Pat Gibson, CMO – Rapchat
We met Pat at Rapchat HQ to catch up on marketing, strategy and Kanye West. Learn about his start and hear his advice for the future of creative communications.
Just starting off, I’d like to get the origin story of how you got into marketing?
So... this kinda goes hand in hand with the Rapchat story. Growing up I was always into music. I was a drummer in a punk rock band. I always appreciated hip hop and the art of rhythm and rhyming. I started rapping with friends as a joke, but then started recording tracks. We did a mixtape in a month— and sold it across our high school, 100 copies for $5 and took that $500, put it into studio equipment and started taking it more seriously.
In that age, the product you’re selling is your music so [we were] always figuring out how can we sell this music and how do we package this. Is it doing photo shoots, doing graphic design, doing events/shows? Trying to figure out unique ways to draw in listeners and build an audience. So in college I was actually on the soccer team at Northwestern, but I had a few injuries that kept me out during the offseason. In that time I was able to produce and focus on the music, but I was able to really see how social media, blogs and all that was driving traffic.
So when I graduated, I started putting out music on my own and was getting in bigger blogs and really figuring out how the digital side worked. All these people wanted to use my song in their crazy YouTube videos like Call Of Duty channels, Drawing, & more. In exchange, I told them to just include my Facebook, Twitter, & links. That song to this day has like 20 million plays on it and still gets crazy engagement but it was all from that.
But my day job was working in business development for a start-up at the time outside of Rapchat, and I was doing my music at the same time seeing how big of a force social media was. After that, I led Paid Social advertising at Resolution Media (Omnicom's digital marketing arm in Chicago). Intel was my biggest client, and we were managing $5 million paid ad budgets for them. I was seeing all of this while working for Rapchat on the side and seeing how you market an app, how you tap into these digital audiences to increase your reach and visibility.
What is the difference between working on a brand like Intel versus going the D.I.Y. route with the marketing for Rapchat?
The biggest thing is budget. With such a bank of resources, they want you to try everything and anything. A lot of it is testing out new experiments & new platforms (that you have no idea how they’re gonna work), but a major company like them can afford little Ls here & there before scaling up on the Ws.
With Rapchat, we can’t afford that— we have fractions of fractions of the budget, and largely we’re looking at what we can do for free. A lot of it isn’t budget focused, and more so how do we get our users talking about us organically? What particular actions in the app can we optimize? Understanding the user's experience & psychology when using the product to benefit us both mutually and naturally.
If budget wasn’t a concern, say you had $5 million in the bank, Intel’s budget, how would you use it?
Sheeeesh. Well, the biggest thing for us is visibility. With that kind of budget we’d work with all the major rappers, producers and run contests. Imagine with this new Drake album that’s dropping, the beat from the single is on Rapchat. Record your favorite verse on it and he’ll be featuring the best sound clips from the app on the actual album. Having an opportunity like that from fan to mega superstar and connecting those dots all through an app, is crazy. So with that, it’d be working with influencers, getting that reach across multiple DSPs, and creating a lot of content to distribute.
But really for us that focus is largely digital, and making sure that when someone sees Rapchat they’re able to immediately download it on the spot. For a start up, you really have to invest in the product. You know a lot of your early product is gonna look like shit and all of that, but you have to really focus on it working, because if you’re spending thousands or hundreds of thousands on a product that’s not there and not ready, you’re literally shooting yourself in the foot. For us, it’s a challenge balancing growth & product development, as you don't have unlimited time to build/further the product, but you still have to grow organically & boost it when the time's right.
Understanding that, your product’s never gonna be perfect, so don’t have that analysis paralysis where you don’t do anything but understand how you can test at a small, small scale. Instead of throwing a couple million dollars on a whim, let’s throw a couple hundred thousand between five different things and then scale on top of that. It’s how you think about problems. There’s a lot of sexy things that look awesome on top, but all that glitters isn’t gold— (shoutout Led Zeppelin). It’s easy to get caught up in the hype, but really it’s truly sticking to your goals and saying at the end of the day is this working or not?
You’re Chief Marketing Officer. Somebody as a brand manager, marketing coordinator, marketing director that aspires to one day be a CMO, what would you tell them? What advice would you give them?
