When your company encounters a crisis, does your entire team understand how to detect it, assess it, and respond in a way that increases stakeholder trust? Crisis management specialist Melissa Agnes is the author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World. She is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Melissa shares that the thing that makes her giddy is helping organizations become crisis ready and build brand visibility so that they’re able to continue to create wonderful campaigns and creative ideas to extend their reach and brand awareness.
If you’re looking for ways to connect with consumers, you might want to talk with Jubair Jalil. He is the co-founder and CEO of MetaPair, an AI company which has revolutionized the way brands use content to connect with consumers. Jubair was born in the UK to an immigrant family and spent his teens building startups in the content space. He says if you think about it on a conceptual level, a business partnership is a bespoke financial arrangement. You just have to make sure that you’re aligned with a partner that can help you reach your target market.
We have a great show. We have Melissa Agnes and Jubair Jalil here. Melissa is a crisis management keynote speaker. You’ve probably seen her TEDx Talk. She is an advisor and she’s the author of Crisis Ready. Jubair Jalil is the Cofounder and CEO of MetaPair. He’s a serial entrepreneur and you’ve heard of his other companies. He’s on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. This is going to be a great show.
Listen to the podcast here:
Crisis Management with Melissa Agnes
I am here with Melissa Agnes, who is the author of Crisis Ready: Building An Invincible Brand In An Uncertain World. She is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. She’s a coveted speaker, commentator and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. You’ve seen her as an advisor, a keynote speaker. She’s worked with NATO, Ministries of Foreign Affair and Defense, financial firms, the list goes on and on. She has a great TEDx Talk where she discussed The Secret to Successful Crisis Management in the 21st Century. She’s the editor of Crisis Ready Blog and a contributor to Forbes and many other sites. She’s been seen on Wall Street Journal, USA Today and many others. She’s also a professor. She teaches at universities around the world including NYU and McGill. It’s nice to have you here, Melissa.
It’s nice to be here, Diane.
You have done a lot. The industries that you’ve been in to help, all the different publications and everything that you’ve done is fascinating. I watched your TED Talk and I’ve looked at some of the things you’ve done. First of all, why are you interested in this? This is a unique niche. What’s your background?
My background is entrepreneur and crisis management my whole life, which is something I’m learning about myself and recently is that it is a part of who I am. It’s funny because I know that it is a potentially interesting or different field or profession and yet it is my candy. It’s the thing that makes me giddy. It’s helping organizations become crisis ready and build brand invincibility.
My thing is curiosity. I am fascinated by what makes people curious and I’m writing about that. I understand something that you go, “I love this area.” I was curious about your input on how some companies have handled their crisis management lately. With the social media being such a top way that people find out about things and people are taking pictures and videos of things before companies have a chance to respond or react to things. United Airlines comes to mind. Think of what we’ve had. We’ve got the #MeToo situation that Harvey Weinstein’s in Facebook, Uber, Equifax, Samsung, Wells Fargo, the list goes on and on. All of them have had to deal with some challenging media coverage. I’m curious what you do to help them avoid having to play catch up? I’m sure you’re about being proactive. Can you tell me what you do?
What I do, and this is the way that I positioned myself throughout the years, is I help organizations become what I call crisis ready. When you are crisis-ready, it’s two words that I put together that to me. I’ve created a definition for it needs something core and intrinsic to an organization. When you are crisis-ready, it means that your entire team has been trained to understand what risk looks like. The difference between an issue and a crisis and how to assess that, and how to assess in real time and properly the material impact that the situation threatens to have on the brand. From there they understand the proper way to respond to whether it’s to escalate internally, whether it’s to take upon themselves to respond publicly or in the moment of social, whatever the case may be.
Basically, the entire team understands instinctively and is empowered to not just manage a negative event, be it an issue or a crisis, but to manage it in a way that it fosters trust, credibility, and goodwill in the organization. To me, that’s what being crisis-ready is. That’s why I say that I help organizations build brand invincibility. No matter what strikes your company, whether it’s an issue, whether it’s a crisis, whether it was foreseen or predictable or whether it wasn’t, your entire team understands how to detect it, how to assess it, and how to respond in a way that increases stakeholder trust.
A lot of people try to respond, but then they respond too late. I’m wondering what your idea is of the worst thing you can do in social media in a crisis? Is it responding too late? Responding with the wrong wording, with the wrong message? What do you think?
Normally people ask me, “What are the common mistakes?” The worst thing that you can do, it’s subjective. It’s nuanced. It depends on the situation, but if I were to pick one thing as a global, encompassing worst thing, it would be to respond without emotional intelligence.
