Keith Stoeckeler dropped in via the internet to talk about the changes to sports fandom and celebrity due to the direct access afforded by social media. We get into who is getting it right and who is next in line to leverage this opportunity.

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Episode transcript:

[00:00:02] Adam Pierno: All right. Welcome back to another episode of The Strategy Inside Everything. I’m really, really, really pumped. This conversation has been maybe nine years in the making, eight years, that I’ve known Keith Stoeckeler who’s our guest today via Twitter, just like one of our earlier guests, John Burke. By the way, Keith, he gave you quite a shout out and quite a pump on the show. I don’t know if you heard it.

[00:00:27] Keith Stoeckeler: I listened to that. John Burke is the greatest hype man I’ve ever known. I expected nothing less from my boy, John Burke.

[00:00:38] Adam: I am hoping that’s why you agreed to come on. I’m hoping to hype–

[00:00:41] Keith: Absolutely.

[00:00:42] Adam: Yes, brought you out of the shadows and you had to come rush the stage at that point.

[00:00:47] Keith: A show lead by you with guests such as John Burke, I was like, “Where do I sign up?”

[00:00:54] Adam: Yes, man. I really appreciate you being here. Hey, would you do me a favor and before we get going, just give people a little bit of a background of who you are and what you’ve done and then we’ll get into our conversation.

[00:01:04] Keith: Absolutely. So, this is my 12th year in advertising. I started my career in Virginia Beach, Virginia, went to Minneapolis, went to New York, and I’m now in Westport, Connecticut and loving it.

I’ve done the CPG thing. I’ve done B2B, B2C. I’ve worked on Harley Davidson. I worked on STIHL. I’ve worked on Subaru. So, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good depth and breadth, but it was only until I went to some larger agencies did I even uncover Strategy  and say, “You know what? That’s the job I want to be doing.”

[00:01:41] Adam: Yes. You’ve seen it all, man. You’ve seen every aspect of advertising. What did you start as? What were you initially when you came in the business?

[00:01:48] Keith: So, I started as an account person and that came after a internship. I didn’t really know if advertising was what I wanted to do, but after doing an internship, I said, “You know what? This is pretty great and I feel like this is what I should be doing.” I just didn’t know what else to do. You sort of fashion yourself a creative, but I didn’t go to school for that. I went to business school.

So, an account person seemed like the right thing to do. After three years of doing that, you made a list of brands I would die to work on and Harley Davidson was one, Red Bull was another and I tell people coming up in industry now, I’d make a similar list so that you have your sights set on something.

But I pursued a Harley job and that agency was in Minneapolis.

[00:02:38] Adam: Was that Carmichael? Did they have it then?

[00:02:40] Keith: That was Carmichael, yes. So, at Carmichael Lynch, I worked on Harley. I worked on Subaru and some other things, but great agency and that was the first agency I even knew planning, strategy, and then what would become digital strategy was even a function.

Because, again, if you don’t go to school for this stuff, you’re just not exposed to it. You don’t know that that’s a discipline. I continued to be an account person at Carmichael while I was learning on the fly of, “What’s planning?” And “Let me go to lunch with this guy and this woman and pick their brain and just understand it.”

[00:03:17] Adam: Yes, but that’s awesome because I think the planners that I have learned the most from or that I’m most inspired by, they didn’t necessarily do some other job, but they have a perspective of another part of the business that helps them be more valuable and be more productive in their ideas and less theoretical, which just drives me nuts when people are like, “What if this crazy idea?” It’s like, “Well, okay, except business.”

[00:03:42] Keith: Absolutely. I guess as an account person growing up in the industry, I respect the process, but I think that’s probably why John and I became such fast friends and we can talk about whatever you want to talk about because I think both he and I are not shy about telling you we backed into this, fell into this, didn’t go to school for this and–

[00:04:00] Adam: Yes, same here, dude.

[00:04:01] Keith: Yes, and I think there’s a bit of– I respect the hell out of Miami Ad kids and VCU Brand Center and all of these schools that really give you the fundamentals, but I didn’t do that and I’m okay with that and I think you sort of learn and adapt as you go and you pick from people.

