Content is the cornerstone of any current agency’s ability to position itself as an authority, but many agencies struggle with knowing exactly how to actually create all the content they need for both their clients and themselves. Where do the ideas come from? What if the ideas seem too big or ridiculous? Is it possible to schedule creativity? How is the content leveraged?
Scott Ginsberg is an ultra-prolific creative strategist. He’s written 50 books, released 12 albums of his own original music, produced three films, given over 600 speeches where no two are the same, and he has worn a name tag 24/7 for over 20 years. (Yes, that last one is true.) He knows a thing or two about creating content that connects with audiences and he wants to share his insights with you.
In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Scott and I have a wide-reaching conversation about creativity, innovation, and content development. We discuss ways to compress time, build an inventory of ideas, reverse engineer content, mentor effectively, and systemize creative development. Hopefully, you leave encouraged to experiment and play in ways that help you become more of what you want to be.
A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.
What You Will Learn in This Episode:
- How to become more approachable
- How to reverse engineer the content creation process
- What it means to compress time in order to create content
- The importance of building an inventory of ideas
- Developing a content curation system
- Ways to help employees figure out what they’re good at naturally
- How to systemize innovation
Ways to contact Scott Ginsberg:
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nametagscott?fref=ts
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nametagscott/
- Twitter: @nametagscott
Tools & Resources:
- Sell with Authority (buy Drew’s book)
- Facebook Group for the Build a Better Agency Podcast
- My Future Self Mini-Course
If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to mid sized agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable. With 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. As always, please know that I am super grateful that you are hanging out with me. I know you’re busy and I know your time is at a premium and so I am very grateful to have some of it. So I promise I am going to earn it with this episode. So before I tell you a little bit about our guest and what we’re going to talk about, I want to remind you of a couple of resources that we have on the AMI website that I want you to be able to go and download. The first one is so many of you struggle. You wrestle with the idea of, should I niche and if I should niche, what niche and all of that? So I actually developed kind of a report card that you can grade different ways you could niche your agency. So it might be by an audience, it might be by an industry, could be by a deliverable. So you can basically … It’s an Excel spreadsheet and you list all the different ways that you’re considering niching. And then you answer a bunch of questions along the side and give yourself a letter grade for each of the niches and it does the math for you and voila.
It will tell you which niche you’re already furthest along in to be able to step into a position of authority and to claim that position of authority. So if you want to download that tool all you have to do is head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com/nichecriteria. So again, agencymanagementinstitute.com/nichecriteria. So hopefully that’s helpful. Another thing I want to remind you about is that we put together a mini course on sort of thinking about how you want your work life to be and how you want it to interweave with your personal life and what you want for the future of your professional career. And so if you go to the Agency Management Institute’s website and you go under how we help and under that tab there’s going to be something called mini courses. And you can grab that mini course and self administer it. And I think you’re going to be surprised at some of the things you learn. I did an exercise like this. I’ve sort of modified this for agency folks. But I did an exercise like this many years ago. And I will tell you that the life that I painted for myself really had no resemblance to the life that I was living at that time.
Fast forward about 10 years, I am living that life for the most part. And so happy to have a conversation with you about why that is or how I think that happened. And if you go to the website, that landing page, I explain a little bit of why I think it works the way it does. But I think you’re going to find both it’s very insightful as to what you really want and two, I think you’re going to find fascinating and gratifying that you can have that life even if it doesn’t look like your life today. Your work life today. So I encourage you to try both of those tools.
All right, so let me tell you about today’s episode. I have known Scott Ginsberg for many years. If you have heard of Scott, you have probably heard of Scott in relation to the fact that he is known as the nametag guy. So Scott for over 20 years has worn a nametag that says, “Hi, my name is Scott” on whatever he’s wearing. His shirt or whatever. Jacket. Over 20 years he’s been wearing this nametag. And he wears it every single day all day long. It’s not a shtick. It is just what he does. And we’re going to talk a little bit about why he started it and what he’s learned from it over the years and why he continues to do it. But Scott has worked in many agencies. He’s a prolific writer. He’s a creator. And I want to talk to him about his creation process. He’s written like 40 books and he’s … I don’t think he’s 40 yet. Maybe 40 but not much older than that. So he’s written 40 books. I think he’s put out 12 albums of his original music. He’s written thousands and thousands of articles.
