Soul & Science
Soul & Science

Season 1, Episode · 4 months ago

S1 Episode 16: Vista CMO Ricky Engelberg | The Power of Community


Growing up, Ricky Engelberg loved both computers and playing baseball. While your basic 1990s high schooler would say the two sit on opposite sides of the cafeteria, it was the perfect mix for Nike, where Engelberg worked for almost 20 years after college. There at the dawn of the internet era, Engelberg helped Nike create digital products for athletes and sneakerheads alike, including Nike Plus Running, nurturing passionate communities. Today, as CMO at Vista (formerly VistaPrint), Engelberg is bringing a spirit of community among small business owners, who tackle marketing after regular business hours, helping them conquer pandemic-era digital transformations.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • If you want to build a new line of business, go crack some eggs
  • Community is a critical building block of brands today
  • Be respectful of your consumers’ communities, realize you are a part of it
  • Science plays a part, but ultimately, the future always involves a gut decision 

Brought to you by Mekanism.

Hi, I'm Jason Harrison. You're listening to soul and science. Fast Forward Your Marketing Mind in about twenty minutes. If you like our show, please take a moment to subscribe, rate, review and share on apple, spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. You can follow us across social platforms at mechanism. Welcome to the PODCAST. Today we're joined by Ricky Engelberg. He owned a record label, he worked at Buena Vista Pictures and he was a veteran and Nike for about nineteen years, then went to converse. He is currently the CMO at Vista. Formally, you might recognize it as vista print. It is a one point four billion dollar brand that helps small businesses tell their stories and grow through a variety of print and digital marketing and design services. Vista is a marketing partner to millions of small businesses all around the world. As CMO, ricky oversees essential functions such as customer experience and the digital products. Ricky has developed an agile approach to marketing by quickly adapting to the needs of small businesses. During the pandemic, which we will get into in this podcast. He's led initiatives like the well known, this is not a mass campaign, which helped normalize the use of masks as a form of expression as we began to reopen during the pandemic. Ricky also helped start vistas Save Small Business Fund, which funds grants for underrepresented and less fortunate communities in the US. Through his work at Vista, Ricky has shown how a brand can quickly shift to meet the needs of their customers when they need it and how to build a community. So we're going to talk today about a lot of things because ricky has been in marketing for a long time, has worked in a lot of places, and today's episode theme, we're going to circle around, is the power of community. All right, let's dive right in. We always start, ricky with the person's origin story, because some people fall into marketing and some people are born into marketing. which were you? You know, interesting question. I'd say born into is probably closer to accurate than fall into. I just a nerd for ads growing up and a nerd for innovation and what the what the world could be, and always different things, and so I reflect back on being in high school or college and one of my favorite things was seeing ad campaigns, seeing how companies launched, how they existed, how the Internet changed things for them. It's kind of always been what I've done is try to figure out how interesting things happen in the world. So I'd say born into it more so, but uh, not from like a legacy family of marketers in that way. You are one of maybe two other people that feel like that. That was their career path. I was. I was also born into it. I always studied advertising and branding and Um, when you started, ricky, what was your first the first like work thing that you did in the field of marketing? But when I was in college I was working at the college radio station and we have put on a talk show called sports talk live. Trying to remember all right, for an University of Georgia football game, you would have different like remote live, a game day style broadcast. We would do working every connection possible to figure out how to get the actual ESPN Game Day crew to go be guests on our talk show on a Saturday for a Georgia Tennessee game was one of the first days. I feel like it's like, Oh wow, we actually built down something really awesome. Today was very much a special moment on that and it kind of looks like back and it's like we had that point was helping with a bunch of different record labels at the time and it's interesting because, like we would send out records to college radio stations and too music reviewers and get no feedback and you're like, Oh, I'm always sent down a hundred CDs and four are now tracking. And there's an album we put out...

