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  • Dusty Weis

Lead Balloon Ep. 1 - Grumpy Cat's Grumpy Manager Vs. the Wax Museum, with Jesse Russell

Updated: Mar 3


It was supposed to be a historic day at Madame Tussauds wax museum in San Francisco. The storied attraction was launching, not only the first animatronic exhibit in franchise history, but the first exhibit based on a famous internet cat.


In fact, "Grumpy Cat" herself was there for the big unveiling, along with scores of excited fans and a gaggle of local and national press.


But there was a problem--a big one. And, as Madame Tussauds marketing coordinator Jesse Russell raced the clock to sort it out, he battled one of the great horrors of the 21st century.


Because it turns out that, in the internet age, even cats have pushy, demanding managers.




Transcript:

Dusty Weis:


Jesse Russell stared at the disfigured animatronic cat in the package that had just arrived from London. This didn't look like Grumpy Cat, the feline internet celebrity whose sour puss face launched a thousand memes. This looked like robotic roadkill.


Jesse Russell:


We were horrified at what we saw. The eye color was wrong, the lids looked bug eyed. It was horrible.


Dusty Weis:


But Jesse had a job to do. As the marketing coordinator at Madame Tussauds wax museum in San Francisco, he was charged with overseeing the debut of this new attraction to the Bay Area media in a handpicked group of VIPs. Well actually that's not entirely accurate because the biggest celebrity on the guest list was not very important person at all, it was Grumpy Cat herself. And apparently in the internet age, even the cats have pushy demanding managers. And for Jesse Russell, this was going to be the worst kind of day for a marketing coordinator. The kind of day where you're constantly screaming on the inside. The kind of day it makes you question your life choices and the kind of day where you wish that you'd never even heard of the term meme manager. But with the recent news of Grumpy Cat's unexpected passing, rest in peace little guy, Jesse is going to be live that day with us. I'm Dusty Weis from Podcamp Media, this is Lead Balloon, a podcast about PR, marketing, and branding nightmares and the well-meaning communications professionals who live them.


Strategic communications, PR, marketing, these are great fields to work in. It's an outlet for creativity, you meet interesting people, and there's always a new story to tell. But anyone who's ever worked in the biz can also tell you that this can be an infuriating, soul crushing career path at times, fraught with big egos and small people. And when things go wrong, the media, the internet, the entire world knows, instantly. So disaffected communications professionals, welcome to your safe space. And I want you to look at Lead Balloon as your own personal on demand group therapy session. As often as I'm able, I'll be here to bring you tales from other comms people whose horror stories will make yours pale in comparison, hopefully. We'll laugh a little, commiserate a little, and maybe learn something in the process too. But mostly what I want you to take away from this show is that we get you and we're here for you.


Because this show will be coming out intermittently, make sure that you subscribe to our feed and your favorite podcasting app. That way you won't miss any new episodes when they come out. If you or someone you know has a marketing or PR hell day story that you think rises into the pantheon of the all time, I'd love to hear it. Email me dusty@podcampmedia.com. And for behind the scenes insights, outtakes, and shenanigans follow Podcamp Media on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


So as I was researching this episode, I was a little surprised to learn that Grumpy Cat first came onto the scene in 2012, which I get it by internet standards, seven years old is ancient, but maybe it's Grumpy Cat's old lady scowl. Maybe it's the level of it infamy that she achieved. 8 million Facebook followers, product line, TV appearances, a spokescat job for Friskies, a Lifetime Original movie.


Announcer:


Aubrey Plaza brings the internet sensation to life.


Movie Voice:


This is the best Christmas ever.


Aubrey Plaza:


Go ahead ignore the title of my movie.


Announcer:


Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever.


Aubrey Plaza:


(singing).


Dusty Weis:


But in my head cannon, it just sort of felt like Grumpy Cat had been around longer than seven years. Like something from the era between Star Wars Kid and Homestar Runner.


Before she ever became internet famous, Grumpy Cat lived in innocuous life in Morristown, Arizona under her given name, Tardar Sauce. Her perpetual frown is attributed to feline dwarfism. And like so many memes, Grumpy Cat started with a post to Reddit. Just a picture of a funny looking cat that resonated with people and suddenly Grumpy Cat memes were everywhere.


News Anchors:


Cats sometimes get a bad rap as being grumpy.


The most famous feline on the planet right now.


If you haven't already met her, meet Grumpy Cat.


