Professional Reputation Management With Bant Breen

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 optimising and growing the online presence of
executives. We’ve built a technology That has been working with executives over
the last 10 years to optimise and build out their presence in search and social
media and it generates thought leadership content for them. And so it’s been
quite a journey 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.

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, 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 spent the time
to map out what that would look like what an executive actually want to do and ended
up leaving and raising some a little bit of capital 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.

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
so we’re really pleased. We’ve been one of the fastest 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.

What do you make of that now? Yeah. I mean, I, I think that  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  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
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.

Lastly  I did want to ask you about
and I interpreted what you do as for brands, funnily enough because its
reputation management. 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 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 success as an executive
was almost dependent on the company that you were part of, right?

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 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 realise
that the executives are dimensions of the story, of the business and their
roles dimensional. Is that brand? so there is an element of personal branding.
Absolutely. But we’re certainly not just about kind of like we’re not really
about kind of like personal branding in terms of like your, you know, your tic
tac page or you know, those types of things, you know, representing influences

Yeah. We’re not we’re not a celebrity shop. I mean you know we the folks
that we work with really our 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 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. 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. When we’re working
with some large your organization’s we tend to work with. 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. not just the C suite and so we’ll work on, we’ll work with them
to build out that presence and help them enter dialogues across a wide variety
of areas that you know that’s relevant to their business.

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 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. But we now work now, I think across over 50 different
business verticals and we have thousands of, of enterprise clients. 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, you
know, it’s I you know, we talk, you know, we have very, very good relationships
and one of the things I think that’s interesting about our business is that you
do see and you learn about the perspectives, there’s a lot of a lot of
executives and so we take those relationships quite seriously well, some of the
misconceptions around reputation management You know, I think that when when I
started the business, the reputation management space was very much associated
with a previous, I’d say a perspective on google and how you can kind of
manipulate google search listings by in various ways.

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 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. 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.

And another kind of, you asked about kind of like the rules of fight club.
One of the rules of Canary is  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

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 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. 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, you know that they have linked in presents, the twitter
presents, you know about that me Crunch based Angel list, all those types of
things. I think that that would be the next thing and then 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 utilise that.

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 you know, I think that it’s
been interesting to see how the company has evolved and 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 still,
that’s actually the bulk of their revenue is still recruitment related,
however, it’s become so much more in people’s lives. 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 You know, 10 years ago the number
one place that an executive would look, another executive up was in Google,
google search listings.

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 a sight back then,
whereas you know, with its mobile site has it really has become 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. in other markets
there are other platforms that are equally important. I think that the question
will be really how the company evolves from here. it’s all of those all those
all those channels are trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow
up. we on Instagram are via Snapchat. Yeah, you know, it’s there’s a there’s a
big monument in Rome that’s 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.

And 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 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 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.

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? 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 another passive form of media that has not been fully
exploited. Probably, I would say. And so that’s 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  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 slowed down the
numbers for some of those services that have dropped, I think podcasts are
extremely cool and I think they’re super valuable to tell stories and I do
think audio is very, very powerful channel.

Um I like podcasts more than I like clubhouse. And I know clubhouses like
the sexy new thing, but it’s just a mess, it’s just a mess, you know, and it’s
just not, I don’t know if it’s great for brands right now, executive brands,
you know, it’s too messy. So we’ll see how they developed the next round. But it
seems like you always, you may be aware of this back in the day. 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 marginalised 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

I think the one breakout really over the last two years has been TikTok. 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. 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 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
utilised 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.

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  it’s just quite, quite incredible how that’s
expanded. So now going back to your core question, do I think there’s 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 utilise
tomorrow. And so, you know  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.

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  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  you know, similar types of credentials. Did
you want to talk a little bit about your PhD? Because that sounds interesting? yeah,
well, I mean, it’s funny  the year
before, I guess it would have been 2019. I spent that year. 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.

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 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 AIV. And I chose to focus on the
advertising industry one because it’s an industry that I know extremely well.

It’s also an industry that has always been perceived as being associated
with creativity for professional creativity right? And so I wanted to get a
sense of where the industry was in terms of their thoughts on ai versus the
reality of what was actually happening and where things were aligned where they
were diametrically opposed. And So you know, 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. It be commercialised
and rolled out, but we’re seeing companies really embrace it now.

And so the pandemic actually, I think is going to play an accelerator role
for machine learning and we’re gonna see it impact pretty much every area. I
had a lot of fun looking at how people had had trained algorithms to
essentially paint paintings in the style of various artists, create songs in
the form of various artists. I’ve seen how it can be utilised in very pedantic
ways to understand the consumers that you’re talking to from a call centre and
looked at also kind of how it plays roles in generation of text and things like
that. And look at some of the ethical challenges. 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  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.

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 rethink about how that work is done
what you know, height and how you learn and how do you utilise 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 really
quite a in the research came back that, you know, everyone worries about the
ethical problems and the concerns and they’re worried about topics like racial
prejudice in machine learning development.

They’re worried about it being utilised 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 there’s not there wasn’t it didn’t it wasn’t
leading to a lot of action. 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 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  uh, if it’s done correctly, you know, it’s an
incredible support function and will allow us to do tremendous things.

Um I don’t think that there’s so many kind of easy examples the point that
where things have gone wrong  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  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  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.

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  uh, kind of a lot of to scale. Also another
thing that really kind of changed, I would say is  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, that we spent the last five years really
kind of focusing the business specifically around the core technology and the
core solution. And that’s that, making sure that we honed that down has allowed
us to scale and are you using ai in your yes, your ass. Yeah. And what’s that been

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

Okay. And in terms of where you want to take the company and what your goals
are, you got any thoughts there? Yeah, I mean right now you know, we’ll see
how, how things continue to progress, but we’re excited about how the business
is evolving some of the new services, as I mentioned, at the beginning of 2020,
we really kind of, we’re pushing heavily into two areas Machine learning, not
really few infuses almost every aspect of what we deliver. 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. 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. And
we are now finding ourselves actually manage more and more executives inside of
a business.

So 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 and you know, if you want, you know,
there’s a form, their fill that out, 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? 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?

Yeah. So probably the best place to learn about the company is to go to
And there we pronounce it like canary, but it’s with a Q. So If you
want to find me, you can go to my website, or you can look me up
on any channel LinkedIn, Twitter or whatever and I try to make myself really
available to folks. So definitely shoot me a note very least to check out the
Fox news interview.

Right, well you can avoid that one. That when I was, yeah, young and
probably about 40 pounds lighter.

All right, well thank you very much for today.


Thanks so much for being on the show.