David Matathia has ADD, and so do you.
We spoke with Fitzco's David Matathia about how to maintain strategic focus when there are just so many distractions. Oh look, a butterfly. Sorry.
[00:00:29] Adam: All right. Welcome back to another episode of The Strategy Inside Everything. I'm really really excited today. Not only has this conversation been 24-25 years in the making, David.
[00:00:41] David Matathia: Details.
[00:00:42] Adam: Also three attempts at recording this morning that have gone horribly wrong,
I'll chalk it up to user, and hopefully we'll get through this one and I'm excited to have this chat. The 25 years part is true, our guest today is the chief strategy officer at Fitzgerald based out of Atlanta David Matathia. Shit, did I lose you again?
[00:01:08] David: No I’m here.
[00:01:09] Adam: [laughs] Now I'm going to shy. David and I both, we came from Boston University together class of sometime in the last century.
[00:01:21] David: Let’s not get there.
[00:01:22] Adam: Let's not get into those details, you can go to look us op on LinkedIn and figure it out if you're really curious. But I'm really excited to have this conversation on strategy ADD. But before we do, Mr. Matathia, would you please give everybody a little bit of your background, tell them how you got here and where you were before?
[00:01:41] David: Not if you call me Mr. no.
[00:01:42] Adam: [laughs].
[00:01:44] David: Thanks for having me dude, this is fun. Hey, third time is charmer, fourth time, whatever time this is. We're going to get this working. I call myself a mad, if you look at my resume, a lot of people don't really know what to do with it because I've tried lots of different things and worn lots of different hats. Born and raised New Yorker, started out at traditional strategist at Chai in New York.
Before that, I thought I was going to be a writer but I sucked, so I stopped. And I found the strategy world and worked in an agency for a good while and then took a couple of different paths, I worked at some media companies in New York. I worked at Turner Broadcasting and then survived the time Warner merger. I went to work at Univision again, in strategy roles working with sales folks to bring some of the qualitative insights side to how they were selling the numbers, I even did recent in PR.
Then after a good amount of time, being back in New York, I picked up and moved to Austin Texas, I wanted to get back into the agency life. I was at GSTNM in Austin for eight years, again went back in as a mid-level strategist, worked across a number of different brands and clients there. Then actually moved into an account leadership role, a hybrid actually account leadership and strategy role. I had been there for eight years, went back and I was CSO there for my last stint, and then one day I got a call from a recruiter out of the blue asking if I'd ever be interested in being a client which I hadn't thought about. It sounded intriguing, I didn't think I could do. But it was a chance to move out to California and be director of marketing for Hyundai.
In the US, I had done a lot of work in automotive both for Nissan and BMW both in the US and globally. Went out there, spent three and a half years there doing the client side thing, I had a great experience, learned a ton and then was itching to get back into agency life I missed the culture, I missed the environment, I missed really making things and was looking for an opportunity to join someplace that was looking to rebuild and maybe reinvent how it did things.
I knew bunch of the creatives here at Fitzgerald, I was aware of the reputation of the agency and the work that was being done, and was always a fan. It's a 32-year-old agency with a great history and just looking to reinvent itself a little bit for what's going to be 2.0. I came down here with a group of other new leaders to help try to not really change things, but just build on what the success was here. And it's been a good two plus year run so far, and now looking forward to what's to come.
[00:04:28] Adam: You've been there two years already. I didn't realize that you’ve been there that long?
[00:04:31] David: Yes it's flown by, it's hard to believe.
[00:04:33] Adam: Well, we must have just missed each other in Atlanta there, I left there in '14, '13 I can't remember, so I just missed you.
[00:04:43]David: That's right.
[00:04:45]Adam: Well, thank you very much for coming on, today you brought up a very interesting topic; ADD in strategy. ADD is something I don't think I've ever been diagnosed with, but those who know me definitely know that I--
--suffer from it. But specific to strategy and specific to the work that we do and all the thinking that goes into it and the ridiculous amount of decks that we put together to try to iron out some of these big thorny issues for clients, what happens from there as soon as they get a chance what do they do?
[00:05:23] David: Sorry, I lost you for a second.
[00:05:25] Adam: Was it coming out?
[00:05:27] David: Yes.
