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The Power of Inspiring Action: The A-List Podcast Turns 3

In the booth with Terri and Sandy (Season Two)

“Have you heard our podcast?”

Yes, we’ve become “that guy.” DiMassimo Goldstein has a podcast. No big deal. (Eyeroll emoji.) In all seriousness, we don’t actually talk about The A-List Podcast that much. Because we didn’t do it to make ourselves famous. We did it because we’re curious about creativity and we’re obsessed with starting conversations. Here’s how it happened:

My friend Lauren Slaff has an ad school called Adhouse. A couple of years ago, I noticed that her Facebook presence for the class needed an upgrade and offered to help. At DIGO, we talk a lot about Inspiring Action and resisting the urge to just make a straight-up ad hawking your wares, so of course my first thought was, “We need some hard-hitting print and banner ads!” It’s amazing how theories become so hard to follow in practice. Duh!

Yes, paid ads are important, but the first thing we needed to do was to get across the difference of Adhouse. As I say in every episode of The A-List Podcast, “[Adhouse’s] philosophy? An ad class is only as good as the professional who teaches it.” At Adhouse, you learn from the people who do the work in the very places where they do it. You literally go to the agency where your teacher works one night a week and show them your ideas. It’s the closest thing to breaking into the business you can get for six hundred bucks.

So a team worked on some ads. They were funny. But mostly they were ads. Clever headlines. Hard-hitting copy. Blah blah blah. And in the end, while they might get some people to notice Adhouse, they weren’t going to be great for the team’s book or for DiMassimo Goldstein. We’re an Inspiring Action agency. It says so in our lobby! We needed to innovate.

A reminder from our lobby at 220 E23rd Street. :)

That’s when we had a bigger idea: Let’s just interview some ad greats themselves, giving the audience a little taste of what it might be like to take an Adhouse class but also getting their ad stories. We eventually settled on their origin stories, partly out of not wanting the show to be too production-intensive week to week but also in an effort to keep it valuable to our core target audience: people who are curious about breaking into the ad industry. We originally planned to do films, but that didn’t pass the production-intensive test either. So we settled on a podcast. NOTE: At the time, we had never produced a podcast. But that’s part of Inspiring Action: Jump and a net will appear.

We began by emailing a few ad friends of mine. Rob ReillyTy Montague and Greg Hahn all said yes. Hooray! Gramercy Post, a sound studio upstairs in our building, offered up their recording facilities. We would patch in the guests, and I would ask them their life story. We would record an intro and an outro, slap some music on it, shove in an ad-read for Adhouse and see what we got. Podcast in an hour.

Before we could pull the trigger, I had to talk to my partners and Lauren (our client) about paying for it. As far as the agency was concerned, it wouldn’t make us much money. Make that (scribble scribble) zero dollars, actually. But we would be learning how to make and distribute podcasts, and we would be getting our name out to a young, creative audience. Also, I’d be connecting our agency marketing team to the PR departments of agencies ten or twenty times our size, who would all want to get the word out about their own creative geniuses. Oh, and we could do it pretty cheaply and with a very small team. They said yes (thanks, partners!) and Lauren was happy to try anything (thank the universe for good clients). So off we went.

That was over two years ago now. We have learned a lot along the way and, as we launch season three on May 9th with Anselmo Ramos of GUT, I am struck by how much has changed, but also what hasn’t. Our format hasn’t changed. We’re still asking the guests how they found this weird career we call advertising. (I’m still amazed I found it myself, to be honest. I still feel like that kid from Jersey with the weird hair.) We still record at Gramercy Post. But sometimes we have the guests sit down in the studio with me now. The experience is different that way. It’s easier to connect to the person but can also be scary. (You have to make eye contact and stuff!)

The guests are from new places. I used up all my close friends in season one and two. Now I am interviewing people I never thought would say yes, and I’m still amazed when they say they listen to and love the show. This season will include conversations with the aforementioned Anselmo Ramos as well as Ricardo Casal and Juan Javier Pena of David, Nick Law of Publicis and Karl Lieberman of Wieden + Kennedy. We’re doing a whole design exploratory starting with Paula Scher of Pentagram and Bobby C. Martin of Original Champions of Design.

New Season. New Guests. (Clockwise from Top, Left: Anselmo Ramos of GUT, Ricardo Casal and Juan Javier Pena of David, Paula Scher of Pentagram and Bobby C. Martin Jr. of Original Champions of Design.

(By the way, we have toyed with doing a sub-pod about young people who just entered the business. (The A-List The Next Generation?) We’re still working on ironing out how to do that, which was an idea we got from some young listeners. But Casal and Pena from David and Dhruv Nanda from Oberland start us off with some new perspectives from the millennial point of view.)

One more difference in the show this year is the music. Ross Hopman, a friend of the agency at Duotone, loves the show and wanted to help out. We were thrilled of course. But we had no idea how great the results would be. In the end, we couldn’t choose one song, so The A-List Podcast might just be the only podcast out there with TWO theme songs. The one at the end is my personal favorite, based on an off-the-cuff joke to Ross: “If all else fails, just give me something like The Muppet Show theme.” God, I hope Kermit doesn’t sue.

It’s a funny thing about an Inspiring Action, but it almost always gives you more return than you bargained for. Our little podcast (with very little advertising to support it) has reached tens of thousands of people all over the world. We get notes and emails from listeners who have been in advertising for decades telling us how the show has reignited their passion for the business or kept them going during hard times. DiMassimo Goldstein has gotten clients asking us how to make podcasts and young creatives who want to work here. And, of course, Adhouse has never had so many applicants.

And so it is my pleasure to introduce you to more amazing ad people. That’s the moral of the story of The A-List Podcast by the way: It’s all about the people you meet along the way. This business is full of thousands of amazing people who get to solve problems for the world’s biggest brands in creative, unheard-of ways every day. They did this by finding people who were doing it and learning from them. Our goal was to get more people to imagine themselves doing the same and continue what the Lion King might call the Circle of Ad. Because whether you are a kid from New Jersey like me or a big brand who needs to reinvent yourself, creativity is the way. All you have to do is start a conversation with the right people.

Have we mentioned that season 3 of our podcast launches on Thursday? No big deal. 🙄

The old guy on the left is me. The cool guy on the right is Dhruv Nanda of Oberland.