, and pay the creators. We have a smaller offering that is called IZEA X Discovery. That is just the influencer search component of the Unity suite. We also have a platform called Brain Graph, which is a competitive intelligence platform, which allows brands to benchmark against others that they’re direct competitors with as well as looking at broader sets of data from their industry. And then most recently we have launched Shake, which is a creator marketplace that is designed to allow the creators themselves to post listings and brands to buy directly from the creators, without any sort of negotiation or back and forth, or a need for a more sophisticated influencer marketing platform.

Lauren Fore: I’m Lauren Fore, and I’m on the operations team at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as agency professionals and reflects the way that Bigeye puts audiences first. For every engagement, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers. This data is distilled into actionable insights that inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – and guide strategic, cost-efficient media placements that really connect with our clients’ audiences. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. My guest this week is influencer marketing pioneer Ted Murphy. How do content creators or influencers most commonly engage with IZEA?

Ted Murphy: Typically they would sign up for IZEA X, which is our flagship product, and that would make them available for search to marketers and allow them to start receiving offers. And now more recently with the launch of Shake, they can come in, create their listing, and then start promoting that listing out to marketers.

Adrian Tennant: How many creators do you have using the platform?

Ted Murphy: We have registered over 850,000 creators in the IZEA ecosystem. And that includes people that are registered inside of IZEA X, as well as people that are licensing the IZEA X platform, and now the Shake platform as well.

Adrian Tennant: We’re still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. How, if at all, has the COVID-19 situation impacted IZEA?

Ted Murphy: It has been a bizarre and wild ride. At the very beginning of the pandemic, it looked like the world was coming to an end. Our business dropped off dramatically following the announcement by the World Health Organization that there was a pandemic. And for about six weeks, it was very scary. We didn’t quite know what was going to happen. And then when we announced that we were going to launch Shake. We saw a huge surge of investor interest, and we were able to raise another $25 million in new funds. And so we are sitting here now at the end of October in probably the best financial condition we’ve ever been. And when we’ve launched two products during the pandemic and we are cautiously optimistic about the future, I’m sure that there are going to continue to be additional issues that come up that are related to the pandemic. And certainly some of our historical clients have been impacted much more than others, but we’re bullish about the future of influencer marketing. We’re bullish about the gig economy and creating more opportunity for freelance creatives of all types.

Adrian Tennant: Well congrats. That’s really great to hear. In early September, Netflix debuted a documentary drama called The Social Dilemma. It argues that social networks originally designed to facilitate and foster human connection have instead become forms of manipulation and control that undermine our personal agency. It showed how social networks have enabled bad actors to weaponize their platforms with misinformation. Now, as someone whose business is built on social media and user engagement, what’s your take?

Ted Murphy: I would say that there’s no doubt that the algorithms are designed to keep us engaged and coming back. The social networks are businesses and businesses want to attract and retain customers. And I would say that the social networks do this incredibly well by giving the customers what they like. It’s interesting, when you think about the content component of this, because Blockbuster movies and the most successful television shows are also designed to keep us wanting for more. You see that with binging on Netflix, where it’s manipulating our emotions to get us to watch for one more hour. And then all of a sudden it’s three o’clock in the morning. You’re like, “what just happened?” And that happened because the episodes and the content were designed in a way that would keep you watching. I think that what is different is that the social networks have access to vast amounts of content that they’re able to customize in real time. And they know better than you do in some cases what you’ll react to and what will keep you watching. And they also have the ability to push messages rather than just have you consume content and you yourself push content up to them, which they in turn share with others. So there’s a reason why these companies are so huge and make so much money – it’s because it’s really a pretty elegant design. And they’re in a very unique position as businesses with the assets that they have. But at the same time, are we being targeted? Yes. Do the algorithms take advantage of our weaknesses as humans? Yes. Do I feel like there is more misinformation than ever before? Absolutely. But I also feel like the networks still facilitate connection and education and entertainment. I think that what is so hard for the social networks is they’re in this very precarious position because of the legal protections that they’re afforded, where if they start coming in and really curating content, they lose some of the protections that allow them to not be sued for what people are posting. So if they start coming in and saying, “we’re going to say that information is false or misleading” they will very quickly lose that protection. And there are already talks of that now with some of the recent blocks of content from the New York Post. And those have been ongoing discussions. Could you imagine if Facebook was liable, if I did a Facebook post and it had misinformation about you? Then their entire business model would crumble. So I think that’s why we’re in this spot where this fake news and misinformation spreads and will continue to spread, because I think that it’s going to be near impossible for them to say, “we’re going to be the arbiter of what is real and what is not real and get rid of all those protections that basically allow us to operate independent of the content.”