[00:05:27] Adam: I'm just going to make a note. That's all right. We do all this work and we put in all this thinking, then somehow the first chance that faith has a chance to insert something in there just totally breaks our strategy or challenges the strategy, this is just a really interesting topic.
[00:05:47]David: I certainly don't think it's unique to us here and I don't think it's unique to me. I would venture to guess that it's something that we probably all deal with to varying degrees. And for me, I really see it come to play in two ways: the first most obvious one is just chasing the flavor of the day, whether that's a new platform has come on or a new hot publisher has hit the street that everyone's working with. And people come chasing, "Okay, what are we going to do? What's our AI strategy? What do we do? What do we do and buzz feed?"
Everyone jumps right to that channel as the solution and inherently the challenge there is you start thinking about the channel, first versus trying to figure out what you're trying to solve for or what the opportunity is. And that channel may or may not be the right solution. When you start thinking just channel first about would be something really cool or different to do in a channel, invariably, it doesn't lead you anywhere terribly interesting. Sometimes you get lucky here out of the park but when you're just free flowing against a given channel or a given publisher or something like that, it's just you're not grounded in anything, you're working without a net.
And again, you just wind up chasing those things. I feel like a lot of times those things aren't even necessarily right, either for the brand or for the platform that you've worked really hard to try to establish.
[00:07:16]Adam: A hot publisher is more of a problem than a hot platform. Because the platform will cause more meetings, more conversations about let's develop a path to get onto that platform or how we're going to use that. Publishers, I find are more of a breaker because when the client gets that call or the media team gets that call, there's not enough talk about, is this even the right thing, does this publisher even align with the strategy we just figured out?
[00:07:45] David: No, I think that's right. I think they're our greatest asset and our greatest threat in many ways because the reality is we need more and more content because we need to be able to feed this machine. And the agency’s ability to do it entirely on its own just it's almost impossible, we just simply can't keep up with the demand nor the pace to churn it all out. So all these publishers getting into the content space is a great thing for us. But the flip side of it is it's also a little bit of a challenge because they can often do it sometimes faster and it's lumped in "added value" as part of a buy.
Sometimes it comes across as if it's free and it's built in with this pipeline of great distribution to it. It's like a one stop shop and if they can beat us to the street and move quickly, then it's a compelling offer. Even when I was a client, I used to get pitched all the time directly from publishers. I would always try to defer to the agency but some of those propositions are really hard to ignore. But you're right in the sense that there isn't always the diligence put up front to say, "Okay, well, what are we trying to accomplish, is this on brand, is this speaking to the right audience?"
Sometimes it's just a shiny object that doesn't necessarily fit in and then we're in the position of having to try to find a way to make it fit. And that's when you feel like you're on your heels and trying to make something that necessarily doesn't work work.
[00:09:18] Adam: You've been on the client side, you've lived it. We have had publishers come direct to us or come directly to our clients and offer when buzz feed comes and they say, “Hey, we'd love to have your brand on our tasty platform.” You have to do it, if you're a young brand there's no way you can say, "No, we're going to turn that down." You want to make a free video and distribute it to your millions of click adult followers, we're definitely doing that.
The real challenge is how can we help make sure that something that aligns with our platform happens and it's not just whatever their churn and burn model is? Because they make great videos but they don't really tell much of a story in most of the cases.
[00:10:02] David: That's the thing. I agree. Where we often come in is to try to protect against the off the shelf solution. Sometimes what you get from some of these guys, and not all, there are some that are great and will get really personal and customize. But sometimes you can tell it's the thing they've been shopping around town, but they haven't gotten someone to put their name on just yet. It really doesn't fit. Then you're short of got to be a little bit of the police who are like, "How do we find a way in? How do we find some spiritual tie to what the overall platform is, and not just have it be the thing, again, they've been peddling around the market that they're just looking to put a brand on top of?" That's when it gets most dangerous.
[00:10:47] Adam: You're bringing up a couple of good points here. Number one, some of those things become almost branded in themselves, Tasty being a primary example. You see a video, I just saw one yesterday or some time this weekend that ESPN produced, I think it was for making guacamole or something, or nachos. I watched it and I thought, "This is a tasty video." Because Tasty owns that look and feel and that crappy music they play.
