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“The best drug I found in life is meaningful work.”

— Lee Wochner

The Climb Podcast Ep. 3 w/Lee Wochner

Lee’s talented. He’s written 64 plays. He’s been a professor at USC. He’s built an agency that grew during the recession. 

But it’s more than talent. He works hard. Really hard. 

And why wouldn’t he? He believes work provides purpose. 

He’s a caring guy that speaks from the heart. And in fact, that’s one of the founding elements in his agency – from the sales process through the execution of the work – “it’s heart to heart” as Lee would say. 

Although he didn’t do all this alone. He has a brilliant business partner. He’s fostered a team through an intentionally collaborative environment. But what you can’t limit or undervalue is that he was smart enough to surround himself with people that help him succeed. 

In our latest episode of The Climb, we learn how Lee merged his passion with his work life, how he fosters a creative atmosphere and why DeLorean’s were a poor choice for toll roads. 

Be sure to subscribe!

P.S. For the record, I know what Mai Tais are. 😉 Our connection got a little spotty in certain places. We film this on Zoom so it’s not always the best. 

Show Notes


Jon Tsourakis 2:34
All right. Welcome to Episode Three. In this episode, we’re going to discuss applying another industry or trade and what you’re currently with what you currently do. And we’ve got a plug published playwright and a very successful agency owner, Lee Walker with us and he’s gonna provide some insight on this and to before we get into that, I actually grew up on a construction site. So I have another trade that I can pull from myself and build a home that has a lot to do with building a website or building a campaign. And granted doing that was brutal work. And it was with my father and my two brothers, which I don’t recommend at all. But it’s helped me in the long run, really understanding the work ethic and preparing something from a plan and executing on it to come to fruition. And in doing that, today, we’re going to speak with Lee Walker about this, as I mentioned, and he’s from Burbank, but before we get to that, Dave, do you have any prior industry experience that you pull from and what you do on your day today, I mean,

David McGraw 3:36
my entire career was pretty much built from my hobby. I mean, when I was younger, I was a hobby coder, I used to make websites for fun. I was a big Aliens vs predator fan. So I had the number one Aliens vs predator website on geo cities. And so I just kind of took that passion and, you know, video games and all that and just took that into doing what I love which is you know, created oil but so

Jon Tsourakis 4:03
no delivering pizzas or anything yeah and didn’t take anything from that.

David McGraw 4:07
I mean course, I probably learned more about insurance and the fact that your drivers are not covered when you’re driving delivering pizza. That’s the takeaway that I had from delivering pizza.

Jon Tsourakis 4:22
All right, that’s a good landing zone. Another reason to give them an extra tip right there covering more of it than they probably should. Right. Alright, so I want to get into it with Lee, because he knows a hell of a lot more about this than we do. And before we do that, I’m going to go ahead and state what we know about Lee. Alright, so Lee, here’s your business profile far as I understand you started your agency in 2007. It’s almost 12 years in business. You have how many employees 11 based on your website, including yourself, correct?

Lee Wochner 4:51
Yeah, that’s right.

Jon Tsourakis 4:52
All right. You offer brand strategy web design a full suite of marketing services, including traditional and TV.

Lee Wochner 5:01
You’re breaking up. I didn’t hear it.

Jon Tsourakis 5:03
Ah, alright. Well, we’ll clean that up and post. So

Lee Wochner 5:05
whatever it was, yeah, we did.

Jon Tsourakis 5:09
Perfect. You’re a serial award-winning agency, including a mark calm and some w three awards. Yeah. And according to your website, you’re a sought after speaker recognized by the state of California as a quote-unquote, California thinker.

Lee Wochner 5:23

Jon Tsourakis 5:25
And you’ve written more than two dozen bless.

Lee Wochner 5:28
Yeah, I did account recently. And I’m currently finishing my 64th play. Wow, wow. All right. Well, whether less than there, they’re not all good. So don’t be in.

Jon Tsourakis 5:40
Either way. Thank you so much for joining us today. And you’re ready to get into some of our questions here, my friend.

Lee Wochner 5:48
Absolutely. But you know, I’m actually interested to learn that you grew up on a construction site. Yeah. I come from a multi-generation family business on the east. I posted it was a construction for that I but we had a house I didn’t have to live on the site.

Jon Tsourakis 6:09
I guess your family was better at it than mine is all I can say,

Lee Wochner 6:12
well, so my dad’s company and my grandfather’s company built roads and bridges sections at the Garden State Parkway, schools, gas stations, and very successful and my father had four children. And three of us are boys, one girl and nobody wanted to take on the business. And so that’s that

Jon Tsourakis 6:33
we have a very similar story.

Yeah, it was. We didn’t build any roads or bridges or anything like that. It was mainly from track houses to luxury homes, like 20 30,000 square foot homes for some celebrities. And he fired me in front of a bunch of people. So that was my outing. Right? And then my brother is in the recession. They essentially were just like, we want nothing to do with this and it essentially dissolved. So Very similar. No sisters. All right. So when I google you, I see your Wikipedia page, which congratulations. It’s a great looking Wikipedia page. But you didn’t

Unknown Speaker 7:12
set that up

Lee Wochner 7:13
like that. When I when I when I was teaching full time at USC, I think one of the students said,

Jon Tsourakis 7:18
Okay, well I did it, they did a good job. But there’s an I guess, because of the USC, there’s almost nothing to do with the marketing, you know, most of it relates to your playwriting stuff. So how do you personally market yours for your agency? And also what’s it like to live this double life?

