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TED + SXSW = The Gathering w/ Ryan Gill


There's only one way to end your time at The Gathering the conference Forbes calls the best "Marketing Conference To Check Out In 2019".

You talk to the guy who helped start the whole thing, of course. Here's Ryan Gill!


Disability Solutions provides full-scale inclusion initiatives for people with disabilities.

Chad: Okay, Joel. Quick question.

Joel: Yep.

Chad: What happens when your phone vibrates or your texting alert goes off?

Joel: Dude, I pretty much check it immediately. I bet everyone listening is reaching to check their phones right now.

Chad: Yeah, I know. I call it our Pavlovian dog reflex to text messaging.

Joel: Yeah. That's probably why text messaging has a frickin' 97% open rate.

Chad: What?

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Chad: How do you get this discount? You're asking yourself right now.

Joel: Tell them Chad.

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Announcer: Hide your kids. Lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion, and loads of snark. Buckle up boys and girls. It's time for the Chad and Cheese Podcast.

Chad: My mike is on. Can you hear me? Is everybody in?

Joel: There you go.

Chad: The movie is about to begin.

Joel: I've got to turn my down, because Ryan's going to be like off-the-fucking charts, I love it.

Chad: Hot mic.

Joel: Okay.

Chad: Here we go. Bring it.

Joel: This isn't the weekly, this is the Ryan Gills

Chad: I might do something with this, I might splice this into the weekly, and then do like, by itself.

Joel: So we're just spittin.

Chad: We're riffin.

Joel: All right, cool. All right guys, so this is Day Three in Banff, Alberta, Canada.

Chad: It's fuckin beautiful dude. This shit is amazing.

Joel: At the backdrop are the Rocky Mountains in Canada.

Chad: With an IPA.

Joel: We've got beer in front of us. We've got Bloody Marys.

Chad: Grizzly Paul.

Joel: Caesars, wings, pita bread and whatever else, so we're having a great time.

Chad: And Ryan Gill, the mother fuckin founder and idea guy behind The Gathering. Say Hi.

Ryan Gill: Hello everybody.

Joel: Most people don't know that listen to us, what The Gathering is.

Chad: Not at all.

Chad: Which is ridiculous.

Joel: Ryan, tell us what it is for someone who doesn't know what in the world The Gathering is.

Ryan Gill: Yeah, first of all I've been listening to you guys podcast for a while and there's a lot of content out there and I love the depth of the content, the smarts I get from it. But I think when it comes to podcasts, you gotta like the people and relate to them. So I love your guys podcast and getting to know you guys and flying out here

Joel: It's weird how our fans are like us, and maybe that's why.

Ryan Gill: That's a great way to segue into The Gathering. I don't believe in metaphysics or putting stuff out there, but we just attract amazing people so that's the first thing. That's very broad, but if you like amazing people, you wanna come to The Gathering. But The Gathering, for those listening, and if anyone's been to South by Southwest, or they know TED Talks, I believe if TED Talks and TEDx, and South by Southwest, had sex and had a baby, it would be The Gathering. I'm not joking. Sometimes TED Talks are too cerebral, and a bit boring, but they're amazing and soulful. And sometimes South by Southwest is too much a party. Even though it's very inspirational, and so I think it's both. You guys, is that a good ... it's cerebral, but-

Joel: I explain it as sort of Davos meets South by Southwest. Similar to your description I guess.

Chad: Yes, and you're in Banff. I mean, Jesus man, this is picturesque. I mean, you come here-

Joel: I didn't know this place existed until six months ago.

Chad: You don't want to leave-

Joel: I thought it was Branff, and I still kind of do.

Ryan Gill: Part of that is because we do not ... This is a public service announcement. We're not inviting Americans to be on the show. I'm just joking, we love you guys.

Joel: He's not joking.

Chad: But seriously, it's an hour and a half drive. You've gotta be committed to come to something like this, and we saw huge brands. And not just huge brands, but we're talking about high level individuals. VP of Operations from the LA Lakers.

Joel: Not just big brands, but movers and shakers at those organizations.

Chad: How do you get these guys?

Ryan Gill: Yeah, it's a commitment to excellence from Year One. We're in our sixth year. It's those cliches that are true. They really suck, but it's like, take care of people. And so our first year, we begged people to come, and crossed our fingers. I think we said we sold 200 tickets. We didn't. We gave away a hundred and fifty. We sold fifty. But we knew we had something good. And we wanted to tell stories about brands, yes, but more about the leaders behind them. You guys are parents and business people. Business is an art, and it takes sacrifice. Like working long hours, being away from your kids, they're not great things to do, but when you believe in something enough and it makes a difference in the world, it's worth it. And I think business people behind these brands need more attention for the sacrifices they make. So we celebrate the Lakers, but we celebrated Tim Harris, because he's a bold, honest, no bullshit guy.

Joel: I think you're hiding a secret, because Tim let it slip that you impressed him so much with your invite. Sort of alluded that there was a video of some sort. So how do you really get people to come to the show? What's the big sell?

