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  • Writer's pictureDusty Weis

Lead Balloon Ep. 50 - Grumpy Cat's Manager, Squatty Potty, the Sound of Freedom, Homestead, Watergate & More Updates

Some eye-opening updates on old episodes with two old pals who dropped in for our 50th episode.


When you're working with high-profile people in fields like PR, marketing and branding, things are always changing.


History gets uncovered. New information comes to light that changes everything. And sometimes an opportunity comes along to learn just a little bit more about a topic of interest.


So in this episode, we're revisiting three separate tales from Lead Balloon’s four-year run to dig deeper, uncovering some new "holy crap" moments that we never saw coming.



From episode one, we find out how the manager for world-famous-Internet-meme Grumpy Cat feels about being cast as the villain on our podcast.


From episode 13, how the Harmon Brothers agency, creators of the viral video ads for the Squatty Potty, have become involved with the rightwing-conspiracy-fueled media landscape of the "Sound of Freedom" film, distributed by Angel Studios, which made headlines in 2023. We also learn that they're working on an eyebrow-raising marketing/entertainment crossover called Homestead, based on the Black Autumn book series. And, we dig in to their other past projects, including Covenant Eyes and VidAngel.


And from episode 40, Dwight Chapin—who served in the Nixon administration and did prison time as part of the Watergate scandal—talks about how he punked Nelson Rockefeller at a political press conference, and shares his sincere regrets about his time in politics. 


Plus, we're joined by our old friends, marketer and strategist Kyle Brown and Andrew Julian, senior sports editor for the Messenger, to talk about what's next for Lead Balloon as a podcast.


Cheers to 50 episodes, everyone.


Transcript:


Dusty Weis

50 episodes. It's a cool milestone. We're talking about 50 notable tales from the world of PR, marketing and branding and so many more than 50 incredible guests who have shared with us not just these professional war stories from the trenches of high profile brands, agencies and campaigns, but in many cases, they've opened up and bared their souls.


That need to connect with other like minded creative people. I think that we all feel it in this field, and I certainly hope that I've been able to provide that outlet for you. But when you're working with high profile people in a field like this, things are always changing. History gets uncovered. New information comes to light that changes everything. And sometimes an opportunity comes along to learn just a little bit more about a topic of interest.


So in this episode, we're revisiting three separate tales from Lead Balloon’s four-year run to just kind of dig a little bit deeper because there are some holy crap moments that, for reasons that we're going to discuss later, I just haven't been able to share with you yet. From episode one, we are going to find out how the manager for world famous Internet meme Grumpy Cat, feels about being cast as the villain on our podcast.


A little spoiler alert he didn't care for it.


From episode 13, how the creators of the viral sensation video ads for the Squatty Potty are now the driving force behind something super sinister that's been making headlines this year.


And from episode 40, where we talked to a member of the Nixon administration about the PR plan for the Apollo 11 moon landing. Yeah, You didn't think that I'd actually miss the opportunity to ask Dwight Chapin about Watergate, did you?

 

Dwight Chapin

Dusty, I paid a hell of a price. I spent nine months in prison.

 

Dusty Weis

I'm Dusty Weis from Podcast Media. This is Lead Balloon, a podcast about important tales from the world of PR, marketing and branding, told by the well-meaning communications professionals who live them.


Thanks for tuning in. Of course, it wouldn't be much of a party if I was all by my lonesome here in the studio today. And so we've invited a couple of phenomenal guests who have been on the show in the past to rejoin us once again.


Andrew, of course, his first time in the studio here. Andrew Julian, senior sports editor at The Messenger, formerly of CBS and of course, WIOD in Florida, Miami, where we worked together. You appeared in our episode about the Milwaukee Bucks social justice walkout of 2020. So first of all, Andrew, congrats on the new gig.


The Messenger is a new publication that's starting to make some waves in the world of media. Tell us a little bit about that and what you're doing there.

 

Andrew Julian

Well, we got started at the beginning of the summer, well, late spring, depending on what department you're talking about at the Messenger. And we are a news website that is really trying to bring in new listener, new new readers, I should say, listeners…

Back in studio with headphones on. I want to say listeners.

 

Dusty Weis

Old habits die hard, man. I get it.

 

Andrew Julian

Yeah. Bring in a new readership with a focus on news and politics that tells the facts and an entertainment bent and a sports bent that bring in fans from all over the world to see things that they really, really enjoy and care about.

 

Dusty Weis

Well, that's awesome. And you're doing great work. I’ve been hearing a lot this weekend about the team that you're building. And of course, appreciate your joining us here to share your insights. And then, of course, someone who needs no introduction, but I'm going to introduce him anyway. He's been a guest multiple times on the podcast, our resident beer expert, a marketer and strategist with experience at Harley-Davidson and Kohls Corp. Kyle Brown.