One of the things I find fascinating about Scott is he speaks all over the world. You name a conference, he has spoken at the conference. He has never given the same speech twice. So that’s what kind of a creator he is. So I want to just tap into his process. How he does it, how he keeps his bucket full, how he has over his career encouraged other people to be great creators. So this is going to be a fun conversation. I think it’s going to be a high energy conversation. But I’m hoping it inspires you to think about how you and the agency create. And are there other ways to think about going about that work? All right. So without further ado, let’s just jump right into it because I’m excited to introduce you to him.
Scott, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.
My pleasure. I wish I could be there in Des Moines hanging out but this is going to have to do.
Yeah. I know. We were just saying before we hit the record button, it’s been a few years since we got to hang out together so I look forward to making that happen again soon.
Yeah. I know. I miss the Midwest being up here in New York. I don’t get back there as much as I’d like to and now that things are opening up I shall be back soon.
Yeah. And I get to New York fairly often so maybe I’ll return the favor and catch you in your home turf.
So let’s start with telling folks a little bit about you. I gave them a little sense of sort of that you’ve just created this prolific amount of business of guides and material over the years. But it’s all started with this notion of a nametag. Based on your website on the day you and I are recording it, you have been wearing your nametag for 7,489 days. So what’s up with that?
That’s 21 years for people who don’t like math. And it started out, like most things in college, a goofy experiment. A fun little joke that I was playing. Like yeah, let me leave this event that I’m at and leave my nametag on my shirt just for fun. See if I can say hi to some people. And it was pretty transformative immediately. Everybody was saying hi. All these cute girls were greeting me out of nowhere. I’m like, “Oh, this is awesome.” And so it kind of changed the dynamic of communication and I just … The first couple years of college were really lonely for me and I was struggling to figure out where I fit in, where I belonged and who my people were. And the nametag didn’t necessarily find that immediately but it did allow people to see me in a way I hadn’t been seen before and that was really powerful. So it just led to this chain reaction of sort of going viral on campus.
This is 2000 so this is before social media. Probably before Google existed. So viral in the very grassroots sense of the word. In terms of like over six months, people just say, “Hey, you’re the nametag guy.” And I’m like, “What the hell is going on? So crazy.” And I sort of started in earnest documenting kind of the stories and the observations, sort of nonscientific sociological field research and eventually published my first book which was called Hello, My Name is Scott. And that actually did go viral for real in terms of CNN, USA Today, all of that kind of stuff in 2002. And boy, that really blew things up. I’ve been riding my own coattails for the past 20 years since then.
It’s still working for you then. So part of what you discovered there with the nametag was it made you approachable. It made you accessible in way that even though you were dressed exactly the same, you looked exactly the same, people just felt like the nametag was a little bit of an invitation. And I know you spent a lot of time, not just looking at the nametag aspect of it but just thinking about the idea of approachability in business. So talk to me a little bit about sort of your take on that, its importance, how short of wearing a nametag we become more approachable. Because for a lot of our listeners, they’re trying every day to figure out how to connect with strangers who might be a prospect, might be a client and it starts with being approachable.
Yeah I think so. And there’s a couple ways to look at it. The word approachable comes from the Latin derivative which means to come nearer to. And I think that’s a really interesting way to frame it because think of all the things we want to come nearer too. So in your case for doing business development we want to come nearer to people would would potentially hire us to do agency work for them. So to come nearer to them it’s like okay, physically, do we have to come near to them? Great. How do we make that happen? Does that mean the way that I interact at an event out in the community? What can I do to physically be nearer to people? Which is kind of hard in the past year. But it also intellectually there’s a way to come nearer to people and certainly from a digital perspective, agencies are sort of known for having the cobbler’s kid syndrome where they’re really good at building brands and generating materials for their clients but when it comes to their own blog they have two posts and they’re from 2012.
So painful. So painful.
I’ve worked at a variety of agencies over the years and I’ve struggled with that. Like, “Guys, what are you doing? We have to do this.” So that’s another way that you become approachable, certainly digitally, by sharing your worldview and your philosophy and letting people know hey, here’s what we think about this and here’s what we believe, here’s some stuff that we’ve done. That’s another way. It’s sort of a nametag in that way of getting to be more approachable that’s equally as effective as a sticker.
Yeah. As you got out of college and all of the sudden you’re the nametag guy which is sort of how you’re known even today, what prompted you to decide to create content? Because you have created a ridiculous amount of content. You’ve written dozens and dozens of books. You’ve written all kinds of eBooks and blog posts and articles and music. It’s like every genre of creation you have done. So what A, prompted you to sort of ahead of the curve … Before content marketing was a thing you were a content marketer. What made you think that was the path? And then how in the world do you create at the volume and quality level? Because it’s not just that you create volume. Every one of your books is well received. It’s popular. People are sharing it with each other. So it’s not that you’re just writing crap. You’re creating great content but at a volume that most people can’t imagine.
