Darwyn Metzger is the former star of America Now and an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist, who began his career by asking MTV comedian Tom Green for a job live on the air of his talk show. Darwyn went on to become the founder and CEO of Phantom, a digital marketing and social media strategy firm that works with Brands, Political campaigns, TV shows, Films & Celebrities including Nike, Trident, DirecTV, AT&T, Fox, BBC America and primetime TV shows on virtually every major network in America.
Listen to Episode #19 here
The Unemployable Darwyn Metzger
Our guest is Darwyn Metzger, a former star of America Now and an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist. Darwyn is the Founder and CEO of Phantom, a digital marketing and social media strategy firm. Darwyn works with brands, political campaigns, TV shows, films and celebrities. Some of the people he’s worked with are Nike, Trident, DirecTV, AT&T, Fox and BBC America. Welcome, Darwyn.
Darwyn, you’ve described yourself to me, to my class, to anyone who’ll listen as unemployable. If you had to have a regular job, a real job, if you had to be an employee, what would you be doing?
The person whose job I’d want, there’s a specific job and a specific person. His name is Chris Sacca. People might recognize that name from Shark Tank. He was the new Shark, though he’s off of it. He only spent two or three seasons with Shark Tank. Young guy, always wears this silly, cowboy, button-down shirts that have become his signature look. He has a whole story about that. He owned a company called LOWERCASE Capital. It’s a private investment fund. I don’t want to say that this is the only thing they do, but this is what their bread and butter was. He would figure out companies that he wanted to invest in, that he couldn’t get into a specific round because Sequoia sucked it all up or whoever.
He would find employees that wanted to liquidate their stake that they had received and he would offer to buy it from them. He ended up secretly accruing a giant chunk of Twitter and he got 4% of Uber. Uber was mortified that one person who had not come through their filter had got this giant chunk of the company. It ended up being him and a guy named Matt Mazzeo, who came from the Hollywood agency world. The two of them were this little rogue pirate ship, which in many ways I think of Phantom, has been in our own world. Venture capitalism is fun. I don’t think I would ever get hired by anybody that I’d want to work for. I’m pretty sure I would get fired even faster.
You’re saying that if you had to be an employee, you’d want to work for a VC firm?
I would love to be the third wheel there. It would’ve been a lot of fun. In larger companies, that feels nauseating to me. It’s hard for me to even imagine it. I spent a lot of time working for large companies like CBS Paramount and Tribune Broadcasting. For relatively large startups, they’re not for me.
You began your career asking MTV’s comedian, Tom Green, for a job live on his show. You showed up on Friday in Melbourne to surprise me. Not knowing exactly what my schedule was going to be. Darwyn is a friend, not a comedian but a funny person. I had sent out a call to a bunch of people saying, “I’m staying in Melbourne for this period of time. I’m in a flat for this period of time that has an extra bedroom. Whoever wants it, wants it.” You showed up without letting me know that you were coming. It’s been a lot of fun and it’s been a nice thing there. You’re clearly a risk-taker.
You skipped the part where I had set you up on what you thought was a date. She got up from the table and said, “Sorry, I have to go.”
She lifts her phone up, “I’ve got to get this,” and then you replace her at the table.
You can’t trust these Aussies. They’re slick.
I didn’t think of it as a date. I thought of it as a meeting with an attractive woman.
By yourself in a restaurant. That’s called bait-and-switch.
It makes for a good story. You’re too much of a risk-taker than probably the average organization. What makes you unemployable?
When you are a risk-taker, especially when you’re at a company that you feel needs to take risks.
Like most companies out there.
I’ll give you two examples on both ends of the spectrum that I worked for. One, the company you mentioned with Tom Green. It was a company called ManiaTV. They were doing 24/7 live internet streaming in 2005. They were ahead of the curve. I was in love with the fact that they were going for it. They were going to serve a market that nobody was going after. It made sense to me. The story is they wouldn’t hire me. The only way I could get in the door was to call into Tom Green’s show, live on the air while he was drunk. Somebody was clever enough to put me on air. That worked out. Coming back to the company itself once I got there.
You’ve got a job from the Tom Green thing? He said yes?
He and his guest both advocated for me. Bobby Badfingers, who was on the first season of America’s Got Talent was like, “I’m going to come to Denver. I’ll meet you. We’ll do some videos. I’ll introduce you to ManiaTV.” The next day, the Head of Productions of ManiaTV, Richard Ayoub, at the time had a production there, called me and said, “You coming in for an interview?” I couldn’t believe that that worked. Now that I say that out loud, I should’ve known that was going to work. That’s not the only time I’ve asked for a job live on an air of something. It worked. When I was a sophomore in college trying to figure out how I was going to pay with this increasing student debt. KBPI in Denver, they used to do something that was called Do Yourself a Favor Tuesday or Do Yourself a Favor Wednesday. A DJ let me pitch myself on the air there as well.
Anyone who’s listening?
Anybody. Say, “Here’s who you are, here’s who you represent. If there’s anybody out there that’s interested in this guy, call us and we’ll connect you.” Somebody did. An HVAC company that wanted help getting new customers and they’re like, “You’re a business student. Sounds like you’re an affable enough guy.” Do you know Good Times, the burger chain in Colorado? I ended up selling through their entire chain. That was a huge thing, too. This is a move that’s been in my repertoire and I’ve used it more than once.
[bctt tweet=”Is this a segue into telling me that I need to clip my nose hair?” via=”no”]
Darwyn, is there any work you want right now? This might be the time to make a request.
Don’t hire me. It took me to go through multiple revolutions to realize don’t hire me.
I have no idea what my audience will be like, but anybody need new social media work? Any strategy or branding work?
