Leadership + People: Episode 60 - Matt Frisbie - Part 1 of 2
The founder of Art and War marketing agency talks about the experience Disney created and the lessons from there that he carried with him. Frisbie breaks down Nike’s risky approach and how it has paid off.
- The balance of battling for market share while creatively and artistically connecting with the emotions of customers; art and war [01:25]
- How Disney trains employees or cast members to feel the story and become a part of it [04:14]
- What lead to his eventual transition from Disney Art to Marketing [06:54]
- A risky and controversial move for Nike paid off and proved their understanding of their target audience [13:11]
- Understand your people well enough to create a community of brand loyalty [16:38]
This episode of Leadership and People was originally released on: November =, 2018
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Welcome to Leadership and People. This is a series that pulls back the curtain on leadership by interviewing CEOs, Senior Executives and Entrepreneurs who had large exits. We ask these experts about how they built trusted networks to rapidly grow their companies. And what advice they wish they knew if they could do it all again.
JL: Today on the show we’ve got Matt Frisbie.
Matt Frisbie “Eighty hours to walk the parks, to go to the studios to understand Walt’s Story, to understand the guests, not the customers, the guests and that you’re a cast member and you’re part of a show. And that when you go into the park you are not in the park you are on stage. And so we all play a part in this show that’s for guests to come and escape.”
01:22 JL: Matt, thanks for making time.
MATT FRISBIE: You bet.
01:25 JL: So for people that don’t know about Art and War, can you give us the elevator pitch on the agency.
MATT FRISBIE: Absolutely. We are a pretty traditional agency in the sense that we do strategy and creative work. What makes us unique is that we believe that marketing is a balance of both art and war. When you think about the way that we communicate with people on how important it is to connect with the emotions, there’s this artistic side of it, the creative, the brand, the message. But make no mistake. You’ve got to turn that into strategy and tactics that are distributed through omni channel and everything in between. In many ways, marketing, you’re at war. You’re trying to take market share. You’re trying to take customers who aren’t currently yours. So we recognize the honesty of that situation and really address it. So we believe that marketing is a balance of both.
02:18 JL: Nice. So you guys do some pretty fun stuff. You’re making TV shows with major networks. You’re doing stuff with NBA players. Can you give us a couple of highlights of a couple of the cool things you guys are working on or have done?
MATT FRISBIE: No… I appreciate that. We’ve had a lot of fun projects. We’ve… A good friend of mine is Tobias Harris from the Clippers. That’s been a relationship that’s come from our client Blendtec. They were trying to compete in the performance blending space. Tobias was a user for many years. Reached out to us on Twitter. And we had a good conversation. And he’s like the ideal user of a Blendtec blender. He uses it to fuel himself, to eat clean, and so many things. We sponsored him as an athlete. He’s playing great this year. So he’s in a lot of our ads, and our videos, on our website. He talks about us on his own with him and his chef. That’s been a ton of fun. And it really gives that sense of confidence that when the world’s best are using your product, it really communicates down river and it’s been a big win for us. We’ve partnered with chefs like Marco Niccoli, Charity Anderson who took second place on World of Dance. Well her and her partner were in the finals. They’ve just grown so much and their brand. She’s a Blendtec user. It’s been a ton of fun seeing the world’s best using your product. That was a fun campaign to do with them. And yeah. We’re in the throws of developing a TV show with A&E with one of our clients. It’s a little top secret now but we’re doing a one hour special to air in the spring. It’s kind of a home renovation show and we’re hoping to have twelve episodes picked up from there. And they… Yeah we’re doing a lot of fun rebrands. We doing a lot of fun messaging campaigns for companies. We have a rebrand that’s going live in January. I’m not able to talk about it but we’re super excited internally about it. So lots of fun.
One Piece of the Bigger Picture
04:14 JL: Yeah. Well. You know this show Leadership and People here for a title, there’s so many different directions we could go with it. I think the one of the ones that could be fun for me at least to hear about is, when you think about your time back at Disney and understanding you know how an organization with a reputation like that works. I’m interested in some of the things that stood out to you the most actually being there versus the rest of us who are outsiders. And then secondly I’d love to talk about bringing those lessons with you for your own agency.