Thank you. So two different questions here. The first one in terms of being ahead of the curve, I happen to not like the word content. I try to avoid using it at all possibility. Despite the fact that my day job at a startup is head of content. I don’t love that term. And I think it’s because I have been a writer and a creative person my whole life. So I was born in 1980 just for the people who want to know my age. So at the very early part of my life growing up in the ’80s, I was already writing stuff and I was aways making music and doing various projects. So there was never this decision on my part from a career strategy where it’s like okay, I’m going to be the content guy. It was already a forgone conclusion since a very early age that I was already doing this. I started writing music when I was 12 or so and then all the other stuff sort of came into play.
So pre nametag, pre “content marketing” as a job title, I was already doing this stuff. So to me it was certainly validating to see that the world … Like, “Oh, oh, this is a thing that can make you money and that can help grow your brand.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah. No shit guys. I’ve been doing this my whole life. Like let’s go. Let’s everybody get on board now.” It’s a little different now. It’s 2021 so content marketing has come a long way in the past, I’ll say five to 10 to 15 years. And the secret’s out now and the algorithms and the AI are working overtime doing things that I probably will never be able to do and I’m okay with that. But, it has been an extension of my personality and my true self my whole life. So there was never a decision to do it. Although, knowing that people hire for this kind of thing, I certainly had to be strategic on letting people know this is my specialty.
So again, you’re a kid. You’re a writer by sort of habit and sort of by calling. Again, started with music. You could have written a lot of things. You could have written murder mysteries. You could have written romance novels. You could have written plays. What drove you to create business content as opposed to something else?
Yeah. The short answer to the question is, that’s what people were buying. I wrote my first book … I started writing it when I was 21-ish. So I didn’t have business experience. I didn’t have the years or decades of experience that most people have when they write their first book. I didn’t have that. I just had a story. I had some ideas. But in terms of focusing on business, I knew that’s where the money was and I knew … Got to go back to 2002, 2003. I knew that there were conferences every day all around the world and they needed people who wrote books and who did seminars and trainings and all this kind of stuff. And I’m like well, that’s what I’m going to do. And just kind of a fun story. So in terms of approachability which we talked about earlier, I had kind of like my personal philosophy about being approachable. But in order to market it effectively to, say large companies, conferences who need speakers, et cetera, what I had to do was figure out the type of language they would use that I probably don’t know because at the time I don’t have corporate experience.
So what I did is I started using very early Google stuff. But even on very early proto Google website what I would do is I would kind of reverse engineer it. And I would say okay, there are probably three 60 evaluations for leaders. There must be some sort of survey that companies are doing to find out if you’re not approachable. Because there must be some literature out there. And sure enough there was some stuff out there. So it’s like let’s say some psychologist from UCLA in 2005 said, “Okay, here’s the 50 question inventory that you give your CEO of giant company X and then if they get a 20 or below, they need some help with their approachability so they can be a better leader.” Great. All that stuff’s already been done. So I go there and I go, “Ah, okay. So let me reverse engineer this. If these are the 50 things that you need to get better at, I can help take my ideas and filter them through that using the words and lexicon that are going to help me get booked.” And sure enough, it worked.
Well, one of the things that’s interesting about you, and again, it gets back to how you create content in a different way. One of the things you are known for and one of the things you market about your speaking career is that you never give the same speech twice. So talk to us about that. Because most speakers have three or four canned speeches. And they might pepper in some stories about the specific business but for the most part it’s the same speech.
Right. It was something that I realized that I was starting to do more and more. Certainly the first dozen or so speeches I don’t know what I was doing. But once I had enough material … If I’m say 27 years old at this point, I don’t know, 15 years ago, I had several books to my name. And I’m like, “Okay, well I have so much material to pick from. I’m fortunate that I’ve written so much so why give the same speech twice? Why not carousel in these different modules that I have and try stuff out?” So the strategy of positioning myself as a performer who never did the same show twice, that was sort of a downstream effect of someone who wrote a lot. One of the reasons people who do public presentations are sort of always rehashing the same speech is because they don’t write.
