Adrian Ho is putting in the work

When Adrian Ho founded Zeus Jones, he had a vision to be a partner that would help solve deeper business problems than the ad agencies in which he got his start. Over time, the firm did just that. Seeing there was more to do to drive change in the world, through business, he and Zeus Jones launched the Demos investment fund to support startups innovating towards a better world. After knowing Adrian by reputation and mutual friends for a long time, we finally connected to talk about his start, training and outlook on improving things around us.

 

Find Adrian Ho here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/adrianho/
Read about Zeus Jones and Demos here: https://tcbmag.com/zeus-jones-invests-in-the-future-of-business/

Transcript of this conversation below:
Adam Pierno  0:02  
This is The Strategy Inside Everything. I’m Adam Pierno. The Strategy Inside Everything is the podcast for people who think for a living. If you have an idea, a question or you want to push back on something you hear in this episode, go to thatsnotaninsight.com and leave a message or a voicemail for me. The best and most interesting messages will be added to future episodes. And I can’t wait to hear from you.  All right, welcome back to another episode of the strategy inside everything very much looking forward to my conversation today with a longtime acquaintance and finally getting to see each other face to face. Adrian Ho is the co founder and chairman of the board at Zeus Jones. Adrian, how are you?

Adrian Ho  0:54  
I’m good. Thank you. Good to meet you. Finally, as well,

Adam Pierno  0:57  
Adrian, I wanted to talk to you because of something you’ve launched from within Zeus Jones. But I think for people just getting to know you or maybe they know your reputation that Zeus Jones, it’d be really helpful if you could talk a little bit about your career kind of where you’ve been and what you’ve done before getting to this point, although you’ve you’ve been at Jones and built quite a track record there for 15 years. But talk about what led up to that.

Adrian Ho  1:23  
Yeah, for sure. Yeah. So I have a bit of a sort of cliched advertising story. I obviously did not train to be in advertising fell into it. But I would say my career really has been primarily as an account planner or strategist in agencies. My first job was in Los Angeles, an agency called Lord, Dentsu and Partners was a Dentsu, Young & Rubicam agency. And it was a great first job. I’ve worked with someone who had been very classically trained as a researcher. So I learned I really learnt how to do research properly. And then I moved from there. To J. Walter Thompson in San Francisco was there briefly for about a year. Then from there went to an agency that was called Anderson Lemke. Also in San Francisco. They were famous for b2b technology advertising. I worked on Microsoft and a bunch of other technology businesses there and then went from there to Goodby Silverstein, which is also in San Francisco, was there for a couple of years working on HP and entrepreneur things. And then went to Fallon, in 2001, I think 2001 became head of planning Fallon. I was there for I think, six years, something like that.

It was, you know, honestly, one of the best places overworked and there I met my business partners, who kind of like me decided that we were, you know, obviously fascinated by the idea of, of brands and, and business and trying to impact growth for companies. But I felt really hamstrung by the just the tools of traditional advertising. And yeah, I’d say, I would use traditional advertising broadly, because Fallon, back at that time, obviously, was, was really one of the pioneers. I mean, it was a time of BMW films in the whole thing.

Adam Pierno  3:40  
Yeah. Yeah. And Goodby before that, where you were.

Unknown Speaker  3:42  
Yeah, and Goodby. Obviously, these do these were places that did advertising and do advertising really, really well. But I think we just started to see that there were really a lot of problems that advertising cannot address. It’s just not designed to address it. And then there’s obviously been a lot written about just how the advertising market has become so saturated and, and less effective over time. So it was kind of a confluence of those things that led us to starting positions in 2007.

Adam Pierno  4:23  
When you say the advertising market was saturated, do you mean in terms of getting impressions? That means something to consumers? Or do you mean in terms of the number of agencies selling services to brands?

Unknown Speaker  4:35  
Yeah, no, it was definitely the it’s definitely the challenge of getting attention from from consumers. Yeah. Absolutely. It’s only gotten worse. I mean, you know, I’ve told this story a number of times, but my when I when I started at Anderson Lemke, we ran Microsoft’s advertising business and digital advertising business and Literally the very first meeting I went to, was a meeting to discuss what we should do about the fact that click through rates had fallen from 30% to 5%. On banners. I don’t even know I mean, it’s point 000005%.

