BGBS 042: Ron Tite | Church + State | Everyone Loves a Funny Business Guy
With experience writing books about branding and creativity, founding Church+State, and headlining his own comedy show, we think it’s safe to say that Ron Tite is a well-rounded guy. Luckily for us, he doesn’t stop there. Ron has written, produced, and performed a hit play, been a creative director for some of the world’s most respected brands such as Volvo and Intel, and created a branded art gallery. Ron also inspires us with the skillset to blend his experience with art and commerce to speak all over the world.
As we sit down with Ron, we touch on how Church+State unifies the worlds of content and advertising and why agencies shouldn’t compromise the soul within it all just for scale. Working in an ever-changing industry, it comes as no surprise to us that Ron is all about redefining and adapting to change. We learn that at the precipice of each great decision, Ron asks himself, “How can I pursue this feeling?”, motivating us to do the same.
In this episode, you’ll learn…
- The name Church+State comes from the fact that the worlds of content and advertising used to be kept separate—like the separation of church and state—and they are now being unified within this agency
- With the low cost of content production and distribution, the result is the “expression economy” where anyone can express themselves, thus challenging large media companies to make a disruption and stand out from the average person
- With startup culture, it’s all about the pivot. The industry is moving too quickly to always know if a strategy is going to work, so you need an agency that may not know all the answers, but is committed to getting it right
- Ron’s company wasn’t always called Church+State, but he decided to spend his weeks building the business and letting the name come over time rather than finding the perfect name from the start
- Ron originally went to university to complete a degree in physical education and later become a teacher
- At 17-years-old, Ron got a job at a camp with no experience of ever going to camp as a child. This was his first exposure of ever doing things on his own
- The way Ron’s family would tell these amazing, animated stories with the same beats and energy every time is what inspired his love of comedic storytelling
- Ron’s first-ever stand-up comedy set was 45 minutes long because he produced the show and made himself the headliner
- One of the most powerful moments that Ron ever had on stage was not of uproarious laughter, but during the silence of strategic thought and emotion among the audience
- There is an aspect of advertising that is “assembly-line driven”, but you need to add original thinking and “soul” to keep up with the changing tides of humanity
[32:02] There’s a rule in comedy and it’s either they laughed or they didn’t…I love that it’s the ultimate accountability.
[37:57] I think that we have to be greedy with our chasing emotions, as opposed to chasing ego.
[38:16] Nobody wants to listen to a comedian who knows about business. No one believes that guy because comedians don’t know about business. But everybody wants to listen to a funny business guy.
[44:44] Consumers go to a website, they look at a pair of shoes, and the pair of shoes follow them around for the next month. I mean, it’s just constant pitch-slapping from every angle, and we just have to be better than this…We can’t lose the soul of this.
Ron Tite 0:02
And so what I did was I just kind of thought, let’s start from birth. And I started there, you know, as you start to go through the bits, then you end up going or what links the bits like, “What’s the thread that goes through all this?” And so it was really about my life growing up quite poor. And then the name of the show was Captain Crunch flashback. So it was really just about growing up in a hand me down clothes kind of environment in a blue-collar town. And my mom was there. It was, which was amazing that my mom got to see it, because it really it’s kind of a backhanded homage to my mom who is an incredible woman.
Marc Gutman 0:46
Podcasting from Boulder, Colorado. This is the Baby Got Back story Podcast, where we dive into the story behind the story of today’s most inspiring storytellers, creators and entrepreneurs. I like backstories and I cannot lie. I am your host, Marc Gutman, Marc Gutman, and on today’s episode of Baby got backstory. We are talking with Founder and Chief Creative Officer Ron Tite from the advertising agency, Church and State out of Toronto, Canada, where to cool name Church and State. A best selling author, speaker, producer and entrepreneur, Ron Tite has always blurred the lines between art and commerce. And he has been an award-winning advertising writer and creative director for some of the world’s most respected brands including Air France, Evian, Fidelity, Hershey, Johnson and Johnson, Kraft, Intel, Microsoft, Volvo and many others. If you’re listening now, do you recognize any of those brand names? I’m sure you do. Those are all heavy hitters.
He is founder of Church and State, host and executive producer of the hit podcast The Coup and publisher of This is That travel guide to Canada, a best selling an award-winning satirical book. He has written for television, penned a children’s book, wrote, produced and performed a hit play, created a branded Art Gallery, then was executive producer and host of the award-winning comedy show, Monkey toast. If that’s not enough, he’s an in-demand speaker all over the world. And Ron speaks to leading organizations about leadership disruption, branding, and creativity. All topics that we are going to cover on today’s episode. Ron’s first book, Everyone’s an Artist, or At Least They Should Be, which was co-written by Scott Kavanaugh and Christopher Novice was published by HarperCollins in 2016. And his most recent book, Think Do Say: How to Seize Attention and Build Trust in a Busy, Busy World hit store shelves in October of 2019.
Hey, now, if you like and enjoy the show, please take a minute or two to rate and review us over at iTunes. iTunes uses these as part of the algorithm that determines ratings on the Apple charts. And we like ratings. So please, if you haven’t rated us or if you know someone who’s listening who hasn’t given us a good five-star review, please hop on over there and do that. It is a tremendous help to the podcast. Back to Ron Tite. I had a lot of fun with this interview. Ron is well, A funny guy, and he’s made a career out of what I’ve longed to believe the secret recipe, blend two things that you’re good at that aren’t necessarily related. And Ron’s case, he took advertising and his love for stand up comedy in the stage and combined it into a creative career, leading him to work with some of the world’s biggest brands. Let’s not waste any time and let’s get right into it. with Ron Tite.
