An Interview with Dan Ginsberg, Former CEO of Red Bull North America

I wanted to start off with a little bit of your background career-wise: where your from, how you started.

So you know, I’m an east coast kid, a Jersey boy through and through. And in terms of my professional career, I’m now what I would call a “fallen away ad guy”. I was in the Ad Agency business. I joined an agency at some point and met a guy who was much better than I was. We partnered and then we had our own show for a long time, our own agency. We had a great time, but he decided at some point that the agency business had worn him down and he wanted to leave. Shortly thereafter, it stopped being as much fun for me because he was gone, I had an opportunity to flip to the brand side: to go and do a turnaround of one of the brands of an open company of which we had a different brand as a client. So I moved to North Carolina, did a turnaround of Hardee’s which was eventually sold to the Carl’s Jr. Restaurant company, and then returned. Then I, to make a long story short,  teamed up at Red Bull and had the great privilege of eventually being the C.E.O of Red Bull North America which furthered my client side, my brand side, and enabled me to develop my leadership skills.

Many people were caught off guard by their (Red Bull’s) marketing strategy, Did you feel the same way? 

Well first of all, I have to give props to the Europeans who started the brand. They had a feel for the brand first in Central Europe, and they exported that here. We then took what they gave us and we made it work in the United States. We expanded the understanding of that strategy and made it work in the US. Secondly, I have to give major props to the team that was assembled at Red Bull North America because, hands-down, it was the greatest team you could imagine. Everybody worked in concert. Everybody understood the brand.  We taught Red Bull College and we made sure that everyone understood it. So if you asked anybody on the team, anywhere in the country questions about the brand, you got the same response. 

It sounds like culture played a large role in the efficacy of being able to get people aligned on board. Would you agree with that?

Everyone was all about the courage of the brand, and the relationship that we wish to build with a consumer and making sure that everything was about our one-to-one relationship with the consumer. I think a Red Bull has taken experiential to the nth degree, to a whole nother level. Whether it was one of the major properties that we produced, or whether it was just building a rail on a mountain that otherwise didn’t exist for the five ski fanatics at a University in New England so that they could use it so that they could love the brand and that they could spread the word, it’s all about the relationship between the brand and the consumer, establishing the relationship that is impenetrable by the 300 plus competitors that we had come along. 

What you’re talking about is counter-intuitive, but you were selecting quality over quantity. Is that fair to say?

We selected experience over quantity and we were fortunate that we didn’t have to get a return of sale on the event at that moment because we had the courage to believe that that experience with those consumers would eventually translate not only to a one-to-one return on our investment, but a multiple on the investment. Again, and I’ll say it over and over, the glue between the consumer and the brand was so sticky as a result of those experiences that they wanted to be seen with that can. 

Technology is also employed by successful brands that have strong relationships with their audience. With a lot of companies worshipping at the altar of data these days there’s a lot of dialogue that’s pulling away from that one-on-one relationship or looking to just try to establish a relationship strictly through digital means. Do you think there is still, in 2019, value in that space… in the real world?

I do, but I just want to be clear, that I also value data because I believe, as I said earlier, that you need to listen. Look I don’t know anything, but I believe the consumer knows a lot. You need to understand how to ask the question.  So, if you use the data that is now available to better craft that conversation it’s available for you. At the end of the day, you need to interpret that data for the consumer, for the messaging for the consumer. 

Neither is creative an answer unto itself. We’ve all seen it done: a super cool campaign that just doesn’t relate to the brand properly and is not believable and the consumer just passes on it. They might laugh. They might get emotional about it, but they don’t relate it to that brand so it falls flat. 

Who are the brands out there right now that you think are setting the standard for creating meaningful relationships with their audiences?

I’ll give you a smaller brand, not too small but not a behemoth. A smaller brand that’s growing is Allbirds. I think their tweets are super clever. I think they understand who their consumer is and what their lifestyle is and they’re trying to sustain that relationship with their consumer. They’re being very clever about it. And I imagine, I don’t know them personally, but I imagine they’re growing wildly.

Not only are expectations evolving with Innovation and technology and other things, there’s also the fact that the audience is playing a role in the development of the  product and the service offering through real-time feedback and peer review. Do you see that as a good thing?

Yeah it’s great. User-generated everything is great. It’s the collabs you see with women’s fashion and apparel and in other product categories. I think consumers want products that fit and enhance their lifestyle. When you talk about user-generated, it goes back to what I was talking about earlier: Listening to the consumer and then shaping your messaging so that they can hear you, speaking in a language that they can hear. 

I’m not a big believer in 13-page manifestos but I do think everyone should agree that this is our purpose and it’s a good purpose and it’s a purpose that aligns with me as an individual and part of the collective and it sounds like that’s the team that you were able to assemble on more than one occasion. I believe, clarity, and simplicity allows us to know who we are. then it’s up to the clients or customers to align with that. That’s much easier to do when they know exactly who you are and what you stand for. 

That’s where leadership comes in. I know we’re not talking about leadership, but the people who work on the team whether you know it or not, they’re looking at you. They’re watching everything you’re doing. When there are people, for one reason or another, who are not buying in or not pulling their weight or not on board, believe me everyone is watching what you’re doing about it. Those are the moves that make a great shop.

Between you and I, I’m more of a team player so that’s something I’ve had to learn. I assume when everyone sits in my office that we’re equals. You hurt and I hurt. Your ideas are just as valuable as mine. But sometimes you have to own that sort of responsibility in that relationship.

They love you for what you just said. That’s why your guys have always loved you but make no mistake about it they want somebody to make the call.

Listen dude, I’ve never been the smartest in the room and I know it. I celebrate that and I use the talent that’s in the room and you can print it. I know that I am not the smartest guy in the room, and I’m fine with it, because I figured out how to utilize the talent that surrounds me.

Well I value your talent, your intelligence, your demeanor, all of it. and our friendship as well. I’m looking forward to another breakfast on the Westside soon.