The Creationists

Creative Advertising with Terry O'Reilly

July 22, 2020 Steve Waxman Season 2 Episode 2
The Creationists
Creative Advertising with Terry O'Reilly
Chapters
The Creationists
Creative Advertising with Terry O'Reilly
Jul 22, 2020 Season 2 Episode 2
Steve Waxman

Thanks to his massively popular CBC program, Under The Influence, Terry O’Reilly has become one of Canada's most recognizable ad men. He has been a director and copywriter and has run his own multi award-winning agency as well as having written the books The Age of Persuasion and This I Know. And, his Under The Influence podcast has over 30 million downloads. What I’m trying to tell you is that when it comes to advertising, Terry O’Reilly knows what he’s talking about.

The Creationists is a podcast about creativity wherever it might be found.  Advertisements are one of the most visible forms of creativity in our everyday lives. So, I reached out to Terry to take us through the creative process of developing an ad campaign. We started with one of the most successful of his career, the campaign that helped the NHL’s Hockey Hall of Fame launch their interactive games exhibit.

Steve Waxman: What is the biggest mistake clients make when they come in to talk to an agency?

Terry O’Reilly: Well, that’s a very multi-layered question. I think not handing the agency and real strategic material to work with. It all begins and ends with whatever the product or service is that is being advertised and not handing the agency anything interesting to work with.  But I think the bigger sin is really not wanting creativity. Not wanting bold ideas. And expressing that in the meeting.  The best clients I ever had were the ones that said “Give me a big idea. Make my palms sweat.”  And those were the clients, in fact, that we did that with. We came back with big ideas.  They recognized them.  They approved them.  The bad clients think that creativity is quirky and wonky and that creativity gets in the way of the message. These are the clients that think that all you have to do is clearly state your proposition, put it in a commercial, put it out there, people will absorb it and run out to buy something. Which never happens.

Creative people make the assumption that no one listens to advertising. If you make that your starting point then you’ll make something interesting because creativity gets a foot in the door. And if someone is enamoured with the creativity of a commercial they might be willing to sit through that commercial and then we can get to the selling proposition. So creativity is amplification. Without creativity, it’s like giving a speech to a stadium without a microphone. Only the first couple of rows will hear you.  But, if you add creativity to the message, it’s like being amplified throughout the entire stadium and you have a much greater chance of getting most of that audience to listen to you.

Steve Waxman: So then, what is the biggest mistake agencies make?

To read the full transcript, please visit imstevewaxman.com

Terry O’Reilly has just finished his 15th season on the CBC and in addition to producing shows for his Apostrophe podcast network, he’s now writing his third book. If you’re interested in advertising or marketing, I highly recommend listening to his Under The Influence podcast. You should also take the time to listen to Apostrophe’s latest, We Regret To Inform You: The Rejection Podcast which tells stories of adversity that people like Jay-Z, Lady Gaga and Stephen King had to go through before achieving their successes. If you want to find out more about Terry and Apostrophe please visit terryoreilly.ca

To see more materials related to each episode of The Creationists, follow @thecreationistspodcast on Instagram or "Like" The Creation podcast on Facebook. Let us know who you’d like to be featured on future episodes of The Creationists: [email protected] 

Show Notes Transcript

Thanks to his massively popular CBC program, Under The Influence, Terry O’Reilly has become one of Canada's most recognizable ad men. He has been a director and copywriter and has run his own multi award-winning agency as well as having written the books The Age of Persuasion and This I Know. And, his Under The Influence podcast has over 30 million downloads. What I’m trying to tell you is that when it comes to advertising, Terry O’Reilly knows what he’s talking about.

The Creationists is a podcast about creativity wherever it might be found.  Advertisements are one of the most visible forms of creativity in our everyday lives. So, I reached out to Terry to take us through the creative process of developing an ad campaign. We started with one of the most successful of his career, the campaign that helped the NHL’s Hockey Hall of Fame launch their interactive games exhibit.

Steve Waxman: What is the biggest mistake clients make when they come in to talk to an agency?

Terry O’Reilly: Well, that’s a very multi-layered question. I think not handing the agency and real strategic material to work with. It all begins and ends with whatever the product or service is that is being advertised and not handing the agency anything interesting to work with.  But I think the bigger sin is really not wanting creativity. Not wanting bold ideas. And expressing that in the meeting.  The best clients I ever had were the ones that said “Give me a big idea. Make my palms sweat.”  And those were the clients, in fact, that we did that with. We came back with big ideas.  They recognized them.  They approved them.  The bad clients think that creativity is quirky and wonky and that creativity gets in the way of the message. These are the clients that think that all you have to do is clearly state your proposition, put it in a commercial, put it out there, people will absorb it and run out to buy something. Which never happens.