MATT FRISBIE: Yeah. Disney was a great company. They understand the power of brand more than anyone I’ve ever seen. It’s funny I got the job when I was in high school as a performer on their stage shows. And after the audition and after you get cast and everything, and that whole process of how I got cast is a whole other story, but they train you for two weeks solid on the brand. For two weeks, you’re paid for eighty hours to walk the parks, to go to the studios, to understand Walt’s story, to understand the guests. Not the customer’s, the guests. And that you’re a cast member, and you’re part of a show. And that when you go into the park you’re not in the park, you are on stage. And so we all play a part in this show that’s for guests to come and escape their normal lives and to have an unforgettable experience. And they’d talk heavily about the magic. All these things. And you know when you’re eighteen years old, you’re like ‘this is ridiculous, really?’ You know. It was really special. It really communicated how serious they were about that. And honestly having been a customer my whole life, or a guest I should say, you’re like, ‘wow you guys really think about it’. And the second week is when it really came home about when the night crew comes in these teams pride themselves of like, they get these tiny little paintbrushes out to fix every… there is never a chip of paint. There is never a piece of dirt. The custodial department, they are actually interview to be great with people because they walk around the park and while they may be picking up trash, they will be spending time talking to people and handing out maps and giving them recommendations on which ride to take their family. It’s a really unique experience that’s been carefully designed. And so that was instrumental to me to look at you know, how do other businesses operate this way or communicate that way. And I just would have never thought that anyone would do that that would have the opportunity to really behave that way, where it’s so unique. It’s so important to understand that we’re part of a bigger story. It was really transformational for me.
06:54 JL: I mean, it obviously became more than a high school job spending so many years there. Do you feel like… What do you feel like the advantage was of spending those… that many years getting that mind set in the bones?
MATT FRISBIE: Yeah. that’s a … I honestly thought I would be there forever. I never ever thought that I would leave and I was there my senior year of high school’s when I was hired. And it was interesting to me to you know, think of myself as a disney cast member. My parents were stoked. And it was just a college job but three years into it I was going to art school and I had as a child imagined being a Disney animator. I thought; man that was it. I was happy to grow up in the nineties when I had The Lion King, and all these great Disney films and Hercules, and they were really inspirational films as a young kid. And being able to work for a company that affected families that way was really exciting. So I actually had an opportunity to interview with the Disney art department. I couldn’t believe I got the interview, number one. And I showed a portfolio and all this. And then I got hired. And I called my folks and I’m like ‘I work for Disney Art mom.’ And she was like, ‘What?’ ‘I know!’ And I honestly thought I was done. I thought that was it. You know, I’m good forever. I’ll never need to work another gig in my life. It was a dream come true. And I went to the studiso and the warehouses where the Disney props from over fifty years were being stored. It was that…. That scene from Indiana Jones in a giant warehouse. I thought I was going to be there forever. I never imagined leaving. But after being there for seven years I was like man this is great but I wonder what can I do? What story can I tell? There’s two things great about Disney. Is their story and their retention. People never leave. So while that’s great for Disney, it’s not great to work up through the ranks. My next up superior had been in that role for about twelve years. And I wanted to promote. He kind of gave me the low down that you kind of just got to kind of get in line. And that’s kind of not my style. So I recognized that it’s probably good for me to go off on my own. And I’d learned some incredible things. I can take them with me.
Creating an Experience
09:18 JL: Yeah. So twenty years later, what are some of the element that you try to bring as you’re leading your own people and having your agency have its own feel and culture?
