CWC 20: Gordon Platt of Gotham Media Strategies

Gordon Platt of Gotham Media Strategies joined me to discuss how he came to start his own agency, including the impact of his previous experience in broadcast journalism.

He shares lessons that he has learned along the way and how he sees agency life today. Since Gordon provides both traditional PR agency services and also produces events, he talked about the value of the in-person connection and how it plays in to the overall communications toolkit.

We also have some discussion about the changing media landscape and how that can play to the advantage of agencies.


The following transcript is automatically generated. Please confirm with the audio recording for accuracy.

CHIP:  Hello and welcome to another episode of Chats with Chip podcast. I’m Chip Griffin and my guest today is Gordon Platt from Gotham Media. Welcome to the show, Gordon.

GORDON: It is great to be here and to speak with you again.

CHIP: It is great to have you here. And you know, one of the first questions I always like to ask agency owners is how it is that they came to the world of agency life. So perhaps you could share your story with us.

GORDON: Sure. So, uh, it was a little bit of a circuitous route. I was initially a lawyer and then quickly became a producer at ABC News, whereas investigative producer at nightline, I’m from there, I was there for a number of years, ultimately started my own production company specializing in documentaries for discovery court, TV, history channel, etc. And at that point a then expanded into the world of creating a fence, a seminars for business on media technology, innovation, and uh, had a number of clients such as columbia school of journalism, ford foundation, New York state court of appeals and started producing these live events for them. Uh, As time went on, some of the clients and sponsors of those events started asking if there were things that we could do for them that would help to heighten their credibility, visibility, uh, promote certain projects, etc. And at that point we started, uh, getting into the realm of more traditional agency work. Everything from a media outreach to a social media was on the rise then. So we started creating content for them on different platforms, creating blogs, you name it. So we do the typical work now we do the typical work agency work that many digital agencies do, but we still do a great deal in the area of live events and seminars.

CHIP: So it’s interesting that you sort of came to it from the, you know, the, the, the very high touch in person events medium. But if expanded through sort of the much less personal digital approach, you know, how have you found balancing those two and um, is there any real replacement for that in person interaction that you get at an event? So I guess that’s really two questions.

GORDON: Well, I think in an ideal world of, for us there are clients that we do live events for and then we also do other work for them on an ongoing basis. That’s a more traditional agency work. So to answer your question more directly, I think in the digital age it’s rare, but increasingly important to have that personal connection. As I always tell people, I’ve met tons of people on linkedin and other channels have ever closed a deal on one of those channels. Just having had an online relationship with someone. It’s always been a meeting. It’s always been some sort of personal, more personal touch. And I think that’s what live events do for people and companies in this increasingly digital environment. It’s, it’s rare, it’s something different and it provides that connection in terms of helping our agency work. I find that when we do a live event, we’re able to spin off lots of different original content that we can then repurpose on very various digital platforms.

GORDON: So you know, for example, we did this event, it’s a panel discussion say and we videotape it. We can create transcripts, we can slice and dice that content audio video in many different ways and that content is content that’s much more valuable and useful than simply repurposing or curating content that we find on the web or just sort of rewriting press releases or whatever it might be. It’s actually new material that can’t be found elsewhere so that by that investment in the live event, our clients are able to get a lot more bang for the buck.

CHIP: So one of my operating theories is that, you know, because of the rise of digital communications and how many people have switched over to that, that it’s actually increased the value of the high touch event, the, the, the in person interaction or more traditional forms of communication. Like even direct mail that there’s, that there’s been sort of. Because there’s such a diminishment of the volume of some of those activities that the value when you do employ those tactics actually increases. Is that, is that something that you’ve seen with the venture? Is that, um, you know, are they pretty much the same as they were, say 20 years ago before digital overtook the world?