Creative people make the assumption that no one listens to advertising. If you make that your starting point then you’ll make something interesting because creativity gets a foot in the door. And if someone is enamoured with the creativity of a commercial they might be willing to sit through that commercial and then we can get to the selling proposition. So creativity is amplification. Without creativity, it’s like giving a speech to a stadium without a microphone. Only the first couple of rows will hear you.  But, if you add creativity to the message, it’s like being amplified throughout the entire stadium and you have a much greater chance of getting most of that audience to listen to you.

Steve Waxman: So then, what is the biggest mistake agencies make?

To read the full transcript, please visit imstevewaxman.com

Terry O’Reilly has just finished his 15th season on the CBC and in addition to producing shows for his Apostrophe podcast network, he’s now writing his third book. If you’re interested in advertising or marketing, I highly recommend listening to his Under The Influence podcast. You should also take the time to listen to Apostrophe’s latest, We Regret To Inform You: The Rejection Podcast which tells stories of adversity that people like Jay-Z, Lady Gaga and Stephen King had to go through before achieving their successes. If you want to find out more about Terry and Apostrophe please visit terryoreilly.ca

To see more materials related to each episode of The Creationists, follow @thecreationistspodcast on Instagram or "Like" The Creation podcast on Facebook. Let us know who you’d like to be featured on future episodes of The Creationists: [email protected] 

Thanks to his massively popular CBC program, Under The Influence, Terry O’Reilly has become one of Canada's most recognizable ad men. He has been a director and copywriter and has run his own multi award-winning agency as well as having written the books The Age of Persuasion and This I Know. And, his Under The Influence podcast has over 30 million downloads. What I’m trying to tell you is that when it comes to advertising, Terry O’Reilly knows what he’s talking about.


The Creationists is a podcast about creativity wherever it might be found.  Advertisements are one of the most visible forms of creativity in our everyday lives. So, I reached out to Terry to take us through the creative process of developing an ad campaign. We started with one of the most successful of his career, the campaign that helped the NHL’s Hockey Hall of Fame launch their interactive games exhibit.


Terry O’Reilly: I’m going to back you up one beat because this is such an interesting story. For years, I did the advertising for Black’s Photography and the Director of Marketing was Brian Black, who was the son of one of the two founders. We did a lot of great work together and then Black’s got sold and Brian moved on and I hadn’t heard from Brian for years. One day, I’m driving to work and I’m driving by the Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto and I think to myself ‘You know, I would love to advertise the Hockey Hall of Fame,’ because all of my heroes are in there.  I love old time hockey.  What a great product that would be to advertise.  And then I just filed that thought and went to work. 


The next day I got a call from Brian Black and, as I said, I hadn’t talked to him for years. He calls me up and I say “Brian, that’s just the funniest thing you’re calling me because I wondered where you were a couple of days ago and where you ended up,” and, by the way, I had thought about him a couple of days prior and then I had the Hockey Hall of Fame moment and then Brian calls me. And Brian says “Yeah, I thought that I would reach out and touch base because I’m the Director of Marketing for the Hockey Hall of Fame.” And I said “That is just the craziest thing because I was thinking about you separately and then I thought about the Hockey hall of Fame yesterday and then you call me today”.  I mean, what goes on in the universe that all those dots could connect? It really was one of the most interesting moments in my career as far as the serendipity of getting back in touch with somebody and thinking that you’d like to do work with a product and then the product lands on your desk.  So Brian says “Here’s the problem we’re having at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Everybody that’s inducted in the Hall of Fame is retired and that means that kids are not interested in them. Kids are only interested in current hockey players. And, if kids don’t want to come, dads won’t come. So, we’re starting to lose some of our audience. So, the advertising task is to try and get kids to visit the Hall and bug their dads or their moms to bring them to the Hall. And,” he said, “We’re going to do something to help that.  We’re going to build a big exhibit room that has a lot of fun, interactive games that kids will love.” And there was a whole slew of games that they brought in. Digital games.  Being in net while pucks come flying at you. Just a lot of interactive games. So, that was the task - come up with a television commercial that was interesting and got a lot of attention and advertised this new interactive display that would attract kids. 