Lee Wochner 7:37
Well, I think 25 years ago, I used to because I’ve been in business my whole life. And I’ve been in the arts my whole life. So I used to try to keep them separate to some degree and in the internet age. Not only is that not possible, it isn’t fruitful. And I started doing more corporate consulting in the 90s directly because Because I was running an arts organization and, and corporate people in the audience would say, can you come to help us with this project or that, so it kept happening anyway. And then when we’re talking to clients or prospects here, we always talk about the fact that we’re a creative agency and that, for instance, one of our designers Joe is a working musician. My business partner, I met her through the theater, she was an actress and producer, I was a writer and producer. One of the other guys here is a playwright and producer. So there’s a lot of creativity here. And, and it, it actually manifests a lot of success in marketing because of course, it has to be creative and get people’s attention. So clients actually like it. They like that, that we’re working in the field as creative artists as well.

Jon Tsourakis 8:48
So all right, so you essentially sell on the fact that there’s this broad brush of creativity that intertwines essentially, with the marketing communications you guys create.

Lee Wochner 8:57
Yeah, with a nice strong thread of practical, pragmatic German Lutheranism that comes from and, you know, and Amy, my business partner her, not German Lutheran, but here, her family work for themselves as well. She brings a lot of practical sense. And the other thing I would say is this. We’re not poets, right? I have high regard for poets, but poets work by themselves up in a Garret, you know, or novelist and novelist say, I’m going to be writing a novel now I’ll see you in a year or two. And in theater, people are collaborative people by nature, and they’re running a business where the show has to start at eight people had to be able to park and they had to be able to make their reservations and the experience had to be good, and it really is running in our business. So there’s a lot of relevance there.

Jon Tsourakis 9:49
Okay. Yeah, a lot. A lot of crossovers. Yeah. You have clients and manufacturing, industrial professional services, eCommerce, and nonprofits. That’s the It’s you know, pretty cross the board right? What when business development process to get more clients and how have you done this to get all these different markets

Lee Wochner 10:11
so I get bored easily that’s how that started and and and when Amy and I were starting the company as you know there are agencies that market for instance only funeral homes which would be the death of me that would just kill me right off. I just keep working these puns until you acknowledge thank you I mean it just seemed like that kind of life would really give me a lot of grief the idea of just doing death every day for a living and I’m interested in the new challenges I’m in the music I listened to is tends to be more experimental. So I’m not interested in doing the tried and true. And so we’ve always looked at what are the new things and what are the new challenges what are the new opportunities in terms of business development We get a lot of referrals Of course from happy successful clients were very involved in our local community and in other communities. And we get referred a lot. And of course, we’re doing some outbound and in spreading the word ourselves. Okay. And you know, and now the big new marketing initiative is doing the yo-yo VA podcast, which will will will fill the inbox in my email.

Jon Tsourakis 11:28
I love it. Yeah, this is the climb the dmg podcast. Yeah,

Lee Wochner 11:31
that Oh, I’m sorry, my apologies. But see, I’m just trying to link up with you guys because you know, some of your glow will cast over onto me, so that’s okay.

Jon Tsourakis 11:42
very flattering. I think that’s also in the business development process as well.

Lee Wochner 11:48
flattery gets you everywhere. Whoever said flattery gets you nowhere was a liar. Who wanted more. No, flattery gets you everywhere.

David McGraw 11:57
Lee, do you see any crossover from You know your artwork into your marketing? Do you have any crossover clients?

Lee Wochner 12:04
Yeah, we have what we have. We’ve had a number of arts clients over the years. And we have a couple that we think are coming on board right now. We’ve had long term relationships with some of them and in the field certainly knows us. Again, there are arts, there are organizations that market only arts firms. That’s not a principal interest to us. We want to learn things from different sectors and bring them across. There are some things that creative organizations do really well, that a financial institution, or an insurance agency or such doesn’t, they’re not as immediately creative. And then the arts organizations could sometimes benefit from new thinking about management and business practices. So we really do like to cross-pollinate.

David McGraw 12:52
So to follow up on that I do I have a question. Do you find that because of your art background, you are more real You know, it’s more satisfying to work on that, or do you feel that you become more of a critic of your client’s art? And maybe there’s some, you know, frustration there. So, to rephrase, do you, you know, do you think it’s a net positive to take on a client, you know, that messes with your passion?

Lee Wochner 13:19
Now, not necessarily. I’ll tell you, David, I feel that I’m an improver Right. I mean, I feel that most things can be better and you apply that to all the troubles of the world and anybody’s marketing and any, any art anything you run across. And I try to look for the positive and see how I can bring further

Jon Tsourakis 13:38
so you turn down clients because you’re like, I there’s nothing I can do for you.

Lee Wochner 13:43
We turned down client, we turned down people when we think they’re shitty, evil people. We start right with that if you’re a shitty, evil person, we don’t want to work. with Amy and I formed the company we run our ethics into our business plan. We spend Three weeks having meetings and having real discussions about what our lives are about. We both have spouses and children, we don’t want to take nonsense home to them. We’ve passed on things that we thought were ethically not a match for us are not a match for the team. So there, they’re the things that aren’t a match for us. And then there are the people who, whether they know it or not, we feel they have ill intent and there aren’t that many of those, but we will always pass on.

