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One Brand w/ Chris Kneeland, CEO Cult Collective

But what exactly does that mean for HR, Talent Acquisition and the Recruitment Industry?

No spoilers... You'll have to sit back and listen to this NEXXT EXCLUSIVE...


Chad: Okay. Joel, quick question.

Joel: Yup.

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

Joel: Dude, I pretty much check it immediately. And 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


Chad: What?

Joel: Crazy high candidate response rate within the first hour alone.

Chad: Which are all great reasons why the Chad and Cheese podcast love Text2Hire from Nexxt.

Joel: Love it.

Chad: Yup. That's right. Nexxt with the double x, not the triple x.

Joel: Bow chicka bow wow. So if you're in talent acquisition, you want true engagement and great ROI that stands for return on investment folks. And because this is the Chad and Cheese podcast, you can try your first Text2Hire campaign for just 25% off.

Chad: Boom. So how do you get this discount? You are asking yourself right now.

Joel: Tell him Chad.

Joel: Easy.

Chad: No long URL to remember. Just go where you know and Nexxt with two x'es.

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/opinion and loads of snark. Buckle up boys and girls. It's time for the Chad and Cheese podcast.

Joel: Hey guys, it's Joel Cheesman of the Chad and Cheese Podcast. You know as well. Part of our series from Banff, the gathering. We're here with Chris Kneeland, CEO of Cult Collective. No one listening to this knows who you are. So give us

a 140 character about you and your agency and how you're different.

Chris: That's interesting 'cause me and my agency are two different things. So I'm a father of three, a loving husband and all around nice guy.

Joel: We're going to fact check that, by the way.

Chris: My agency-

Chad: Where is your wife?

Chris: She's around. She's around. My agency is what we call ourselves audience engagement experts. We subscribed to the idea that getting customers is not that hard. What you should be doing is trying to create cult-like followings. And that implies using a different belief system and certainly using different behaviors.

Joel: Now you're presented here yesterday and you did a session today. You are a big fan of employees.

Chris: Absolutely.

Joel: Talk about that. Like they're the center of your world, as a strategy and as a business. Talk about that.

Chris: There's two things. There's a truth, which is that the world's most beloved brands build that brand love from the inside out. And that begins with the staff. But there's also, I think an egregious problem, which is that employees are largely abandoned by many corporations, by being either commoditized and treated as an HR commodity to be mitigated. Keep the people happy and throw them some doughnuts on Fridays. And the marketing team who I think has the responsibility to be a proper steward over the employees are distracted looking outside at customers and prospects. Therefore, I do believe that employees don't have the kind of leadership at their disposal that they should.

Chad: I have that slide because that slide, being able to separate HR from marketing. The big question is, okay, we're just talking to Douglas. And from our standpoint, being on the HR, being on the recruiting side, we see a whole fractured brand that has just emanated probably because of symptom of the overall brand sucks. But there's actually employment brand people in HR. Why? How did this happen?

Chris: I don't like the idea of employer branding. I think it should just be a branding. And that you shouldn't have a different face to the outside world they have in the inside world. And the problem is, is companies that are struggling realize, well my brand isn't that inspiring. So I'm gonna have to now fabricate and make up a whole new brand, and a whole new personality to try to attract some talent. The best brands and Douglas would have talked about Airbnb, they're not separate entities. It's just the Airbnb brand. There's no employer brand and consumer brand.

Joel: Why aren't marketing and HR talking to each other?

Chris: I really don't-

Chad: You should see his face when-

Chris: You know, a couple of things. I think that HR professionals in many cases have a lot of insecurity. When they get into audience engagement stuff, there's glaring ... They don't go to school to learn this stuff. They don't go to conferences to learn this stuff. And so, you don't want to lean into weaknesses typically. And marketing I think feels overwhelmed. They already have a pretty big to-do list. And so you're now asking me to do one more thing. My point is your to-do list would actually get less if you started with the employees. All these other symptoms that you're focusing on would go away.

Joel: Does marketing look down on HR?

Chris: I kind of think most people look down on HR.