Kyle, thank you for joining us. What's new?

 

Kyle Brown

Great to be here. Thank you. You know, still loving beer, having a great time, enjoying it, drinking it, learning about it.


It’s been a really interesting few years. You know, the economy is changing a lot of changes with, you know, shoppers and how they're thinking. So I've been having a great time just learning more about the industry, trying to adapt and bring data and technology and, you know, all the new techniques that we're going after to really understand the consumer and serve them the best way we can.

 

Dusty Weis

Retail needs people right now who aren't afraid to throw new stuff at the wall and see what sticks becausefrankly, it's adapt or perish time for a lot of retailers and Kohls, certainly one of those that has been doing some adapting in some creative ways and getting some stuff done.

 

Dusty Weis

Well, awesome. Gentlemen, again, thank you so much for joining me. We've got a lot to talk about here today.

 

Andrew Julian

So tell us about how things have been going for you at Podcamp Media this year.

 

Dusty Weis

Podcamp Media. It's been a year of changes,


This was a year when we kind of doubled down and focused on our existing clients, didn't bring in a new clients this year, but retained almost all of the ones that we had.

But also we brought in a lot of new faces this year.


Emily Kaysinger has been helping us out. Beatrice Lawrence has been chipping in. Will Henry and of course, manning the sound board right now, Matt Covarrubias as well. All these folks weren't with me when I started in January here. They've all been excellent help, talented individuals, and have done some great work for us as well.


As far as Lead balloon goes, this is kind of an inflection point for the show here.


Obviously, this show has been a presence at Podcamp from day one. We've gotten to see and do and meet some incredible people and things and experiences. I hope I got the syntax right on that. But it's also been kind of the show pony. It's won a few awards here marketing podcast of the year from Adweek, nominated for a Webby Award, nominated for a podcast Academy Award for Best Business Podcast.


I'm really hoping I'm going to bring home that bacon this spring, by the way.

 

Andrew Julian

All of those awards, all those accolades, all that time you spent in this studio and building a brand… What's it, 48, 50 episodes now?

 

Dusty Weis

50 episodes. This is the 50th episode spectacular. But it's also… this is the end of the season for the show. And so when you come to sort of a milestone like that, it's a great point to kind of stop, take a moment, take stock of the situation and figure out what you want to do next.


And so that's where I’m at with Lead Balloon right now, because there's a lot going on in the podcast industry. I don't know if you've heard, and it sucks, it sucks to see some of the things that happened to radio. I loved working in radio and so to see some of those things start to filter down now into podcasting, that bums me out a lot.


A lot of really good, really talented people have lost their jobs at the Spotifies, the Audacys that are out there.


And a lot of people are left now trying to do more with less, which we got real tired of hearing that phrase in the world of radio a long time ago. But what it also means is that this is a time when the little guys like my company have an opportunity to sort of step up and fill in some gaps.


2021 was a high water mark for great quality podcast content that was out there. 2024 is not going to be that. 2024 is going to be a year of wound licking for a lot of the big guys. And so I have to step back and look at it and say, Hey, maybe there's an opportunity here for us to do something with mass appeal.


Maybe there's an opportunity for us to fill in that gap that's going to be left.


And maybe there's an opportunity for us to tell some original stories outside of the work that we do for our clients that are going to have interest to people outside the world of PR and marketing.


In that same vein, you know, when I first started doing this show, we were only producing two podcasts here at Podcast Media. Now that's six, sometimes more.


This is by far the most demanding show that we produce.


And I wonder sometimes if it's fair to our paying clients that I spend so much time on it. It's also not fair to our listeners that it sometimes winds up being a back burner priority.

So I've kind of arrived at a spot where it's like, You know what? It'd be really nice to have a sponsor for Lead Balloon because that takes care of all of that.


Then it's not a back burner priority. Then I'm taking care of a client. The listeners benefit.

I'm able to bring in some more people to work on it. They benefit, they make it better than I can by myself. And so I'm going to be poking around looking for sponsors. I'm not very good at selling things, and so it'd be real nice if somebody just showed up and said, Hey, we want to sponsor the show.


That would that would solve a lot of problems for me.

 

Andrew Julian

Well, one of the things that I think that you can do to sell the show and well, we go back professionally and personally a long way, is that you've put together a pretty amazing product here with this program over the 50 episodes that you've done it.

 

Dusty Weis

You’re sweet to say.

 

Andrew Julian

Hey, listen, as somebody who's been working in the media for the better part of the last two decades, you know good when you see good, and this is good.


So the stories that you've had the opportunity to tell, I'm sure can sell the product for you as best as best as you can.


And you say you're not a salesman. Well, I think the work sells itself.

 

Dusty Weis

I hope so.


