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Eitan Chitayat is a creative director, copywriter, brand-builder, and founder of Natie. Eitan has overseen and played a part in award-winning work on integrated campaigns across all mediums, most notably for Google, Apple, Facebook, YouTube, and more. Eitan discusses the power of storytelling and how to hone in on these skills by finding who you are and what your brand represents.
Storytelling and Company Branding – Interview with Eitan Chitayat
Hi, and welcome to The Successful Pitch Podcast. Today’s guest is Eitan Chitayat, who is the founder of a brilliant creative agency called Natie.com. He’s worked for amazing companies and has clients that anybody would kill to have, including American Express. He’s going to talk to us about one of his clients, Valtech, that was just recently bought for over $900 million. Clearly, he is an expert in company branding and positioning. Welcome to the show.
Hey, it’s nice to be here. Thank you.
I always like to ask my guests about their background. In other words, what were you like in college? Did you know that you wanted to get in and be in the creative world? Did you want to do something else or was it always about company branding and advertising?
I was totally confused when I did my first degree. I actually started in political science as a major, and I minored in English lit. Then I flipped it, majoring in English lit and minoring in political science. I just really enjoyed that. Then I moved to Boston to do my master’s degree and that was in integrated communication marketing at Emerson College. I’ve always kind of liked the communications field, but even that degree was more marketing. It was only in my last semester that I actually, totally by accident, did a creative course in advertising. I got the bug.
As all of my friends were leaving college to get these high-paying jobs in marketing, I sat in the computer library for six months and I put pictures with city headlines together and shopped a portfolio around and landed a job in advertising and company branding as a copywriter. It wasn’t the plan but it just happened and it was good that it did.
It’s your own creative process. You’ve worked with some of the major agencies: OgilvyOne, BBDO, TBWA, which used to be Chiat, and even working at Google’s creative lab. What was it like? What’d you learn at Google?
Google was interesting. I was there as a freelancer. They brought me over when I was in Israel and I worked there for a few months. The talent there is extraordinary and the amazing thing about the lab is … I also worked with a creative lab in London, but the amazing thing about the New York lab when I was there was that you have direct access to everything that Google is working on that they want to promote.
They found a way under great creative leadership in the form of Andy Berndt and Robert Wong how to translate over that crazy technical stuff into things that people can actually feel. It really is crazy technical, some of the things that they’re doing there. To be able to translate it so simply in their communications and in their company branding was eye-opening. The teams that we worked with, some of them were really senior and some of them were really young. That mix and just being around it was great. I got to work on some incredible things. I’m just very lucky to have been there.
That’s one of the reasons, there are many, why we’re so excited to have you as a guest on the show. Because most of the listeners are somehow involved in technology and they have to somehow figure out a way to take all that tech speak and turn it into a very simple pitch for investors. That starts with figuring out a good tagline and figuring out a good logo and a good brand, which is what you’re an expert at.
Now, I also want to ask you about what made you decide to say, “I’ve worked for all these big agencies but I’m going to go out on my own now?” I’m always fascinated by that decision and some of the challenges that you’ve faced that you weren’t expecting.
I think that I’ve always been a little bit of a troublemaker even when I was working at the bigger agencies. I’ve always had a pretty strong opinion. Even when I was working for some of the bigger agencies, I always had a little independent something going on the side. When I got back to Israel, I was the executive creative director of TBWA Digital here for around a year. Within that year, I realized this isn’t working for me. I’m not able to do the things that I want to do and to be able to deliver the standard that I’m used to delivering. Not because there was anything wrong with TBWA Digital. They were amazing.
It’s more that I came from a different culture and an international background and it was more for the Israeli local market. I decided to just quit and do my own thing. It wasn’t some type of revolution for me because I’ve always been entrepreneurially inclined. But working on projects that really allowed me to do what I wanted to do and work with the people that I really wanted to work with without all the bureaucracy and ulterior motives, which were very fair and fine, but they weren’t mine.
My team and the people that I worked with who are in my team now are ultimately people that I just connect with strategically, creatively, and who get what I want to bring out of whoever I work with in the form of a client. That is super important when you’re creatively driven, to be able to have the freedom and to work with the people that you can also give them freedom but they also give you back what would you want as well, and what you need.
Of course, working with the right clients too. The long answer is what I just said. The short answer is I wanted to do what I wanted to do. That little nugget has always gotten me in trouble and now it’s working for me, which is great.
It is. I want you to speak a little bit more if you will, because all of the founders, whether they’re just starting out and they only have a co-founder and maybe two or three people on their team, eventually want to get funded and grow their company. You are an expert in finding the right people that fit your culture and your strategy. Can you speak a little bit about how you find the right people that are going to be a corporate fit for what your culture is?