Adam Pierno  5:17  
At this point, you know, how many bottles of champagne would be opened if somebody’s got a 5%? Click through rate?

Unknown Speaker  5:22  
I mean, it was incredible. It really, and obviously, I was in San Francisco during that whole kind of dot com Boom, so that there was just so much unreal about that whole time. But yeah, that was one of the things and I think it’s really exciting. And honestly, it was, that experience was one of the things that led me to Zeus Jones. My boss, and I wrote a very unpopular paper at that. At Anderson Lemke, when Microsoft was paying us, I think it was like $30 million dollars to manage their digital advertising business. And the, the whole point of the paper was that we were applying a communications methodology to digital advertising. And communications is one way digital is obviously two way and even more complex these days. And, you know, our point of view was, we needed to rethink it. So I didn’t go down too well, but I think it was, it was absolutely the genesis for you know, in 2007, when my partners and I really started to think about, you know, there were just just a whole series of new tools and opportunities developing. And so that’s when we started Zeus, Zeus Jones, and, you know, many probably know that the idea behind this Jones was an is to, to see if we could take everything that we were doing from a branding and marketing standpoint, and put it into the center of companies rather than wrapping around the outside.

Adam Pierno  6:53  
It’s not just icing that you put on the top.

Adrian Ho  6:55  
We hope so yeah. And I think, you know, it’s taken, it’s honestly, it’s taken a while I would describe this as a journey, but we were moving from really, you know, sort of being on the periphery of a company’s business, to try and to be somewhat somewhat more central to it. And I think it, you know, I think we’ve, I think we’ve achieved some of that goal, we do, you know, I would describe ourselves these days as really a brand and business innovation company. We do brand and business innovation at really three different levels. So we do new brand and new product innovation. Where it’s really what we’re doing. We’re not product innovators. But what we found is that, if you build the brand and product proposition at the same time, you can get a much better overall package and much more effective performance in the marketplace, as well as you can just get things into market much more quickly.

Adam Pierno  8:00  
If those things are aligned and streamline people understand what the what the functional benefit and the emotional benefit are as one cohesive. Yeah,

Adrian Ho  8:07  
that’s right. That’s right. Yeah. And so I say, that’s probably the truest version of what we originally thought we were gonna do, right. But then, we now do a lot of and we have done for a few years, what I would call capability innovation, which is we help companies stand up new divisions, or new departments in order to, you know, typically go after new kinds of growth or new kinds of marketing opportunities. So most recent examples where we helped Nike stand up studio 365, which is essentially the division that is responsible for Nike editorial. And so it’s, it’s its purpose is to tell stories, 365 days a year, one to one with athletes all around the world. And so that was an example, we helped to stand up targets own brand management group, which is the group that basically drives all of the decision making and creation for all of its own brands. And then, you know, another example is we helped stand up Philip Fidelity’s mobile practice, which, you know, obviously, is was designed to try and figure out how to engage with new people in new ways and those sorts of

Adam Pierno  9:34  
things. Yeah, that’s a huge undertaking, to say the least. Yeah, those

Adrian Ho  9:39  
are pretty complex. And then the third kind of innovation that we do is what I would call future market innovation, but it’s really based around long range planning. And so we work with teams leadership teams, to try and imagine well, what’s the world gonna look like in 510 15 years? And as a result of that, what are the markets that we see emerging? And then as a result of that, how can we put ourselves in an advantageous position to, to capture value in those markets. And so if you can tell the three things that we do are pretty complimentary. So often it does start with future market innovation. As a result of that, we realize we have to do some capability innovation, because there’s this, there’s an obviously, there’s something that we need to be able to do that we can’t do right now. Right. And then as part of that, we might need to do some new brand and product information as well.

Adam Pierno  10:37  
How much of that is based on your introduction to the business? As with research being such a focus and such a big part of your training, you know, understanding research, understanding the principles of that, and the methodologies there? How much do you think that? Have you credit that for your ability to take those forward looks?

