Now more than ever, people are starving for leadership. In this episode, the CEO whisperer, Cameron Herold joins the pitch whisperer, John Livesay, as they reveal the secrets to inspire and upgrade your organization and achieve that exponential growth. Get to know Cameron and how he got his moniker as he takes us through his story of origin and his expertise for crazy growth that he’s more than willing to share with the most dynamic business leaders. John and Cameron talk about the work Cameron does by helping leaders be better CEOs and lead better teams. Tune in and learn the secrets to grow your business to heights you’ve only dreamed of before.
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Secrets From The CEO Whisperer with Cameron Herold
Cameron Herold is known as the CEO Whisperer and he gives keynote talks. One of which is what he would write to his younger self from lessons learned being the COO of a top company. He would say to himself, “Don’t take things quite seriously.” He said, “Now more than ever, people are starving for leadership. If you’re ready, raise your hand and start leading.”
Our guest is Cameron Herold and he’s known as the CEO Whisperer so you can imagine how happy I am to be talking to the CEO Whisperer as the Pitch Whisperer. He was the COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and was able to get on Oprah and had incredible growth. They were the number two company in Canada. He’s also spoken in over 26 countries across six continents. He has five books and one of which is called Free PR. Cameron, welcome to the show.
John, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
It’s great to get to be with somebody who is making the world better. I say the world because those silos between who we are personally we can deny versus who we are at work have broken down. If you’re helping people have better lives, be better CEOs, and lead better teams, that impacts everything. Let’s go back to your own story of origin. You’ve got such a great story and I’ll let you decide where you want to start. You can take us back to your dad grooming you to be an entrepreneur or this opportunity of a lifetime, or wherever you want to start.
I’ll start with the whole idea of the separation of business and personal. I grew up in a small town with small-town values. I’d go to the big city once in a while and look around and go, “It’s so big.” I didn’t know that there was a separation of business and personal. I didn’t know that you had a business persona. I thought people were people, so I’ve always just been me and I’ve never known anything but. People go like, “You should be vulnerable.” I’ll hear that but I’m like, “I’m always vulnerable.” I don’t understand what vulnerable means. Just be yourself. I’ve always been that way.
I was groomed as an entrepreneur. My dad raised my brother, sister, and myself all to be entrepreneurs and that’s all we’ve ever done. We started running our own companies and all three of us run our own companies. We’ve all run our own businesses for many years. We were told that having a job was a bad idea and that being in control of our own destiny and having the free time and the ability to make money was better. That’s all we’ve ever done. I did a talk that’s on the main TED.com site about raising entrepreneurial kids.Culture is a system that you put in place that aligns people with a vision. Click To Tweet
I talked about the fact that I’ve done about sixteen different businesses by the time I was eighteen years old. When I was 21 years old, I had my first full-time company with twelve employees. I ran that business for three years while I was in university. I graduated from university with no debt and bought a house that year with the money that I’d made running my own business. I paid my own way through university and then started coaching entrepreneurs. I’ve been coaching entrepreneurs of real companies and I started coaching them in 1989.
By the time I was 28 years old, I’d coached 120 entrepreneurs where I’d coach them week after week through success. I ended up leading a group called College Pro Painters where I was running a lot of their franchises and opened the West Coast of the United States for them. I ended up opening up a franchising group for an auto body chain, which is called Gerber Auto Collision in the US and it’s called Boyd Auto Body in Canada. We built that company up and took it public, then I was hired as the president of a private currency company. I helped build that up and we sold that company.
I joined my best friend to help build his company. It’s a small business at the time. He had fourteen employees and I was employee number fourteen. We started a business called 1-800-GOT-JUNK? When I came in, we had twelve locations and we were doing $2 million in revenue. When I left 6.5 years later, we had 3,100 employees. We were operating in 330 cities and we’d gone from $2 million to $106 million in six years. I’m the chief operating officer for that entire time. When I left there, I started coaching real CEOs of real businesses and their leadership teams on helping them grow their companies globally. I’ve done paid speaking events in 26 countries on six continents. I’ve written five books and started a podcast called the Second-in-Command podcast. That’s my story.