Chad: All around nice guy.

Joel: You just lost everybody.

Chris: I love it.

Chad: No we didn't.

Chris: Listen, the only person that's maybe more neutered at the C suite table is the head of HR. Again, I think it's an inappropriate look down. I'm not saying I condone it. I just don't see HR people being the most persuasive, the best funded, the most politically adept. They're not navigating organizations most of the time. But until you find a co-brand. Until you find an organization where they are. Like in even like a Facebook, like when a Sheryl Sandberg ... Yeah, she's COO, but she's really head of people and culture, as much as she is technology and operations kind of stuff. So when brands get it spectacularly right, that executive is the right hand to the CEO.

Chris: But rarely is it the CEO. And then you'd falls into the well, whose job is this? And then we start making up titles like head of people or head of culture, because neither HR or marketing lived up to those responsibilities.

Chad: On the recruiting side, recruiting, trying to pull in new candidates, those individuals obviously could be using your brand, your product, your service. The Virgin media case study where they show that they lost $6 million because they had a horrible user experience for candidates. And they weren't treating candidates like customers. They turn that and said, hey, let's try to keep that 6 million. Not to mention there's like a $7 million on top of that of individuals who are not using our product. Do you believe that from an HR standpoint, they do have power to be able to impact the bottom line, especially with all those people, but they just don't, they don't wield it.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah, a hundred percent. Hundred percent. And you also said something that made me realize there's a difference in my mind between the employer branding and recruitment marketing. And I actually think if the marketing team should be using recruitment marketing as a way to improve the brand. Because if I saw what kind of people you were trying to get, and what standards you are holding up, that I might think differently about your brand.

Joel: If most marketing departments knew how many resumes were in the database that are marketing opportunities, they would be talking to HR.

Chris: 100%.

Joel: That conversation doesn't happen.

Chad: Well, an organization spend, in some cases hundreds of millions of dollars on recruitment advertising to pull in all these perspective customers as well. But again, marketing is like closing their eyes. They've got the blinders on.

Chris: And at the same time it's us. So, hey, even if he didn't get the job, how am I letting you down? Hey, thank you for your submission. It's in the queue. But meanwhile, go check out our product. There's a whole ecosystem there. Do something that gets them lathered up about who you are, so that even if they don't get the job, they still don't say something negative about you. They should love you more even after getting declined.

Joel: You said something really interesting in your session about referrals. You might want to tell that story, has context. But in our business, referrals are still the number one way that companies find new employees. And there'd been time and time again, vendors and people trying to sort of build software around a referral system, right? It's like, you blast this out to your social media. If anyone applies and they get hired, we'll give you $500 or whatever it is. And they all fail. Why does that model fail? And what would be a successful model for employee referrals?

Chris: It's again, we're trying to monetize something believing that money is the reason that people do what they do. And if I really care about you, I want you to have an amazing job. If I really love my company, I want people to be able to come and experience it. And I think good HR research also shows that one of the biggest indicators of your affinity for your employer is do you have a best friend at work? You're spending eight to 10 hours there. You want to like the people that you hang out with. So all the stars are aligned to say, everybody wants to make sure that the great people are on this bus. Why taint it with now let's start throwing money into the mix that would motivate me to bring somebody that's not an A player, or might motivate somebody that isn't perfectly a fit. I may not be getting incentivized to come in for an interview. It cheapens the whole thing.

Joel: Talk about the Geek Squad example that you had and do you think that model could work?

Chris: Yeah, I think so. The Geek Squad model. To make a short story shorter, they tested the idea of rather than giving people money to either refer or be referred, they gave them essentially access and exclusivity. So if I had gotten a geek squad service done, I'd be given a secret card with a phone number that would give me privileges of not having to wait and get quicker, the same day delivery and whatnot. And I had the ability to then share that number with my friends that were also having some tech support issues. The people's ability to say, hey I've got a way to help you, and to give you a privileged access-

Joel: Yeah I got the insider deal.

Chris: I have an insider deal. That's exactly right.

Chad: Don't tell anybody.