So I’m here with Ron Tite, the founder and Chief Creative Officer of Church and State out of Toronto, a creative agency up in Toronto, Canada. And so Ron, thanks for coming on the show. And if you could just launch right in. Let’s not waste any time watch it tell me about Church and State what is Church and State and what makes you so interesting?
Ron Tite 4:20
I’ll leave it for your listeners to decide whether I’ve interesting or not. But thank you, Mark, thanks for having me on. And yeah, well, let’s just jump right into it, church and state and I feel like I should go into this like scripted elevator pitch kind of thing. Church and State is a multi-dimensional cross solution provider of dissolute Asia… This is what we are. We think that, you know, the worlds of content and advertising used to be separate and kept separate.
It was the separation of church and state and we think that those worlds are now unified. And so we have unified the worlds of content and advertising in convenient agency form. And so we do it, you know, stuff that can be defined as pure pure pure-play content, stuff that can be defined as pure play advertising. And as we all know, most of this stuff is kind of somewhere in the middle. And so we work with large global clients like Walmart and Doordash. And we just want scouts, Scouts Canada, and we do some work with Microsoft and to shield insurance and a whole bunch of other friendly lovely people.
Marc Gutman 5:34
That well I love that the tie in of your positioning to your name, church and state and your worldview on how you’re approaching brand and marketing and communications. I mean, how did that come about? Like, you know, that is a little bit? You know, there has been a shift, you know, I mean, there, there was content, there was advertising, there’s all these different, you know, disciplines within brand and marketing, but now, it’s all kind of blending and it’s all it’s all and we never know like where does one start? One does? One does, where does one leave off? You know, when do you stop bleeding into another discipline or area or department of marketing or brands? So how did that all come about for you? I mean, it’s I find that really intriguing, really awesome.
Ron Tite 6:19
Yeah, well, thank you. It started when I was so I was before I started Church and State I was Executive Creative Director at an agency called Havas, in Havas Khanna Havas Toronto. And I would it started with me but you know, I was at a shoot in Montevideo, Uruguay, and kind of looked back and saw this crew shot of all these people. And it was like, Hi, that how the hell and we said like it literally turned on producer and said, How the hell are we still doing that? Like, how are we so flying halfway around the world to shoot 15 seconds, for medium that fewer and fewer people are watching. And so it started there. And then and then I realized, like, I gotta I gotta quit. So I quit. I just resigned to figure it all out. And what I as I dug into it, and I started, I thought that nobody was talking to the entire ecosystem. There were some people who were saying, oh, the national newspapers and the TV networks, those people are dead.
And other people saying, oh, the big cpgs and big traditional marketing companies, they’re dead and other using a big agencies are dead. But nobody was looking at the interplay between all those things. And that, while completely different ecosystems are both completely different worlds of, you know, the worlds of television content, and television advertising. They were completely dependent on one another. And I thought that all of those worlds were being disrupted, and no one was looking at it. And when you look at you know, the lower cost of production meant anybody could produce content, the relative ease of global and immediate distribution meant that anybody could distribute content. A
nd when you combine, you know, low cost of content production with low cost of content distribution, you end up with this dynamic where, you know, it’s something that I called the expression economy, which is like, Well, everyone is just expressing themselves. And that the large media companies have to disrupt themselves just as much as the large marketers and large agencies. So I wrote this line that was just about to succeed, brands need to act like media properties and media properties need to act like brands. And then I thought, well, what the hell is that? That’s a great line. I don’t know what it meant. So I just need to just roll up my sleeves and figure it out. But what did that actually mean? And how would one go about solving that problem? And I thought, I’m gonna solve it on my own. And so I started the tight group first. And I call it the tight group, because I wasn’t exactly sure what problem I was solving.
I wasn’t exactly sure whether I was gonna solve that as a consulting firm or as an agency or as a production company. I didn’t know I just wanted to solve the problem the best way possible. So I started out called the tight group and then eventually, like, three years into it, it was like, Oh, this is what we do. This is the perspective we have that name no longer matches with what we do. We need to we need to rebrand
Marc Gutman 9:24
and so about when was it when you kind of had this epiphany of what this new era was going to look like, as I heard you speaking like I don’t want to say like it’s happened overnight because you know, we’ve been a part of this sort of movement where like you said everyone’s a content creator. I mean, what we can do with the phone in our pockets amazing like you don’t need you know, huge television crews and I don’t think you know this about me when I came out of the movie industry. I worked in the movie industry.
Yeah, first first part of my career so very familiar with at all and but I but I also as I heard you talking I was kind of chuckling to myself because I remember not that long ago. I want to say maybe my memories like, like rough for myself. But maybe 5, 6 years ago, I thought to myself, wow, I probably will never cut the cord. I love my direct tv and my sports and things like that. And now like I sit today and like I watch no tell it like traditional television and if i do i watch it as a streaming device. My children don’t even know what cable is they watch YouTube and everything else and TikTok so like, like for you? When was this like revelation? Like, when did you like really see it in
Ron Tite 10:29
1968? No. It was in 2011.
Marc Gutman 10:36
So yeah, I mean, that’s that’s like still nine years ago. I mean, that’s like crazy to me that that’s really visionary in terms of making a bet. On where you think this is all going?