Grumpy Cat.


She's actually a gal. That's the number one secret fact you need to know about Grumpy Cat.


So look at that. Look at that face. That's how it happened.


Congratulations on all the success for the cat.


Thank you.


Dusty Weis:

Grumpy Cat, in fact, one, what I can only assume is the coveted title of meme of the year in the 2013 Webby awards. I don't know what you remember about that year, but that was the same trip around the sun that brought us a Gangnam Style and the Harlem Shake. A pretty competitive year by meme standards. And this is apparently such a big deal that the award was announced by comedian Patton Oswalt.


Patton Oswalt:


Which meme was the most profound, the most moving, and the most inspiring. But in the end, the winner, by a landslide was ... Oh Grumpy Cat. Grumpy Cat.


Dusty Weis:


And what I think is worth noting about this clip is that Patton Oswalt, an otherwise serious, well-known celebrity keeps his sense of humor throughout this tongue in cheek presentation. I mean we're talking about presenting an award to a cat, upon whose picture other people wrote funny captions and shared those things on the internet. Lest we lose our grounding in reality as a society, that is pretty absurd and silly. But in this era absurd and silly is also absurdly big business. Estimates on the value of the Grumpy Cat brand peg it's value add up to $100 million. And that kind of money prompts a lot of people to lose their grip on reality.


That's about where our buddy Jesse Russell crossed paths with the Internet's most famous cat. And the story that follows is a morality tale of sorts. What happens when bad luck gets blown out of proportion by worse people?


Dusty Weis:


Jesse, the year was 2015 those were heady days. How did you wind up in a position to meet Grumpy Cat?


Jesse Russell:


I was marketing coordinator at Madame Tussauds in San Francisco. And if you're not familiar with Madame Tussauds, it's a wax attraction. It's global. At the time I was working there, I think there were 17 around the world. It was kind of a new attraction for San Francisco. It replaced what was a historic wax museum on Fisherman's Wharf. So Madame Tussauds kind of came in, rebranded it, updated for the new age of selfies, so people could get up close to the wax figures and touch them and engage with them and wear costumes. So I was there, it was about a year after we had opened and we decided to launch a quote unquote "wax figure" of Grumpy Cat because Grumpy Cat was very popular at the time. Very hot meme as it were. And it was the first time that Madame Tussauds would launch a cat.


Dusty Weis:


I would imagine the first time Madame Tussauds launched a meme too, right?


Jesse Russell:


Yes. Yeah. It was definitely their first meme.


Dusty Weis:


And so this historic responsibility essentially fell into your lap for coordinating the launch of this. What went into that?


Jesse Russell:


So a lot of the decisions about what gets launched at the various wax attractions at Madame Tussauds, come from London. That's where the company's based. Merlin Entertainments is the mothership company for Madame Tussauds. So London thought that Grumpy Cat had enough cache that San Francisco, being a tech city, Silicon Valley, would be a great location to launch this new Grumpy Cat. Which is also animatronic, I should probably mention that too.


So it was not only the first cat, the first meme, it was also the first official animatronic figure that Madame Tussauds was launching.


Dusty Weis:


The idea of being that this is like a robot cat that blinks and swishes its tail and I'm assuming just stares you down with this sort of disdain that rivals that of Grumpy Cat.


Jesse Russell:


Yeah, she didn't smile, but she did move her head back and forth. Her eyes would move up and down and I believe her ears would also wiggle a little bit.


Dusty Weis:


That's so wonderfully strange, everything about wax museums has always kind of creeped me out a little bit. And so you put a robot cat in there and it's the perfect storm for me.


Jesse Russell:


Well that's kind of like the thing about Madame Tussauds. What they have been trying to kind of get away from for the past decade since since Merlin acquire the Madame Tussauds brand is, every time somebody writes about a wax figure or writes about a Madame Tussauds wax figure, the word creepy always comes up. And is kind of like this weird uncanny value, where you do see this wax figure, and especially in Madame Tussauds' case where they look almost identical to the wax figure. But they've been trying really hard to kind of get away from that word. And as someone who's in the marketing department and somebody who had this job at Madame Tussauds, never thinking I would work somewhere like that. I could definitely see why it would be offensive. Because the studio artists put a lot of time into creating these figures. It can take up to four months to build one of these figures. I have to agree with them. When the media says that, I don't think it's fair. It's worth revisiting because it's not kind of wax museum that they used to be.