That’s why I tell people now you could start your career anywhere, but with Twitter and LinkedIn, you can access people like you and I and we can be your mentor and you can run anything by us. If it doesn’t exist where you are, find it elsewhere. The beauty of that is social has really opened that up.

[00:04:40] Adam: Yes. Actually, that’s a really cool thing that you brought up and John referenced that, too. I’ve had that experience on Twitter, reaching out to people. So, just pinging people.

Keith, that’s probably how I met you. I was like, “Oh, that’s a smart guy. Let’s me just ask him a question.” And then younger kids asking me questions and it’s– let’s not pull the ladder up. Let’s help each other figure it out and figure out how to get to where we want to go.

[00:05:06] Keith: Absolutely. As you know, there’s such a level of ego in this business. I’ve never met anybody that if you ask them for five minutes over Twitter DM or whatever it is, who wouldn’t say, “Of course, I can give you the time” or “Yes, I’ll meet for a coffee or a drink or a whatever.”

[00:05:23] Adam: I’ve been really surprised by the people that have said, “Yes, I’ll get on the phone for 10 minutes. No problem.” It’s like, “Woah, great.”

[00:05:27] Keith: Absolutely. You have to use that to your advantage and I think the fact that you can, as I’ve mentioned about brands, the same can be done about agencies. What’s an agency or where’s an agency that you really want to spend your time?

Obviously, you can look these people up on LinkedIn. You can find them on Twitter. It’s so easy to get a hold of these people and just drop them a line versus, “Let me guess the nomenclature of the agency’s email address and let me just type 15 different iterations and hope I got the person I need.”

[00:05:58] Adam: Yes, absolutely. Well, we could probably do a whole chat on this and maybe we will, but you actually brought forward a killer topic that I want to dive into. I know our time is limited today. Let’s jump right in. So, you have a perspective on the way social and digital has changed our relationship to athletes.

[00:06:21] Keith: Yes. So, it’s a bit self-serving. Where I’m spending my time now is an agency called MKTG and they do a lot of things, but one main point of that is sports, entertainment, and sponsorship.

So, it’s an area over the last two years I’ve been deeply ingrained in. Obviously, I’m keeping tabs on what’s going on. But just purely as a sports fan, I think the fact that you have direct access to these athletes, whether it’s Twitter or publications like Jeter’s, The Players’ Tribune, the fact that they can tell their story unedited to a fault, but also the fact that they don’t have to go through the team or the league. As a fan, you can get a one-to-one connection with them I think is really great.

[00:07:14] Adam: Dude, absolutely. This is right when we hit record was you brought it right back to where we were in our chat that we were having earlier. With leagues like the NFL that are so control-oriented and want to have so much say over what the players do and how much dancing is too much dancing in the end zone, it’s ridiculous to think that some athletes, especially in light of Colin Kaepernick and some of the athletes getting on board with the Black Lives Matter movement, which is their right as an American to express themselves and the League is like, “I don’t know if we’re going to allow that or we’re going to throw a flag every time somebody sits down during the national anthem.” You just don’t know what’s next.

[00:07:57] Keith: Yes, and I think they’ve all as an athlete and as a celebrity, however you want to– if you even want to equate the two, they’ve always had a platform, but I think with the rise of social, that platform has become far greater for them. It’s far more easily accessible and just as someone who can consume or as a fan or just somebody who’s just a fan of sport, it’s easy to follow these guys and gals and get caught up on what they’re thinking even if it has nothing to do with what they’re doing on or off the field.

[00:08:30] Adam: Yes. For better or for worse, right?

[00:08:31] Keith: Right. [laughs] Absolutely. There’s certainly a lot of mistakes and we’ve seen it in the work that I do, but, yes. The beauty of digital is you can delete it. The fact is now, though, if you’re someone like an athlete, people are paying far more closer attention and they’re screen-grabbing your tweets and those things can live forever, even if you do delete it.

But somebody like myself, I say something I don’t like, I delete it, nobody really caught it. As an athlete, yes, you have to be a little more focused and diligent on what you’re putting out there.

