In this episode of We Built This Brand, Chris is joined by Jess Gutman, Creative Director at Big Slate Media. Jess reveals what it’s been like to see the company grow from its early days (she’s employee #3), and is able to share unique insights on how building a brand from scratch is an ever-evolving process. If there’s one big lesson you can take away from this conversation, it’s to embrace whatever it is you’re weirdly passionate about because that’s your superpower. Jess is a self-described “brand nerd” and it’s clearly paying off.
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(01:53) Chris introduces Jess Gutman, Creative Director at Big Slate Media
(02:38) Jess describes the early days in her career and what led her to a career in PR & Marketing
(07:25) Jess explains how a drone started the Big Slate Media brand and how she joined the company as one of the first employees
(12:47) The approach Jess took to building out the Big Slate Media brand and how she has scaled that into a branding workshop
(15:42) Jess describes the challenges of managing an evolving brand
(19:38) Jess & Chris discuss Upcoming initiatives at Big Slate Media
(23:37) Jess explains what the B-Roll Bank is and why Big Slate Media is so excited about it
(25:47) Why Jess is so passionate about her role and the brand she’s helping to create
(27:10) Jess’ thoughts on AI and other technologies as they relate to creative industries
(34:50) How a water brand captured Jess’ heart
Jess is a storyteller at heart – from sitting in front of a screen crafting content for various brands, to bringing others’ words to life on a stage, to posting about her day on her Instagram Stories. Her passion has always been to communicate with others, tell stories that inspire emotion and really, just make people laugh (her mom thinks she’s hilarious).
Professionally, she enjoys telling brand stories through captivating images/graphics/video, digital content, and social media. Jess currently serves as the Immediate Past President of the American Marketing Association Knoxville and on the Community Engagement committee for the Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation.
When not at work (actually, sometimes at the office, too), you can find Jess singing along to Broadway Cast Recordings, binging Netflix/Hulu/YouTube, snuggling her cat Aaron Purr, or hanging out with family and friends. She loves traveling, fresh flowers, and sour beer.
- Big Slate Media: https://bigslatemedia.com/
- Big Slate Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bigslatemedia/
- Big Slate Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bigslatemedia/
- Big Slate LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/big-slate-media/
Keep Up with We Built This Brand
Chris: Hey everybody, welcome to the podcast. It is great to be here and finally getting We Built This Brand off to a start. Today’s interview is with Jess Gutman. She’s a longtime friend of mine, we’ve worked together in the American Marketing Association, she was the person who actually nominated me for president at one time, and just had a great time, great experience working with her over the years. And I’m excited to bring her onto the podcast today to talk about her time at Big Slate Media and the brand that she has helped build there.
Now, if you don’t know Big Slate Media, they’re a full-service media production company right here in Knoxville. And they were founded in 2015 by Jonathan Halley. And initially, they focused on being an aerial film and photography company and then they realized there was a lot more opportunity to be had, and they grew the business from there. And today we’re talking with Jess about when she started working at Big Slate Media, her time there, her tenure, and how she’s had a major impact on getting Big Slate Media to where it is today. Now, I’m filming this intro after we’ve already recorded and I can just say it was a great conversation with Jess.
Really enjoyed our time talking about everything she’s learned in her career, where she’s at with Big Slate, the things that she has brought to that company, and the way they’ve grown has just been astounding. As friends of both Jess and the founder, Jonathan, it’s been really cool to see them grow. And I just, I really think you just need to hear their story. So, without further ado, here’s my interview with Jess Gutman from Big Slate Media.
Chris: All right, welcome to We Built This Brand. Jess, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
Jess: You’re welcome, Chris. I’m excited to be here.
Chris: Yeah. Really excited to have you. You’re my first guest.
Jess: I’m honored, to be quite honest. I’m honored that you would ask me, but let alone being asked first. I am truly honored. Thank you. [laugh].
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. Well, you’re a great friend and a great colleague and I just felt like, you know, for starting this first one, I wanted someone who if something goes wrong, we’re good. So [laugh].
Jess: Absolutely. Absolutely. No judgment here. No judgment here.
Chris: That’s great. That’s great. Well, today, we’re here to talk about your… you. We’re here to talk about your career history and the business that you’ve helped build, which is Big Slate Media. So, with that said, we’re going to dive right into it. So, first thing I’m really curious about is your background. What got you interested in PR and marketing to begin with?