Dusty Weis:


I think that's a worthy debate. I think that I disagree with you wholehearted. I'm not saying that it's not its own art form. I think that there's an incredible amount of skill and work that goes into it, but I think a thing can simultaneously be an art form, but also be creepy. And I would submit to you the entire book American Gods by Neil Gaiman as evidence.


Jesse Russell:


Right.


Dusty Weis:


So Jessie circled to date of the big animatronic Grumpy Cat launch on his calendar and began the work of promoting the event. They teased it with branded memes, alerted the local and national media, and invited a hundred Grumpy Cat super fans. But the biggest name on the guest list was the cantankerous cat celebrity herself.


Jesse Russell:


At Madame Tussauds they call it a side by side. It's when you have the celebrity and the wax figure next to each other, so you can see how realistic the wax figure looks. And in a perfect world when the media is there snapping photos, you won't be able to tell a difference. And that's the sign of a successful side-by-side press event. So we had booked Grumpy Cat, basically. Grumpy was coming with her family and her manager. They were going to be there a day ahead of time so we could make sure it looked as realistic as possible because Grumpy and the cat had not been next to each other since the original measurements were taken.


Dusty Weis:


Wait, they flew the cat to London to take measurements?


Jesse Russell:


Or they possibly came over here too. But they would measure everything from whisker size to ear size to tail length to make sure it's as realistic as possible.


So we'd done all that pre-work. The guest list was booked, Grumpy Cat was flying in, hotels were booked for Grumpy and her family. We had Berkeley Humane Society coming in with their mobile adoption unit. So they're going to be parked out front with cats that people could adopt. So everything was in place.


Dusty Weis:


And that's a whole lot of pressure on you to make sure that everything goes perfectly.


Jesse Russell:


Yeah, yeah, it is. Yeah. We've done a lot of these. Prior to Grumpy Cat, the San Francisco team launched side-by-sides with Zendaya, Sam Smith. Steph Curry came later. But Jeremy Lin, Laverne Cox. So we've had a lot of experience doing this, but not with an animatronic cat.


It was shipped to us, and the programmer of Grumpy Cat, animatronic Grumpy Cat, he would fly in a day later. And a studio person from London would fly in the day before to do all final touches on the cat. So we opened the box and we were horrified at what we saw.


Dusty Weis:


Oh no.


Jesse Russell:


It was not Grumpy Cat in that box. The eye color was wrong. The lids looked bug eyed. It just looked like a scraggly ... it was horrible.


Dusty Weis:


Was it just built incorrectly or was it damaged in shipping?


Jesse Russell:


No, it was just ... it didn't look like Grumpy Cat. So we didn't know what happened. We were shocked that London would send us a wax figure that wasn't complete and uncanny. And usually there is some touch up. That's why we have a studios person come in and the celebrity come in at least two hours before we do a side by side because we'll do the wax figure's hair to look like the celebrity's. We'll do makeup touch up. That'll all happen in advance just to make sure we're picture perfect. But in this case, our team did not know how we're going to get that cat from what it looked like to putting it next to Grumpy Cat.


Dusty Weis:


And so all of a sudden your entire team is behind the eight ball and you, as the marketing coordinator, are essentially stuck here thinking what?


Jesse Russell:


Well, we did try to decide if we could cancel the event if we weren't ready for Grumpy Cat, but it was determined that that decision was not in our hands, in San Francisco's hands. That was up to London and they felt confident about moving forward. So, we said, "Okay, this is going to happen." So we did the best job that we can. So our studios team started to get to work on fixing up Grumpy Cat, and especially fixing the eyes. Because if you look at a meme of Grumpy Cat, it's really her eyes and her frown. Those are kind of like the key components of that meme.


Dusty Weis:


That sort of disdainful stare, that all knowing haughtiness.


Jesse Russell:


Yeah, exactly. So we started doing that work and eventually, when the London studios person came in she was able to continue to do that work and really kind of bring this figure up to Grumpy quality. But then the programmer arrived and we learned that the cat wasn't actually working.


Dusty Weis:


Oh no.


Jesse Russell:


The programming wasn't finished. The code wasn't done being ran. Whatever it was, Grumpy Cat would not move on its own. This was a day before launch and the programmer is furiously typing into a computer trying to get this cat to start moving and do what it's supposed to do. And then Grumpy's family shows up.