I want to go into your youth. You said at 21, you had twelve people working for you. Were they your age or were they older?
They were mostly my age and a little bit older. They’re around my age within 2 or 3 years, plus or minus. They were all in their twenties.
Now that you have so much experience and have been involved in so much growth, do you see a challenge sometimes when certain people have to report to someone younger than they are?
I’ve seen a problem where there’s a generational divide of anxiety and jealousy that the Baby Boomers are a little bit anxious looking across Gen X and into Gen Y. A 57-year-old youngest age Baby Boomer having to report to a 34-year-old Gen Y is freaking them out. Having to understand that they did not adapt to technology, they don’t understand how to leverage technology. They don’t understand the modern way of running companies and they’re becoming more of a worker reporting into a younger skilled group. That’s tough for them. Prior to technology, I didn’t want to report to someone younger because how could they be smarter when they’re younger? You had to be the one that knew everything at that young age. You have to know where to access and how to find that information, but you no longer have to be the smartest person at the table. They’re different because they grew up in a different paradigm.
Access to information and things are changing fast. We touched on this concept of you getting 1-800-GOT-JUNK? to get on Oprah and you’ve written a book, Free PR: How to Get Chased By The Press Without Hiring a PR Firm. I love that subtitle. What tips did you learn from getting on Oprah and watching that impacted head-on growth as the COO that you think made you want to write this book about free PR?
I’ve been generating free PR for about fifteen years prior to joining Brian. I understood the game of getting free publicity and how to leverage that, and the third-party credibility and how to tie it in with your marketing and sales. When we then did it at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, it was like, “How do we do it faster?” I’ll tell you an interesting story that I don’t think I’ve shared about Oprah, but what I learned about the media and being on Oprah was that it doesn’t matter what story you get. No one cares. It’s what you do with that story and how you leverage that story that gets you the real upside in terms of your revenue, culture, or brand awareness.
Being on Oprah was great and it was big for a couple of days, and then it went away. The fact that I’ve been able to talk about it for many years has been where the real leverage has come from. The fact that we can put it in front of our customers, suppliers, and franchise prospects. It was what we did with the press that’s important. I talked about this a little bit in the book Free PR and I wrote it with a co-author, good friend, and former client of mine, Adrian Salamunovic. Adrian was the CEO of a company called CanvasPop.
One of the things I talked about in there was almost like putting a log on a fire that a story that you get in the media is just a log, but if you don’t light it on fire, nothing happens. If you’ve got a whole bunch of logs and you’ve lit them on fire, that’s good but if you pour gas on it, that thing lights up. What I learned about the media is it’s not about being on Oprah. It’s what I do with it, and then it’s about how do I pour gas on what I’ve done with it to take it to the next level.
What did you do to pour gas on your Oprah appearance besides being able to talk about it with clients? How did that impact the marketing and sales? You started using it on presentations and people had it seen and whip and all those things.Culture is about firing the jerks even though they get results. Click To Tweet
I’ll talk about what we did with it and what I would do with it because it’s a different era. When we landed it, it was 2003. Facebook didn’t launch until 2006 and Twitter didn’t launch until 2008, so we didn’t have social media as a place to share it. YouTube had just launched, so we didn’t have places for it to be shared. What we did was we talked about it with franchisees and in our marketing. We showed it to franchisees and potential employees. We put it up on our wall that we’ve done it. That was what we did with it. What we would do now with it is we would put it on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, and Medium.