Back at ManiaTV, which was a startup. You would assume they’re in this growth mindset and they’re trying to break new ground.
Have to be risk-seeking.
They were all of that when they were getting their investing money, their investor dollars, which was mostly through people that were early investors in eBay, and then they set up shop. They became MTV 2.0, which was never going to be the right model. That wasn’t going to be the right model to get new viewership. MTV came with already distribution and eyeballs that knew to go to you in a finite amount of choices. There wasn’t quite the infinite amount of choices then as there is now. There is a much larger volume of choices. You are going to have to do something to stand out.
You can because it’s the internet. You can do anything you want.
You can give a show to Tom Green. They told him, “Do whatever you want. If you want to have any guest, if you want to do anything with that guest.” I’m not even sure if there was anything they would censor. I don’t want to get anybody there in trouble. For example, when he had Steve-O and they were doing whippets live on the air. Broadcast TV would have never gone for any of that.
That’s the advantage over MTV. You can do anything.
What I wanted them to do was take that to not the most extreme variation, but I wanted them to think about that when it came to marketing and getting new viewership. The first time I butt heads with the powers that be was I had pitched to Richard Ayoub, who had brought me in. I pitched a campaign for us to use our talent to hijack YouTube, which was this upstart that had great viewership right away, no content. If you went on YouTube the first year, there are five people making content. They were terrible. There was a guy named Renetto who’s this older bald guy who would do baby voices. He was a superstar for lack of competition.
I said, “We’ve got this great roster of what looked like MTV VJs. They’re young, they’re sexy and they’re interesting. Let’s have them do essentially blog style content.” Pitching what’s the norm content of YouTube say, “We’re going to do a conversation today about this political issue or this lifestyle issue. Come to my live show today at 5:00 PM. You can talk to me in the chat room and we can talk about it.” I said, “This is going to be great. This will be like shooting fish in a barrel.” I hadn’t presented this through a part of the organization that I worked for. I was working on the production team creating content. I wasn’t part of the marketing team. The CMO was pissed. He felt like I was stepping on his toes, which in some ways, I was. I wasn’t meaning to.
You are stepping on his toes if you have a hierarchical organization in which things have to go all through a chain of command. People have to get proper credit and so on. You’re not stepping on someone’s toes if everybody in this organization is a problem solver, is a creative person, and should be helping the organization succeed.
Which is what I thought being in a startup meant. It depends culture to culture. I should’ve seen the lack of growth happening or the lack of attempt to growth happening. It should have clued me into ride this wave. Be slow and steady. Don’t try to shake the boat. The other example, working with Tribune Broadcasting. This is a company that owns a bunch of broadcast TV stations, a bunch of newspapers. Depending on when this goes live. They will either have had most of their assets purchased by Sinclair, a conservative group that’s trying to buy as much media as possible. They’re finishing, finalizing the sale of LA Times to a local LA billionaire, which is for all possible outcomes is worthwhile.
At least it’s a local person, relatively local political views and lifestyle views. If you’re thinking about print newspapers and local television news channels, you’re a dead duck. You’re a dinosaur with one leg in the La Brea Tar Pits. I felt it was part of my job, even though this was not my job. Maybe that’s my issue and why I’m unemployable. I feel like if I can add value outside of my job description, it’s my responsibility to offer it. My job there was to first broadcast a live tech report that aired three times a week on a few stations. I grew that across the entire Tribune network and through another TV group called The Local Group. It’s a cheesy technology report. It was meant to explain high tech topics to average everyday people. I got to follow around Steve Jobs for the last three years of his life. We’d be at every keynote, but we also would explain new tech platforms like when Twitter came out. That was during our reign.
Nowadays, you’d be explaining the blockchain.
This year would have all been about eSports, crypto and AR. We certainly would be covering everything that Elon Musk is doing from SpaceX to Tesla.
It’s like David Pogue but for broadcast. David Pogue’s a New York Times tech writer who’s like a dad talking about tech.
[bctt tweet=”If you can add value outside of your job description, it’s your responsibility to offer it.” via=”no”]
You were saying about Tribune and this tendency for you to reach out. Sometimes offer your opinion, “Here’s what we should do and here’s why,” but then in this case, you started doing it.
Imagine this scenario, it’s 2009. I’m in a company where every station we own is getting a little bit less viewership. Twitter is starting. I’ve seen the same exact parallel that I saw with YouTube, which was there is viewership and this ravenous consumer that three people are competing for. Back then, the only people making content was Ashton, CNN, and Shaquille O’Neal. After those three, you had much opportunity. Look at Tribune Broadcasting Network. I look at every TV market they have, the talent within that TV market. These are stars. In LA, if you’re a news anchor in KTLA, you’re not necessarily the biggest star in LA. You’re still a somebody in LA. If you go to every other market Tribune has a station, other than the top athlete and the football coach of the local college and you’re the biggest thing, you have the best opportunity to build an audience.
My push was to everyone to try to create this urgency around we need to migrate our content to Twitter, but also to Facebook and to YouTube. Trying to push them to building audiences there. This was Facebook pre-IPO. The only difference to mention pre-IPO Facebook and post-IPO Facebook was before they realized they had to make money for investors. They had no paywall and no firewall. If you had 10,000 followers and you posted something, all 10,000 would see that post. You’re starting to see them throttle Instagram. Assume any Facebook product that you build an audience on, they will throttle in exchange for you paying them to be unthrottled.
I can remember the beginning of the end is one of the news executives had a consultant’s real name, Brent Payne, who worked for Tribune Tower out of the corporate headquarters. Had Brent come to the news room to start strategizing how we were going to grow our digital footprint. This was a good six months after I tried to push this agenda and I said, “This is wonderful.” He’s going to be my man. I’ve had six more months to experiment with Facebook and Twitter for our reports. As a journalist, you’re testing everything we’re reporting on. We don’t get an iPhone from Apple and say this is good. We kick the tires on it.