...the band life without buildings, and I'll never again. On that Tuesday when it met friends in downtown for a lunch, we'd sent out a bunch of their CDs on like the Thursday before that Tuesday. Come home and on my answering machine there's like fourteen voicemails and start playing them and it's just Mount Rushmore of like Indie Rock nerd them. At that point it's the A v Club, it's K E xp, it's the village voice. I'll be like hey, we got this life without buildings package. We love this, and that moment of going Oh, this is what it's like to have a hit product, this is what it's like to find product market fit. This is what it's like to find something that people really, really, really really care about. The band broke up a few months later. The whole other story for an their time past four twenty years to have a huge hit on Tiktok. Last spring break my sixteen year old niece was randomly listening to one of their songs on spotify. She didn't believe that I had actually released their album and that I ever had a record label. So that was a little hurtful on her part. Riley of real listening things Um, but the same way we went about anything at that time is very much at the core of like how I think about marketing today, like who's the audience? Who Will Care? Who could you actually make an impact with? How do you make an impact? How do you win? When I got to Nike, I started full time. It was twenty three, it was two thousand two and you just realized the power, like we should go and dream big. Like my first big project in Nikes we created a Nike lab where we collaborate with thirty six different artists around the world to tell, over multiple years, to how the performance innovation story of our shoes. We were making up a whole new language at that time, but through the lens of like what will actually cut through and be amazing. I mean I remember Nike Lab was like it was one of the like seminal brand moments where I was like, Oh man, Nike's just doing doing it differently, and it was an awesome example of like there was three of us and the companies that go do it, have fun. I've been to company three months. At that point self self been like I had I knew the canned film festival, I didn't know anything about the CAN lions. All of a sudden we wont all these awards that can and for night lap and it's like, Oh, I didn't know there was marketing awards that can. That's amazing. That's like winning uh in year one, winning the NBA finals or something. You know what I mean, like you start off at the high point. Those are some of the things where it was how do you do awesome things that make an impact? And so your record label was in Athens. Yeah, I mean it was a small baby record label. Was Me and my roommate for like six release. What was the name of it? DC Baltimore. Okay, DC Baltimore, named after a fictitious Olympic bid for the DC Baltimore area. And twelve and so again it's the kind of the line, the path from two thousand two into the Nike Phase, into the Vista phase is kind of all big, one big continuum which has been, don't interesting upon reflection, but not intentional. Everyone to work at Nike. How did you break in too, Nike? How did you get your your foot in the door? My senior year in high school I was a very good as a very good baseball player but also good with computers. Through being a good baseball player, got to know sports writer to Ortlanto Sentinal, who was friends with George Raveling. George was the former head basketball coach at USC and then taking over grassroots basketball for Nike, and George needed someone to help him make a media guide for the all America basketball camp. He hit up the sports writer who was like well, I can't do that, but I know of his kid who's good with computers, and that kind of continued on to like helping do research throughout the years on random things and helping with the media guy the next summer again, and fast forward to an intern program and I applied for it. Started sorting out supply rooms and like old like all the old merch that they would have for athletes like pip and King Grifo, junior Jason Kidd, but also helping on trying to make...