Frankly, it's a matter of getting in front of the right people. But all that that's a problem for 2024 Dusty.


The show is not going away. It's the end of the season. We were going to be taking a break anyway. We're going to use that time to explore the options that are out there.

And of course, that makes it more important than ever to follow Lead Balloon in your favorite podcast app. Find Podcamp Media on YouTube. All of those are good things because that way when we do start making new stuff, when we find that sponsor or when the bug bites me or when I get a story that falls into my lap that's just too good to pass on, we'll start making new stuff again and it'll be out there.


But I did a listener survey not too far back, and the number one thing that Lead Balloon listeners are interested in is not the PR and the marketing, it's the stories and there's other stories that are out there to tell, too. And so we've got a couple of really cool things that we're cooking up in that department, and we'll also post things about that in the Lead Balloon feed.


So if you want to know what's coming next, just make sure you're following us in the podcast feed and there will be news real soon on that department. So that's all there is to say about that.


Now, I said we were going to follow up on a few of the stories that we've done over the years, and of course it made sense to go back to episode number one here.


The very beginning. It really is a Wes Andersonian tale from my old pal Jesse Russell about his time working as marketing coordinator at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in San Francisco involving the world famous grumpy cat. Essentially what happened here is Madame Tussaud's was unveiling its first ever exhibit in their entire global network involving an animal, first of all.


And the other big thing was that it was going to be animatronic. It wasn't just a wax figure. It had hair blinked its eyes. It was supposed to move like, this is a big deal for Madame Tussaud's. They picked Grumpy Cat. Obviously, this is one of the most famous memes in the world, so Madame Tussaud's headquarters in London builds all of the exhibits and then ships it out to the individual locations around the world.


And so the Grumpy Cat exhibit arrived in a crate and they opened it up and it was not looking good. It was freaky, It was wrong. And the animatronics weren't working properly.

It was bad and it was not going to be ready for prime time. It was not going to be ready for the unveiling to 200 people that had come out to see this event happen live.


There was a lot of stress, but they did the work. They had 48 hours to get it prepared.

They got it to being okay. And then Grumpy Cat’s manager came into the picture.


Because it's the world that we live in, the cat had a manager. A so-called meme manager who manages the IP and the trademarks and the public appearances, all that sort of thing.


And this whole thing culminated in an encounter between Jesse and Grumpy Cat’s meme manager that I still think spins a morality tale for our industry.

 

Jesse Russell

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, and he cornered 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 sucked.


Dusty Weis

Now, Jesse and I, we chose not to name the meme manager for a variety of reasons. We didn't want to stir up trouble, so we didn't name him in the episode. And if we had named him, I would have felt obligated to reach out and get his side of the story here too.

As a podcaster, I was a no one at the time. I had zero listeners and zero subscribers, and so he wasn't going to say yes anyway, so I didn't reach out to him. And that never sat 100% right with me. Former journalist, we've got a code, all that kind of thing. And so as we approached this 50th episode milestone, I started to think this could be a great follow up opportunity.


Or maybe there's a redemption story here. Maybe he hears how what he did made Jesse feel and apologizes and makes good for it. So I reached out to him.


“I kind of cast you as the unnamed villain in episode one of the podcast. It's always rankled me a little bit that I never reached out to hear your side and examine how that might change my feelings about this particular tale. And so if you're interested in joining the conversation, I'm willing to come into it with an open mind and admit if I was wrong.”


That's what I sent to him.


This is from the response that I got.


“I listened to the episode and I feel that there could be no positive outcome from me relitigating something that has already been presented so one sided by you and your guest.


I definitely let our collective disappointment be known to some of the representatives there. But I'm afraid that the depiction in your interview has been embellished for either dramatic effect or a distorted memory. Regardless, Madame Tussaud's did a terrific job making adjustments to the figure subsequent to that day, and we went on to do more side by side appearances with the real Grumpy Cat and her wax figure in London, Las Vegas and Washington DC that went off without a hitch. The Grumpy Cat wax figure is something that we are still extremely proud of and we even include first Cat in History with a Madame Tussaud's wax figure in our brand deck to this day.


I continue to represent a growing number of memes, including Grumpy Cat, sleep well at night and feel great about my place in the world.


Best, comma, his name.”


I love the passive aggressive signoff, “Best, comma,” because it so perfectly encapsulates that you're not wishing somebody the best.


But I read that letter and I feel gaslit.

 

Kyle Brown

I'm struggling to take anyone seriously whose job is meme manager to begin with, let alone for a cat. Like it's just, it's a temporary blip of social culture that will be gone tomorrow. And to get so worked up over, I don't know, just I get it. It's clicks, it's views, it makes millions.