Ron Tite 10:46
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I think and I didn’t know, I know. It’s just like, I think this is where things are going. And I know, why isn’t anybody talking about this? And one of the things I that that really solidified it for me, I remember turning on the television back when I had cable, and like you, I’ve completely cut the cord. But I remember turning in and sometimes was this young child in Detroit, you may have come up to Toronto to watch a Blue Jays game to play your beloved Tigers, see your beloved Tigers play the Blue Jays,
well, I turned on the television to watch a sports program. And so I turn on the TV and the show was called primetime sports. Now, Primetime sports was a discussion, sports show. And primetime sports was a radio show, owned by Rogers Communications. And it aired on a radio station called the Fan 590. owned by Rogers Communications.
It was- they put a couple of cameras in the corner. And they shot the discussion. And that TV show that was generated out of filming a radio show was owned by Rogers. It was then aired on a national television network called sports net owned by Rogers. And when they cut to commercial break, they advertised cell phones owned by Rogers Communications, the only thing missing was out of that entire ecosystem was the thing that they were talking about. And oh, that was the Toronto Blue Jays owned by Rogers Communications.
So the content that was being discussed was owned by the parent company on a platform on television owned by the parent company, on radio owned by the parent company. And when they cut to commercial break, it was products owned by the parent company. And so the pessimists may look at that and go this is corporate greed. This is you know that we’ve lost the editorial credibility, the optimist or the or those who are biased, would say this is a glorious thing. This is a glorious thing, because the viewer doesn’t care.
They don’t care who owns what, now it does raise some questions. It raises questions around when the when, when that show airs. The top story is of the Toronto Blue Jays. Is it really the top sports story that day? Or is it because they want to drive bumps in the seats? Again, the viewer will decide when they’ve walked across that line. I just think that it’s amazing that a brand is both owning the content and owning the advertising, then the entire revenue ecosystem. And when I saw that I was like, this is a changed game. And why aren’t we watching our television news broadcast be the Wall Street Journal news hour? Why is it the CBS Evening News. And it’s because the traditional media companies think of themselves as the media in which they are deployed in and they’re not their brands, they need to extend into other areas.
Marc Gutman 14:03
And then so what was your first sort of taste or or use case of how you actually deployed that or saw that work in it in the new era?
Ron Tite 14:13
I did some consulting before I was it was kind of under the agency banner, but it was really just me and I went into consulting to a radio show. And what they wanted to do was, you know, increase viewership or listenership and stuff. And so I, you know, develop this platform, and it was like, Look, this is you’re going to get behind at all conversation, because great things and issues are solved when we just sit down and have adult conversation.
That was the brand belief. And then I said, you know, there’s a neighborhood in Toronto where there’s always a debate as to whether you call the beaches versus the beach, and I said, so if there’s a town meeting behind, whether it’s called the beaches or the beach, you need to get behind and sponsor that conversation. You need to be there live. And they said, do we go and record it for the radio.
And I said, Well, you Maybe, but that doesn’t really matter that you’re just gonna you’re gonna sponsor the live conversation. And they’re like, but we’re a radio show, you know, they just they didn’t get the world of branding that they could actually be something else other than radio if they built the brand. So that was the first thing was like, Oh yeah, this is where I need to extend. And then the first traditional client was a client called AB world foods, which owns pretax Indian sauces and Blue Dragon Asian sauces. And I was like, what could we do for that a really traditional CPG? And what did we do? Of course, we did recipe videos, and we did, we did cookbooks, and we deployed through social media. And it was, you know, the goal of the business was to double in five years, and then we beat that timeline.
Marc Gutman 15:46
Yeah, then, you know, thanks for sharing that. And I really loved your explanation of how you started the Tite group, and then morphed into Church and State. And so like, I think that’s really interesting. I think a lot of people, especially creatives, those that are in this space, think, you know, I have to figure it all out. Before I get into business, I have to have the perfect name, I’ve got to have the perfect positioning.
And what I heard from you is like, you know, you wanted that I’m sure, I’m sure you’ve wrestled with some of those questions. But at the same time, it was more important to get in business and kind of figure it out, like kind of get your hands a little dirty, and figure out where the problems were and what you were passionate about. And so did I reflect that pretty accurately? I mean, is would you say that that was a good recipe to get to where you are today?
Ron Tite 16:33
Yeah, I agree with you. I think, I felt a little bit of that pressure, like, oh, what’s it gonna be called? And what’s it, you know, and I just, I kept telling myself, to push my ego to the side. And because that’s what we want, right? We want to go out, the first thing that people see in here is they have this amazing idea where they shower us with, you know, appreciation and confetti. And the reality is, like, I don’t know, many businesses that go that way. I mean, we look at startup culture, it’s all about the pivot. And so I just wanted to give myself the opportunity to do it, right. And I knew, I even told our client, our AB world foods client, when we first pitch them. And when they say I presented this whole new strategy and this approach, and they’re like, Okay, give us some examples of it working.
And I suppose I don’t have any I’ve never done it before. And then I said, Look, if an agency tells you that they have all the answers, they’re lying, they’re just lying. Because stuff is moving way too quickly, for people to have definitive answers. And what you should really want is a partner who’s committed to getting it right hundred percent.
But who’s collaborative in nature since that, because we’re all going through a lot of these things from the very first time. And so let’s just have that as our, you know, as this core belief that we’re gonna figure it out. And we’ll be really, really collaborative, but I just, I didn’t feel the pressure to have it on day one. And I also gave myself six months, and said, if this doesn’t work in six months, I don’t see a hint that you know, there’s a market for this, I’ll just shut it down.
I didn’t, I didn’t care. And then the name the Tite group, because I didn’t know what precisely it was going to be. And I thought, I can either spend weeks on coming up with the perfect name, or I can spend weeks on building the business. I’m going to build the business and I didn’t have a website at first and I didn’t like all that was, I don’t know, I just find people. They feel like they’ve got to have all that promotional stuff. Like what are you promoting, if you haven’t figured it out yet? So I just focused on building the business.