...a database for all of their keeping track of all of their high school basketball players that they were. They were part of their programs and developed a great relationship with that team. They wanted to come back in two thousand and again and uh and then basically said when you graduate, will throw you all these projects and of it. And so being an early adopter in there, it really helped. And so that's when, all of a sudden this opportunity to emerge in digital innovation and Nike, where they wanted someone that could help go and accelerate digital innovation. And so, Um, the non majority point of view at the company it was like, I would say that point was like well, digital and athletes, they don't really mix together. But the leadership of the company knew definitively that every aspect of the world was going to change and they basically said go and figure this out, go figure out what impact digital is gonna have on athletes lives and crack some eggs, and I'll from that grew things like Nike plus. Running from that group, social networks and partnership with Google for the World Cup, like Joka Dot com long way of saying. For me, getting my foot in the door was different. But what made, I think, accelerated success and Nike, you was the same things that helped with trying to sign a band or trying to make an impact college radio station. Just with a very large, smooth shaped spotlight on it. You knew more than the organization and so they kind of let you do what you wanted. Yeah, but I also was fun to it was also just a lot of fun to it was things like, all right, we're gonna go to go meet with E A and figure out how do we put shoes in a game? How do we make it so that kids can unlock shoes and playing NBA live or FIFA, and we're gonna go to e three and we're gonna go just figure out opportunities. Oh my God, I worked on playstation. I remember going to e three every year. You felt like you were on the verge of like something really special, you know, and I think that time we had touched support from the senior leadership in North America and globally at the company. Nike opened up a lot of doors to go and try to take a blank whiteboard and make it a very big impact on the world. I mean, we came up with a program my friend Jesse and I came with a program for the two thousand ten World Cup called the chance. Hey. There's a million football obsessed teams in the world who think they're the best in the world if they only get a chance to prove it. The global football systems kind of brutal, like if you don't make it by fifteen, you're kind of done. Um and most of the world and basically got all these players are like sixteen, the twenty years old. The eight kids that won that would get a chance to be in the academy. Then He created in London. I think four of those eight players played in the World Cup the next year, like they were out of football and then, because of this program we put together, they became professional football players and played in the World Cup. They played in national teams. That's amazing. Behind everything that he does, it's awesome. Or a couple are usually a couple of people in a white word being like wouldn't it be cool if we did this and then working your way through the Matrix to make it happen and we're just really lucky. At that time. What did Nike teach you about the importance of building community and how did that shape your career? Community is just an absolute critical building block. I mean, you look at sneaker culture, you look at the love that a fifteen year old kid could develop for a brand, the love that a sneaker he could develop, the passion that if you can amount of people that come up to us and be like, Nike Plus runnings would change my life. I hated running and I fell in love with running because of Nike plus running. Those stories are community. I mean community takes lots of different shapes and forms, but anytime you could create people that are truly passionate by creating things that help make their life better, great opportunities emerged from there. At its core, Nike is obsessed with customers, is obsessed with athletes, is obsessed with this consumer. And how do you actually make their life better with such a constant conversation, and how do you be respectful to communities that you are part of and understand that you are...