I had some great writers.  We worked on an idea and the writers came up with this wonderful notion - and you can find the spot on YouTube, by the way it’s called “Puck Sandwich”.  So, a guy walks up, it’s a locked off camera, and he stares right at the camera as if he’s looking at something and then he looks down and he puts a coin in a machine and stands there, waiting for something to happen. And then, a couple of seconds later, a puck hits him in the face. Then another puck.  Then another puck. And then 5 or 6 pucks knock him in the face.  Another puck knocks his glasses off. And then 4 or 5 more pucks hit him in the face.  And then it stops and he laughs his head off and pushes the button to do it again. And then you hear a voice say “Welcome to the Johnny Bower exhibit.” And then there was a montage of all of the games in the interactive display. The spot then ends with the line “The Hockey hall of fame.  It’s so much fun you won’t know what hit you.” So that was the idea.  If you watch the spot, it’s really funny.  The actor in it, his reaction to getting hit in the face by the pucks - they were rubber pucks and we added sound effects of hard pucks which was really funny. 


I went to present it to Brian Black and he liked it.  So, then I was asked to come in and present it to the rest of his team. They hated it. The biggest criticism was ‘we don’t have that exhibit.’ I said to them that it doesn’t matter that you don’t have it.  This is just a fun commercial that opens the door to the rest of the attractions that you do have. This is just an idea stopper.  This is to get people to watch the commercial. But they weren’t sure so they had me come back a second time and present it to a few more people at the Hall. And they were also concerned. And then they asked me to come back a third time and to present it to the higher brass at the Hockey Hall of Fame.  They were concerned. Then they got me back again to present it to the Chief Executive Officer of the Hockey Hall of Fame who was Scotty Morrison, the ex-referee in chief of the NHL.  And Scotty, who I had never met before, was a really lovely man. I presented the commercial to him.  I said “It’s just fun. We want to sell fun.  I know that you don’t have a Johnny Bower exhibit but this commercial is fun and I think that it will get kid’s attention and the rest of the commercial is all about your interactive display and I think it will work.” And Scotty said “You know what, let’s do it.” So Brian Black, who loved it from the beginning and the CEO gave us the blessing. 


So, we went away and filmed it and I had to get it all in one take.  When you see the commercial, it’s all one take. You had to get the magic take which we got on take five.  It happened pretty quickly. We put the commercial out there and an interesting thing started to happen. Kids started showing up at the Hall of Fame before the doors opened at 9 o’clock. Then bus loads of kids from schools started showing up at the Hockey Hall of Fame. It became the most successful commercial that the Hockey Hall of Fame ever did. It brought in kids by the bus loads. And when kids came, they brought their dads.  They brought their moms. And the Hockey Hall of Fame’s revenue chart just spiked north. So, in hindsight it was interesting.  That was the hardest sell I think I ever made in my career.  I don’t think I ever really ever had to present a commercial five or six times to five or six different groups within one company.  Usually you’ll have two or three presentations.  Not five or six. So, it was one of the hardest sells I ever had but one of the biggest successes we ever had.


Steve Waxman: I want to get back to the creative room in just a second but I do want to ask, with regards to your presentations, how theatrical are you in presentations like this when you’re trying to convince people that it’s the right idea?


Terry O’Reilly: I believe that presentations are theatre and I was taught that by my mentor many years ago. Early in my career, I would present in a very business-like manner. I would present scripts like I figured  a business man across the table would want to see another business man.  So, I would sit there and just read the scripts and try to have a responsible conversation about them. And my batting average was pretty low. And then, occasionally in my early career, I would lose myself in the presentation. I would get up.  I would start acting. I would stand on the chair. I would get right into it.  I would literally lose myself in the presentation - just get so absorbed in the presentation. And I started to notice that every time I did that, I sold the spot. So, I slowly started to see a correlation between being theatrical in the boardroom and my batting average. And then I was lucky enough to work for a great creative director early in my career named Trevor Goodgoll who was a magnificent presenter. And he really took me to the next level on how theatrical a presentation should be because he believed that it wasn’t just theatrics. It was trying to get the client to feel the commercial before it’s shot.  Because if you're just pointing to a storyboard, it’s pretty flat. Or, if you’re just reading a radio script, it’s pretty flat unless you act it out - unless you literally bring emotion, theatrics and energy to the presentation. And then they start to feel the spot in their bones and if they get excited about it, then they’ll approve it. So, I’m very theatrical in presentations.  I know that sounds superficial and I don’t mean it to be. I just literally act out the commercials.


Steve Waxman: And, is that what you did in this case?