Adrian Tennant: Right? It’s almost a “too big to fail” situation. Do you think digital marketers should be more concerned about transparency as they utilize social media platforms on behalf of clients?

Ted Murphy: I think that as a human, I want more transparency and privacy. I also realized that most people just don’t care, but there was a recent study by Pew that said that I think it was like 52% of Americans made a decision to give up a website or some form of electronics because of privacy concerns. But then it was only 10% of the 52%. So effectively, about 5% of Americans said that they had given up social networks because of those same concerns. I think that people know that they’re being tracked. I think that people understand that their data is being shared with all sorts of different companies. And they can’t expect that if they do something online, that it is not being tracked by someone. I think a lot of people think their phone is listening to them and serving them ads based on that. And I think we’ve all experienced going to a website and then being targeted afterwards. Like that is something that the average consumer recognizes that is happening as a consumer. I would love to see less of that. And even being in this industry, I am often astounded by just how much the networks know about  – and not just the social networks, but companies in general – know about us because they’re purchasing that information from third parties. But if I had to say, what was my bigger concern, misinformation and fake news, versus whether somebody knows I went to a website, like my primary concern would still be about the fake news. I just, I don’t know how you solve it. It’s such a big problem.

Adrian Tennant: In July of this year, chief executives of the four largest tech companies, Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook were grilled during a five-hour hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. The US Attorney General has since announced that the Justice Department is bringing an antitrust case against Google. We’ve got an election in just a few days from now – regardless of who’s in the White House in 2021, Ted, do you think it’s likely that we’re going to see more calls for regulation of digital marketing and communications?

Ted Murphy: I think it’s likely that you’re going to see ongoing discussions about privacy, dissemination of information and responsibility for the accuracy of that information. I think that it’s still too early from a marketer’s perspective to understand what these impacts are really going to mean for brands and agencies. But there are entire companies and marketing organizations that have built their tech stacks and their marketing ecosystems around the capabilities of these organizations and their ability to use these algorithms to effectively deliver customers and conversions and create a business model that works for them. So, if you wind up somewhere down the road, breaking apart these organizations, or somehow rendering them less effective, I think that the ripple effect would be tremendous. We’ve already seen this, like as Facebook has started to change their targeting options, five years ago, you had way more targeting options than you do today. You could target an individual through Facebook, and now it’s all it’s been stripped because of privacy concerns. A lot of those features that actually made Facebook more effective for marketers five years ago then than today. But it’s still the best game out there. So I am concerned as a marketer, I’m concerned as somebody who relies heavily on these technologies in our own systems, like the information that we get from the platforms to help make our business run. But I think that there are going to be a lot of challenges to potentially dismantling these companies or having any sort of major changes in legislation that would render both them and their end customers less effective in what they do.

Adrian Tennant: As I mentioned in the introduction, you have raised over $90 million in both the private and public equity markets, but I know you bootstrapped some of your earlier companies. So for anyone listening to this podcast that has an idea for a digital product or service, what’s your advice to them on funding a startup?