Jess: Yeah, absolutely. So, I always tell people that I talked a lot as a child, so ever since I was, you know, in elementary school, I was the kid that would get really good grades, but at parent-teacher conference, my parents would say—or like the teacher would say to my parents, “She’s so great, but she never shuts up. She just never closes her mouth.” So, I’ve known from a young age that I wanted to go into some sort of communications-related field. I also did theater my entire life. I’m a theater kid at heart, and so I’ve always loved just storytelling and communicating with people on a stage as well.
So, that kind of just led me into that type of field. In high school, I did, you know, our school news show where I was one of the anchors. So, I’d considered journalism as well, but I definitely wanted a more business-focused background. And so, when I was looking into the communications college at UT, which is where I went, public relations felt like such a great fit because I was getting the communications education that I wanted with a focus in business and how it can help businesses. So yes, I got my BS in Communication from UT and my major was in PR. And actually, when I was in college, I thought I wanted to go into political communications. Pretty glad I didn’t do that just given [laugh] given current landscapes and my—
Chris: I can’t imagine what you’re talking about [laugh].
Jess: Absolutely. So, that actually led me to when I was exploring internship opportunities, I interned in Governor Bill Haslam’s office as a constituent services intern. So, I communicated with the public a lot, which was really fun [laugh] and stressful at times, but it was a really fun internship. And I also got my internship at the Knoxville Chamber because of their connection with advocacy and advocating for business-friendly policy. So, there was a little bit of a legislative tie-in there that initially drew me to that organization.
And so, when I graduated UT, I actually came on board at the Chamber full-time, three days after I graduated, as their communications and marketing manager and was there for about three years.
Chris: That’s really awesome. And obviously, when you started there, like, was it everything you expected your first job out of college to be?
Jess: Because I had worked there for a full year while I was in college, it was the perfect transition because I knew I really loved the team, I loved what I was able to do. I absolutely loved my job there and I look back on it really fondly because it taught me a lot, but I was able to do really fun things and meet so many people in the community. Which was probably my favorite part is, I kind of was in the know on all the businesses in Knoxville because all of our membership base, you know, is hundreds and hundreds of businesses here in Knoxville. So, it was what I expected only because I had worked there for a year. But yeah, it was really great in terms of, it was flexible, I had a good time with people, I was doing what I loved, which was marketing, everything from social media management, website content, email newsletters, print publication writing. I’ve always loved writing; I was doing a ton of writing.
And while I was there is actually when they handed me two cameras, and they’re like, “Oh, and on top of all this, you’re going to take all the photo and video at our 200-plus events a year.” And I was like—
Jess: “Okay.” Because my background is not in production. But I taught myself how to shoot and how to edit on Final Cut Pro. And that’s actually where I kind of got my start into the production world, which kind of leads into how I got to Big Slate, actually [laugh].
Chris: Yeah, and that’s, in that time period was actually I think when you met… of all people, I think you met my dad before you met me.
Jess: I did, yeah. Yeah.
Jess: I love Alan [laugh].
Chris: Yeah. I do, too. I’m a little biased. But [laugh].
Jess: No, yep. He’s definitely at AT&T-sponsored Chamber events, so I just knew him peripherally. But he’s always a delight to be around, for sure.
Chris: Indeed, indeed. Yeah, and then I remember meeting you around that time as well because that’s when we first got connected through American Marketing Association. I think you were president-elect when we met. Is that right?
Jess: Yeah. So, I was actually on the board for a few years before we met because that’s actually how I met Jonathan Halley, who owns Big Slate Media, we met on the board for the American Marketing Association. And the rest is history, I guess, because when I was ready to leave my job at the Chamber, just looking for something a little bit new, he said, well, “Big Slate’s growing really fast. We need some editors. Can you edit?” And I was like, “I can kind of edit.” So, I actually started off at Big Slate, shooting and editing with them, which is crazy because I do not touch the cameras or any of the editing software now.
Chris: Yeah. It’s got to be nice to see how that business has grown. And where did Big Slate get its start? Like, where did everything come from? How did Jonathan come up with the idea?
Jess: Jonathan was actually—we say he was a web developer in a past life [laugh] so he was working at a web development company here in Knoxville. And he bought a drone. And that was back in the Wild West era of drone—when not everyone had one, people weren’t getting them for Christmas and, like, everyone had a drone. So, he was like the drone guy in Knoxville. He had this drone video of a blizzard over Neyland stadium that, like, went viral and, like, was picked up by a few national news outlets, which was pretty cool.