My mentor is a baptist preacher which means he had to write a new sermon every week. So when Bill Jenkins, my mentor, when he would sit down with me and help me go over stuff I would realize oh, so for 50 years you’ve been having a new sermon. You had to give a new speech every week because it’s the same parishioners. And I’m like well, I’m not running a church but I like that idea. I like that forced savings account of like all right well, I got to write for five hours every single day. It’s not all going to be good but there’s going to be enough here where I can keep cycling in new stuff so that way somebody wants to hire me they can hire me again, one, two, five years from now.
And one of the things I find interesting about your career path is, all these books you’ve written and all these other things, you weren’t sitting around in your apartment just writing all day. You had a day gig and you were doing this around a full-time job. So how does someone … Because again, this is a constant challenge inside agencies is yes, as you said, they can create content for their clients but the well runs dry or they run out of time. And again, it’s the cobbler’s children have no shoes. So how did you avoid all of that? Because you could have used any of those excuses to not write.
Yeah. And one of the ways to think about it is to change your relationship with time. And so forgive me if I get Einsteinian but this is a really helpful way to think about it. So if you want to have sort of a time abundance you have to realize okay, I work in an agency, there are so many hours in the day. I have meetings. I’m on a billable hour system where I have to satisfy my client’s brief. So you have to figure out, if I can’t add time and if I can’t steal time from the crowded day by doing a 30 minute instead of the 60 minute lunch, what you have to do is try to compress time. And you have to think about, where are the interactions already happening where I’m already doing these things that I’m doing, where all I really have to do is take notes? What … Already going to be doing that could later be turned into something? So here’s a good example. Years ago I was working at an agency as head of content and we had I’ll say 10 to 12 people on the account side and then a variety of other people doing media and creative.
And I told them like, “Hey, I’m just going to show up on your phone calls. I won’t even talk. You won’t even know I’m there. But I’m just going to hang out and listen and take notes and write stuff down. And then when you’re done if you could give me like five minutes after the call, I’ll show you some of the stuff we wrote.” And people were amazed at not only how smart they were and the incredible insights that they had. When you’re rattling off digital marketing numbers you don’t realize you’re that good. I’m not a digital marketing guy so when people are like waxing poetic on performance marketing, they don’t realize how insightful it is. And I’m like, “Ooh, that was really good what you said there. And then when the client said that, that was good.” It became this back forth that the serendipity of an office environment enabled for us. And so the content generation is actually really easy because we could kill two birds with one stone as long as someone was willing to take some extra time to document it.
Yeah. Interesting. And so you’re doing that all day on the agency’s behalf and then you’re creating content on your own. So was that a no sleep? Was that a write all weekend? How did you bake all that in?
It’s definitely not a no sleep thing and it’s definitely not a write all weekend. Look, one of my favorite stories is when Einstein was working at the patent office six days a week and he came up with the Theory of Relativity. I love that idea because here’s someone that knew, okay, I got to satisfy my responsibilities from say whatever, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. But he built in this extra time to do the work he needed to do. I’m really grateful that I’ve over the years now built a system that is portable. So let’s say I have my first meeting at 11:00. Okay. I’ve got to do some stuff before that to get ready. But I may know that between 12 and 12:30 I’ve got a great little pocket right there where I don’t have an immediate responsibility. I always have something that I’m writing and I always have my ideas in my queue in my inventory ready to go. And I think the word inventory is really important because one of that reasons people don’t take that time to write is because nobody wants to start from scratch and nobody wants to face the blank canvas. I haven’t faced a blank canvas in 20 years because my inventory is so strong.
So I have just my list of files, my list of ideas very organized and very neat. So if I’m thinking about a topic, say like resilience. Maybe it’s been a tough week at the company and resilience has been on my mind. I just type that word in my inventory and then I got 500 potential avenues I can go to write about it. And that allows me to get my operating temperature for writing up way quicker. Whereas people will be sitting there for 28 minutes like what the hell should I write about and then write for two minutes. I’m the opposite. I’ll write for 28 minutes and then spend two editing because the system is in place and I don’t need to get up at three in the morning. I don’t need to stay up all night because it’s a nice organized, relaxed way to do it.
So really you’re a curator first and then the curation leads to better writing.
I think that’s a really good way of putting it. To me, writing and reading are the same thing. It’s on the same continuum. I don’t know how much I read, I don’t know how much I write, but it’s a lot and it’s all the same. One of the first things I do every morning after I’ve done like journaling and all of the usual personal development things that Tim Ferriss says we should do, I do all that. And then I always take time … I don’t know. Probably 10 minutes is probably all it takes. 10, 15 minutes. I always transcribe my notes from the day before. So whatever I’m reading, and I’m always reading something, I go to my Kindle Cloud Reader which is just the greatest invention of all time. Because all your highlights from your Kindle reading from the day before are right there so I go onto it and then I transcribe it. I literally write word for word the other people’s words just to practice writing, get warmed up and get my inventory built up. So that way anything that I read from the day before it is documented, it is cited and quoted so that way I’m not stealing. And then I use that just as inspiration to be ready to rock and roll when I’m ready to do my own stuff.