Jon Tsourakis 14:29
Do you have an example? I have to pry?

Lee Wochner 14:33
Yeah, so. So at times, we’ve had people who practice various religions here, and they don’t, we don’t think they want to do hardcore porn sites. As a civil libertarian, I’m not opposed to free expression, but we didn’t think it was right for them. So those sorts of things. I don’t think I want to promote a smelting plant in downtown Burbank if that comes our way. I don’t think that’s good for the environment. Good. Burbank so we’re a little choosy but generally, the people who come here have good products good services they need better marketing and we want to have fun with them and help them achieve success.

Jon Tsourakis 15:14
Got it? Did you refer the porn site to some other agency and van eyes by chance?

Lee Wochner 15:19
Hey, you guys opening it outpost What’s going on here?

Jon Tsourakis 15:26
The so doing a little, a little background and I think it’s almost a cliche now the entrepreneur kids story, but according to a statement you made you’ve been a business owner since you were 11 years old buying and selling comic books were you said these were investment grade purchases.

Lee Wochner 15:44
Correct. You have done your research. You are correct.

Jon Tsourakis 15:47
Yeah, what comics were these?

Lee Wochner 15:51
Well, so I was a big Marvel fan. And I had all the Marvel Comics I did not have as many of the DC Comics and then My dad staked me a little money and I bought an ad a quarter-page ad in a thing called the Rockets to glass comic collector, which was a glossy magazine in the 70s. And I put it in there that we were buying comics. And man, we got deluged with people trying to sell their comics and so I would send them a bit they would ship the comics that would evaluate them by what I was going to buy, send some back and then resell them at shows or through the mail.

Jon Tsourakis 16:27
You created your first ad when you were 11 years old. That should be in your bio.

Lee Wochner 16:31
Uh, yeah, you don’t want to see it through.

Jon Tsourakis 16:35
And like Mozart’s first piece when he was six was shit, you know?

Lee Wochner 16:39
Yeah, yeah, I think any 11 years old you’ll find today would do a better job but I do have a copy of it. And I look at it now and then and wins and try to remember that I was. You still

Jon Tsourakis 16:51
have it? You got to send that to us. Come on. Yeah, you got it.

Lee Wochner 16:56
Will do. All right.

Jon Tsourakis 16:59
Perfect. Alright, um, did you ever make any money on comic books?

David McGraw 17:04
I still have them. I’m waiting for them to become worth something. Where are they? To talk?

I got a box sitting in my closet, probably about 75 200 comic books. I think probably the most valuable one I have is the number one Spider-Man. Not the original series, but the one that was kind of relaunched in the, like, the late or early 90s.

Lee Wochner 17:29
Yeah, the Todd McFarlane one. Yeah.

Jon Tsourakis 17:32
Ah, the spider the spider. Yeah, I have a Silver Surfer first edition that is not in good quality anymore because of the humidity in Florida. I was placed in an attic and

David McGraw 17:45
yeah, yeah, my problem is, you know, when we were younger, and we you know, we were told these things were investment quality items. You know, everyone did that. So everyone kept them so nothing became rare. I mean, I’ve baseball cards that I’m 40 years now waiting for these things to become worth something. And the storage and air conditioning costs that I’ve poured into keeping them in good condition are more than what it’s worth. I actually have a comic book that is worth less than the price of the comic. So it’s actually gone down in value. So it’s ridiculous and it’s like 40 years old.

Lee Wochner 18:20
Wow. Wow. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know what what is that Howard the Duck?

David McGraw 18:26
Oh foods is called masters of Kung Fu.

Lee Wochner 18:29
Oh, no. Listen, that’s Shang ci master of Kung Fu. He’s in the next wave of Marvel movies. You’ll be surprised at what that’s going to be working. Okay.

Jon Tsourakis 18:39
I’ll give you two bucks for it. Now.

David McGraw 18:41
I have two copies to

Jon Tsourakis 18:42
Wow. All right. I’ll buy one for two and see what happens. If

Lee Wochner 18:45
that’s a Marvel special. It is special Marvel edition number 16. You’re buying me dinner somewhere. Alright. Alright, so I’ll tell you my little story from my history there might my early history so I desperately wanted a copy of Fantastic Four number one, like this, this comic book impacted my life fantastic course I really wanted that. And at the time, there was a guy in hodgepodge New York named Robert Bell who had a catalog and he had it listed for $60. So I spent the whole summer mowing lawns back in the 70s to get $60 to send it to Robert Belle of hodgepodge New York. My mother was a Paul, my comic books, I think the cover price was 1520 cents at the time. And so she went to my dad and said, you know, our son wants to spend $60 on a comic book. And my dad said, well, it says money. I think he knows what he’s doing. Let him be. So then she went to the church pastor and said, You know, my son wants to spend $60 on a comic book. And the church pastor said, Well, you know, he’s responsible, he knows what he’s doing. It’s his money, fine, so she couldn’t get any support for her viewpoint. So I sent the $60 off to hop honey, New York. And the guy sends it back and said he didn’t have any it was out of stock. I was just crushed. Then just crushed. And in 1975, I guess, four or five, it was the same year, I went to New York to a comic book convention. And there was a guy who had one and he wanted $85. And I had $85. So I said, Can I see it? And he treated me Of course, like, you know, a little kid who wants to look at his precious comic book. He said You have the money. And so I angrily pulled out the wallet singles from my pocket and showed him at $5. So he pulls it out, I bought it from him. And so my mother is beside herself now that I spent $85 on a comic book. And, and I held on to it for a year I sold it for $200. And then she never said anything about it again. That was the end of it. Wow, she trusted you from that point on. course if I had it now. It’d be you know, borderline house payment. So that’s the sad conclusion of the story.