So, he became the drone guy. And while he was working at this web development company, he started just shooting drone videos for businesses. And then that led to other conversations of, like, well, could you actually, like, shoot a commercial for us? Could you produce other types of content? And that got his wheels turning and he realized, okay, I can make this a full-fledged production company. And so, he had two partners at the time that were part of the web development company. So, in 2017, Jonathan bought out his other two partners and became the sole owner of Big Slate.
Chris: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. And full disclosure, I was there for some of that, so it’s really cool to hear your perspective on it and, you know, just that whole story because it’s a testament to, like, even who Jonathan is an entrepreneur and the business he’s built and—
Jess: Oh, my gosh, yeah.
Chris: —frankly, sounds really familiar to me with the business I’m involved with. But totally, totally, really cool to see all that happen. Big Slate has been going now for about, what, three or so years by the time you come on board. Is that right? Or was it about a year after? No, 2015 is when it was founded.
Jess: It was founded 2015. He bought out his partners in 2017. I came on board, oh gosh, 2018 or 2019. Okay, so—
Chris: Your LinkedIn said 2018 [laugh].
Jess: Okay, there you go. I was like, I can’t—ever since pandemic, my, like, sense of time and in terms of years is completely messed up. But yes, 2018. So, when I started it, it looked very different than how it looks now. So, there was three of us full-time when I first started. I was one of three.
And we actually worked in Jonathan’s house that he rented. And it was very Silicon Valley-esque. Like, all of our desks were in the living room, our conference room was the dining room, and then Jonathan lived in the back two bedrooms. So, we were all just kind of cramped into this little house. And I mean, that was obviously really fun and I look back—some of my fondest memories, honestly, are working in that house.
But this warehouse right across the street had been just sitting there, and one day, Jonathan saw a guy out front and he had just bought it and was clearing it out so that he could store some of his stuff in there. And he just asked him, he was like, “Hey, I have this business and we’re growing. We’re going to need more space.” Do you mind if we use the front half of your warehouse for our business? And he was like, “Uh, yeah, sure. Okay.”
So, [laugh] he did. Our landlord is amazing and he let us do that. But then we kept continuing to grow. Because at that point, there were three of us. I mean, we literally, I helped to demo that place, sledgehammer against the wall and just painting all the walls and all of that stuff.
But we kept continuing to grow after that. We reached, you know, five people, six people and we were like, this is not enough space. And so, we convinced our landlord to let us use the back half of the warehouse as well. So, now we have the full warehouse space where the front half is our studio, our gear storage, conference room, kitchen, all of that, in the back half is the office space where we now have 15 full-time employees. So, from 3 to 15 in four-and-a-half years, which is absolutely insane [laugh].
Chris: Yeah. It’s been quite a wild ride, and it’s been fun to watch you all grow, too, during this time, through the ups and downs, and everything you’ve experienced. Like, it’s really cool to see where Big Slate is at today. So… yeah, that’s awesome. So, when did you take the mantle of becoming the person who manages the Big Slate Media brand?
Jess: Yeah. So, I guess it was because my background was in marketing and communications and PR, that when I came on board, actually, Big Slate as a whole was more video production-focused. But when I came in with my expertise, Jonathan was able to see, okay, we have this, you know, digital marketing edge now, where we have someone that has experience in that arena. We can create really amazing content, but now we can create a team underneath me that can place that content strategically through organic and paid social media campaigns, you know, any sort of digital marketing efforts.
And just me personally, I’ve always been a branding nerd. And since I’ve been with Big Slate so long and I’ve known of Big Slate even before I started working there, just from being friends with Jonathan, I’m super-invested in Big Slate and who we are and what we do, that you know, Jonathan and I just started talking about truly flushing out the Big Slate Media brand, especially as we continue to grew. It was so important to create a brand that not only helped in our external-facing efforts, but internally as we were hiring new people, making sure we were all on the same page, making sure we had a unified mission and vision for the company, that we all held the same values. And so really, that’s kind of the foundation of where that conversation started from. And I sort of helped spearhead developing all of those things, which was super fun.
Chris: So, when you took over that mantle and you’re flushing out this brand, what was your approach, like, as a brand nerd? Like, is there a system you used or process you use? Like, what did you do?
