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CI’s Origins + Lessons in Growth, Leadership, and Marketing
Episode 15

CI’s Origins + Lessons in Growth, Leadership, and Marketing

CI to Eye with Erik Gensler

This episode is hosted by Ashley Dunn Gatterdam.

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In this unique episode of CI to Eye, the tables are turned as Erik Gensler becomes the interviewee. Led by Ashley Dunn Gatterdam, Senior Consultant at Capacity Interactive, Erik and Ashley discuss the origins of CI, lessons in leadership, digital strategy, and the evolutions within the company and field over the years.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I polled the whole office for questions and I got a lot of the similar one and then a couple of others so for anybody new to CI or to hearing a podcast, talk about the origin story of CI and yours.

Erik Gensler: Sure. I think from a very young age I was always entrepreneurial. I loved, as a kid having lemonade stands… I don’t know. I was always just drawn to business. When I was in sixth grade, sixth or seventh grade, my friend David and I had a bagel/newspaper delivery service called the Bagel Times, which we delivered bagels and newspapers to people’s houses on Sunday morning. We didn’t have cars so we had our first employee who was a high schooler with a car and my favorite part about that was making the logo and the order forms. We went to Kinko’s and had a good old time. We would call all of our clients on Thursdays and see what they wanted and on Saturdays our moms would drive us to the bagel store to drop off the delivery forms and on Sunday morning all of the bagel orders would be ready. We would go, pick up the bagels, pick up the newspapers and sometimes pick up orange juice and people would wake up on Sunday mornings in the suburbs and there’d be a fresh bag of bagels and the New York Times. It was great. It gave me money to pay for… I had spending money throughout high school and into college from that.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: How many clients did you guys have? I don’t think I’ve ever asked you this. Also, I just said clients – customers?

Erik Gensler: Yeah, sure. I think we each had a list of 20 or 30.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: That’s pretty good.

Erik Gensler: Not all of them would have orders every week. We would go to festivals in our community and set up tables and have bagels and get people to sign up. They read about us in Wyoming Living, which was the local community newspaper.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: So you’ve been a lead collector since.

Erik Gensler: I always sort of knew I wanted to go into business, I just didn’t know what it was gonna be. Went out of college and my favorite thing about high school and college was being involved in theater. After school going to the theater, putting your backpack down, doing whatever homework you did, but being at rehearsal, especially the weeks before, being there til 10:00 at night and I loved making the sets and I loved being in the shows and just that whole community. That was my favorite thing.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Did you think you were going to do that? In the back of your head?

Erik Gensler: I don’t know. I didn’t think there was a route for me there because I wasn’t a very good actor although I think about it now and I think my poor parents having to sit through me in The Crucible. Can you imagine how much your parents… they say you don’t understand love until you have a child and to go to see a high school production of The Crucible, that’s serious love.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Love.

Erik Gensler: I was Giles Corey. Oh God, those were such bad productions but we had so much fun doing them and making the sets and took it real seriously. The musicals were so fun. That’s how I learned to use a drill and do all the set crew. Then when I went to college they had lots of student theater groups and so I was their assistant director of student theater for a number of years. Then when I moved to New York I produced a couple of festival theater productions that people from Northwestern… but then I followed this very corporate route that I thought was safe, I went to Northwestern and I studied economics and I was a good student. It was very easy to go from… they recruited, the consulting firms would all recruit so if you were an econ major and got good grades you could sign up. They’d interview you on campus, if they like you they would fly you to whatever office you want to work for. I was 21 years old and it was probably October and I went to Chicago, San Francisco, New York and I got some job offers. I ended up choosing this firm that was in New York. They put us up at some fancy hotel in Central Park South, took us out to this nice dinner. It was wild. Then when I signed I got a signing bonus, $5000 when I was 21 years old and I knew what my job was going to be and it didn’t start til September so I had that summer to move to New York. Then they put us, for two weeks, at this conference center in Westchester with our peers, so they hired 15 undergrads and 15 post-MBA people and we had two weeks of training and the training taught us how to use Excel, how to use Power Point, how to build models, what their consulting philosophy was. They had a book that we had to read. It was very similar to what we do now at CIU here. Then we would go be assigned clients and every Friday they had professional developments so our class would get back together and they would teach us different skills and people from the firm would come in. A lot of the things we adopted here, that consulting model. I was not passionate about management consulting, I was not particularly good at building financial models. I felt very…

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Soul crushing?

Erik Gensler: Yeah, that’s it. It just didn’t make me excited or sparkle or… it was a great experience though and just to have that ability to move to New York in that way and not worry about money. My parents didn’t give me money after they paid for my college but they didn’t give me money. I always had to work a job or do something. I had that spending money from the Bagel Times, I had that job but after… there was a handful of us there that was clearly this was not the fit for us. They were the people that were going to take this consulting route and go to business school, which was great. If you worked for this company for two or three years they would pay for you to go to business school and if you worked there you went to five business schools. You went to Harvard, you went to Northwestern, you went to University of Chicago, you went to Wharton or you went to Stanford. And if you do it and promise them two more years they would pay for your tuition, which was amazing. I thought I was going to do that but I very quickly realized, no. Then I looked for a job to leave and I was this 22 year old making way too much money and I would go interview for all these entertainment jobs. I interviewed to be Barry Weissler’s assistant.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Really.

Erik Gensler: Didn’t get it.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Barry.

Erik Gensler: I think at that time it might have been Barry and Fran’s assistant, I think they might have shared. Didn’t get that job. I interviewed to work at CBS, I interviewed to work at all these places. The only place I could get hired was to be an NBC page and I had done an internship at Leo Burnett and at Northwestern in Chicago and from the contacts I made there they… it’s crazy in this city. Just knowing one person. I recognize the privilege of that now, I have that internship because I went to Northwestern and I got to interview for the page program because even if you submit to it you don’t get an interview but I got an interview. I got in the page program. So I think I made $10 an hour, maybe it was $15 an hour. I was like, I just have to follow my passion, I don’t know what’s next, so I moved to the page program and I gave tours of 30 Rockefeller Center in a navy blue blazer and a peacock tie.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I think I actually knew that. I was obsessed with that job when I moved here from California but I just couldn’t figure out how to get it.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. I mean some of you applied. It was cool. There were fifty of us, it was a very different universe of people than the people at the management consulting firm. I’m still friends with some of those people. One of the girls still lives in my building and we’re friendly.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: This is like… my dad was always saying, “Do what you love, do what you love,” and I finally decided I loved being a cost e designer. Oh wait, just kidding. Do something else that you love.

Erik Gensler: Right. Right, right, right. I was actually talking to my husband about that last night. Our friends who want to be chefs, it’s amazing to be a chef but God, that’s a tough job. If you want to be on your feet all day and work nights, it’s grueling. You want to follow your passion but you also want to do something that’s a sustainable life style. So yeah, I did these tours of NBC. So you did tours and then you also had to work in audience services for television shows. So it was Rosie O’Donnell’s, the last years of her talk show we did audience services, which was corralling the people into the studio and monitoring them. But then you got to stand in the studio audience and watch all these shows so I watched a ton of live Rosie O’Donnell, I watched a ton of live… Carson Daly had a show at that point, Conan O’Brien had a show at that point. They were all shot in the studios of 30 Rock, which was super fun. 30 Rock is such an iconic New York experience. Also, we got to do audience services for Saturday Night Live so I would stand backstage. You know that door they sometimes show between, when they go under the audience and into the back stage? My job sometimes would be to just hold that door open as things moved in and out, horses, whatever, goats.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Trying not to fan girl.