MATT FRISBIE: Yeah. I really appreciate. That’s a great question. Really impacted me was the story. That what Disney has done to bring magic, you know, to people. And how important that is to get to believe in something. And I never really understood that until having that experience there. So when I built my company I wanted to make sure that it meant something. That it was a business that could connect to you personally, professionally in your dreams and your aspirations. And so Art and War, our goal with Art and War is to be a business and to also be an idea. And Disney in many ways is an idea. So that really affected how we built our own brand. And what we do for our clients is our business can be an idea. If you break Disney down and kind of dissect it, it’s just a theme park that has rides. It’s just a carnival. I mean when the state fair comes to town, you could operationally say that they’re the same thing. They really are. People pay a ticket, and they ride rides, and they buy food, right? I mean that’s if you were to break it down that way. But they tell their story in so many aspects of films, media, travel, hotels. It’s a complete experience. So when we think about our clients, when we think about ourselves, is our company a complete experience? Yes we provide a service for you. But have you felt our experience? Are you onboard with our paradigm? Have you felt that without us having to say it? Right? And so we hope for us that all of our customers, they walk away understanding that I now have a balance of art and war. Right? And so for us we hope to awaken an artist that’s inside of everybody. Without them recognizing it. And Disney did that. And one of the things that I’ll never forget is when you walk down Mainstreet, they actually had psychologists help design Mainstreet. And you can read about this on blogs. But the buildings on the front of Mainstreet when you walk in are taller than the buildings at the back. And it gives you this perception that it’s a mile long. When really it’s like 217 yards, right? They waft vanilla extract through vents on the street so you’re being incepted. You’re immediately hungry even though nobody is making food. That scent of vanilla, you’re like ‘I need it!’ And then all of a sudden you go in and you’re buying things. While that sounds like it’s manipulative people never leave upset. They are always taken away. So in many ways it’s a compliment to amount of money they invested into having an experience. So how can a business have that level of experience? What can I do to incept you in that way? Or give you what you want verses kind of what you asked for? And so when companies to service providers and are like ‘I want more ROI. I want more marketing.’ ‘Let me help you understand. I hear what you’re saying. But let me help you get there. And not the way that you think you’re going to get there.’ I think that’s the case with so many things. You know we approach it with our own biases and our own lenses. And it’s not until someone shows us the different way of doing it. I would have never thought to ask for that. Right? And that’s true for so many things. It’s really affected us.
12:49 JL: Yeah. When you think about… When you think about the folks who are doing marketing right. In your mind the people that you look up to, that maybe aren’t just the obvious answers. Who’s somebody that you look up to? Who’s somebody that you feel is doing it right?
MATT FRISBIE: That’s a great question. And I would not pin it down like on an agency. I mean it’s easy to…
Nike and Kaepernick
13:11 JL: Or a brand. It could be a brand.
MATT FRISBIE: Yeah. I know. And it’s a great question. Nike is really, it’s so cliche that. Nike. But what they did with the Colin Kaepernick campaign however controversial. There’s a couple things that I really admire about it. First is their willingness…
13:32 JL: First let’s back up. For folks who aren’t familiar with it, can you give us the quick recap and then we can…?
MATT FRISBIE: Sure. Sure. Yeah. So Nike did a campaign with Colin Kaepernick. So Colin Kaepernick led this campaign in the NFL of taking a knee, right? And trying to stand against social injustices, police brutality. There’s so many aspects of it that really started it. And so I have my own opinions about why that happened, how that happened. But those are irrelevant. What happened though is Colin started this movement in the NFL and a lot of players were saying you know I have a voice and that voice is not backed by an advertiser necessarily. I can say your message Mr soda company on TV, I say something that’s on my own mind, I’m told to get off the stage. And so athletes have been radicalized. They’ve been given a microphone without necessarily being qualified by the public, but they are. And so Nike understood the zeitgeist, what’s happening and the world. Right? And so what Colin is doing is giving a voice to so many athletes that have a very strong opinion about this. So Nike contracted with Colin Kaepernick to launch this campaign. Your dreams are worth it. What’s worth sacrificing? It’s everything. And so billboards when live with Colin Kaepernick and Nike, and Wall Street went nuts. They slandered Nike. People were burning shoes. And simultaneously in the background sales were skyrocketing. Nike was not able to keep shoes in stock anywhere. And Nike was almost thanking many of these people who were burning shoes, on Wall Street, ect. Like you’re not our target audience. Right? Nike is a global company, number one. And they target trendsetters and tastemakers to groups that are going to be the fifteen to twenty-five year old kids. Who align with Nike in more ways than one. And Nike is keenly aware of that. So when a middle aged, you know stock broker’s burning his shoes, they’re super not worried about it. And Wall Street was wrong. Nike has seen a tremendous success since then. And so my admiration of them is their willingness to challenge data, to understand the world that they actually operate in. Who actually is their customer. And to speak to them. And so, so many companies are terrified to take a risk. Nike is a great example of taking a risk, of actually being creative, going with a gut decision. And it paid off huge. And if you follow Nike, they’ve always done that. They’ve always been that way. And so I’m a huge fan of them for that reason. They challenge the status quo. A lot of companies use data to get incremental growth. Which is valid as an aspect of your marketing but it shouldn’t be the driving force of your marketing. Data is absolutely a component. But, Nike challenged that and went with things that they felt to their core. And stood by their core. And if you follow them from Prefontaine to today, they have absolutely behaved in a consistent way. And I dig that.