Ted Murphy: I think you always want to start small if you can. Some ideas are just so grand that there’s no way to bootstrap them. You’re not going to start a car company today and bootstrap, that’s just, it’s not going to happen. You will fail for somebody who is looking to start a software company for somebody who’s looking to start an agency or services business. I think that there are a lot of tools out there now that allow you to test the waters and prove out your business model before having to even dump a lot of your own money into it. You can test things very easily. Now frankly, 10 years ago, you couldn’t do it. It was too expensive to build, but now anybody can build a website. Anybody can collect credit cards, anybody can buy traffic. And my advice would be to start small, get some proof points, and then scale from there.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent advice. Finally, Ted, what inspires you on a daily basis? Are there any journals, podcasts, or social media accounts that you follow?

Ted Murphy: Yeah, I would say that since the pandemic, I have been reading a lot more of The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, just trying to find some sense of truth in some of the research journalism about all the topics that we’re facing today. I still am interested in industry topics and look at sites like AdWeek, but the problems that we’re dealing with as a country and its potential impacts on our organization, I think have been elevated so that my focus has been broader in scope. Just trying to understand, like when can we hope to be on the other side of this, and how is America coping through this time?

Adrian Tennant: Ted, if people would like to know more about you and IZEA, where can they find you?

Ted Murphy: You can find IZEA at and you can find me on Twitter. I am @TedMurphy.

Adrian Tennant: Ted, thank you very much for being our guest today on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Ted Murphy: My pleasure. Thank you so much. 

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Ted Murphy, Founder, CEO, and Chairman of IZEA. You can find a transcript of that conversation along with links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast” to ensure you don’t miss an episode. Please consider subscribing to the show on your preferred podcast app. You can also use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Alexa Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


Packaging design agency Bigeye’s podcast features Chris Harrold of Mohawk discussing creative and memorable uses of papers in today’s digital world.

IN CLEAR FOCUS: Bigeye’s podcast features Chris Harrold, SVP of Marketing and Creative at Mohawk Fine Papers. We learn the history of the NY family-owned paper makers whose purpose is to make print more beautiful, effective, and memorable. Chris shares the story of Mohawk’s new Renewal line which uses non-traditional fibers including hemp. We discuss how designers use paper to amplify brands’ qualities, and reflect on why younger designers find paper so appealing in a screen-based world.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS: fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. An Assistant Professor of Education at the University of North Dakota, Virginia Clinton conducted a meta-analysis of 33 research studies about reading on screens. Her analysis found that students of all ages, from elementary school to college, tend to absorb more information when they’re reading on paper rather than on screens, particularly when it comes to non-fiction material. The analysis, published last year, is at least the third such study to synthesize reputable research on reading comprehension in the digital age, and to find that paper is just better. Reading comprehension is just one dimension. There’s also the tactile appeal of paper compared to cold touchscreens. One man who knows a lot about the qualities and advantages of paper is our guest this week, Chris Harrold, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Creative for Mohawk Chris joins us from his office in Albany, New York. Chris, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Chris Harrold: Thanks, Adrian. It’s great to be here.

Adrian Tennant: First of all, could you tell us a little bit about Mohawk’s history?

Chris Harrold: Absolutely. In 2021, we will be 90 years young as a company. So back in 1931, George O’Connor, a local Yale-trained attorney, bought  a paper mill out of receivership. Of course it was the depths of the Great Depression. And here sits a paper mill, making all manner of products and, for a number of reasons, he chose to rescue that company and save this local employer. And four generations of O’Connor’s later,  we’re looking at our 90th anniversary in 2020 making fine paper right here – the banks of the Mohawk River, thus the name, Mohawk, where it flows into the Hudson River.

Adrian Tennant: What are your responsibilities at Mohawk?

Chris Harrold: It says Senior Vice President of Marketing and Creative, but people think of me as the chief storyteller – I take that as a compliment. I joined Mohawk in 1990, so it’s been  30 years here in a number of roles, sales and marketing- focused. And today lead our marketing team, and the creative team. And, we’re a company of a size and nature that we’re not siloed. We’re sort of like sandboxes and we all like to play in each other’s sandboxes. And the benefit of that is,  the product team interacts with my marketing team and the marketing team it works with research and development. So it’s a very collaborative environment and pretty dynamic given that we’re the ultimate analog manufacturers in an otherwise digital world today.