 

Dusty Weis

We tried to drive home that point in the original episode that I mean, hey, everybody could stand to lighten up a little bit in life, but if there's anybody that could stand to lighten up, it's a person who represents a cat who's in pictures that are on the Internet.

But also then to be confronted with someone who you wronged and to say, nah, it didn't happen like that.

 

Andrew Julian

I find it almost poetic that as a manager of a grumpy cat, the story that would come out of this is someone feeling very cornered, almost like a cornered rat would be if a cat was standing over them

 

Dusty Weis

And, you know, when I reached out to him, it wasn't like I was trying to do this sort of, “Here's a mess you made. Sit in it,” sort of a thing. I honestly, I felt bad that we never reached out because so much of what we have now in our news, in our entertainment, in our information is: here is part of the story now react and form a conclusion and get really mad about that.


And so I did feel genuinely bad about the fact that we didn't get his side of the story in the thing.


It might have changed the way that I felt about it. Now I look at it and say, “Actually no, I think we got it right.” And so from that standpoint, I feel a little bit validated.


But I still wanted that redemption arc for Jesse. I wanted this person to come forward and say to Jesse, or in a venue where Jesse would hear it, “I'm sorry, man, we all have bad days. But I was stressed and I got a little bit too hot.”


And to not even be able to do that, man, that tells me that somebody is just in it in a bad place in their own head.


And so, hey, as long as we're keeping it light and fun, if it's possible to get stranger than a famous animatronic cat, this next story is, but in a sort of sinister way.


Do you guys ever meet someone and they're awesome. And then you say a lot of nice things about them to a lot of other people, and then you learn something later about them that just horrifies you?


I mean, I feel like we've seen this happen a lot in the last 20 years with our heroes.

 

Andrew Julian

A time or two. Sometimes people we meet in person.

 

Dusty Weis

That's kind of where I've landed with this subject of episode 13 of the podcast, the Squatty Potty. I feel like I can say that word. And both of you, as a 38 year old and a 37 year old know immediately what I'm talking about.

 

Kyle Brown

Absolutely. It's a great product.

 

Dusty Weis

A lot of people have these darn things because the advertising campaign that came out the mid 2000s for this was so ubiquitous and so well tailored to our generation and so well-targeted.


Those ads were everywhere. But in case you haven't heard of the Squatty Potty, this is a stool designed to elevate one's legs, to ease in the process of relieving one's bowels.


And this ad campaign by an agency called the Harmon Brothers involved a magical unicorn that pooped rainbow sherbet…

 

Squatty Potty Ad

Soft serve straight from the sphincter. They're good at pooping!

 

Dusty Weis

And the unicorn found relief by using the Squatty Potty. I feel like that's a pretty good summary right there.


And for episode 13 of the podcast, we talked to Benton Crane, who was then the CEO of the Harmon Brothers, Benton and his cousins, the Harmon Brothers all come from Utah and built this wildly successful agency and produced all kinds of really wild, hilarious viral spots, and they did very well for themselves.


So as I was looking back through the catalog, looking for an episode to remaster, and I thought this would be a great one, great story. And I'm pretty sure that I called Benton and their technique genius on more than one occasion. And so I jumped on Benton's LinkedIn page. And I saw that now he had this affiliation with a new project that was called Black Autumn that was affiliated with Angel Studios. And I'm like, Angel Studios. Angel Studios. Why does this sound familiar to me?


Well, Angel Studios was in the news this summer. Angel Studios distributed a film called The Sound of Freedom. Does that ring a bell for you guys? This was actually one of the highest grossing films of the year. What made it weird was that it was playing to sold out theaters that in a lot of cases were empty.


And this raised a lot of eyebrows. People were very confused by this.

And then some reporters started digging in. What is this?


Well, it's a movie about child sex trafficking starring Jim Caviezel of Passion of the Christ fame.


Jim Caviezel, kind of a fan of right wing conspiracy theories.


Right wing conspiracy theorists, it turns out, were a big fan of the Sound of freedom because it runs parallel to a lot of their beliefs about secret child sex trafficking rings.

The film was originally completed in 2018, and the distribution deal went to 20th Century Fox, and then Walt Disney bought it. And then Walt Disney looked at it and said, we're going to put this back on the shelf.


Given the current political atmosphere, we're not.

 

Kyle Brown

It's not on-brand for the House of Mouse. No.

 

Dusty Weis

No. And so Angel Studios got the rights from Disney and then presented the film to its online group of investors who get to vote yes or no. And they get to fund the movie. It's like micro investment, but for movies and then they also use this thing they called Pay-It-Forward ticket purchasing where, essentially, if you like the movie, you can buy tickets for other people to see the movie, even if those tickets never get used.


And so when the Q-Anon conspiracy theory crowd got ahold of the story they went wild and they bought lots and lots and lots of ticket and the Sound of Freedom, I believe it was the third highest grossing movie that weekend behind Barbie and Oppenheimer, but playing to empty theaters.