Yeah. I know very few writers that are not prolific readers. And I’m like you, for me, those were two skills or habits … They’re probably both. That I just had from the time I was a kid. I didn’t know I was developing career skills. I was just reading and writing because that’s what I did. And so one of the things I worry about with, if you will, the younger employees, then newer generation is, it seems like they don’t consume content. So they don’t read the same way we do. And so I wonder is, how did they curate? So you’ve supervised content departments many times. How do you instill that reading, writing symbiotic relationship in your employees if they say to you, “I don’t read books.”?
And I say that’s okay because reading is just one way to do it. Actually, I don’t use those terms. I use the terms inhaling and exhaling. And I mean that in a yoga sense of the word, not a drug sines of the word. Although, people can do whatever they want. I’ve worked at enough agencies.
That’s right. We don’t judge.
Absolutely. So inhaling and exhaling and that’s the way you have to think about it. So I live in New York. People for the most part are commuting to work on the subway. I mean not recently but historically.
They’ll get back to it. Yep.
So your average commute time in New York is somewhat significant so it’s like great. Most likely if you’re a millennial or gen Z you’re probably going to be listening to podcasts or you might even be watching recorded episodes on your phone on the train. Great. That’s inhaling. Everything there is valuable and there’s good stuff that you can glean from. So you may not have read a book in the past four years. I don’t care. If you’ve watched … The average person watches 30 hours minimum of television a week. That bothers me but if that’s the only way people inhale, okay. I’ve watched enough TV to know there’s some brilliant stuff out there so like you better be taking notes or you better at least be getting your brain going because there’s no right or wrong way to inhale but the way that the human lungs work, you can’t exhale if you haven’t inhaled first so think of it that way.
Right. So I want to take a quick break and then I want to ask you about your curation system. So you say it’s super organized. You type it in. So I just want to hear a little bit about that. But then I want to talk about ways that we can help our team members, our creatives typically whether they’re in a content or a traditional creative department, how we can help them do their job better. So let’s take a quick break and then I want to talk about your curation system.
Hey there. Do you have an up and comer inside your agency who’s become like your right hand person? How are you investing in them? Who are they surrounding themselves with and who are they learning from? You might be interested in taking a look at our Key Executive Network. It’s built to help you groom leaders in your agency. It’s designed to surround them with other AMI taught agency leaders and it’s facilitated by one of AMI’s top coaches, Craig Barnes. They meet twice a year and they stay connected in between meetings with calls, Zoom get togethers and email. AMI agency owners call it one of the best professional development investments they’ve ever made. Head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and look under the membership tab for Key Executive Network. All right, let’s get back to the interview.
All right, we’re back and we are talking about inhaling and exhaling and how we have to take something in to produce something in an outward way. So you were talking earlier before we took the break about how you in essence catalog your notes, your thinking, whatever you have taken in through a book or whatever medium you’ve taken it in. How do you keep that organized? What does that look like?
Okay. I used this term before but I think of it as inventory. I find that to be really helpful for me. My father spent 40 years of his career in the logistics wholesaling business so I always visited his warehouse and I like the idea of a warehouse. So that’s the way I think about it. I have a warehouse of ideas. And this warehouse I have been building since day one for the past 20 years. In terms of building it, I think there’s a couple best practices that I’ve found to be really successful. Number one is, you’ve got to add to the warehouse every single day. It’s not hard to do. You don’t need that much but there should be at least a couple things that you’ve learned, discovered, read, inhaled, whatever. And you got to be adding those. It just has to be part of your job even if it’s five minutes a day.
The second thing I want to recommend to people is to find a way to cross reference your ideas in your warehouse so that way they’re easily searchable. For example, I have a pretty basic MacBook laptop right here so in the morning let’s say … I’ll give you an example. Yesterday I was reading a book about the history of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Highly recommend it. And I was transcribing my notes from that. So on that let’s say there is a sentence that Jon Stewart said that was very interesting and I highlight that. Okay cool. So then I’m going to type that on a document. Brand new document. I’m going to just put one sentence on the documen