The CMO Show:
The CMO Show: Tim Washer...

“If you were able to create something that made people laugh, what would that be worth?” 

Humour is an enduring and powerful tool, and one that marketers all-too-often overlook in their hurry to build human connections. But believe it or not, laughter and comedy are likely to resonate long beyond all other emotions.

This week on The CMO Show, Mark and JV attempt to uncover what it is that makes humour such a powerful and useful tool in the content marketing game. International comedian Tim Washer also drops in to chat to Mark about the role of humour in the workplace and in marketing by sharing some of his insights from his time at Cisco and IBM.

“I think if you can make somebody laugh you remind them, hey look we’re human too, we know how to connect with people, we know how to build empathy,” he said. “And then if something goes wrong down the road you’re given a little more forgiveness because people are reminded, hey – these are people too.”

For the full version, listen to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud.




The CMO Show production team

Producer – Megan Wright

Audio Engineer – Jonny McNee

Design Team Manager – Daniel Marr

Graphic Design – Chris Gresham-Britt

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Participants: Mark Jones (MJ)
JV Douglas (JVD)
Tim Washer (TW)

MJ: I am here with Tim Washer from Cisco Systems, hi Tim.

TW: Mark, thanks for having me on the show.

MJ: What’s your title again?

TW: You know what, I don’t – I don’t know if I have one that’s of any meaning, I think it’s Accounts Receivable or something like that, I move around. I – I – I don’t have one that really matches, I’m in marketing but I – what I do, I’m a producer, I’m a writer and producer for videos.

MJ: In my mind you’re just the guy who’s bringing back the funny.

TW: I – that is the title actually, technically HR has that listed under my job description, so…

MJ: A lot of people won’t know your background but obviously Saturday Night Live and you know, a bunch of, if you like, sketch comedy kind of background and all that sort of thing. What was it like bringing that into the corporate world? It’s been a little while now hasn’t it at Cisco?

TW: Yeah so I’m about five and a half years into Cisco and I was at IBM about six years before that, and it’s – so it’s been nice because I have a – I would love to have been doing comedy full time in New York City, that’d be great.  But it – those doors didn’t open so I ended up – my daughter was born and needed to – after freelancing for a while, needed to go back to work.  But they still – I still have flexibility to go do work on some of the late night shows, I did Conan quite a bit when he was in New York.  And then John Oliver’s new show is in New York now of course with – so I still get to do some of those things and some commercials and – and things like that.  And then I’m – not all of my work is comedic at the office but we’re – we are learning – we’re starting to see that comedy really does work in connecting with audiences, meaning a broader group in the corporation is getting a little more comfortable with it I should say.

MJ: Yeah we used to say in journalism, if you can’t break news, be interesting.

TW: Yes that’s good, yes.

MJ: So is the focus more on – we were just talking about like funny versus like I think creativity – I was quite inspired by John Cleese here at Content Marketing World and he talked a lot about the creative process and I got a lot out of it because he was talking about how he – he called it the tortoise space where you go off into this kind of like space where you – you clear yourself of all the distractions and you think about being in a almost like – he talked about almost like a semi dream like state where you let kind of the subconscious come up with creative ideas, and it’s a really different way of thinking about this kind of mechanical process that we go through in decision making and creativity.  And I wondered, you know, what your thoughts are on that, like how you think about creativity and humour and sort of the value in bringing all of that into content.

TW: Well I think it – so I love what John Cleese – his approach to all this, and he talks a lot about being in the open state versus the closed state and he – he has a wonderful speech on creativity that’s on Vimeo if you google – or if you go to Vimeo and search for ‘John Cleese Creativity’ you’ll come across it.  And he – he does make the point that the closed – the open status when you’re having fun, you’re enjoying yourself, you know, you’re in things that are – that are just more relaxed and more connected to you and that type of deal.  Closed state is when you’re more focused on getting tasks done and completing it on deadlines and details.  And – and he makes the point that when we’re at the office about 80% of our time at the office we’re in the closed state – closed state of mind.  So it’s really hard to be creative there.

