Insights with Ben Chodor: Featuring Ron Tite

How do companies actively engage audiences? What is it about certain brands and organizations that instantly inspire action and loyalty? In the second episode of Insights, I interviewed Ron Tite, and let me tell you, I couldn’t be more excited about this conversation.

Ben Chodor

March 12, 2020

How do companies actively engage audiences? What is it about certain brands and organizations that instantly inspire action and loyalty?

In the second episode of Insights, I interviewed Ron Tite, and let me tell you, I couldn’t be more excited about this conversation.

Ron is an award-winning advertising writer, executive creative director and CEO of Church + State, a content marketing agency based in Toronto. He was trained at Second City and speaks at over 40 events every year.

I first heard Ron speak last year, and I couldn’t wait to sit down and talk with him.

Ron’s new book “Think, Do, Say,” articulates the ways that companies can cut through the noise of modern content marketing and get back to the basics of authenticity and honesty. He joined me to discuss the importance of building brands based on true beliefs, and the underappreciated elements of truth and transparency possessed by some of the world’s most-loved companies.

Check out the full episode below, and join us for more conversations in the future.


Ben Chodor: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are. I’m Ben Chodor, and this is Insights.

This is, like, a really cool show and opportunity for me, because it gives me a chance to interview people that I’m really impressed with, that I’ve met along the way, or someone has introduced me to. This one’s a really special one to me, because one, first, Ron Tite wrote an amazing book. I’ve read it twice - finished it last night on a red-eye back home for my second readthrough.

“Think. Do. Say.” I think everyone should read this. I think this is - listen, anyone can talk about sales motivation, and anyone can talk about, you know, building a better team and stronger team, but anyone who’s in any business for any brand, any company, you’ve gotta read a book like this. I loved it, and it’s not just someone saying what you’re supposed to do. There’s a lot of “think, do say” right?

But I was at the content marketing conference a couple months ago, and normally I show up at the conference, go to our booth, meet with some clients. I was interviewed on the content marketing show. And then I was flying home in the afternoon. I had like 45 minutes, 50 minutes before I had to go to the airport, and one of our heads of marketing said, “Hey, I’m gonna go hear this keynote from this guy Ron Tite, you wanna come?” And I said, “I haven’t spent much time with Kathy in a couple months, so I said alright, I’ll come sit with you and we’ll go, and I”ll probably cut out like halfway through, quarter of the way through.”

I stayed to the very end, and it was Ron Tite speaking. I - since we’re a streaming company and I started in the world of production - I’ve sat through some of the world’s most famous public speakers, and keynotes of world’s largest organizations. I’ve gotta say, this was the one keynote, everything he said, I was like “oh my god, this is spot on.” And it was one of the few times when his presentation was over, I wished it wasn’t over, and then I did something I never do - I almost became like a fanboy. I actually waited in line with three of four other people, not to ask him a question, not to say anything, just to say “I loved your presentation.” ‘Cause it takes a lot to get me excited about when someone speaks, because I hear so many people speak. Then I did another thing that was pretty ridiculous - on the way to the airport, I sent him a LinkedIn message that said “one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

And then I noticed that he had a book coming out. I ordered the book a few days later, and then it came, I don’t know, a couple weeks later, and I am so glad.

I babbled there, but at least you know that this is all coming from a real place. This is what I’m all about, it’s about not being scripted, it’s about being really true and really who you are.

So let me introduce you to Ron Tite, the author of “Think. Do. Say.” Ron, welcome to Insights. 

Ron Tite: Ben, thank you for having me, and thank you for such a lovely introduction. That was amazing, and you know, I think it says a lot about you, about your character, that, you know, we all experience great stuff, we read great stuff, we hear great stuff. But there’s a lot of inertia required to actually go, “you know what, I’m gonna actually send this person a note and just way thank you,” so, thanks for sending that, I think it says a lot about you.