I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence and I have to agree.
It’s powerful. For example, you mentioned Facebook, you mentioned Uber, you mentioned Wells Fargo. Those are all really interesting case studies. The #MeToo Movement is powerful. It’s important for organizations to understand societal trends and movements and to look at what’s the potential risk of the organization. Starbucks, for example, what they’re going through. That’s not because something new happened. That’s because society has said, “We’re not going to stand for this anymore.” Therefore, it becomes a prevalent risk. Facebook, something new didn’t happen with Facebook. Facebook and these tech giants have built their business model off of, in part, the ignorance of the general public and homemakers, in the sense of people don’t understand what happens behind Facebook, Google, or behind all of these tech companies.
That was a high-risk scenario. They had to know that one day it was going to come out. People were going to start asking questions and it would have an impact on business. That’s not being crisis-ready. That’s not understanding the risk. If you look at Crock-Pot earlier this year. I love this one because all of the other ones that we mentioned were predictable. We could foresee them if we had somebody like me that sits in with business strat and says, “What’s the risk at constantly?” and if you have a culture that does that. With Crock-Pot, it was earlier this year. This Is Us, the TV show, it’s a very popular TV show.
That’s what came to mind when you said it. I wondered if it tied into the house burning down.
I’m going to circle back to emotional intelligence for our audience, in case they don’t know. This Is Us aired one of their shows that revealed how one of their main characters, the patriarch of the family, Jack Pearson, died. He died because the family’s generic slow cooker, it was not a Crock-Pot machine. Their generic slow cooker was ancient and old and it was on overnight. It short circuited, it set fire to the house and Jack died of smoke inhalation. When Crock-Pot woke up the next morning, what felt like the entire world probably to them but thousands of their customers were upset and fearful, and I’ll explain why, that this might happen to their family. Crock-Pot woke up to media frenzy, a social media storm of their customers saying, “We’re throwing out our Crock-Pot and we’re never buying another one.”
If we look at why, because that’s irrational to think that from a logical perspective, but we have to go deeper than that. One of my crisis-ready rules is you can never trump emotion with logic. If you look at why is that this five-minute TV segment that thousands of people watch every single week and are emotionally attached to this story, it was beautifully crafted. I had never heard of the show before. I watched the five-minute segment. I’d never had any further context of the show and it almost brought me to tears it. It was a beautifully crafted story that was emotionally compelling. In that emotion, in the throes of that emotion, people at home went, “I have a Crock-Pot machine. This could happen to me. My family could die.”
That’s human. It was emotionally compelling and then it was relatable. They pulled themselves into it. Those are the two ingredients when I say your team should know how to identify and assess. Understanding the emotional relatability of a situation will help you evaluate whether or not it’s an issue or a crisis that needs to be responded to because it has potential for escalation and long-term material impact. Going back to emotional intelligence, Crock-Pot could have said to themselves and some other organizations probably would have, “This is irrational, people. This has never happened in the history of Crock-Pot. It’s never going to happen.”
Either criticize people for feeling this way or simply not respond saying to themselves, “It’s irrational, it’s going to die down.” Instead, what they did and what they needed to do, and this is why Crock-Pot is crisis-ready in my opinion, is they jumped on Twitter. They created an account on Twitter because they didn’t even have an account on Twitter at the time. The story was unfolding on Twitter so they needed to be on Twitter. They quickly jumped on Twitter and they responded with so much emotional intelligence.
The first thing they did was they validated emotion. Their first response and the first part of their messaging was, “Our hearts are broken with you. We’re devastated that this is how Jack died,” or that Jack died, whatever the words were, but it was a validation of emotion and bringing themselves into the emotion as human beings in a relatable way. That let their messaging into the hearts of those who were irrationally scared, fearful for the lives of their family, maybe irrational but it is real and it’s impactful. They came in with, “We want you to know that our machines are designed to protect and keep your family safe.” Here are the stats, the studies, the history, the science and all of the logical information that then needed to be to debunk the irrational or the fear. In order to do that, they needed to come at it with emotional relatability and intelligence. Otherwise, they never would have won over. They wouldn’t have been heard.
It’s reminds me of the Tylenol scare of how they jumped in in the past and said, “We’re working on this.” They jumped in right away. That wasn’t a case study that was known in my day, a long time ago. They jumped in and said, “This is awful. We agree and we’re going to make sure this doesn’t happen.” They pulled in to the emotion of it. What do you think of that case?
