Professional Reputation Management With Bant Breen

00:00:00

Thomas Green here with Ethical Marketing Service. On the podcast today we have Bant Breen. Welcome. Hey, it’s great to be here. It is great to have you. Would you like to take a moment and tell the audience a bit about yourself and what you do? Sure. Well, I’m the founder and chairman of a company called Qnary. Qnary is one of the leading companies in optimizing and growing the online presence of executives. Uh we’ve built a technology That has been working with executives over the last 10 years to optimize and build out their presence in search and social media and it generates thought leadership content for them. Um And so it’s been quite a journey from uh from inception to where we are today were based in new york city, but we also have offices in Europe and in both Spain and in London. We also have a team in Sydney Australia. So it’s been quite a quite a ride.

00:01:04

Sounds Like one. So how does the company come about? What’s the story there? Yeah. So I spent most of my career working in, I’d say, digital marketing and advertising, um at some of the larger kind of marketing advertising houses in the UK started my career at WPP and went on to work at publicists and ultimately it’s the PGR Interpublic Group. And when I was at I P G, I became quite aware that there just wasn’t um, a very powerful solution that was supporting individuals or executives with their online presence. There were a ton of tools focused around brands, but really nothing for executives. And so um spent the time to map out what that would look like what an executive actually want to do and um ended up leaving and raising some a little bit of capital and and scrambling around, and for a couple of years really tried to tell people that their online presence was important, which I think was very hard in the early years.

00:02:15

Most, most people, I think, took my meetings because they knew me from the brand world and they said, oh, well, you know, we trusted you with our brands, so this must be interesting. And uh, they always wanted us to manage their brands and we kept on saying, no, no, no, no, that’s not what we do we do. But finally, I think the world caught up with the idea and about five years in the company really started to grow quickly. And uh, Um, so we’re really pleased. We’ve been one of the fastest uh on the inc 5000 list now for the last three years. And we hope to be on that list again this year. Yeah, Well, one of the things that you touched upon and that I wanted to ask you about was actually the Fox news interview. We have banned Breen here from Canary. You’re the CEO of this company Canarias and you basically manage online identity. So you’re an interesting guy for this topic. I had a look at the, on your site obviously and I had a look at the actual Youtube link and it was 2013. It doesn’t go away, especially in the tech world.

00:03:21

What do you make of that now? Yeah. I mean, I, I think that, um, at the, at the time we, the core premise that we had, which was that your online presence matters and it matters for a variety of reasons. It matters in terms of your reputation. It also matters in terms of the opportunities that you receive. I think that the premise of the thesis for the business is more true today than ever. And so, um, I would say that it took a while for people to really comprehend how important the online world was to them, but certainly, uh, you know, when you have events like this pandemic that we’re living through, that even highlights the importance of your online presence more than than ever. Um, and so It was fun. That’s a fun interview. I remember it and being quite chuffed that we were able to get on that channel, but it helped, I think, raise awareness to the area and really, I think almost kind of create a new sector over the last 10 years.

00:04:34

Lastly, um, I did want to ask you about and I interpreted what you do as for brands, funnily enough because its reputation management. Um and it makes me think of reputation management for a company and then branding solutions, which, again, a branding book for a company. But would you say there’s a new kind of buzzword which is out there, which is personal branding, would you say? That’s what you do? Um, I think it’s an aspect of what we do. I would say that um The relationship between an enterprise brand and an executive has changed over the last 15, 20 years really, whereas I think if you were to go back 20 years ago. most executives and companies would hide behind the corporate brand, I don’t know what to say that they were hide behind it, but they would be they would be comfortable to always lead with the brand and really, you know, your your success as an executive was almost dependent on the company that you were part of, right?

00:05:43

But the poorest nature, that has happened over the last a couple of decades where executives have a much more visible role and there’s a greater demand for transparency has shifted that dynamic. And so um if you’re an executive that doesn’t have an online presence, that’s actually a problem, a problem for your business. And so I would say that we’re about kind of that dynamic, which is the importance to create more transparency, more open dialogue and to realize that the executives are dimensions of the story, of the business and their roles dimensional. Is that brand? Um so there is an element of personal branding. Absolutely. But we’re certainly not just about kind of like uh we’re not really about kind of like personal branding in terms of like uh your, you know, your tic tac page or you know, those types of things, you know, representing influences correct?