Do you plug any brand into it? The brand is now secondary to Tasty. You're familiar with that. There's a lot of publishers have figured how to build that media recognition of their style. Part of it is, how are we going to make this something that our brand gets credit for? That can be a real challenge. Do you guys invest in partnering with the publishers to develop those things? How do you go about making those things flow better.
[00:11:45] David: We've been trying more and more. What we've been doing is, we've been writing them brief like we would write our own briefs. We've been going to them with fully formed, just like we'd write a credit bill. Here's the challenge or the opportunity we're trying to sell for; here's who that's with; here's where they currently are on; here's where they currently see us vis-a-vis the competition and here's what we ultimately need to measure ourselves against for success.
We're really careful about making sure that those things leave the building that they're very much bespoke to the look and feel and tonality of the brand. We're not sending them just an eight and a half by 11 shield white paper with black type. We're using imagery that reflects the platform. We're using the font language. We're really trying as best as you can on paper, give them a mini immersion into the world we're trying to paint for the brand is so that they are getting a little bit of the visceral side of it.
[00:12:41] Adam: That's smart.
[00:12:42] David: The more that we're doing that and we're trying to almost flip our own process out to them, so here's the briefing, come back and pitch us ideas and then get into, just like we would evaluate rounds of work and get feedback. We're trying to put ourselves in that position. That's helped. Again, you can't avoid the rogue situations but we're trying to do as best as we can to manage it. Give them a little of a flavor beyond just the words of the KPIs that we expect them to deliver.
[00:13:15] Adam: We did the same even with-- we do with publishers obviously, but we do it even with influencers. We have a specific brief that's written for influencers. We even take a stab at staying, "We think the intersection of your brand and this brand that you're talking about is this." We try to lead them down a really clear path and show them some content that we liked that we think is right to help them get started with whatever content they're going to create for us.
[00:13:41] David: That's smart. Talking about the intersection, we try to also talk about value intersection like where do the core values of our brand and your brand, whether that's core value or even just tonality, where those things meet. You're trying to give them some way that they can make sure things stay tight together versus just again, going down a rogue way.
[00:14:05] Adam: Yes no doubt. Globally, have you embedded your team with any tools to help put the brakes on these things when they pop up? Or is it more, "Shit it's happening again, let's react to this and go figure out how we're going to work with this new publisher or this new platform."?
[00:14:26] David: I'd love to say we had some secret; a magic weapon that we've put in place. But it's really case by case. Especially because in our case, our client base is diverse. Everything from financial services, navy fed or credit union which serves the military population and their families and spouses and so on and so forth, it's run by ex-military who have a very specific code of how they represent the brand and how they represent themselves.
So the way you evaluate those and look at those opportunities versus something like Checkers and Rally's which is a fast food joint aimed at the urban younger market, it's hard to come up with a global solution for those. We're filling them one by one and just trying to do the best we can in terms of let's try to reel this thing back in before it's so far down the drain that we can't actually effect it.
[00:15:25] Adam: Do you guys have comms planning there or is it just a strategy team tied to the account team?
[00:15:32] David: The age old comms planning debate.
It's something we've been talking about and trying to implement for a long time. We're funneled into the McCann Worldgroup Network, that's our reporting affiliation. There's been a really concerted effort to implement comms throughout the network. We've had a spot for a while that's been open that we've been trying to find someone, but they're like ninges.
It's been my experience that they're tough to find. What we've been trying to do in the interim is, in absence of having a dedicated person who is taking some principles and beliefs about comms and trying to just implement those as the way we think. Understanding that there is a best where and a best when for a concept. It's not about doing 20 things, it's about doing four things that are really impactful in the right time and space. Understanding that context can actually elevate the power of an idea.
You just see sometimes when there's an execution, you see that it's only so much better because of the place in which it ran. [inaudible 00:16:44] we used to call that contextual but today it's gotten to even a level above that. Things like working against consumer journeys, just some of the core principles of comms. It's one of the other debateswe have here. One of the downfalls of strategy in agencies for a long time has been whenever something comes along, we just put blank strategy in front of it. If you actually chased every kind of strategy, we'd have departments of hundreds of them; comms strategy, data strategy.
[00:17:16] Adam: It's meaningless at this point.