For our audience, Tylenol several decades ago, somebody tampered with Tylenol across the country and put cyanide. People were actually dying of cyanide poisoning, which is terrible. You have a headache and you die, that’s not a pretty death either. That’s a terrible circumstance. It happened way before social media, way before technology, the internet and all that. The way that Tylenol responded was exactly that, it was emotionally intelligent. Another one of my crisis ready rules is people above process and bottom line always, and they did that. They didn’t care how much money they were going to lose, how much stock they were going to lose. All they knew is that several people have died in this horrible fashion. “We don’t know where it started. We don’t know where the next contaminated bottle is. They took everything off the shelf everywhere.” That’s why today they have those seals, and why other companies moving forward have adopted those seals to mitigate the risk of that happening again, tampering.
Imagine that story today. Imagine Facebook Live or a video of somebody dying from cyanide poisoning as a result of taking Tylenol. Today that would have been much more dire and direly impactful in terms of extended reach, sensationalization and instilling fear into the homes and hearts of everybody around the world that takes Tylenol. That’s the reality today, is that we have to deal with not just negative events because negative events strike businesses, whether it’s a catastrophic crisis right through to daily, everyday business issues. The fact is that social media, mobile technology, the real time news cycle, two-way communication; it amplifies the challenges that we have to be prepared to face and to manage.
You brought up Facebook Live, which is interesting to me because this show airs on AM, FM stations as well as being a podcast and everything else. There are certain things you can’t say, certain things you can’t air. On Facebook live you could show that and they don’t have the same restrictions. What do you think about that? They can post pretty much anything and it goes out without as much consequence. They can use whatever words. There are no limitations on that. Do you think that they should put more restrictions on Facebook live? Do you think that it’s okay to have it be allowable to see this, everything?
Personally it’s okay. I believe in freedom of expression and all of these things. From a business risk perspective, Facebook is a high-risk scenario. Somebody Facebook Lives, Insta Lives or YouTube Lives a murder or something terrible, that’s a high-risk scenario that sure would go viral, sure there might be business repercussions to the brand or the tech company that it happens to, because it’s not just Facebook. At the same time, I’m sure they’ve weighed that risk. There are my brands than a mile a minute looking at the different risks on the scenario. There’s also extensive reach in Facebook Live you’re going to see the people who see it are in the heat of the moment.
It happened when a man was shot by a police officer in his car and his girlfriend filmed it. I’m pretty sure that she did a Facebook Live with it. I love technology and I love where it’s going and what it provides to people. As a societal perspective or from a societal point of view, we have much power today to change mindset, status quo, and certain things within our society that need to be changed. That technology gives us new opportunities to uncover truth, to come together as a collective, and to stand up for what we believe is right as a culture and implement important changes.
From a business perspective, you have to always look at what is in terms of technology in the sense, what are we providing to people? What’s the technology that we’re providing people, that we’re putting in people’s hands or making freely accessible? What’s the risk to it from a societal perspective as well as from a business perspective? Being crisis-ready is assessing the risk and not taking on any venture, whether it’s a new business product, a new business strategy, a new product, a new campaign, a new communication campaign, a marketing campaign, looking at all dynamics and all angles and saying, “What’s the worst that can happen? Where are we exposed? Is the exposure worth it? How can we prevent the preventable? What do we do? How do we put ourselves in a position to proactively overcome and manage in a way that fosters trust and credibility when the unpreventable happens?” That’s what being crisis-ready is.
It’s interesting to see what they’ve done to recoup. Wells Fargo had an ad that was interesting when I was watching television, saying, “We know we’ve lost your trust and this is what we’re going to do.” They’re trying to rebuild. There’s a meme, I’ve seen this go around quite a bit on the internet with the chalkboard outside of a restaurant says, “Come in and try the worst meatball sandwich that one guy on Yelp ever had in his life.” They take something and that’s a more fun scenario of something that has happened. To say, “We’re taking this head on. We’re trying to see the comedy in it. Maybe we’re going to try and make it better.” Can you put too much comedy into something and have it rebound on you?
Did you see what happened with IHOP? They put out this teaser saying, “We’re changing IHOP to IHOB.” They said, “We’re rebranding. What does the B stand for?” That was the whole campaign. People thought breakfast. They revealed that they’re not changing their name, it’s still going to be IHOP but they’re introducing the burger. Now you can come to IHOP for lunch. What was interesting to me is that somebody reached out to me who had seen me give keynote recently. I do this thing in my keynotes where I help audiences understand the difference between issue and crisis. I play this fun game. She wrote me and she said, “Is this an issue or a crisis?” McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and all of these other burger brands, they came in and they started poking fun at IHOP. It was this fun thing that happened on social.