00:06:48

Yeah. We’re not we’re not a celebrity shop. I mean uh you know we the folks that we work with really our um our executives and I would say we work with 50% of our clients are executives of small to medium sized businesses and about 50% are Fortune 500 business. So have you got any um examples that you are particularly proud of or that spring to mind? You know, it’s we don’t really talk a lot about the examples. Um It’s just a part of the relationship that we have with our clients, albeit I can speak in generalities and the kind of the differences that we have with different types of clients. Um When we’re working with some large your organization’s we tend to work with. Um Well this would be, let’s say like a Fortune 50 company. Many of those companies now have what they call our brand ambassadors, People that represent the company in different conversations. Um not just the C suite and so um we’ll work on, we’ll work with them to build out that presence um uh and and help them enter dialogues across a wide variety of areas that uh you know that’s relevant to their business.

00:08:12

Um in terms of some of the other stuff, you know, we’ve had tremendous case studies where we work with what we kind of call accelerated growth companies where we’ll work with them pre pre raise all the way through the rays and then sometimes all the way to the exit. And we’ve had some exciting stories on, you know, where those types of companies as you, you really see how the role of the executive, as a champion of those types of companies is even more important, obviously at that stage. Um But uh we now work now, I think across over 50 different business verticals and we have thousands of, of enterprise clients. Um But the nature of our work is that we don’t really I don’t really speak about our specific clients, The 1st Rule of Fight Club a little bit, you know, it’s it’s, you know, it’s I you know, we we we talk, you know, we have very, very good relationships and um one of the things I think that’s interesting about our business is that you you do see and you learn about the perspectives, there’s a lot of a lot of executives and so we we take those relationships quite seriously well, some of the misconceptions around reputation management um You know, I think that when um when I started the business, the reputation management space was very much associated with a previous, I’d say a a perspective on google and how you can kind of manipulate google search listings by in various ways.

00:10:05

Um That would be kind of like the kind of the reputation dot com companies and there was a sense that back in the Late, like, let’s say 2008, a timeframe you could, you could uh those companies would create millions of affiliate links that would essentially try to drive traffic in various ways to help results and sometimes really do nefarious things. I think kind of maybe like big stories look better than they were or make people look better than they are. Um What I would say is that world has really disappeared, dissipated, disappeared in many respects, because google has changed their algorithm so dramatically that that kind of activity is punished quite dramatically. Um, and, and um, you know, that being said, you know, you do have crisis management firms that still play in this space and they, and so sometimes I think reputation gets associated with that kind of crisis management area were much more focused on kind of an evergreen management and really kind of telling that story going forward.

00:11:21

And another kind of, you asked about kind of like the rules of fight club. One of the rules of Canary is, um, we don’t make bad people look good, we make good people look spectacular. So, so it’s like, you know, try to avoid that word good. Well, in terms of, you know, branding for an individual or an executive, let’s say you have someone who you pass on the street and there and let’s say you, you know them, you you’re fond of them and they’re interested in, let’s say doing better and you’ve got a few moments to just sort of encourage them with some advice. What do you tell them? Yeah, So one of the things that I would talk to them about is first ask them that they should ask themselves what they really want to be known for, associated with one of the challenges for all of us as human beings. And certainly I think it’s almost enhanced where people get to kind of the executive ranks is that they want to talk about every topic and be an expert and everything.

00:12:27

But the reality is that, you know, if you really want to kind of cut through or break through in any form or fashion, you really need to find out what you want to focus on. And it doesn’t mean that you need to focus on that topic forever. You know, you can definitely evolve and change that topic over the years, but but don’t try to be kind of talking about kind of politics on one day, a sport event, another day marketing on the next day, you know, try to really kind of tell your, tell your story in a more cohesive manner. Um the second thing then I would also talk to them about is try to kind of own his own, their  presence as much as possible, you know, if they can go out and make sure that they registered, um you know that they have linked in presents, the twitter presents, you know about that me uh Crunch based Angel list, all those types of things. I think that that would be the next thing and then um start to kind of get a little bit comfortable about maybe with one of those channels, maybe like a LinkedIn and start to think about kind of how you can utilize that.

00:13:33

We obviously then would work to enhance and work with them on making that take it to the next level, but those would be probably the first couple of things I would, I would ask them to do, I got the inclination maybe that you are a fan of LinkedIn, would you say that’s accurate? I um you know, I think that uh it’s been interesting to see how the company has evolved and um you know, I think that one of the, one of the kind of challenges that linkedin has is that at the end of the day, you know, the core of its businesses that it’s about recruitment um still, that’s actually the bulk of their revenue is still recruitment related, however, it’s become so much more in people’s lives. Um uh We’ve seen the evolution of linkedin over the last decade which has paralleled kind of the growth and importance of what we do is as well, which is um You know, 10 years ago the number one place that an executive would look, another executive up was in Google, google search listings.