[00:09:06] Adam:  And how has it changed the business of sports? Do you see increased merchandise sales for the athletes that really get it on social platforms? I always go to Twitter because that’s the platform I like the best, but as we all know, there’s tons of platforms and there’s tons of even Medium and Players’ Tribune and other places where players can be themselves and communicate. Have you seen any relationship there?

[00:09:30] Keith: Absolutely. I just saw I think it was Derek Carr. He’s doing music. He sent out a link to– I didn’t look into it. I should have. I don’t know if he is doing music or he is on the record label side, but the fact that they can smartly figure out how to diversify what they’re doing once they’re done, whether it’s real estate. There’s a bunch of athletes getting into the venture capitalist game.

I think it’s super smart, but it allows them with this platform to push the other things that they’re involved in, whether that’s a sponsorship, an endorsement or just something that they’re doing on the business side and they are laying the groundwork for when their career is over.

[00:10:12] Adam: I want to go back in time about, I guess, was it 10 years ago that LeBron had the decision on ESPN some time along?

[00:10:18] Keith: Yes. Yes. Strangely enough, I think it was at a Boys and Girls Club in Greenwich which is not too far from me now in Connecticut.

[00:10:26] Adam: Obviously, he got slaughtered for that whole thing, but his heart was in the right place. If you’ve ever read how he saw through his eyes, what he was trying to do, to do it at a Boys and Girls Club.

He took a lot of the money that was made from that broadcast and donated it. He was trying to do the right thing. Social did exist, he was already on Twitter. But if he could do it over again, strategically, do you think he would do something like a Facebook live and control every aspect of it and maybe do it less of a spectacle, but more of a controlled spectacle?

[00:11:02] Keith: Probably and I think Live is a good point by you because that can definitely be controlled. I think what some people are doing with Live right now where they’re almost treating it like a television show, where there’s an end slate, there’s a beginning slate, there’s people that act as talent or hosts. I think that’s really the future of this. You can gate that back in the day like Facebook pages used to be like-gated.

[00:11:31] Adam: Yes, that’s right.

[00:11:33] Keith: You can charge for that content and you can say, “Hey, look this is free, but now we’re going to go to the actual show or the program. You need to pay for this.”

So, I think that’s smart by you and yes, I think he would have done that. I don’t know if his team would have felt like that has the reach like a NBC special or whatever. I forget what network he was on. So, that’s debatable at this point, but, yes. I do think Live affords him or someone like him the opportunity to really control that message.

[00:12:03] Adam: Yes, and reaches a weird– because I would debate, and we can debate. Would you rather have ESPN households or would you rather have people who are going to tune in because they’re mostly sympathetic and or appreciate you and less haters that are going to log in, but who knows if you just end up with–? If you did it on Twitch, you could just end up with a wall of shit posts.

[00:12:28] Keith: Yes, I also think the best part of that was the reaction when they went live to three or four bars and you watch the people in Cleveland who were out having a drink wherever they were, but the TVs were on and the audio was on and how deflated they were. So, I think if you go to-

[00:12:43] Adam: Dude, I totally forgot.

[00:12:44] Keith: -a social platform, you’re going to lose that. So, I think that’s why you have to have television. That part of it.

[00:12:49] Adam: That’s a killer point and I guess you’d have to have alternate feeds or something like that. Facebook Live is probably not ready for that yet. [crosstalk]

[00:12:56] Keith: Well, they think that you’re going to watch live TV as you’re scrolling. That’s the thing, whether you’re watching on an Apple TV or you’re just in the feed. That’s where they’re pushing.

[00:13:07] Adam: I guess that’s what I do. I do it on a regular rectangular TV, but I guess there’s no difference in having it up on a tab on my laptop.

[00:13:15] Keith: Not at all, especially with streaming or casting to your television just so you have a bigger piece of real estate, but yes.

[00:13:24] Adam: Yes, that’s interesting. I guess if you found something interesting, you could throw it up there on the big TV.

[00:13:28] Keith: That’s right.

[00:13:29] Adam: How do you relate this to brands? Just this week, I did a talk with the ANA about people really– A lot of brands don’t have anything really to say. A lot of people don’t want to have a conversation with a brand. They want to have a conversation with a person.