Jon Tsourakis 21:05
That’s how it goes. And now we’re going to try to lift it up with a new question. So since 2006, you’ve written over 5000 posts on your personal blog, leave walk nerd calm. Topics range from thoughts on world politics to Mad Magazine and everything in between. So that begs the question going through your current blog on counterintuitive or your agency’s blog, it’s hard to tell whether you’re writing some or not, but how often do you actually write content for your agency?

Lee Wochner 21:38
So, lately, I do a lot of editing for the content in our agency. One of the things that, that I’m blessed with here is we have four or five writers on staff. Okay, we’re all really good writers. So I’m in the mix there. The one thing that I bring in particular is I was a senior copy editor for a daily newspaper in New Jersey. In 1987 to 88 and so I’ll go through and I’ll edit these things and then put them into AP style and such. I do some of that writing most of it is done by the team it’s a mix

Jon Tsourakis 22:15
I gotta say though, then it’s clear the posts that you’ve written I think they’re fantastic not that there’s any that the other ones aren’t good. But you wrote one about Supercuts which I’ll put in the show notes here for everybody and its out loud funny.

Lee Wochner 22:28
Wow Wow, thank you. Thanks. I don’t remember that one to go to my blog

Jon Tsourakis 22:34
and search for it. You got you shouldn’t you should search for it and I’d be surprised if you’re still taking your kids to Supercuts

Lee Wochner 22:40
no never know.

Jon Tsourakis 22:43
All right, then the moral of that story is there. All right now I guess that was gonna be a follow-up question. Now I know Chelsea appears to be one of your content writers, would they say that you’re pretty critical and the way that you edit the content that they produce.

Lee Wochner 22:57
One of the things I learned as an editor for literary journals and newspapers is you can edit people without changing their voice. And, and it’s better not to step on people and remove them. No one likes that. But helping make sure that the line makes sense and that it’s correctly punctuation spell is the sort of editing that I’m doing. Sometimes I’ll say you know, I don’t get the I don’t understand the point of this I don’t think I get what you’re trying to say. And you know I commit that ever myself and so I ask others to look at my stuff. Faith on our team completely killed one of my posts. I mean, she said this is really not good and I guess she was right. So we do that one. But I yeah, I guess I’m a little touchy about grammar and punctuation and such but that’s how it should be.

Jon Tsourakis 23:48
Okay, I agree. Yeah, I’m the same way myself in most cases, with you know, some rules that I like to break. Now I can see you guys are big on selling strategy by on your website, this caught me off guard, you offer a 12-minute strategy session as a call to action. Is this real? And if so, what can one hope to accomplish in 12 minutes?

Lee Wochner 24:14
A said the great artists understood that craft gets you far. And, and I’ll give you an example. If you gave me a year to write something, I would probably write it on day 364 at 10 or 11 o’clock at night, right? So, constraint actually liberates you because you have to do something within a time frame. And in a way that fits the need. 12 minutes helps people really focus and if you give people 12 minutes, they will tell you what the problem or opportunity or opportunity is pretty quickly. And then you can give them an immediate thought about it. And then you can determine jointly if there’s an opportunity or problem that we can address. And then we would do some research obviously, around 12 minutes, really? In 12 minutes when you think about it really sharpens your knife. Right? You got 12 minutes. It’s like in the movies, we see them defusing the bomb. They don’t give the guy nine hours to defuse the bomb, right? You know, the little tickers going and it’s down to 987. And on the last second or two, here, she has defused the bomb. It’s better that way.

Jon Tsourakis 25:28
When he said the bomb, what was the bomb movie that popped up in your head?

David McGraw 25:31
Well, I was just thinking, isn’t there a show called 24 hours about a bomb that is ticking down from 24 hours?

Jon Tsourakis 25:40
To 24 with

Unknown Speaker 25:42
Okay, yeah,

Lee Wochner 25:44
I could cut that to 12 minutes.

Unknown Speaker 25:49
Yeah, okay.

Jon Tsourakis 25:51
Good. All right. All right, since we got here, all right, but going back to your website, I want to be real. Looking at a lot of things Amy Kramer appears to be the real brains behind the operation.

Lee Wochner 26:04
Right? Absolutely. So undeniably,

You know what, I’m just that I’m the great glowing oz and then you look behind the curtain and it’s Amy Kramer.

Jon Tsourakis 26:14
Okay, I know meeting her she’s a wonderful person also seeing that and comparing is like, yeah, you know what I think this is all me. All right. So how do you guys break up work duties between the two of you?

Lee Wochner 26:27
I give her as much as possible and I go out for my ties. Okay. I recommend this to you, john.

Jon Tsourakis 26:34
So state that one more time just so I can capture it.

Lee Wochner 26:38
Yeah, so I, you know, try to allow her to do everything and then I just go out for drinks.

Jon Tsourakis 26:48
I love that. All right. That’s it. That’s a good strategy.

