Interview with Dan Gardner, Co-CEO of Code & Theory - Nasdaq Disruptors

Elyse Southwell interviews Dan Gardner, co-CEO of creative marketing agency, Code & Theory. Watch the video above or read the transcript below:

Elyse Southwell: Welcome Facebook live, Elyse Southwell here for Nasdaq Disruptors, we are at the Nasdaq Marketsite in Times Square. Today, we have a very cool guest; it is co-founder and co-CEO of creative marketing agency, Dan Gardner. Welcome Dan!

Dan Gardner: Thank you!

Elyse Southwell: So, tell us a little bit about Code & Theory.

Dan Gardner: So Code & Theory is a digital first agency and basically, what I mean by that is we live in a digital first world, and we have creative services, that sort of think about digital first mentality, everything from digital products, we do a lot of media and publishing to think about marketing communication from a brand perspective.

Elyse Southwell: So what exactly do you do for brands?

Dan Gardner: So it ranges you know, the easiest way you know, is to think of an advertising agency, and obviously there’s a communication element, but really when we look at a digital first perspective we think about what business is and how it evolves in a digital world, and how businesses and brands can pivot themselves both operationally from, you know a human resource perspective to the things that they put around the world, whether be Digital Products. If you're a newspaper, you have a website, that’s a digital product or an app and how we can re pivot that, monetize that and obviously at the end of the day back to the advertising element where it’s about communication sort of positioning them.

Elyse Southwell: So if you have a burger joint and you want to call up Code & Theory what would you do for the burger joint? Would you build them a website and that sort of thing?

Dan Gardner: Well, for example Burger King is one of our clients, and it can range on you know what is obviously the actual problem they have. If it's a brand-new burger joint, obviously, they need communication channels to get customer acquisition people into the burger joint. If you're maybe a fast food company that have a lot of retail stores you know finding different ways on new innovative products and how we message it there are these products and sort of that brand perception to get people in the door. So whether that be recently for example, we did a video with Snoop Dogg, it was a training video on the launch of their grill dogs campaign, and we used Snoop Dogg to actually show how to actually prepare a hot dog and we distributed that all to the different restaurants across the country and obviously that kind of pushed out from there to this launch of what this new hot dog product as an example.

Elyse Southwell: So, Nasdaq you know disruptors we are all about disrupting the space, so how is Code & Theory a disruptor, obviously there are a lot of ad agencies out there, creative marketing agencies out there, so would you call yourself a disruptor and why, if you are?

Dan Gardner: Yeah, I think well its two things I think, one, how we operate and you know internally in our walls the process that we do because at the end of the day l always like to say we’re trying to scale creativity. As our business grows, we have more people, what do they do, they are being creative and solving problems for brands. So you know it's everything on what we do and how we approach it from. We look at business problems to communication problems. I think there are companies that just do communication problems and there’s companies that maybe just focus on the operational problems, or you know what the business is. So we try to look at sort of how insights across from, here's the communication problem, here is how we going to affect the business or here is where the business should go, and here's how we communicate.

So that's internally the types of disciplines we have, it's pretty a wide variety. And then obviously, our approach and I think the reason why many brands and clients come to us is sort of our disruptive sort of way we approach things you know, how we look at the business, how we challenge them on how they operate to how they communicate and just different ideas you know. We are not you know, the idea of best practices is something that always feels strange to us because that sorts of pigeonholes the creativity to solve a problem in a disruptive way so you know I think that’s sort of how we approach it.

Elyse Southwell: So, for our viewers out there that might not be able to know what the difference between a communication problem is or a business problem or challenge, what could you give as an example of one of each?

Dan Gardner: Well, I think that's the interesting thing that I think the world is sort of colliding what is a business problem, what is a communication problem, you know, but I think you know because oftentimes some of the communication problems are solved with business problems you know, say the music business for example, it radically shifts distribution so there is both a communication problem of like why it was important to buy music at one point and a new way to distribute it and how are they going to make money. So I think it’s often times we’re seeing sort of a blurry line, or media companies you know, what is the difference between a broadcast company, a newspaper and a magazine, in the physical world there’s big differences it's like frequency, but in the digital world there's not much difference, they are all doing video content, they are all doing written content, they’re all doing photography and finding disruptive ways to change the product, how they can deliver an app that is differentiated to deliver that news in a way, and then how do you communicate that this is different in a world that is so crowded. So, it's you know it is becoming a more blurry line between the two things.

Elyse Southwell: Yeah, so you obviously have a lot of insight into all these different businesses with all your clients, can you give us a story or about a crazy fun client or a great client story you could share with us?

Dan Gardner: Yeah, I mean, obviously we experience a lot of interesting fun stories, but I think one story that you know always sort of pops in my mind when I think of interesting things is sort of the old, I think it was Mike Tyson that one’s said you know you all have a plan until you get punched in the face. And there was one time when we were probably just starting to get into heavy and medium publishing around 2008, there was a big sort of economic shift on you know what it means to be a publisher and we had this opportunity to pitch Tina Brown, who was at the time just starting The Daily Beast she really just sort of had you know a big idea, but nothing more than that, and we came in with his big sort of plan presentation you know, we were really nervous and we are team like prepared and we were over in IC building and there was a bomb threat and we all had to run out and somehow the other co-founder, Brandon Ralph, who I started the company with, he ended up in a diner with Tina Brown and they just discussed the future of publishing and you know the rest was you know. We got hired, we did what I think was some pretty amazing work, that sort have help transition to a lot of work in the future with different clients.