00:14:35

Now it’s linked in and that is it’s obviously google still like a close number two, but the reality is that, you know, linkedin was was was a sight back then, whereas you know, with its mobile site has it really has become um you know, with the mobile app it’s become almost a defective place that people look one another up in in within, I would say europe and in the U. S. Um uh in other markets there are other other platforms that are equally important. Um I think that the question will be really how the company evolves from here. Um uh it’s all of those all those all those channels are trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. Uh we on instagram are via Snapchat. Yeah, you know, it’s it’s uh there’s a there’s a big monument in Rome that’s uh that celebrates I think that the unification of the country and if you look at it, it’s kind of the victoria emmanuel statue and it’s a very ornate structure with lots and lots of Design on it, you know, very kind of, I don’t know, 19th century type of overly ornate type of stuff.

00:15:57

And um and I think that websites and platforms run that risk as well where they keep on adding little features here and adding more and more and more and then you forget kind of what they actually really do and so that’s probably, you know, I think all of the, all the platforms have that risk. Right? So and yet then asked what the core is and where the court will be. So we’ll see what happens. It’s a, it’s a very important platform for us. We really love it, but equally important are several others. We love medium, we love uh we’re probably a chorus of one to say that we love twitter. We see how twitter is really quite important still in terms of tracking information and how twitter tends to still be the most powerful tool in terms of uh how companies monitor topics and activities. Most of the, most of the newsrooms in the country. Most of the banks still tracks so many trends just with twitter data.

00:16:58

So, well, another kind of space that were trying to get into, I would say is audio and you’ve got your own podcast, if I’m not mistaken. Have you, have you found that? Um Yeah, I mean, I I’d say that we’re probably not so aggressive in the podcasting space so much. Um, I was very early involved in, you know, I’d say, you know, some of the stuff that we, we saw in the audio push during, during the pandemic with some of the new sites, et cetera. And I think that the opportunity is that it’s it’s another passive form of media that has not been fully exploited. Probably, I would say. And so that’s why why I think investors are so excited about probably the standout example obviously is clubhouse. Um, but you know, the challenge with that has been, um, uh, you know, the numbers slowed a lot after, you know, pandemic has uh, kind of cleaned up, you know, so, you know, so as a pandemic has uh slowed down the numbers for some of those services that have dropped, um I think podcasts are extremely cool and I think um uh they’re they’re they’re super valuable to tell stories and I do think audio is very, very powerful channel.

00:18:34

Um I like podcasts more than I like clubhouse. Um And I I I know clubhouses like the sexy new thing, but it’s it’s just a mess, it’s just a mess, you know, and it’s just not, I I don’t know if it’s great for um brands right now, executive brands, you know, it’s too messy. Um So we’ll see how they developed the next round. Um But uh it seems like you always, you may be aware of this back in the day. Uh you know, there were tons and tons of events that would have these kind of panels where they would have not 12 but they’d end up having like eight or 10 people on a panel discussion and like a conference. And that’s kind of what I feel like clubhouses. It’s like bad panel sessions. Yeah, I know what you mean, and I think they’ll probably be marginalized at some point, but yeah, I mean, I’m still, I feel like we’re still in the early days of video, to be perfectly honest.

00:19:41

I think the one breakout really over the last two years has been tik tock. I think the fact that they just extended the length of their video two, three minutes now is amazing. Um, it’s an incredibly sticky platform. Uh, it’s really kind of changing the game for everybody. So we’ll see how that continues to evolve. Well, it’s interesting you bring that up because in terms of executives or professionals, I would think probably it’s the last place that they would be. But what are your thoughts on that? Yeah, you know, it’s interesting. So I think this is a little bit of a generational one, it’s probably not for like senior senior executives, but what it is, what it’s clearly becoming is an all in one platform for um, Gen z, you know, where they, you know, they just, uh, they just kind of highlighted, I think this week where um, Tiktok is actually being utilized by a lot of Gen Z’s ears to find jobs, so job recruitment, So they’re actually becoming a competitor of linkedin for that younger generation.