[00:17:18] David: At the end of the day, we're all rallied around what is the consumer need and how can we help give it to them in a meaningful way and play a role in their lives that matters. You can come at it in a million different ways. I always said even if we hired a comms planner to help come in and try to share by osmosis what that thinking was and what that process look like, then over time, hopefully, if it does start to bake in it almost kills itself.
You know over time if people to start behaving and thinking and acting that way, then you almost don''t need it as a dedicated function. It just becomes the thing you do. That's how we've been trying to go about it. Again, if anyone out there is listening and wants to bid [unintelligible 00:17:57]. Is this your carrying engine? Can I use it that way?
[00:18:01] Adam: We can help. We can help.
[00:18:05] David: I think I'd love to bring in maybe somebody that could help really jump-start it. But ultimately, it'll be to jump-start it then make that dedicated function or dedicated department obsolete.
[00:18:16] Adam: That's funny because it doesn't have to be. We do have someone here who's a comms planner, but her specific job she's doing strategy for most of the time. She's doing the same kind of strategy work as the rest of us; better understanding consumers, trying to define missions. and define where the brand lives. When it comes to creating the strategy when there's a new platform or a new campaign is launching, that's where she shines. Could she have a different title? Yes, I don't know. The titles to me, that really doesn't matter. You could sub my title out with a few other ones, I don't know that people really give a shit.
[00:18:54] David: I agree.
[00:18:56] Adam: What's more important is having someone that's the gate keeper. For us, as our clients get bigger and bigger, there is so many publishers that go direct to them or so many platforms that go direct to them. And all of a sudden, it comes from the client that, "Okay, we've made this deal with this platform and we're going to do this." And it's like, "Well, that's actually the opposite of what we have been talking about for six months together, tell me what you're thinking so we can help make this make sense." It doesn't get bolted on, it's everything lives to this brand promise except this quarter of their budget.
[00:19:31] David: That's the other way in which this materializes. Again, the publisher influence, it is what it is and it's not going anywhere and we're all just going to have to continue to work through it. The other interesting side to this is just the whole phenomenon about CMOs lasting 18 months or maybe even less time on average these days. Just the intense pressure there is to deliver results which is not necessarily new, but it just seems like it's--. right now it feels like a lot of partners are living almost day-to-day, literally looking at numbers day-to-day and making sometimes very short term decisions for immediate gain without keeping an eye on that longer term price.
Which again is a very easy thing to sit here and say as you and I sit here and talk on this podcast. It's a very different thing again, having been in that sit when you're faced with meeting a monthly number. But that's the other shorter side of this ADD equation is, again, you do all this work, you take consumer insight, and segmentation, and brand purpose and all these stuff and you articulate this really nicely crafted brand platform that you collectively together build.
When that pressure starts to hit, it feels like sometimes it's the first thing to go out the window. We got to do something, where is something now? We need results now and it's almost at all cost. It doesn't matter if it's in conflict or to your point, if it contradicts what we've been talking about for the last six months or so. I got to move now, I got to do something so we're just going to throw the ball and it's going to get us some short term results.
But then it's like, "Well, then where are we? Does that mean that everything we've been working on is out the window or is this a temporary diversion and we're going to come back and refocus once we get over this hump?" Versus sometimes and not every time, sometimes there are situations where you got to do something pretty radical to try to get some activity going. But there are times when you can look at it and say, "Man, if we just stay the course on this one and double down on what we all committed to and agreed to and worked hard on, we were going to get through the other side of this. We just got to lock arms and believe in it and believe in the work we've done and let it roll."
[00:21:53] Adam: It does make it hard inside the agency when there's 20, 30 people that work on a piece of business and you just did the internal presentation and showed them like, "Hey, the client just bought off on this, let me get you guys up to speed, here's where we're going, here's what changed." And then two days later it's like, "But we're also going to do this content agreement with Rolling Stone." And it's like, "But that's not even our audience. Why are we doing that?"
I think it erodes people's understanding of the brand internally and then it makes it hard for them to commit to it because commitment is the whole thing. If they're like, "Well, most of the time we're with what Dave said but it's okay if I have an idea that goes after IMO teams because why not? The client themselves just bought that piece in Rolling Stone. So they're not committed to it.