Tabitha and her brother, they were incredibly sweet, nice, friendly people. They were completely understanding of the situation. They did not express to us any concerns with the way Grumpy looked and the fact that Grumpy wasn't moving. They were just very happy to be there.


Dusty Weis:


Your team at this point had given the Grumpy Cat doppelganger, a once-over and sort of pieced her back together as well as they could. Scale of one to 10, what sort of condition did she come in at and how close was she by the time they showed up?


Jesse Russell:


I would have put her at like a three when she showed up. It was not a good looking cat and by the time they showed up, we probably were up to like a seven, which is not Madame Tussauds standard.


Dusty Weis:


Okay, so pretty good.


Jesse Russell:


Yeah. Getting there.


Dusty Weis:


Like a C plus B minus.


Jesse Russell:


Yeah, but Grumpy's manager was not happy and he started to make it known.


Dusty Weis:


Do you ever just find yourself paralyzed with despair when you remember that we live in a world where there are famous cats who have managers?


Jesse Russell:


It's pretty incredible. I mean, this guy ... I'm actually really impressed by what he was able to carve out for himself. He is the meme manager, I think that's his official title for Grumpy Cat, for Nyan Cat, for Keyboard Cat. What's the kid with the fist pump? Like Success Kid? He manages all those memes.


Dusty Weis:


Come on.


Jesse Russell:


And in this role, from what I understand is that he helps continue to make sure that they are in the public consciousness. He helps them get book deals, he helps Grumpy Cat tour the country. And he manages to make sure nobody's infringing on the copyrights, which I'm sure is a really hard thing to do when you're managing a meme so ...


Dusty Weis:


The whole point of a meme is that it's viral and it's out there and it's in everybody's face all the time and anybody can take it and shape it into whatever they want.


Jesse Russell:


Exactly. But I guess if you're going out ... I mean people were sued for making Grumpy Cat mugs or things like that without getting them officially licensed. So there must be a limit between what you do as a Redditor versus what you do as somebody trying to make money off of Grumpy's likeness or Nyan Cat's likeness, or Keyboard Cat's likeness. I don't know.


Dusty Weis:


I'm pretty sure that Keyboard Cat died in the 1980s.


Jesse Russell:


Well that's where he got his start though. Keyboard Cat was his first client because it was a friend of the family that started the Keyboard Cat meme and he's like, "Oh, here's an opportunity." Make sure these brands are controlled.


Dusty Weis:


In the name of civility, we are not going to be naming Grumpy Cat's manager. But you said that Grumpy Cat's manager was not very happy about the state of Grumpy Cat and made that known. So I want to plumb the depths of that notion and flesh it out a little bit here. And we're going to do that with Jesse Russell here on Lead Balloon in a minute.


This is Lead Balloon, a marketing podcast for people who hate marketing podcasts. We're talking with Jesse Russell, who's a good follow on Twitter. Find him @cometstarmoon. He's a great writer too, by the way. But today he's sharing the tale of the day that internet sensation, Grumpy Cat came to Madame Tussauds along with an entourage of trouble. Maybe I should play up the drama on that. An entourage of trouble.


Jesse, Grumpy Cat's meme manager was not too happy with you when he saw that the animatronic Grumpy Cat at Madame Tussauds in San Francisco was not all that he expected.


Jesse Russell:


Well, it wasn't too bad at first. It was understandable criticism. Some of his concerns, we had already experienced ourselves, but we were working on the problem. The programmer, he literally worked over night trying to get that cat moving the way it should be moving. The studios team, they were also working in overtime to make sure the fake Grumpy Cat looked as much like the real Grumpy Cat as possible. And now we actually had the real Grumpy Cat with us, so they had a better reference than just photos. This is the day before. Eventually I had to go home and reviewing emails that I sent to my wife at this time.


Dusty Weis:


Oh no.


Jesse Russell:


I went back home pretty late. We have this big event tomorrow, they're going to be a hundred people in line. We have all these players showing up at 11 o'clock so we need to be ready to go. So I went home and woke up bright and early the next morning to launch the side by side with Grumpy Cat.


Jesse Russell:


So the next morning, the first thing I find out when I arrive at Madame Tussauds, is that the cat still is not moving on her own. The wax cat, the fake cat. We have to come up with a solution to figure out how are we going to kind of fake this because we can't go live and not have the cat moving. What we ended up doing is both the Grumpies, Grumpy one and Grumpy two, real Grumpy and fake Grumpy.


