Joe Perello, CEO of Props, on Building Strong Work Relationships and a Culture of Learning from Mistakes

Joe Perello, CEO of Props, on Building Strong Work Relationships and a Culture of Learning from Mistakes


Check out all episodes on the My Favorite Mistake main page.

My guest for Episode #196 of the My Favorite Mistake podcast is Joe Perello, president and CEO of Props, a first-of-its-kind, marketing technology platform enabling DTC brands. Joe is also a member of the board of directors of New York Cruise Lines.

Prior to Props, he co-founded and led an NYC-based digital agency and bootstrapped it into an award-winning shop.

In 2003, Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Joe as the first Chief Marketing Officer of the City of New York. Joe and his team created the first self-funded marketing and promotional engine in the City's history, generating more than $100 million and paving the way for unprecedented results in tourism.

Joe was the Vice President of Business Development for the New York Yankees during some of their most successful seasons, reporting to the late George M. Steinbrenner.

In this episode, Joe tells his favorite mistake story about a “work divorce” that was “really hard” — was it a mistake to separate himself from a company and certain workplace relationships? How did he learn to take responsibility for those relationships? We also discuss how to create a culture of learning from mistakes and creating an environment where you can be wrong.

Questions and Topics:

  • Work divorces are hard… it WAS the right thing to do
  • Felt like it WAS a mistake as it happened – turned out to be best…
  • Fear — no idea what I was going to do next…. — uncertainty or a mistake
  • It’s always a judgment call – a mistake or not??
  • The founder dynamic made it more difficult – personal pride
  • Lessons learned to prevent future work divorces??
  • Culture of learning from mistakes? “Create an environment where you can be wrong…”
  • Getting things wrong helps us get it right??
  • “I don’t want to be right I just want to win”
  • Direct marketing – test and learn, test and learn
  • Fail fast, fail often?
  • Props – how did the company pivot??
  • Mistakes that marketers make? Being inauthentic or failed attempt at authenticity that didn’t ring true?
  • Mistaken perceptions of the late George Steinbrenner… public perception vs reality?

Scroll down to find:

  • Video of the episode
  • Quotes
  • How to subscribe
  • Full transcript

Find Joe on social media:

Watch the Full Episode:


"If you're not making mistakes, you're not learning, and you're not doing big enough stuff." - Joe Perello
"I want to create an environment where you  could be wrong.  We don't always succeed, but we try to create an environment where people can propose things and be wrong. And we're wrong all the time. We say, 'Hey, let's try this, let's try that, we could be wrong and we could be proven wrong.'" - Joe Perello
"'The Boss'... would not get upset if you made big mistakes. Like you tried hard and you swung big and you missed... he would be right there. 'Hey kid, listen, you tried it, Good job. OK, we'll get him next time.'" - Joe Perello

Subscribe, Follow, Support, Rate, and Review!

Please follow, rate, and review via Apple Podcasts or Podchaser or your favorite app — that helps others find this content and you'll be sure to get future episodes as they are released weekly. You can also become a financial supporter of the show through

You can now sign up to get new episodes via email, to make sure you don't miss an episode.

This podcast is part of the Lean Communicators network.

Other Ways to Subscribe or Follow — Apps & Email

Automated Transcript (Likely Contains Mistakes)

Mark Graban (0s):
Episode 196, Joe Perello, president and CEO of Props.

Joe Perello (5s):
You know, if you're not making mistakes, you're not, you're not learning, you're not doing big enough stuff.

Mark Graban (15s):
I'm Mark Graban, this is My Favorite Mistake. In this podcast, you'll hear business leaders and other really interesting people talking about their favorite mistakes, because we all make mistakes. But what matters is learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over again. So this is the place for honest reflection and conversation, personal growth and professional success. Visit our website at To learn more about Joe, his company and more, look for links in the show notes, or go to As always, thanks for listening. And now on with the episode.

Mark Graban (55s):
Well, hi everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Our guest today is Joe Perillo. He's the president and CEO of Props, a first of its kind marketing technology platform that enables direct to consumer brands. You can learn more at their website, Joe is also currently a member of the Board of Directors of New York Cruise Lines. And before I tell you more about his very interesting career, and before I stumble over more words, Joe, welcome to the podcast. How are

Joe Perello (1m 25s):
You? Hey, Mark. Thank you for having me. Good to be here. Appreciate it.