Terry O’Reilly: Absolutely! You had to because it was a locked-off camera.  I mean, the story board was a single frame. And the final spot that you’ll see on YouTube, the actor was so good in it that it became better than what I thought it could be, actually, because of his great reaction.  And then, when his glasses go flying, that was a complete mistake.  We never thought that his glasses would go flying off but that was, maybe, one of the best moments in the commercial. And the other thing I want to say about this commercial is that the NHL started to play it during games in arenas across North America. The Hall of Fame would put these on the big screens in arenas and stadiums and the crowds would go crazy. They would just go crazy when that spot aired.  Even in sports bars, we were told - you know how loud a sports bar is - that commercial would come on and the bar would go silent. They’d watch the whole commercial and then explode in laughter. So, we were getting all of this incredible feedback from this little - and, I’m telling you, small budget locked off camera. It couldn’t be a more inexpensive television commercial but the creativity, the idea was just so funny, so right for that brief that it took off like wildfire.


Steve Waxman: Can you take us into that creative meeting when that idea finally hit the wall and you guys realized that this was the one that you wanted to pitch? I’m really curious as to how the conversation goes around the room when you come in and say “The Hockey Hall of Fame has these interactive games.  They want to bring people in.  They want to excite kids.”


Terry O’Reilly:  That was the basic premise. The starting point was ‘What would be the silliest, most outrageous interactive game we could think of’. And, eventually, that made its way around to the Johnny Bower exhibit - that someone would put a coin in a machine and just get pummeled with pucks and then want to do it again. It was just a silly representation of how fun and interactive exhibits would be at the Hockey Hall of Fame. We had lots of ideas too.  We had another idea that had nothing to do with interactivity, just on our creative exploration.  We had an idea where Eddie Shack, who was, back in the day a Maple Leaf who was a real showman - he would scream as he skated down the ice with the puck.  He was a real showboat but he’s not in the Hockey Hall of Fame. So one of our ideas was Eddie Shack standing in line at the Hockey Hall of Fame saying ‘The only way Eddie Shack is going to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame is if he buys a ticket. We had lots of fun ideas on the way to the Johnny Bower exhibit.


Steve Waxman: Just to let you know, you and I are of the same era. You’re about seven months older than me.


Terry O’Reilly: Okay. So, you get the reference points.


Steve Waxman: Oh, absolutely.


Terry O’Reilly: By the way, Johnny Bower loved the commercial. The Hockey Hall of Fame did this wonderful thing for me.  They invited me to their box at a Blue Jays game one night. Shortly after this thing had become this roaring success.  They said ‘We want to thank you.  Come to the box. We’ll watch the game together with everyone at the Hockey Hall of Fame as just our way of saying thank you.’ I said, “That’s fabulous!” That night I went to the Blue Jays game and I made my way into the beautiful Hockey hall of Fame private box and they said ‘We have somebody here we want you to meet,’ and they took me to the people and there was Johnny Bower. And it was just one of those great moments for me because I grew up watching him.  I was such a huge fan of the Leafs back in the 60s and 70s. He couldn’t have been nicer and he loved the commercial.  So, it was just a wonderful thing.


Steve Waxman: That’s fantastic.  I’ve been reading your book, This I Know, and I’ve really been enjoying it. It’s really the kind of book I love getting into. I love reading about processes and, in particular, creative processes. I love reading musicians' autobiographies because I love to dig behind what led up to a song, what led up to an album, what led up to a career. There’s a couple of things in the book that I wanted to bring up. And maybe it goes back to this meeting. You play these ‘What if’ games with your writers. Can you talk about the ‘What if’ games that you bring into rooms and how they lead into creative ideas?


Terry O’Reilly: We would all sit around in the writing room and we would all pour over the brief either supplied directly by the client like the Hockey Hall of Fame or if an advertising agency had hired us to do some work for them. So we would pour over the brief looking for insights and looking for the key message and whatever else we can glean from the brief because I’m a huge believer in strategy. If you track the evolution of our radio show - this is my 15th season on CBC - the show started as an exploration of creativity because I was a creative guy my whole career. But it has very quickly morphed into a show about strategy. Because if you listen to the stories I tell, they’re really about how a company developed a business strategy and then how that impacted their business and then what the creative expression was of that strategy. So it really is about strategy and how strategies really are the load bearing walls of any advertising campaign. So, we would sit in the writing room and pour over the strategy looking for any insight. 


You don’t get many great strategies in the advertising business, by the way. It’s the big glaring hole in advertising that when I talk to students that do marketing classes in colleges and universities I always say to them ‘How many of you in the room want to get into the strategic side of advertising?’ Because we have a lot of creative people in advertising but what we need are more strategic thinkers that can come up with an advertising strategy that when it’s handed to the creative department, it sets them on fire. That as soon as you see the brief, you think ‘Oh! I cannot wait to get at this project’. That rarely happens.  Most briefs are pretty flat. Like, it will be ‘We sell one of the most competitively priced dishwashers and dryers in the business.’ That’ll be your brief and then, good grief, what am I going to do with that. So, we would sit in there and look over the brief for an insight and then we would really start to play ‘What if’ games. And that was the unfettered silliness I was referring to earlier. 