Adrian Ho  10:58  
I would say, there’s obviously a very analytical part of, of what we have to do. Because, you know, everything has to make sense from a financial standpoint, and an investment standpoint. So I’d say to that extent, it works really, really well. Honestly, I feel that my my education really began in earnest. Once we started Zeus Jones, I think that, you know, we knew so little about how business really, really works, and about what, what’s really important. From our previous experiences, and again, I think we were working with great companies, and we have great clients who are very, very open and partnering with us, you know, places like Fallon a good beat, but the, the decision making that accompany goes through means that advertising is really one of the last things that you think about, yes, you know, and so we were just not exposed to a lot of the very early thinking that companies would do before a brief would ever even get generated, you know?

Adam Pierno  12:17  
Yeah. And that’s a problem that agencies run into all the time where they want to go upstream and ask questions that have already been decided two years ago in the product cycle where it’s like, sorry, too late. It’s going to be aimed at, you know, preteens, that’s that’s who’s the audience.

Adrian Ho  12:29  
That’s exactly why. Yeah, yeah.

Adam Pierno  12:32  
So yeah. Oh, go ahead.

Adrian Ho  12:34  
Go ahead. No, you got?

Adam Pierno  12:36  
Well, you just mentioned, you know, understanding the business and making good investments as well. And the reason that I did finally schedule this conversation was because reading about what you’ve launched with demos, which is an investment fund that runs is it through Zeus Jones, or in partnership with Zeus Jones? It’s I think it’s a standalone company. But it sounds like you’re involved in it sounds like the leadership team is involved.

Adrian Ho  13:04  
Yeah, yeah. Right. Yeah. So So I think it actually all comes out of what I just spoke about. But increasingly, as we started moving more into those areas of work, those areas of business and brand innovation, we started to see that, obviously, there were things that we just weren’t capable of, of delivering on our own. So what, a few years back, what we had started with another company, it’s called no stoves. And really, it’s a community of independent I think values aligned, but very, very sort of diverse in skill set. Creative companies, were we we could sort of partner with them. And we could bring, you know, a fuller solution to one of our big clients who was like, Yeah, I can see you can do this bit of it, or can you do these other bets that I need to have done? So I said that that was an important part of the evolution to Deimos, which was starting to understand that we should think about, you know, Zeus, not as like this full service, kind of vertically integrated thing, but maybe as more of, you know, a collection of companies and ecosystem, a group or those sorts of things. So, so there was a lot of thinking that we did around, you know, what other parts if we are now kind of a collection of or a group, if you will, what other parts would we bring? And so there’s sort of the theory about it, which is that any good business ecosystem brings Ideas, talent, and capital. And so we kind of realized, well, capital is one of these things that we know we have no access to. But that wasn’t two of the only thing. What we started to get into more and more was the idea that as we were doing innovation for our clients, what we started to come across was the realization that most big companies only spend so much, you know, actually performing innovation, they spend a lot more buying innovation. And, you know, one of the big reasons is because it’s, it’s honestly a lot easier to innovate outside of a company than it is to innovate inside of a company. And so it’s a lot less risky for a client for a big company to say, I’m just going to outsource a lot of that innovation, and I’m gonna buy it when someone else has solved all the problems that I need to have solved. And even though they’re paying a lot more for it, it is actually a lot more efficient over the long term. And they’ve done a lot of analysis to show that you could squander a ton of money trying to build these things internally. Yep. And so clients actually came to us and said, we wish you could, we wish you could be engaged in some way in helping us find and grow some of these innovations from the outside. And so that, and then I think that the catalyst honestly, was, you know, everything that happened with the pandemic, in particular, everything that happened with the murder of George Floyd. And that just the chaos, that, you know, we, we were really obviously being in Minnesota central to, we started to really think much more deeply about how we could, how we could make a difference, and where we actually doing everything that we possibly could to, to try and advance the things that could could be part part of the solution, you know. And so that’s really what Deimos came about. And the idea was that, you know, if we can find startups that, you know, really align with a lot of the expertise that we have maybe actually are really complementary to a lot of the partners that we already work with, and things that they’re trying to do. And we could engage with those startups, not just through Zeus, which is, obviously through the ideation and all of that sort of stuff, but also through Dimas, which just provides a bit more capital efficiency, and lets us lets them work with us in more effective ways that we could potentially accelerate some of the progress that we were we were trying to make. And so that’s that’s really, if that makes sense. That’s really what it’s about.