Jess: Absolutely. So yes, I am a branding nerd. I have always been obsessed, like, with, of course, the visual elements of a brand, logos, and colors, typography all of that, but also about brand persona and how people can connect with the brand as if they’re connecting with another person. That’s always fascinated me. So, through just a ton of my own interest and research, I actually developed a brand workshop for our internal team to do that took us through brand core, which is mission vision values, the brand position, which is all about target audiences, unique selling proposition, goal-setting, all of that, and then the brand persona, which is things like your brand archetype, your brand personality, tone of voice, those sorts of things.
And actually, I was able to then turn that into a full-blown workshop that I now do for other companies on behalf of Big Slate, which has been super fun to help small businesses do as well because it was super beneficial for us and we really saw the value. And so, I’ve been able to fine-tune it and actually have developed this workshop with a ton of activities that we do and exercises, and it’s a full day of, like, eight hours, where we just get to the heart and soul of what the brand is, which is amazing. And then you use all the assets you talk about to develop the brand guidelines document that you can use moving forward. So.
Chris: That’s really cool. So, you’ve created this whole thing, is that something you sell through Big Slate now? Is that, like, you as an independent consultant? Like, how does that work?
Jess: Yeah. It is through Big Slate, which is—
Jess: Really fun. Yeah, we’ve done it several times now and it just has gotten—it’s gotten amazing feedback as well and it’s been super helpful for businesses. And I just love talking about it. I could do it [laugh] all the time. So, it’s been really fun.
Chris: Yeah, I mean, when you’re talking to people, I’m sure as a fellow media company, like, I definitely can—we run into this issue where a lot of times, clients come to us with an idea, but they don’t really have a brand or they don’t really have this concept for what they want and you have to suss it out of them. And it ends up being almost, like, its own mini-counseling session, almost. I don’t want to say it quite like that, but it feels like that at times—
Jess: No, it absolutely is. It absolutely is. Because people are really good at getting to the what they do, but not why they do. Which is really the key [laugh].
Chris: And when you’re setting up something like a video or you know, something to communicate, “This is who we are,” you have to know that.
Jess: Absolutely, absolutely. Because otherwise, it’s just a sales pitch, right? You’re telling them what you do, what you do, what you do. Okay, we know what you do. Why do you do it? Like what does it mean to you? What do you hope to achieve through it? How do you want to help people? That’s really the heart and soul of a brand.
Chris: That’s really neat. So, you’ve done that, you’ve developed that out of what you’ve done with Big Slate. What have been some of the challenges in branding for a company like Big Slate?
Jess: It’s constant soul-searching, I think. Because we started—
Jess: —you know what I mean? You start with a team of three, and you get to that point where you’re like, “Okay, yeah, we know who we are.” And then you add in a few more people, and you’re like, they add so much different perspec—new perspectives and new thoughts and ideas and then you’re like, okay, then you got to soul search a little bit again, too, to just kind of figure it out, is this who we still are? But that’s important for any brand of any size to do. We don’t just talk about our brand once, our brand guidelines and, like, our mission vision once, and then it’s that forever.
Brands are ever-evolving, ever-changing, they’re living, breathing sort of beings on their own, that as the business continues to grow and change, so will your brand, which means so will your mission, your values, your vision, it can also change too. So, it really is important to revisit those. And we actually do it once a year at—we do two retreats every year as a company, and we revisit our brand assets, our brand guidelines document, once a year, just to make sure we’re all still feeling—as a collective—feeling good about it and that we’re still, you know, doing the things that we said we want to do.
Chris: Yeah. So, for those who don’t know Big Slate, what is the core of your brand?
Jess: We’re a content creation agency here in Knoxville. So, we do video production and digital marketing. We have sort of two sides of the house. Primarily video production, but a fast-growing digital marketing team as well. So, we like to say we can make anything from a TikTok to a documentary [laugh], and everything in between, for all types of organizations. We don’t really have, like, a niche.
But I would say our heart and soul really is community-based organizations. But we’ve worked with national brands as well to help develop and create compelling content. So, that’s what we do. And why we do it, we’re just we’re all super, super passionate about helping people convey who they are to their audiences in a way that’s authentic and true to who they are.
We truly are just a big group of nerds [laugh] and weirdos. But we have so, so much fun. We do amazing work, but we have so much fun. And that’s a huge part of Jonathan’s, sort of, approach to running Big Slate is that we’re not saving lives, we’re making videos, we’re making social media content. It’s important that at the end of the day, we love working with our clients, our clients love working with us, and we love working with each other.