Marc Gutman 18:38
And so did you grew up in Toronto?
Ron Tite 18:40
Well, similar to you, Marc, I’m not from Detroit. But I originally from Montreal, but I grew up in a city about an hour east of Toronto called Oshawa, Ontario, home to the largest General Motors plant in the country, at least it was at one point, it is no longer. So I grew up a mile down the road from the largest General Motors plant in the country.
Marc Gutman 19:04
And as a young lad, were you outside the General Motors plant? Did you think that that was going to be more your future? Or were you having early signs? Like, hey, like, I might be into this for advertising/branding/marketing thing?
Ron Tite 19:18
Yeah, no, I had no, I had nothing to do with marketing advertising didn’t know it existed as a profession or anything. I was the first one in my family to go to university. So I didn’t, I didn’t have that internal mentorship at home to go like, hey, these are all the amazing things you could do with a career. And certainly there are amazing sorry, there are amazing things that one can do without a university education and absolutely amazing things. I was maybe just a little bit more curious about the life that existed beyond the Oshawa borders.
And so I know I just I was never really that into it. I didn’t feel like I fit in there. I didn’t have that as an interest in any way, shape or form. I just went to university because I thought I was going to be a teacher. I did a phys ed degree because I wrestled and I knew, you know, some of my mentors were great coaches and phys ed teachers. And then I got in, I was like, oh, there’s a whole bunch of other stuff I could do here. And it was what’s really weird was when I was 17. I saw or it may have come beforehand, but I saw the movie meatballs, have you seen the movie meatballs?
Marc Gutman 20:26
Bill Murray, Rudy the rabbit. Yeah.
Ron Tite 20:32
Right? So I saw that movie. And I went to my mom. And I was like, What is this? What do you mean, people go to camp? And she’s like, well, we could not afford for you to do that. And it’s like the people that go and they sleep away in a ca- like, what the hell? What is that? So when I turned 17, I realized I could go and get a job at a camp. I’m like, yep, let me do that. I want to check this out.
No history of ever going to camp, no idea what took place there. And I went to camp. And I think that was, I think, the biggest change in my life where I was like, Oh, I could actually do different things and experience different things on my own. And that’s actually not that difficult to do. You just have to be willing to do it. And so I did a phys ed degree and then started working in the business school at the University, and then started kind of helping marketing out. And it was this interesting period when the internet had just been created, right. And this is I graduated University in 1993, didn’t have an email address my last year of university, but had one my first year of work. So I could immerse myself in that, and know that nobody else knew what to do, because it was so new. So that’s what I did.
Marc Gutman 21:49
And when you say you immerse yourself, like, what, what was going on? What were you immersing into,like?
Ron Tite 21:56
I liken it a lot to like, you know, like, we could never afford for us to ski grow. I didn’t ski I didn’t know what skiing culture was. And so in university, I never went on ski trips, because I didn’t want to be the idiot who you know, kept falling. You know, people would have to wait for me. But when snowboarding came out, I was like, ah, nobody knows snowboarding. So I’m just going to go and snowboard and I’m going to leapfrog everybody. And so I did that same thing with the internet. Nobody knew about internet marketing, it didn’t exist.
So I got a job, I put my hand up to be the client on the first ever queens Business School website, we developed that I developed it with a web company. Then I went to work for that web company, and started being an account person who also taught myself a little bit of HTML. So I could now code and like in a really basic level, and then I was like, Oh, you’re tech-savvy. And I was like, well, that means I’m not geeky. They’re like, No, you understand the internet? And I was like, Ah, yeah, okay, I guess I kinda understand the internet.
Marc Gutman 23:01
And then what happened? And so like, so you understood the Internet, and then and then what was going on?
Ron Tite 23:07
So I was at this agency at the time, called sharp Blackmore, and we were the web partner for that agency. And I remember like that company, that web company I was with was just kind of going through a little bit of difficulty, and I just volunteered to leave and I was like, I’m just gonna go. And and they’re great, lovely people. And the chairman of the agency goes, I hear you’re like, you’re leaving, like, why? And he’s like, would you ever think of working in advertising? I was like, no. And he’s like, well, it’s not rocket science. It’s basically making a list and checking it off. That’s what being an account person in advertising is. And the reason that he made the offer to me was because they knew that I was funny.
So I hadn’t I wasn’t quite doing stand up comedy yet at this point. But I had done a couple of things. And they’re like, that guy’s really funny. So I’m willing to bet that they made the decision completely to bring me aboard. Not just because I knew the internet and could walk into and manage the Intel business. But because I was funny, and that they saw that I could, I would be a good relationship person and that I would fit well, culturally. But I think my sense of humor had more with me getting that job than my tech-savviness.
Marc Gutman 24:28
Yeah, and I’d noticed and doing a little pre-research for the interview that you interweave stand up with, when you keynote and things like that, and you refer you you say that you do stand up. Like we’re I’d like to get into that like how you kind of discovered comedy and how that kind of pairs with your business. But also like before we get into that, like I like where does your sense of humor come from like, like you said, you were funny. So I’m guessing that you know, throughout you know, your middle school, you know, high school years university like yeah, they’re like Ron’s a funny guy? Well, you’re like, Where did that come from? Like that? Was that- was there humor in your house? Or do you trace that back to you?