Same thing with Twitter. We don’t say, “We think your mom should be on this.” We say, “Let’s figure out the use case and is it going to be realistic, etc.?” Brent comes in and I could still remember this meeting. I should have kept my mouth shut. I can’t. It’s impossible for me. Once he dives in, I started pitching everything I’ve been trying to get consensus on. I was passionate and I was in love with it. Brent points to the news director, points to me and says, “This is your guy,” telling the news director, “You should listen to Darwyn. Why aren’t you guys doing what Darwyn’s saying?” I remember him rolling his eyes, staring me down. The news director thought, “This tall, gangly guy? No way.” That was the beginning of the end there.
This is why you mentioned Brent by me. I was like, “He’s about to destroy this guy, Brent. He named him by me.”
No, Brent is an OG in this world. He’s been an SEO expert for many years. For people that are reading that don’t know what SEO is, search engine optimization. These are the people that once upon a time were helping you get your listing to the top of Google. Can you imagine working for Lycos assuming you were going to win?
I liked AltaVista. That was my search engine of choice at one point.
I could tell right away that Google was the best choice, only because it was easy to use. I always preferred what they would show me. That’s how I knew they were going to buy YouTube. The reason I say that is I’m at ManiaTV. I’m testing YouTube. There was another one that was called Live something and then there was a third competitor. I remember searching for something on YouTube and I was like, “This is like being on Google.” This search algorithm has given me exactly what I’m looking for. I’d come to our company, I’d search something in and I’d be like, “I know this video is here. We uploaded it, but we can’t find it.”
You can see Google’s effect on YouTube. One thing I like about YouTube is the recommendation element to it. I like that it suggests videos to me. It’s not perfect by any means, not as good as Netflix algorithm. I’d regularly get interesting stuff.
It serves two purposes because it does benefit us and I agree with you. It’s great at reading metatags, the context of content I’m watching and giving me great offerings that are in that same vein. It gives them one more reason to have a paid integration where somebody can pay to have part of that real estate.
I know you well. You’re a lot like me. I have a saying, “I like to give advice and I like to take advice.” I actively solicit advice a lot more than the average person does.
This is not BS because we’re on your podcast. You are the most gracious person I’ve ever met as it comes to soliciting feedback from others and then actively taking steps based on that feedback. I know you’re not a pushover. You were content to say, “I don’t see it that way, but I’ll hear you out. I’ll listen to it.” I agree with this assessment.
There is wisdom in crowds. I ask people whose opinion I respect as smart people, as people who know about the topic. I often ask people who know me. The advice has to be in some ways appropriate, given whoever the recipient is. If I started getting the same thing, I’m like, “I’ve got to rethink this.” I also like to give advice because it can feel good to try to help people live a better life. I’ve pulled back on giving advice. I did so because I realized that most people don’t want it as much as I want it. They’re polite. I came to the opinion that I’m wasting my breath a lot of the time. Unless someone solicits where I feel I’m close enough that it will be heard. I keep asking for it, but I stopped giving it.
You should keep giving advice, even though you think it’s falling on deaf ears because they’re not being gracious about it. We do have a mutual friend that you gave tough love to several years ago. A piece of advice this person needed to hear and they did not listen then. They shut you down immediately. They have taken it to heart and their life is vastly improved because of it. I do agree that you shouldn’t expect people to be gracious like you are. I live in LA. This is the world center meeting place for people who smile to your face and then flip you the bird behind your back. What you’re doing is not necessarily the opposite because you’re not trying to upset them. You’re trying to help them. You’re going to deal with a little bit of pain in the short-term, but you’re going to help them in the long-term. I would encourage you to continue with that.
I’ve had some people say to me, “Pete, feel free at any time,” when I wonder if I brought this up. I’m happy to do it with you. Why I probably should consider writing another book is because that’s a place where people are saying, “I want to hear this.”
Did you think anybody’s ever opted into reading a self-help book and they’re like, “Screw you. I don’t need to change my diet. Who do you think you are?” then slams the book shut?
I noticed this with you, you’ll go, “You know what these people should do? You know what so and so should do? You’ll come up with some idea for a business or for a show.” I don’t know what I can repeat because you might try to do. You regularly come up with show ideas that folks could be doing. It’s the way your mind works. You like solving problems. You’re a creative guy. You’re excited about whatever those things are.
An example that I don’t mind saying because I have no involvement with it and it was merely an idea. We’re together in Las Vegas. We’re watching NBA Summer League, which is several teams. It used to only be six or seven teams. I read this year it’s going to be the entire NBA. Players play during the summer before the season begins, all in the same arena. They have a few different courts. You pay $35 a day. You can watch eight games back to back. It’s great basketball because a lot of these kids are fighting for roster slot. You get to see Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum and these other young stars.
There’s one league that needs summer league much more than NBA and that’s the NHL. When you get drafted in the NHL, you’re drafted at age seventeen. You’re not necessarily going to play in the NHL for four years or five years. There’s never any ramp up time for people to get to know who you are until you’re already a 25-year-old man. I would love to see the NHL, who created a new franchise in Las Vegas, do a summer league. Whether it’s in Las Vegas or perhaps go to one of the Canadian cities that should have an NHL team, Quebec City.
Do a summer festival, two weeks, everybody gets to play. If you can’t find a TV broadcast partner, which I don’t think would be hard, I would try to partner with Twitch. It’s digital streaming. Mostly people watching other people play video games. In one of their quarterly reports, it showed that NHL hockey was the favorite sport of everybody on this platform, which has 100 million people watching it every month. I don’t know if you follow NHL TV ratings like I do because I’m a dork. They’re not great and they’re getting significantly less viewership than this app. That was one of the ideas that spur off in the heat of the moment.