I really believe that in the early stages of developing an idea that there’s no such thing as a bad idea. We’ll have time vet them down the road. But, in the early stages of conceptualizing, I was a big believer in ‘Let your mind go wild.’ What if there was a duck in this commercial? What if we kidnapped dads and brought them to the Hockey Hall of Fame and took their blindfolds off? What if we had the biggest budget in the world? What would we do?  What if we could have a celebrity in this?  Who would it be? What if we could exhume dead hockey stars, who would we want in this commercial? So, we would just play the silliest, craziest thinking games to try to stimulate directions and ideas and created some creative friction in the room.  And somebody says ‘Yeah, maybe not that but what about this?’ Because if I say something to somebody, it triggers something in their mind that I never would have gotten to. And likewise, they’ll say something and I’ll say “Hey, what if it was this?” And one of those moments led to the Johnny Bower exhibit. What if we pummel some guy in the face with pucks in an interactive game?  It was just the silliness getting around to that idea.  So, the early stages, I believe, should be unfettered, unrestricted, not bound by reality, budget, deadlines, anything. It should just be a free-for-all brainstorming session.


Steve Waxman: What is the biggest mistake clients make when they come in to talk to an agency?


Terry O’Reilly: Well, that’s a very multi-layered question. I think not handing the agency and real strategic material to work with. It all begins and ends with whatever the product or service is that is being advertised and not handing the agency anything interesting to work with.  But I think the bigger sin is really not wanting creativity. Not wanting bold ideas. And expressing that in the meeting.  The best clients I ever had were the ones that said “Give me a big idea. Make my palms sweat.”  And those were the clients, in fact, that we did that with. We came back with big ideas.  They recognized them.  They approved them.  The bad clients think that creativity is quirky and wonky and that creativity gets in the way of the message. These are the clients that think that all you have to do is clearly state your proposition, put it in a commercial, put it out there, people will absorb it and run out to buy something. Which never happens.


Creative people make the assumption that no one listens to advertising. If you make that your starting point then you’ll make something interesting because creativity gets a foot in the door. And if someone is enamoured with the creativity of a commercial they might be willing to sit through that commercial and then we can get to the selling proposition. So creativity is amplification. Without creativity, it’s like giving a speech to a stadium without a microphone. Only the first couple of rows will hear you.  But, if you add creativity to the message, it’s like being amplified throughout the entire stadium and you have a much greater chance of getting most of that audience to listen to you.


Steve Waxman: So then, what is the biggest mistake agencies make?


Terry O’Reilly: I would say not being bold enough in the boardroom. Not pushing back. I gave a talk earlier this week, a virtual keynote to a conference and I said to them in my career, the first ten years I was a copywriter and for the next 25 years I was a director and creative director, and in that time I directed over 14,000 commercials so I have a front row seat to see how agencies react when clients push back on their ideas or push back on a great line in a recording session or a piece of music or whatever it might be. And 75% of the time agencies would just fold. They would push back a little but then they would just go with what the client wanted even if it was hamstringing the commercial. And I never understood that and I was never that guy. As a director I could only push so much but when it was our work, we would push hard. And we weren’t aggressive, we weren’t distasteful, we weren’t rude.  We were just very confident. And we wouldn’t back down when someone says ‘I don’t like it.’ We would say ‘tell us why’ and then we would try to bring their thinking around to why we think that this is the best spot.  We wouldn’t always win but our batting average was very high. We were bold in the boardroom and if you’re asking me where agencies fall down, as a rule, is that they don’t push back. They don’t stand their ground.


Steve Waxman: So, let’s wind it back then, now. Back beyond those 14,000 commercials and all of those years as a creative director and copywriter. Give us the story about your background. You were born in Sudbury I understand?


Terry O’Reilly: Right.


Steve Waxman: How did you get your interest in advertising?


Terry O’Reilly: I’m going to take you back to 1963. I’m four years old and I am on Romper Room. So, I’m on that show.  Do you remember that show? (Romper Room was a franchised television series geared toward preschoolers that ran from 1953 - 1994) 


Steve Waxman: Of course, I do.