Adam Pierno  17:59  
No, that’s that’s a great background is is the idea that the companies that Deimos invests in, become part of that constellation of companies that are that Zeus Jones is a part or are they standalone companies, a urine investor, and then you help as an advisor to shepherd them to whatever their growth or exit or whatever the trajectory is, that’s right for that individual business.

Adrian Ho  18:23  
Yep, no, it’s very much the latter. Okay, so. So we have made two investments, which I think you’ve may already know about. The first one we made is in a company called dimensional energy. And they take captured carbon dioxide and they transform it into jet fuel. They chose jet fuel, because aviation is, is probably one of the most difficult to decarbonize industries. Just because long haul flights require so much fuel batteries would be so heavy that they couldn’t, you couldn’t do it. And, you know, they, they’re, we know a lot about that business because we work a lot in agriculture. And so we knew a lot about the carbon sequestration carbon credits, carbon offsets carbon capture industry. And we realized that that was a this is a place where we could help. And then the second investment we’ve made is with a company called Joy Well, foods that have they’ve discovered a series of proteins that grow naturally, in in Africa in places like Africa. And they taste like sugar, but they digest like a protein. So basically, it means you can get sweetness without any of the glycemic spikes or or side effects that sugar creates. And then in addition to they scale it up using fermentation, which means that most they greatly and dramatically, I think it’s to the order of about 90% reduce the amount of greenhouse gas that is emitted through the production or the, or the nd you know, environmental devastation that sugar has been been wreaking so

Adam Pierno  20:26  
some benefits, at least,

Adrian Ho  20:28  
it’s an it honestly is, it’s incredible. You know, these, these proteins were designed by nature to taste like sugar, so they taste like sugar, but they just digest like a protein, which means that they’re, they’re actually kind of good for you. Which is insane. So as you can imagine that that’s sort of a game changer for a lot of products. And, you know, we’ve done in the past, and we continue to do a lot of work in food. We work with Nestle, we work with Chipotle, we work with General Mills. So this was a case where we asked we not only we know about the category we know about, and we work with a lot of the partners that accompany like Joy well might engage with, to bring products to the market. So again, we’re sort of we know, we can really help and similar sort of thing, which is because joy was a startup, they, you know, they can’t spend a fortune on growth.

Adam Pierno  21:34  
being smart about where they invest that in that growth. Yeah, how these are. I’ve heard you describe these as transformational businesses. Are there other areas of transformation that you’re that your focus? And is it? Is the team at Deimos? actively seeking transformational business? Is it a kind of a pitch? What’s the what’s the process for identifying these these organizations? That must be competitive?

Adrian Ho  22:04  
Yeah, it’s really, yeah, I mean, I think so if you know anything about the venture capital world,

Adam Pierno  22:10  
just to have a small officer from thinking about it.