Chris: That's what everybody wants. Everybody wants to know a guy that can get you-

Chad: Feel special, yeah.

Chris: So it's all that psychology. And you're dealing with the alligator brain as opposed to this rational, what's the ROI on what this thing is going to be.

Chad: Yeah. I know we don't have a lot of time, because we've got other people wanting to use the booth. The gathering. This was amazing. For our first time, we saw brands on stage, and we saw the level of individuals who were talking, VPs, Marvel studios, LA Lakers, Airbnb. I mean the list goes on. How do you get these cult brands to buy into something like this? This is the sixth year and you guys are growing every year. How do you do it?

Chris: It does get easier each year. Year one was the biggest one because they had to take a giant leap of faith. I'd say it's two things. One, we invite them. I think sometimes you just have to have the guts to ask. And I think we apply a certain amount of mystery and intrigue to draw them in a little bit. And it's also, there's just a high correlation between cult brand leaders and just really good people. They know that they are doing something special, and they're not selfishly keeping it to themselves. The openness with which they talk is shocking. The warts and all, right? They're not pretending like everything they do is the Midas touch. So you properly invite a really nice person and some good things happen.

Joel: So pivoting from the big brands to small brands for a little bit. And I think a lot of smaller companies out there feel overwhelmed, like yeah, it's nice to be the Lakers, the Airbnb. But they have more candidates than they know what to do with. What advice would you give a smaller company? I assume your agency is not a huge organization. How do they sort of get outside that box? Maybe guerrilla strategies to recruit better, even though they're not a huge brand?

Chris: Yeah. Two thoughts. One is, I liked Marvel being here because I like reminding people in 1996, they almost went, oh they did go bankrupt. Nobody's exempt. Big does not mean that the rules don't apply to you. And even small guys can learn from the big guys because they used to be small as well. So I don't subscribe to the idea of why you don't have anything to learn from the Lakers 'cause I'm not a $60 billion basketball franchise. But the other part would be, I think that we leave no stone unturned in regards to where you can plus it up. I think some people say, I'm going to spend all my awesomeness on this outbound customer campaign, and then we can do a lame Indeed job description, and spend no energy on that. The best brands touch everything. I don't know if you guys saw the Cheetos thing here. That was probably my favorite presentation of the gathering. They did this pop up restaurant. And even the toilet paper was the Chester Cheeto toilet paper.

Chris: Somebody went through that restaurant. The menu's the obvious one. The name and the logo. The spotted Cheetah is the obvious one. But the decor, the little treatments that they made throughout. There's a hundred little things. And I think that's how that separates the good from the great.

Chad: One more time about the gathering. We're real quick, real quick, just because from the recruitment marketing side of the house, nobody was here, right? And there's recruitment marketing all over the place. And yes, we want it to be more holistic. But this is I believe where they should be. Give me a quick pitch on why a company should be here. I know you don't pitch, because you don't have all the times.

Chris: What do you mean from the recruitment market stuff?

Chad: Recruitment marketing to be able to better understand brand overall, and to be able to use that brand to bring in great talent. Those types of people.

Chris: Well, I again. There's two things. I remember a few years ago when the CEO from Canopy was here. Canopy's Canada's largest marijuana manufacturer and retailer now. He didn't know a lot about what this event was, but he knew there was phenomenal talent here. He stood up on stage, and his first slide was, I'm hiring a CMO. All he really wanted was the resumes, right?

Joel: That's awesome.

Chris: And I have been surprised, frankly. You get somebody like Jason White from Beats by Dre that's on the stage, bleeds this. Works for an iconic multi-billion dollar company. And a month ago quits, to go join a different company. The head of Tim Horton's was here. Couldn't have been a bigger fan. Gone, goes to run Fairmont hotels or Four Seasons or something like that. So it is interesting that there are people that are still looking to be inspired, looking for personal challenges, and looking for even more lucrative opportunities. And so, I've come to realize nobody's sat. Everybody's out, got a bit of an opportunist. And so if you're looking for top talent, this is a pretty great place to find it.