Terry O’Reilly: So, one day, the director of Romper Room pulls my mom aside and says “Do you mind if we use Terry for a commercial we’re shooting in the next studio for a local bakery?” My mom says “Sure!” so they pull me out after Romper Room and they walk me across to another studio and there’s a table set up there with some bread and sandwiches.  And there’s an announcer standing there. And the director says “Terry, all you have to do is stand there and eat the sandwich while this wonder guy talks about Cecutti’s bakery and why their bread is so good.” So, I just looked at my mom and I said “Ok.” And then we did a couple of takes where I just stood there and ate my sandwich.  And then, on one take, I looked up at the announcer standing beside me and I said “Do I have to eat the crust?” A typical kid, right? I remember the director laughing off camera and then that was it.  He said “I love that.” And that became the commercial that ran in the Sudbury, Northern Ontario television stations in the early 60s for a long time.  The weird thing about that was I was four when I was in that commercial but it aired for probably 3 or 4 years so even as a seven year old I could sit at home and watch myself as a four year old on TV when that commercial popped up which was so strange. But, who knows.  That might have been the first little inkling of advertising in my psyche. That was this wonderful little opportunity and me being on television and how exciting that was.


I went into high school in Sudbury at Sudbury Secondary School and we were so lucky because we had a film and television course in grade 9 thru 13.  Full studio. All equipment. Unbelievable. We were so fortunate in a small mining town to have a fully fledged film and television course with all the equipment - cameras, switchers, lighting grids, everything. So, for five years I got to create film and TV shows and some of those TV shows got aired on the cable networks up there. So, when I realized that I loved that and I wanted to go study film and television I applied to Ryerson (Polytechnic school in Toronto) and when I went down for my interview, I had a reel. Most people applying to Ryerson were coming to it for the very first time.  I had a reel under my arm of television shows and films I had done. So my marks weren’t that great in my academic subjects but I had a reel and I got in. Here’s the funny part.  The first year was all radio which I really didn’t have any interest in. I actually thought that of the three years I was going to spend at Ryerson, why waste one doing radio. But I kind of started to like radio in that year.  It was kind of an epiphany to me. Second year was television.  Third year was film. Every Wednesday morning we would have a lecture class where somebody from the industry would come in and talk to us. We’d have documentary filmmakers, news readers, journalists, reporters, directors, actors come in and talk to us. One day, advertising people came in and talked about a life in advertising. Thy talked about coming up with ideas and strategies and working with actors and studios and recording studios and shooting on location and understanding products and psychology and human nature.  And I sat in the back of that room and I saw my future. I said ‘That’s what I want to do.’ 


So, when I got out of Ryerson, I sent out 60 resumes to advertising agencies right across the country. Most of which were in Toronto at that time.  Forty-five were in Toronto and fifteen were across the country. And I got back - true story - 61 rejection letters. One place, actually, rejected me twice. That’s how much they didn’t want me. And it was the recession in 1981 so it was hard to get a job. But I got lucky and got a job at a small radio station writing copy - being their only creative person. I didn’t want to be in a radio station. I liked radio but I wanted to be at an advertising agency doing all mediums. But, it was a job. So, I gladly took it and that’s where I truly fell in love with radio. The serendipity of life. And from there I just worked my way to other advertising agencies in Toronto and, eventually, co-founded my company in 1990.


Steve Waxman: Now, do you remember the first commercial that you directed?


Terry O’Reilly: Well, I would direct all of the commercials at the radio station but that was really local ads using the DJs. But, if you’re talking in the big leagues - that’s a very good question. What was the first thing I directed? I’m not sure I can remember that - what their product was.


Steve Waxman:  Do you remember your first award?


Terry O’Reilly: Yes... (pause)


Steve Waxman: (laughing) Oh, come on!


Terry O’Reilly: No, I do.  It was for a radio spot. I was working at my first big time agency called Campbell Ewald and that’s where I met my mentor Trevor Goodgall who I mentioned earlier. One of the first briefs they gave me was for a pillow made by DuPont.  It was called ‘quallofil’.  Instead of it being stuffed with down it was stuffed with soft fibres and being positioned as a much cheaper alternative. That was the brief and my partner and I came up with a commercial about plucking ducks. Which was kind of funny. Why pluck a duck when you can have a quallofil pillow. And we had a lot of fun.  We plucked a duck on the air which just sounded like Daffy Duck getting really annoyed. And that commercial became really popular and sold a ton of pillows for DuPont and ended up winning the Gold award at the Marketing Awards that year for the Best Radio Commercial.  That was during my very first year at the big agency so that was a wonderful, and still a thrilling, thing for me when I think back on that moment when it was announced.


Steve Waxman: I found it really interesting in the book when you talk about how awards are the currency for agencies rather than results with regards to the customers because the awards are the things that get you the next gig and tell people how good of an agency you are.