Adrian Ho  22:13  
Yeah. And we’ve, we’ve, we’ve grown several offices on top of that small and so it’s a bit of a backwards world, isn’t it? You know, the reality is that, for for someone like us, who has no history and very little money, we’re just not going to get access to, to the best kinds of deals. So and that’s true for the vast majority of funds. So, so I think, what we’ve realized is that our partners are actually the, the, some of the top venture capital companies. And I was describing this to sort of a friend, which is like, you know, where we can come in, we can help them with one of their investments as a tag along. And really, it costs them very little. And we can, we can perform some pretty valuable services that would make their investments, probably more effective. And so I think we’re sort of like, you know, we’re sort of like, I use this analogy a lot. But like, when you see one spider in your house, you’re like, that’s great. You know, it’s getting rid of the flies, when you see lots of them, there’s a nest, right? Like that one spider, providing, providing a tiny bit of value, it’s not really doing very much harm, you know, it’s not. So that’s, that’s the world that we live in. First and foremost, so I’d say like we can, we can be selective to a certain extent, but I mean, honestly, we’re, we’re trying to help in this area. And we’re trying to put an end to this without any, any previous experience or, or track record. Having said that, there’s Yeah, I think that there are, there are a number of areas that we think are really, really, really important, Harmon would love to be able to help in so continuing on, sort of, I would say energy slash agriculture side. One of the amazing things about dimensional energy is that they they literally can create energy from thin air, they use solar energy, as a catalyst, they use carbon dioxide, which is available evenly everywhere on the planet. And so and then they can provide sort of fuel they can provide, they can actually turn their products into materials like plastics, into fertilizers. But one of the things that can’t be provided is water. So they were are a whole host of new companies that are working to try and that the science is already there where you can basically use, they look like solar panels, but they can be set up in the desert. And they can. And there’s

Adam Pierno  25:13  
a company here called source that came out of ASU that is, that generates water from sunlight.

Adrian Ho  25:19  
That’s right. And I think that technologies like that are going to be massively important, especially as we think about sort of being combined with technologies like dimensional energy to provide more self sufficiency to cities and to maybe rural locations, and all of those sorts of things.

Adam Pierno  25:39  
vision that, as you’re thinking about, now, you have Deimos, where you’re working on the being the investment partner, and doing some of the forecasting that you do in kind of new category. Innovation, are you helping them to realize their path or think about, you know, if you have a company like dimensional energy that is creating essentially a, a new product from the medium of energy, you’re being maybe you’re coming to them and saying, Okay, you can, here’s where you should be looking at turning that into this thing, because we think there’ll be a need for more ag products that are that are part of the solution versus Jeff. Yeah,

Adrian Ho  26:19  
yeah, we’re trying to, I mean, I would say the sort of tonality is important. So I think what we can provide is a view into, you know, we work with some of the leaders in food and agriculture and technology and retail, as we work with them. This is how they see the future. And this is where they see the valuable markets developing. And, you know, obviously, all of the people that we work with, they’re going to have their own advisors, they’re going to have their own strategy, where we provide an input that I think is sort of unique, which allows them to see partners, context marketplaces, that will be important to them, how other leaders are thinking about developing them. And so I think it is a data point in how a company like dimensional for sure, a company like joy, well might think about developing their products. So yeah, I think, you know, for as a great example, one of the great conversations we had with Jason Selphie, who’s the CEO of dimensional energy, couple months ago was around forecasting, we were doing that, that really, you know, and this is, across many, many industries shows that, for many reasons, most of which have to do with environmental, kind of damage and, and those sorts of things. We’re going to be moving to a society that that just feels a lot more fragmented, where cities and city states start to be more important in some ways than federal governments, where cities seek to be more self sustainable, where there’s probably less a vulnerability to rely on national infrastructure, especially for shipping and those kinds of things. And you’ll, you’ll want to do more of the kind of production of energy and foods and all of that sort of stuff locally, cities will want to do that. And we just seen this as a trend that we see happening across the board. So obviously, for an organization that dimensional that’s very, very interesting, because they really, one of the benefits is they can really be located pretty much anywhere. They don’t need to be located near mine or anything like that, you know? Yeah. And so So I think it’s helpful. In some ways. I don’t know what Jason is going to do with that information. But I think it’s helpful for them to know that that’s where some of our clients see the world heading.

Adam Pierno  29:03  
And it’s interesting. I mean, what you’re describing, correct me if I’m misinterpreting this, or just getting like really excited to hear you talk about it. But what you’re exciting is higher order. Account planning. I mean, you’re doing this similar trend analysis. And the similar. The audience for this is this type of person. And this is where I think they are now and this is where they’re headed. But it’s it’s on a bigger not a stage, but it’s just on a bigger scale, I guess.