GORDON: Well, I think the events are even more productive now for, for one reason, when I started it and I’m dating myself here for the events at the very beginning, we were still sending out invitations and then so we had this process of, uh, getting the invitations printed, getting everything set to go out to our database. Then it would come out, then we’d have to wait for the rsvps to be mailed back. And so the process took much longer and now we can really, if we want to do an event next week, if something Came up, some newsworthy thing that a client or ourselves want to cover, we could do it almost instantaneously and put it together or change panelists at the last minute and update our attendees and market the event. So it’s, it’s a great combination of live traditional eventS and social media that we have those social media tools available to us and can update them and we can do many more events this way we want to.

CHIP: Right. So it, it’s, it’s increased your, both your flexibility as well as your efficiency to be able to blend the digital end with the, the, the in person event.

GORDON: Oh sure. I mean, and one important thing I’ve found is that when a, in what I’ll call the old days, we used to have to have everything set when the invitation went out more or less, I mean the panel had to be set, the topic had to be set and this way with what’s going on now we can really change things. So I can send out an invitation was if we’re going to have a panel with four people and what do we need to send out the invitation. I’ve only got two of them confirmed. We can send it out, uh, by email blast and then as things get more finalized we can update it. And so it’s an opportunity not only to, to be able to update it, but it provides, uh, an opportunity for us to send another reminder or more marketing out to the people that we’re trying to reach.

GORDON: So when we were sending out invitations, mailed invitations, we really had one shot, you know, basically to send out the mazda was also expensive, you know, it had to be, had to be printed, we had to get a mail room involved with putting stamps on all the costs that if you’re doing a lot of things add up over time, especially as the printing of the invitations and now. So the, I’d say the cost of doing the event and the work involved sort of logistical, administrative and have become much less. So it’s actually, I’d say the cost of doing an event has gone way down and the effectiveness of the event has gone way up.

CHIP: So when are you someone who is always harbored that desire to be an entrepreneur to have your own business? Or is it something that you Just sort of came to after your, your career path wandered in that direction?

GORDON: It’s a disease that has been an infected my family. Uh, the entrepreneurial bug. I didn’t start off that way when I was at, um, in the media. Uh, I was very happy and always wanted to do that. But then when the media business started changing, a television speciFically started changing, I thought, well, this new opportunities out there and a television as it was, you know, a number oF years ago. It wasn’t exactly a growth industry. So I figured it was a good time to, uh, set out on my own before everyone else was forced out the door. I left on my own terms, which I was very happy to do as opposed to seeing the world of media contract.

CHIP: That’s very unusual for members of the media these days who are often forced to go looking for something and, you kNow, some of them become what I like to call accidental agencY owners. Uh, effectively what happened to me 20 years ago, I wasn’t laid off, but I decided to, to move from, uh, from the dc area back to new england. And rather than calling mySelf unemployed, I called myself a consultant and accidentally grew my first agenCy out of that. Um, so it’s, uh, it’s, it’s great that you were able to, you know, to start out on your own terms, I, you know, in the course of, of, of running your own business, you know, whAt, what was the biggest discovery? What was, you know, perhaps the biggest surprise either for better or for worse that you’ve seen along the way.

GORDON: so the biggest surprise and running my agency has been, um, I’d say, well, from a, a rude awakening, I’d say how long the decisions cycle can take on the part of clients. So it’s just can take forever, you know, the, the, the, for them to decide for them too, you know, especially that in something more. So on the vet side, you know, where they want to do an event. We’re all set and then it just goes through the various channels that can take forever. You know, the bureaucracy, I’d say because I have a pretty lean operation and I can pretty much start on a turn on a dime, you know, if someone says let’s do this and you know, I will say, great, let’s get this going. We can start setting this up by the weekend and we’ll be all set to go. Meanwhile when I’m dealing with companies and they don’t even have to be that large client companies or prospective clients just seems to take them forever to make a decision.

GORDON: So that’s been a been a rude awakening. Would unexpected I’d say. But what also has been interesting is I’ve found that over time those, a prospective clients that I thought were going to happen, you know, that we did the proposals for that. We, Uh, that seemed like short things, you know, it’s like, yes, we’re going to be ready to go next week. You know, we just need to finalize things over here. Those often don’t seem to work out or work out as planned a. whereas those calls that you get, all of the sudden a doctor you’re not planning for sometimes are the most fruitful, you know, someone will just call and say, we need to do this immediately. How soon can you start? We’ll say now. And so things that just sort of drop in your lap seem to be much more, uh, fruitful then those which you are actually planning for and spending hours and hours creating proposals and things for. So, uh, I sort of looked forward to that. I, I do the planning, I do the proposals, you know, that’s just what you have to do. But I really look forward to those calls. That’s like manna from heaven, you know, and you also don’t have to worry about them because they’re just, you know, it just happened.