Build a Community
16:38 JL: Well I can kind of see it a little bit in your thinking. I think about all the conversations you and I have had on Corporate Alliance events and just hanging out anyways. And I feel like one of the things that I’ve admired about your approach in marketing is I feel like there’s so much, you know, there’s so much tech now in marketing. We can measure everything. There’s so many more outlets now with all the different social media channels and stuff. And I feel like a lot of times when I’m done talking to you, I come away with this like, intensity of like no, we need to own the positioning in the mind. Like, tactics are great and all, but that comes after. Like, what is the force of nature impact in the mind that we’re going to own for the people’s opinion of this thing we’re working on. Is that a fair statement? Or how would you say it different?
MATT FRISBIE: Yeah. No. Absolutely. And a lot of that comes from the fact that the market is saturated with amazing products. Right? You know, with the Pixel 3 that just launched. And the iphone ABCDE. They’re amazing products. And that’s the case for devices. For vehicles. For computing. For homes. For clothing. For shoes. For anything. For food. There’s so many amazing solutions out there that it’s tough to just say I’m better. And a lot of companies will say, ‘well we’re unique.’ How? Nobody is unique anymore from the sense of what you’re delivering. And there is definitely like, different qualities of products right? Some people are at the entry level of a product and some people are on the luxury premier. But what changes people is how you understand them. How is your product relevant to me. So marketing is about alignment. When I think of the brands that I pay for. I’m guts and glory. I’m jeep. Im camping. I’m rustic. I’m backyard fires. And so everything like that speaks to me. And so I’ve surrounded myself with brands format that meet that. So I’m far more likely to spend money if brands understand me. And I understand them. Right? And so when you think of your customers, when you think of your demographics, being able to access that emotion, you’ll be able to align with them. Your people. That’s when the magic happens. Right? People get caught up in waves of excitement etcetera. You need to understand your people. And when you understand your people give them everything you’ve got. Because they’re waiting for it. They can’t wait to talk to you right? This idea of a community of customers, it’s real. And there are people who are loyal to this blending brand, or this computing brand. I mean there’s Apple loyalists, fanboys. You name it. Right? They’re so viceruly competitive on your behalf it’s interesting how emotionally people are tied to the products that they have. Some people can say, well I bought it because it’s a better value. RIght? And that maybe the logical explanation that comes from their mind. But they were aligned with it emotionally before it was the best price the best value. And those things are factors. They aren’t ultimately the decision to buy. And I could give you research for days about that. It’s so interesting to me and that’s what I love about marketing it’s not simple. It’s not simple in any way.
20:09 JL: Yeah. Well, so I have a bunch of questions. But I know we are about out of time for the first half of the interview here. Let’s end with one of my favorite questions. Thinking specifically about how you approach, you know, work on behalf of clients, what’s a piece of advice you would want to go back and give a younger version of yourself?
MATT FRISBIE: [laugh] That is a great question. A good friend of mine, years ago, told me about a slogan that used to be on top of an agency he worked at. It said fail fast. And so I wouldn’t change what brought me to this place because those failures have taught me so many things. We’ve had successes. Successes don’t teach you a lot. Failures are instrumental in your education. And so if I could say anything to my former self is ‘Be okay failing. Be excited about what you’re about to learn.’ That’s probably the only thing I would tell my former self because I did not look at it that optimistically when it was happening. I do now. But I didn’t then. I don’t look forward to failures but when they happen, I try to get as much out of them as I can. Great. What can I learn from this. I did not have that attitude years ago.
21:22 JL: Love it. Okay everybody. Tune back in for part two of our interview with Matt. Thanks.
Hi. My name is Logan Wilkes and I’m the CEO of Corporate Alliance. A few years ago I moved to San Diego to build a new market for us there. The biggest deterrent I had to success was I didn’t know a soul. I often thought to myself, if I just had a thriving network or influence this would go 100x faster. To be honest with you I had never felt so alone in my line. Because a) I didn’t have an influence and b) I didn’t know anyone who was going through the same thing I was. If you have ever felt like this and you were looking to grow your influence join us at one of our upcoming events. You can check us out at corporatealliance.net And you can request an invite to one of our upcoming experiences.