I can answer that, minus one word, which is corporate, because that’s the least thing I am. I think that you have to find people that you instinctively trust. I think that’s the most important thing. I can tell you that the best relationships I’ve had and the ones that I still have are the ones where you just connect at the gut level. Then, of course, there are the strategic partnerships. The ones where you might not be good at something and the other person fills that gap for you and you do the same thing for them. There’s that yin and yang thing going there.
Networking is huge. I think that one of the things that you really need to do, if some of your audience is younger, is to always stay in touch with everyone that you’ve ever met in some way, shape, or form because you never know. There are people that I worked with 15 years ago who I’m still in touch with. You never know where they’re going to be. If you have a relationship with them and the stars align, then magic might happen. I think those type of relationships, just staying in touch is a very, very important thing.
Do you have a process for how you stay in touch with people? Is it through social media or something else?
In the last 3 years, because I was in New York for a while and then when I left to come back to Israel, actually, Facebook allowed me to stay on the map, professionally speaking. You write a status and, “Oh, he’s still around. He’s still on the radar.” That’s not the way that I stay in touch but, in the last few years, it’s definitely helped. I think I’ve always just stayed in touch with people. I think being in communications outside of the profession, I’m just a communicative type of guy. Just stay in touch with people.
It’s part of your tagline for Natie, so that makes complete sense. Since you’ve mentioned Facebook, you’ve actually had Facebook as a client. Can you talk to us about what you learned there, about that culture and company branding?
The stuff that I worked on with Facebook, which was out of the London Office, was more … Facebook has their own clients. They do advertising in-house for banks or food companies or what have you. We basically delivered a couple of ideas for Facebook for some of their clients to try and help them with presenting social media ideas for these clients on Facebook has a platform.
That in itself was interesting because when we did it, which was a couple of years ago, that was new. That’s a new way of thinking. They’ve always said Facebook is not hiring an advertising agency, a corporate advertising agency. We brainstormed for them and we just partnered with them. It wasn’t a huge project, and then we did another thing or two. It’s great to be able to worked with Facebook or Apple or Google, who we’ve worked with extensively as well.
I also want to ask you about one of the things on your website, which is Valtech. What an amazing case study and the story. If you could, tell us about the importance of company branding. I love what you talk about in one of your interviews, is your strategy is only as good as the first step. The strategy that you had with Valtech and what you were able to do them and matching their design of their product to their complete logo is completely fascinating. Of course, what an amazing exit.
Yeah, that’s an amazing company. Valtech, they’re doing some amazing things with heart surgery, basically. When they came to us they had, I think it was around eight or nine months ago, they had a logo and they had a website which was, by their own admission, stuck in the ’80s. That’s why they came to us. They didn’t have much of a story. They had incredible mind-blowing technology and you couldn’t get a sense of that from what you’re looking at in their presentation materials, and their websites, and animations that they’ve done. The first thing that we did was we said, “Let’s find out what your story is.”
We had extensive, strategic, methodological meetings where we uncovered their truth. We found out, basically, what makes them tick and what is the product that they provide to the world, and how they intend to change the world, and who else is out there doing not the same thing, because no one was doing the same thing, but similar things and how they differentiated from them. We’ve uncovered the truth and then we were able to translate that truth into a story that separated them from the rest, was authentic and was relevant to their audience.
After that strategy, we developed a consumer-facing or B2B facing or, medical industry facing narrative. Different verticals. We didn’t do much with logo, actually. That was the one thing that they kept. We evolved the whole brand visually, from conference materials to brochures to a website.
The funny thing is, it’s a funny story, their exit was done when … We were meant to have a website up for them around 6 weeks later. They called us up and they said “Listen”, without giving us any information, they said, “We can’t tell you why but we need to have this website ready in 10 days,” and it was a pretty big website.
We delivered, and then around a week later, of course, something that we guessed that we hadn’t discussed, of course. They made a phenomenal exit of almost a billion dollars, which is the largest medical exit for an Israeli company ever. We were just really happy to have done everything for them. We’re still working with them on a pretty ongoing basis with all sorts of little things and big things. They’re doing amazing things.
It’s really nice to work with clients or companies that are doing things that really are changing the world. Their non-invasive heart surgery to be able to repair someone’s heart as it’s still beating is just incredible to work on. I get to work on great, great, great stuff and it’s so many different things. If you’re talking about startups, startups basically, everyone has an idea and every one of these ideas has a potential to change … Not everyone, but a lot of them have the potential to change the world. Those are the things that we want to work on.
Things that can inspire you and your creativity but then, you’re focusing on something creatively, that’s helping save lives. In this case, I love the fact you’re talking about Valtech being in heart surgery and that you found the truth of their story and what makes them tick. I don’t know if you consciously did that or not, but I thought, “Oh, what a clever play on words about how our heart makes us tick.” It’s great.