CHIP: I think that’s a very common experience for agency owners. Right? It’s, it, it can often be difficult to predict, you know, the opportunities that are going to close and often the ones that require the most work, um, you know, ended up taking the longest and slash or never happened. You know, I, I always love to tell the story about, I guess maybe love is the wrong word, but, um, you know, in the, the early days of my first agency I had put together a proposal for an organization and we had back and forth and I met with them a couple of times and it was really going well and, you know, following up and then then they just kind of went silent on me and ghosted me. And then, uh, about, uh, nine months or a year later I got a call back and they said, yeah, we’d like to do that.

CHIP: And I said, and this was, this was back in the days when, you know, you saved everything on floppy discs and things like that. And so I said, I said, can you fax me my proposal back because I can’t even tell you which disc I saved it on so. And so they, they literally had to fax my own proposal back to me so I could figure out what it was. I told them I would do. Now fortunately it’s still worked out well and they ended up becoming a very longterm, a client of mine with that first agency, but, but boy, you know, sometimes it, it can be very challenging and so I think as agency owners, you know, we need to try to find those ways to, to figure out better who is, uh, the, the prospect worth investing in and, and one’s not, but of course, as you say, the call out of the blue is often the most profitable, the most of the hardest to plan for.

GORDON: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And it’s just, I guess as you were alluding to, the sales cycle is something that can be very much longer than anticipated. Uh, you know, you can think that something’s gonna happen and I’m suddenly ghosted, which is frequent. And then it sometimes just circles back a month later, a year later, you know, it’s just like, it seems like it’s out of the blue, although you put all this work into it early on. So that seems to be surprising. Also, I’d say. Yeah.

CHIP: So one of the things that you had mentioned was that, you know, you’re, you’re very nimble, flexible, easy to sort of turn on a dime to get started. I presume that means that you do a lot of work with freelancers, you know, that’s typically, you know, how agencies, uh, acquire their nimbleness, um, you know, what is your experience been with freelancers, you know, what, you know, what advice might you have for other agency owners and in, in those relationships.

GORDON: So I would say the mind model comes a little bit from having been in the media, so, which as the economics of which have changed. So there are now many more freelancers who want to at one point had permanent jobs. So, uh, but now they’re involved in the gig economy basically. So if I, so if I need to expand to create capacity for a project, uh, I can hire a camera man, I can hire editors, I can hire writers, I can handle a hire specific people as a needed. I have a network from my past lives at this point of people that I can call upon pretty easily. Uh, I’ll give you an example. So a interesting example. One, um, I had a client that wanted to do a live event, not in this case, just really more of an event and um, he asked me if it was actually for a mattress company.

GORDON: Okay. Interesting. And they said they were going to do this live event and they want it to get someone who could do tricks on a mattress like flips and things like that for an afternoon. So, and, and this was like wednesday and that are going to do it saturday. It a lot of, uh, a time involved. So fortunately in this case I had done a documentary in a birth years before on the coney island sideshow a. that was for discovery. So as a result, I have had and have this whole network of people with these, let’s put it this way, unusual skills that people who can put a long ice picks up their noses, people who can eat fire, people who can do a lot of things that aren’t normal job descriptions. So I called one of the guys that I said, look, I’m looking for some, you know, uh, an acrobat basically you can do these flips and this is it and it’s, you know, a day long gig and they’ll pay whatever the going rate is.