Adrian Ho  29:31  
Yeah, I think that yeah, I think it’s the first time I’ve heard anyone sort of describe it like that. So I think it’s, that’s really interesting. But yeah, I think I think it’s true, you know, so I think what we were trying to always do was look for, look for patterns of behavior look for, and to try and understand, you know, how people are going to react to stimuli and, and how they really think about things and how behave really happens. And so, yeah, I would say you’re absolutely right. I mean, we don’t bring any deep understanding of technology to any any of what we do. Right. You

Adam Pierno  30:09  
can’t be experts in in the energy creation or, you know, carbon capture process, obviously not

Adrian Ho  30:15  
Not, not at all. But I think what we do is we bring an understanding of how culture reacts to technological advancement, as well as all of the disruption that’s going on around the world. And, and then how, how things, how life kind of evolves or society evolves as a result of it. And so, yeah, I think you’re right. I mean, I think it is very much the skills that you would learn as an account planner, but get applied, applied sort of a very future oriented level, and then more of a systemic level.

Adam Pierno  30:52  
Yeah, I mean, as a strategic thinker, what juicy projects, those must be, are you do you staff? Is that the same type of staff that is doing that forecasting that works on Zeus Jones projects? Or is it is it a whole different skill set?

Adrian Ho  31:07  
Well, so right now, it’s, it’s just me and one other person, Eric frost, his was one of my co founders, that work directly on D Moss, from Zeus. That, and that’s, that’s more of the fact that so the way that you make money in a venture fund is obviously you, you know, you do a really good job of thinking, picking the investments, and you hope to make money at the end. But that’s like a seven to 10 year sort of timeframe. On a daily basis, the way that venture funds make money is that they take a percentage of the assets under management, and they use that as kind of operating capital to run the business. So we have we have very few assets under management, which means that the percentage of assets under management, it literally can’t support us. It can’t even support one of our salaries

Adam Pierno  32:10  
here, you’re essentially bootstrapping it. Yeah.

Adrian Ho  32:13  
So so what we’re trying to do is to say, and then this involves a lot of and as you probably know, we’re independent. So we’ve never taken money from anyone we never will and the whole thing. It just involves a lot of kind of like, rejiggering and thinking creatively about like, as we look across our business, can we afford to take this on? And then who would be able to take this on if we could afford to take this on? And then how much was lost? Because we, you know, we need to keep the core of the business going? Because that’s, that’s really what pays the bills? Yeah. So. So it’s a lot of begging and borrowing.

Adam Pierno  32:57  
That’s kind of how innovation practices work in general. I mean, to your earlier point about how it works inside a company that’s trying to innovate. It’s usually like, can I borrow point five of their time? For Yeah,

Adrian Ho  33:09  
it’s sort of like, yeah, what’s that going over there? And then I’m like, Yeah, I

Adam Pierno  33:14  
don’t want anyone to notice it until it’s ready to be noticed. And I I’ll work overtime to do it. As long as nobody asked me any questions about it? Yeah, I know. Exactly. You said something interesting. Is Zeus. Jones proudly independent, We’ve never taken any money. And yet, Deimos is an investment firm that is that is offering that talk about that as as the the, from the inside the value you’re providing, and how maybe you’re approaching it differently as somebody that’s been resistant to take on investment. Yeah,

Adrian Ho  33:45  
yeah. So and they must like all businesses, it it pivoted a lot. We started off thinking, hey, we’ll bring in some external investment into this. Because we need, we need a chunk of money to play, the fire needs to be and then we need to be able to make money we need to be able to pay ourselves. So we did initially targeted sort of a $10 million fund in order which which would have been able to pay sort of salaries, we started to realize was like one Why would anyone give us money? I mean, like, why would anyone give us money? I mean, obviously, we know a lot of people and so it wasn’t like no one was willing to. But it just became a very sort of, kind of like, difficult conversation of like, where you’ve got no track record at all and what you know, this is really something that you know, how to do and so on so forth. And then I’d say the second more important thing was when we, as we as we partner with these big, bigger VC firms. us bringing more money doesn’t make us more helpful. It just makes us more of a threat. So what we started to realize was like, actually it doesn’t, in order to get to the places we want to get to, we really don’t want to have that much money. And we were able to basically raise all of the money we’ve needed so far, far and probably will need for the foreseeable future, just simply by, you know, having the founders and then Zeus and some other key Zeus people be essentially LPs and investors in the fund. So we are really we’re putting, I mean, it’s very similar to what we did when we launched Zeus, we are putting our own money down to to start something with, with bet that we can we can turn something into this. So yeah,