Erik Gensler: Jimmy Fallon, he was always very friendly. We weren’t allowed to go to the after parties, we were allowed to go to the after-after parties. The show would end at 1:00, the after party would be until 1:00 or 2:00, at 2:00 the cast members would come to the cool party and we would all be there, all the pages would be there. I remember one night, it was really when the, what was that band called, the Strokes? Am I making that up?

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: That’s a real one.

Erik Gensler: That was in the early 2000’s they were huge and they came to this party and all these celebrities were there, all the cast from Saturday Night Live, it was very surreal. This is a long answer to a short question.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: No, it’s interesting. How old were you?

Erik Gensler: 23.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: It’s crazy. I can look around behind us right now and count the number of people and that age bracket. I think it’s a little bit… I don’t know, maybe harder now to have those experiences cause New York City is so expensive and so it’s harder to take jobs that are $10 an hour.

Erik Gensler: Definitely. Well I had saved too from doing that consulting stuff.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: The Bagel Times.

Erik Gensler: The Bagel Times and the consulting stuff.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Right. As we say, “You lived.”

Erik Gensler: Yeah. Yeah, I mean I got to do that and then I was like this is… then I got to work on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in a production role, which was super fun. It was a great experience. It was so fun. But then I need to get a job that’s… I don’t think they provided health insurance or if they did it was really expensive. It was not sustainable. The program was not designed for you to stay in for more than a year. Then you would work in different departments of NBC and so I worked in the local network promotions, sorry the local station promotions, network promotions, the parade. NBC had this other job called the sales associates program where, again, younger people could apply and go through a rotational training program in sales and marketing for television, which was around sales and marketing, which meant advertisers on NBC, very old media. They had really great training and I really learned a lot about business development and putting together presentations. I had that from management consulting but sort of take those skills of putting together beautiful presentations, doing excel modeling and apply that to media sales and marketing. I worked on the team that sold the Olympics and they sold sports too and network TV shows.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: So you’ve distributed newspapers and sold television.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, right. Old media. I ended up going through that rotational program, getting a spot in New York, the state of New York for a year and then I had an opportunity to work for the new NBC station in San Francisco in a business development role. I went there with no clients and I had to dial for dollars and I was good at it. And it was hard to sell TV spots but that was around the time of tech becoming a thing and Silicone Valley and I would have meetings at Cisco and Polycom and all these tech start ups to try to figure out partnerships with NBC. I remember the vice president of sales there, not to do the man harm, but he was, “You are one of the best television development people I’ve ever seen.” But I just missed New York and I wanted to go back to New York so I came back and worked for the NBC station at WNBC in New York and did that for another year and then just realized that this wasn’t right for me either. It was fun, I met great people, I loved the opportunity to go to San Francisco, I loved what I learned but I just wasn’t passionate about selling TV spots. So I reached this point in my late 20’s that was like what do I want to do with my life? I’ve done these things, I’ve learned these things, what do I really want to do? And I started reading a lot of books like “What Color is Your Parachute”. There’s this great book by Po Bronson, it’s something like “What Should I Do With My Life” or something like that. He’s a great writer. And it was so much about following your bliss and doing what makes you happy. I was starting to do well at NBC at that point, but again, when I followed my bliss it was always thinking back to theater and the arts and how that made me feel. I saw this job at TMG, the Marketing Group, Laura Matalon whose been interviewed on this podcast. It was really kind of a business development role for arts organizations, Roundabout was the client that needed corporate sponsorship. It was doing corporate sponsorship and marketing programs for them. Again, took a big pay cut to work in the arts because I wanted to do what I wanted to do.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Theme of all of our lives.

Erik Gensler: Right. Take a big pay cut to do what you’re passionate about. And I worked with Laura and the opportunity there really… Roundabout was a big client for them. I think they did a very great thing by being really great clients. From the beginning I had a relationship with the executive director, the development director, the marketing director and the managing director and developed great relationships with all of them. Because I was an outside person I got a very insider’s view of each one of those people’s roles where I would sit in their offices and learn exactly what they do. In crafting these sponsorship deals and working closely with all of them as their various parts of it and loved working in a nonprofit theater. It just made sense to me. I was like, this is it. This is the world I want to be in. I had all those skills of developing business and being able to make models and the financial piece and marketing piece and it was great. It was really, really fun and I loved it and I also loved that TMG was a very small firm that felt like a family. The office maybe had fifteen people in it. Laura, who was the owner and Tonya I was close to. Santini who later moved on the Guthrie was the Christopher of the organization and I loved her. I was really happy. That was around the time… that office was shared with the SpotCo office so all the Broadway meetings were happening there. This was right on the cusp of digital becoming a real big thing. I would see Oprah Winfrey coming down to that office that was around the time of “The Color Purple”. Met so many people and I would go see every Broadway Show cause there were so many free tickets flying around. It was really fun to be in Roundabout and learn about that nonprofit theater world but be really close to the Broadway world too and go to all those opening night parties and I met so many people that I still have relationships and work with today. Things evolved and changed at TMG and there was an opportunity for a role to work under Thomas Cott at New York City Opera. The headline or the article I remember said something about an opera smack down happening at Lincoln Center and Peter Gelb had recently taken over at the Met and they were doing all these really good theatrical productions. Gerard Mortier who was this impresario of European opera was coming to New York City Opera to take over. It wasn’t happening for two years so there was going to be a season of full New York City Opera as it was. Then there was going to be a transition and then we were going to kick off so I really wanted to be a part of that. The role I took and was excited about was doing all the digital marketing stuff for this. Thomas Cott was always very open and very open to innovations. I ended up taking that role and it was a really interesting time of massive transition for the opera and they needed a whole new brand so we went through a whole rebranding process, got to redesign their website. This was around Google Analytics early days. I was exposed to Google Analytics and was obsessed with it. This was when I learned about digital by reading books. So I would go to Barnes & Noble and I bought book on Google Analytics and I would by a book on Google AdWords. It was right when the Google Grant Program started and I got obsessed with Google AdWords. I was also obsessed, starting to get obsessed with Seth Godin about the idea of permission marketing and I was…

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I wondered how many minutes into this podcast before his name came up.

Erik Gensler: It’s a few.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Not so bad.