Adrian Tennant: What does Mohawk’s paper manufacturing process typically look like? 

Chris Harrold: It’s interesting. I actually spoke to a group of students at the City University of New York last night, did a Zoom session, which is a class about print production. And I opened with and spent some time talking about the history of paper-making. So I go there to answer your question because the elemental ingredients in making paper haven’t changed.  Plant fiber, water, and some method to dry the paper out. hasn’t changed in actually 2000 years. So the manufacturing site here: we have two mill facilities which contain three paper-making machines and they rely on those three elements. If you want to reduce paper mills’ operations to three basic ingredients, three elements, it would be fiber, water, and energy, basically. And so that’s the wildly oversimplified version of what we’re in the business of doing, of basically drawing plant fiber into covetable, printable, high-performance sheets of paper, ranging from stationary uses to – you know, if you receive a photo card from some of the usual suspects like Shutterfly or Minted this Holiday season, you’ll be holding a sheet of paper made here in, New York – or for that matter, if you imbibe and drink Tito’s Vodka, every label of the paper is made in our mill, on the Mohawk River. So it’s a pretty vast range of applications that our paper is used for.

Adrian Tennant: Which other brands use your papers?

Chris Harrold: We have a decades-long history of engagement with the graphic design community. So, you know, notably it probably reaches back into the late 1940s with Alvin Eisenman and the design program at Yale University and just because we’re neighbors, only a couple of hours away, that group early in the Fifties was engaged with Mohawk using our flagship product Mohawk Superfine. And, over decades, a lot of great design thought leaders,  when they were taught print production and paper, they came here, they made a pilgrimage to Mohawk to learn about paper. And what that did was just foster a little cult army of paper devotees, and more specifically Mohawk devotees. So, designers like Massimo Vignelli relied on Mohawk Superfine for all of his most significant pro print projects and then all those folks who paid attention to great designers like Vignelli followed suit. So in terms of brands that are using us today, again, I mentioned, we’re in Holiday season. You know, people are getting ready to make photo books and photo cards. We are a primary provider for brands. Like I mentioned, like Minted and Shutterfly, for Holiday cards. And then large consumer brands are using Mohawk to make printed collateral, which I know we’ll probably get into a little later in terms of advertising and marketing and how paper and printing fits today.

Adrian Tennant: Now, Mohawk harnesses renewable energy sources, such as wind power, to manufacture its papers. Is a sense of responsibility for the environment and sustainability, something that’s always been ingrained in the company’s DNA?

Chris Harrold: Yeah, it’s a good question. And one that we’re always thinking about, because at the end of the day, you know, we are a manufacturing business that, again, to go back to the three elemental inputs that consume plant fiber – mind you, most of that is in the form of wood fiber – so trees, right? – plant fiber, and water. So we consume it, use it, and then have to discharge it back into the river and energy. So all of those have a potential impact and so for – gosh, Adrian, all the way back to the early Eighties, when the Environmental Protection Agency was then a new Government agency, the O’Connor family, who owned Mohawk, had a very clear-eyed commitment to stay ahead of regulation and It’s innovative spirit to understand how we can minimize our impact, be responsible, and ultimately lead our industry. Even though within the giant paper industry we’re specialized and small, over those 40 years, we’ve carved out a reputation for some pretty innovative approaches to – it’s been called lots of things – conservation, environmental responsibility, and more recently and I think importantly, sustainability. It’s always on the radar. It’s core to our values, and we’re always reaching to better ourselves and be more responsible.