Yeah, there’s advantages and disadvantages obviously, but you always gotta play to your strengths. So one of the big advantages is a lot of these coordinators are younger, right? They truly have their fingers on the pulse of what’s resonating for the younger generation. Especially when it comes to social media, apps, and all things digital. Most CMOs are older because they’ve worked throughout their career to get to that position. But they’re not as in touch with these digital platforms and using them everyday. So understanding the way a CMO has to think and operate from a budget, goals and an analytics standpoint, while still being aware of new opportunities. If you can be consistent in delivering new opportunities to the table and thinking differently, then you can establish your expertise in areas where your CMO might not be up to date on.
While having a pulse to the streets and being able to find opportunities is great, understanding how to communicate your ideas is critical. What does it take to get it done, what kind of results can you anticipate- serve it up on a platter for your manager to easily analyze the opportunity then press the go button. In a world where bigger corporations tend to move slower, it offers a chance for you to move quickly on timely opportunities and be ahead of the curve. You see what Wendy’s has done with embracing Twitter and they’re having tweets go viral while appealing to millennials by talking like us, sounding like us and dropping mixtapes! They truly understanding their audience. With Twitter, there’s not a budget to type out a tweet firing shots at McDonald’s, it’s just understanding the landscape, really becoming a champion of it and developing that reputation.
CMOs see you handle your business and come up with fresh ideas—disclaimer, a lot your ideas will will probably get a no... BUT it’s understanding why it’s a no and still being persistent to keep bringing in new ideas. If you know "this" is gonna be a big success, and you’re able to show results from past case studies/ similar examples, YOU start to build credit. When you start developing those wins, that’s when you earn value and can be relied on in an ever-changing landscape.
Anyone that is trying to use marketing techniques from 20 years ago needs to understand that doesn’t work. A good CMO or a good entrepreneur or any type of business person understands that the game is always changing and JUST when you think you got the game all figured out... is when you get yourself in trouble.
I am curious, this is a little bit off topic, but what are you listening to right now? What’s on your playlist?
What’s on my playlist that we’re looking at right in front of us? Um, I was a big fan of the recent GOOD Music drops; the [Kid] Cudi, Kanye, and Nas projects. Yeah, Kanye’s a polarizing figure right now... BUT I still really liked his album. I’ve heard people say they hate it, they love it, yet I still think it’s the best GOOD Music release.
Nas I liked, but I expected a little more. I’m a huge Kanye fan but I was actually disappointed in Kanye’s production on it. I like Cudi, I like the Cudi and Kanye album, I didn’t love it. I still have Ye as the highest. In terms of recent drops I have Ye, Cudi, Nas, Pusha T, Teyana Taylor in that order.
Is that your favorite Kanye album?
No, no. Favorite Kanye album is College Dropout. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a great one, Late Registration’s great, Graduation’s good. I loved [The Life of] Pablo too.
Ye’s hard to judge in all Kanye's work though. Stacking up a 7 song album next to his full albums makes it tough so I'll still give it some time before fully judging. But, he did hit four out of seven. If you hit that kind of percentage on any album that’s a major win. With that said, I would’ve been interested to see fourteen songs, but I do kinda like the seven song format.
One last question. Favorite rapper from the 80s/90s era?
Ooooh, okay 90s. So 90s, this was actually what got me into hip hop and it was Wu-Tang Clan but specifically it was Ghostface Killah—his flow really got me into it. I would listen to hip hop, but I wouldn’t go out and buy an album. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school I started listening to Wu-Tang randomly and I felt dumb for putting off hip hop and not giving it the chance it deserved. Then that transpired to Tupac, Biggie, then Jay-Z in his earlier days. But I’ll give Ghostface that one, because that was probably the biggest turning point for me to really dive in.
Alright cool, man. I’ll let you close this out. If people want to find you, download the app, etc, how can they find you? What’s the rundown?
The website is www.rapchat.me , but you can just search 'Rapchat' in the App Store or Google Play store, both available for free. You’ll be able to rap over thousands of beats, share them anywhere with your friends, whole lotta fun. On social media it’s @rapchatapp and that’s on Twitter, Instagram, coming soon to Snapchat.
Me personally on Twitter @p_holla, same with Instagram. I’m pretty active on both channels engaging whether it’s with music fans, friends, general marketer or app entrepreneurs. Hit me up. Hit me up on Rapchat too. P-Holla— I’ll be listening to your raps. And who knows, maybe you’ll get a record deal from it or if you just wanna have fun and rap battle your friends.