So, that’s truly what matters. So, that’s sort of the heart and soul of a Big Slate is community and having a good time. And so, through how we market ourselves, that’s kind of how we come across, I would say, is that we’re trying to say, “We do really great stuff, but we’re really fun to work with.” [laugh].
Chris: Yeah, and I’ve noticed that in the marketing that you all do and in the branding. It seems like you all are just focused on only making stuff for customers, either. It seems like there’s an element of your brand where it’s a really fun place to work. What do you do to help with that?
Jess: It’s actually a huge part of our forward-facing presence on social media is our people. Because we—we’re—we just have fun. So, you know, we’ll make funny videos on our own and, you know, we hang out, so there’s always photos of us around the office doing things. And we’ve found actually, while we were posting all these photos, that the content that performed the best for us are pictures of our faces, you know? If it’s anything related to us as people, that’s really what was resonating with our audience.
And so, of course, that became a huge part of our content strategy moving forward. So, it really came from—[laugh] that’s what people really liked to see was the personality behind the company through the individual people that work there. So, that’s pretty much why it became such a big focus for us.
Chris: That’s awesome. So, going forward, what goals do you have for Big Slate’s brand or for Big Slate as a whole, and what you have to run there?
Jess: It’s fun—I would be curious to hear Jonathan’s [laugh] goals as well because they—
Chris: True, true.
Jess: —might be different [laugh] in terms of, you know, the numbers and growth. But—
Chris: What you’re responsible for I guess.
Jess: Right. What excites me the most, so as creative director, I do manage the digital marketing side of the house entirely. So, I have now four people full-time that I manage, which has also been crazy because, you know, even a year ago, I had one person underneath me and now we’re up to four. That just shows the insane growth that we’ve had. So honestly, the digital marketing side of the business, while relatively young in terms of having a full-blown team to help manage it and not just me, I’m super excited to see that department continue to grow.
And we’re also doing really exciting things in the form of having a portion of the business solely dedicated to short-form video content, we have two guys that are on staff that are fully dedicated to creating short-form video content for brands, which as we know, right now, TikTok, Reels, they are everything in terms of organic reach and engagement. So, I’m excited to be kind of on the forefront of that and having what’s called ‘the ragtag team’ is what those guys are called—that’s a portion of our business—continuing to see that grow as well because it has been super beneficial for companies that want high-quality work but don’t necessarily need to hire our full-blown production capabilities for a huge shoot when really what they need is just content for the churn-and-burn of the 24-hour feed cycle, you know what I’m saying?
So, those are kind of the two areas of the business that are really taking off. On the production side, we do primarily commercial work, but we’ve actually started, you know, producing documentaries and we’re dipping our toes into a narrative project for the very first time. We’re producing our first short film. So, I’m really excited to just, on that side of the business, explore new avenues for storytelling in the form of narrative and documentaries. So, a lot on the horizon, a lot of big possibilities. And truly just, I’m so fortunate to have been able to be here from the beginning and see just the crazy amount of growth that we’ve had. And now I get to work with truly the coolest people that I’ve ever met. And I’m just very thankful.
Chris: Yeah. I have seen some of the creative stuff you’re doing. That short film you’re talking about, I’m really excited to see—
Jess: Me too.
Chris: —how that comes out. It looks like a lot of fun. By the way, did you all write that yourselves? Was that all in-house created?
Jess: Yep. So, Eli Heaton, who’s on our staff, he wrote the script and he’s also directing it. So, Jonathan lets us do what’s called ‘Passion Projects.’ It’s a huge part of what we do is that, if you have an idea for a video or a piece of content that you want to create, you can kind of pitch it to the whole team, you come up with a pitch for it, and then you get the green light to go ahead, and it’s sort of like Big Slate-funded, like, it’s just a project that we’ll all do together. You can staff the project with people on the Big Slate team and get it done.
So, Eli had an idea for a script and he’s a really incredible writer. We don’t do—like I said, we don’t do a lot of narrative work, but that’s kind of one of his big passions is screenwriting. So, it’s an amazing script and we staffed it up with Big Slate people and we’re making it happen. And it’s been really cool to see it come to life.
Chris: Well, I’m looking forward to it. The teaser images have been exciting to see, so—
Jess: Oh, my gosh. I think they’re stunning [laugh].
Jess: I’m a little biased [laugh].
Chris: Maybe a little bit, but—
Jess: As art director, I’m a little biased [laugh].
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. How soon before that comes out, by the way?
Jess: Last shoot day is… tomorrow.
Chris: Oh wow.