Ron Tite 25:07
It’s a great question. And I wasn’t the class clown. Like, I wasn’t that I wasn’t the guy who was like, oh, that guy’s gonna go- In fact, when I remember going back and my wrestling team got together. And my wrestling coach showed up a guy named Craig Mathew, who’s a wonderful human being. And he just looked at me and goes, a comedian, who would have thought?
He didn’t even I, you know, wasn’t, I think they could say I was funny in high school. But I’m not that traditional class clown sense of funny. But where it came from was my, my mom’s side of the family was like half Quebecois, and half Italian. And so I would just sat around the dinner table and heard these stories from my uncles, and my cousins and my aunts and my grandparents. And what I think was really great was that, not only when I hear these great animated, very detailed stories, but when somebody new would come to like a family celebration, and somebody would say, Tell him that story. And even though everybody around the table already heard the story, they would tell the story again, for the new person, but they tell it the same way. All the beats were in there, all the accents were in there, all the specific lines of dialogue.
So my family knew the art of working a bit long before I did as an official comedian. Because you know, that’s what you do with a bit is you come up with an interesting insight, you build the story, you build the performance. And then when it’s, you know, to bring the car life back in. Once it’s on the assembly line, you duplicate it over and over and over again. And that I think, was like, oh, that like, they tell the best story possible. And then they retell it and retell it and retail. And that I think is a is a great approach for comedy.
Marc Gutman 27:08
This episode brought to you by Wildstory. Wait, isn’t that your company? It is. And without the generous support of Wildstory, this show would not be possible. A brand isn’t a logo, or a tagline, or even your product. A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product service or company. It’s what people say about you, when you’re not in the room. Wildstory helps progressive founders and savvy marketers build purpose-driven brands that connect their business goals with the customers they want to serve. So that both the business and the customer needs are met. This results in crazy, happy, loyal customers that purchase again and again. And this is great for business. And that sounds like something you and your team might want to learn more about. Reach out @ www.wildstory.com. And we’d be happy to tell you more. Now back to our show.
Yeah, and so then when did you actually get into to doing comedy, turning being a natural storyteller into to stand up and I’ve got a real interest in this. I just published an Instagram carousel the other day kind of relaying my experience about this, but like I, I speak as well. And to be honest, like when I get on stage, I’m like, scared and one of the things I did to overcome that, and I used to write comedy and in the movie business, alright, so like, I, you know, I have that background.
But I do not like being on camera or having the mic in my hand. And so I worked with a comedian and I delivered a set in New York City about a year ago. And it was like, the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. And I could talk for you know, like, so long about why but I mean, it’s a lot of it’s your truth and you’re putting something out there. You’re like, Hey, I think this is funny, not just like, Hey, I think this is a good ad, right? Yeah, you know, it’s way different to me and I had a panic attack the night before and pulled it together for the show.
And I look back finally is like that’s one of the biggest growth experiences I’ve had as an adult like I really, you know, that really meant a lot to me that I was able to do that. So like When did you get into it? And how did that like fit into your career and you know, you’re on this advertising, you know, career path, not a stand-up comedian career path?
Ron Tite 29:23
Yeah, I had always loved it. I’d always loved the craft of stand up and in grade 10 I got up in front of like, 1000 people and did it it’s horrible to say this now a Bill Cosby bit called The Dentist and, and I just did like an impersonation of him, but him doing the bit. And when I did that, and the first time I made the laugh, the crowd laugh. That’s pretty powerful. A thousand people laughing at something you did on stage with the spotlight on you. How’s that? Oh, I’m more like how do I get that feeling again? Because that’s pretty cool. So I kind of always just, I was a fan of stand up. And then I was doing stuff at second city from an improv standpoint. And then I was like, ah, but I’m not an improviser.
Like I really want to do stand up. I really want to see the method to the madness. So I went to my friend, Steve, I was like, I want to do stand up. How do I how do I do it? He’s like, go to Yuk Yuks downtown, you sign up to do a Monday night, open mic, you do five minutes. You just keep going back every week. And then once your five minutes is good enough, they’ll invite you to come on a Tuesday night and do seven minutes as an opener, then you get a midler than a headliner, blah, blah, blah, after 10 years, whatever.
So I went down and checked, I was like, I’m just gonna go check it out. So I go check it out. And it was a shit show. It was like, This is not fun. These people aren’t funny. That guy lost a bat. That guy’s drunk, like Forget it. I’m, I’m already better than this. I know, I’m better than this. I’m not doing it. So I went back. I was like, What else can I do? It’s like, Well, the only other thing I guess is you can find a producer who’s producing a live show, convince them to give you five minutes, even though you’ve never done it before. And maybe someone will let you on their show.
And then I just thought, Well, why don’t I just make myself the producer? And I’ll just make myself the producer. So my very first time doing stand up comedy of my own material ever. I would did a 45-minute headlining set, because I produced the show. So I just made myself the headliner, and did 45 and brought in some friends to open up and sold it and gave the money away to charity from the dorm sold out the room. And if you can do a 45 minute stand up set if you’re a comedian. So after one night, it was like, Oh, you’re a comedian.
Okay, so then I people are like, can you come do a 20-minute set? And I’m like, whew, for 20 minutes. Yeah, I can cut it down to one minute set. And then I what’s great, and I think was probably behind your panic attack, is that there’s no excuses. Like, there’s literally no excuse, and you could blame the crowd. And you can blame the environment, everything else. But there’s a rule in comedy. And that’s either they laughed, or they didn’t. And if you can’t figure out a way to make them laugh, then that’s on you. And there’s just there’s nowhere to run. It’s you and a mic. And that’s it, figure it out. And I love It’s the ultimate accountability.