We would buy it and we’d put it on YouTube, and then we would purchase traffic towards it. We would link it to our webpage so that Oprah would be linking back to our website, and then we would share it on all those social media platforms 3 to 5 times a year. It’s the amplification of what we would do and we call that the digital trifecta. In the book Free PR, we talked about the digital trifecta, and it’s how you leverage the press that you’re getting. We landed 5,200 stories about our company in six years and that was prior to Facebook even starting. If we had done it with the 5,200 stories and had social media, it’ll be a huge revenue shift.
One of the chapters in Free PR, you talked about crafting your strategy and creating your pitch, so that’s the perfect fit for this show. When I was getting publicity for my book, which is Better Selling Through Storytelling, I will talk about how to go from invisible to irresistible, and in the middle of the rung is interesting. When I was working on how to craft a pitch around that, I said, “It’s like being stuck at the friendzone at work.” Salespeople get excited, “Someone said they’re interested in this sense of information,” and then it’s crickets. We crafted this whole concept of three ways to tell you’re stuck at the friend zone at work and three ways to get out. Both Fortune and Inc. picked that up. I know there must be something that you can share with, how important is it to come up with a soundbite that hooks people in and then that flushes out the story for the journaling?
It’s important. There are two pitches that we use. The first is, how do you get the journalist to talk to you and listen to your story? How do you get them to listen to your pitch? It’s like the pre-pitch pitch. Can you get these on the phone for two minutes? What we do is we call them up; we don’t email them. If you think about it as an example, how many times has your phone rung?
Mine has rung twice. How many emails have you received now? I received 100 emails. If somebody emails me, they have a 1 in 100 chance of me noticing. If they phone me, they have a 33% chance I’m going to get the phone call. If I leave them a message or I talk to them, I’d say the same thing. “It’s Cameron calling from COO Alliance. I have a great story for you. Do you have two minutes?” I’m not going to tell them what the story is. I’m just saying, “I have a good story for you. Do you have two minutes?” Every journalist on the planet is going to say 1 of 2 things. They’re either going to say, “Yes. What’s the story?” or, “I’m too busy.” If they say, “I’m too busy,” say, “Can I call you with the story idea tomorrow or Friday?”
They want the story idea because every day, they have to come up with something else to write about, so they’re going to take your call. That’s how I get the pitch to open the door to be able to then talk to them. When I give them the story, I try to give them the headline that might be written over the story. Let’s say the story was a TV piece or a radio piece or a blog piece or a newspaper article. I’ll give them the story. As an example, for the COO Alliance, we have the only network of its kind in the world for the Second-in-Command. If I said, “John, I have a good story for you.” You go, “What is it?” “It’s about a mastermind group where no CEOs are allowed or it’s about a leadership training program where CEO applications are thrown out.” Journalists don’t like CEOs in the first place.
I’m making the story about something and they don’t get to come in. Whereas normally, I wouldn’t say that. I’d be like, “It’s a story about COOs. It’s only a group for COOs.” The way I get their attention is to say, “No lawyers allowed, no CEOs allowed, or no Trump fans allowed.” You have to push the button a little bit, and then I give them the five core points. These are the five core things that story revolves around, and then I shut up and I say, “What do you think?”
I see this not only works for coverage and established print online but also TV segments, especially when the TV segment is only going to be 3 or 4 minutes. If you can help and almost do the producer’s job for them and paint a picture so that you’re not just a talking head and you might have some ideas of what the visuals would be. “Here are some questions and some short answers.”
They want to engage with you because you’re making it easier.
I was interviewed about how to get more than a one-word answer from your child when they come home from school. Back to school time, so you try to tie your pitch to what’s going on in the news. Every parent has experienced kids saying, “Fine. Okay.” One-word answers. Having a little hook of asking a different question. “Tell me a story about the best part of your day.” Something that can take away and start trying out. That’s another thing I wanted to ask you about. How important are these takeaways? Whether it’s on TV or in print that it’s not just something people have heard 100 times and be like, “I can try that.”