However, they were also being criticized because they chose to use a PR campaign to basically deceive. Their whole basis on their campaign was, “We’re changing our name,” “We’re not, it was a stunt,” so there was a lot of criticism around the description behind it all. This lady writes to me and she says, “Is this an issue or a crisis? I think it was a crisis.” I wrote back and I said, “It’s not an issue or a crisis. It’s a marketing stunt.” In fact, if you look deeper at IHOP over from what I’ve seen, their market cap has been going down and they haven’t been getting as many people into the restaurant as they’d like. After that is a potential crisis. That’s a business issue that they’re dealing with. I wrote to her and I said, “This is interesting because this was a marketing stunt as an issue management tactic. It’s flipping the thing, which to me is fascinating.” It’s also fascinating that she came to me and said, “Is this an issue or crisis? I think it’s a crisis,” and the reality was that it was neither one.
Do you think it was effective?
It was effective in getting people to talk. People will probably go into the restaurant and try out the burgers. I don’t think that it’s going to make a material impact on the business, but I do think that it was punch one of one, two, three down the line to build up the business again. Short-term, it had definite impact that it created extension of reach, brand awareness, some fun, everybody was talking about it and people as a result probably went in to try the burgers.
It’s interesting to see the things that make you pay attention, like the KFC changing the Colonel. The whole thing that they do with different ads, sometimes they think are going to be okay and then you go, “What were they thinking?” I teach a lot of marketing and different courses, brand publishing and different things. We have a week in one of the courses where students will post, “What were they thinking?” ads and all without exception.
I’m sure you’ve probably seen this ad; it was in Asia, I believe. It’s a washing machine in the background and they’re doing a detergent ad. She has this African American that she puts into the washing machine and out pops what supposedly is the perfect Asian man for her and it’s insulting. It’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen. He’s all clean and shiny with the sparkle of light that comes off of him like, “Look what we’ve done by doing this, by putting them in a machine, we’ve got this better thing,” it implies. What in the world would they possibly be thinking? You think about this and you see things that it’s a different cultural thing that they don’t see the negative in other countries. I don’t know what their thought process was. I’m curious which ads or things that you’ve seen that you find, “What were they thinking?”
There are a couple. This is something we’re starting to help organizations do that even I don’t work with. The ones that I work with, they do it. It’s to put risk assessing into the freaking process. There’s no reason why you can’t say, “How could this possibly get misinterpreted, misconstrued? What’s the worst that can happen?” It needs to be a part of the process because marketing and PR professionals, they get all excited and rightfully so about these wonderful campaigns, creative ideas and ways to extend the reach and brand awareness. It’s not a part of the process typically and one in particular. Around the time when flight MH370 was lost, the Malaysian airlines flight where it was lost in the Indian Ocean. Nobody knew what happened to the plane. People around the world, globally, this was an impact. This was a crisis for that organization but it was a crisis for the people. People lost loved ones around the world. It was relatable to all of us.
British Airways put out a marketing campaign. All you see is ocean. You see a deep-sea ocean. All you see is blue and you can tell that it’s water and light shining through from the top. Their logo, British Airways, and then the caption is, “Escape the commute and discover the Indian Ocean.” This was in elevators, it was in print ad, it was online. I understand that organizations, especially big organizations, they have their marketing campaigns and programs, set to go long time down the road. Nobody could ever have foreseen that this campaign was going to come out days or weeks after this terrible tragedy. That doesn’t make it okay. This isn’t just a gap. This is insensitive to hundreds of thousands of millions of people. That’s one of my all-time favorite because it was tone deaf. Another one was a beer. It says, “The perfect beer for whatever happens. The perfect beer for removing no from your vocabulary.” This is printed on the label and how tone deaf and just ignorant.
What beer was that? Can you say?
Yes, because it’s public and it’s not my client. It’s a Bud Light. They had a #UpForWhatever campaign. They look at it through not a rape culture lens. They’ve looked at it through up for whatever; it’s going to be a fun night. It was tone deaf and this is a gap that should have been prevented, had they had that culture of how can this potentially be misconstrued. Just ask that question and this would not have been printed on thousands upon thousands of beers.
It seems such a big company like that, how they can make these mistakes? What you’re doing is important because you’re helping them understand how to avoid rumors, speculation, criticism. You’re learning that they have to be instinctive rather than reactionary. I liked all the things that you talked about in your TEDx Talk. We’ll have to have you to come back some time because this is great information and companies need help with this. If somebody wanted to know to contact you if they needed help or to learn more, read your blog and find out what you’re doing, how would they reach you?