I thought it was great for a variety of reasons. You’re doing this on the fly. If you’re at a job, you’re doing it all the time because this is your job. It consumes a third of your life easily.
If you’re an entrepreneur, it consumes 60% or more.
In your role as an employee, what you’ve done at Phantom, you basically tricked people into listening to you. They pay you to listen to you now and do what you say.
We have pretty much 100% repeat and referral business. Not only do they listen, they choose to keep listening and then they tell others to listen. Per your advice about having that audience that has their ears open and they’re willing to hear that feedback and that advice. It’s a big part of our philosophy. We don’t have a sales team. We don’t market ourselves. If we have to convince you that we’re valuable, we’re not going to work for you. We’re going to probably have to get you out of your comfort zone and teach you to see the landscape in a way you haven’t yet. Unless you want that, it’s going to be uncomfortable.
Do you have to onboard people? Even if someone wants your service, do you have ground rules? How do you brief someone to be ready for some of the far-out stuff that you suggest?
We no longer accept new clients to bring them immediately into the fold, conduct work and campaigns for them. If you want to become a client, you have to go through a program where we require you to sign a consulting agreement that feels a lot like a therapist session. Where you’re going to tell us what you think your diagnosis is. We’re going to start chiseling away at that until you start to see what your actual diagnosis is. We try to treat it the same way your therapist would or politician would.
[bctt tweet=”You are going to have to do something to stand out.” via=”no”]
It’s not like a contract. It doesn’t feel like a contract.
It’s brief, generally one to two days. Though in some cases it’s been two weeks. It’s where you have to pay us in advance for a certain amount of hours to do these therapy sessions. We’re going to give you a blueprint as to here’s what your diagnosis looks like. If you’re willing to accept that this is what your diagnosis is, we can discuss what it would cost for us to help fix it. Otherwise, feel free to take this diagnosis to anywhere else, to another agency, ingest it in-house and deal with it as you see fit.
Have you thought about creating a less Phantom-like version of Phantom that is a little more traditional? You’re like, “Phantom can’t help you, but Phanta can,” whatever it might be. In order to grow the business where you have your risk-seeking, some desperate. Risk-seeking can come from a place of weakness and it can come from a place of strength. The place of strength is we know that to be traditional, like Tribune is kicking the can down the road. In the long run that’s a dominant strategy in business. The other one is, “We’re finished,” or it looks we’re finished, “Let’s throw our Hail Mary.”
That’s where risk-seeking comes from in this world. Most people sit in the middle. They’re limping along. They’re doing okay. Growth is steady. Life is okay. The bigger the organization gets, the more hierarchical it gets, the more the people who have work and have mortgages, the more risk-averse it gets in that way. That’s the market that you could serve, but you wouldn’t serve in the same way you do at Phantom. I’m guessing the answer is no, you’re not interested in that.
I’ll give two responses to that. The first one I mentioned is we do work along that line that you drew in many places. We do work with some of the fat and happy companies. I love working with a company that wants to throw a Hail Mary. Those are the companies that are the most interesting. I would much rather work with them before they had their tumultuous problem, when they were in a positive point of frame. A frame of reference for living in that growth moment. I’d give an example of another agency that is happy to work with large companies. Once they’re having moments of desperation, which in many ways, we try to be the dirtier, smaller, more road version of which is Wieden+Kennedy. They worked with clients like Nike, which is as blue chips as you get.
They also worked with Old Spice. When they signed their contract with Old Spice, it was a dead brand. It was done. The people who used it were dying. Through Wieden+Kennedy, they started working with people like Terry Crews and Eric Wareheim. They came up with some of the wildest and craziest ads, including my favorite ad campaign, which didn’t even last that long called Director Wolfdog. Brilliant brand account, which in many ways, set the tone for some of the great brand accounts on Twitter that have come out in the last couple of years. Like Wendy’s, I don’t think anybody does it as good as Wendy’s right now. They’ve been given the green light by that company to be irreverent, funny, and meme-able. If somebody wants to talk smack about Wendy’s, throw shade right back at them and they’re brilliant.
Those guys are able to work with these bigger brands and they have the special sauce. People believe that they’re the ones to work with if you want to be edgy.
We helped build some of Nike’s campaigns early on Facebook. Some of their great content they did with LeBron James and a few of their products there. Wieden+Kennedy helped build Nike. The difference is we can take credit for a blip on one quarterly report, whereas Wieden+Kennedy can take credit for the quarterly report. When they go to a new brand, they’re able to get so much done and get so much trust in the room because you have that incredible track record. They’ve also been around a lot, a lot longer than Phantom. I would not create that offshoot of Phantom because I don’t want to have Phantom take money for things that aren’t going to solve the problems that companies need solved. I’m not going to say we won’t try to facilitate things. If you feel your big problem is you need a new website and you wish you had some influencer marketing behind it, we’ll help facilitate those things. We’re going to be honest with you the whole time with saying that, “No, what you need is sales funnel. You’re not following up with these clients. Here’s this database of 100,000 emails that you should be utilizing.”
Here’s this boring drip campaign that you needed to run.
Sometimes boring is the sexiest thing there is. In that example, why a drip campaign is important, your audience might not know what a drip campaign is. We don’t have to get too technical, but email is the only platform right now where I can access a consumer without having to go through a paywall or a firewall. You could give an example like Twitter. I could reach Twitter however, two things. One, I better still have my content on the timeline when the person looks at Twitter. Two, if Twitter decides they want to throttle, which they might some point in the future, they may go to brands. Jack Dorsey is getting a lot of pressure from his board. We need to increase revenue.