[00:22:40] David: No, I agree. It's that and it's even after a while that it has an impact on internal credibility. Because it's how many times can you go back and try to explain or justify, well this is a one off. You probably get one maybe two shots at that before it's like, "You're full of shit. None of this is going to stick and we're just going to wait until the next thing comes down the pipe."
[00:23:00] Adam: Yes, your influence is shot at that point internally because they're like well, you're the guy that they listen to unless somebody else calls them."
[00:23:08] David: Yes, very helpful. Thank you. Thanks a lot.
[00:23:11] Adam: But I think from a relationship stand point with a client too, it put's a lot weight on the account team, the strategy team and the media team when these new things pop up. The client dictates, "Hey, we're going to do this." Or, "We're really interested in this." And you want to say, "You don't want to be the buzzkill that always is saying no, don't do that." It's more about getting out the red cap and trying to lay the thing and turn it into something that makes sense with the pyramid that you've already been working on for however long you've been working on.
[00:23:41] David: Yes, that's right. I think also that's when you make your partners look like heroes too. When you can somehow find a way through jujitsu working with some of these folks to actually bring it in and find that connection. Again, it could be subtle. Sometimes it's a language tweak, sometimes it's an audience thing, sometimes it's just some sort of tonal or even visual key that brings it back around.
But when you can actually make that stuff sink-- because at the end of the day, the funny side of it is ultimately, and I learned these one, I actually got inside a company and really saw how things worked. All the people that were answering to you, are ultimately going to have to answer to somebody and they're going to have to explain why those things at the time made a lot of sense but maybe ventured off course a little bit. It's always in our best interest to try to find those connection points. It's just as you know it's not always easy.
[00:24:38] Adam: No. There's also the trade off of from a brand perspective, we've built this architecture that we really believe in. But six months later when Facebook came and said, "We want to pilot this video with you." And it did, you get these crazy results and it did all these amazing things. It's not like anybody at that point and time says, "We destroyed the brand." That CMO is just going to his boss and saying, "Look I got all these eyeballs and I drove this many clicks to the website." And everybody's high-fiving until it's two years later when people go, "But I don't understand what that brand is." Nobody even knows that's happening.
[00:25:15] David: It goes back again, it's the short term win thing. Again, I think right now and I think it's just the reality of today, they're the stand out brands and we're lucky that we've got some partners that do buy into this. But right now, we're so molded towards short term gain, short term success, hit the numbers now that again, those winds are celebrated quickly but you're right, then you step back you take all the work from the last six months, you put it on a wall and you look at it and you go, "How does this stuff all connect? What do we stand for again? Where does all this lead?" That's when it can get tricky.
[00:25:56] Adam: That's when reviews happen. To be honest with you, that's when the client does that work. Oh God.
[00:26:01] David: Yes, you're exactly right. That's when you find yourself trying to justify things that were largely out of your control sometimes.
[00:26:09] Adam: Yes, and you know clients never do that. They never look at all the work together, but they see it over time and if it tickle their brain at all, at some point they say, "Wait a minute, how does this thing connect to that other thing from last time?" You've mentioned brand purpose a couple of times, Dave. Tell me a little bit about how you're able to reign that in. Speaking of ADD, do you get brands that really really buy in to purpose, or is it a battle to drag them along and say, "No you can't. That probably undermines that purpose that you've selected"?
[00:26:42] David: We've got some that are bought in and a couple with whom we're actively working on at with, and others who are not nearly as bought in. We've tried to draw the lines between purpose and positioning, that purpose is more of a-- it's an internal, it's a culture driving thing and it's ever present and it really shouldn't change. It's once you identify the true DNA of who you are and what your core values are, what you believe in, why you wake up in the morning, what business you're in beyond the business that you're really in, those bigger foundational questions. That's sort of purpose.
Positioning then is the thing that can change and can have flow based on competitive pressures, time in the market place, whatever it might be. For the clients that are approaching us and want to do that work, it's fascinating since it's ironically even though you're working on these bigger brand platforms with often times when you get the most executive commitment and buy in and dialogue, because you talk about, "This is more about culture and internal and what drives the organisation." Suddenly everyone want's to participate, everyone wants to jump in.