Lee Wochner 26:50
Well, some people see it as I run the corporation and business development, and you heard that I do. I do. Creative strategy with clients. He’s actually working with all of the Creative Services here. So the project managers account management designers and such. And they, those people just tolerate me.

Jon Tsourakis 27:15
So you show them and then put it into essentially your production team and you help out with some of the content writing from time to time.

Lee Wochner 27:25
So we do an initial strategy engagement, and, and I generally run that couple of us, few of us will be in those sessions. My undergraduate degree is in literature, literature, and language. And that’s actually more or less a degree in critical studies. So I’m trained in critical studies, and it’s applicable to business and marketing because you’re trained to look at things from a variety of perspectives, to reach insights and conclusions. Okay.

Jon Tsourakis 27:56
I have had some clients over the years that were English majors and literature being some of them? Yeah, I think you would cross into a different realm because you understand good copy. I would. It’s as if we were writing for third-grade teachers. It was it was brutal. Oh, yeah.

Lee Wochner 28:14
Yeah, I don’t understand. I don’t know. little scar tie. Oh, man, I’m sorry to hear that.

You know, when when you’re when your training is in literature, you’re trained to look below the surface, what? What’s the subtext of this? what’s actually going on? And you can hear how that’s a business skill. Why is this? Why is the focus of the story this and so, I’m studying Chaucer as an example. I studied Chaucer. I liked Chaucer a lot. You start to realize that the Knight’s Tale, for instance, is he’s an unreliable narrator. He couldn’t have had all of those adventures. And so you develop a little bit of skepticism and then you apply it to the prospect who comes in and tells you his whole big story about how wonderful he is and how wonderful it’s going to be. And then you’re like, Well, let me apply a little skepticism to this because there might be something beneath the surface. Or you get the story that purports to be about one thing. And then actually, it’s about something different. And so a client will come in and say I’m doing a and here’s a that we do, and you go, you know, you could do B, you’re so closely related to b and b seems really valuable. Have you thought about to be and, and I, oddly, the literary training, perhaps you for that.

Jon Tsourakis 29:40
Right? I mean, that’s a fantastic crossover there. Yeah. I love that. So gentlemen, interaction. You’ve been teaching playwriting since the 1990s. I believe we touched on it earlier, but have you pulled any business from that?

Lee Wochner 29:57
So when I was running my, I’m still on the board of my theater company. When I was running my theater company in the 90s, a guy who became the board chair said to me, can you come to consult with me, I’m doing a thing for the California citizens budget commission. And, I’m going to do a presentation. And I need to make a point quickly. And I don’t think I’m doing this yet. So I went to work with him for a bit and making an immediate point, and helping him in his presentation and coaching him because I’m a stage director as well. And then that turned into working for the Department of Water and Power. I’m sorry, no, we met at Department of Water power working for the city of Los Angeles Uncharted reform, and how to educate people and build the case for why the charter forum was important. And so I got a lot of referrals and things from that sort of thing because, again, it’s about immediate communication of the story, which is really what marketing and playwriting are about. So I guess my answer to you is kind of Yes.

Jon Tsourakis 30:59
Okay. Yeah, and I think I have hobbies and I always look at how can I blend these two things? One being golf I’m not I’d let me just say it I’m, I’m a terrible golfer, but I do enjoy it for some reason, you know, based on the libations and the beautiful views, but I yeah, I don’t have a hobby that that does that, so to speak. Dave, how are you? I mean, I know you got a fan club. You got a hobby that pulls in business.

David McGraw 31:23
Not at all. And I kind of like a completely separate. Yeah, you like the separation? Yeah. That’s my break. That’s my mental reset. So I don’t like talking about business and my hobbies.

Jon Tsourakis 31:36
Oh, man. How about you Really? Are you the same way?

Lee Wochner 31:39
I’m driven by work. I love work. I don’t work. The work I do. Whether it’s in the arts or in business gives me meaning. I do feel that when you’re helping a business owner, create jobs, grow the business, stabilize the business, you’re adding to the positive energy in the world and that’s the best drug I have found. You know, there are other drugs out there. And I do like an occasional cigar and certainly bourbon but the best drug I found in life is meaningful work.

Jon Tsourakis 32:12
Drugs I could recommend

Lee Wochner 32:16
I know.

Jon Tsourakis 32:20
Alright, so being a theater guy, how does that affect your sales process? Do you know, put on a show during your sales pitch?

Lee Wochner 32:29
Uh, no, I don’t think so. It’s more like a heart to heart. It’s very genuine. I mean, we’re not. We’re not actually trying to sell people. We’re having a conversation about their actual needs. One of the things we pride ourselves on is that we don’t sell. We don’t oversell that we’re collaborative. And we’re interested in the relationship and so we run an engagement with a multinational corporation, a few years ago, and they had a far larger agency. pick their pocket for $78 million. And I’ve no doubt they were happy about it. But all of the work was terrible. And the client didn’t understand. And we tried to explain to the client, you know, this is not going to help you. And these guys are just pulling hundreds out of your wallet. And by the minute our staff was producing. And, you know, we did pretty well. And it wasn’t seven or $8 million, but it was significant. Ultimately, the whole product line got canceled, and the whole division shut down. And it’s because of overspending. And everybody lost their jobs and we’re still in business and everybody else is finito. And that’s not our approach at all. Our approach is what will benefit this client? What does this client actually need to do better and to meet their goals? So it really is a heart to heart john we with people, and we always tell the truth. It’s always truth tell.