Elyse Southwell: A bomb threat! That’s scary.

Dan Gardner: Yeah, exactly scary! But, a bonding experience and luckily nothing. It was only a threat.

Elyse Southwell: So you told me that, I think you told me earlier that 15 years ago this month the company has been in business. So what has changed so far in terms of the space what was it like 15 years ago and what is it like now?

Dan Gardner: I mean the reality is everything really has changed, I mean when we started in 2001 you know, we were going through a dot-com bubble burst so you know the role of what digital or how digital played a role in people's life was completely different. One there was sort of awareness of how do you make money in it. Two there weren't devices like the iPhone or smaller android phone. Those devices didn’t exist, it was really a one screen digital world, you go to your computer and you engage with you know the world digitally just in that one way, and now digital is more than even devices, you are experiencing it in smart objects, smart appliances. So the way you solve problems is a lot different than just thinking what the output is on one screen is. So it's quite different that you know it's both immature and a bit more mature at the same time. It’s almost like an early preteen child that like you know they're starting to get to know you know the world a bit more, but they're still very innocent and confused at the same time.

Elyse Southwell: It must be tough seeing all that innovation, like I heard the other day that there’s these robots coming out that could go in your kitchen and cook you a whole meal. I mean, my gosh right. That wouldn’t have happened 15 years ago?

Dan Gardner: No, I don’t think so you know I think there is some interesting things in the world of AI in general and you know.

Elyse Southwell: Artificial intelligence...

Dan Gardner: Exactly, and how that will play a role, and what is its role because people still like to do things and where does it make your life better and where does it actually make your life harder. I think some of those things still can be figured out, but yes, I think 15 years ago that was more of a future roadmap visioning and less reality.

Elyse Southwell: The things you plant in your time capsule and say we’re going to happen right? Like in a hundred. So what do you think I mean it’s kind of the same note, what do you think was the future for brands and companies or you know the companies that you work with, brands that you work with?

Dan Gardner: The future question is always an interesting one because obviously it's unknown, you know the one thing that I find fascinating is the speed at which the world is solving problems. I would often think about like coffee, how was coffee invented like, oh, let’s put the beans in water, no, that kind of doesn't taste good, oh, lets you know crush it up or we should send hot water through it. Like that process took a long time to go, oh, this tastes pretty good and it still seems like its evolving.

Elyse Southwell: Right!

Dan Gardner: You know, but if you look at the modern world it’s like so many startups even big businesses are evolving trying to solve human behavior needs so quick faster than ever before. It's that like the new industrial revolution of sort of like how to solve it, so it's interesting to think even in a couple years, like what does that mean, because we know that it’s going to be completely different and it’s only changing quicker than we even realized before, as we even solve more human behavioral needs, and there's a million startups for every behavior to see who could figure out how to do it so it should be interesting.

Elyse Southwell: So I noticed that a lot of brands out there they produce a lot of content you know you mentioned websites before. So do you think that’s part of the future? Like every brand is going to have to become their own sort of content publisher, content house, do you think that?

Dan Gardner: Yeah, I think the idea of brands as publisher, it’s critical and it's obviously necessary. I mean in the old days of communication advertising it was pretty easy to create one thing and your message it to many. But, now the people are more connected in many different ways, there’s an expectation for it to be more personal and the ability to, a brand can deliver more than one message to make that personal thing, I think is necessary when you think about all the different, I mean we’re sitting here in time square talking you see all this messaging to find differentiation as a brand to reach you, you have to be able to be relevant every single day to sort of get that attention.

Elyse Southwell: Yeah, so our last question, Nasdaq is all about innovation and technology and ambition do you have any advice for entrepreneurs out there, someone that wants to start their own business or has some cool ideas?

Dan Gardner: I think you know advice is always interesting because I want to always ignore advice because to me that's the point of differentiation when you can kind of pave your own way. That said obviously advice also is the ability to you know not have failed things that other people failed at, but you know, I think it’s sort of the ethos of internally of like you know you always have to sort of challenge what is that like, what is, is that because it’s the best way or is best way to do something, best way to start a business, best way to have your business do this idea, or you know is there new ideas that are not settled for that status quo when approaching anything really in life.

Elyse Southwell: That’s awesome yeah well you obviously do that at Code & Theory when you have time with your clients. Dan thank you so much for being here and we are really excited to hear more about what you guys are doing in the future. I’m Elyse Southwell, thank you guys for watching Nasdaq Disruptors, thank you again, good afternoon.

Nasdaq Disruptors is an interview series on the people and companies changing the way we live and think. Hosted by Elyse Southwell, she sits down with some of the world’s most interesting and innovative technology leaders and asks them 10 questions in 10 minutes.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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