Everybody else is throttling. Why wouldn’t Twitter?
Why would you tell the brands, “We’re going to throttle you. You’re going to have to pay us money to maintain your blue check mark. Maintain this, but we’ll give you some sales metrics that you can measure your engagement. Some tools that we think are going to be invaluable?” even through such a smoke screen. EdgeRank was smoke screen for Facebook.
Let me be a marketing professor for a moment. A company might have leads. These are potential customers. These aren’t people who are buying the product. They have some designation in terms of how interested they seem to be based upon their behavior. What a drip campaign is a piece of information is sent their way. Maybe it’s an email. Maybe it’s a newsletter. Something like this, or a tweet or something on Facebook. If that customer engages with that drip, then their propensity score goes up. They become what’s called more qualified and they can then be targeted by a salesperson and so on.
It looks a lot like the way a sales funnel is used on any platform. An example is Facebook.
People were fast forwarding through this, plus fifteen seconds.
Let me go back to the Jimmy Carr episode. Do you think you’re going to get a lot of emails saying, “Please never interview somebody who’s not a comedian ever again?”
It’s about the lives of funny people. It’s not about being funny.
That’s good to know. I want to say this as an example. If I was a food company, you can make the choice to put a bunch of Facebook video ads selling your product, which is done. That’s going to the bottom of the sales funnel trying to get a conversion. I could put out a video about how to make the world’s best pepperoni pizza. Based on how many people watched 30 seconds or more of that, I’m going to target them with videos of how to make homemade pasta sauce. I’m going to have a brief mention for Ragù within that video. If people watched a significant amount of that video, I’m going to start targeting them with Ragù ads.
As much as people hate sales, and then sometimes marketing and branding. The nice thing about a good drip campaign is that it does a good job of getting rid of people who don’t care about the message.
Who aren’t qualified because they don’t watch the content. They’re not interested.
It’s better than broadcast in that way.
Anything’s better than broadcast.
When I say broadcast, I mean in principle. Like smashing the world with a bunch of stuff and pushing.
They call it spray and prey. Where you buy billboards, you have your magazine ads. You have your broadcast ads. You don’t even know how many people are watching this care about your product. Somebody in a sales team has told you, “This has this reach. There are going to be these many viewers on this telecast. You should expect that you have ten million impressions.” Nobody knows what that means.
[bctt tweet=”Comedians that do great improv think about their show the same way they think about entrepreneurship and business concepts.” via=”no”]
The people who would tell you stuff are the ones selling you this stuff.
One of the core guiding principles of Phantom is that we’re not trying to sell our own book. We’re completely agnostic to every platform. If you are a TV ad salesman, you tell people that TV ad sales are the most important thing for your company. We don’t work for Facebook, for broadcast, for print, for influencers we might utilize, for developers we might bring in for a website or the producers we might bring in for a video campaign. We advocate for whoever hires us. We come up with what we think is the path of best resistance for them. We start figuring out who’s the best qualified to help achieve that goal. It doesn’t matter to us what direction we go.
That’s a fascinating thing about these ad agencies where they started to move beyond being creative and doing strategy. It’s hard to do creative without strategy. What happened was they became the ones who are selling the ad space or buying the ad space and taking a cut. That immediately is going to adjust what their motivations are. If they’re able to sell TV, invariably they’re going to say, “We should do some commercials.”
The classic model, if you’re watching Mad Men, that’s a typical model, which is we will give you Don Draper for free. He’s going to put on a show for you. You’re going to think like, “They get my product.” We don’t care. That’s free. All we care is that you’re going to give us your entire media buy, which is doing two minutes of work for us. We’re going to charge you 15%. If you want to spend $50 million on TV ads, we’re going to take a giant chunk of that in what amounts to one single sheet we fill out and give to ABC, CBS and NBC.
I want to hit a few more rapid-fire questions. This is supposed to be about your life. Give me the beats in your day. What’s a typical day for Darwyn?
We were discussing the three different segments of sleepers.
Larks, owls and third birds. Larks are early risers, that’s me. Third birds are what the majority of the population is. They get up at 7:00 AM or 8:00 AM. They go to bed around 11:00 PM or midnight. Owls, which is what you are.
Which I think is 21% of the population. Society skews towards early birds and the larks. If you’re an owl, even if you’re productive, you’re often thought of as deviant in some way though you can accomplish just as much.
The issue is teenagers are owls, but they’re forced onto a third bird schedule because of school, for instance. Their natural proclivity is to go to bed later. That changes obviously across development.
Except for me. I missed that part of the development. One of the other great things about working for an agency you’ve built is you get to decide the culture and what’s meaningful there. For starters, optics is not something that’s important at Phantom. We don’t need to see everybody with their butt in their chair during specific hours. You have projects. You have deadlines. We have high expectations for performance. If you feel you can contribute meaningfully to the team from Dubai or in Melbourne, as is the example with me this week, that’s perfectly fine. I wake up probably around 10:30 AM. I might wake up later than that if I feel I need to sleep. The second I wake up, I open my phone. I turn it off airplane mode. I punch in Postmates and I order the most disgusting, organic juice you could possibly have, greens with no fruit. While I’m waiting for that to be delivered to me, I start going through all of the emails that have started to amass over the morning.
There are all these larks from New York City and beyond emailing you.
Yes, I’m going through all those and making sure that anybody on my team has whatever they need to move forward. You’ll hear at the back end of my day why this isn’t that much of a problem.