Ryan Gill: It's direct mail, baby. You think I'm joking. Did you wanna hear the story or not? Okay. This for sure is gonna be the best podcast you've ever had, like most views. I'm just kidding. Maybe it will be.

Ryan Gill: So early years, no one knew about us. But everything ... you think about all these things that start, no one knew about them at start. 'Cause you wanna create just unique cult brands, and there's not lots of them. There's tens of millions of brands, there's probably only 500 brands. So we write them all down, we do some research, Google them. And we write them this letter about what I just said, we want to honor brands and lifetime achievement, not just ... People don't just buy from them, they buy into them. They tattoo Harley-Davidson on there, or Red Bull. So we find their email, address to their head office, find their CMO or CEO. We sent one to Dana White, UFC, he was here one year. We send them out. They're so well designed. I'm not joking with direct mail. So well designed.

Joel: Were these FedEx deliveries?

Ryan Gill: I'm getting to it. Don't jump ahead.

Joel: Sorry.

Ryan Gill: 'Cause I'm in advertising, we get our best writer to write the thing. If you got it, you're like, "I'm going to read this, it's beautiful." And it's their name, and their logo, and then we put it in an envelope that's handmade. Then we put a wax seal on it. It's black, it's so cultish. Then we put it in FedEx. FedEx is a beautiful thing. Powerful people want to get their FedExs. They're getting contracts people, they're getting subpoenas through FedEx. So if you want to get through, spend the extra $15, or $20, and then make sure what's inside. So they open them, and it's sincere, and they literally have no fucking clue what they just read. Then they email us because they're curious.

Joel: Do you tell them what you want, or do you tease them to say-

Ryan Gill: No, they say they have to call Gatekeeper or they have to email back Gatekeeper at The No name. Now we have more power to it though, because when people come here, they're like, "Yeah, it's Cheetos." They might not be the biggest, but I feel something with Cheetos.

Joel: They're the biggest in my home.

Ryan Gill: Yes, exactly. I can tell, I'm sure.

Joel: Ouch.

Ryan Gill: I'm just kidding.

Joel: Damn.

Ryan Gill: Where was I? What were we talking about?

Joel: You were talking about the invite.

Ryan Gill: The first year, I think we only sent out a hundred. We got 64 emails back. 64% open rate, read rate and respond rate.

Joel: Well you had a 100% open rate I bet.

Ryan Gill: So they got back to us and we went through them all. We get it down to like 20, 15 or 20. 'Cause they have to be relevant, they need to be making money. What their staff say about them, is a massive ... they're all weighted scores. Staff not liking working there, we've had to phone the biggest brands in the world and say, "No one likes working at your company." Off the list. They don't come to The Gathering.

Chad: So these people open these up, right, direct mail. And they're some of the biggest brands, and what Ryan just said was, you can't fucking come.

Joel: You're not good enough for our conference.

Chad: So what does that ... Oh wait a minute, why can't I come?

Joel: It's like the pretty girl who gets denied, and like, "What? No one denies me."

Chad: Are you shitting me?

Ryan Gill: It's a phone call, and then if they get through that then they have to go through half an hour with Chris, going through our rules. It sounds like an amazing pitch, but we're sincere. And you guys experience the content. So you go back all the way to your very first question. How do you do it, why do you do it? It's amazing content because they're amazing people. And they're curious of this black envelope that shows up. To Oprah Winfrey. So Harriet, her CMO gets it, and she didn't ... we picked Tony Hawk, and Oprah, she didn't score as high as Tony this year on relevancy with people under fifteen, one of our things. Are you really ... to be a real cult brand. And he's been around 30 years. Fifteen year olds still love him and like him. So they all get the envelope, and they get back to us. That's crazy.

Joel: Talk about that a real quick, because you had Oprah, Tony Hawk, and Kim Kardashian.

Ryan Gill: Gordon Ramsey.

Joel: As the three finalists.

Ryan Gill: Gordon Ramsey was deep in that too. But Kim got erased early. She's great too, powerful but not around long ... you get extra points, 20, 30 years, the longer you're a legend. And it's not always gonna be celebrities or sports people. I talked with Gordon Ramsey. He's a brand, he's not a chef anymore. He's beyond that. It's hard for them to believe it. Like Tony struggled with that yesterday. [crosstalk 00:10:21] He's much above a billion dollar brand, and he's shocked by it.

Joel: He's so humble. How does this year stack up to previous years? Do you feel like you're getting better, do you feel like we're so big, we need to pull back? Are you gonna continue to grow? Someone commented-

Ryan Gill: That's a good question.

Joel: I overheard someone say, look I remember when it was like 400 people here. You could easily walk the halls. Now you're kind of crammed, and it feels really busy. Are you scared of getting so big that no one comes? You know, the old adage like it's a great place but it's too crowded, I don't go anymore.

Ryan Gill: Two things I'm terrified of that. And I'm not terrified. And what I mean by that is, if I think it's shitty, or if it gets too big and it gets out of hand, where you're not connecting, I'll stop it. But I think growth is good too. I love the early years too. They were my favorite years. Year 1 and 2, like I remember the after party was in the pub. Have you guys been to the Waldhaus down there?