MJ: And particularly in open plan, like he just, ‘Don’t – just don’t work in open plan.’ He said!

TW: Oh my gosh, exactly, it’s – it’s – because there are interruptions. That’s the other thing he talked about yesterday is, you need to protect, you need to – you need to – you need boundaries of time. Meaning you need like an hour and a half, an hour to an hour and a half of uninterrupted time just to think and ponder whatever the problem is, meaning what’s the script, what’s the storyline, what’s the concept. And – and then space, he says boundaries of space and you can’t get that in an open environment in cubicles because anybody can walk up and interrupt you. And I think those are critical points and so at the office I think we’re going to ask people to be more creative at the office which we have to do because content’s going to be more and more important – a more and more critical point – part of the marketing function, people need to become storytellers.

TW: And to do that it’s hard to do that at the office, you need to go to a coffee shop, get out where you – or you know, go bike riding, whatever it is that gets you into that open state. And so I think that will create the need for a more flexible work structure, so people can get to a place where they can be creative and hopefully executives in the marketing department will start to see the benefits, the fruits of that, that if you let people, if you give them what they need to be creative then you’re going to see better work, work that’s more meaningful to customers.

MJ: I wonder how we structure that? Because big organisations are highly structured as you know, right? I think about the Google example of the – was it like the 70/20/10 or it might have been – – –

TW: Yeah.

MJ: – – – some other split, I can’t remember exactly. But the point being 10% of his time would be just on something that was completely unrelated to your normal job.

TW: Yes.

MJ: I wonder whether we take that kind of mindset and we say, all right, it’s going to be a creative space where I want you to just kind of go away and dream and think about everything. But like it’s struct – unstructured/structured time or structured/unstructured time.

TW: Yeah, there’ll be – I think there’ll be more of that, we’re seeing a lot more work models like that. But I think it really comes down to flex time being – you’re going to need to be away from the office to really come up with these great ideas and – and more and more organisations are supporting that.

MJ: Yeah, and so if there’s permission from the top then that’s where you’re going?

TW: Yes, so that’s – you do need that blessing but then you need everybody to believe that.

MJ: Yeah.

TW: Which is a very different thing. Just because it’s – somebody says, ‘Here’s our new program…’ A lot of folks will still – they’ll look around and say wait a minute, I still need to be in the office for face time. And so that’s – at some point people are going to have to be comfortable with the risk, they’re going to have to be willing to take some risk and say, ‘All right, here’s what I want to do and here’s – here’s what I’m going to have to change to make that happen.’

MJ: What are some other things that are on your mind at the moment as it relates to content marketing and where it’s all going and you’re sort of seeing this role. I know that you’ve got a strong focus on video and storytelling. How are you seeing it evolving, you know, what’s the bleeding edge if you like?

TW: I think – the bleeding edge, I do think – I thought comedy was going to catch up on in corporate social media back in 2006, I was certain of it. That’s when we – that’s when I put up my first video for YouTube for IBM, on YouTube for IBM. And I thought, okay this is done well, everybody else is going to jump on and start doing this. And I’m really – I was just befuddled that it – it still hasn’t really happened yet.

MJ: Is that because there’s not enough comedians or just, you know, companies are not funny enough.

TW: I think it’s because big companies don’t know how to leverage comedians, they don’t know how to bring in comedy writers. And the key is I think just a lot of it’s expanding your – your resources, expanding the talent pool not by offering full time roles for comedians but get to know more of them, spend more time in improv theatres, meet some people, take an improv class and start bringing some folks on for a project here and there and do a pilot project. You know, go to an improv theatre, hire a team, and say here’s our – here are the guidelines, you know, stay away from politics and religion and profanity and see what you come up with.

MJ: Yep.

TW: And then – and then offer them like a – can we agree on a wage to just start it off, smaller project fees where there’s not a whole bunch of risk for us, and if it goes well and if we put it up on YouTube then we pay you – we pay you a larger fee. So there just needs to be ways to bring comedians in and around.