Dusty Weis:


Dopplegrumpy.


Jesse Russell:


Yeah, Doppelgrumpy. Were going to be on a pedestal next to each other. So we figured out a way to get the programmer kind of hide him underneath the pedestal behind a curtain. Just like the great Oz and he was just going to be sitting back there with his laptop making Grumpy move for the entire side by side.


Dusty Weis:


I suppose it beats like a Weekend at Bernie's fix.


Jesse Russell:


Yeah. Well it would've been awful because we were promoting this animatronic cat. It's this big thing. Madame Tussauds has never done this before. We're going to have an animatronic wax figure that's not really wax. How can you do that and then not have the cat actually twitching and moving. So he was back there making its eyelids go up and down and its ears move around while people kind of cycled through and looked at the cat and no one was the wiser until this very moment when I'm talking to you about it on a podcast.


Dusty Weis:


Well I didn't realize we were going to be breaking news.


Jesse Russell:


Yes.


Dusty Weis:


I'll alert my people at the Buzzfeed meme desk. But all of this, while kind of an unpleasant situation, is by no means untenable. This series of small crises, this is essentially what my entire career in public relations and marketing was. Was just one mini disaster after another. And then you just handle it as best you can and kind of keep on grinding. But this day sort of rose to the level of being extra crappy for you. And it all comes back to this manager.


Jesse Russell:


Well, I was feeling good about where we had gotten things to considering where we were four days previously. I have a long history of running events and I know that what's most important is the perception that the public walks away with. You could be having a crisis and a catastrophe behind the scenes, but as long as none of that leaks through to the public, as long as it all stays behind the curtain, usually it's good results. That's what you want.


I booked a band for a different event and the band wanted a very specific speaker and it was in their rider, so we actually had to go break into somebody's house who was on vacation and steal a speaker from his house. He knew we were stealing it, but he told us a break as a window so we could go in and get this very specific speaker for this musician. I mean, that's a story for another podcast.


Dusty Weis:


Crisis managed. Everything went on as planned and the public was none the wiser.


Jesse Russell:


Yeah, and great press. So I was feeling pretty good when I got to work and we figured out a solution for the programmer. But there was one person who was not feeling very good at all and wanted everyone and especially me to know it. And that was Grumpy's meme manager. He felt our studios team did not do a good enough job and the animatronic Grumpy Cat did not look like his cat. He was angry that we had to fake the moving animatronics, which that's fair.


But, I think, when we actually put Grumpy Cat next to Grumpy Cat, you couldn't really tell. If you've ever had a chance to meet Grumpy Cat, she doesn't really move. She just kind of hangs out there while people walk by and take selfies with her. So she's a very chill cat anyway, so our animatronic cat was probably moving more than the real Grumpy Cat. And I think our studios to the team did a pretty good job. And yesterday, the day before I was at seven, I was probably closer to a nine at this point. But he wasn't. And I guess if you spend that much time with Grumpy Cat, you probably really get to know what she looks like. And all of her flaws and all her beauty. And do you want that represented in any kind of image that is out there.


Dusty Weis:


This guy, was this just sort of the normal level of persnickety-ness that you find normally in a manager or was this person just on the warpath to make everybody around him miserable?


Jesse Russell:


Yeah. Eventually he went to 11. And he decided to go to 11, I'd say it was about 45 minutes to 30 minutes before showtime. I happened to be in the back hall. I was kind of running from one area to another and he cornered me. There was nobody else in this hallway, any corner of me. My back was against the wall. His finger was in my face and he proceeded to tell me, and I wrote a lot of this down, that Reddit was going to tear Madame Tussauds apart. Reddit was going to be very unhappy and you don't want to make Reddit unhappy. I was going to personally be responsible for ruining Grumpy's brand and her reputation, me. Me. He said, "You're going to be made fun of in the press. You're making a mockery of Madame Tussauds. I can't believe you let this happen." He went on and on and on and it felt like it was like an hour, but it was probably only like five minutes, but literally yelling at me. And I think he only stopped because the operations manager of Madame Tussauds came around the corner at that time.