Jon Tsourakis 33:59
Did you Granted, the true telling part I think is that you know, that’s a foundation and to say it’s not that everybody follows that practice. But did you organically fall into this heart to heart process? Is that something that you learned before?

Lee Wochner 34:14
I think it’s who everybody here is as a person. Okay? So you can and we, and we hire around that I and our core values are posted on our wall when you walk right in, and collaboration is one of them. Being heartfelt is another and that’s who we are will have a lot of fun with you. We will produce results with you. We’re not going to just slide money and credit cards and your wallet.

Jon Tsourakis 34:42
Okay, all right. Not and that’s not what I meant by a show but

Lee Wochner 34:47
I know that but you know, I we’re in. We’re in greater Hollywood when you think about it. And so there’s a lot of that happens here. Huh? Oh, that’s not with us.

Unknown Speaker 34:57
I think every

Lee Wochner 34:59
everybody is going to be a superstar of stage and screen at any moment here in greater Hollywood and all they need is x x x x x x dollars etc and no so we don’t fall for that

Jon Tsourakis 35:18
you go the other way I get it and this is a good follow up so it’s pretty obvious based on reading your blog that you’re not a fan of Steve Jobs or his management style

Lee Wochner 35:32
I don’t know if I would say that I think there are some things to learn there but I also don’t think you need to be a prickly asshole all the time.

Jon Tsourakis 35:39
Okay, that’s that’s kind of what I’m getting at, you know?

You but we can’t argue that he created and foster you know, an environment for creatives. But absolutely what do you and what does Counterintuitity do to foster an environment for your creatives.

Lee Wochner 35:57
We do team outings. We have entertaining celebrations, everybody gets some way to reward other people on the team with a shout outboard. And we were intentionally collaborative team-based operations all the time.

Jon Tsourakis 36:15
What does that mean? intentionally collaborative? Do you guys like it? You know, open-door policy where you say like, All right, we’re doomed. Okay.

Lee Wochner 36:24
Yeah, pretty, pretty much. And we’ll have projects come up, where, hey, who wants to help with this? We anticipate starting something pretty soon that I that myself and somebody else here will be on and then the third member of that team, I’m going to throw it open to people that self nominate, you know, who would like to come play on this for x number of hours a day for a few weeks. Here’s what we’re going to try. And it and it’s a fun thing. And whenever we’ve had the administrative assistant, the administrative assistant or the operations manager who at some places would not be viewed as a creative everyone is granted, everybody has the potential to be brilliant and funny, and eye-opening. And so everybody here gets that opportunity and the administrative assistants who worked at this agency over the past 12 years, which is knock your socks off, they’re so smart and capable and creative and fun. So everybody

Jon Tsourakis 37:18
is invited. With the creatives, it seems in this maybe my own experience, it’s harder to have them execute on deadline. Do you Would you agree with that statement? Or do you have somebody that’s making sure that that’s happening and continually looking ahead, such as a strict project manager?

Lee Wochner 37:38
We have systems for that and actually, we’re always looking to improve that. And you know, a little browbeating and cat of nine tails never hurt. So, you know, just whip them, okay, I’m, I’m totally kidding about that. totally kidding.

Jon Tsourakis 37:53
We’re gonna start out

Lee Wochner 37:56
Yeah, yeah, please.

Yeah, oh,

David McGraw 38:00

Lee Wochner 38:02
Listen, I already told David what that comic book is worth. I mean, come on.

Jon Tsourakis 38:07
Yeah, but unfortunately we’re not high fluid enough to figure out the, the editing part of it. But you did mention you are a big fan of the Creator Nolan Bushnell who’s the creativity of Atari and Chucky Jeff. So, and granted he fostered somebody like Steve Jobs along those lines, right? I mean, he had this crazy creative and he did everything he could with, you know, to keep him within his deadlines. And so where do you have any characters like that, that work on your staff shatter the just the brilliant minds that you have to kind of you know, finagle and do what you can to get the best out of them.

Lee Wochner 38:44
Well, so So yeah, Nolan Bushnell. I think most people would have fired Steve Jobs and thought he should have been living under a bridge when he was in his early 20s. Kind of a nut job. I mean, this is a guy who for a couple of months, ate only carrots. And then its skin turns orange. True story, right but no Nolan Bushnell any smell bad. But Nolan Bushnell felt there was something about that guy that had a spark. And he wanted to use it to light a fire. And so he let jobs work by himself at night when only the janitorial crew come in, and, and most of us would, would let him go, right. And so and in my playwriting workshop, Waiting for Godot is a play that seems to make no sense written by a guy who doesn’t know how to write a play. And I’m careful not to be the workshop leader who would kill that if that came into the workshop. You have to be open to new forms and new things all the time, particularly if you have a creative agency. So I always do my best to look at who’s here and what they bring and what they need to succeed. And so if people need flex time, if they need a different way of working and whatever it is, if I feel they’re bringing something, something to this table, We’ll do my best to accommodate and we’ve always done. Okay.

Jon Tsourakis 40:05
And do you know what the E stands for? And Chucky cheese?

Lee Wochner 40:12
Know what?

Jon Tsourakis 40:14
entertainment? Chuck entertainment tooth.

Lee Wochner 40:18
Imagine how lucky is that his mom gave him that middle name. Oh, mama, by the

Unknown Speaker 40:25
way, no, no.