Adrian Tennant: Bigeye works with several beauty and skincare brands, some of which include cannabidiol or CBD. I understand that you recently launched a hemp-based paper at Mohawk. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

Chris Harrold: The paper is called Mohawk Renewal, and Adrian, in the spirit of where I was going with this discussion around environmental sustainability, over those 40 years I talked about, we’ve done a lot in terms of using wind power to drive our electrical demands. So we were in the early days back in the Nineties, paying premiums to buy alternative, renewable energy. We were an early adopter of using post-consumer waste – in other words, real recycled paper fiber. And we were really hungry to find the way we could stretch and do something new around fiber. And so 2018, really notably in 2019, we had an enormous number of inquiries coming from. Designers and brand owners who were working on CBD or cannabis products who were really anxious to get paper made with hemp. Now, mind you, hemp has been used over centuries as an input material to make paper, but it had been obscured because of, you know, illegal – it wasn’t legal to grow hemp in the United States. For instance, so the source of supply was dried up and there wasn’t a hell of a lot of it out there. Now with CBD products proliferating everywhere and the legalization of cannabis, there’s way more hemp farming here in the United States. So anyhow, so the supply is a little bit more accessible and the demand is clearly there from the packaging space to look for hemp-based papers, basically that amplify the product that’s contained inside of the package. So we started a journey, looking at hemp fibers. And while we were on that journey, searching for good sources for reliable clean fiber, we also discovered there’s some other pretty interesting, innovative companies that are starting up that use agricultural waste straw of note, and also some other sources for cotton fiber. So the net of it is this Adrian: the Mohawk Renewal line is actually made up of three different kinds of paper, harnessing three very different fiber sources –  hemp, straw, and recycled textiles – cotton, notably cotton and denim thread. Though our exploration began as a way to answer the demand for hemp-based papers for CBD packaging, it actually ended up in a pretty interesting, deeper space than we thought we’d go into with straw-based paper, as well as cotton textile… Mind you, all of it, really, if you look at it from a sort of a philosophical level, we harnessed very centuries old fiber sources to create a new future, if you like, and mind you, the benefit environmental ty of all of those fibers, hemp and straw are rapidly renewable, right? They’re annual crops. So if you compare that to the growth of a hardwood tree, you know, that may be 30 or 40 years before it’s viable to be harvested for paper fiber versus hemp and straw, which are again, annual crops. And then, cotton textile waste, like t-shirt scrap, would have just been destined for the landfill. And what we’re doing is effectively reaching into that waste stream and pulling that out to repurpose it.

Adrian Tennant: So for the Renewal line, it sounds like you’re sourcing the hemp and the straw from US farmers. Where do the scraps of cotton come from?

Chris Harrold: The straw is 100 percent sourced from the United States. It’s from a mill called Columbia Pulp, who’s opened a mill specifically to process straw in southeastern Washington state. But hemp, just to put a finer point on that, the supply chain for hemp fiber is actually, it’s fairly underdeveloped because the fiber that we use is really the waste from the stalks that are left once that incredibly valuable flower is taken off a hemp plant. So we’re actually importing a good deal of it from Europe and simultaneously we’re advocating for, and involved with, a number of really innovative new processing companies that are looking to build a North American supply chain. The cotton is all coming from the Caribbean and Central America, which is where so much of this clothing is being manufactured. So in other words, t-shirt underwear manufacturers, say like Hanes, for instance, they’re cutting t-shirt forms and garments out and then that scrap is being pulled out of the waste stream and brought to Ohio where we have a processing partner who’s making that into viable pulp. So we’re sourcing globally with aspirations to make it very local. The perfect circumstance would be hemp farms in New York state within a hundred miles of the mill could send us their waste and we could process it on-site. Mind you, we’re a ways off from that, but that’s sort of the vision we have.

Adrian Tennant: In what kinds of ways do you see packaging designers amplifying brand qualities through their selection and use of papers in general and sustainably sourced ones in particular?