This whole concept of storytelling is something I’m constantly working with my clients on when they pitch to get funded. In this case, you were able to craft the stories so well that it allowed Valtech to have an amazing exit.
I don’t know about that. I don’t think our story helped them but I think maybe we helped them in some way. It’s not the brand that does it, you know what I mean? It’s the product and it’s the people. The brand can help. I don’t want to take anything away from them. We were just lucky to be there.
When I look at Apple buying Beats, I think a lot of the reason they bought Beats was the brand, what that stood for and how it fit their culture.
Yeah. Yes, it’s true.
What you did for Valtech was you made their brand distinct and you told a story that was authentic and relevant, you said. That, to me, is what makes people want to invest, whether it’s an exit or giving initial funding. That’s what’s so fantastic about what you do. Let’s talk about what you do with Entrepreneur Organization in Israel, EO Israel, since that’s another whole world of startups. You actually helped them with telling stories of, I saw, eight people that you picked out of all their members. That is so important, I think, is when people hear one or two stories that they can relate to, then they can expand it beyond that.
With Entrepreneur’s Organization Israel, I’m actually a founding chapter member and I was the communication chair for the first two years of the organization. I just took it upon myself to do all of the company branding and the website and the video and social media and all that good stuff. I think that it was important to allow our audience, who are other potential entrepreneurs in Israel, to understand that being an entrepreneur, and I’m sure that you guys can relate to this and your audience and I certainly can because I’m an entrepreneur. It’s the loneliest job on the planet.
You don’t have that big team. If you’re lucky, you do have someone to talk to. But usually it’s just at the end of the day and at the beginning of the day, and then in the middle of the day, it’s just you. The organization allows you to get some support on a professional level, on a personal level sometimes. As an entrepreneur, I’ve been working 14 hour days for 6 weeks now and haven’t seen my kids. That’s not a professional problem. That becomes a personal problem, a family problem. You have people that you can talk to about that. Or, I need to hire someone and I just have been trying for six months and I can’t find the right person.
You can get shared experiences. That’s the whole point. We did the company branding but it came from within because I’m a chapter member. Again, it just was nice to hit on the truth, knowing the truth. The entrepreneurs there are ultimately friends as well. I don’t know if that’s answering your question.
No. It totally is. The fact that you’re a founding member and an entrepreneur and you can relate to it so well allows you to tell stories, again, that are completely authentic. It’s changing the world because as you said, that being an entrepreneur is the loneliest job on the planet. I love that quote. That’s a problem you’re solving with EO, correct?
Yeah. It’s a global organization of almost, I think it’s around 11,000 members. Again, I’m a member. What they’ve done is they put entrepreneurs together to support each other. It’s not like a support group. You support each other just because you’re like-minded people. I think that’s really important. My agency is a core team of 4 or 5 people, and a couple of remote teams. That’s our structure. If I want to make a big decision for my business, I can find and I know obviously a few people within the Israel chapter alone, who also have small teams but work with very, very, very big businesses.
You can reach out to people in different countries who are part of the organization. When you fly to London, if you want, you can reach out to chapter members there and just say, “Hey, I’m an EO global member. What’s going on in London?” Nine times out of 10, people reach out to you and say, “Hey, come and meet me.” It’s also a networking organization too. They do some great things also. They have big events that people from all around the world go to. Universities, programs, seminars. It’s interesting and it’s all about entrepreneurship.
It almost reminds me of American Express with global offices. You can always have a place, almost like a second embassy, if you’re traveling, and need a soft place to land, as I like to describe it. That’s a soft place to land for entrepreneurs who might be visiting other countries.
I think I’ve heard really nice stories about people who have been there for complete strangers just because of this organization, this connection, this platform, whatever you want to call it. At the end of the day, it’s all about people. Yeah, it’s cool. If we’re talking about entrepreneurs and startups, and you’ve brought up storytelling, I think one of the most important things really is to get your story right.
When it comes to company branding, getting your story right has nothing to do, really, with creativity at its core. It’s about understanding who you are and what you’re doing, and then translating that into a narrative and translating that into visuals and different mediums, like animations and websites and stuff. But, the brand story is uncovering the truth of who you are. It’s really knowing who you are and I like that.
I do, too. You’ve gone from using storytelling to help Valtech save lives with heart surgery, to helping EO Israel help entrepreneurs with a place for shared resources, to this amazing viral video that you’ve created to also help not only yourself, but you’re telling a story and it’s certainly timely with all the terrorism going on, which is, I’m sure people have probably seen it, is “I’m that Jew”. Can you talk to us about, by now, how many people have watched this? Everyone’s always looking for, “How do I make something go viral?” I don’t think that was your intent when you started.
Wow. First of all, I’m shocked that you’re asking about it. That’s great. I’m happy to talk about it. “I’m that Jew” I think, right now, with combined YouTube and Facebook and all the different channels, we’re at around the 3 million view marks.