Terry O’Reilly: Well, it’s more the currency for the creative people than the agency. The problem in the advertising world is that there are a lot of factors that go into a sale. Advertising is just one. The rest of it is: how well is the product distributed, what is the shelf position, how many facings do you get in a grocery store, what’s the price point?  There’s a lot of things that get in the way of selling a product so it’s very hard to hang your hat on sales sometimes in advertising because so much of it is out of your control. So, in the advertising world creative people are judged more by the awards they win because - as superficial as that sounds it’s not that - advertising awards are really important because it keeps the industry on its toes. In other words, the best work gets awarded by your peers so that’s the work your aspire to as a creative person. So, it keeps all of the creative fires lit in the industry. It’s like The Oscars, when the best picture wins everyone looks at it and say ‘I want to make a picture that good one day.’ It’s the same thing.  And remember, advertising is a business of rejection. You will present ten ideas and have nine of them shot down every other day. You will be in meetings where people will turn down your work.  And it’s not just clients.  Your creative director might say ‘You’re not there yet.  I don’t like any of these ideas.’ Or the account service department might say ‘Yeah, these five ideas you’ve presented are fine but they’re strategically off the mark. And then you get to the client and the client says ‘I don’t like anything here.’ There’s a ton of rejection in the advertising business so the awards are just a little bit of calamine lotion for all of that. So award shows are important and they serve many purposes.


Steve Waxman: I would love to hear your thoughts on social media platforms and the opportunities they presented as they became more prevalent in our society.


Terry O’Reilly: I worry about social media.  I did in the beginning and I worry about it now for several reasons.  I love it.  I use social media extensively. The downside is that there’s a lot of nastiness on social media and a brand has to find its way through all of that. It’s got some tonal issues that everyone is fully aware of. The other thing that I worry about social media is that it’s a small increment of time as a rule and I think that time is a major factor in persuasion. So, back in the day before social media we had :30 and :60 second radio spots. We had :30 and :60 second television spots. We had long form newspaper advertising. We’d write long copy for magazines because a magazine would hang around for a month on someone’s coffee table so the opportunity to read a copy rich ad was high. And when social media came in it just narrowed down into little bite sized moments.  You know, like 280 characters on Twitter or a short post on Instagram.  You can do a little more writing on facebook but if you look at it from a whole, short bites are the currency of social media and I think it makes persuasion very difficult. So, I love social media because you don’t have to spend money on social media.  You can but you don’t have to. You just have to spend time. You have to create a relationship with your customers or your listeners on social media. And you can’t always be selling. You have to be inthe sharing business and then when it comes time to sell, it’s okay. For example, if you look at our Twitter account for our radio show, look how much back and forth goes on between us and our listeners.  It’s extraordinary. They’re commenting on the shows.  They’re sending me great ideas all of the time for shows.  Or they’re sending me great ads that they discovered in their travels that I would have never seen. So, it’s always a dialogue with our listeners and when it comes time to sell something, like my latest book, I’ll put that out in social media and everybody’s cool with it because I’m not selling on it all of the time. I have a relationship with them and they are willing to listen to my ads for our various products when the time is right. And the other great thing about social media is that it’s a great place to listen. Prior to social media, if you wanted to know what your customers were thinking you would have to hire expensive research companies and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to do big research projects. And now all you really have to do is go on social media and listen.  Because the best marketers and the best listeners.


Steve Waxman: Let’s move into podcasting.  When podcasting was getting started, did you see it as an opportunity or was it an opportunity that CBC brought to you with regards to moving your shows over there?


Terry O’Reilly:  We wanted to podcast immediately. We saw the opportunity there as a way to broaden our listenership, attract more listeners.  We saw the digital wave coming so we wanted to podcast immediately.  We were held off for two or three years because of music issues. As podcasters know, you are not allowed to use needle drop music in a podcast. There are no royalty rates in place. I hear a lot of young podcasters doing it and it’s very dangerous all music is coded and if Sony Music is sitting back and making notes on all of the music that’s being used illegally, they can come back to you with retroactive royalty payments. That could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, while we were waiting for music rights to snap into place, CBC was telling us ‘Don’t worry, we’re negotiating with the record labels. We’re making progress.’  So, two or three years went by and it just never resolved. So we made a decision to just make a separate version of our show that took out all of the needle drop music and replaced it with stock music, with licensed music. I was too anxious to wait.  I wanted to get on to podcasting.  So ten years ago we started podcasting our show - which is a different version than on air.  It has no needle drop and occasionally it’s longer.  I’ll add some bonus material into the podcast.  For example, I’ll record the show, Keith will put it together and he’ll send it back to me and I’m five minutes too long. So I’ll often leave that extra five minutes in the podcast but have to shave it down to 27 minutes an 30 seconds for air. So, there’s bonus material in our podcast and all of the needle drop music is stripped out.