Erik Gensler: Social media was in it’s infancy, digital marketing was now giving us metrics to help us understand how things worked. During that time was the first time we started hearing about remarketing because… Yosaif Cohain, our director of analytics here. Caleb was a genius. Now I look back at the work that Caleb was doing and now that I see it in Yosaif but between Yosaif and Caleb I never saw that level of work anywhere else, that level of granularity and attention to detail and really granular tracking. I was like if we’re going to have this website we need Google Analytics and so we did a real tricked out implementation but back then there was no Google Tag Manager this was handwritten JavaScript on every page so your production detail page template would require hand coding. If you wanted any event happening on that page, your check out path, each one of those variables had to be hand coded. That was all I knew because the first time I did it at such a great level it was amazing. At that time it was a $25,000 project to get just eCommerce and event tracking in GOA.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Now it sounds like a chisel and a tablet.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, right. Exactly. It was amazing. With Seth Godin, I think I was exposed to Seth Godin when I was at TMG and he spoke at the Broadway League and his whole concept of if you’re going to do any sort of interruption advertising you have to capture a lead. And for a cultural institution that made so much sense to me. So when I got to City Opera I was like everything we’re gonna do is going to be about generating a lead. Around story telling and contact creation, which is why I created the podcast for the real loyalists. It was so much fun. I would take the drama tour to City Opera. We would go to people’s office and interview them. We interviewed Mark Morris, we interviewed Hal Prince, we interviewed all these different directors and they were great and so much fun and so fun to be able to use the classical music or the music from those operas in those podcasts. I think they’re still alive.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Do you think they still exist somewhere?

Erik Gensler: I do. I’ve listened to them. I like them.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: What’s it called? Do you remember?

Erik Gensler: Oh, God, what’s it called? City Opera podcasts. I’ll have to look it up. I can’t remember. The Hal Prince one, he’s a great interview. We also did this stuff in the lobby where I found this company in the Netherlands that had these monitors you could put in the lobby and record videos. You could record a video and in order to get it you had to put your email address in and you could send them to a friend and put their email address in, then we added an opt in so we were getting people’s email addresses that way. We built all this legion stuff on their website. I loved that. That was so fun working there. Then I saw that organization just go into financial tailspin where we weren’t paying vendors and they sort of made some financial promises to Mortier that were just not financially realistic at the time. It was in the ashes of that that Thomas Cott left and went to Ailey and he was like, “You have to get out of there”. And Jennifer Zaslow, my coach now, was the development director there. Michelle Bodner who has done some business coaching from me was the CFO there.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I forgot that you went that far back with Thomas Cott.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, yeah, he was my boss.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: And then your first client, right?

Erik Gensler: Yeah. When he was at Ailey they got this million dollars on the Doris Duke foundation to rethink digital. So Thomas and I just did the same thing again, what we did at City Opera but I was able to do it as a consultant. I cut down my time at City Opera from full time to two days a week. I cut my salary which they were happy about and I got to take on the Ailey project and then from that Capacity Interactive was born.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Did you really sit down with a pen and paper or keyboard and sort of outline developing an agency and a firm? Is a consulting firm more than it was an advertising agency, which was really what we were all using. There’s a lot of advertising agencies but I feel like he sort of set out to develop a consulting business instead.

Erik Gensler: Well, I think that’s what I knew, you know, as coming from it. I always felt the value was having the relationship with the client and I think when you have an ad agency, the account people have relationships with the clients but digital you can usually draw a line or divide the work of doing the digital marketing or whatever you’re doing from the account rep. I always felt it was super important to really understand. I loved being in the trenches, I loved working with the people, seeing the shows, being a part of it. I think that relationship is one piece of it but also being able to execute the work so we’ve modeled this place so we don’t have reps. The person you’re talking to is the person doing the work. What happened was I split my time like that. I would work from home on Friday so I’d work at City Opera for two days, I’d work at Ailey for two days. At that point I had exposure to three arts organization, in house, I felt like I was in house. At Ailey I felt I was in house at City Opera and I felt I was in house at Round About at the time. And I had that Broadway experience so I felt like I had a really good grounding in arts administration at that point. People were not doing Google Analytics implementations then. It was so funny because through the work with Ailey I was exposed to Christopher and he was one of the few people I came across that geeked out about this stuff as much as I did. He was so into asking the questions and so once I became a consultant I had to go to City Center because so much of Ailey’s revenue is about City Center. I was trying to figure out how I could kick back a purchase at City Center to Ailey’s analytics implementation and this was before Google Tag Manger. This was very complicated in the day. You had to write all these cookie rules so I got Caleb Whitmore who had left Pop at the time and started his own firm and funny enough when we redesigned Ailey’s website we used a firm called Huge. Well guess who was the director of analytics at Huge. None other than Yosaif Cohain. We engineered a way that you could track a user from buying a ticket on Ailey’s website to buying it at City Center and showing that in the Ailey GA instance, which in the new site that we built. It was in the weeds for a while and as I started to learn more and get into the stuff I started going to conferences. I went to Tessitura for City Opera or other arts conferences and I would always love presenting so I would be like talk about the stuff we’re doing. Afterwards, people would talk to me after the presentation and say, “Hey, we’re trying this. Can you help me out?” And I’d say, “Well, okay”. I think the next one was Pacific North Ballet where Rick Lester from TRG saw me present at Opera America conference years ago. After the presentation he came up to me and said, “You know what? You need to meet Ellen Walker” Pacific Northwest Ballet because they just received a Wallace Grant to do analytics and you should help them. So I made that proposal, got that work and then at that point we had three clients and I thought I can’t do this all by myself so I hired Karen and then we hired Rachel who is our intern who’s still here now, Rachel Parks and Karen LeSuer now Mark Morris so we had a number or people. Around that time, as we were growing, I thought I’m not satisfied with the digital content of these conferences. There’s a lot of practitioners that are learning things but I feel like there’s no resource or expertise so I was doing the AIDS lifecycle, my annual bike ride and I had a lot of time to think while I was riding a bike for seven days. I was like, why isn’t there a conference about digital as far as marketers. I can’t be the only one who wants to know this stuff. So I basically was like I’m going to find the smartest people I know doing this stuff. So I got Caleb from the Analytics guy to speak. I got this guy who was like an AdWords consultant whose book I read about AdWords to Come. I think his name is Brad Geddes. I still have his book. I got Damien from Situation Interactive to talk. I got someone from Pop to come and talk about email, I got some practitioners I was working with, Thomas presented, I presented some sessions and fifty people showed up to this thing. It’s interesting. I didn’t have a permission database at all. I didn’t have an email list, I didn’t have a social following really because we were so small. It’s so interesting how much work it was to get fifty people to show up without a permission database. I created postcards and sent to people, I had to get blogs to write about me, I emailed every person I ever met. It was so much work just to sell fifty tickets and now we send out one email to our list and of course we sell fifty tickets. It’s really the basis of getting people to be in your universe and getting them that first conversion of raising their hand to be interested in what you’re doing. At some point it was like, okay, this is a business. I have to craft and figure out what it is and came up with the name, that was a little earlier, Capacity Interactive and Capacity is obviously capacity of a theater. Then a mission of what we wanted to do. I really thought it was going to be a small, at first, it was going to be a small shop. Maybe we’d have like three, Christopher level people, me and maybe two to three other people and then some more junior folks. Then it just sort of grew from there. It was never sort of like “I want a business that is this size”. It was never “we need to make this much money”. I think Adam Huttler on the podcast said the same thing that’s real smart. Keynesy in economics would say, “Businesses have a profit motive and it’s all about profit” but really so many businesses are started by passion, started by someone being interested in something. Lucky for me the numbers somehow worked out.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I mean it’s crazy. Started in 2008, I joined at the end of 2014, so that will be three years this December which is crazy. I think we had twelve or thirteen employees when I started. This summer we had something like 53 people in the office including the intern army. I wanted to ask you, just aside from explosive growth and literally the size of our office. Can you talk about some of the other changes, just how the company is different from how you started and what you envisioned. I’m thinking in particular, the adoption of radical candor as a framework really fundamentally changed how we give and receive feedback. What else really feels monumental for you?