It depends on the media outlet and who their customer is because some media outlets are about sensationalism. Learn nothing, no take-homes. If it bleeds, it leads. Some news outlets are about the tear-jerker like The Oprah. She’s not a news outlet and she has no real takeaways, but it’s about inspiring or tugging on your heartstrings. In other outlets, it depends on who their reader or listener is. If you’re Forbes Magazine or Fortune Magazine or CNN or Inc. Magazine, it’s different. It’s thinking about their audience and what can their audience most benefit from because some want inspiration, education, or a story that they can then make their own.When you evangelize, that's when you've created a cult. Click To Tweet
The other part of your whole career is how often you’re speaking and why you’re in such demand. Whenever I get hired to speak in front of sales teams, they tell me what the criteria was, “You’ve been in our shoes. You’ve had a sales career. You just didn’t write a book about it. You know what it’s like to have quotas, deadlines, stress, rejection, and all that stuff.” From what I can see, that seems to be your sweet spot. You’re not just a theory speaker. You’re an actual, “Let me tell you how to grow this company because I’ve done it many times.”
I’m tactical and specific step by step instructions that I teach companies and their teams on how to grow a company for sure. It’s more about giving them the take-home systems that they can then use.
What are your topics?
A lot of work for entrepreneurial organizations, entrepreneurial companies, or big companies that want to embrace a lot of the entrepreneurial skills.
One of your topics that fascinates me is this concept of writing a letter to your younger self. Can you give one thing of what would be in that letter and encourage people of any age to write that letter?
I wrote about 67 letters to myself back when I’d left 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and was taking about 3 or 4 months off before starting on what I do. At that time, I wanted to reflect on what lessons did I know as a 42-year old that I wish I’d known at 21. I wrote a series of letters to myself. One was, “Don’t take myself seriously.” At the end of the day, none of this matters. We’re all going to die. This is what we do to make money, have a little fun along the way, laugh a little, and not feel like, “I have to work or everything I knew is important.” That was a big lesson that I wish I knew earlier.
Let’s talk about one of our other topics, which is not just creating a good culture but a world-class culture. What do you mean by world-class? How do you define that?
World-class is a company that is winning the awards as best places to work in your state or in your country. I coached a client for a couple of years that ranked as the number two company to work for on Glassdoor in the United States. One of my other coaching clients that I’d coached for four years ranked as the number twelve company to work for in the United States on Glassdoor. I’ve coached two companies that ended up going on to win number one to work for in Australia. I coached one company that was five years in a row as the best company to work for in Canada.
When I’ve touched that many companies, I know what it takes to build an award-winning culture where your employees rave about you and it has nothing to do with the free perks that you give them. It’s not about the massages and it’s not about the free lunches. It has nothing to do with the amount of vacation time. That culture is a system that you put in place that aligns people with a vision that aligns them with the Big Hairy Audacious Goal and core purpose and gives them a framework to understand where they fit in all of that. It’s about firing the jerks and hiring more great culture people that want to make the vision come true. I systemized a lot of that.
It’s fascinating because I’ve been fortunate to speak to some companies that have great cultures like Redfin, the real estate tech company. The whole framework of putting their values up on the wall, almost like what you’re describing when you did with your press with Oprah, that it’s not just hidden somewhere. These are like a cloud, how certain words are bigger than others. They had that on their wall and you could tell people, “We’re happy to be there and felt grateful.”
Enron had them on their wall, but Enron wasn’t a core because they didn’t live them. If you want to become a world-class culture, you have to fire people that don’t break the core values, all the way up to the CEO. I happen to be Republican. I happen to like what’s going on with our market because I’m making a ton of money. Economically, we’re in a rough place but I don’t like Trump as a human being because of his culture and core values. I don’t like him as a person. I like a lot of what he’s done for our country or the net result of what’s happened, but I couldn’t ever have him work in my companies no matter how good his results are. Culture is about firing the jerks even though they get results because then you’ll bring in all of the A-players who are culture fits and get results.