So, maybe the Washington Nationals are not a person. They’re not someone I really want to go talk to, but Bryce Harper is definitely an interesting person and if he posts something on Twitter, I’m going to reply or I’m going to forward that or retweet it or pay attention to what he says.

How do you see that playing out? Do you see brands learning a lesson from this and seeing like, “Oh, these personalities are–” I think Sprint’s CEO is kind of out in front. He’s probably has more followers than Sprint, the brand.

[00:14:14] Keith: Yes. You mean the T-Mobile guy?

[00:14:19] Adam: T-Mobile, exactly. Thank you for reading my mind.

[00:14:19] Keith: Yes, I had a feeling that’s where you were going. Yes. He is personifying the brand. He’s letting you know, “This is who we are.” Honestly, I think he wants that kind of consumer who believes that, who is a bit combative, who’s thinking about what’s next. But I don’t–

[00:14:36] Adam: John Legere, I think is his name.

[00:14:37] Keith: Yes, I don’t think he’s any different than Branson and Virgin Mobile. Maybe he’s a little more out there, but it is what it is. I think as a brand, brands are realizing that they have to be authentic, and we say that all the time, but it’s like you really have to mean it and understand what that is.

That doesn’t just mean putting up content, throwing paid dollars behind it and hoping people like it, but I think within the confines of what we’re talking about, most recently the Vince Wilfork retirement video with Kingsford Charcoal, that was so on brand.

At the agency, right now, that is the A1 example that we’re giving to people to say, “This is the kind of content that you need to be setting the bar for.” Because it was so natural, it was enjoyable. I’m sure a lot of people watched the entire thing. Then he, as an athlete, now that he’s hanging up his cleats, but he’s picking up the barbecue tongs. I mean, the whole thing was done so well and when I initially saw it, I was like, “Damn, did he let a brand know that he was retiring before he let the team know?”

[00:15:43] Adam: And they kept it quiet somehow, too.

[00:15:45] Keith: No kidding and I think that could have been real. I don’t think that’s what happened. But with the topic we’re discussing with social, that is a viable thing. “I let Kingsford know I’m retiring. I went and cut this video with their agency,” or whoever they did this with, “And then I let the team know I’m out of here and here’s this video. We’re ready to go. Because why would I need to clear that with the team?”

[00:16:09] Adam: Right, yes. You’re on your way out anyway. So, it’s really just more about the Players Association at that point.

[00:16:13] Keith: Correct.

[00:16:14] Adam: Yes, that video is really compelling. You said a buzzword, “authentic-”

[00:16:20] Keith: Yes.

[00:16:21] Adam: -which I think it’s time for as strategy people, we need to start defining that. In this case, the way I interpreted it based on what you said, it’s human. There’s a person out in front of it that I can relate to and have some kind of one-to-one with or at least I can understand what they’re all about, versus brand authenticity, which a lot of times, man, it gets translated into, “Well, which filter are we going to use on Instagram?” We want it to be authentic and it’s like, “Jesus Christ. You’re 20 steps away from authenticity when we’re talking about that.”

[00:16:57] Keith: Yes, it’s not being brand heavy. I mean as we know, brand-led content pales in comparison to influencers. We can debate the merit of what an influencer is or is not. But if your brand-led versus– If Kingsford had put out a commercial like that and swapped Vince for somebody else, would it have performed as well? Probably not.

Now, did I look at that video and immediately fire up Amazon and order charcoal? No, but maybe the next time I’m out planning my barbecue or I’m doing whatever I’m doing, Kingsford will be top of mind because I remember the video, it was humorous, and maybe I’ll pick up a bag.

That’s what I think brands have to strive for. I know a lot of brands are trying mightily to connect social to sales or whatever their goals are. They’re not as one-to-one as I think they want, as I think they’re used to with a traditional print ad or a TV ad or any other form of advertising. This is a bit different. You’re really trying to keep top of mind to consumers, your brand, and help edge out your competition.