Erik Gensler: I loved all phases of the company, I love for different things. I remember when we first started and this was now four years ago, a little more than four years ago, when Christopher came on and that was a game changer for me. For someone who has really had more experience, much more experience than I did in terms of working on the ground selling tickets as an arts marketer. I’ve had those three organizations but not nearly the amount of experience that he had. Before that Christopher was a client, City Center’s a client so he got really into the GA, we ended up doing work. I was doing the retargeting because I figured that out and I was able to do that for him and we worked together and of course he was an amazing client. We had so much fun. So hiring him was a complete game changer because he could then really oversee a lot of the client work and I was then able to think about what are we gonna do about this business. But I loved those days when our office had four or five people in it because it was so easy. You all heard each other on the phone. If I was talking to a new client everyone would hear me. If they had a meeting about a project or sat across the table from each other and it was so fun. But as we grew I mean I just love business development, I love helping people solve their problems and I think digital is such a good way to help people in this day and age solve their problems of sales and get in front of the right people. Then we moved from the smaller office to the bigger office down the hall with ten people and that was such a fun great time. We were all in the same space. Once we moved to another office here in the seventh floor of this building, we’re now on the eleventh floor. That was when you started. I think you got hired when we were still downtown though and I knew you before that just from being in the world.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Yeah, you guys did great in the midst of moving. Chrissy had a couple days there or something.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. I think the biggest change in what I’ve learned now is once not everyone is in a small room that’s when you really have to show your leadership and flex your leadership and understand what leadership means which is about how do you express what your values are and what you stand for and what goes and what you believe in when you’re not in the room. How do you embody people with those skills and beliefs and you know the interactions. I clearly cannot be at every meeting anymore but how can I trust and believe that everybody here is representing the company. I think the big thing was really develop… we knew our values and when you’re in a small room everyone has a shared belief system, shared values and we could talk about it every day but I think one of the game changers for me was sort of how do we articulate the values of what we stand for and what’s important to us. Now they’re painted on our wall.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Is any one of them more important to you than the others?

Erik Gensler: Hm. I think self-improvement is a big one. That’s a big thing for me and I think it’s a big thing for the kind of people that do well here that just want to get better. In order to have a mindset of wanting to get better you have to be open to feedback and you have to be open to understanding when you’re doing things that are helping you, and you’re doing things that may be not and just really recognizing it’s all just for all of us to get better and to serve our clients better and to be better people. I think that one’s really important to me. The happiness one is super important to me too. Seeing lots of different organizations in my career, j ping from the white shoe consulting firm to the huge corporate conglomerate of NBC to then going to the small Broadway agency to going to then the nonprofit arts organizations I saw a lot of different kinds of cultures and was sort of able to take away what I liked about all of them and what I didn’t like. What if didn’t like was fiefdoms, what I didn’t like was edicts from above. What I didn’t like was people talking shit about their work or their colleagues. That’s just… no tolerance for that. So to be able to craft a culture that’s sort of, we call it happiness which is that. We’re invested in your happiness, we’re invested in employees. Whole picture of a person. I think that’s super important too. Openness as well is another value of we sit in an open floor plan. We change where we sit every three months. I sit amongst everybody else, you sit amongst everybody else, Christopher and Yosaif and everybody just sits with everybody else. It doesn’t matter. There’s no barriers by title or position. I just think that’s really, really important and I think that comes from us sitting in that tiny room and hearing everything. I fear that I spend too much time now in conference rooms with closed doors but it’s for a matter of not interrupting people who are working.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I still think it’s, for me, pretty extraordinary, particularly as we’ve grown, when you double in size, triple really in of course a couple of years, the level of transparency that I think we still commit to here. I think particularly millennials and the younger generation want to work at places like that, that are open and all the different definitions of that.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: It’s hard. It takes commitment to that.

Erik Gensler: It really does have to do with a true desire if somebody is here and good at their jobs wanting them to stay here and wanting them to be happy and recognizing the whole person and where this company fits within their lives. Offering people five weeks off throughout the year. I honestly think it’s inhumane to offer two weeks vacation. It’s like some agreement that people agreed to during the Industrial Revolution that just is insane. And having the summer Fridays so we can enjoy my favorite season and giving people a 401K that match so they’ll have a retirement. Just because we work in arts doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a retirement plan or good health care. I think that having those exposures to those different environments I saw GE, which owned NBC, don’t have it anymore but there was a pension. To see the world change that way too. To companies that gave you pensions they stayed their whole lives to the free lancer world.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I mean I had a pension at LCT.

Erik Gensler: You do? Yeah. Yeah.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Dad thought that was the coolest thing.

Erik Gensler: That is amazing. Do they still offer it to new employees?

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I think so. Yeah.

Erik Gensler: That’s incredible. That’s not seen very often.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: The challenge is, though, I finally finished listening to your interview with Jill from TRG and just talking about the people crisis in the arts. I spent about ten years on clients before coming here and I just went out and had drinks with somebody last night and just… we don’t necessarily commit to that stickiness in arts organizations. You try to offer a pension plan but there’s no professional development and there’s no encouraging of growth. I just think there are so many, and not just young people but I had a lot of peers and friends and mentors who just went into an organization with a plan to leave in two or three years and hop to the next place and then you take your whole skill set and institutional knowledge and history with you. It feels like we are actually committing to this idea of training and professional development and all these other ways to develop that. On the flip side is places that have maybe a little too much stickiness.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, right. Sometimes it’s good to leave if you’re sort of institutionalized. It’s also massively disruptive. I’ve been on the other side of professional service firms where your quote unquote rep changes and that’s always really stressful and challenging. Any time you change you lose all that knowledge and so we’ve moved to three people teams and we try very hard to always keep at least one if not two. If any change is made to a team at least hopefully two, at least one of the key people who have been there a very long time stays with it. We all sit in a big open space so we’re all very close to each other and try to have that continuity . It drove me crazy if you go to certain firms I worked with when I was on the client side if you get a new rep every six month you just want to throw your hands in the air. It’s so frustrating.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Switching gears a little bit. You always introduce this podcast as an entrepreneur and arts marketer and a lifelong quest to learn and grow personally and professionally. I have a front row seat to that every day and this has been a particularly big year for you. You’re turning 40 next month, I’m going to whisper that one. You just got married, insert the other list of things here. What were your 2017 lessons personally and professionally and 2018 goals?