Thanks, man. It’s been out like around 4 or 5 weeks. It’s not the number, it’s the comments that have been the most moving. There’s like tens of thousands of comments and stuff like that. It started off as a blog post that I put out there, as a written narrative. After the Charlie Hebdo Massacres, some terrorists killed some Jewish shoppers at a kosher supermarket, I wrote this down. In time, I just realized I want to present it as a visual story and it’s meant to be a celebration of who we are.
It was written by me, a Jew, to my Jewish brothers and sisters. But also to anyone who shouldn’t be afraid, whether you’re black, or gay, or a woman, whatever, a man. Be who you are and be proud of it. You should just be able to say it and hope that the people out there who are listening will embrace it. It’s okay to be different. We can embrace our differences. I was saying it directly to the Jewish people for me.
Actually, I was saying it to a woman who was living in France right after the time of those massacres and who was just afraid to say that she was Jewish. She’s a friend of mine. I basically wrote it for her. I produced it with some just really close-knit group of friends and colleagues, put it out there one night. I knew that people would spread it. I didn’t think that it would have this kind of impact. The response has been nothing short of … I’ve cried several times because some of the things that people write is just really moving.
I think it’s totally relevant to what we’re talking about, which is storytelling is understanding the truth of who you are. You were brave enough to put that story out there. You remind me of Liz Gilbert who wrote Eat, Pray, Love. She talks about how she wrote that book for one specific friend of hers who couldn’t travel because she had a husband and children. She filtered everything. You created “I’m that Jew” for your one friend that was afraid to say she was Jewish. From that real specific audience and that intention, I think that is why things are so successful, whether it’s “I’m that Jew” or Eat, Pray, Love.
The other thing that you touched on is really encouraging people not to be afraid. I read that that’s one of your key criterias of who you like to hire creatively, is that they’re not afraid to take chances and risks. I think it’s full circle.
Yeah, that’s funny. Not being afraid gets me into trouble a lot of the time. I’m not talking about like putting stuff like “I’m that Jew” out there. I’m talking about just, you can butt heads with clients and partners and colleagues, but I think you have to be who you are. You have to not be afraid and to have faith in who you are and to trust your instincts and to put yourself out there.
Because the right person who is opposite you, if it is the right person, will somehow be able to embrace that or take what you’re saying or be able to take you in another direction and take on your not being afraid and wrestle with it a bit and bring you over to their side too. I think that it can get you in trouble, but it’s a quality that I look for.
I have a designer that I worked with in Italy. He challenges me all the time. We are constantly butting heads but in the most respectful way. The same thing with writers. My strategist, today, called me up after meeting with the client. We were disagreeing openly, in front of the client, but it was all in the pursuit of what we think the client needs the most. It’s not easy to be honest in this world. Do you know what I mean?
Yes, I do.
I hate this politically correct world.
That leads me into my last question for you, which is tell us about this 5 Percent Club.
The 5 Percent Club is an initiative that allows … It’s a platform, a social media platform. It allows people to express what they’re really feeling. 95% of your life is on autopilot. You go to work, you take the kids to school, you go and you have your standard lunch. You catch yourself thinking about something that you really wanted to say, that you really want to do one day, an experience that you went through that you haven’t really maybe talked about before. That’s the 5%. “I’m that Jew”, that’s just one of my many 5%s.
Someone recently wrote an article, that we haven’t put out there yet, about finding the time in her life to reminisce on a beautiful year that has gone by with her family. She takes the time, once a year, to go through her photo albums and put together an album. In doing that, she connects with that year that she had. Or someone will write about a custody battle that he had with his ex-wife where the judge stood up in front of him and said, “Because you’re a male, because you’re a father …” he favored the mother and that really pissed the writer off and he wrote about it. He actually won custody.
Things that really affect you and move you, the idea of the 5% Club is to be able to share that and pay that experience forward. It’s a small initiative. It’s a project that I hope will gain traction and we’re trying to gain subscribers and reach new writers. You have to put meaningful shit down.
We’re certainly going to put the 5% Club and all the other things, Natie, in the show notes for people to check out your agency’s great branding site.
Thank you, sir.
“I’m that Jew”, we’ll put the link for that. Certainly The 5 Percent Club, so that people can really get a sense of if they want to contribute and spread the word. I think anytime you encourage people to tap into something that’s meaningful and pay it forward, we’re making the world a better place. We might not be saving lives like Valtech is, but we’re doing it in our own way. Because we want to make our hearts strong physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. You do that 360 better than almost anyone I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to.
Wow. Thank you. I appreciate it.
It’s been an honor. It’s been great having you on the show. I can’t thank you enough.
Wow. Thank you. Honor’s been mine. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed it. Thank you so much.
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