[00:18:05] Adam: Yes, and I guess that goes back to everything we try to measure. No matter what category you’re in, we owe it to our clients to say, “This is how we think this is going to help your business.” Is it just about– it does ultimately that Wilfork video for Kingsford turn into a–

It was an impression and it was a meaningful impression. It lasted this long like we do with sports sponsorships where people are sending you an update if you have a sign and a baseball stadium. Well, you got 18 minutes during the game of impression.

How are we going to figure out what that means? I don’t know. I think you’re right. There’s no one-to-one of people that are Patriots. All the teams Wilfork has played for, going in wearing their jerseys today and saying, “Well, he retired. So, here I am. I need my charcoal.”

[00:18:51] Keith: That’s right. That’s right. I think it could have been a grill sponsor, it could have been a meat or butcher sponsor. I mean, there’s a lot of layers that we could have taken there, but I think the fact that it was charcoal and it was Kingsford. Maybe I will give that consideration if I’m needing to buy charcoal in the future.

[00:19:14] Adam: Can you imagine the bidders on Tom Brady’s retirement video?


[00:19:21] Keith: I’m trying to recall exactly what happened, but I think he was putting out– should he join Instagram or should he join Facebook? I’m failing on what it was, but he was smart in finding out what his fans really wanted.

Ultimately, I believe it was Instagram that won. But instead of just putting his stuff out on all of the channels– Maybe it was Instagram versus Snapchat. I’ll need to look that up. But ultimately, Instagram won and I think, in that case, whether it was him or his team or whoever, they were smart to say, “Well, let’s not just fire up a Snapchat account. Let’s see if that’s what our fans really want.”

[00:20:02] Adam: Well, that’s one thing about that guy, he’s proven over 20 years to be very, very smart and thinking ahead, always one step ahead of everybody else, kind of like Jeter with the Players Tribune.

[00:20:13] Keith: Exactly and Kobe with what he’s up to now. I mean I have a lot of respect for having Draymond Green in venture capital. I mean he’s not leaving anytime soon, but the fact that he’s smart enough to know what the future is or– I mean their stories and I’m sure they’re true, but who the hell knows of Marshawn Lynch and Gronkowski, never really cashing a game check and endorsements have really allowed them to live the way they’re living.

Whatever they’re doing with the game check, you can read into– he’s playing because of love of the game, not for the money, or the fact that he’s being super financially responsible and we should if we want to have a separate conversation, I’m fascinated by how fast a lot of these guys leave the league and go bankrupt and–

[00:21:01] Adam: Yes, them and lottery winners. It’s insane, the downward spiral.

[00:21:04] Keith: Living out of their means, but when you get to the crux of it and you throw millions of dollars and a signing bonus at an 18-year-old, can you really expect any different? When you’re coming after them as financial advisors and whatnot, I think the trust level is not there. So, all the pieces add up, but, man, it’s fascinating.

[00:21:23] Adam: There was just an episode of Freakonomics from about maybe a month ago along that very topic and they had a researcher who did a study with– I think they were– no, it was NFL and players looking at their financial literacy, it was really interesting. I’ll send you a link.

[00:21:36] Keith: Yes, send me that. I didn’t see it, but I don’t know– maybe I’m making it up, but I feel like the NBA is the one league that far and away leads– these guys just splashing in the league and then having no money. These articles about going to some athlete’s garage sale in order to get money to pay off creditors or whatever, whoever they’re owing. Oh, my God.

[00:22:00] Adam: Every year you see somebody, a news story about a player who’s selling their Super Bowl ring on eBay or something. It’s just heartbreaking.

[00:22:06] Keith: It’s terrible, but I think the fact back to really what we wanted to talk about is no matter it’s good, bad, or ugly, social really gives people a lens and the ability to connect one-to-one with fans and there are so many great examples. I mean Chad Johnson, Ochocinco, whatever he’s going by these days would give out tickets to the game, especially when he was away on the road like, “Hey, where are my fans at? I’m going to be here. Come see me.” Or “I’m going to leave tickets for you at Will Call.”

[00:22:39] Adam: I remember him trying to have a Fireman Ed fly out for the playoff game in Cincinnati.