Mark Graban (1m 28s):
Well, I'm excited to hear your story and there's a lot we can talk about here today. But prior to Props, Joe co-founded and led a New York-based digital agency. He bootstrapped that into an award-winning shop in 2003, then Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Joe to be the first chief marketing officer of the City of New York. So Joe and his team created the first self-funded marketing and promotional engine in the city's history. They generated more than a hundred million and led to unprecedented results in tourism. Now, Joe was also previously vice president of business development for the New York Yankees. During some of their most successful seasons, he reported to the late George Steinbrenner, and Joe is a graduate of the University of Delaware with a degree in history and journalism.

Mark Graban (2m 13s):
So, Joe, again, thank you for being here. You're I'm sure interested in, in New York Yankees history. Was that part of your draw to have taken a job there?

Joe Perello (2m 25s):
No, actually, I, I worked for a, a credit card bank at the time called MBNA America, and the Yankees were my client. So I go visit them all the time, got to know their, their head of marketing, who's now, his name's Derek Schiller, he's now the CEO of the Atlanta Braves among and, and their sports properties. And got to know Derek pretty well, and he was like, Hey, I'm gonna leave here. You know, you wanna take my job? I said, I said, sure, I'd love to. Yeah. So there was no plan to like, you know, no plan to be the VP of the New York Yankees.

Joe Perello (3m 8s):
It sort of just happened, and I got lucky.

Mark Graban (3m 11s):
Well, I'm glad you could take advantage of that opportunity. As they say, luck benefits the prepared, so, you know, more than just luck involved there. And maybe we can come back and talk a little bit about that in addition to your current company Props. But you know, Joe, as, as we normally do here, I would love to hear your story. You know, thinking back to the different things you've done, what's your favorite mistake?

Joe Perello (3m 34s):
Yeah, I thought about this a lot. I, I think the premise of the the podcast is great because, you know, if you're not making mistakes, you're not, you're not learning, you're not doing big enough stuff, right. And you're not learning. And the biggest mistake that I made that turned out not to be a mistake, was separating myself from, relate certain relationships with people. And, and I'll tell you why. I, I, I thought the, that I was making a mistake at the time. And the reason is because I was sort of like professionally raised as a, a sort of a networker, right?

Joe Perello (4m 20s):
Like, you know, biz dev is important, sales is important. I've been in marketing my whole life. So, you know, in marketing you're like, grow, make more connections, build more relationships, right? It's just like you don't shrink. If you're shrinking, you're failing. So I would, I would essentially try and build relationships with as many people as I could, because I thought that was our pathway to success. It wasn't until really, I, I was much older that I started to be more disciplined about the relationships that I would invest time in. Now, this is still really, was still really hard for me to say no to someone, and especially as like a networker, right?

Joe Perello (5m 11s):
Or as a growth person, really hard, hard for me to say no. Well, I was in a business relationship with, with people, and I had a really hard time separating, and I did. It was very difficult. And I felt in my bones that it was the wrong thing to do. I felt like I was making a mistake by severing, you know, my relationship with, with, with these business associates. And it turned out to be the best thing I ever I ever did.

Joe Perello (5m 51s):
It was the smartest thing I ever did because it put me on a path towards where I am today, right? Which is the co-founder of a software company, essentially in charge of my own destiny to a, to a large degree and un unencumbered by relationships that I didn't get. Yeah. So, but it was, it's really hard for me to do it at the time, but it's turned out to be the right thing to do.

Mark Graban (6m 16s):
Yeah. Now, did that mean leaving a company or did just Yeah,

Joe Perello (6m 20s):
Yeah. Meant leaving a company that I helped

Mark Graban (6m 23s):
Start. Okay. Just wanna make sure you, it meant leaving a company, not just sort of breaking off, Hey, I'm not gonna meet you for lunch every month anymore, or whatever the networking was. This was No,

Joe Perello (6m 32s):
I mean, I include those in there, but those are sort of easier. And I, and I have separated myself from certain people that I decided I wasn't going to invest any more time in this relationship. And again, and those were hard, they're hard to do because as a BizDev person, you're like, well, they could be a prospect one day. Like, they, they could turn into something. But I, I, I made this decision and my wife has actually been a, a big part of it, right? Because she's more tough when it comes to relationships with me. She's, you know, she's sort of has, she's more skeptical in a good way than I am.