Chris Harrold: So an interesting project that just came in from a small new startup called Bathing Culture in California: a couple of guys built this company. They’ve both been surfers and they both really were anxious to have a soap that they could use to get all the grit off them after they come in from surfing, but also do it in a sustainable fashion. So it’s about packaging at every level including glass containers and obviously the soaps themselves, and what goes in those is nourishing products. , But they also had a need for a box container. And they really at their core, are really trying to be as sustainable and responsible as possible. And so when they discovered. Mohawk Renewal straw, in this case, they thought it was like the perfect brand amplifier, right? It was very consistent with their ethos. And in fact, when they designed their package, which is like beautiful, simple, one-color printing, they even took time and space on that box to tell the story of what the box is made of. So the glass container that you can refill with your soap is clearly a responsible story. And then even the box itself is made from a renewable annual crop to contain their product. And then, another interesting example, back to the hemp, CBD, and cannabis space – Burgopak in London, I met the Managing Director and lead designer at a conference in Chicago when we could travel, back in 2019. And they were really anxious for hemp paper and they’re designing a product line that’s childproof for the cannabis space and then products that don’t need to be childproof for the CBD space and have used our hemp-based paper, just ingenious designs that served the needs of brands all over the world. Certainly in North America, they’re seeing an enormous uptick and a huge amount of interest and real demand for hemp-based paper packaging specifically to your point to underscore the product that they’re containing.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Chris Harrold of Mohawk. Chris, you launched Mohawk’s Renewal line of papers on Earth Day, right in the middle of a pandemic. What are some of the ways that you’ve seen Mohawk’s business affected by COVID-19?

Chris Harrold: Yeah, we did launch it at the broad, it felt like the depths of the pandemic. April the 22nd of 2020. You know, I think Adrian, print marketing and print advertising budgets just felt like they were frozen in time in second quarter. So it was really demand dropped off significantly for printing papers. Good news is, we’re climbing out of what felt like a pretty deep crater, which I think is a reflection of. demand coming back . For instance, I keep mentioning the Holiday greeting card business. That DIY space, the photo book space, is actually pretty healthy right now. People are at home, right? I’m assuming it’s a direct reflection of there’s time to organize all those zillions of photos you have on your phone and then make them into something like, “Oh gosh, I guess I’ll make that photo book I’ve been putting off!” For instance, we saw there was a spike in graduation announcements because people weren’t gathering to celebrate graduation. So demand dropped, it’s coming back. It’s got a ways to go, but we’re navigating through it.

Adrian Tennant: We know that many families canceled their usual summer vacation plans, including travel by air, due to concerns about contracting the coronavirus. We’ve heard that many folks favored road trips in RVs and the National Parks saw more visitors than usual. Do you think that the collective yearning to be in uncrowded natural spaces is an opportunity to maybe reinvigorate a broader green consumer movement?

Chris Harrold: Uh, you know, I think what all this isolation and restriction has done feels a bit like slow cooking, right? Like, I think consumers collectively have discovered like, “Okay, I’m home” and they’re valuing things that may have gotten lost in the blur of living faster, traveling more. And I think paper-based things be it books or packaging has come to the surface and looks valuable. I think the green dimension of it – there’s a moment there. I think whether you’re making a photo card or you’re buying a box of chocolates, the fact that it’s made responsibly resonates. But I think, just as a focus group of one myself, I’ve been astonished to see a toy catalog from Amazon. Like I didn’t see that coming! Like in my mailbox is this pretty artfully created catalog for the holidays – from Amazon! And I think, we’re probably all experiencing some version of scroll and screen fatigue and printed things – mind you, printed responsibly – feel like they’re special and maybe a bit more permanent.

Adrian Tennant: Well, even though we increasingly use digital communications for person-to-person interactions, some products and experiences can’t be digitized. And the traditional printed book business you mentioned, which many observers predicted would be replaced by e-readers is actually booming. So what’s the secret? Why is paper not only staying relevant in the digital world, but also subject to innovations, like your Renewal line?

Chris Harrold: Adrian, I think  everything in the world is not the size and aspect ratio of an iPhone. Even though we’re all I suppose, a bit dulled to that. So here’s an interesting example, I just got this big package that came from London, a friend who’s just an amazing, sort of a print impresario. And it celebrated varnishing day from the Friends of the Royal Academy. And here’s the deal: since the mid-18th century, at the end of the summer, artists will varnish their works, their paintings, and there would be a huge exhibition at the Royal Academy. Guess what? They didn’t have the exhibition this year and what they did instead was they memorialized the work of maybe 50 artists who did commission small works, that were printed on paper, and put into this incredibly beautiful box that’s just artfully made. It’s the kind of thing you would never get rid of, right? It puts a coffee table book to shame. So I think that, as consumers are exposed to printing, beautifully made and, artfully designed and carefully constructed, in my opinion, it begins to carve out a new important space for print. And I think the permanence of printing perhaps part of its super power and also it’s tactility, right? I mean, just the way we, as human beings, react to consuming data or visual information while we’re touching it, it just affects our brains differently. And I think that’s super important. And I think it’s what separates print from the way we consume information on screens, it’s proven by tons of research that haptic element of printing, to your point earlier, with students and learning by reading and books, we’re just hard-wired. We can’t avoid it affecting us differently.