The best place is MelissaAgnes.com. There you’ll find links to my book, Crisis Ready: Building An Invincible Brand In An Uncertain World, which I give everything in the book. People come to me and they say, “Melissa, you’ve written yourself out of a job,” but the reality is that I can’t work with everybody. I give my entire framework, the way that I approach clients, projects, my process and all of that. The book is designed to no matter where you currently sit on the spectrum of crisis readiness, to bring you all the way through to implementing or building an invincible brand. There are tons of free resources on my website from videos, podcasts, blogs, resources like principal flow charts and to help you not make these gaps. MelissaAgnes.com is the best place. It’s the hub to go to.
Thank you so much, Melissa. I enjoyed having you on the show.
The pleasure was all mine, Diane. Thank you for the opportunity.
Connecting With Consumers Using Content with Jubair Jalil
I am here with Jubair Jalil, who is the Cofounder and CEO of MetaPair, an AI company. He’s the former CEO of SyncSpot, which has revolutionized the way brands use content to connect with customers. He was born in the UK to an immigrant family and spent his teens building startups in the content space. This included Kerazy.com, which became the world’s number one Korean comics site. In 2015 he founded SyncSpot, which was based on his experience at Sony Music, and was named by Unilever and Cannes Lion as one of the top marketing startups in the world, alongside Knotch and Upworthy. In 2016, as part of Mindshare’s annual report, SyncSpot was named as one of the top startups to watch in 2016 and counts some of the world’s largest brands as customers. He was chosen for Forbes 30 under 30 in 2017. I’m fascinated by what you’re doing now with MetaPair. Welcome, Jubair.
Thank you, Diane. Thank you for having me on the show. I’ve been listening for a few months now. I’ve been always impressed with the concept that you have on board.
I didn’t know if you’ve got to listen to Anda Gansca on my show. She was the CEO of Knotch. I’ve had quite a few Forbes 30 under 30s on this show and you guys are all impressive. Was that quite an honor to be picked by them? How did they find out about your work?
Anda’s a good friend of mine. She’s absolutely a force of nature. She’s phenomenal and a real inspiration. Forbes picked up on what we were doing because we’re making some real noise with some bigger brands about the type of campaigns that we’re doing, essentially as an agency. We did some fantastic campaigns for the BBC in the UK, did some fantastic campaigns both in the US and in Europe with Unilever. The things that we’re doing with both those companies caught the eye of Forbes. I also have to thank all of our investors back at the time who also recommended us to the Forbes team, in terms of adding us to that list. I honestly feel it’s a great honor to be on that list and we’re thankful for the great work that both the team and our investors have put into getting us to the stage.
You have done quite a bit for your age. I know everybody in the Forbes 30 under 30, they’re so impressive. I noticed that you had founded SyncSpot with Mohammed, is that your brother? Did you do the same? Are you working with him in MetaPair as well?
Yes. It’s a partnership that’s always worked. We’ve been working together on a bunch of things for a number of years. A little known little fact for you that you might find interesting. My mom ended up having about five boys. Growing up was a lot of fun. Me and Mo, we’re basically not too far in age and we have similar interests. We’re definitely the geeky people in a group of brothers. My fascination with entrepreneurship and his as well all began with Japanese animation. Mo, what we call huge anime geeks, which wasn’t really popular in the early 2000s, late 90s. It’s a little more mainstream now. I can probably tell people that I’m into that. One of the things that happened when I was about twelve or thirteen was there was a specific series that I was following called Grappler Baki. At the time, the first season had been translated by a bunch of what we call fansub groups. It was made available to everyone and the English-speaking world. The second season hadn’t been translated and the group that was responsible for translating it dropped the project.
To give you a bit of insight into the world of anime and fansubs. For the most part in the early 90s, late 90s and the early 2000s, even today, most fans of anime in foreign countries that are in Europe and in the US primary consuming animation from Japan was relying on what I call volunteer groups, capturing this animation in Japan and then translating it. These groups basically work completely remotely from all different parts of the world. Of course, it was completely volunteer-based. What would happen is that the releases would be fairly sporadic and as you imagine not entirely reliable in terms of receiving and watching this.