I’m on a weird owl schedule here in Melbourne. It’s not because I’m getting up late. I’m still getting up rather early. When I wake up, it’s noon or 1:00 PM. By the time I get on email, it’s 2:00 AM or 3:00 AM back home. I have a full inbox of stuff that’s waiting for me when I get on there, which is probably what you have if you get up at 11:00 AM. You’ve got a big load of email there waiting that has been sent prior.
How does that feel for you as somebody who’s OCD and you like things to be done in a timely manner?
I like it and here’s why I like it. If I do what I ought to be doing, which is not be on email first thing in the morning? You and I live different lives, where email is a punishment and not a value-generating task. Writing a paper is a value-generating task. If I’m good and I do creative work for some period of time and then sit down and do my email. It forces me to batch email in a way that I don’t at home, because emails are coming in constantly. If I wake up and there are 50 emails there, I go through the 50 emails and I take care of a bunch of it. If I’ve done it late enough, those emails don’t come back right away. At home, if you send an email at 9:00 AM, you have a response by 1:00 PM. If you respond to emails that are in the afternoon back home, they may not come back to the next day. It creates a pretty nice lag for me. I’ve been enjoying the batching part of it. I do feel some urgency because I know they’re sitting there.
I like that too. I like having batch email responses. I can get so much done.
It’s the only way to do this if you’re trying to do creative work.
I know you and I have spoken before about the fact that you are at the top or near the top of your performance early on in your day, which makes sense for the sort of sleeper you are. For me, my best performance is at 11:00 PM. By going through emails, I start with the simplest emails that I can respond to right away. It starts to become this great warm-up device. As I get through that first hour, I can still be really productive without missing a beat. I’ve had my juice. I’ve gotten most of those small fires put out. There might be a few larger fires that are on my radar. If I’m going to have some food at home or have something else deliver, I’ll take care of that.
I have an office that’s only about five blocks from where I live. I will walk there with my dog, the superstar Yorkie known as Bowie. From there, I’ll have a small team meeting with a few of our core team mates and start working on some of these larger fires. I will have back to back meetings or calls with clients or with teams as we’re executing different campaigns. We may have a few different brainstorming sessions throughout the day. I will always take time to have food, much like I take time to sleep. It doesn’t make any sense for people to be hungry and tired. You’re not productive that way.
I encourage people for my team like, “You’re not going to be a hero because you didn’t get up to have lunch today.” You’d be a hero because you were working in a great rhythm, you took care of yourself and you’re not going to be burnt out next week.” It’s 7:00 PM or 8:00 PM, the office stays winding down. I will walk home, make sure the dog is fed, get my gym clothes on, go to my gym and get a workout in. That will end around 10:00 PM or 10:30 PM.
This is always a negotiation when I’m in LA. Darwyn gets me into his fancy gym. We do these long workouts that are half chatting, half working out and I love it. You always want to start it at 7:30 PM. I always want to start it at 5:30 PM. The question is it never starts at 5:30 PM and it never starts at 7:30 PM. That’s the starting point to the negotiation and it ends up somewhere between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM usually.
It depends on who of us wants that workout to happen, and will bend a little bit. I’ll go through my workout. come home, make a protein shake, then get in the shower. By this point, it’s around 11:00 PM and this is my time to think deeply. Emails have stopped coming in. My phone has stopped ringing. Now it’s not just email and phone. You have Telegram, Discord, Slack, WhatsApp, and Skype. I’m getting DMs on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. You have to deal with all of these at the same time. This is the moment where almost all of that stops. I can think deeply about what is the next strategic move for our clients, for our team. We have this incredibly fluid philosophy to find where there’s an arbitrage opportunity, a green field or blue ocean. Whatever your adage is.
[bctt tweet=”Go after the opportunities that look the most tumultuous and look the most difficult.” via=”no”]
A black wall, a white canvas.
An unused condom, there’s opportunity everywhere. I also read and listen to a lot of podcasts. I’m constantly consuming content, mostly relevant to our industry. I like to know a lot about the financial and investment world. I will have generally something going on in the background. I’m listening to Ray Dalio’s Principles. While I’m listening to that, I’ll be taking down notes as it applies to whatever I’m consuming. At the same time, writing down notes for whatever ideas I want to pitch or a clever campaign that we might have. I go to bed around 2:00 AM or 2:30 AM and I wake up and I do the same thing again.
One observation is you have this long day and lots happening. You jam a lot of things into it, which I appreciate. Someone who jams a lot and do his day, I appreciate other people who do that. It seemed to do it well. I hate the word balance, but you take care of yourself. You can eat good food. You find time to exercise and to play a little bit throughout this time. Here are three quick questions. Do you have a creative process? Is there some trick or tip that you have for how you come up with these ideas? Second question is, you say you’re writing things down. Where are you putting them? The third question is what are you reading, watching, listening to that stands out, that the audience should know about?
My process is a compounding effect of all the little things that I’m doing over the course of my day. Some of the best creatives I know will lock themselves in a cave, they’ll force themselves to look at a pen and paper for eight hours and they’ll come back with ideas. I don’t operate that way. I operate when I’m listening to people that push me. That will be part of answer number three or question number three. I start to figure out where are all of these synergies that should be obvious to everyone and they should be obvious to me. I find often what I’m doing at night when I’m trying to figure out whatever’s the deepest creative work that I’m working on. I will find myself finding a natural wall. I will go to sleep. I will make sure every night, I’m sleeping at least eight hours. If I’m not getting eight hours, I find some way in my day to try to recoup what sleep I didn’t get.