Joel: The question about sort of reviews and employment brand, obviously, Glassdoor and Indeed. And I'm sure you've dealt with companies on the consumer side that have bad Yelp reviews or other things. Are you a believer in these sites? How should a company tackle bad reviews? Is it just getting it right internally and fixing the organ instead of-

Chris: So Glassdoor is a perfect example. I'd go to a CMO, usually that's usually our client, and show them their Glassdoor ratings. And they're usually pretty bad. And they're like, yeah, that sucks. But they don't assume an ownership. They say, maybe you should go give that to HR, or maybe you should give it to operations, or maybe you give it to the CEO. But again, nobody takes those things as burning platforms, and say this must change. The guy from T-mobile was here telling the story that when they started, they were the last in customer service, and customer service for wireless providers was last in 20 categories. I go to the bottom of the bottom. And they as a leadership team said, this is going to change. And we went on this three year journey to change, and become the best rated customer service. I've yet to see that with Glassdoor. Hey guys, nobody likes working here. We're a leaky bucket. The best talent's abandoning. Let's go become the top employer of choice. That's not a conversation I've been in eight years.

Joel: And you think that's a discussion with marketing, HR and upper level management?

Chris: I think so.

Joel: And on just oh that HR's problem.

Chris: I don't think HR has the tools to solve it. I know they don't have the discretionary dollars that the marketing department has. And so I think it is an all play.

Chad: So tell me a little bit about this Communo thing.

Chris: So Communo started selfishly. I like listening to Hootsuite because Hootsuite's much like Slack was built for themselves. And then they realize, hey, we've got something. So Ryan and I love helping brands become cult-like. But when we're being honest about our own personality profiles, we don't love managing people. We didn't get into this business because we wanted huge staffs. We got into this business we wanted to make a big difference. Unfortunately, there's a correlation between how big you are and how much impact that you can make. So we knew we needed a lot of people. So we birth cult collective and cult was are provocative point of view about branding, and collective was the operating model. We used Hollywood as our muse. When the big studios collapsed, and then Imagine Entertainment had like 24 employees, and that blew our minds, because they're making the biggest blockbusters in the world, Ron Howard's group.

Chris: But they didn't need craft services on staff. They didn't need location scouting or design. They just built an ecosystem of preferred providers. So we did that, and it grew really large, about 70 businesses started becoming cults ecosystem. And we said the problem here is that this company doesn't know that company. They only know Cult. So we took Cult out of the middle. We just became a user input Communo in. And said, okay now all these 70 businesses can interact with each other through the app. And then we put some staff on it, and Ryan kind of dedicated his time. So he kind of left Cult to go run Communo and now there's almost 400 businesses that are able to say, I either need staff augmentation, or I need help with business development. I need some sales. I don't have enough work. Those are the two biggest things that usually sink an entrepreneur.

Chris: So it's just a way of using the metaphor of a commune. Everybody

brings something and together we'll ... Somebody grow the tomatoes. Somebody make the marinara sauce. Somebody wash the dishes. And now we've all had a nice meal. And so that's what Communo's all about.

Joel: Well, aside from Communo, for our listeners that want to learn more about you, where should they go?

Chris: Me personally, it's probably my Linkedin profiles where I most actively maintain my points of view. Or just

Joel: So that's Chris common spelling and then Kneeland, K-N-E-E-L-A-N-D?

Chris: Yes, sir.

Chad: And the new book real quick.

Chris: Yep.

Chad: The new book, Fix?

Chris: Well. Yeah. I'm sad you say, it's been how five years.

Chad: Oh is that really? Okay. How come I didn't get one yet?

Chris: It's yet to take over the world.

Joel: It doesn't get to Indiana for a while.

Chad: Ride the wave, Chris. It's the new book.

Chris: The book Fix is really just an espousing of the principles that cult brands do. One chapter's completely dedicated to building the brand from the inside out. And it was just lots of examples of how businesses have prioritize employee engagement, and their pursuit of greatness.

Joel: Awesome. Excellent.

Chris: Cool. Thanks guys.

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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