Adam Pierno  35:47  
and you found a way to fulfill the vision for Zeus Jones, which was to be more integrated into the companies you’re working with? I mean, you’re you’re essentially they’re at the near the starting point, and helping show them what’s happening in culture, what’s happening in their markets, and advising them and hearing feedback on it at a phase where you can do something with it versus just write a brief. Yeah,

Adrian Ho  36:10  
that’s why Yeah, I mean, it’s it. I don’t know. I mean, you wouldn’t have thought because I mean, again, like I said, that the amount of money that we’re talking about here is trivial. But the idea that we’ve come in as an investor, a real partner, it changes the nature of the conversations we’re able to have, and it changes the way that we we can engage with with, with our partners, you know,

Adam Pierno  36:31  
in in the Zeus Jones side of the business, when you’ve had that breakthrough, and become that partner, you know, you mentioned target Nike, these are brands, every single person listening to this knows, how do you think you’ve been able to crack that nut and and be considering that way versus the advertising partner that’s going to write the brief and execute the ads at the end?

Adrian Ho  36:56  
Yeah, I mean, I think it was, like, you know, I sort of mentioned at the beginning, but it really, it was a long journey. At the very beginning, I think most of it was sort of all based around the idea that we would refuse to do things that were very traditional. So we and Jeff Gibby actually said this to me, he was like, you know, what could be is, is much more about what we didn’t do in the beginning, then what we did,

Adam Pierno  37:22  
it’s just the assignment you pass on versus the assignment, you take salutely? Absolutely,

Adrian Ho  37:25  
because you can’t, you can’t undo a reputation that you’ve made. And so, so we spent a lot of years really trying to figure out how to kind of plot this path into being trusted for thieves assignments that were not advertising. And not traditional communication. So my love is rejecting communication. So so there’s a lot of that and then we I think we we got to be known as sort of like, you know, if you if you have a really interesting problem, that that that can’t be solved by a traditional communications company, then maybe you should call this. And then the the, you know, so the other more pragmatic answer was, we’ve worked with most of our client partners. And I will talk about them, there’s individuals for four years in some case, in the case of, of Nike, we worked with the leader of that organization that that division for over 20 years, because we worked with her at Nordstrom, back when we were working on Fallon, on Nordstrom, O’Fallon, we worked with her on Nordstrom at Zeus, we’ve worked with, we’ve been part of kind of her career throughout the entire thing. And so I think we, we there are a series of, of, of our partners that we grew up with. And as they and obviously, we partnered with them, because there was some sort of aligned view of how we saw the world and what what business should be about and how marketing could work. And so too many cases, we followed our partners into organizations and into briefs and projects that they found themselves in. And then once we’re there, we we figure out how to, you know, how to do it in a really, I suppose, interesting way.

Adam Pierno  39:22  
It’s one thing to say like, yeah, we knew we had to maintain our reputation, that’s another thing to deliver over 20 years. Yeah, that you know, dependent. Yeah, that’s, that’s not easy to do in this field.

Adrian Ho  39:33  
Yeah, yeah. Thanks. I mean, you know, I think these are, you know, some of this is we used to believe that we should bring innocence and over to everything, and, obviously, we’ve gotten a lot more sort of, kind of balanced about that. But I do think that, you know, as you just saw, think about any of these ideas that we were talking about in terms of business and innovation, you know, and And to capability is a great one, right? So why Why will a capability succeed? You know, and why will would not succeed? Well, so of course, there’s a whole series of sort of operating models and processes and tool sets and those sorts of things that a capability is built upon. But I’d say the real reason why something will succeed versus not is because the people that are working on it, though, this is so inspiring, and I want to get up and do this every single day. And I just am so drawn by the mission of what this represents, that I’m going to figure out a way to make this work. And that’s all about going back to what you were saying, that’s all about that kind of account planning idea of I want to help frame an insight or a strategy or an idea. That’s so you know, kind of inspiring and irresistible, that we can, then we’re not we’re not building a piece of communications around it, we’re just building an organization around it. So