Joel: No.

Ryan Gill: It's out of a movie. It's an 1865 pub, you walk down there. It's called the Waldhaus.

Joel: We gotta go.

Ryan Gill: We had our first after party there. 'Cause only like 17 people stayed. But I love those beginnings and people think, they wanna grow too fast. So my answer to that is, I promise for posterity it's on here, we won't grow too fast but I wanna grow because more people need to experience it.

Joel: For the record, I never want it to be not here. I never want you to move it to Calgary.

Ryan Gill: For the record, I hope the Fairmont isn't listening to this, 'cause we're going to major negotiations, so please strike that from the record. This will not weigh on them. We are the prize. Not you.

Chad: So that being said, every brand it seemed, talked about their people. Talked about employees. I mean, that was the base of everything in brand. But yet, there's nobody here other than us knuckleheads, that have like employment or HR background.

Joel: And Chad and I rarely go to marketing.

Ryan Gill: Working Not Working's here as well. It was amazing. Despite what other media companies might say, Working Not Working Gignac's the man.

Joel: We were surprised that employment was such a focal point of so many of the presentations being a quote marketing, cult branding kind of conference.

Ryan Gill: You think it should be more general?

Joel: No, I thought most of the companies would talk about the marketing side of it. The consumer branding, how we built a product that everyone wants to buy, and where ... and not so much, success is built from the inside out, as opposed from the outside in.

Ryan Gill: I wrote a book called Fix, with Chris Kneeland my co-founder, and we have a chapter in it about built from the inside out. We studied, as much as I like to have fun and stuff, I am a true geek and I love research and studying, and I pride what we've done here with cult on amazing curiosity of just researching. So the biggest thing that stuck out to us, and we studied them 5 or 6 years before we came out with real understanding of it. But the greatest cult brands, they treat their people so well, that when they go through hard times, guess who stays around? Them. 'Cause they're their first consumer.

Joel: Agreed. Which of the presentation stood out to you as really exceptional? 'Cause you're seen a lot of these, which ones really stood out?

Ryan Gill: That is super hard. Douglas Atkin kicked the whole thing off. Were you guys here for that?

Joel: Yes.

Ryan Gill: Yeah, Airbnb ex-CMO. I'm chewing ice....

Chad: You're good. This is the after party.

Ryan Gill: Oh, this is good. He was amazing. He set the table. 'Cause I didn't know what he was going to talk about. I gave the opening speech. I said, "Last year was about vulnerability, brand purpose, that kind of stuff. But this year's about intentionality." And then he comes up and talks about that, about like just be specific about what you want your brand to be, and be intentional, so that was my favorite one. I heard I missed ... I think her name's Jennifer. Did you go to the Cheetos one?

Chad: No.

Ryan Gill: So I heard the Cheetos one. But the great thing is we record all these. And maybe you guys even in your show notes can...

Ryan Gill: But I missed Cheetos and I heard it was the best one. That's what I heard, so. Again, you miss shit.

Chad: Well that's the hardest part, right? We're definitely gonna need to check these out, because I was in sessions that I loved, but then I heard other sessions were going on at the exact same time. So we're definitely going to have to share ... do you share those videos?

Ryan Gill: Yes, so it's mid-April that they come out.

Joel: They'll be made available to the public.

Ryan Gill: They're highly produced, and then they'll be snack sized. So we'll do the 45 minute thing, and then we'll have 14 clips.

Joel: The Dabbs version, all cut up and sexy.

Ryan Gill: @Ryangillshares. Follow me.

Joel: Let's talk about our session. It started out as, you caught wind of our show, you interviewed us for your thing, you wanted us here. I'm assuming it was something unusual for the people that were here to see recruitment, employment. What was the catalyst for you to say, we need to have this content at the show? And now that we've done it, are you glad you did it?

Ryan Gill: You're invited back, we already told you guys, for good. Just for one year, we'll see how next year goes. But you're invited back. The reason why you're here, it goes back, I like honesty. That's a stupid thing to say, of course everyone does, but in the face of when people might not like you, or it's critical feedback, I was raised to like that. That's how you get better. You're in the Army, you need critical feedback, you need to know it's true.

Joel: Embrace your critics.

Ryan Gill: You get better. Your whole podcast was about that. I know people don't like you. Those are people I like. I mean it, you have a point of view and it's not nice to have people not like you. I just resonated with you guys, I listen to it all the time, and I think your other listeners will agree that because Human Resources is so important, we're all starting to understand that now. People are standing up for themselves. We need honest conversations to make workplace better for everyone. Maybe your podcast will teach people how to operate. I gotta go to the spa. I'm getting my first mani and pedi ever. Don't judge me out there. You're coming back next year. These guys will be back, and we'll curate some stuff. Thanks guys. Thanks for listening everyone. Cheers. High fives are happening.

Ema: Hi, I'm Ema. Thanks for listening to my dad, the Chad, and his buddy Cheese. This has been The Chad and Cheese podcast. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts, so you don't miss a single show. Be sure to check out our sponsors, because their money goes to my college fund. For more, visit

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