Jess: So, tomorrow is the last shoot day for it and then it’ll be going into the editing bay. So hopefully, a few months.
Chris: Yeah. Now, this may not be direct Big Slate, but I know this came out of Big Slate. Tell me about B-Roll Bank. What is that?
Jess: Oh, B-Roll Bank. That is Jonathan’s brainchild. He has been talking about the B-Roll Bank, as an idea, as a concept, since I started at Big Slate, but I think he had the idea for it beforehand. So, it comes down to a need that Jonathan found just running the business that is Big Slate, that we would go out and shoot a 30-second commercial for a client, but you’re going to come back with more than 30 seconds worth of footage, right? You’re probably coming back with three to four hours worth of footage that just then, what, it ends up on the cutting room floor, you don’t use it, and then it sits on our server and rots.
So, Jonathan came up with the idea that what if we could give clients access to that footage, that they could then look through it, figure out what they—you know, what they could use to post on social media because the 24-hour, you know, turn-and-burn cycle that I was talking about, businesses need content more than ever before because that life cycle of a piece of content on a feed, organically especially, is very, very short. So he, you know, kind of has created this beta version that our clients utilize. We have several people that have signed up for it. It’s a monthly subscription that our clients are able to log in to their footage.
We have it sortable, so there’s keywords. So, let’s say we go and shoot, you know, at certain restaurants, commercial, we have all this footage of you could look it up by the type of dish, the type of drink, pull exactly what clip you’re looking for, download a proxy version, I think of it. Jonathan’s better at the technical stuff—
Jess: But it’s really awesome. And so, now he has actually won the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s, “What’s the Big Idea?” Pitch competition—
Chris: Congratulations, Jonathan.
Jess: —for that big idea. And with the money he got from that, he’s going straight into like UX/UI design. But really, as it continues to grow, it will be AI-powered and… all of those fun things. And yeah, it’s really cool. And you should have Jonathan on to talk about specifically B-Roll Bank because he will be listening to this cringing, I’m sure [laugh].
Chris: You’ve talked a lot and you’re very passionate about Big Slate, but what makes you passionate about the business as a whole? Like, what keeps you coming back day after day to keep doing this?
Jess: Beyond just being fun—which, it’s just really fun, I work with really fun people, we’re making videos. Like, everyone always dreamed of, like, being on a movie set, you know what I mean? Like, and we get to do that on a microscale, every single day. It’s just fun work. But the heart and soul of it is that I get to be really creative.
And every project is different, so no two days are the same. I don’t enjoy monotony. I really like staying on my toes, you know, creative problem solving, things like that. So, it allows me to flex my real muscles when I’m carrying, you know, heavy C-stand or something, but [laugh] also my creative muscles on a daily basis. And at the end of the day, I just really enjoy telling stories and we’ve gotten to tell some of the most compelling and important and captivating stories. So really, that’s what I love about it.
Chris: That’s cool to hear. I mean you’re clearly very passionate about it; I’ve always felt that from you with working for Big Slate. And I think the people that I’ve had the opportunity to work with over there, too—because we’ve done work just directly with Big Slate—everybody there is happy, passionate, really enjoys what they do, and I think it’s a testament to the company that you all built. So, that’s really cool. Awesome. So, let’s take a step aside from Big Slate now and look at the future.
Jess: Ohh. Okay.
Chris: What do you see coming down the pike that you’re really excited for with technology as it relates to just branding in general, business in general?
Jess: Excited about [laugh]? Or scared of?
Chris: Maybe a little of both, if we’re being honest.
Jess: Because I’m sure—I mean, the hot topic is AI, especially as it relates to creative industries, how you’re able to generate compelling visuals through just typing it out, how someone can ask for a 500-word blog post about this to post on their website. Which… I worry not that it could ever replace what a creative in this industry could do, but I just worry that people will see that as a quick fix to their problems rather than having that human touch that is so, so necessary in the work that we do. So definitely, AI is the hot topic. I’m sure everyone that comes on in the next few weeks will be saying AI, AI, AI.
But on a more exciting note, I really do enjoy the surgence of short-form video content that has been at the forefront of everything. I adore TikTok and Reels. I think having that short-form video really allows people to be super creative and have to think through not just, like, what’s happening, like, what are you doing in this video, but get creative with the transitions, get creative with all of those things to make it compelling enough to get people to watch. Because people just scroll for hours and hours and hours, so what are you going to do to get them to stop? It’s really, like, a creative exercise for people. It’s like, what’s the hook for this? So yeah, short-form video I think will continue to be huge as well. We see more and more people, you know, YouTube Shorts coming out and all of that. More people are going to keep copying that and I think it’ll continue for a little while.