And Angel Studios, it turns out, is a spinoff of the Harmon Brothers, the creative agency in Utah that we profiled and I praised so vehemently, so publicly, back in episode 13 of this podcast.

 

Andrew Julian

I think the word you said to use before was genius. What I hear is an ingenious story of insurgent marketing as you tell me that story. It winds up being somewhat of a closed loop. You know, your audience, you create a product, you bring it to your audience and the marketing to that audience does nothing but support the growth of the product.


Disney made their decision. 20th Century Fox made their decision. But what I hear in the context of marketing, if you're going to have a small consumer base, what an ingenious way for a company whose goal is to make money and market products, to make money by marketing a product.

 

Dusty Weis

You know, it's funny that you bring money into the thing because it turns out… I did a little bit of research… that Angel Studios has actually brought in more than $100 million in crowd funding and that doesn't include any of the profit that they made with the pay it forward ticket sales, it's just $100 million from very right wing people who feel that their views are not being represented in the mainstream media, who said, here's some money, stick it to Hollywood for me.

 

Kyle Brown

So these investors, are they really like investing and then getting returns or is this just purely like I'm just is it really just a donation?

 

Dusty Weis

It’s a GoFundMe.

 

Kyle Brown

So it's like a patron of…

 

Dusty Weis

It's essentially, it's a GoFundMe. There's no return for them. Other then they get to see these movies and TV shows that they want get turned into a real thing.


And what's super crazy about it to me is that Benton told me this was going to happen during our interview and I missed it.

 

Benton Crane

We believe that there is so much room for innovation in finding new and fun ways to integrate brands and entertainment.


One of our teams is working on a television show right now where we're making our first television show because we believe that we have to be world class storytellers and world class entertainers to have a future in this industry.


We’re going to always have teams working on ads, and we’re going to have teams working on shows. And over time, we’ll probably find ways where those two worlds melt together in really cool ways.

 

Dusty Weis

Now when he talks about those two worlds melting together, I have to bring up his new project that he's working on now.


It was originally called Black Autumn. It's based on a book series that was very, very popular with the same crowd that really liked Sound of Freedom.


And now it's called Homestead.


Let's watch a preview.

 

Benton Crane

Guys, I finally get to announce my next project. I’m so excited about this. I’m going to be producing a new TV series called Black Autumn.


For 95% of people, they're going to see this and just see, hey, this is a really cool TV series. But there's 5% of people out there who are really into marketing, branding, brand integration, some of those things. And for those people, they're going to be really interested in this project because we're doing some really innovative stuff in that space, stuff that I think has the potential to be game changers in the industry.


Enjoy it, I’ll see you on the other side.

 

Dusty Weis

What jumps out, visually…

 

Black Autumn Trailer Narration

I was nine years old when the collapse happened.

 

Dusty Weis

…about the Black Autumn trailer…

 

Black Autumn Trailer Narration

Back then, we breathed safety like air.

 

Dusty Weis

…is the rightwing iconography. Mushroom clouds, a compound on a hill… The dialogue calls up explicit Biblical references to the End Times.

 

Black Autumn Trailer Narration

In my town, there was a man they called the “Modern Noah.”

 

Dusty Weis

Almost every other shot is of someone clutching military style weapons.

 

Black Autumn Trailer Narration

So many perished. Many didn't survive a full week after the power went out.

 

Dusty Weis

The imagery fuses together religious symbols with images of conflict.

 

Black Autumn Trailer Narration

Adversaries circled our families like wolves, and God rode bareback in our midst, holding them just outside our ramparts.

 

Dusty Weis

Including one shot where someone paints a white sign of the cross directly onto a tactical style armored vest.

 

Black Autumn Trailer Narration

It wasn't until after we learned what a pampered nation we had become.

 

Dusty Weis

Evoking notions of Holy War.


Black Autumn Trailer Narration

It wasn't until later we saw the hand of the Almighty revealed.

 

Dusty Weis

And yet, amid these horrors, the narrator seems to welcome the apocalypse.

 

Black Autumn Trailer Narration

Maybe that was what it took. Maybe it was worth it.

 

Dusty Weis

It is deeply unsettling to watch.

 

Random Black Autumn Dialogue Snippets

Los Angeles is on fire. New York City is on fire.


He is with us.


He will never leave.


The end of the world is only the beginning.


We are a family. We live as a family. We die as a family.

 

Dusty Weis

Maybe it was worth it?!? Guys, I am a fan of End of the World fiction as much as anybody else, but you're not supposed to be rooting for the end of the world. You're not supposed to be pumped that the apocalypse is here so that you can cosplay holy war.


Like, let's talk about some of the visual imagery in that thing. Kids running around with guns, the armored vest having the sign of the cross made on it.