00:21:00

Um, also if you look at topics, so if you look at some of the hashtags like finance or exchange traded funds or investing, you’re going to be blown away. I mean, some of these business um, topics or business verticals, there’s just a ton of content on Tiktok now. Billions and billions of videos. So, um, it’s just quite, quite incredible how that’s expanded. So now would in back to your core question, do I think that’s a, a need for a senior executive? No, not yet. But it’s certainly important to track this and this. These are the trends that are going to shape what people utilize tomorrow. And so, you know, um, things are definitely going to be much more video based. There’s no doubt about it. And that’s what one of the reasons, you know, we, we, we have pushed aggressively into the video space this year. Um, in fact, it sounds funny, but Youtube became moved from being kind of a non important executive channel to being, I think our third, the third most important channel in our, our study last year of the most important channels for executives, because there’s a little bit of a voyeuristic quality people like to look one another up and they want to see what they’re doing.

00:22:24

So we actually generate videos now for all of our minds. That’s cool. Yes. Like you say, with Tiktok anyway, it’s, it’s potentially where people will be, not necessarily where they are now. So yeah, absolutely. Um, when I was looking over your, your profile or, um, you know, the messages before we had our conversation, uh, the credentials that you have, uh, pretty cool. Like I see I speak to a lot of people, so I see a lot of, um, you know, similar types of credentials. Did you want to talk a little bit about your PhD? Because that sounds interesting? Um yeah, well, I mean, it’s funny, um, the year before, I guess it would have been 2019. I spent that year. Um It was the last year of writing my PhD in March of 2020. At the beginning of March of 2020 I defended my PhD and was awarded my PhD.

00:23:28

Uh And the following day I went into lockdown. Now anybody that knows the process of going through a PhD, it’s almost like personal lockdown because you’re working so hard to to write the thesis etcetera. So it was almost like the day after I finished the PhD and I was ready to just like go on go on vacation. You know I was presented with a face mask and told to stay indoors for another year. But the PhD itself was an incredible experience. I looked at the topic of machine learning and really there the fundamental question of creativity and how creative and the current state of of A I. V. Um And I chose to focus on the advertising industry one because it’s an industry that I know extremely well.

00:24:30

Um It’s also an industry that has always been perceived as as being associated with creativity for professional creativity right? Uh And so I wanted to get a sense of where the industry was in terms of their their thoughts on ai versus um the reality of what was actually happening and where where where things were aligned where they were diametrically opposed. And So you know, I I think what we’re finding and certainly I imagine people over the next couple of months will even feel this more is the advancements in machine learning even over the last 18 months have been mind boggling. Really incredible. We’re still seeing a lot of technology that was actually developed i you know, decades ago really. Um It be commercialized and rolled out, but we’re seeing companies really embrace it now.

00:25:30

And so the pandemic actually, I think is going to play an accelerator role for um machine learning and we’re gonna see it impact pretty much every area. Um I I had a lot of fun looking at how people had had trained algorithms to essentially uh paint paintings in the style of various artists, create songs in the form of various artists. Um uh I’ve seen how it can be utilized in very pedantic ways to understand um the consumers that you’re talking to from a call center uh and looked at also kind of how it plays roles in generation of of of text and things like that. And look at some of the ethical challenges. Um I’d say the challenge though in general, for creative folks is that they’re not very aware of what’s going on in the machine learning space, they’re certainly not involved in it. And so they tend to have kind of like a, um, I would say either a exuberant excitement about it or an irrational fear of it, so which is based on just lack of education on it really, which is, so you’ll talk to the people were like, oh my God, it’s the shiny new object, it’s the coolest thing ever, and or you’ll have the other ones were like, oh, well, you know, the machines are going to take over my job tomorrow morning, and, and so, you know, trying to work with those types of, of individuals and get to them to a place where they can actually see how it will impact their business is going to be the critical thing for the next couple of years.

00:27:16

Um, there’s no agency that is really kind of figuring out the operational structures around this technology and how it will impact jobs, which will have a tremendous impact on roles and responsibilities and how young people actually will learn and what they do, you know, and a traditional advertising role. You know, you start doing kind of the craft work and you learn by doing the craftwork over years and years and you move up. But in a world where machine learning is actually a huge part of it, you you re think about how that work is done what you know, height and how you learn and how do you utilize it so well, it will change everything. Is that does that cover some of the ethical concerns that you mentioned? Yeah, the, you know, I’d say that, you know ethics is is really quite a in the research um came back that, you know, everyone worries about the ethical problems and the concerns and they’re worried about um topics like racial prejudice in machine learning development.