Ben: And with no ask, right? And that's - later on, I’m gonna ask you a couple of questions, and you do a whole thing on this, on LinkedIn, about how people approach you, and everything that goes along with it. I didn’t have an ask, and sometimes it’s weird to send someone a note without an ask. And I try to do that a lot with my global staff. We have 1,300 people around the world, and Notified itself has about 8,000 people globally. And every now and then, when someone does something, I just like to send them a note that says “hey, you’re really appreciated and thank you.” And the response I normally get from someone who works in our office in Nagercoil or somewhere else in the world is like “oh my god, why did the president of our organization reach out to me?”

Because, it’s all about our people right? And so, blew me away.

Ron: Know what’s interesting? Is, somebody reached out and said, you know, I’d love to grab a call, just to get your perspective on this,” and I’d met him, it wasn’t a complete cold call, so I said, “sure,” and we hop on the call, and I listened and gave some advice, and then he said “can I just ask you, why are you helping me?”

And I said, “well, I have no agenda here, you asked for help, I gave it.”

And that’s how cynical we are. We’re like “yeah, but what’s your agenda?”

Ben: I feel exactly the same. Alright, I want to jump right into this, because I know your time is really important.

First, what was the first job you ever had?

Ron: The very first job was a newspaper boy in Oshawa, Ontario, which is Canada’s Flint, Michigan. It used to be home of the large General Motors plant. So I was a paperboy, and I know we’re tight for time, but you have to - I would deliver the paper that was voluntary payment. So, if you wanted to pay, you could pay, and that money went to the carrier. And if you didn’t want to pay, you didn’t have to pay, because it was really just about the horrible ads, it wasn’t peak journalism.

And so, when I inherited the paper route, I converted more people from non-paying to paying than anybody else in the system. And I was voted the “carrier of the year” of the Oshawa This Week for that conversion rate. And this was such an important lesson, because I grew up in a big apartment building, and I delivered the papers in the apartment building, and the person before me didn’t live in the apartment building. So, if Ron Tite from 408 is coming to collect, you’re not gonna pay me? Of course you’re gonna pay him. And so that early lesson of, you know what it’s great to do business with people who know us - who really know us. And, you know, keep your friends close.

Ben: I love that story! I mean, I love - it shows, listen, you were a marketer at, how old were you at the time about?

Ron: Uh, I was probably ten years old.

Ben: That’s - I love it! So, you were hustling at ten years old! It’s incredible!

Ron: Yeah.

Ben: Which makes me think - my first job that I ever had, that wasn’t like a real job, like in high school - it was during the gas shortage in the US. Somewhere in the late-seventies, or somewhere in the seventies.

Ron: Jimmy Carter, yeah.

Ben: Yep! And, so there was a gas - I lived in a guarded apartment complex, and there were always lines at the gas station at the end of the guarded apartment. And I sold coffee! I went up and down selling coffee. And I knew most of the people, because most of them lived in the apartment, and everyone bought it, and that’s kind of my first job I ever made, how I hustled.

Alright, so here’s another question I have for you. Why write the book, and why now?

Ron: I was really frustrated. I mean, you know, you prefaced it a little bit, but I grew up during the, you know, not grew up, but grew up professionally during the era of traditional advertising and wrote more TV spots than I ever care to imagine. And, it was all supposed to be so great, wasn’t it? Remember? When digital was supposed to just be this “promised land,” and everybody would get the right messages at the right time, and we would all be so fulfilled in our jobs, and I thought “it sucked!” What is happening here? There was so much potential, and still, nobody is using the tools to their full advantage. Still people are unhappy in their work, and still people are being disrupted. Why is that? And I just thought, it’s that we’re overthinking this, and it’s time to get back to some business basics. And, when I looked at what really separated great brands and great leaders, it was really based on what they think what they did and what they said. And I thought, we needed that simple framework to guide people.

Ben: Yeah, I love the story you tell in the book about REI. Do you mind, tell us a little bit about us, so that they actually understand? Don’t give it all away, because I want them to read it all in the book but -

Ron: Yeah, I’ll tell it with a cliffhanger, so they’re forced to buy the book. He said you have to buy the book!