Some of the projects we've been able to do in that space have been great and we're actively working on. And there's two right now that we're working on actively and they've been a ton of fun and super informative. I always like that kind of work because it does get you out of the traditional content and ad space, and it really goes back to just again what really drives the company, but also keeping in mind like that economics is a part of that, it's not just sort of the cultural unseen soft stuff, it's also combining that with what ultimately drives the economics of the place and finding that sweet spot to help clarify what the culture looks like and sounds like.
[00:28:28] Adam: That becomes one leg pf the stool to the economic pieces or the other pieces. How do you keep them on track then? You know ADD is a problem when there's a brand promise or some bit of the architecture that's challenged by media or by a platform, but when it's our purpose I find Tom [unintelligible 00:28:48] has a great purpose it's crystal clear and they've stuck to it and they are very selective about who they partner with, you don't see too many missteps. How do you keep the brands from having ADD as it relates to purpose?
[00:29:03] David: Tom is a good example because their purpose is actually, it's built into their business model so they almost can't violate it. That's the holy grail if you can really find they're working that way. Outside of that, again, I think this is where the being bad cop every ones in a while comes into play. We just have to sometimes if a decision is taken and it's something that's going to be in violation of that purpose, you just remind them. You're like "Hey, we always said from the beginning, purpose is the North star that helps you make decisions. It guides decisions especially in times that may be tough and we committed together to not do things that violate it, and what you're doing now is potentially venturing into that space so let's stop and rethink it."
Because they've invited you to do that kind of work, they seem to be more receptive when it's purpose versus when it's some other things we were talking about like one off platform or publishing ideas. Because then they're realizing that, yes, you're right, this is more higher level. This is more about our corporate culture and who we are. Again, it's a lot of the time just reminding them and reminding them what the commitment they made to it is.
[00:30:16] Adam: Purposes is--Unfortunately, it's becoming a buzzword word. Although there's a real meaning to it, in my mind I understand it. I hope it does not get devalued to the point of all the other buzzwords. Because you're right, there's--years pack up and people do want to attend the daylong sessions or workshops that you put on when you're talking about purpose versus some of the other stuff where everybody is like, "Not another session with the NCGs and we just do one of these two years ago." I hope it doesn't get sold out.
[00:30:52] David: No, I agree. It feels like it's one of those topics that have ebbs and flows, there were a number of years ago when all the PNG realigned every single brand in their portfolio on purpose and even took the credit GSGNM, where I came from, the [voice prints?] and the founders there, they've always-- purpose based branding has always been at their core [unintelligible 00:31:14] learned a lot of those tools and techniques.
It seems like it has its day and then it sort of wanes for a little bit, then the definition shifts and people start to confuse purpose with corporate, social responsibility. Then they sort of rain back in and it does feel like it's maybe having-- it starting to having a moment again. But I agree with you. Hopefully, it's not one of these things that has strategy and [unintelligible 00:31:36] folks bastardize.
[00:31:38] Adam: We'll just be coming up with another--we'll be coming up with the next buzzword.
[00:31:42] David: Yes, exactly that will be our next podcast.
[00:31:44] Adam: There you go. All right, well I think we've beaten the hell out of this topic. I've become distracted by other things on my screen here. It's time to [crosstalk].
[00:31:53] David: There you go.
[00:31:55] Adam: Yes. That's it.
[00:31:55] David: [crosstalk] living it.
[00:31:56] Adam: That's it. Everyday. Twitter. Dave, where can people find you if they want to follow up with questions. Are you on Twitter? I don't even know.
[00:32:03] David: I am on Twitter. I don't tweet a ton, but you can find me at dmatathia. D as in David M-A-T-A-T-H-I-A, lots of vowels and letters in that one.
[00:32:16] Adam: [laughs]
[00:32:17] David: And all the other usual places. I'm on LinkedIn and Facebooks and everywhere else you might want to find me. I'm an open book.
[00:32:24] Adam: Awesome. Well, thank you very much. This took too long to get on the books. I will definitely be pinging you again to do another one.
[00:32:32] David: Good to talk to you my friend. Thanks.
[00:32:33] Adam: All right. Thanks a lot.
[00:32:34] David: Thank you.
[00:32:42] [END OF AUDIO]
Holy crap. You're still reading? You must love this show. If so, you'd probably like the book by the host, Adam Pierno. You can find Under Think It on Amazon. It's a straightforward approach to strategy for today's practitioners.