Marc Gutman 32:18
Yeah. And it’s so cool. I mean, you know, people want that, you know, people want to laugh, like they’re in the club to laugh, right? And so if you can’t do it, it is on you, for sure. And within that first set, like, how did you come up with 45 minutes material? Where you, did you like, check out a book at a library? How do you stand up to just read your own jokes, and were some of the jokes that were in there,
Ron Tite 32:40
I wrote it. And because that what’s interesting is as a comedian, then you and you can appreciate this as a speaker, right? That it’s very rare for you to get up and go, like, I’ve got 45 minutes of brand new material that I’ve never done before. Like, it’s usually like, I got five new minutes, and then you just, you know, like sourdough bread or just over the year, you end up duplicating and replacing your material.
But I just, and there were no, I didn’t want to go to open mic night to test it out. So I just tested this out on my own. And I just kept working the materials, not like I sat down on one sitting, I just kept working the material in my head in the shower, I’d stand up, I deliver it to myself in the mirror kind of thing. Like I would just continue to do the material over and over and over and over and over again. And then you just it gets better and it gets better, it gets better. And so what I did was I just kind of thought, let’s start from birth. And I started there, you know, as you start to go through the bits, then you end up going
well what links the bits? like what’s the thread that goes through all this? And so it was really about my life growing up quite poor. And then the name of the show was Captain Crunch flashback. So it was really just about growing up in a hand me down clothes kind of environment in a blue-collar town. And my mom was there and it was, which was amazing that my mom got to see it. Because it really it’s kind of a backhanded homage to my mom who was an incredible woman.
Marc Gutman 34:05
So you produce your own show. So like, let’s kind of catch up with what’s going on at this time. You’ve produced your own show, what’s going on in your career?
Ron Tite 34:13
I was in at that point, I was an account guy running the Intel business. And then I decided the next big kind of pivot was that I decided to wreck take my Standard material and write it into play form. So I wrote a one-man play. And the way to do that is you can take the stand up material as its base, but to make it a play, you have to expose the emotional underbelly that has informed the comedy.
But why are you looking to make fun of that situation? What’s the emotional reason you’re looking for laughter or for justification or for acceptance or whatever? And what does that narrative like? And so I wrote this play called the Canadian Baby Bonus and went out and delivered it at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, which is the largest Fringe Festival in North America. Sold out a bunch of shows and, you know, did this play and it was like a completely different experience. And two things happened in that performance that I think that drastically altered my life. The first is that I was performing and there’s a moment in the play where it’s a call back to something rather poignant earlier in the play. And it is a silence. You know, it’s a line you deliver in silence. And so and the line is, be careful. And so I said, So hey, and the room was silent. And all I heard was this woman in the front row go, Ah, and she knew precisely what the next line was going to be before I said it.
And that is the most powerful moment I’ve ever had on stage, where you’ve got somebody emotionally in the palm of your hand, and you can take them wherever the hell you want to take them. You could I could have followed up with a joke. And she would have laughed her face off, I could have followed up with something emotional, she would have cried out could have followed up with something direct and poignant. She would have been, you know, we should have stopped to think about it. So that was a really powerful moment, and that I appreciated the emotional feeling that I got from that moment from the silence way more than I did the uproarious laughter, it was way more fulfilling. And so began, like, how do I pursue that feeling? The feeling of Yes, setting them up with the laughter, but silencing them with strategic thoughts, or emotional thoughts? How do I do that?
The second thing that occurred was that I was caught in the hotel fire on my final night of the performance, and so mad, I mean, there’s somebody that hated this job, that torched the hotel. But I ended up getting plucked from the window by a cherry picker on a fire truck The next morning, and I returned the agency and said, my life flashed before my eyes and accounting services didn’t make the final cut. And I’m going to move into the creative department. And, and I did what I wanted my, my comedy life on my advertising life to be more closely aligned.
Because I just thought that was, instead of chasing these two things, that maybe actually chase one thing that had complementary skill sets. And so I immediately joined the creative department as a junior copywriter. And I said I would take a pay cut to do it. And to their credit, they told me that I should screw off and never take a pay cut. And then I just, you know, became senior writer, you know, associate creative director, creative director, Executive Creative Director, and then left and started my own thing.
Marc Gutman 37:37
Yeah, I mean, I’m so fascinated that you had, what, to me sounds like, some real momentum going behind your comedy, behind the play. Why not continue down that path? Why come back to advertising, even in the copywriting realm?
Ron Tite 37:56
I think that we have to be greedy with our chasing emotions, and opposed to chasing ego. Because I’ll be honest with you, like when I, when I started dialing up my comedy in the move to speaking was like, nobody wants to listen to a comedian who knows about business. No, no one, no one believes that guy, because comedians don’t know about business. But everybody wants to listen to a funny business guy. So that was the ultimate pivot was to the point that I went to my- the speaker’s bureau and said, Never refer to me as a comedian again, because I lose credibility by going and I don’t want to be a comedian. I’m a business guy who just happens to be funny. But they’ll buy that. And they’ll pay more for that than they will for the, you know, the after-dinner entertainment. I didn’t want to do that anymore. But the biggest difficulty was the ego difficulty, because man, you know how cool it is to be at a party and somebody say, what do you do? And you say, I’m a comedian. Like, you’re suddenly the coolest guy in the room.
Marc Gutman 39:01
Yeah I’ve done it once and I’ve been riding it ever since.