Adam Pierno  41:08  
yeah, and when you’re choosing organizations to invest your time men that have a real mission that you can describe, it’s not the cliche of we’re changing the world that every you know, app manufacturer in the 2010s said, you know,

Adrian Ho  41:22  
yeah, that’s why I mean, and I think it’s such such a perceptive idea, because, especially in organizations like Nike and target, and, you know, companies where, where the brand is really, really important.

Adam Pierno  41:39  
There’s a cynical view there, yeah. That the brand has to override,

Adrian Ho  41:45  
yeah. But showing being able to show the rest of the organization how your capability, how your division really supports, and actually extends the brand idea is a big part of getting that sort of landed and seated within the rest of the organization. So, so yeah, it’s it really comes down to there’s a lot of things that and I’ve said this before, in many other places, but we, as planners, and really as, as communications people, creative communications people, we have incredibly valuable skills. And they just aren’t aren’t really utilized. Fully. You know, if you’re just sticking to communications.

Adam Pierno  42:29  
Yeah, it’s that last question, because I know, I promised I would let you go. How do you? Is that true at Zeus Jones as a practice for the strategy team? And for the planners, are you? Are you leveraging that? Are you building that into their to their work to allow them to flex beyond communication? Are there even opportunities for that?

Adrian Ho  42:51  
Well, we we really don’t do I mean, we just we don’t do any communication. So everything that we do is sort of non communication centric. So none

Adam Pierno  42:59  
of the work that you that passes through ends up hitting that, that level?

Adrian Ho  43:03  
No, we don’t do any communication whatsoever. So So yeah, I mean, it’s all And increasingly, the people that we, we hire, they haven’t necessarily come out of communications agencies, some of them came out clients, some of them came out of totally, totally different environments. Totally different sort of strategic environments where I think there’s a shared sort of idea that we understand how to how to frame a, and a really inspiring idea that that motivates and drives behavior. But in many cases, the this there’s a whole bunch of contextual knowledge about Well, so what does that mean as applied to organization design? Or what does that mean? as applied to experience design? Yeah. That that is just as important.

Adam Pierno  43:53  
Yeah. Well, Adrian, thank you so much for making time for me. I’m glad we were able to to catch up and chat here.

Adrian Ho  44:01  
Yeah, so great. So great to meet you. Finally, Adam. And hopefully we can, we can speak again. Not early on.

Adam Pierno  44:08  
But yeah, I will be anxious to do that. Really appreciate your thoughtfulness here and really enjoyed the conversation. I don’t think you’re seeking people to find you online. But where can people learn more about you and what you’re doing at the most?

Adrian Ho  44:24  
I mean, I am on I am on Twitter, and I’m on. I’m on LinkedIn, both under Adrian, how. So I don’t I don’t do the social media thing much these days. I could pull it up. probably find it. Contact me. They’re

Adam Pierno  44:39  
very good. I will link to both of those in the show notes. All right. Thank you so much. Great speaking.

Adrian Ho  44:44  
You too. Take care, bye.

Adam Pierno  44:45  
The Strategy Inside Everything is produced by me, Adam Pierno If you like what you’ve heard, leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts. Actually, I have no idea if that helps, or if it’s ever done anybody any good. If you really want to help the show, and you liked what you heard, share it with someone else who you think will dig it. That’s the best way to help the show and keep the conversation growing. New Music for the strategy inside everything is by Sawsquarenoise. If you have an idea, a question or want to push back on something you hear here, go to thatsnotaninsight.com and leave a message or a voicemail for me. If you want more information on your host Adam Pierno you can find it on adampierno.com and learn about my books, speaking and consulting practice. Thanks so much for listening.

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