REI, which is an outdoor equipment co-op, and they’re in 33 states in the US, you know competing heavy retail - I mean, retail has been just the most disrupted industry. And REI came out and in 2015 launched - they were starting an initiative called #OptOutside. And with the announcement of it, they established their brand belief. And they don’t use the term “brand belief,” it’s what I use, but their brand belief, they said “we believe that a life lived outside is a life well-lived.” So that’s the first step, which is they don’t believe in the thing they sell, cuz other people sell that, and they don’t believe in promotions and everything else. They actually believe something that is strategically linked with what they sell, but is above and beyond that. So they believe a life lived outside is a life well-lived.

Secondly, what did they do to reinforce that belief? Because it’s really easy to talk about that. Well, what they did is they closed the store on Black Friday - a day that, you know, everybody is in other stores trampling sales staff. So they closed the store on Black Friday, so they pivot, and then they talked about it in a really authentic and honest way with the CEO being the face of it. So they thought it, they did it, they said it. And I thought it was just such a great, you know, example, of “think, do say” in action, and they still do it today, and it grows and grows.

And to all the doubters out there, the first year they did it, and closed on Black Friday, they actually grew revenue 9 points year-over-year.

Ben: Alright, you know what the best part of the story is also? So I told that little story before I got on the plane, I was having a drink with our CFO in San Francisco, and I said it, and  his comment, being a CFO and cynical, he goes - “oh yeah, but they were still opened cyber-wise, so people could go online” and I said, “no, they shut down the whole thing.”

So, they even wanted their customers not - they wanted them to be outside enjoying life as opposed to - and when I said it, he didn’t even believe me. He pulled out his phone, he Googled it, and he goes “Oh my God, you’re right. They’re not even open to buy online.”

That’s a brand you love. And then two other people we had said, three years ago, when they did it for the first time, they became members. Both people, the other two people at the table, said “We became members of REI right after that.” So it actually worked, you know?

Ron: Amazing. I love it.

Ben: Brand belief, I mean, which goes back down to - it is brand belief, right? So why is brand belief so important, and why do so many people get it wrong?

Ron: Well, it’s important because it really does provide a thread through all of your communications and all of your - you need something that links all that stuff together. It’s the check that we need, right? Like, yeah, but does this serve our higher purpose? And I, you know, people think they get it with “mission” and “vision” and all that, and just, those have become, well one they’ve become very focused on the tactical side of the business, of like “our mission is to become the best retailer in the world.” And they’re often written with buzz - just like a buzzword bingo card. And the CEO, you know, kind of refers to it in some flippant, like the first slide of their deck at an offsite. And they the whole room will, like, you know, a group of robots, repeat the mission statement. The reality is that it doesn’t mean anything to anybody, to how it affects their own individual performance, or what they’re supposed to do to live up to that. They can say it, they can repeat it, but it means nothing to them.

And brand belief is just, I think it’s so much easier to articulate. Don’t tell me what you sell, tell me what you believe. And the organization can believe something. It’s always a nice check for the person to go “do I believe that?” ‘Cause, if I don’t, then maybe I’m not in the right place, and that’s okay, but maybe I should align my values and beliefs with the organization who I give my time and energy to.

Ben: I love it. I think - in the books, one of the things that was really compelling to me was a story you told about a chef you know who did something with Red Bull, right? And he doesn’t even drink the product, right? And they still wanted him. Why?

Ron: Yeah...Matt Bassilli had Red Bull come to him and they said they’d like to do some video with him and he said “I’d love to!” He loved their brand but he couldn’t drink Red Bull, his body couldn’t handle the caffeine. And they said, “so?” Like they were going to ask him to chug Red Bull on screen? No. Red Bull kinda stated that they connect with people on values and beliefs, and we know enough of those people will convert. And those that don’t, it’s totally cool.

Ben: Isn’t that also part of the reason why people don’t trust influencers the way they used to trust influencers? I heard a story where Justin Timberlake for example was a sponsor for Levi’s and for Nike, but he’s loved Nike his whole life. He’s always wearing Nike, he’s passionate about the product. He’s using Levi’s theoretically because he’s paid to use Levi’s. When he does a Levi’s spot, it doesn’t really move the needle. But when he does something with Nike, it moves the needle. You have to be true. Do you think influencers are dead? Or paid influencers are dead?