Chris: I mean, it’s definitely not ending. I mean, Vine, I think, was one of the original players back in the day to say, “Hey, look. Short-form video content in a vertical format is interesting. You should do it.”
Chris: And then Twitter killed it.
Jess: RIP Vine.
Jess: I have Vine stickers on my laptop. I was a Vine kid.
Chris: Oh, we’re do—like, making Vines or just, like, watching them?
Jess: Oh, gosh no, no, no, no. I’m a lurker, as they say, on those types of platforms. I’m a consumer, I’m [laugh] not a performer. Not on camera, at least. But I was obsessed with Vine and am now on TikTok, you know, for a couple hours every day [laugh].
Chris: Yeah. I’m on it for research.
Jess: Yeah, me too.
Chris: You know—
Jess: Me too.
Chris: —we have clients that need podcast promotion in that field and it’s like, “Yeah, we got to do that.”
Jess: Definitely not just cats [laugh].
Chris: Mm-mm. No, definitely not watching the guy who, like, voices all of his, like, six cats that he has and talks about things.
Jess: Yeah, for sure, no.
Chris: No, totally not me.
Jess: Market research.
Chris: Market research one hundred percent, yeah. Definitely not getting distracted during the day. But it is funny. I actually—there’s another podcast called Shameless Acquisition Target. If you’ve not heard it, it’s a great podcast, go listen to it.
Jess: I haven’t.
Chris: But she talks to some TikTok experts and they’re like, “Seriously,” they told her, “Every day, you need to be watching TikTok for at least an hour to get to understand the platform.” So—
Jess: It’s true. It’s true.
Chris: —you know? I—yeah, I hear you.
Jess: If you’re going to make compelling content on those platforms, you have to spend time on it, especially because it is so trend-focused, in terms of trending audios, even. If you’re late to those games—like, late to that game, you’re not going to make it on the platform. If you’re posting a trend, like, three weeks after it has [laugh] died down for the rest of the public, you’re just not going to make it. So, it is super important to stay in the know and consume it every day. Because that’s—exactly what you said—that’s how you learn how to use it best.
Chris: Yep. And then you got to get out there and try it yourself and that’s the hardest part.
Jess: Oh, yeah.
Chris: They also wanted this lady to just spend four hours a day, like, three or f—something crazy—like, filming herself and creating content and it was like, “Whoa, that’s insane.”
Jess: It—TikTok is one of those platforms that definitely, at least when you’re starting out, they recommend frequency, frequency, frequency, posting multiple times a day, every day, every single day, throughout the week. It’s absolutely insane. And hopefully one pops off and you go viral and then you don’t have to worry about it anymore [laugh].
Chris: That’s right. Go viral.
Jess: We can’t—we can’t all be so lucky. That’s always great. I love hearing that when people are like, “We want this to go viral.” And I’m like, “Cool [laugh]. So do I.”
Chris: [accented], “We’re hiring you to make a viral video for us.” Around here, especially, like that’s what I’ve gotten in the past working in social media—
Jess: Oh, my gosh, yes.
Chris: —and stuff. It’s like, [accented], “VI-ral.”
Jess: [accented], “VI-ral.” I’m like, “You and me both, bucko.” [laugh].
Chris: [laugh]. Well, we’re going to do our best. We’ll do our best. We can’t promise it, but we’ll do our best.
Jess: You can’t make people do anything [laugh].
Chris: That is exactly correct. We can try and feed the algorithm exactly what it wants, but if you have no energy—
Jess: Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: —nothing we can do.
Chris: So, what platforms are you really finding to be trending right now? Is it just TikTok or are there other things that you’re keeping an eye on software-wise or social-wise that you’re like, “Oh man, look out for this. It’s coming up.”
Jess: TikTok is the big one and definitely the most popular in terms of what people are talking about. And I think it’ll continue to be that way unless, you know—they’re trying to ban it, I guess. We’ll see; fingers crossed that doesn’t happen, of course. But that’s definitely the biggest right now. Instagram, I think always does the best job at creating new features and updating their platform to fit the needs of what people are actually wanting.