00:28:25

They’re worried about um uh it being utilized to spread propaganda, fake news, those types of elements. But as much as they’re worried about it, there was almost no real action behind those words. So it’s almost like if I tell you right, like are you worried about global warming and you’re like, oh yeah, and then I see you walk out of your of your house and get into a Hummer, you know, a giant car and you know, it’s it’s there’s not there wasn’t it didn’t it wasn’t leading to a lot of action. Um That being said the companies that are acting are the ones that are real leaders in the space. So you look at the companies that sometimes get maligned, I think um the amazons Microsoft’s etcetera, they’re doing just a ton, they really understand the ethical issues and they’re trying to really put in best practices open Ai has excellent best practices, you know, so, um, uh, if it’s done correctly, you know, it’s an incredible support function and will allow us to do tremendous things.

00:29:39

Um I don’t think that there’s so many kind of easy examples the point that where things have gone wrong, um, and certainly there will always be that risk. Um, but you know, the benefits actually way outweigh that in the in the immediate term, interesting. So coming back to your story, just for a moment, at what point you mentioned that you’ve got multiple offices and things are going great. And you know, when I mentioned your credentials, the company’s got some impressive, you know, entrepreneur magazine, that sort of thing. What was the progress like progress in what in what, when you started the company to growth? Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I think that the big thing was, um, for the first couple of years we really tried to make sure that our platform actually worked and um, and that we really understood that proposition that people wanted, um, about four years in, we rolled out the mobile app and the mobile app for us really simplified it for our clients into managing how they go, go about optimizing and overseeing their own presence.

00:31:06

Uh, that changed the game for us. Um, since then the platform continues to get better. Um, and so I think that, that those shifts really kind of, um, uh, kind of a lot of to scale. Also another thing that really kind of changed, I would say is, um, we were, uh, we were the company that just had a hard time saying no, you know, for the first five years or just be like if you said, well, hey, I can you build, can you build cruise liners? Sure. We can build crews lawyers, you know, uh that we spent the last five years really kind of focusing the business specifically around the core technology and the core solution. And um that’s that, making sure that we honed that down um has allowed us to scale and are you using ai in your yes, your ass. Yeah. And what’s that been like?

00:32:07

Um you know, it’s been um quite an, I mean, amazing process. I’d say that that was really kind of one of the benefits of of doing the PhD uh you know, obviously got to explore and play around with a lot of the best technologies. Um um I think, you know, what has it been like? Uh it has made me uh I’d say very very aware of of what can actually be done versus what what people, what the media makes you think is happening. Um It also um it also really enhance that point of how does it impact the operation. So um you know, one of the first things that happens a lot of times is that you’ll build like a new element of the technology and um and you really just need to make sure that you are are are organizationally planning alongside those those breakthroughs that you make on the ai side.

00:33:19

Okay. And in terms of where you want the to take the company and what your goals are, you got any thoughts there? Yeah, I mean right now uh you know, we’ll see how, how how things continue to progress, but we’re excited about how the business is evolving some of the new services, as as I mentioned Uh in in at the beginning of 2020, we really kind of, we’re pushing heavily into two areas um Machine learning, not really few infuses almost every aspect of what we deliver. Uh It also has been a big push for video and what we do and so I think those two areas will continue to develop going forward. Um And the other thing really is that we tend to for these S. M. B. S. And even for the larger companies, we tend to work with the very kind of the top of companies like the top I’d say portal of a company. Um And we are now finding ourselves actually manage more more and more executives um inside of a business.

00:34:27

So um looking at how our platform ends up kind of managing not just like hundreds but thousands of executives in one company is really kind of where we’re focused on right now. Sounds cool. Is there Yeah, that you can, is that like a demo or something or, you know, youtube presence that you have to look at? I mean, definitely go to Canary dot com and you know, if you want, you know, there’s a form, their fill that out, uh it’ll kind of sign up, sign you up for a session with one of our analysts and they’ll take you through everything. It’s a really, actually great experience. Is there anything which you think would be of value to the audience that haven’t asked you about today? Um Probably, I’m sure there’s probably millions of things that would be valuable to them, but, you know, in the context of what we do, I think this has been a great conversation and really enjoyed, really enjoyed being on your show. Okay, Ben, where’s the best place for people to find you?

00:35:36

Yeah. So probably the best place to learn about the company is to go to uh Qnary.com. And there we pronounce it like canary, but it’s with a Q. So qnary.com. Um If you want to find me, you can go to my website, bantbreen.com or you can look me up on any channel Linkedin, Twitter or whatever and I uh try to make myself really available to folks. So um definitely shoot me a note very least to check out the Fox news interview. Right, well You can avoid that one. That that’s when I was, it was uh yeah, young and probably about 40 pounds lighter. Alright, well thank you very much for the very today cheers, thanks so much for being on the show.