This is some creepy stuff.

 

Kyle Brown

What was weird about it, I mean, it was blatantly obvious that it's just a just pushing Christianity of an extreme level and tying that with, well, yeah, guns and everything, but, the way he set it up. So casually nonchalant of this is a great marketing business and we're going to combine brands and entertainment. There's not a single brand in there other than hardcore devout Christianity.


And except for maybe firearms.

 

Dusty Weis

Firearms!

 

Kyle Brown

The only recognizable product in there was weaponry warfare items.

 

Dusty Weis

He goes on to say in a different interview that I'll link that that some of the brands that they're looking to integrate with for this show are survivalist brands, food canning, battle apparel, apocalypse preparedness…

 

Kyle Brown

Bunker developers?


I mean, I was still waiting for, you know, like just the blatantly just crappy product placement like halfway through just someone just opened up a Pepsi to something to make it not to make it.

 

Dusty Weis

Less creepy, but no… Colt! Ruger!

 

Kyle Brown

Yeah, I mean.

 

Andrew Julian

I'm reminded of… I'm a big fan of the show 30 Rock, and I'm reminded of the product integration with Apple products that was going on. I think it was from the second or third season at the end of it. And there were a handful of moments where the writers had the characters sort of break the fourth wall about an Apple product. And in the universe of that show, it felt like everybody was in on the joke when they were doing it. Nothing about that felt like there was any joke to be in on. And I think from a branding product integration standpoint, when you take it that seriously, it becomes something very much more than a branding tool for commerce, and it becomes a branding tool for culture.

 

Dusty Weis

Right, Right. Well, and to your point from earlier, Kyle. Yes. One of the products on display was the Church of Latter Day Saints, because the Harmon Brothers, Benton Crane, the whole family out there, devout Mormons, it turns out.


There was a company that they founded and oversaw a little while called Covenant Eyes.

It was anti-porn software that you download to your laptop or to your phone that sends a report on your browser history to a trusted confidant who can hold you accountable as you tried to break your porn addiction.

 

Andrew Julian

The Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, is using that. His Covenant Eyes, I guess, Accountability Buddy is his son.

 

Kyle Brown

Man, that would suck to be his son. Thanks, Dad.

 

Dusty Weis

That's a lot to put on me here, Dad. Good Lord.


Oh and Dad, why furries?


So yes, that is a Harmon Brothers creation. In that same vein, they ran a streaming service for a while that was actually the predecessor to Angel Studios, a streaming service called Vid Angel, which essentially showed popular movies, but with all of the cussing and nudity and objectionable left wing content, presumably blocked out.

Vid Angel, of course, went bankrupt because the studios, it turns out, don't like it when you monkey with their stuff.


That's trademark violation, among other things. So Vid Angel went bankrupt and became Angel Studios. And now you know, as the man himself used to say, the rest of the story about the Harmon Brothers.

 

Kyle Brown

You know, there's a lot of services out there, a lot of a lot of companies that have kind of broken off. They said, I don't want to be the Hollywood, I don't want to be the mainstream

What's different about this is this is not just people wanting to get together for the entertainment content, but it feels there's just such a blatant alternate or actually primary purpose hidden behind, what they claim to be an entertainment entity.

 

Dusty Weis

Yeah. And unfortunately I think it's still probably genius. I think they they've already proven that they will be successful. They have tapped into something that is real. You could say that they're exploiting it, and I would, but they're exploiting it well, so perhaps the genius is an evil genius, and I frankly, I think that there are enough hardcore right wing Americans out there who feel their views aren't being represented in entertainment.

And much like Fox News has broken away from the mainstream to pander, these guys have figured out the formula for doing that, now, with entertainment.


Well hey, speaking of right wingers…


A guy who served in the Nixon administration and served prison time as part of the Watergate scandal talks about how he punked Nelson Rockefeller at a huge political press conference, and shares his sincere regrets about his time in politics.


That’s coming up in a moment, here on Lead Balloon.

 

Dusty Weis

This is Lead Balloon, and I’m Dusty Weis, speaking with Andrew Julian from the Messenger and Kyle Brown, a marketer and strategist.


In episode 40 of this podcast, my favorite so far, we learned about the Greatest Speech Never Given, a backup set of remarks prepared for President Richard Nixon in case the Apollo 11 moon landing ended in disaster.


We talked to a fellow by the name of Dwight Chapman. He served in the Richard Nixon administration. He was one of a team of people who put together the PR plan for the moon landing.


And Dwight also served about a year at Lompoc as a result of his conviction for lying to a grand jury during the Watergate scandal. It's a pretty wild story. And so when I interviewed him about the Apollo 11 thing, I couldn't not ask him about Watergate.

And so here's a clip.