Ron: No, not at all! Full disclosure, we here at Church and State, we run some influencer programs. We have and we continue to do so. I think the first point is that there’s a difference between celebrities as influencers because celebrities, I think they’ve always been influencers. I think there is a belief that this is not their only game. This is the side hustle for them. Where as a lot of traditional influencers that IS the hustle. That is their job. And I think it’s those people who lost trust. And the reason a lot of consumers went to those people as content creators was this wave of people who realized they could shoot and produce content cheaper than ever before, they could distribute that content faster and more efficiently to people than ever before, and they could deliver messaging they really wanted to deliver. They didn’t need to go to legal to say this. And what came across was a really authentic, unbiased creative and content. People bought into that. And then the second algorithms changed and social platforms and brands said “how do we get to our end audience?” we’ll go to those people and pay them. And then those people sold their souls for a paycheck, selling everything and anything. And that’s when people said, no, this is why I came to you because you didn’t have sales bias. Can you still use them? 100%. You can use them as a media channel and compare the cost of those eyeballs vs. other media. OR you can do your homework and really connect with people who are authentically linked to your product and don’t just want the paycheck. And when you do that, I still think it can be really powerful.

Ben: Yeah, it’s interesting, because, at Notified, part of our business is, you know, media monitoring - it’s a big part of our business and our customers. And then, you know, we own a referral marketing company called Ambassador, which is all about creating micro influencers - true influencers for people who love the product and want to get their friends involved with the product. We actually find that’s so much more powerful than anything else.

Ron: They try more, they’re more authentic, they’re eager - yeah! I agree with you!

Ben: Alright, so here’s a question, going back to the book and TDS, the “think, do say.” One is - I loved your little wheel where you explained everything about TDS. But as someone’s coming up with their whole brand belief, you’re really adamant about you have to follow this strict order. How did you come up with the order, and why can’t you bypass any part of it?

Ron: Well, some people want to just do one of the three, and, you know, if you just think as an organization that you’re a “think tank,” you know you really have to crank on stuff, that’s where you make your money. But if you just “do” and it’s not linked back to something, then it’s way too random, and you’re probably a sweatshop. And if all you do is talk about stuff, but you don’t actually ever do it, then, you know, you’re in constant churn mode and always in an acquisition. And, it’s really funny, because often people in introducing me - like I did a TV interview, and the TV interviewer goes “he’s the author of ‘Think. Say. Do’” - and they wanna put the “say” before the “do.” Let’s think about it, let’s talk about it, and then the “do” is the final place. And that, I think, is just wrong. I think that, if people lack trust, they lack trust because they hear something and then when they go to experience it, the experience doesn’t line up with the promise that they heard. And so the action has to already be in place, so that by the time we do talk about it, we’re already delivering on it, and we deliver on the expectation. If we get those mixed up in the order, people aren’t gonna trust us.

Ben: Alright, so you give a good analogy that, with Camper and Casa Campers, right? How you went to their hotel, but they followed it exactly, right? They think, they do, and they say their whole brand belief in everything they do.

Ron: Yeah, and this is a great hotel. They have two locations, one in Berlin and one in Barcelona. And my wife was like “hey there’s this hotel we should stay there,” and I looked at the logo, and I was like “that looks like the camper shoe logo, it’s called ‘casa campers,’ are these shoe people?”

So I literally booked some time with the general manager while I was there, because I wanted to write-off the trip. And I interviewed her to say “I’ve got this book coming out, and I want to talk to you about, like, why do you own a hotel? You’re a shoe company.”

And she was adamant, she said “we are not a shoe company, we’re a company who happens to make shoes. But how we define ourselves is based on health, simplicity, and design.”

And so they have the “think” part, you know? And so they just said, “we’ll look to diversify our portfolio,” which is another great part of having a purpose or a belief that goes beyond what you sell. You can diversify your portfolio. And so they said “what else can we get into, we looked at health, simplicity, and design, and thought ‘hospitality!’ Now, this could be the thing that could really separate us now.”