Ron Tite 39:06
But you have to be honest with yourself. It’s like, but what, but in the moment, do you really, really love it? And I loved aspects of it. But I just saw that I was more interested in pursuing a speaking life that used comedy, The said about more important messages. And I thought, I’m gonna be more fulfilled with that, you know, and I’ve had opportunities where it’s like, hey, do you want to host this TV show? It’s like, it’s a Reno Show. I’m like, now I’m not doing that. It’s not I’m just at that point in my career where I know what I need to do to continually get better at the thing that I’m already good at. And these outside things that I maybe would have pursued in my 20s and 30s. Like, I just don’t, I don’t really do those anymore. I try and live within a tighter circle, if that makes sense.
But I think it just comes down to what do you really want to do and I didn’t really Want to, here’s what I didn’t want to do, I didn’t want to be a waiter, waiting on tables during the day waiting for my comedy career to take off. Because I had seen people who were brilliantly funny, but who just lacked some other skills, that that and so they never made it. And they’re still, you know, kind of doing the same seven minutes. And I don’t want to be that person. Now, that’s not to say I don’t respect that person, I completely respect the person who says, There’s only one thing I ever want to do. And I will wait tables all day all night, if that allows me to pursue it. I totally respect that person. I just don’t want to be that person.
Marc Gutman 40:43
Thanks for sharing that. And then so was it really that easy? When you made the jump to copywriting? Was it just like, Hey, I’m going to join the creative department and start writing copy. And away I go, it was it? Was it a little bumpy?
Ron Tite 40:56
It was it was bumpy. In that I, the writing part, like, you know, my creative director at the time was a guy named Tony Miller. And I still say Tony kind of taught me how to write for advertising. And so the writing part was, was okay. The conceptual development was fine. Obviously, it got better with partners and you know, experience and stuff. But it was about but it was more, the more difficult part was leaving the role, the other aspects of my account roll behind. And so like, you’d walk into a meeting, and I and I, what I should have been doing was like, constantly just taking up ideas like in the meeting, like what do I have an idea for that?
Do I have an idea for that, and just keep going and writing lines and everything in the moment, what I was doing initially was like, Oh, I’m getting all the details of the meeting down, because that’s what account people did, right. And I had a lot of difficulty shutting my brain off from doing those things that I had done. But what really, really helped was that I knew how to, I could own a room, from my stand up experience. And from my experiences in account person, I can immediately make the client feel at ease. I wasn’t coming in as some cool, edgy comedian, who they had to buy into those, you know, I was always a good client-facing creative. And so those skills aren’t taught enough to young creatives, and they help you go a long way, they help you sell your thinking.
Marc Gutman 42:27
Yeah. And so what don’t we know about the advertising business? Like what’s what’s hard about it? Or what’s, you know, for those of us on the outside, like, you know, just like, what, what don’t we know?
Ron Tite 42:38
Well, it surely is being redefined and redeveloped from a bunch of different angles, from, you know, basic core marketing, what, what, what’s working in the minds of consumers and what isn’t working, the integration of data is changing the game, the integration of development and technology, obviously, and how it’s applied to consumer behavior is changing things. The players are all changing. I mean, now that, you know, the fourth, I think, largest agency in the world is Accenture. So you know, the Deloitte and Accentures and E wise, and PwC, are all playing in their big holding companies being redefined. Small boutiques are chasing really Nishi areas. So all of that stuff, the business of how an ad gets made, is completely changing. And the dollars around who gets paid to do what is completely changing. So that’s all to me really exciting, because we have a chance to redefine it. And then, you know, when you look at man, during a pandemic, like how does that change? It’s fundamentally changing everything because people’s viewing habits are changing. And their, their consumption of advertising is changing. So there’s just a lot of potential to make it what it could be. And it’s not there yet.
The promise as a guy who used to write a whole bunch of TV commercials, and the promise of digital marketing was about targeting that finally people could you know, see the ad what for what they want, when they want it and how they want to deliver it and all of that stuff. That was the promise. Where are we it’s a shit show the whole thing. If people have taken digital and made it about scale, not about targeting, and customization. So now we’re just pitched slapped from every possible angle. I can’t go into LinkedIn without eight LinkedIn messages pitching me people service asked me to book a time on my calendar for the next day. I get emails pitch laughing as consumers get, they go to a website, they look at a pair of shoes and the pair of shoes follows them around for the next month. I mean, it’s just constant pitch lapping from every angle, and we just have to be better than this.
We just have to be better. And while data is important, and infrastructure is important and efficiencies are important. We can’t lose the soul of this. And that’s my biggest complaint is that there are a lot of players within the advertising marketing ecosystem, who have no soul. And those people need to go away.
Marc Gutman 45:17
And so how do we change this behavior? Because I agree, like, you know, my, my LinkedIn is overrun with, you know, people that don’t even like, don’t even know who I am, or research who I am. And so they’re, they’re, they’re pitching me stuff that’s not even relevant, you know, to talk about, like, not targeting or not being clear. You know, I click on one, one ad for soap, and I’m getting that for the rest of my life. And, you know, I couldn’t agree more like I’m, like, fatigued with, with what’s hitting me. And there was this promise that I was going to get the ads that I explicitly wanted and deserved, and, and none of that’s happening. And so, and I think that we’ve become beholden to this idea of metrics and impressions and getting it out there and eyeballs. And so like, how do we start to change the script on this thing? And how do we start to redefine what digital is as we move forward? Because I agree, it’s completely broken?
Ron Tite 46:18
Yeah, I think there’s, you know, back to our car example, I think there’s a, if you look at the car business, there’s two parts that manufacturing process, and that one is the assembly line. And on the assembly line, everybody knows specifically what their job is you they’ve worked at all the inefficiencies, you know, you had you do this spot well, you hand it off to the next person, they do their thing. And when you do that, and it’s repeatable behavior, well, then you end up with the same product with the same margin, the same cost and everything at the end of the day. So you guarantee quality, you guarantee a margin. And that’s a good thing. And that’s where you should make your money is on the assembly line.