Lee Wochner 40:29
You know when you’re born it’s like if you’re born with the last name strange don’t aren’t you’re gonna go do some offbeat things. Right? Yeah. So, by the way, Chucky cheese, those animatronic characters. A guy I know an actor and director I’ve worked with many many times directed a play of mine two years ago in Hollywood. He was the voice of the animatronic Henrietta hippo.

Yeah, so Henrietta Hippo had a really high voice heard of it. This guy I know.

Jon Tsourakis 41:02
That’s awesome. Yeah, I’m at, like, four or five characters. I can’t remember. I haven’t been in years,

Lee Wochner 41:08
something like that. So my kids are older now but I used to take the kids for birthday parties run by other kids moms and then the band starts to play and move and I’m like, oh, there’s Michael doing Henrietta hippo. Like every time was weird.

Jon Tsourakis 41:21
I had a horrible experience at Chucky cheese when? When I was a kid, I was six. I think it was a birthday party. I jumped into the balls and someone who are like it’s the ball, isn’t it? What is it called? ball pit ball pit. Thank you. And I was instantly covered in piss.

Lee Wochner 41:41
Just I was so upset. I remember you’re when you’re jumping into the balls, you’re near the piss. I mean, that’s

Jon Tsourakis 41:50
but somebody had just urinated right where I was just it was the worst feeling is like oh god and I yeah From then on anytime somebody was like, we’re going to Chucky Cheese. I was like No, no, I’m good. I’m good. Yeah, just hold over scarred. Yeah, very scarred. Absolutely. But it’s

Lee Wochner 42:09
experiences like this john that ultimately turned him into the man you are so we can’t live lives of regret

Jon Tsourakis 42:18
again, I’ve always heard that they had great beer and good pizza and I never really parts up after you know the best of 1989 I have, you know, never made it back.

Lee Wochner 42:29
Sorry man.

Jon Tsourakis 42:30
It’s all right. I can live vicariously through those of you Dave in fact when was last time you read Chucky cheese I think

David McGraw 42:35
the last time honestly was a little league championship, you know right after probably about seven-eight years old. But man I hear them making a comeback. I mean, I see new jobs, you know, development and they’re putting a Chucky cheese in and I’m thinking how is that not gone out of business by now?

Jon Tsourakis 42:52
Really? I don’t know. Yeah,

Lee Wochner 42:55
it is. They always smell foul. I mean this little kids running around. In plastic all day, it’s not a good scene.

Jon Tsourakis 43:03
Yeah, it’s literally like you know 8000 square feet of kid bathroom area with video games and Ryan’s in it.

Lee Wochner 43:10
Yeah and tell me and how would anyone clean those little plastic balls? Think about it? Yeah, they don’t know.

Jon Tsourakis 43:21
So they don’t all right Lee, you have a 3.5 rating from your teaching days based on rate your professor calm with one student saying the most arrogant horrible teacher on earth is mentioned never ever teach. He wants students to celebrate him. He has no interest in our learning. Awful teacher quote-unquote. How is dealing with these not no nose kids, made you a better CEO and better equipped to deal with difficult clients?

Lee Wochner 43:46
Well, I noticed you didn’t read the positive reviews, john. So thank you. Well, put. Yeah, thank you for that. That’s really nice. Because if you were to read those, john, I feel like I’m being grilled by Some House committee right now, if you were to read those reviews, john, you would see that the other two people said he was tough. And if you didn’t like to do the work, you didn’t like him. And that’s my response to that job. I love your life. No, I have no patience for slackers at university in my life anywhere whiners, complainers, slackers, no go elsewhere.

Jon Tsourakis 44:25
Perfect that I love that. I think that’s it. That’s a great interview.

Lee Wochner 44:29
But I’ll add one more thing. So I honestly through and through somebody who cares, I care a lot. I care about doing good work. I care about people on a personal level, I care about the planet. I’m a caring guy. And when I need people who don’t care, it’s infuriating to me. It really is. I mean, when you don’t care about something important. Like if you’re in grad school, it or mom and dad paying for this. Why don’t you care about what it cost them, why don’t you? Why don’t you care about why You were in my class and what you’re supposed to be doing? And I helped launch a whole bunch of really successful playwrights. So I’m sorry for the person who left that review. And I’m sure that he or she is living in a ditch now.

Jon Tsourakis 45:20
Oh, so and I yeah, you on your Wikipedia page, which also be in the show notes. There’s like 10 or 12 other playwrights that you’ve had in touch? I think that’s a fantastic answer that you provided. All right, sticking on the playwright note, being a well-known playwright such as you are, what play is this line from? I’ve shot in better places than this.

Lee Wochner 45:43
Well, almost every play

in almost every play, I mean, when you think about it, takes care of might have said it a little differently. But who, you know, we never leave that line out. There. I’m writing a play right now that that’s actually the title.

Jon Tsourakis 46:01
It’s requisite in playwriting. Apparently I got to take your workshop. That’s all it is.

Lee Wochner 46:05
Yeah. Well, you would do well, you know, you’re a fun, clever creative guy. And no, you would do well, you would.

Jon Tsourakis 46:12
There’s the flattering again, I knew I loved you.

Lee Wochner 46:14
Well, I’ve tried to get you to edit me better when the post and the


Jon Tsourakis 46:20
Alright, so you’ve been in business since 2007. And then, of course, that’s right before the big recession. So you’ve seen it. You’ve seen a lot since then. What do you think agency owners can do now to predict protect themselves from another recession? Or when we enter another recession?