Erik Gensler: Well, the biggest thing I learned in 2017 goes along with that idea of scaling and just bringing people along. Where, if you are in a leadership role of a large place, you have to bring the right people to the table, you have to make them part of the decision making process, and you have to let them be part of that decisions. I always thought of myself as an individual contributor and I like being an individual contributor. I like doing my projects. I love projects and I love working by myself but you just can’t lead that way. A leader shouldn’t be doing, should barely be doing any projects. You should be leading and thinking and setting vision and setting planning and enabling your team to do the projects. The big learning for me has been I’m sending very confused mixed messages where if I try to take on projects that other people should be doing, it’s no, I’m going to enable you to do this project and this is your project. I’m here if you need me, I’m going to brainstorm with you, I’m going to collaborate with you but most of the projects I should not be doing. I should be a part of them, but that was the big learning.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I’m going to make you laugh now because in researching just things I wanted to talk about. What appears to be the very first blog post on our website, September 13, 2009, called lessons from the Tessitura conference. It was two paragraphs, short and sweet, and you said, “One of the best things I heard all week was this. A project manager’s job is not necessarily to lead the project but to remove any barriers from the project’s goals getting accomplished”. I thought there must be a really strong parallel between that and your role as a leader now.

Erik Gensler: think then I was thinking about it as a project manager of managing a web site redesign, for example, as the individual contributor but same thing. The thing is you do it differently rather than doing it yourself. You do it through your team, right, and you do it through your colleagues. That’s so rewarding too. Watching my colleagues here grow and develop and not being afraid to challenge people because recognizing the other side of that challenge is growth. Certainly for myself. It’s so amazing to see people, and just to watch everyone’s growth here. It is incredible. Even after a year I just look at people and I was like, “Wow. You’ve grown so much”. One thing I think about a lot is how do I keep everybody growing? I don’t want people to get bored. I think that’s the most dangerous thing, especially if you want to invest in people the last thing you want to do is let them get bored. But, again, that’s the development in people is trying to recognize that. If you really care about someone and you want them to be engaged it’s like, okay, is someone hitting a wall? Is someone not challenged? The work we do is very challenging particularly in the first year just getting up to speed. If you’re not from the sector, learning the sectors, the steep growth curve. Learning digitals a steep growth curve. I mean, you’ve experienced it.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: Coming here and you had very strong arts admin and marketing background, arts marketer background but learning digital was just

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I tell every new employee who starts here that I went home every day for three months and cried. It felt massive and I think what I learn from that now I just that it is incredibly technical.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, and to learn those things.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: To be clear, I didn’t cry because the job was making me cry. I was very taken care of. But I think to your point, I hadn’t been scared like that in a long time and it was challenging and really learning from you to approach that with a growth mindset and I think that’s the way you approach so many things in your life.

Erik Gensler: A growth mindset is so huge. I think the growth mindset is that if something isn’t going well it’s not I didn’t do it well or I feel bad about myself, it’s how can I grow and learn from it. I think that is such a fundamental skill that I’m still working on cultivating.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: You consistently just amaze me with your ability to consume and retain an extraordinary amount of information from podcasts and articles and books and conversations with Jennifer, your coach. Is there something that’s really sticking with you right now? I feel like you are always chewing on something.

Erik Gensler: I think it’s that book that you recommended to me. I took some time off after my wedding and really did not cons e very much media. I tried to cons e nature. That’s really important to me to where it’s just like stepping away. Your reality is the news your consuming especially with the news now. I just think that’s not my reality with bullshit and craziness is happening in Trump’s twitter account so I wanted to give myself a little bit of mental break. One book I did read recently was the one you gave me called “The Death of Advertising”. I think it’s a different way of framing a lot of the core things we talk about here and he talks about how the rise of ad blockers, which is still much larger in Europe than it is here. He uses it to point out the idea that people think the world is better without advertising. No one wants to watch a ten second pre roll video. No one wants to watch a thirty second commercial. No one wants a full page newspaper ad if they’re trying to read the newspaper. He talks about how kids who grew up today never were in the world when they actually had to watch TV with commercial interruption. They always had Hulu, the always had Netflix. So they massively hate interruptive advertising. I don’t think he really got to the point of where I took that to which was this is why we’re seeing so much efforts around social storytelling are so much more successful because if someone likes the arts or likes ballet, a video about ballet does not feel like an ad although it is. I think that’s why we’re seeing so much success on the channels but the idea of the death of advertising…One of the other takeaways from that book I thought was amazing is when I grew up there were the three networks, there were some cable channels and I felt I could really keep up on my TV. I knew the Cosby Show was on Thursday night, the Golden Girls was on Saturday night.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I already said how old you were turning this s mer so you’re not outing yourself.

Erik Gensler: Empty Nest was after the Golden Girls. I knew all my shows and now I think the book said there was over 400 scripted television shows now as the golden age of television. Why is it the golden age of television? Because television is no longer a medi to sell ads but television without commercial interruption like HBO and Netflix is actually to share art, really. So without the commercial interruption the work is actually better. The art is better. More and more how we cons e media is in an environment that does not have commercials. You pay $10/month for Spotify, you pay $7/month for Netflix, you pay $7/month for Hulu. That’s the exchange you’re making. More and more the world is going to shift in that direction and I think the answer for arts organizations is… I’ve been saying it for years, cut a print accurate video. This book talks about the idea of city bike where America has an infrastructure problem, we have terrible aging infrastructure.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: As someone who takes NJ Transit every day I can vouch for that.

Erik Gensler: And I live on the L Train. It’s horrible. It’s 99% capacity and it delays all the time, it’s packed, you wait for three trains to pass, it’s brutal. His idea is why aren’t corporations sponsoring? If the corporations could sponsor an L Train and they could raise billions of dollars or that program where it’s like “this stretch of highway is sponsored by”… like really invest in those highways, I think it’s a really interesting idea. The big take away I have for art industry is investing in storytelling through video and content and brand and assets and spending your money making sure those are in front of people. Also, as Google says, being there in the moments that matter which is search, when people are looking for you making sure you have a presence there. I think a lot of our strategy has really moved to social promotion, search and then reinforcing that with the banner ad, the aura, the pre YouTube video roll, someone has to watch a video. I’d much rather watch a ten second ballet pre roll than a Geico ad. But I don’t think that’s driving the bus anymore. I think those banner ads are great reinforcers, I think they’re really great if someone already knows about you but I don’t think they’re very effective acquisition vehicles.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: It’s interesting. Next year it will be ten years, right? For CI.

Erik Gensler: Oh, God. Yeah.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Ten year anniversary. In traditional agencies running print and doing doc mail and radio hosting… those models haven’t changed that much. There’s less of it but I feel like even in less than three years that I have been here, what we do and what we offer as a firm and the way that our work is has already changed.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, totally.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I think I got a question from Johnna, our senior consultant from Chicago, and was just talking about how rapidly our field changes, the CI looks so different than it was when it was founded in expanding on that, your ideas from that book. How are you going about planning for three to five years from now and what do you think the field is going to look like and how CI needs to evolve to meet those needs down the road.