So, I think Instagram shouldn’t be counted out, and definitely with Reels, particularly with the older generation that feel like they might be too old to be on TikTok, Reels have been absolutely huge in terms of helping businesses, especially, reach new audiences, reach new people beyond just their followers. It’s the hugest thing that a business can do—it’s the biggest thing that a business can do is post Reels because the organic reach is astronomical. And that goes back to just I think short-form video. If any platform can capitalize on that momentum, they will do well. So yeah, I would say TikTok will continue to do that and Instagram will always adapt. They’re a chameleon.
Chris: If it feels that way. It feels really hard to stay on top of things. And occasionally I’ll get these on TikTok—because, you know, I’m researching—I will get these [laugh] people scrolling through, or I’ll be scrolling through and somebody to come over and be like, “Here’s what you need to do to optimize your social media.” And it’s like, oh, my gosh. There’s another list?
Jess: Oh, my gosh.
Jess: Changes every single day. Instagram probably came out with a new feature while we were talking, right? [laugh].
Chris: Probably did. Probably did. I guess we’ll have to check our phones and find out.
Jess: Exactly [laugh].
Chris: “Hey look, Reels have gone up to two minutes, now.”
Jess: Yeah, exactly.
Chris: Yeah. It’s exactly what happens.
Jess: Gotta change that strategy [laugh].
Chris: Dang it. Already having a pivot. Oh, that’s awesome. Well, Jess, thank you so much. This has been great. I’ve got one more question for you and then we’re going to wrap up. What brand are you loving right now?
Jess: The first one that comes to mind for me is Liquid Death. I am absolutely obsessed with their marketing strategy. They took one of the arguably least sexy products, which is water [laugh], and made it just this really bold, crazy, wild experience. I mean, you look at their cans and it’s like skulls. And beyond just what their product looks like, their marketing strategy is absolutely incredible. They’re always coming out with the coolest and crazy—truly craziest videos I’ve ever seen.
Two that come to mind are, they came out with one with all these kids that it looked like they were having a rager, like, these little kids, but they’re just drinking [laugh] Liquid Death. And I absolutely loved that. And they also did a partnership with Bert Kreischer and he did, like, a workout video which was absolutely hysterical. So, I think they’re absolutely crushing it because they took what’s considered, I would say, a very boring product at face value—it’s water; everyone drinks water—and made it really absolutely bold, exciting, crazy, wild, and fun. So, I absolutely love them.
Chris: That’s awesome. Yeah, I would… I would agree with that. I love their marketing. I think they’re really fun to watch. I would say right now this is kind of sad to admit, but, like, I drink—it’s not sad to admit that I drink a lot of water, but I drink a lot of carbonated waters and I’ve become really particular about which ones I like and don’t.
Chris: I like their regular carbonated water, but the lime version they have is horrendous.
Jess: I, um… I don’t drink sparkling water.
Chris: [gasp]. So, you love the brand, but—
Jess: I love the brand, yeah—
Chris: —not enough to buy it is what you’re telling me?
Jess: I mean, I’ll buy their flat water. They have just straight-up water in a can and I will drink that. But I don’t—yeah, a lot of people in my office do, though. They drink sparkling water.
Chris: It tricks the brain for me because it’s like, I keep thinking I need soda, and what I really just want is that bubbling taste. And especially late at night, it keeps me from, like, drinking beer or something like that late at night—
Chris: —you know, because I’m a bit of a beer guy. So like, it’s a good, like, okay, this is healthier for me, so I’m going to do this instead, and it tricks my brain into thinking, “Oh, it’s bubbly.” And if I think about it, it’s flavorless, so it’s just, like, Bud Light.
Chris: And so, in general, I really like it. And I do, like, Liquid Death, but I just had a really bad experience with one of their lemon—or not lemon, one of their lime-flavored cans recently, and I was just, like, something about the artificial flavoring is just off for me. But I’m also, like, a Topo Chico aficionado, more or less. So, it’s like, I don’t know. Well, awesome. Well, Jess, thank you so much for joining us today.
Jess: You’re so welcome.
Chris: It’s been a pleasure having you. Is there anything that you want to promote or anything I need to be aware of or you would like our audience to be aware of?
Jess: Just stay in the loop with us. Follow Big Slate on Instagram, Facebook, connect with us on LinkedIn. It’s just@bigslatemedia. We’re always doing fun and crazy things and we’d love for you to be in on the action.
Chris: All righty. Well, thank you so much, Jess. And it’s been a pleasure having you.
Jess: Yeah. Thanks so much, Chris.
Chris: All right. Until next time.