Lee Wochner 46:36
I said so the first thing I would say is we should not accept the notion that previous norms will repeat because the Internet has changed everything. So the heart of humankind is communication and speed of communications gotten faster and faster, and speed of miscommunication by the way. So we used to have recessions on a regular basis and then they would last a year. A half, and then you know you’re out of the recession. And I think that norms totally have gone. And if you look at where this country was in the 1950s or 60s, and you look at this country in 2019, it’s a very different experience. So the first thing you should do is recognize that, if you think we’re going back to that previous pattern, you would be mistaken. I think that, yes, people do tend to cut their marketing budgets. And if the recession is severe enough, they go out of business clients. But if you’re providing a valuable service that people absolutely need to weather that recession, you’ll be around.

Jon Tsourakis 47:39
So when you started in 2007, you enter the recession started like 2000, late 2007 2008, we started seeing, what were you doing to create that type of value?

Lee Wochner 47:51
So we grow during the Great Recession. And one of the things we did was we developed a little booklet called don’t recede. You know, who says that you have to receive in a recession we did. And so we put that out a lot. And what we started to do was look at what clients really needed. And focus on those services, and then make sure that it’s something that makes sense for them. And that’s affordable they can afford. So if you have a car analogy, the guy who was going to buy the new Lamborghini, now he can’t buy the new lamp Lamborghini, he still needs the car. Maybe he goes and gets a Hyundai. And, and so we were taking a lot of clients and looking at what’s the opportunity and how can they grow. And I’ll give you an example. We had somebody come to us. There were a lot of real estate deals done in the downturn, a lot of real estate deals that nobody. There isn’t a lot of discussion about that. If you had the cash you were King because you could bail out somebody else’s deal. So we had a client who came who had a whole bunch of a condo project that they had rescued they had bought this condo project and I think they were mostly finished They’re out in an undesirable area. I mean, it’s not Malibu or Beverly Hills. I mean, it was fine. But it wasn’t an area you generally talk about. And they wanted to know what to do with them, how they were going to market them during this recession. And so we pulled out a map. And, and we said, You know what, there are four colleges or universities around there. My son is getting ready to go to college, you know what it cost to live on campus or to find housing, these people would be better off the parents buying these condos and having their kids stay in the condo because they get a big tax write off one way or the other because it’s essentially a property investment. So we sold out all of the condos very quickly and developed the waiting list. And so what you hear is that was reactive to a different changing market and pulling kids who were overpaying to stay on campus or near campus into drive a little further and stay in a condo that your parent now owns and may will to you at some point inherits. Got it. You gotta be solution-based all the time solution-based. And so whenever this recession hits, and I don’t think it’s going to be 2020 at all, whenever this recession hits you, you have to stay solution-focused and not the mon whatever’s going on. You have to respond.

Jon Tsourakis 50:22
So create a Hyundai with Lambo doors.

Lee Wochner 50:27
Yeah, the goldwings. Ideally, yeah, you really want because they’re there. They’re so handy. Like you’re going through a little tollbooth. So the DeLorean people don’t talk about the DeLorean, the first generation DeLorean and I got in one of those back in the day, by the way, was terrifying. Because the doors didn’t the windows didn’t open. And if it ever flipped, you’d be trapped in there because going doors and that sounds terrible.

David McGraw 50:53
Oh, the

Lee Wochner 50:54
the second generation had a little sliding port in the window expressly. So you throw money into a change been on a Turnpike. Because before that, you’d have to pull your car ahead, set off all of the alarms and such because you hadn’t paid the toll to get out and walk back and pay the toll.

So yeah, I want a Hyundai with those wings. Yes.

Jon Tsourakis 51:19
All right, man. What should the world know about you that I didn’t cover?

Lee Wochner 51:26
Wow, what should they know the world? Well not hide anything? No, no.

Jon Tsourakis 51:32
I’m alluding to that. You can say anything you want. You can plug anything you want.

Lee Wochner 51:39
Well, I want everybody in the world to know that the world’s foremost band is pair Ooh, pair who is a revolutionary band. I love them. I love them to pieces. And I went to England two years ago. They’re from Cleveland, Ohio originally. Now they’re mostly based out of Europe. I went to England two years ago. See them play that I was invited to the synthesizer players farm. He’s a descendant of Thomas Edison. And they invited me for a rehearsal event on his farm that was fantastic. And I’m taking my daughter to Spain in about three weeks, about three weeks to see them play in Madrid. And they’re not for everybody but through and through they are for me, they light me up. I love them.

Jon Tsourakis 52:28
Okay, all right. Very selfless plug for somebody a sweet Alright, so they’ll be in the show us but how would you like others to get in touch with you?

Lee Wochner 52:38
Email emails, fantastic. Lee at, calm, love to talk to people about their projects and their opportunities, what they’re trying to do and the positive impact they’re trying to make on the world with their business.

Jon Tsourakis 52:52
Okay, all right, my friend. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you joining us today.

Lee Wochner 52:57
It’s been a lot of fun, really appreciate the invite and really Appreciate the friendship with you two gentlemen.

Jon Tsourakis 53:02
Oh, thanks, Lee. We love you, man.

Lee Wochner 53:04
All right, thanks so much.