I had the bright idea of saying, “Instead of waiting for another group to pop up and translate and subtitle this animation, why don’t me and Mo do it together?” Me and Mo plugged into communities, this is pre-Reddit, it’s a lot like message boards. We managed to gather about ten people, all from Japanese to English translators, to timers, to people that secure, the animation from Japan and to website builders to build this fansub team that would source, distribute and translate Grappler Baki for an English audience. I did this primarily because I wanted to watch the animation.
The open source thing where everybody’s working together, you don’t know how good it’s going to be but you’ve got control in this respect.
It was an amazing experience. I’d be up in MSN Messenger late at night with Mo to coordinate and manage the team with him. It was my first real experience of entrepreneurship. I didn’t call it entrepreneurship because for me it was a passion project. It was about sharing some of the world I love, same thing for Mo. It was also my first betrayal. About a year into it, some of the members in the group ends up, I would say almost like a coup d’état, end up resting control of the group away from me and Mo. That was traumatic for a thirteen-year-old at the time, I can promise you that. Dating my case, my bug for building things and sharing things on the internet. Me and Mo two years later end up starting Kerazy. I was fifteen at the time.
Me and Mo will come up with the name of how do you make this sound cool like Yahoo, but also trendy.
It’s Korean comics, so you got the K. Is that why you went with K?
Yes, exactly went with K, and the .com was available so those two things perfectly aligned. We end up starting that together and at the time it was a niche area amongst the otaku, as one would call Japanese geeks given to Japanese anime.
What do you call them?
Otaku. It’s just a Japanese word for geek. In the western world, I know it’s with animation and it was western. Otaku we do it as well. The growing area and growing demand for Korean comics but no one was setting up a community around it. I’ve seen a lot of people having success in Japanese animation, why not do this for Korean comics? We started Kerazy as a central hub or one stop shop for anything that was involved with Korean comics. Being able to look at some of the latest translations from the comments, talk about it online with your friends, find places to buy merchandise for Korean comics. Within two years, we had over a million members a month and we’re growing 20% month on month. It was phenomenal. It took off and me and Mo was excited at the time about what we were doing, but there was one problem. We were growing too fast and we hadn’t thought about making money, monetizing this properly.
What happened was that the ad revenue that we’re making wasn’t paying for the service, in terms of the usage because we’re growing fast. I remember one day a bill arrived at home and my mom had a look at the bill. At a time, $1,000, which might not seem a lot of money to perhaps your audience, but I can guarantee you for a small family in the UK, that’s a lot of money. I was like, “How are we going to pay $1,000?” We managed to negotiate a deal with our providers at the time that, “We’ll do this. We’ll end up wiring down the website. We’ll see our contract,” but in return they have to forget the debt. They actually agree to doing that. I didn’t end up paying the bill, which is great. At the same time we have to close down Kerazy, which was incredibly bitter sweet at the time.
That led to your interest in opening a new business, you’d learn how to do it differently, I imagine from that. What year was that that you closed it down?
It was 2007.
There’s a big gap between that time and SyncSpot. What were you doing?
I ended up having to knuckle down and focus in university. I ended up doing an engineering degree. I always dreamed about doing engineering because my childhood heroes were Steve Jobs and Kazuo Hirai as well as Ken Kutaragi, both of Sony. I always thought I’d be one of them. I ended up focusing on engineering and doing that. There was definitely a period of my life where I wasn’t thinking about entrepreneurship despite me doing all the kinds of mini businesses as a teenager. I never imagined that I’d be running my own business as an adult. I grew up in an environment, within the family and the community where you go to school. If you’re lucky, you go to university. If you go to the university, you’re lucky you get a good white-collar job. I was following that path in life. That was what I was. I never imagined myself running my own business. I never saw myself as a business person.
A lot of people fall into it. A lot of it is timing, it’s who you meet, it’s many different things.
It’s mindset as well. I grew up in a relatively poor community in London and we have some local poverty of aspiration. You don’t see people, your peers doing well in life, go start your own businesses. You never imagine yourself to be doing that yourself. It’s beyond your dreams. I felt for a time I was affected by poverty of aspiration. I was in a university and I was doing well. I end up getting internships with some of the top investment banks. Honestly, the money for those internships paid for my entire schooling, they’re pretty well-paid. I’ve got my taste of money from the finance sector. I ended up initially working in finance of the university. Realizing I hated working in that environment, I thought to myself, “Where can I be involved in business and in strategy, still make a lot of money, and still do some engineering skills?”