Adrian Tennant: I think you attended art college in the 1980s. In your view, are today’s art and design students getting the education they need about the potential and practicalities of working with paper?

Chris Harrold: Absolutely not. In graphic design, and I’ve spent three decades around graphic designers, I think there’s so much information around tools and tool sets that needs to be disseminated and – mind you, as well as type design, and visual acuity, and all these elements – printing on paper is really been relegated to the corner, right? It’s like the Thursday lecture toward the end of the semester. It’s a real need in the design education space and, I suppose even in the larger art education space, but we’re working to help solve that problem. Again, we’ve had a great supportive following in the graphic design world for decades and it’s not uncommon for them to reach out to us to say, “Hey, help us help ourselves and disseminate information about print, and about paper, how we can better our efforts to educate students.”

Adrian Tennant: What are some of your favorite examples of work that you think really take advantage of the qualities of Mohawk paper?

Chris Harrold: That varnishing day box I got blew my mind because it ticked all the boxes, in terms of its use of print, the structural design of the box, and, um, you know, the prints are all on Mohawk Superfine – something we’ve been making since just after World War II. It’s the gold standard in the design community. It certainly had been for many decades. Again, I referenced Vignelli and having these artists work represented on Superfine. It just feels like the perfect compliment to the artwork. Another interesting story – all very current events, the Rhode Island School of Design, they would normally have a runway show to show off all this work done by these ingenious, young fashion designers. They couldn’t do it in the middle of COVID. What they leaned into though is print. What they did is they printed a catalog, really beautifully designed, and guess what? They use renewable recycled cotton. So it’s this very meta thing, right? All this clothing printed on cotton textile paper, artfully designed, beautiful book. And again, a keepsake. So those are two that really go to the top for me that have come across my desk in the past six weeks or so.

Adrian Tennant: Do you see the potential for younger designers, those Gen Z-ers, who’ve grown up with digital devices and have never known a time without the internet, . do you think they’re thinking about paper in a different way than say Gen X-ers?

Chris Harrold: I don’t think they actually spend a heck of a lot of time thinking about paper, but here’s my observation. When they see printing in a beautifully designed print on paper, they think it’s like witchcraft! Wow, Whoa, like it’s not this similar to their interest in say, having an old-school Polaroid camera or learning how to use film and, you know, sort of reaching back to experience things that they’ve never been exposed to that are not digital. “Wow, this is amazing. How do I do this?” Right? They’re sort of like not spoiled by lots of frames of reference to print, but on the other hand, they have zero exposure to it or a little exposure to it. Yeah, I think there’s an appetite and again, like we were talking about design education, we’re trying to stay out there and engage them and inspire them and hopefully educate them on how to do this and why it’s viable, today.

Adrian Tennant: Great observations, Chris, thank you! If IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about Mohawk Fine Papers and maybe request a swatch book, where can they find you?

Chris Harrold: They can go to That’s MohawkConnects, plural .com, and certainly follow us on Instagram. That’s a great, easy, in-your-pocket kind of way to stay in touch with us and also get linked into the website. And that’s @MohawkPaper on Instagram. Those are two really good resources.

Adrian Tennant: Chris, thank you very much for joining us today to talk about Mohawk.

Chris Harrold: My pleasure, Adrian. Thank you!

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guests this week, Chris Harrold, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Creative at Mohawk Fine Papers, based in Albany, New York. You’ll find links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. And remember, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.