As I go through different cycles of REM sleep, I will often wake up having had a dream where I had the answer come to me. Where I was working on the problem in the dream. Part of my body rehearsing it again and again while I sleep will lead to where those ideas come up. A lot of times I won’t necessarily know that idea when I wake up. I won’t sit up and go, “Eureka.” It will happen during the 6:00 PM meeting at the end of our day and I’ll realize, “I’ve already had this conversation we’re having right now 100 times last night. Here’s the name that we should give this product. Here’s the direction we should go for distribution with this campaign.”
It’s a process that it feels nebulous. It involves consuming as much thought-provoking material as possible. I always try to take it to that step three, four or five. It’s not good enough to hear something that’s interesting. You have to take in an interesting idea and think, “Where else is this applicable? How could that idea be better?” Every idea can be a slightly better idea. Most people are too lazy to take it to another level.
[bctt tweet=”If you get longer, better sleep, you will accomplish more in less amount of time.” via=”no”]
In terms of where I write everything down and where I track this. A lot of it I try to keep on my phone. I always have it with me. I still do the old school yellow pad and paper. My regular Notes on iPhone, the generic note app. I have Evernote and a few apps like that. The truth is I want the one that I can press the button, start typing and it’s organized enough for me to go back to it. I accidentally delete an entire note of certain projects that I had in mind. There’s some downside to using that app, “I deleted the cure to cancer.”
I have you come speak to my MBA class. My goal is to have you come out to Boulder every year and do it. I start class with something I call current events. The students bring up current events that are related to marketing. We pick the one that we want to talk about as a class. We don’t do a deep dive, but this is a ten-minute part of the class. You were sitting in the audience waiting and you had your yellow legal pad of paper there. You were going to do a live case of about one of the companies you work with.
You get up to the podium and you’re about to start the live case. You bring the pad with you, you’ve laid down and you go, “Before I get started, I have some comments about current events.” You filled an entire page of notes about the ten-minute conversation we were having about all the suggestions and then the one that we ended up talking about. You gave some commentary on it, which I thought was quite insightful. I’ve had dozens of people in my class. Incredibly accomplished people, CMOs, presidents of organizations, entrepreneurs, VCs and I’ve never had anyone behave like that. I was like, “This guy likes to think more deeply and more creatively than the average person.”
I love to find connections that aren’t obvious. Maybe briefly you’ll mention the story you and I met while you were writing your book, The Humor Code, through an improv school called Upright Citizens Brigade, where I was one of the pupils. It’s a real embarrassing line, so don’t go read that line. We had met as we were demonstrating different improv practices for you and Joel, who is your co-author. The reason I like improv comedy is comedians that do great improve think about their show the same way I think about entrepreneurship and business concepts. They hear a bunch of different ideas.
They try to figure out how they can elevate those ideas to make them bigger and funnier. They try to figure out how to combine all of them. If anybody is familiar with UCB or with the format of an improv show called The Harold. The whole crux of the show is that it has this rising action that in the final beat is supposed to connect everything together. That’s naturally how I think, so thank you for that. Anybody who I’ve spoken to in any of your classes adores you and thinks it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to them, which for college students who often are, they’re not all jaded, but many are. That you’re definitely going above and beyond.
I don’t know if they all do.
You have a section fighting with another section about, “Professor McGraw, who do you love more, the morning section or afternoon section? It’s the afternoon section?” They were having a huge debate over this.
I always say I hate you equally. I want to bring this back to you showing up here. I’m starting to work on some ideas related to improv and business here with my host Adam Barsky. I remember your arrival threw my schedule completely off. While on one hand my rituals are beneficial and make me happier and healthier. On the other hand, I worry about becoming a rigid, old man. I remember thinking I should say yes to this. I should act like improv, which is in a scene your mate shows up out of nowhere. You don’t go, “What are you doing here? I already have plans tonight.” That ruins a scene.
If this is an improv show, you had done a scene where you are clearly an astronaut on the moon and then I came plowing through with my rainbow semi-truck. You’re like, “I guess we’re doing this scene now,” and you were seamless in your transition.
Having taken improv and studying it, has helped me make that an easier thing to do. What are you listening to, reading or watching that stands out? You had already mentioned Ray Dalio’s book. It has to be really good. Not normal, run-of-the-mill good.
Give me an example of TV that’s run-of-the-mill-good so I can have what’s better than that is my best shot.
Most TV people regularly watch.
If you haven’t watched all of Rick and Morty, you owe it to yourself to watch that, which is an incredible accomplishment. I don’t want to mention too many other fiction shows. On the book side, Principles is amazing. Antifragile by Nassim Taleb, which is a painful book to read but is a wonderful book. I listen to a podcast from a guy named Patrick O’Shaughnessy called Invest Like the Best. Where it converged with my favorite blog, was when he interviewed Tim Urban, which is brilliant if you guys are curious at all about Elon Musk. Who invited Tim Urban to come be with him so that he could explain what Elon is trying to accomplish.
For consumption to me, the state of the art now is Twitter. When I spoke with your students, I asked them, “What platforms are all you on?” There are lots of hands for Instagram and lots of hands for Facebook. When I say, “How many of you MBA students were trying to change the world are on Twitter?” There are four people that raised their hand. This to me is insane because it’s the only social platform of ideas. It’s not about your coffee. It’s not about your birthday party. It’s about sharing ideas, sometimes debating ideas.
For that reason, anybody who is trying to improve themselves or to build something in their life should be on Twitter. Don’t follow your friends. Your friends can be on Instagram. Your family can be on Facebook. Follow the 25 people you want to be. I follow people like Elon Musk. I follow David Axelrod. I follow people in the blockchain and crypto space who are going to be honest and are going to give a good, balanced assessment of the direction that we’re going. I follow people like Vitalik Buterin who created Ethereum, which is a crypto coin and a platform for smart contracts. Going to Twitter that should be number one, even though I know I’m supposed to rattle off a bunch of different books.