And so they built this hotel, and, you know, the one thing, out of all these great touches of the actions they took to reinforce “health, simplicity, and design,” the one I actually loved most was their stairwell. ‘Cause the stairwells - we forget about the stairwells, we ignore the stairwells. Nothing good ever happened in a stairwell. But in this hotel, the stairwells were as important as the rest of the hotel. They painted them, there was art on the walls, and that was beautiful, great design. And, so yeah, I absolutely loved every experience within the hotel, because it all laddered up to the purpose that they established.

Ben: This is awesome. This is what everyone should do. Everyone’s brand should follow their beliefs. Now we’re going to make a right-turn in your book. My favorite new term is “pitch slap.” First, explain the term so people understand what it is and give us a couple examples. I love the list you gave of the people who pitch slapped on LinkedIn, but that’s a whole other thing. Tell them a little about how you came up with it, why it’s in the book and what it means.

Ron: People can probably appreciate what it means. Because I’ve felt it. But a pitch slap is when you put your own needs ahead of the person that you’re interacting with. We’ve all experienced the pitch slap on some level where somebody’s talking to us but in the back of their mind, they just want to pitch us. That’s all they want to do. And everything they say before that is just to manipulate the conversation to deliver that pitch. Then afterward, it feels like you’ve been pitch slapped. I didn’t come up with it actually. I was sitting with a client in some meeting and he said he felt like he’d been pitch slapped. I said I’d like to use that somewhere and I’ll give you full credit. He said he didn’t remember, he had heard it from someone. So I incorrectly get credited with creating it but it wasn’t me.

Ben: I’m gonna keep on telling people it was you because it’s pretty awesome. Just to change the subject for a second, are you still a stand up comic? How did it get into your life? I assume it was after your paper route.

Ron: [Laughs] For most of my career I’ve been in the ad business. I actually started as an account guy running the Intel business. Then started doing stand up comedy and eventually had those two worlds come together and move into creative. But yeah, I was a touring stand up comic for 20 years. I hosted a show up until two years ago when my wife and I had our first child. So yeah, I was a stand up for many many years, and I think it’s weird - like, because I speak a ton a had them remove comedy from my bio. I had this moment where I realized there’s no market for a comedian who knows about business. But there’s a massive market for a funny business guy.

Ben: I’m going to disagree a bit! My son, he’s 25, always wanted to be a comic and took comedy and did a bunch of shows. When he started to look for other jobs and he talked to people, they loved that. If you can stand in front of a room and talk to people and you’re looking for a sales role, you could definitely go into a conference room and board room and pitch our product. There’s nothing scarier than stand up comedy. Especially the night that you’re not funny.

Ron: Yes, 100% - the skill set is incredibly valuable. It’s amazing. And I’ve learned so much about working a room, picking up a vibe and not having a script and figuring it out. All that stuff. It worked when I was younger in my career when I was a writer. People would go, “oh this guy knows what he’s doing.” He’s a writer and also a comic. But as I got more senior, they wanted the creative director or executive creative director to know more about their business than they did about their craft. And I think the same thing for speakers. You want them to be funny, but you also want to know that they have the corporate chops and skills to give you the insights you need for your business.

Ben: You do the perfect mix in your keynote. What’s a bigger high for you: a 15-minute comedy set and you kill it, or when you’re in front of 500-1,000 people and you nail it. What’s a bigger high?

Ron: A keynote for sure. Because you combine both and you can try a new bit here, a humorous bit, which has a strategic point to it. In the comedy club, you hit the punchline, you get the laughs, and that’s it. But, what keynotes deliver you is that you still get the laughter, and by the way, if you’re speaking to Volvo for example, and you make a joke about seatbelts, everybody in the room gets the joke. Everybody. Whereas in a comedy club, you’re not sure. But you also get a moment of silence that follows that laughter. For me, if you can silence a room and get people nodding and seeing them take notes, that’s really powerful.

Ben: I love that. Alright, I got three questions left for you. Question one: What’s your personal brand belief?

Ron: My personal brand belief is that people need to laugh so they can learn. We need to entertain and capture attention for people in order to get them to pay attention. So that we can then deliver the message or sell the thing. The balance between capturing attention and delivering on what they’re looking for.