[00:22:44] Keith: Yes. Yes. I mean that’s somebody who was smart about how he used social and built his personal brand, even something as rudimentary as an athlete tweets, “I wanted to see this movie and I bought out the whole place. Come see me. Tickets are free.”

I mean I love those examples because that’s really when if you’re following an athlete, you’re a fan of the athlete or the team, the fact that I could potentially see a movie with my favorite NBA star or wide receiver, that’s the one-to-one engagement that I think social really can afford.

[00:23:18] Adam: Totally. I only have you for one more minute. I want to take advantage here. So, do you think, A– two questions, let’s go lightning round style here. Do you think A; that the players that are doing it really well are actually helping fandom for their team? So, if Bryce Harper’s great on Twitter, for example, are more people becoming national fans that will stay for the long-haul or are they just Bryce Harper fans who go when he becomes a Cub?

[00:23:43] Keith: That’s tough. I certainly think it’s driving more Nationals apparel and merchandise because-

[00:23:51] Adam: Short-term.

[00:23:51] Keith: -I’m a fan of Bryce. I can talk about that. Yes, short-term, but as we discussed with LeBron, I think the real question is how many of those original Cavs fans were pissed that he left and now that he’s back, are still a LeBron fan or still a Cavs fan. They lost so many fans as a team when as an athlete and a superstar, he left.

So, I think in the short-term, it helps. Who knows what’s going to happen in the long-term, especially if they end up chasing money or chasing a ring somewhere else?

[00:24:20] Adam: Yes, great, and then last question. I know you have to go. Do you think that we’ll see, because of the way players are empowered with social and other forms of media, a reduction in that bankruptcy rate that we’ve seen, that we were just talking about? Do you think they’ll be able to build more wealth and more kind of– following that powers them through a post-career?

[00:24:42] Keith: That’s a great question and it makes me curious to think if we’ve seen a decline in that since social– Is there some corollary in how many social networks there are and ways for me to build a brand outside of my playing career? Has that helped decrease those athletes who years back didn’t maybe have as many options? Or just a platform to say, “Hey, I’m starting a T-shirt line and who the hell knows if it’s going to take off? But here it is. Would you want to buy it?” I have to think that it’s helped decline those that have gone bankrupt, but I guess we’ll have to see.

[00:25:22] Adam: Yes, I think that’s awesome. Well, I know that our time is up here. I really appreciate you making some time to chat with us and it was great connecting with you at this topic. We could probably do four hours on this.

[00:25:35] Keith: We definitely could. We definitely could. I appreciate you and the fact that you’re doing this and I think it’s fantastic. I’m happy to be a part of it.

Honestly, I’d love to join the other podcast, the restaurant one you’re doing because I am fascinated by that. I will not eat at a place if the signage looks like shit. I love it. I love menu, psychology, and hospitality. Danny Myers, I’m a big fan of his. I love it. I don’t know what you talk about on that one but put me on the guest list because I’d love to join.

[00:26:09] Adam: You got it. I will send you– that’s a real inside baseball restaurant marketing podcast. But listen, you’re up for Season Three. We’re starting Season Three in September. So, you’re getting the call for sure.

[00:26:19] Keith: Dude, give me a topic, especially if it’s cheeseburgers. I am on it.

[00:26:20] Adam: Very good. All right. Well, Keith, this is awesome, man. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

[00:26:28] Keith: Adam, same here, man. I’ll talk to you soon.

[00:26:32] Adam: All right, later.

Hey all, thank you. I’m sorry we ran up against the clock. I got off to a little bit of a late start and Keith had a stop that he had told us about up front. You could tell that conversation could have gone on forever. I want to really thank Keith. You can find him on Twitter. He’s @keiths. He recently changed his handle because he got tired of spelling his last name for people, which you’ll understand when you go find him. I’m @apierno. You could also find us @Instil_Strategy. Instil with one L.

Listen, there’s no ads on this podcast, but I am telling you that the Instil Strategy Training Workshop is coming to Chicago at the end of September 24 and 25. It’s a Sunday to Monday. You’ll miss one day of work. You can tell your boss.

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[00:28:19] [END OF AUDIO]

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