He walked away and I was shaken to my core because I could not remember the last time somebody had spoken to me like that and I was furious and very frustrated and it was shocking. And you asked the question, is this normal? And it's not. Like I listed off before, we've worked with Peter Dinklage, Steph Curry, I've worked with all their managers and all their publicists. We'd have little comments like, "Well, you should have had the right bowl of M and M's." That kind of thing. But I never been screamed at. I'd never been cornered. There were so many things that were out of my control as the marketing coordinator of Madame Tussauds. Yet he felt, for whatever reason, that he had to channel all that energy, that stress that he was feeling into me. And it sucks.


We pulled off the event successfully. We have 356 million global media impressions. There weren't any negative comments on Reddit that I could find. And let me tell you, I did look. And even Berkeley Humane Society, we managed to have a cat adopted right out in front of the attractions. So there are all kinds of little successes that we had and there was not a single article, there was not a snarky Buzzfeed post saying, this cat doesn't look alike. The animatronics don't look ... nobody knew any of that. Nobody saw that. They just saw the magic of Madame Tussauds creating this replica of this very loved Grumpy Cat.


Dusty Weis:


I've been through the ringer with a couple of bad clients and bad celebrities, bad politicians. I mean they're out there and they're sort of one of the perils of working in this field. In my career, I've been putting some really weird and untenable situations in my response at least is always been to kind of, I don't know, steer into the skid, keep a sense of humor about it. Just laugh it off and do my job to the best of my ability, but not insist on berating other people or just taking myself far too seriously. And it sounds like you kept your perspective during what became a day from hell for you, but Grumpy Cat's meme manager, it sounds like, couldn't appreciate the absurdity of the situation. Why do you think that there are people in this field to just seem to be incapable of lightening up?


Jesse Russell:


I do think there is a lot on the line. If we had sent the animatronic Grumpy Cat out there the way it looks on day three, it would have been a catastrophe. Like he felt a cat.


Dusty Weis:


A cat-astrophe?


Jesse Russell:


Yes. It would've been a catastrophe.


Dusty Weis:


Sorry we had to get that worked in here at some point.


Jesse Russell:


Yeah. And he's paid to make sure Grumpy Cat is presented in the best light. That's his job is to make sure every possible article is positive about these memes that he's managing. Or any celebrity really. Their publicist is paid to make sure that they're being portrayed in the best possible light. And I imagine it probably is really easy for something like this to get out of control and so you're probably on pins the needles all the time. And I don't know what his relationship was with the London team. I don't know if maybe there is frustration coming from that end of things too that was fueling this and I was just an easy target. Some people just don't have that filter to stop themselves from taking it out on the wrong people.


Dusty Weis:


Jesse, I think that you are being entirely too empathetic with Grumpy Cat's manager here. No, I do. I mean that because I think that there is the normal stress of the job and snapping off a couple mean words to a person in the heat of the moment. And then I think that in this case and in the case of people who berate others, I think that you're not dealing with normal stress in a normal way of blowing it off. I think you're dealing with a person who's insecure in their standing in the world and is belittling somebody else to make themselves feel better about who they are to help them sleep at night. So I think you're giving Grumpy Cat's meme manager entirely too much credit here. But I'm glad that you said that the meme manager took it up to 11. Because when you tell this story, it reads like an honest to God farce. This reads like a Christopher Guest script.


Jesse Russell:


Yeah.


Dusty Weis:


Did it feel that way in the moment? Were you able to appreciate the humor?


Jesse Russell:


Yeah. It definitely wasn't until the operations manager at Madame Tussauds hand me a bottle of scotch and said, "You did tremendous work and you deserve this." Then I could start to appreciate it. Actually, I kind of think it was when Berkeley Humane Society told me that someone adopted a cat from their mobile adoption unit. It was at that point I was like, "That's great." We were able to give a cat a home that probably would not have been adopted today. We were able to bring exposure to this little Humane Society that's constantly trying to get funding. That helped a lot. Because it was a very small thing.


Jesse Russell:


I wouldn't know about the media impressions until days later, but that's it. Okay. This wasn't all bad. No. Everybody that walked to the attraction, they seem really happy to get to meet Grumpy Cat in person and they seemed to love the opportunity to actually get their picture taken with two Grumpy Cats. So seeing that as it unfolded and watching the meme manager drive away in the vehicle we put them in. Yeah, I guess it was after the event. Regardless of his attitude, it went much better than I thought it could have like two days ago.


Dusty Weis:


So where is this person now? I mean, I would assume that there are internet celebrities who still need managing. Have you had any contact with Grumpy Cat's former manager since then?


Jesse Russell:


Well, no. I mean I don't work at Madame Tussauds anymore and he's not worth my time keeping track of what he does.