Erik Gensler: I mean we can never tie ourselves to a tactic. We have to tie yourself to a mindset. You have to tie yourself to the growth mindset, that’s what that really is to tie back to your question. I am waiting for one day to not share that slide, that that slide of all the social platforms. Facebook is over here with two billion users and then everyone else is under the… besides YouTube which is one billion, Instagram now is 700 million and then the rest of them are… actually LinkedIn is close to that Instagram number and the rest of them are at 500 million users and less. I’m waiting for when is Facebook not going to be so important. But the truth of the matter is they have so much money and they are able to acquire or build the technology of anyone that steps in their way. I think it’s fascinating. I was really keeping an eye on Snap Chat and they got 100 million users, then they got 200 million users and all the kids were using it. That’s the same thing how Facebook started as a technology that college kids and twenty somethings were using them, thirty something started using it and the really, last summer, older people started using Snap Chat. What did Facebook do? They basically stole that tech… they tried to buy it first. They weren’t successful in buying it so then they copied it and now I have to say, this is a survey of one, but Instagram stories, I feel I’m not checking Snapchat and which I feel a lot of people are and even I’ve polled millennials. They’re using Instagram. I do call Instagram stories Snapchat for middle aged people. My point is, same with Instagram, Facebook bought Instagram. If you think about it isn’t it 70 or 80% of digital ad spin is controlled by two companies, Google and Facebook. We are deeply ingrained with both of those companies, the Google tag manager and infrastructure, AdWords for display and search and Facebook and Instagram and YouTube. Those are the core platforms we use because that is where the majority of… through those platforms you can reach the majority of people who are spending their time online. There’s no indication that there’s going to be any slow in the growth of adoption of mobile or phones or screens. It’s only going to continue and I think those two companies are so powerful and have so much money in the bank that they’re going to reign for a decent amount of time. Do I feel like it’s my responsibility to keep my eyes on everything? Absolutely. I think fascinating is the plays Amazon is making about capturing every purchase. The idea of Alexa and just saying what you want which makes perfect sense. I think what’s going to evolve is now we are in a moment where every question we ask, the answer is available at our fingertips. Every piece of communication we have is available through this phone or screen. physiologically having to lift up a phone to your eyes and use your fingers to type is not natural. Same way as typing, you get carpal tunnel, it is not built… I think the next phase of this is going to be some level of integrating those technologies into our physiology better. Google glass was the first stab at that which successful or not, they learned a lot. The screens on cars now that display the speed on your windshield, that is a way of building in technology in a way that humans can cons e differently. I’ve heard talks of pills you can swallow that will tell you you’re going to have a heart attack. Or contact lenses that can take your biological information. Implants of being able to just think something and have the answer. That is going to come. Now, do I know that there is a digital marketing solution of that now? No, but do I have a strong confidence that Facebook or Google are going to be a part of that? Absolutely. And are we going to be paying attention to what happens? Yes. But the truth of the matter is… I wrote in the Digital Marketing Priorities 2017, it’s about social storytelling, it’s about video, it’s about mobile, it’s about search and it’s about the digital infrastructure in order to be effective and measure on those things. I’m trying to think what are the digital marketing priorities for 2018 and how are they going to be different. I’ll let you know when that one comes out.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I can’t put you on the spot right now. It’s interesting, you’re talking about technology that sounds really far-fetched and sci-fi except that… my dad always jokes now, and he’s not that old, that we’re carrying around this equipment in our pockets that used to fill up an entire room and it’s ten times as powerful. And that happened in his lifetime. It’s not 100 years, it’s 40. It’s 10 for an iPhone you know so I think those things are not that far and yet we’re still talking about ticketing websites that aren’t mobile optimized in the arts. Which I know has become your 2017 just bone to chew. If I’m a new marketing director with a blank check, tons of buy in from leadership and a board, how do I prioritize right now? I’m not building to answer questions from Alexa but where should I be investing? Who am I hiring on my team? What should I be outsourcing?

Erik Gensler: I think it’s super important in this day and age where consumers are much smarter and plugged in to brands. In a way, capitalism has won. People are very clued in to brands and are very attuned to it and they’re used to seeing it. I think if you have a successful brand everything can flow from that. It’s almost as if you’re looking into pyramid, the base of the pyramid is your brand and your brand is your identity, your word mark, your how you used photos, your type face. All those things I think is such a strong foundation and if you have that foundation and it’s good, it makes all the tactics so much easier. It allows you to then make gorgeous video that allows you to then make gorgeous ads or any sort of marketing communication in any form, email, your website. It’s really important to invest in that base level. I think built on top of that base level is an investment in content, which is great video and great photography and great graphic design. And so those are the next level of the pyramid is that. Then it’s the infrastructure in order to distribute those things which comes with a really beautiful website and a website that’s elegant and a website that works across devices. Good websites cost a lot of money. You can do a website for $50,000 but it’s going to be a very different experience than a website that is $500,000. We talked about there’s a blank check, here’s how I would get a web designer, I’ve interviewed Mohan from Work & Co, you want a Rolls Royce website like they will build you a Rolls Royce website that is elegant and amazing and beautiful. Then build and infrastructure to understand how that works and measure how that works and your tag management platform and your analytics. Then it’s about your other infrastructures, your CRM if I was investing in people I would have someone who is a real data base wizard. We’re starting from scratch here making sure data is clean and organized and integrated and a lot of your success now is about infrastructure and I think it’s really important for your CRM and your ticketing system to speak to your website, to speak to your email platform. To speak to all of the different touchpoints for the consumer are ultimately a part of the same system and when you have disjointed systems, when you have an email system that is separate from your CRM, that is separate from your web analytics you lose customer data. That’s sales forces models and the integration across all those platforms. I think so many of the arts platforms are really missing that integration which is why there’s a lot of growth opportunity for the field. In order to have more personalized marketing, to have more touchpoints that are related to where you are in the relationship with the customer rather than just email blast. To do personal segue into communications. It’s about having a clean database. So what does that require? This is all about people. It’s about hiring someone who can internally to oversee your database. I think having some sort of, if we have unlimited money, some sort of really talented, creative director. I would outsource your brand. I would outsource your website. I would, obviously, outsource your digital marketing. I’m biased for that but like you said, I just don’t think one person or two people in an organization are going to have nearly the expertise of a firm. That’s something that’s changing so often. I would in house, have a videographer or at least have someone who is spending a lot of time managing a very talented videographer and that could go to the creative director. Having one or multiple really strong video resources is super important. I would have an in house graphic designer because it’s all about brand identity. Christopher and I talked about this and he said one of his people, and I agree, would be a data analyst that would be really taking the data from the CRM, that would be taking ticketing data, that would be in charge of slicing and dicing sales reporting and analysis. They could work on projections.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: What has Jill Robinson said to you in your interview that we must be as excellent throughout the institution as we are on stage or it won’t be sustainable. I know from lots of experiences it was always about what was on stage but we’ve got to get people in there to see it. You just described a bunch of them but what else does excellence look like now in marketing leadership or in art leadership?