I end up getting a job as a management consultant, specifically focused on tech. This is a key moment in my life where I believe would be the turning point for my little journey here. I end up working at this firm and one of my first clients is Sony Music. With Sony Music. They had approached my firm to help them have a look at how to do brand partnerships, sponsorships and promotions and how could they apply digital to make these more effective. I ended up working with them on this almost six months plus project. It was during this time that two things happened. The first thing I realized was I hated working for someone else. The second thing that I realized was that there was a huge opportunity here around the work I did at Sony to change how promotions were done.
It’s with that knowledge, I decided to go out and we didn’t know at the time it was consulting, start a company that helps brands drive sales through the use of content incentives. The idea being that by going to a store, I get a free song from Rihanna or by going to a shopping center, I get a free episode from the BBC, some upcoming show or something of that ilk. We’re focused on the tech around that. We went out and we started SyncSpot at the time. We had some successful pilots with Sony Music, it was one of my first customers. We ended up spinning that up into a proper business called SyncSpot and then raising funding from leading marketing and advertising executives in the UK to turn this into a proper business.
We had a good ride with SyncSpot. SyncSpot, although it began a technology company to be frank with you, became a marketing agency. We punched above our weight. We were beating out Havas and Omnicom on some pitches to win some business, some new big clients. For me, the most memorable client and the client that helped us realize that we wanted to shift gears with SyncSpot was a promotion that we did with the BBC, which is a pretty big firm out here in the UK. We basically have a nationwide account to do the cross promotion and brand partnerships in the UK.
With technology first agency, we had incredible understanding of the millennial audience. We had great expertise in the content space and worked with content companies having worked with not only Sony Music but magazines and some other big contract companies. What we ended up doing though was we end up overstretching ourselves with the BBC as a client. They wanted everything. They had huge demand for what we want to deliver. The problem that we faced was that in terms of the money that we’re making from the deal, although it seemed large initially on paper when we signed the contract, it ended up being very little for the company. This is where it got interesting for us because we ended up delivering some pretty damn successful campaigns.
As the company went into the red, it came down to the moment that me and Mo had, and this was save the latest dollars at the time. The business model that we had and the agency model was untenable and not sustainable. The reason why is because when they were saying any type of partnership or cross promotion, essentially a partnership, there’s a huge amount of operational overhead it involves. You’re pretty reliant on human beings doing a lot of the research. There are a lot of friction involved in setting up these partnerships because let’s say I want to convince Westfields to deal with the BBC. They always want a ton of information before they want to proceed, same thing for BBC. Getting that information out from both those companies is incredibly challenging and they want these accurate predictions or projections of how the actual partnership will perform. That just takes a ton of down time.
An industry wide problem is that once you’ve done all this work, you’ve committed all this capital, all this human resource into specific partnership, the reality is for every three partnerships that you’ll do, only one of them will be successful. We had a high hit rate than some other agencies. The reality is it still wasn’t good enough. What that means from an agency model, especially if you’re a boutique agency where a lot of the money that you make is dependent on performance bonuses, when one thing doesn’t hit it, it really hurts that bottom line.
I’ve been in sales for many decades, I hear you on that one. Either it’s everything or nothing. I’m interested in all these you’ve learned. First of all, everything that you’ve talked about are all the key terms that I deal with in all the courses. You’ve hit on open source; gamifications, sustainability, scale, serial entrepreneurship, all these things and success and failure are such a huge part of being an entrepreneur. What you’ve learned from SyncSpot, Kerazy, and your other adventures has led you to create MetaPair. Tell me about MetaPair. It’s an AI company. What does that mean exactly? Since everything’s heading towards AI, I’d like to know a little more about what you do there.
What we realized in SyncSpot from a business perspective was that the world of cross promotions and business partnerships has broken. The way we set up today is not effective, but it’s the only way that we can do it. What me and Mo realized that there was a best way to do this. Mo had worked at Goldman Sachs for a long time. His job there was to be specialized in automation. He was an engineer. What’s interesting here is that his main project at Goldman Sachs was to build this exchange that was focused on trading, what we call OTC products. OTC products are essentially bespoke financial agreements. What Goldman Sachs had done was that they built an exchange that allowed people to trade these bespoke financial arrangements, a liquid exchange.
What we realized was that similar technology could be applied to a business partnership or brand partnership. If you think about at a conceptual level, a business partnership is a bespoke financial arrangement. Obviously, there are other commercial sectors attached to it but just trading or exchanging and bespoke financial arrangement. Why couldn’t you do that with any number of brand partnerships? When we start MetaPair, our goal here was to set up a software company that could enable brands to seamlessly trade, exchange, and set up business partnerships through the software. The idea being that the software would help them identify the ideal strategy and brand partner as well as help the brand set up the contracts as well. That’s what MetaPair is and that’s what our mission is as a company.