[bctt tweet=”Anybody trying to improve themselves or to build something in their life should be on twitter and follow the 25 people you want to be.” via=”no”]
Naval, who you and I’ve spoken about a lot on this trip, who’s the CEO of AngelList, who’s an avid reader. His Twitter is fantastic. You’ll also get wonderful book recommendations from him. What he’s converging all of this together. He’s not only given me Twitter content and great books to read, he’s helped because of Twitter reframe how I try to read books. Where in the past I would read a book A to Z because I thought that’s what you did with the book. What Naval’s convinced me is that I should read a book until I get it. Once I understand the concept and I have enough examples in my mind that it’s going to stick with me, I should move on to the next book and learn the next idea. Over time, you should amass this grouping of whether it’s $50 or 100 books that are the most important to you. You should go back and reread those ones to reinforce those. That’s definitely changed me a lot.
I hate to say this because it’s free for download on HumorCode.com. If you read the first chapter of The Humor Code, you get it, especially if you care about the pop science part of it.
Most great ideas that are being properly communicated. We don’t need 225 pages. The truth is most people don’t need to get into that fourth layer, deeper fifth layer deep of it because it’s not going to have any use in their life. This is something every author should admit. Most authors will never do it. A lot of authors, for that reason, should probably make their books significantly shorter than they make them.
Although it’s not always the author’s fault. We signed the contract for The Humor Code, the contract says you will deliver a book 70,000 words or longer than. Last question, the secret to success everyone knows but can’t seem to do? The obvious secret to success but people doesn’t seem to be able to do it. Darwyn’s leaning in for this one.
I feel like I could go twenty different directions. The way to get ahead that is at the same time intuitive to people. Yet everything in their fiber tells them, “Don’t do this,” so they don’t, is to be contrarian. If you think about the financial world, you should invest when everybody’s panicking. You should sell when everybody’s buying. In the business world, you should go after the opportunities that look the most tumultuous and look the most difficult versus everybody tries to follow the same trends at the same time. This means there are all these competitors. I don’t want to compete against everybody. I want to compete against the least amount of people humanly possible. If now all the trend in crypto is in a bubble, you should try to find what are those things that are not sexy, seem complicated but aren’t being served it.
You would look at going after how much money America spends in proportion to our GDP on healthcare. There has got to be lots of ways you could make many efficient moves and grow incredibly lucrative companies there. Maybe it’s working with the elderly. When it comes to love, because maybe we’ll hit all the little beats, you don’t want to go to the dating pool where if you’re the straight, as my friend Richard Ayoub would call me, you don’t want to go to where there are 100 men and five women. You want to go to where there are 100 women and five men, if you’re trying to increase your odds of a fantastic mate. Going against the grain.
I always say when people zig, I want to zag.
That’s it and we all know that’s true. I always question what are people afraid of. It must be something biological where if your ancestor in the past was the daring one, they died. It was better to try to farm the barren field than to go across the ridge to the field that was green. It looked like it had a great water supply because maybe there’s a wolf over there.
The classic negativity bias, loss aversion and so on. Here’s what I thought you were going to say based upon our conversation.
Start your own business?
[bctt tweet=”A good night’s sleep is good for you.” via=”no”]
No, get a good night’s sleep. Everybody knows that sleep is good for you. Your entire life is evidence that getting a good night’s sleep is good for you, and yet people managed to not prioritize getting a good night’s sleep.
I would say that not only that, but that’s the only health and lifestyle science that’s not controversial. Whether you should eat a lot or eat a little. Be all vegetarian, eat all-meat, and all of that. There are multiple sides. Is there anybody arguing you should get less sleep?
No, not really.
For you, why do you think that is? That people won’t prioritize it?
Why is it that they don’t? It’s not taught as a skill. It’s easy to steal. The other thing is it feels somewhat fungible. It feels I can take an hour here or there. Having a strong boundary for when you’re going to go to sleep makes you more efficient earlier in the day. That if you allow yourself to not have a boundary there, then you can steal that extra hour and you can waste it earlier. Part of the reason I am productive is because that is precious, it’s sacred. If it hasn’t gotten done by 11:00, it’s not getting done. Some of that’s values.
The value that people have there on the other side of this equation, we have this subconscious puritan driver behind all of us. Part of the puritan logic is that A, if you were to sleep late, you’re a slacker. If you sleep too long, you’re a slacker. Even though we now know there is science that says, “If you get longer, better sleep, you will accomplish more in less amount of time during the day than the person who got five hours of sleep and appears to be working for eighteen hours but they’re in zombie mode.” I don’t know.
That’s a nice idea. I’ll be selfish, I like to feel good.
Is the reason why you do sleep?
Yes, I’d like to feel good. I want to be in a good mood. I want to enjoy my life. I know that if I get six and a half or fewer hours, certainly less than six hours, I am less happy. I don’t have the same energy. I don’t feel as good.
You’re not doing anybody else any favors.
I’m already going to be a pain in the ass enough. Darwyn, I knew this would happen. Congratulations. Thanks for doing this. Maybe we’ll do this again in a couple of years.
- LOWERCASE Capital
- Bobby Badfingers
- David Pogue
- Walt Mossberg
- The Humor Code
- Upright Citizens Brigade
- Invest Like the Best
About Darwyn Metzger
Darwyn Metzger is the former star of America Now and an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist, who began his career by asking MTV comedian Tom Green for a job live on the air of his talk show. Darwyn went on to become the founder and CEO of Phantom, a digital marketing and social media strategy firm that works with Brands, Political campaigns, TV shows, Films & Celebrities including Nike, Trident, DirecTV, AT&T, Fox, BBC America and primetime TV shows on virtually every major network in America.