Steve Waxman: So now you’ve decided to turn podcasting into a family business with Apostrophe. When did you make that decision and how did you get it started?


Terry O’Reilly: I had a meeting with my family, meaning two of my three daughters - my oldest daughter lives in London, England, she’s a teacher over there - but my two younger daughters and my wife, who are very active in Under The Influence already.  Debbie (Terry’s wife) was producing it but my daughters were doing social media and doing graphic design.  So, I sat down with them and we just had a big discussion.  I said “I think that there’s an opportunity,” - this would be last summer -  “There’s an opportunity out there to become a really great Canadian podcasting network, kind of like what we see happening in the States.” I think that we’re probably three years behind the States in the podcasting world as a rule.  We’re catching up but I’d say that Canada is lagging behind a bit. And there were these really successful podcast networks in the U.S. like Gimlet and Wondery where they would create podcasts and put them on their platform but they would also entertain podcasts from outside their walls and bring those inside and impress their creativity on those and that becomes part of the network.  And I said “I think that there’s an opportunity to do that in Canada and I’m wondering if you’re interested in starting that kind of company in Canada.” My family said ‘Absolutely, we’d love to.’ So, the four of us are equal partners in Apostrophe.  The name comes from the Apostrophe in our last name which is the bain of our existence because the digital world cannot accept an apostrophe.  If you’ve ever tried to check into a hotel, if there are any O’Malley’s or O’Leary’s out there you know what I mean.  It always throws computers off. But, anyway, that’s the inside joke on the name. But, we are a podcast network so Under The Influence and our latest podcast We Regret To Inform You: The Rejection Podcast which is our new series that tells the stories of successful people who had debilitating career rejections and then we talk about how they overcame those rejections and analyze how they did it. Each episode features one person’s journey from absolute rejection to absolute success. So, those two are the first podcasts for the Apostrophe podcast network. We have three more in development that will be hitting the air shortly and then we have three more past that that will be in the third wave. So, we are a podcast network and we are a podcast production company.  So, we also write, research, record, mix and onboard podcasts.


Steve Waxman: can I tell you that I have listened to every episode of We Regret To Inform You and I love it! One of the things that I want to say is that in order to do a good podcast you have to do good research.  You need to tell really good stories. And, I think that We Regret To Inform You and Under The Influence are two really well researched podcasts that tell really great stories. 


Terry O’Reilly: We’re huge believers in research, as you pointed out. The toughest part of Under The Influence is the research. Every show I’ll assign a researcher to that episode and I’ll send them off with very specific things to find. And I’ll do the other half of the research and when I get the research back and combine it with my research, it’s probably roughly about 100 - 150 pages of research that I then have to go through, make my notes, form the show in my head and then it takes me two days to write a 27 minute show. And then I love to have half of a third day to comb all of the knots out of it. So, when you really think about our show, it takes about three days to go through the research when I get it back.  It takes me two and a half days to write the show. And then it takes 12 hours to record and mix our half hour show. Because its a very ambitious show.  There’s music, there’s sound effects and there’s clips and commercials.  Sometimes I’ll bring in actors to do funny things for us.  Actors I’ve worked with for all these years. It’s a very ambitious show because I really believe that great podcasts should not just be researched and well written, they should be sonically interesting.  So, it’s a big undertaking, that show.  Any podcast is a huge undertaking. We Regret To Inform You is almost the same thing on a different topic. It’s a ton of research.  It’s a ton of very careful writing. And then it’s recording and putting the show together sonically in an interesting way.


I read an interesting stat that 25% of the podcasts on iTunes have never issued a second episode and I get that because it’s a lot of work. It’s satisfying and I love it but it’s a ton of work.


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You should have a sense by now that doing a lot of work isn’t an issue for Terry O’Reilly. He’s just finished his 15th season on the CBC and in addition to producing shows for his Apostrophe podcast network, he’s now writing his third book. If you’re interested in advertising or marketing, I highly recommend listening to his Under The Influence podcast. You should also take the time to listen to Apostrophe’s latest, We Regret To Inform You: The Rejection Podcast which tells stories of adversity that people like Jay-Z, Lady Gaga and Stephen King had to go through before achieving their successes. If you want to find out more about Terry and Apostrophe please visit terryoreilly.ca