...a part of that community like that, to me, was a foundational piece of we're going from Nike to converse to going from converse to Vista. It's like and Vista. One of the, say the biggest things we've done this year is just build a small business ambassador program. Were able to we host dinners every month with small businesses uh in different in different cities in the US. We did it's something called the refer her program we did with I fund woman, where we hosted dinners in Sydney, Paris, London, Toronto and Los Angeles with different first time female entrepreneurs where they're able to invite other small business owners into these dinners. Those are just amazing community building opportunities where it's about us just trying to have developed relationships and understand how can we truly help small businesses increased the odds of success. You went from Nike, then you went to converse, then you went to Vista. But what appealed to you to make that jump from, you know, twenty something years in the Nike Converse World to the Vista World? Twenty years a long time. Um, the way I kind of aways put it is like someone's born, they go to Dankcare, kindergarten, elementary school, Middle School, high school and you're a sophomore in college. And that's kind of the approximate time that I had been part of Nike Inc that's scary to look at it that way. Yeah, it was something where there's always gonna be amazing new challenges that existed there, but the opportunity to go and try to make amazing design and marketing partnership accessible to small businesses was something that is just deeply passionate about. So when I looked at the opportunity, it was interesting because we had just spent seventeen years in Portland and then moved to Boston and been in Boston three years, and I think that was so interesting in Portland was it was just so small business supportive. There was literally a thousand food carts in Portland that the city worked hard to protect. You had these chefs moving on from San Francisco or from Seattle that we're able to go and start their dream restaurant in Portland and be able to afford it and have neighborhoods embrace these restaurants. It was just this never ending amount of these incredibly successful small businesses thriving. And how do you take that same spirit and make it available to everyone? Because once you realize every time is for small business is so much of it. Like you start the business because you want to be a baker, you want to be a landscape architect, you want to be own your own gem. But so much of the job is marketing, so much of the job is HR and management, so much of the job is accounting, and so I can't help you with all those things. But Vista gives you the opportunity to say we've got you a design and marketing partner, in the same way that I can pick up the phone and call an R G A or a K Q a or mechanism or whoever the case may be, to go and help with something. A small business when the door shuts at seven o'clock at night is the and they get to go figure out how to go and grow their business, run their business, because they are there all day and you can't pick up the phone and call R G A to go help with that. And so that opportunity, or maybe you could. My apologies R G A. They have a small business arm aimed at helping local small businesses, but in general it's inaccessible for businesses exactly, and the opportunity for us to try to make it accessible was what maybe go over to vista because it was interesting. We're talking to Robert, Robert Keane, the founder CEO, who is still the CEO of the company. Like it's twelve million businesses a year we work with. It's just millions and millions of businesses around the world. Is Super Global, super global footprint, and if you could truly go and be that partner for a small business and make great design accessible, can we increase the odds of success that much more? If we can make it so it's easy to go and have social media management for them? Can we make it that much easier? Since I've been here, we bought ninety nine designs, hundred thousand amazing designers around the world. We bought a company at a Ukraine called Krelo, which we turned into is to create, which is amazing social media software... We have a partnership with wicks now for all of our digital solutions for small businesses and we're just slowly, insteadily bundling them together and to be able to be that agency, like partner for a small business. And so, uh, exciting times ahead with it. Is that why you because you're doing so much more now. You dropped the print from Vista print and you just wanted. You're basically helping small businesses. You're their marketing arm. You hit, you hit the nail on the head. Like Um. Vista print is a signature service of ours. Mr Print will be around forever, but Vista, Vista is it represents being a design and marketing partner and that's a combination to design, print and digital. Vista print is the primary service that people know us for. As you zoom out over the next couple of years, increasingly the default state for us will become Vista and it's about being the collection of services for small business we have where if someone is using designs to get their logo and Vista Times wiks to turn it onto to put other website and that's an amazing list experience. If someone uses this to create, for social management, visa print to go and print everything they need, that's an amazing vista experience. And so visa is that parent brand with the collection of signature services underneath it. That's what we continue to grow over time to help small businesses and from an experience standpoint, I mean we're just continually pushing to figure out how to have them more seamlessly integrated and accessible to everyone. Do you see that you're competing with like h five or those types of brands, or do you you see that as more, not necessarily small business competition? Fiber probably would fit into competition from a design standpoint. Um, I mean I think we're we don't really view what we're doing is trying to compete with any one company, but rather find the right path down the mountain that gets you the right design, the right social media management, the right website, the right print. Needs that holistic solution versus ending a been a place where we are singularly your design agency kind of be like the long term partner for these small businesses. Not just do one, one thing, and you know you don't, you don't talk to vista again. But it's much more about creating solutions for small business owners no matter where they are in their life cycle. Exactly wherever you are in the journey, we have a solution for you and that's what we see from a community standpoint. If someone just worked with their best friend to create the best logo ever, the last thing they want from us is to be like, you know what you need a new logo, but you really need is understand how to bring that logo to life in all the different touch places, because there's a good chance you just have a pdf or an illustrator file sitting on your computer at that point going all right, other we're what's the right things to do with this from here? Then the pandemic hits. What? What was the path there when that happened and you realize small businesses can be in trouble during this time. Yeah, a surreal and interesting few week. For the first few weeks, Um, our first instinct was figure out what it means for our employees. Like what is it? What is this coming pandemic means for our employees, and how do you make sure everyone is able to find that right balance of we're in a global pandemic and we need to go help every small business we can, but you have to take care of yourself and your family as much as you can. This is gonna be like a hurricane for small businesses. And you think about like the concert for New York type things, like we should put on a telethon that brings different music artists together to raise money for small business and you're like, oh, cool, we should have to see if we can figure that out. Well, what charity will we support? And you're like, oh wait, there isn't actually a small business charity would exists. And that was an interesting Um, an interesting moment to realize how important it was going to be to really truly understand how to help small businesses. And it wouldn't be enough to be like we're gonna have a fundraiser if there's no ways to actually distribute money. At that point and so just started banging the dry...