GORDON: And by the end of the afternoon I had someone who could actually had a couple of people lined up who were free and could do that, uh, the flip set the client wanted to do. So I have the established over time and network of people who can do different things. And there was another case where, uh, we had a client that wanted to create a blog for women who were experiencing a menopause and they were, uh, it was a nutritional supplements company and they wanted to create this blog for women that would be about lifestyle and diet and exercise and things like that. And they said, look, we really like what you’re doing, what you and your small permanent team that I have are doing. But at that point, this is no longer the case. We were three guys and they said, we just don’t think you are the right demographic to get to the demographic that we want to reach.

GORDON: And while I disagreed with that, because as a former journalist, I can pretty much write anything for any audience because that’s what I had to do. But I said, you know, they’re the client. I sAid, okay, fine. Uh, so I very quickly went out and was able to find a freelancer, have in my network who was a woman who had written extensively about health, nutrition, know lifestyle. And I came back to the perspective client a day later and I said, okay, we got, I think we’re all set now. This is the person, this is her bio. These are some more examples and we can do it. And then of course the rest of my agency will be able to back her up and making sure that it’s edited or as the graphics and, you know, whatever we need to supplement that. The writing, the content we’ll be able to do. So, uh, you know, if I’d had a full agency and we hadn’t had someone who could fit that specific niche, we would’ve been out of luck, but, you know, being nimble, I was able to go out and pretty quickly put someone in just for that specific project.

CHIP: So in all the years that I’ve been doing podcasting, I think this is the first time that I’ve ever had someone talk about hiring someone to put needles up their nose. So that’s, you know, that that will, that will certainly go down in the memory banks. But you know, a lot of agency owners have these interesting stories, right? Because you have clients and you need to find ways to meet them. And I, I think that agency owners are amongst the best networkers there are out there. Certainly members of the media are great with it as well because, you know, you are all about that network of folks that you’ve created a, you know, whether it’s a, a freelancer who can write or a freelancer who can put needles up there, knows it’s, you know, it’s, it’s getting to know these people that, that really, I think adds a lot of value. So I think networking is one of those things that you, you can’t really overestimate the importance of in agency life.

GORDON: well, I would say the media experience was really important. Number one, as a producer of a live television show, uh, when we had to go out and find somebody, we had to go out and find them, you know, we just couldn’t come back and say, well, we couldn’t find the shows going on, you know, how to find them. Uh, and if you had to changE things around slightly you would, but you’d come up with something. Um, and it’s the same thing that I relate to writing. Um, I mean, before I started working and live television, I’m. There was always, I was sort of, uh, could, could have writer’s block sometimes torturous process to create something that I was happy with and then when you’re in the newsroom and writing and the shows on, in our case at 1130 and you have to have a finished product, uh, you just have to happen, you know, it’s, it’s, you’re facing a black screen if you don’t get it and you’re looking for a new job.

GORDON: So it’s just got an that also got me to the point where, uh, you know, a good enough is good, you know, it doesn’t, it’s a, especially in advertising or media or you know, you need to get something up on and it’s got to be of course professional and high quality, but it’s not, you know, I’m enduring masterpiece, you know, in, in most cases it’s got to. Getting it on is the most important thing. so it’s got to be, you know, 80 percent is having 80 percent is better than having zero percent, you know, and it’s just a. And then, and then I also got, I’ve gotten to think that, you know, what some of the things that you write quickly and your juices are flowing and are sometimes better in retrospect then those things that you really have time to polish and finish and go through a drafts and sometimes those seem a little tortured when you’re, when you’re looking at the final project, you know, it’s like maybe every sentence is correct and perfect. But then when you look at it aS a whole, it’s like, ugh, you know, as a whole and somewhat flat because each sentence is correct. But it’s like when something is created or written by committee, of course, of course it’s like sometimes, yeah, it might be right. But is it good, you know, it’s.

CHIP: So you had mentioned that, you know, the, the changing media environment has obviously pushed many former members of the media into the gig economy, which is obviously good for you and others who are looking to hire freelance talent, you know, whether it’s on the production side or the content creation side or what have you. But, um, you know, how have the changes in the media environment impacted your agency work? In other words, you know, how is it different, um, you know, what you’re doing today versus say, uh, you know, when you first started your agency because of that continuing evolution of the media environment.