Erik Gensler: I think arts leadership internally in an organization is someone who can collaborate really well with the programming side and the artistic side because I think that’s ultimately what you’re selling. Having that collaboration and real successful working relationship with the artistic side and the programming side, it all works hand in hand. Having good leadership, to me, involves… if you’re not setting what you stand for as an organization and I’m talking internally and culturally and externally, anything goes. I think leadership is defining a culture, defining your expectations and sticking to it and supporting people through it. I think a big problem is we hold on to too many people too long because for the sake of oh, we’re a nonprofit or we want to be nice. I just think there’s a lot of opportunity if you set a boundary of what’s acceptable and what’s not that you really have to stick to it. If people are not excellent, helping them move on to where they can be excellent if it’s not within your organization. There’s too much of that oh, this person’s been here a long time. We’re an arts organization, we have to be excellent where it’s so hard. It’s so hard to get people’s attention now, it’s so hard to get people engaged. The people who are doing it are the ones that are… we see it all the time. If you’re a great social storyteller, if you have amazing video, if you have amazing content, if you have amazing web experience it makes it a lot easier. Of course, the art has to be good. And the experience has to be good. The experience of going to your theater has to be enjoyable.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: And buy a ticket.

Erik Gensler: Right. And the actual art you’re seeing onstage has to touch you in a way. Jack, when we interviewed him, Jack McAuliffe, talked about in audience surveys if the ushers are rude, if the parking is hard, the surveys he’s done, it’s really impacted it. But the thing that gets people to come back is love of what’s on stage. Someone at Boot Camp, Michael Barber, is kind of doing a session that’s all about reducing friction. So that’s another framework in which to look at it as a marketer. Well it’s a project manager’s job but it’s also marketer’s job. How do you reduce friction between someone who’s getting butt nut seat, which is the friction between a bad result and a web search to a friction on a bad mobile site, to friction of a bad eCommerce experience, the friction of a rude usher, to a friction of an uncomfortable seat, to a friction of a long line to get a drink. All of it.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I was just saying to someone at drinks last night, I won’t name the organization but I had gone for the very first time and could not get into the parking lot. The show was great, it was beautiful, but the thing I remember most about that day was that and I have not been back cause I don’t want to experience that again, trying to go on a weekend. It’s amazing how many of those moments, how many touch points there are of where we can get it very wrong.

Erik Gensler: It’s hard. It’s really hard. I think just being open, and I’d say this to myself as a business leader, everything I mess up on a daily basis. I sit in bed at night, and I try to do this less because it’s not healthy, but it’s like you could have handled this interaction better, you handle this conversation better or this thing better. You asked what I’ve really been thinking about lately and one thing I’ve been thinking about lately is, it’s Allen de Botton who says, “We are all flawed human beings.” It is a miracle we all put our shirts on every day and get to the office on time. The society functions as it is. If you start from the fact that you and everyone around you is a flawed h an being just trying to do the best they can, do it’s such an interesting framework. You look at your organization with limited time and resources you can only tackle one thing at a time. The rude usher’s probably worked for a different organization and… there’s so many organizations, arts organizations that… well the ticketing path sucks but oh, that’s run by the theater that we rent. Or the parking is a third party company. Or the concessions are a rental and it’s just like that’s why investing in people in the long term takes a long time because to solve all these problems takes many years. If you’re an organization that has a marketing director for two years, they’re barely going to be able to solve anything. It takes a long time.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I think it’s also, you said something about, you know… and this isn’t to shame anywhere that I’ve worked before but I don’t think that I’ve ever was in a nonprofit that had a single conversation that involved the word culture and defining that and defining values. I think we just ass e that that comes with choosing to work in nonprofit arts.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: And it doesn’t so then what you have is that. You know that we all feel very responsible for our work and for all those touch points here. It’s part of our culture and you aren’t doing that necessarily in arts organization. So everyone knows they don’t care about me, they’re not investing in me, they’re not caring about the culture in here and you don’t get as much buy in.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. We write our values on the wall which I think to some people is probably on the nose but I think it’s…

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: It’s a big empty wall without it so…

Erik Gensler: It’s artfully written. I don’t know. Does that work with our new brand?

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I really think if you weren’t doing this for a living you would be a designer.

Erik Gensler: Oh, for sure.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Right. Interior design?

Erik Gensler: I think so. I mean, I don’t know. I got a catalog in the mail from the continuing education of the interior design institute on and I’m seriously thinking about taking classes. There’s one that like, sourcing rugs. I would love to sit in a class of learning how to source rugs. There’s intro to interior design, there’s touring the D&D building, which I would love to do. Yeah, designing our own space is fun.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: It’s beautiful.

Erik Gensler: Thank you.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: We just opened our new kitchen. It’s really exciting. I’ve never seen people so excited about a sink.

Erik Gensler: I know.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: What’s the last thing you saw?

Erik Gensler: Last night I saw Midsummer Night’s Dream at Central Park with my friend Jeff Hiller who was on the podcast. He gave us tickets and God, that was magic.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: It’s one of my favorite spaces in New York City.

Erik Gensler: Oh my God. The moon was sort of hanging there, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the frogs and the crickets.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: No surprise thunder shower.

Erik Gensler: No.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: That happens to me almost every time but I still have such a great time.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, it’s just so fun. And that show is just so perfectly suited to that space with the forest. It’s amazing. Oscar voice came on the God mike and you know that controversy there about after Julius Caesar and the Trump nuts, protesting.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Big surprise, things in Shakespeare.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. We should kill the playwright. But he talked about how since they opened Shakespeare in the Park, five million people have been in that theater for free to see Shakespeare and that made me almost want to cry because it’s such a beautiful, moving experience to be in that space and to share art that way. It’s so cool. I wonder why more, I was thinking why don’t more cities have this? Like outdoor amphitheaters for whatever it is. Doing it for free is such a great way to introduce people to art. I mean you pay in your time if you’re waiting in line if your friend’s not in the cast.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Yes. Joe Pat biography about that space and it’s really interesting.

Erik Gensler: Oh, I don’t know that. Yeah.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: It’s good. I can’t remember what the name of it was but… I stole two questions from one of my favorite podcasts, Freakonomics, on of many favorite podcasts. What’s one story about you that your family always tells? Beyond the Bagel Times which I heard your dad say at your wedding. I’ve also seen the business card.

Erik Gensler: I think, oh God. Both of my parents said at my wedding was I was a late talker. I didn’t talk until I was like two and they were worried and they took me to this developmental speech people and they were like, “He’s not talking.” But then their joke is once I started talking I never shut up. Talk too much.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: It comes very easily to you too, right? We’ve talked about this a lot that public speaking is one of my absolute nightmares, but it doesn’t seem to affect you that way. In fact I think you really enjoy it.

Erik Gensler: I love it. It doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t know. I think that’s what doing theater and growing up in high school you stand up there and… I don’t know. I guess in some ways that’s easier because it’s not your lines.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: It wasn’t easy for me. I never did that part. I was a stage manager or cost e designer, anything that kept me in the wings.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, I like that too.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: So if you see me on stage at Boot Camp, please be nice.

Erik Gensler: You’re great at it.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I think it’s interesting, this idea… Jennifer talks about it all the time, your coach, of stretching into things that just don’t come naturally to you and both qualities but also skills and the sales piece is something that you thoroughly enjoy that I hate. Which ones are hard?