Ben: Alright, next question. What’s your Uber rating?

Ron: 4.8.

Ben: Good! I’m a 4.64, but that’s because I live in New York City! Now I’ve been wondering this for a while. If someone came into a job interview with you, and his Uber rating happened to be a 1.95 - would you think twice about hiring him?

Ron: Now I’m looking at mine, right - I’m a 4.87!

Ben: Well, it’s Canada right? People are friendlier in Canada! But would you hire someone if they were a 1.95? What would you think about me if I said “My Uber rating is a 1.95?”

Ron: Oh, well then I wouldn’t hire you. There’s no way I would hire you.

Ben: That’s exactly how I feel. My last question for you, so we get to pay this forward. You and I were talking earlier about, just in LinkedIn in general, and how we’re both really tired of getting “pitch-slapped” on LinkedIn, but every now and then someone reaches out to you and asks you something sincere, and it feels great to reach out to them and pay it forward. So, can you recommend a book - after everyone’s read “Think.Do. Say.” - another book you think they should read? And I don’t want a sales motivation book or “how to conquer the world in business” book, just like another book that you recommend to read.

Ron: You have to read Scott Stratten and Allison Straten’s book “The Jackass Whisperer.”

Ben: What’s it about?

Ron: How to deal with the worst people at work and online and in life, including you. Because we ARE all jackasses - we’re all jackasses, and we interact with jackasses, and it’s a really funny take on all the different types of jackasses that we interact with.

Ben: That’s awesome. Alright - I was only gonna ask you three, but I gotta ask you one more because you brought it up, and I remember you mentioning it when I saw you speak live. How awesome is it being a dad?

Ron: Ben, it’s, you know I didn’t think I was gonna be a dad.

Ben: Right, that’s what you were saying when you were speaking live.

Ron: You know, I’m gonna be fifty in June, and I have an almost two-year-old and one on the way, coming in March. It is the most incredible thing. It is a life-changer in so many different ways. Love it.

Ben: It’s really interesting, because we’re very similar in age, and I have 25-year-old boy-girl twins, and I met my wife in college, and we had them really young, and I kind of think if I had them now, I’d even be a better father now, because when you’re 25, and you’re trying to build your career, your juggling a lot, and you don’t savor moments. And because you never thought you were gonna be a dad, when you’re doing it now, it’s just gotta be unreal.

Ron: Yeah, there’s certainly the financial constraints we had when we were younger, you know, and there’s that load off there, and there’s also having more flexibility and freedom with your day as an entrepreneur. Having my own business, I can kind of do some of that, and yeah, I mean, our life path is our life path, and I’m happy. We’re both in places that work.

Ben: I think that’s incredible. But, isn’t it the craziest thing that - you love your wife, and I’ll always love my wife, met her in college - but the moment that kid is born, that unconditional love - you hear other people talk about it, and it’s like “yeah, yeah, yeah,” but the moment you hold your kid, it’s why I do everything.

Ron: I said to my wife, you know, “oh we’ve turned into those people,” because - this’ll mean something to the parents out there, but you’ll see how ridiculous it is. I said, when we came home tonight, I picked him up from daycare and we got to the door, and before I could open the door with my key, I said “knock on the door!” And he’s not even two, and he picked up little knuckle, and he knocked with a little knuckle. And who taught him that that’s how you’re supposed to knock?

Ben: I love that!

Ron: It was the single most adorable thing!

Ben: That’s what life’s all about. Hey, Ron, thank you so much. And everybody - I’m not just saying this - it’s a really great book. It’s changed the way I thought. I actually sent this to my entire leadership team to get, but I actually took a couple pictures as they were sending it to different sales leaders and getting their comments back. And everyone was blown away. They love “Think. Do. Say.” Everyone has their philosophy on how to do it, you put it together pretty amazing.

Thank you, Ron, have a great rest of the year.

Ron: Ben, thank you, and thanks to everybody watching, and happy holidays.

Ben: Bye.

Author Name
Ben Chodor