GORDON: Uh, well, I, I’d say first from a to go back to what you were saying, we were saying about the gig economy. It can be quite frustrating because you’ll, you’ll be working with someone and bringing them along and maybe even thinking about hiring them permanently and then all of a sudden another, a job that they like better or some other reason that they. I had this experience, I trained someone, I brought them in at my, my goal was ultimately to make them a permanent part of the team and then they got another job because they just wanted to do writing exclusively. and when you work in my operation, you have to pretty much do everything because it’s lean and, and, um, and we rely on, you know, the ability to do many tasks and there’s not writing every day. You know, there might be phone calls one day fixing copy machines, whatever it is the next day.

GORDON: Um, but, uh, so she wanted to go off and to that other, uh, a job and I couldn’t really say anything, you know, that was fine. It’s part of the gig economy, but it’s, it’s frustrating. I would say as a, as a business owner somewhat, it was a loss because I had put a lot of time into training the person about this is how we write things, you know, my style, this is how we service clients. ThiS is in some cases what the specific client is looking for. We just reached that point where that person was pretty self sufficient in terms of being able to just take things and run with it. And then all of a sudden she left and then I was at. It also takes me time to find the right person. I mean, I guess part of the problem with the gig economy is that some people are better than other people and that you don’t necessarily always have access to the perfect person.

GORDON: Um, which is, uh, is, is a problem. So, but to get back to your question of how has the media world changed? Um, I guess there are more awkward trinity’s out there to place stories. Um, and because there are blogs, they’re more trade publication there, podcasts, you know, uh, so it’s easier to get coverage. I would say. Uh, one of the things that has taken place though is client education. Sometimes it can be a challenge. So for example, you may have a client that says, well, we’d love to get on the front page of the wall street journal, you know, because that’s, that will be, that’s our goal. That would be great. And I come back to them and say, okay, what is your actual goal? It’s great to get on the front page of the wall street journal, New York times. Uh, it’s a little bit like a crapshoot because a lot of people want to do that and it’s a might not actually achieve what you would like to achieve.

GORDON: So you might have an article that you can put on your trophy wall, but if your goal is to sell widgets, is having an article on the front page of the New York times going to sell more widgets or maybe you’re actually going to sell more widgets if you have a very favorable article on the front page of widgets today, right? Because everybody who is reading widgets today is buying widgets. Um, people who are, I’d say most of the people who are reading the front page of the business section of the New York times or not buying widgets. So is your goal to burn it if it’s your goal is to burnish or image? Yes. Maybe that a front page article is something that you want a, if it goes actually to sell your product and sell as many as possible in a short time, maybe that’s not the best, uh, the best thing to focus on.

GORDON: Uh, also it takes a lot of time and energy to try to get that front page story or that slot on the today show. Do you want us to focus on that or do you want us to spend the time that we have to devote to you trying to actually move the needle on your yourselves again? So it really depends on. So I think we spend more time working with clients to try to get them to figure out if they haven’t already, what their actual objectives are, you know, because um, you can generate a lot of clippings or things, but is that actually what you want to do? So

CHIP: I think, I think that’s a great point. You know, you need to make sure that you have that alignment with your clients and you need to make sure that they’re clear in their own minds what it is that they are trying to achieve because that will improve the client agency relationship. But the underlying point that you want to make sure that the content matches the audiences is I think really critical and, and, and something to consider. and, and actually I think it’s a, it’s a great note for us to end on because hopefully we’ve created some content that’s very useful to the audience that I have on this podcast, the folks who have been listening, hopefully the last 28 minutes or so have been enlightening and useful. I appreciate everybody tuning in all the way through thiS podcast. My guest, my guest today has been a gordon platt and gordon, where can people find you if they want to learn more about gotham media?

GORDON: Um, well they can look us up on our website, gotham media, or they can email me directly at ge platt, p, l a t, [email protected]. And, uh, we’re also on facebook and all the usual or gotham media at, at gotham media on twitter.

CHIP: excellent. Well, thank you for joining me today, gordon. I really appreciate it. It’s been a great conversation and I look forward to being back here with all of you on the next episode.

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