Erik Gensler: I think what’s hard for me, hard for everybody, is still giving people tough feedback even though I think it’s so important as a leader to give tough feedback. The Radical Candor Podcast that you talk a lot about says you don’t want to give the shit sandwich which is, “Ashley, your hair looks great. By the way, you really botched this. Oh, I love your earrings,” you know? Cause that’s a shit sandwich. You just have to go out and say it. It’s funny. Even though I know every time I do it, the outcome on the other side is better. In people’s self evaluations they always say, “At my last evaluation I got this feedback and I was so happy and I solved it” because smart people want to be challenged and they want to improve so they want that feedback which doesn’t make it easier so that’s a skill I’m constantly cultivating. I also have this pleaser mentality and a pleaser mentality and giving tough feedback does not resonate. You know radical candor, which they discontinued the candor app, but I loved it. Did you download that thing?

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I did, briefly. Yeah, I think it’s interesting why they chose to nix it.

Erik Gensler: I think it’s a lot to maintain an app and they’re a small shop.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: It’s interesting because she was saying, cause they had this super transparent write up about why they stopped investing in that and it was just ultimately they just realized their whole thing was about conversation and to develop an app was somehow not actually conducive to that. So they’re just choosing to invest their time in podcasts and other content.

Erik Gensler: Interesting. I think seeing it once was enough, though, and I think what the app did was, you download it all quote/unquote they say direct reports, we don’t say that here but people on your team. It had checklists like giving them, they say, feedback is not to make someone feel good or bad, it’s to help them do their job better. So throughout the day you should give a certain number of corrective feedback to people and a certain number of “you’re doing this well and the reason you’re doing this that’s important is helps the business in x, y, z or you botched this and here’s why. That helps them and then the candor app allowed you to check off when you gave the people that feedback. I didn’t use it very much but I still see it and it’s really helpful as a framework for leadership and management. I want to put a huge plug here for the Radical Candor Podcast. All of us have listened to that and it’s been a game changer for..

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I mean it is absolutely, fundamentally shift how I approach giving and receiving it and it is hard, and it is painful, more than the first few times I have you know. I exposed my dad to it who is also a small business owner when I was home, very similar to CI, lots of really explosive growth and I was kind of describing it and, of course, was getting the crunchy granola liberal face, you know? And then I just said…

Erik Gensler: Meaning your other crunchable granola?

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Exactly. You’re like oh, right, okay. Silicon Valley stuff. But I got to over win his sympathy and his face just fell. And he just said, “That’s what I do”.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, explain that.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Yeah, that this idea that because we care so much we ought not to hurt people’s feelings. And so we just let them not correct the thing that would make them better and not know how they could grow. We’re all really guilty of it and she says in her describing this like it’s because we’re taught from children if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: In looking back at the years before CI and even my first year here I was just thinking all these moment where it was, “God, I wish someone had just told me I was doing that.”

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: And finally having somebody that would really do it.

Erik Gensler: Well, it’s like what we talked about earlier too. When I asked what good leadership is and it’s not the ruinous empathy thing. Which is letting people not be excellent just because you don’t want to hurt their feelings, you don’t want to rock the boat. But that goes back to a culture of excellence and wanting to be excellent.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: One of our lovely CI staff members wanted to know if you chose any real special readings for your wedding.

Erik Gensler: I did.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I mostly wanted to give you an excuse to talk about your wedding.

Erik Gensler: Appreciate that. So we had two readings. Ryan, my husband, who’s a theater academic and a theater lover, he chose readings from “Our Town” where they talk about marriage and marriage is a phase in life and how fast life moves and ultimately death. It’s slightly dark for a wedding but I think recognizing… I think as Americans we’re so scared about death and we don’t want to talk about death and we don’t want to be present and we don’t want to over react. I think Buddhism, if you recognized death is coming it allows you to appreciate life so much more. The poem I chose which was called the Gate by the poet laureate of New York, Marie Howe. I’m looking it up because I love it. It’s also about, similar thematically to what Ryan chose with Our Town which was about the death of her brother. No one knew this but her brother died of AIDS when he was 28. It talks about the ordinary moments in life and how important they are and how through the death of her brother she was able to recognize life is only about those small moments, cause that’s what it is. I can read it.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: I love it. It’s really short. The Gate by Marie Howe. I had no idea that the gate I would step through to finally enter this world would be the space my brother’s body made. He was a little taller than me, a young man but grown himself by then. Done at 28. Having folded every sheet, rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold and running water. “This is what you have been waiting for” he used to say to me. And I’d say, “What?” And he’d say, “This” holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich. And I’d say “What?” And he’d say “This” sort of looking around. When I heard that poem I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I just think it’s so amazing. My favorite part is the “having folded every sheet, rinsed every glass he would rinse under the cold and running water”. That moment of what it feels like to wash the dishes which is such an ordinary thing but it’s like let’s not rush through that because that is life, you know?

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: You know those things just, I don’t know, I’m carrying so meaning and stuff post election and this job is one of those things for me. This place, the people in it and just- this is what you CI-to-Eye moment. If you can broadcast to the executive directors and leadership teams and boards of 1,000 arts organizations and adding and maybe a few fellow entrepreneurs, what one piece of advice would you provide to them to help them improve their businesses?

Erik Gensler: I thought you’d ask me this, but of course.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I thought you’d have that one in the can and ready to go.

Erik Gensler: I mean, I’ve had parts of it in the can. I think it’s a culmination of a lot of things, but it’s always about… I think one thing, there’s so many, one that I didn’t get to talk about at this point was bringing your whole self to work and I think when we work in arts and cultural organizations there is a freer culture. But I think you know, performance studies, the idea that everything you do is performative, and so we act very different in different environments and I think we’ve been taught to compartmentalize what it means and how we behave at work and how we treat people at work and just having that humanity and how to treat your colleagues and how you treat other people. It’s like when you meet someone at a conference it’s just a different relationship than when you meet them over a sales call. And there’s something to that, there’s something to recognize in the humanity of view and knowing about your husband and your dog, and what you did this weekend and I think that part of seeing someone a part of an organization that is full of humans, which does to back to the whole investing in people thing. I think is really, really powerful and something that I’m really working on and trying to spend that time where it’s like I’d rather… getting to have lunch with somebody here and walking to lunch with someone I don’t get to see is such a super important part of my day because I’m just getting to know them and getting to have that relationship with them, and I think that’s not wasting time in a lot of ways. I mean obviously you want to be here and you want to work, but investing in those relationships before and after work and during, so you know, it’s about people.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Christopher always says that work is personal, which he might have gotten from you.

Erik Gensler: I think I got it from him a lot too. I think ’cause he’s someone who I think brings his full self to work and I’ve learned a lot from him about that.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Same. It’s interesting though, I mean, everything I read is like that’s what the current generation coming out of school is expecting too. That you don’t have your work self and your life self and you obviously have to be professionals but we joke about having work husbands and work wives but the reality is that I this week have definitely seen people I work with more than I’ve seen my own husband. It’s a lot of hours of the day, particularly when you care about the work you’re doing.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, definitely. Thank you.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: Thank you, that was really fun.

About Our Guests
Ashley Dunn Gatterdam
Ashley Dunn Gatterdam
VP of Client Strategy, Capacity Interactive

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam is the Vice President of Client Strategy at Capacity Interactive. She joined Capacity Interactive after 10 years of working in non-profit arts organizations in New York City, including Manhattan Theatre Club, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Lincoln Center Theater.

Read more

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