Dusty Weis:


You don't sound sorry that you haven't had any contact with him.


Jesse Russell:


No, no. I'm not sorry that I don't have any contact with him. I hope he's successful doing what it's doing. I know he's out there because when Grumpy Cat did die, he was quoted in an article. So he's still out there doing what he does and good for him. I think part of the reason why I am a little more generous to him than you probably expected that would be is, it was four years ago. So I'm hoping that over that time he's become a different person. He's learned how to channel his stress and his anxiety and doesn't belittle people and take it out on other people and he could be a different person today.


Dusty Weis:


When Grumpy Cat passed away recently, you actually posted to Facebook a picture in remembrance of this day. And in the comments you said, and I'm quoting here, "I may look happy in this photo, but I was screaming inside."


Jesse Russell:


Yeah.


Dusty Weis:


Not to put too fine a point on it, but did this become for you sort of a watershed moment for you and your career?


Jesse Russell:


Yeah, it was the culmination of a few things and I basically just had to take ownership of the entire situation and make it work. So at that moment, it taught me that I'm going to have to rely on myself and not be afraid to rely on myself in my own instincts, but also to be willing to rely on the people around me too, who are there. Like the operations manager who did come around the corner and he clearly acknowledged that even though I thought I was hiding it, that I was shook. And he gave me that bottle of scotch later. Those are the people that I value that can do the little things to express support when necessary.


Dusty Weis:


You've moved on in your career to a different company in a different role and you're now in more of a content marketing sort of position. But is there some relief in knowing that your days of wrangling the misanthropic managers of internet cats have come to a close or do you still miss the absurdity of it just a little bit?


Jesse Russell:


I love my current job and I love the culture of my current company, but there are times where I do miss that crazy absurdity of it because for every Grumpy Cat meme manager there was a Zendaya. Most people now know her from Spiderman Homecoming, but she was a Disney star and very popular with kids. And we got to launch not only just one of her wax figures but two of her wax figures. So we did a triple side by side, which is really cool. And she's from Oakland where I live and she came in and her family was there and she was so sweet. Her manager was so nice. Everybody was so positive. There were all these kids in the attraction who got to meet her and they're all star struck and she handled them so well and was so welcoming.


So and Grumpy Cat I should say was also very friendly and welcoming too. But every guy like Grumpy's manager, there's probably a dozen that are more like Zendaya's. I always kind of hold them up as like a contrast because they were complete opposite days. One was very peaceful and easy and the celebrity aspect of it was simple because they made it easy. And on the other hand, you had Grumpy Cat who was a great cat. Her owner was fantastic, but then this one person in this part of their contingent, really brought all this stress in for everybody else who was involved.


Dusty Weis:


Well, I think that is a good point to end on if there's a moral to this story and I think there is. It's don't be that guy that takes an otherwise perfectly acceptable situation and just makes it miserable for everybody.


Jesse Russell, I have to thank you not only for sharing your tale with this but for breaking me out of an existential funk that I was having. I think I told you already, but I was sort of struggling with the notion of what sort of podcast I should launch as the brand flagship of the new business venture. I tell my clients that there's no point in having a podcast that does what a hundred other podcasts have already done before, either be original or don't bother, but there are literally a thousand other marketing podcasts out there and I didn't want to just dump one more cardboard cutout best practices show into the ether. So your post about Grumpy Cat was a flash of inspiration when I sorely needed it to explore the dark side of the communications field. So from the bottom of my heart. Thank you. You're a wonderfully creative and fearless person. I've always enjoyed collaborating with you since the days that we were both in Madison, Wisconsin. And stay in touch and look forward to doing this again some time. Thanks for joining us.


Jesse Russell:


Thanks Dusty.


Dusty Weis:


That's Jesse Russell, the former marketing coordinator at Madame Tussauds in San Francisco. I follow him on Twitter @cometstarmoon.


I hope you've enjoyed this inaugural episode of Lead Balloon enough to subscribe to our feed. Maybe leave a comment or tell your friends if you can top the indignation of being yelled at by a cat's manager. Maybe you could be featured in a future episode of Lead Balloon. Shoot me an email, dusty@podcampmedia.com.


Lead Balloon is produced by Podcamp Media, where we provide branded podcast production solutions for businesses. Check out our website, podcampmedia.com. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as well. Until the next time. Thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weis.