That’s one of the things that you should promise as a takeaway, the secrets to attracting the A-players from competitors. Is there a little sneak peek of what you do? I know that’s the challenge. How do I attract them and how do I keep them? They’re two separate skillsets but most people think, “We have to offer them more money to get them not to leave.” That’s usually not that at all.Too often, people are worried about having to please everybody that it ends up pleasing no one at all. Click To Tweet
No one of them is definitely the alignment with your vivid vision, so it’s crafting the 4 or 5-page written document that describes what your company looks like, acts like, and feels like in the future. You have that 4 or 5-page document describing your company. You share that with all of your potential employees so they can now see what you can see. They can see what the future looks like and they see that they fit that or they don’t. You’re trying to start attracting the right people in and then when you roll out your vision internally, it should repel some of your current employees, so they want to quit. It’s about getting rid of the wrong people, attracting the right people, and constantly the bit of that yin and yang approach happening, “I’m getting rid of a bad one. I’m bringing a great one.” Until all of a sudden, you’ve built that cult, and then culture starts to build out of that.
Do you see a lot of that being done through employees recommending their friends to come work there?
Yeah. I love the whole nepotism idea of building a company. When you hire an A-player, hire three of their friends, and then I’ll hire three of those people’s friends. As long as they have the same core values fit and they get results culturally, everybody’s great.
Based on your book, generating free PR for the business, this line about turning a normal employee into a skilled PR evangelist is fascinating to me because what I see a lot of people at corporate executive levels unless they’ve had a lot of media training, struggle. They get nervous when they’re on TV. Let alone a normal employee somehow becoming a PR evangelist. What is it that you are able to help people with on that?
It’s interesting this is back around 2003. I was speaking with Guy Kawasaki. He’s a well-known speaker and a former Apple employee back in the ‘80s. He markets himself still as a former technical evangelist for Apple and he’s built this massive brand around himself as being the technical evangelist for Apple. What people don’t know is that Steve Jobs at a meeting that Guy was at said to every employee, “Going forward, every single one of you is a technical evangelist for Apple. You can put it on your business cards. That is your role. You are the technical evangelist and you have to evangelize the company.”
Guy went back to his desk and had technical evangelist put on all of his marketing and sooner or later, he was being called by the media and asked and then he started speaking. Nobody cared because he was doing exactly what he was told. When you evangelize, that’s when you’ve created a cult. The only way they do that is if they’re excited. The only way they stay excited is by getting rid of the jerks, aligning them, inspiring them, rolling them, and getting out of their way.
I saw that when I called on Nike for advertising. I go to their corporate offices and I’m saying, “It’s probably better phrased as a campus with different buildings named after athletes that they’ve sponsored and people getting the swish tattoo on their ankle.” It’s quite the culture and it continues to be with their messaging, what they stand for, and what they stand against. It reminds me of what you’re saying about, “Don’t be afraid to repel certain employees based on your messaging.” They have that same philosophy in their advertising.
You have to be okay with repelling some knowing that will attract others. Too often, people are worried about having to please everybody that it ends up pleasing no one at all.
Any last thoughts or quotes that you want to share with us before we say goodbye?
I’d say not to take ourselves so seriously and have fun along the way. Remember, this is what we do to make money and none of us are getting out of this alive. If we could do this and have fun, wouldn’t it be a way better journey for everybody? It would certainly be one. Another one, because of the time that we’re in, is that every employee is looking for a leader to show up. They’re starving to be led more than anything. When you show up as a leader, you’ll win, whether it’s a company or within an industry or within your division. People are looking to be led. They’re stuck, nervous, and uncertain. If you lead and you decide to put your hand up or show up, you win.
Cameron, I can’t thank you enough. The website is CameronHerald.com.
John, thanks for having me.
- Cameron Herold
- Free PR
- TED.com – Cameron’s talk
- College Pro Painters
- Better Selling Through Storytelling
- Better Selling Through Storytelling Method online course
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