 

Dwight Chapin

Watergate happened in June of 1972. The real truth of what happened was not revealed for nine months to Richard Nixon. He messed around with it and he tried to figure out what was going on. But two men who knew exactly what had happened, withheld information and the president fumbled around and did not—was not able to get to the bottom of what happened. And those men also kept the truth away from key Nixon aides like Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, who was charged with trying to get to the truth.


So there was a lot going on there. We are now finding that there are, I believe there are three or four books underway right now that deal with the CIA's involvement in various aspects of the Watergate affair.


It is important to remember that Nixon won a landslide victory in 1972. He won by 17 million votes. No president has won with a bigger majority in the history of the nation before then or since then.


And Nixon was riding on this high horse of the election, of his trip to China, of the negotiations with the Soviet Union and so forth, and he was an incredibly high target. The Democrats wanted to bring him down. The Kennedy forces were trying to rehabilitate Teddy Kennedy from what had befallen him with Chappaquiddick.


There was a lot of intense political stuff going on, and the poor management of the Watergate affair opened up this opportunity for all of these forces to collectively come at Richard Nixon and led to his eventual resignation. And I am of the opinion that in today's world, that could not happen.


We now have talk radio, we have multiple channels of distribution of information of both the conservative and liberal nature, and that the thing would have become much more fragmented. It would have been more of a political fight because it was a political affair in Nixon's mind, not a legal one.


The legal part was the break-in, and that for sure was illegal. But Nixon’s complicity in this involved what happened in the cover-up, and that's where he was not given the purity of information.

 

Dusty Weis

Again, it's been just a fascinating read for me, certainly an alternative narrative to what you typically hear when you read about or study this kind of thing. And I have to say, as a student of public relations myself, as I read about some of the political pranksterism, the dirty tricks… I was unfamiliar with the work of Dick Tuck before I picked up your book right here and certainly read more than a few things in the novel that made me raise my eyebrow and go, really?


Was that was that common practice back in the 60s and the 70s?

 

Dwight Chapin

Yes it was. And I happened to know Dick Tuck and Dick Tuck was a terrific guy, a Democrat. We got along very well. We joked a lot. But this whole prankster thing did happen back then. I mean, the Kennedy Nixon campaign of 1960, there were all kinds of crazy shenanigans going on.

 

Dusty Weis

Well, you mentioned Dick Tuck at one point made arrangements so that as candidate Nixon was standing on the back of a train giving a speech, the train started to pull out of the station. And that was the work of Dick Tuck.

 

Dwight Chapin

He paid a conductor or somebody to get the train moving when Nixon was in the middle of his speech.


He also down in San Francisco, down in Chinatown, arranged for this huge banner behind Vice President Nixon. So Nixon's up giving this speech and behind him is this banner in Chinese. And Nixon had no idea that the banner said, “Vote for Kennedy.” I mean, so, you know, I mean, it was kind of harmless type stuff compared to what we ended up with later on.

 

Dusty Weis

Well, and you even mentioned a prank of your own that you leveraged against Senator Nelson Rockefeller in the primary run up to the presidential race. You want to tell us about that one?

 

Dwight Chapin

Well, that one was a little Machiavellian. The truth is that Nelson Rockefeller liked particular ladies and he had an affair going on. And we became knowledgeable about this.


Back in those days, when a candidate got ready to give a speech, all of the news people would put their microphones and their tape recorders in front of the podium. There'd be a collection of 25, 30, 50 microphones, recorders, and so forth. And what we did was when he walked up there, we had a guy push a button, and instead of… it started playing kind of a broadcast out loud and it says the lady's name, let's just say her name was Sally Smith.


So all of a sudden this recording starts saying “Governor, tell us about Sally Smith. Governor, tell us about…” and it's we have it turned up to full volume. And of course, Sally Smith was his mistress or the person he was running around with.


And he disappeared from that podium in a split second. It was hilariously funny to all of us that knew what was going on. And I'm sure the governor raised holy hell when he got his advance staff back in the office or wherever he met with them.

 

Dusty Weis

Oh, I can only imagine!

 

Dwight Chapin

Well, I should say this. I'll never forget when all the stories were coming out. My mother gave me an incredible lecture. She was very disappointed. This had nothing to do with what America politics should be, and that I acted completely out of character to what she would have expected of me. And I believe my mother was right. I was wrong. There is not a place for that. We don't need it.


It's complicated enough as it is. Maybe it's human nature to pull practical jokes. I happen to think it is, but I was wrong. And I say so in my book.

 

Dusty Weis

That's actually one of the last lines that I read in preparation for this is that if you could go back and change anything, it would be to pull back from some of the pranksterism that you did. Was that simply a result of that lecture by Mrs. Chapin that brought you to that realization, or is that something that you also arrived at on your own?