So there is an aspect of advertising that needs to be assembly-line driven. If you know specifically that this offer with this photo with this headline is what’s driving, you know, an acceptable amount of performance, then you need to put that on the assembly line and make it as efficient as possible. But the problem with that is saying, oh, we’ll make so much more money on the print than we do on the original, which is true. But if you don’t have an amazing original, the prints gonna suck. And so you need to have original thinking.
So if that’s the assembly line, you need the concept car, you need people who are working on things that have never been done before, that have no benchmarks for performance. Because if all you do is assembly line behave, you’re going to lift your head up one day and realize you’re out of business, we need to constantly be pushing new things, new thinking, new approaches, and see what that does and see what we can learn. And in the concept car example, it’s like, oh, you know, the car is never gonna go into production. But this gas cap works really well, I’m going to move that in onto the assembly line. So I innovate in a really responsible way. So you can do that. And that’s, I think, a responsible way to do it, you need to make an amazing original before you start making the print. And I think brands have forgot that, that they’re only doing the assembly line work. And they’re trying to cheat the system.
By going, you know, we found out that a headline with the word click in it performs 76% better, so we’re just going to have a bunch of headlines with click in it, and you’ve completely lost your soul. And by the way, you’re using the same benchmarks that everybody else is using. And so it’s a law of diminishing returns, you’re never gonna, you know, outperform the first person that thought of it.
You’re just now just a carbon copy of everybody. That’s the same carbon copy of everybody else’s. So it is that balance between concept car and assembly line.
Marc Gutman 48:59
I love the car analogy. It’s great. It’s something that I think everyone can really understand and puts it into perspective. So with the sort of the negative out of the way, what do you love about advertising?
Ron Tite 49:09
I love that, that this is a business that’s been around for a long time. And we’re talking about completely redefining it in not so subtle ways in from every possible angle. Absolutely love it. I also love that there’s a lot of stuff out there and people just that again, they don’t care. They don’t care who pays for it where it comes from good shit’s good shit. And if it’s a six-minute video or a 25-minute video or a three-hour movie, they don’t care whether Lego paid for that, or what you know, whether ESPN paid for it, or who good stuff is good stuff. Now when it’s not good stuff, and it sucks. Then we look to justify why and often we go like oh it was too pitchy was, it was because of was a brand that did it.
No, because there’s a lot of television programs that don’t have brands behind that suck too. So I just think it’s amazing that we can, that we can put things in front of people that inspire and inform them to do things.
Marc Gutman 50:17
So what are you most looking for forward to next?
Ron Tite 50:20
Um, a vaccine, would be nice.
Marc Gutman 50:25
We’re all looking forward to it.
Ron Tite 50:27
Yeah, I’m in lockdown in a home with a baby that was born two days into the pandemic and a two and a half year old. So when you’ve done that vaccine, If you could send that over, that’d be great. Thanks so much.
But I really, you know, we’ve got some amazing clients and I, the job I’m most excited about is the one I’m working on tomorrow. And, you know, like, whatever the one I’m working on tomorrow, like, we’re just, we’re like, right now we’re working on stuff for scouts, for example. I mean, and that, that has so many interesting angles to it. How do you talk to kids about getting outside again? How do you know, help an organization who has been putting kids forward and developing kids for so many years? How do you help kids reconnect with the great outdoors? How do you help parents who are concerned with their you know, what their kids are learning and socializing? Like all that stuff? I’m really excited about that. But tomorrow, there’ll be a different client with a different ask, and I’ll be excited about that. That’s a lame answer is that’s a lame answer.
Marc Gutman 51:28
We can always give you a chance to restate it. But I liked it. I thought it was. So Ron, like if you could run into that 20-year-old self of yours, that young, that young guy just kind of out there, in his first job in the advertising biz, and he ran into you today? What do you think he’d say?
Ron Tite 51:48
He’d say, you know, I, my, my friend shared a photo of us at I think at 23 years old. The other day, there were three of us in the photo, and she texted it out. And I said, we’re so young, we had our whole future ahead of us. And I wish I knew then how amazing it would be. And so I think my in both, like professionally, I’d never saw being this fulfilled. But also like, I you know, I was, I didn’t get married till I was, you know, 40, 43, 42 and so I became a dad like, I’m 50 and I just, you know, my wife and I just had a baby. I didn’t expect that to happen. even like as late as 40, Im like this isn’t gonna happen. So I don’t know.
I guess the advice that 20 year old like, just keep at it and don’t follow the script, right? Because I’ve I haven’t followed the script on how to get into comedy how to get into advertising or how to be a dad, this isn’t the script I’d recommend but write your own script. It’s all good. It’s all gonna be alright.
Marc Gutman 52:57
And that is Ron tight. I love the idea of approaching life as an unscripted script. Keep moving, keep reinventing, keep evolving. And a big thank you to Ron and his team for waging the war against pitch slapping. I think the whole world is pulling for you. I know I am. Thank you again to Ron Tite and Church and State for stopping by. And before I go, if you know of a guest who should appear on our show, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org because our best guests like Ron, come from referrals from past guests and our listeners. well, That’s the show. Until next time, make sure to visit our website www.wildstory.com where you can subscribe to the show in iTunes, Stitcher or via RSS so you’ll never miss an episode. I love big backstories and I cannot lie. You other storytellers can’t deny.