I'm meeting after meeting again early days of the pandemic, and eventually ended up partnering with the US Chamber Foundation to create the same small business fund. But it was just interesting at that point in time to realize just how alone small businesses were going to be with things like P PP coming into the fold. At that point, that we're just incredibly confusing. Um and since then lots of small businesses support funds have emerged. We worked closely with Hello Alice on a lot of different things and we want to be a partner of small business. You can't just be a partner for them with things are good. And so the I think, through the US Chamber Foundation, was about eight million dollars raised for small business and then lots of other things have emerged from there, from a fundraising example. But for us we also realized very early on that we had a global supply chain factories in Mexico and Italy and China that we're going to allow us to very quickly get a line spun up for masks. So a lot of people in the first few weeks in the pandemic were wearing like tablecloths that they had sewned together as masks. Of the most important things we could do for small businesses was going to be trying to help make masks normalized in an item people actually are comfortable wearing. Our goal was not make the cheapest mask or the most expensive mask. Our goal was to make the best mask available on the best timeline we could, with great designs. A few of my old friends from their creative directors and Nike to go help us do initial mask designs. We brought it a bunch of different artists. Will always be grateful to Futura and Jin Stark at, Jeff mcfetridge and para for jumping on this to say hey, let's go, and those are some powerhouse designers right there. It was it was a great first four the best thing we could do as a partner was going to be allowed advocate that a mask was a sign of love. A mask was not a medical device. A mask was not paranoia. Mask was saying I care about my neighbors. A care about the business is a care about my family. When a door opens, a Baristas shouldn't have to worry at that point in time about is someone's gonna be coming in wearing a mask or not? Am I going to get sick from this person coming in? It's really those things were really an investment in the future because kind of brand building, but also like the right thing to do. was that a hard thing to communicate or get approval on or to move forward? We couldn't say we want to be a partner of small business and not be a partner of small business. So it was never really much of a discussion. It was just how do we do it? And then from whiteboard to launch was like four weeks. That's incredible. Your career you've done a lot of breakthrough work, you've done a lot of just kind of going for it. Now that you're, you know, older and wiser, do you still mainly lead through gut instinct and leading with your heart, or do you use a lot of data and information to make your decisions as a leader? It's a cop out to say both, but I would say in the end the future always involves a gut decision. I love that the few ture always involves a gut decision. Is Great, but in order to have an informed gut, taking as much information as humanly possible to be able to find the connection points, to be able to find adjacent analogous data sets and try to reduce the risk as much as possible. But in the end it's still a leap. There's nothing better than going out and walking around a city and taking a bunch of pictures of wild postings and retail stores and going on listening to a podcast or going to a random speaker on in this golden era of zoom conferences being available, and finding a data point that from a company that's may be similar but maybe not similar, and all those things get put into smoothie that eventually is you're a problem has to get solved and you have those reference points to be able to latch onto and so to me, I don't view it as a gut like the decision in the ends of Gut. But the thing that gets too ideas are all form off of a...