 

Dwight Chapin

I think a combination. I mean, I paid a hell of a price. I spent nine months in prison. Now, that was because of appearance before a grand jury, but one has to look at the whole chain of how all this stuff unfolded over time and the consequences of a lot of different things leading to what happened. But I think that in my heart of hearts, I felt that if I could do it over, I would do it differently.

 

Dusty Weis

So I know we started the show with a redemption story that wasn't, and we’ll end on what I would call an almost redemption story. Because on the one hand, you could tell that Dwight very much wishes that things would have gone differently for him and some of the decisions that he made.


But on the same hand, he's also still taking bullets for Richard Nixon all these years later, which I think is a very interesting dichotomy there.


But hearing those stories about what it was like working on the campaign trail back in the 1960s, I think is just… that's a fascinating time capsule from a bygone era.

 

Andrew Julian

I heard a lot of things in that interview that are very applicable today and it's sort of interesting to interact with that through that modern lens. And I think that is really one of the great highlights of the shows that you do, that you bring that to the forefront and do it through the lens of the public relations professionals who have lived it and experienced it.

 

Kyle Brown

I agree completely. I think it was really fun to listen to that and just, you know, that's what was going on then and like, what are we doing now? And it's very different, but also extremely the same thing, right? So the banner behind. It's brilliant. It's brutal. I wish I would have thought of that moment because that's the kind of marketing and those kind of PR stunts that brands do all the time. And they're phenomenal.


I love guerilla marketing, I love the underground, you know, just get in there and find your ways in. You know, I remember we when I was at Harley, we put on this huge event and I believe at the time it was the largest live Facebook streamed event that they had done.

They were first launching it up. We spent a ton of time on this, worked our, you know, just nights and weekends as much as we could. And the night of the event, we're out there producing and we're ready to go. And outside of our venue is Indian Motorcycle. And they had hired, like college students to hand out fliers to their thing. And everyone was walking in with fliers into our event. Right. Where are these coming from?


You know, that's brilliant marketing, you know, and kudos, whoever put that together, they got, you know, 50,000 people to attend there with their brand for like 50 bucks in fliers.

 

Dusty Weis

And I think you're right. I think that that draws a lot of its influence from that sort of old school Dick Tuck style of just let's just mess them. Let’s just jam our finger in their eye just a little bit.


Gentlemen, before we wrap it up here, is there anything else that you'd like to leave us with?

 

Andrew Julian

I'm just grateful to have the opportunity to sit in on your podcast and chat a little bit about what you do here. And this. It's not just, you know, you win awards and you do great work, but you tell really great stories. And for news professionals, for PR professionals to get that sort of pull back the curtain on what it is that we do and have these conversations out in the open, it's really, really valuable.

 

Kyle Brown

Yeah, 50 episodes. The stories that I have heard. And I agree, it's the stories and I think that's what a lot of the listeners have said as well. It's not the technical details of this and that. It's the story behind it. And I can tell you the number of times I have been at a, you know, at a work event, you know, a cocktail party or something afterwards, you know, people are telling stories back and forth.


And I got 50 of them in my back pocket. And I'll pull one of these up and it's… it just kills. It's always great. You know, it's like, where did you even hear that? And then I tell them about the podcast. But, you know, for me to hear these other stories, it's an arsenal. I can go in and just have great conversation with my peers in my industry.

 

Dusty Weis

Well, you know, Kyle, of course, you've been with us since episode number three of the podcast. That was the first time that we brought you in as the beer expert, and you helped build these very walls of the set that we're sitting in front of right now swinging the hammer. And Andrew, it has been just an absolute delight to get to catch up with you again. You’re a colleague from back in the news days, the Wonderful Isle of Dreams in Miami, but also just to get to have a conversation like this with you in person this time. Because the last time that we talked, it was virtual, as so many things were for a long, long darn time. But I appreciate you guys… everything that you've done for me personally, for me professionally and for the show over the years as well. So thank you as well.


Andrew Julian, senior sports editor at The Messenger. Kyle Brown, marketer and strategist for Kohl's, thank you both for joining us here on this episode of Lead Balloon.

And that is going to do it for both this season and this episode of Lead Balloon. As we mentioned before, we're not quite sure when we're going to be back, so make sure that you are subscribed on your favorite podcast app, and I'll make sure to let you know on that feed of any new projects that we have coming up.


Also, if you or your company are interested in sponsoring a season of Lead Balloon, we should talk.


Lead Balloon is produced by Podcamp Media, where we provide branded podcast production services for businesses. Our podcast studios are located in the heart of beautiful downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But we work with brands all over North America. Check out our website podcampmedia.com to get in touch or learn more.

Matt Covarrubias was our sound engineer for this episode.


And until the next time, folks, thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weis.

 

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