That’s a unique thing and I love how you guys are young and you start with Goldman Sachs, BBC and Sony. There’s no Joe’s Diamond Tire on the corner. You guys begin right at the top and I love that. You have this background which is impressive and you have such experience. I would assume this is an algorithm that needed to be created to align people and to figure it out. Who does that part? Did you guys do that?
Yes. Mo is an amazing engineer. He’s always been the tech person in our company. Mo has three degrees from various universities. At Goldman Sachs, he was the subject matter expert on automation and engineering, so a fantastic engineer. He was always much better at math than I was. I’m pretty good at math, but Mo’s fantastic at math and engineering. He’s the type of guy that was spending his weekends building his gaming PC and spending weekends answering questions on stack overflow and building his own apps. He loves great, fantastic engineering problems. Mo ended up building our initial prototype for that. We ended up going back to some of our investors. Also, some investors have brought in some new investors in the form of Sony Music, Warner Music as well as some other great companies. Now we’re leading and taking this part and we’ve done with some great companies like Unilever and Sony Music again, Coachella to build this out into a real business.
Mo created this ability through his math skills and then they come to your site. Who are you aligning them with? Other companies with which to do business? Sponsors? Who are you pairing them with?
What we’re starting with, we hope to expand to other verticals. We’re focusing on consumer brands that want to do cross promotions and we’re linking them with other brands. That influences with the other brands. They come to our site and what they do is they take them off to an agency and they submit that to our system. Data is analyzed by an artificial intelligence and then within a 40-hour period, they get back a complete campaign proposal and campaign idea. They get a deck with four different campaign ideas and then what you can do from there is they can select and say, “I like this idea,” or “Make this adjustment to this other idea.” What happens then is we set them up with a partner on our marketplace. I’ll give you a real example. Magnum ice cream, they came to us and said, “We want to increase the sales of ice cream in none summer months. How do you do that in Q4 when it’s cold?”
We want to make sure that we target or align with a partner that can help us target women over 27, but under 35. We want to do it in these markets. They gave that brief and then the system came up with a number of different ideas. One of them was bundling a magazine subscription with each asking purchase, so three months magazine subscription. They ended up taking an idea and within six weeks from their given idea, they’re out in the market and they have partnered with Turf Magazine to give three months magazine subscription with each ice cream purchase. When we did that at that agency talking about if somebody feels can take up six months but if we’re fast about it, three months. We’re already looking at almost 30% to 40% increase in speed.
This is fascinating what you’re doing there. A lot of people could benefit from learning more about MetaPair and from what you’re doing. Can you share how they could reach you and get more information?
Thank you so much for being on the show.
Thank you, Diane, for inviting me in.
You’re welcome. Thank you so much to Melissa and to Jubair. What a great show. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take the Lead Radio.
About Melissa Agnes
Melissa Agnes is the author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World. She is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. As a strategic advisor and keynote speaker, Melissa Agnes has worked with NATO, Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense, financial firms, technology companies, healthcare organizations, cities and municipalities, law enforcement agencies, global non-profits, and many others, helping them understand risk and build invincible brands that can withstand even the most devastating of events. In 2015, she gave a TEDx talk in Los Angeles where she discussed the secret to successful crisis management in the 21st century. Agnes is the editor of the Crisis Ready Blog, a contributor to Forbes, and a go-to source for the press, with recent coverage including the Wall Street Journal, VIBE Magazine, USA Today, and many others. As a university guest lecturer, Agnes teaches crisis management in university courses around the world, including at NYU and McGill.
About Jubair Jalil
Jubair Jalil is the co-founder and CEO of Metapair, an AI company. He is the former CEO of Syncspot which has revolutionized the way brands use content to connect with consumers. Jubair was born in the UK to an immigrant family and spent his teens building startups in the content space. This included Kerazy.com, which became the world’s #1 Korean comic-site. In 2015, Jubair founded SyncSpot based on his experience at Sony Music and was named by Unilever & Cannes Lions as one of the top marketing-tech startups in the world (alongside Knotch and Upworthy). In 2016, as part of Mindshare’s annual report, SyncSpot was named as one of the top startups to watch in 2016 and counts some of the world’s largest brands as customers. He was chosen for Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2017.
- Melissa Agnes
- The Secret to Successful Crisis Management in the 21st Century TEDx Talk
- Crisis Ready: Building An Invincible Brand In An Uncertain World
- Crisis Ready Blog
- Melissa Agnes’ Forbes column
- Anda Gansca – previous episode