...tremendous amount of inputs that I view as data in the Google sense of the word data. Is A data? Probably, no, but also like one of the things that we I'm a big believer, and it's like it's important to go and try to create the press play vision of what you want three years from now, five years from now, to look like. Then it makes every decision slightly easier as well as like if you if this decision, if you make this decision, it goes well, does it gets you closer to the destination you want to get to three years from now? In the end, though, you're still going to have to make a call. What is the three year idea in your head now? Where do you see Vista? How you're going to help shape the future of Vista three years from an hour? Hope is that when someone goes and starts a small business, they immediately think that I can think a partner with Vista on this. It comes to a place where your hope is that when someone thinks, I want thinks about starting a small business, we show up as if we're the Guardian Angel on your shoulder that could help you on that journey. We're not there yet, but it's very clear to us of that opportunity is and the steps we need to take to get there. If you're driving from Boston to d c, the route is gonna Change three or four times based upon traffic, but the destination doesn't change, and I think that's where we're as like we know, becoming that brand you're proud to use as a design and marketing partners where we want to be. We'll have some route changes along the way, but the destination won't change. That's great. I love that. There's, uh, you know, some proverb or quote about you. You have to envision the future or else you'll just get stuck in the past, and I think that as a CMO and a market leader, you always have to be thinking about what's next. So some questions for you, Ricky. Do you have any role model that helps shape who you are today? I'm not gonna reflect back on lots of different people that have impacted along the way. My mom just let maybe a nerd on things. Worked out pretty well. Put up computer in my room early on. Was Cool when I wanted to be like Hey, I'm gonna Figu out how to sell baseball cards. Was Cool. One of the I'd like to go and redesign every logo for every baseball team. At no point she was like, you know what, you'd probably be better off taking out taking science classes. Like she was more like cool, if that's what makes you happy, go for it. Um. But I think over time, I mean there's been people, uh, from a Nike standpoint, that we're super impactful on my career journey. I mean people like Trevor Edwards, David Grasso, Lynn Merritt, that just they embraced the possibilities that the company had and at no point where we like, Oh, you're twenty three or your tent. It was our job is to go and serve athletes. Go after it, go figure it out, and Nike were like the people were just massively impactful. And there's there's so many more. Um, I don't know, uh, it's not something I think too much about on a on a daily basis. You've had a lot of memorable on screen moments. Oh Gosh, nickelodeon. Hint, the Nickelodeon Game Show, you answer correctly, got used in Promo. What was that like? And did I teach you anything or did you learn anything? You know, I don't know if I learned much from IT, other than that game shows are weird and that, like there's a tremendous amount of breaks in a commercial and a production of a game show and that they filmed them in bunches and that it's like sixty luck on a game show. Like is your buzzer working fast? Um It did, I guess, teach me that, like the footage of you growing up might live forever in this modern era. It was fun. Like I had two thousand dumb dumbpops as my prize for one of the game shows and my kids are really, really, really excited affect that that one day when, when I was in middle school, I was given two thousand lollipops. I wish I had been given like seven hundred bucks, but that's probably less fun than I got two thousand lollipops for my kids. Do you have like a quote, a mantra or a viewpoint that thinking something through you kind of all back on? You know, it's funny. I don't think...

I realized just how much I probably do until people pointed out. Like I feel like do rad things and don't be a jerk goes a long way. Like, and it doesn't mean like you just agree to everything, but like there's a difference in like when someone has to steam roll again some then, versus building a coalition on things. Because I think just in general, like do rad things are impactful with a point of view on how to impacts customers, not just rad for Rads Sake, but like aiming to do rad things over and over and over goes a long way, I think for people. And I think that sometimes it's it's tricky when, like, when people end up not understanding how what the wind might be. How, like what's the if you even do this? And always people are gonna spent eighteen months working on this or three months or to all nighters. It doesn't like what's the win of it? It's always a good thing to ask. But yeah, someone made the sign of say do red things. It's like, Oh, I guess, I do say it a lot. I love that. I think that is a good business and personal advice. So I think that could be your book that you come out with. Do rap things and don't be a jerk, and I think that's a good life advice. Well, thank you, Ricky, for your time. You've had an amazing career. We can't wait to see what you do next and thanks for coming on the soul and science podcast today. Thank you so much, Jason, for having me. Much appreciate it. Thanks so much for listening to soul and science and we'll see you next week. Soul and science is a mechanism podcast produced by the unbelievable Frank Grisco, Ryan Tillotson, Tyler Nelson, Ema Swanson and we'll Leach Blonsky. The show is edited by Daniel Ferrari, with the music by Kyle Mary, and I'm your host, Jason Harris.

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