MJ: And so does this fit into the content marketing kind of bucket in terms of understanding, all right, why – and why you would do it?

TW: Well I think – I think you’d want the why – you need to understand, that would come from strategy internally I would say. I – I think that still stays there, that meeting in the strategy function and you decide why, why you do it and then what we need to do. There’s still some value – there’s some value in looking at personas and, you know, these other – the stuff that’s just become jargon, the buyer journey, these kind of things, there’s some value to that. But at the end of it all people like to laugh, it doesn’t matter what segment they fall into, they enjoy laughing. And I think if you go back and look at all the other content you published, look at the videos you’ve put out, the blog post, and just stop and say, ‘Let’s be honest, what has this done for us, do people really care about it and can we do something better?’ And if we were able to create something that made somebody laugh, what would that be worth?

MJ: Well – well we talk a lot about engaging content right? Well there’s nothing more engaging than actually having a – I mean I love laughing at YouTube stuff right, that’s – that’s what I go there for right? Can you show me something funny? And I think from a tone of voice perspective if we have a company culture that says we value that type of engagement, maybe that’s a better starting point.

TW: Well you’re right. That – I think that’s one of the reasons that comedy gets held up, because people think, okay, what’s our tone of voice and then they look back at the history of it and then they don’t see any comedy in there. So they think, well no obviously it doesn’t. I remember when I did this first one at IBM I remember people asking that same question and our chief communications officer said, ‘Well wait a minute, being – wit has been a part of IBM’s culture for 70 years.’ And – and the thing is, things like wit, being witty, clever, all of those things were associated with intelligence and they have all these other positive attributes that are associated with it that are good for brands. I mean in – nothing humanises like making someone laugh, like humour.

MJ: Correct.

TW: Nothing humanises like that and when – I think if you can make somebody laugh you remind them, hey look we’re human too, we know how to connect with people, we know how to build empathy. I mean we’ve demonstrated that. And then if something goes wrong down the road you’re given a little more forgiveness I think because people are reminded, hey look this is – these are people too.

MJ: Oh I’m just wondering out loud, I mean I think that the – all this conversation about auth – authenticity…

TW: Yeah.

MJ: You know, we want to be real, we want to be like not a brand but we want to kind of talk to our people, you know, we want to be with our customers. I wonder whether actually comedy is kind of the missing link here.

TW: Oh I think it – I think it is, of course I’m biased but…

MJ: Of course, asking a comedian whether, you know, comedy’s funny, right?

TW: It’s going to be pro comedy, I’m on the pro comedy. I’m also pro waffles and I have been forever and I don’t have any shame in that.

MJ: No, no, I don’t – waffles and coffee and ice cream…

TW: There’s – we – we need more, all of these things. You know, Oscar Wilde said, ‘If you’re going to tell someone the truth, be sure to make them laugh otherwise they’ll kill you.’ And he’s – for organisations to be vulnerable and authentic – to be authentic I think they need to be vulnerable, they have to tell the truth, it can’t be all pretty, it needs to be the unvarnished truth. And a lot of times doing that, using humour in the right way helps pave the way.

MJ: So in summary, do an improv class…

TW: Yes.

MJ: Hire a comedian…

TW: Yes.

MJ: Think about changing your tone of voice so that you can at least allow people to be funny or try…

TW: Correct.

MJ: Anything else?

TW: No – well, start in steps. So for the tone of voice thing, I think the best places to try comedy is – is find a sales meeting. Sales – if there’s an internal sales meeting, people love humour there, the salespeople love to laugh, try it there and see if that works. If that works then launch the video internally on your intranet or whatever you have and then – and then if that works there and not everybody goes crazy… Some people will not like it, comedy’s subjective. But if – if you feel comfortable then put it on YouTube and see what happens, that’s it.

MJ: Always great to catch up with you Tim, thanks for your time.

TW: Yeah thanks a lot Mark, good to see you brother.

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