Joe Perello (7m 16s):
I'm just like, no, everyone's great. It's all great. We're all gonna be fine.

Mark Graban (7m 20s):
Could be the mistake of being a little too trusted.

Joe Perello (7m 23s):
Yeah. Too, you know, I wouldn't, I don't, I wouldn't say trusting, but more willing to invest the time

Mark Graban (7m 29s):

Joe Perello (7m 30s):
Okay. In, into the relationship to see where it would come. So, but my wife's rubbed off on me in a, in a good way. Yeah.

Mark Graban (7m 38s):
So, so when you left that company, I mean, what were the reasons for doing so, and, and why would you do it if it felt like a mistake at the time?

Joe Perello (7m 47s):
Well, I mean, look, it's a work divorce, right? So divorces are hard, right? And I could have either said, no, I'm gonna make this work, or No, I'm gonna separate. And, and it was the right thing to do is separate because I wanted to go one way, you know, my, my, my colleagues wanted to go another way. The relationship was sort of deteriorating anyway, and it was the right thing to do. It was the right thing to do for them. It was the right thing to do for me. It, it was just really, really, really hard to do at time to say, I'm gonna separate.

Mark Graban (8m 21s):
Yeah. I mean, it sounds like it was painful. I mean, was was it just a question, and it sounds like you, you, you knew it was the right thing to do. Was there just fear of well, then what next was that not lined up clearly?

Joe Perello (8m 35s):
Totally. I had no idea what I was gonna do next. That's really where the fear was. It was like, all right, yeah, this prob relationship probably isn't working. I probably could make it work, but, and I don't have a safety net. Right. So that the fear stepped in big time. Right. And I did this at a point in my life where I had mortgages and private school and tuition and, you know, like, like most middle-aged guys have. Yeah.

Mark Graban (9m 5s):
So that sets some context where, I mean, what I hear you saying is it was necessary, but it was painful and created a lot of uncertainty. But when, how did you come to start viewing it as the best thing that happened to you? It was feeling like a mistake, or it was feeling really uncertain. Yeah. What, what happened next?

Joe Perello (9m 25s):
It's, it's so ironic how, how things happened. I mean, I remember taking the train home that day, just feeling really, really down. Like, this has ended. Not sure if I really like got anything out of the relationship. You know, I, I, I, of course I did, right in hindsight, but just downed. And a friend called me and is like, Hey, I, I came across this company and they're looking for a leader, and I thought you'd be great. You know, can I, you co-founder was like, that day, I, I was, I, I, I was on the train. And so, you know, I, I don't know if I sort of clung to that because I was so, you know, unclear on what I was gonna do.

Joe Perello (10m 11s):
But I, I ended up coming to meet the co-founders of what Props used to be. It's, it's, it's very, very different now. I mean, it's a different company, but I met the investors and they recruited me. And so that set me on this path. And, and so at that point, not soon after, I was like, wow, this is probably a good thing. I'm glad I se I'm glad I severed this relationship, but there was also other people that I've, I've, I've made this and I don't want you, I don't want you to, you know, make it seem like I'm just cutting people off left and right. I can count them on my, on one hand.

Joe Perello (10m 51s):
Sure. Like how many people I've said, okay, no more.

Mark Graban (10m 56s):
But these, I mean, you know, big decisions like these are difficult. I mean, there's the judgment call. If you think you're making the best decision in the moment. And then sometimes time reveals, okay, that was a mistake. I've had guests here talk about the mistake of leaving some job too soon and someone else will have a story about I stuck with that too long. Like, these are, yeah, I mean, it could be a mistake to stick with something, you know, do we stick with it? Do we say, look, it's not working and move on, move on. I mean, these, these are really difficult judgment calls. We might not have a hundred percent clarity before making a decision.

Joe Perello (11m 32s):
It's very hard, especially if you are a part of making the enterprise, because at some point it feels like you have to cut off the, like one of your fingers. And so the clouds are judgment a lot. You have personal pride, you know, is involved. I don't care, you know, if anyone has their ego in shack, you know, per your personal pride is plays a big role in this. Then there's the fear of the, of the uncertainty of the future, you know, and I, and then there's always, oh, someone's gonna judge my career. I'm like, none of that shit matters. Excuse me. None of that stuff matters.

Joe Perello (12m 12s):
You know, like I look back at it and I'm like, oh my God, I learned so much, like, so much of, of what I did, sort of running an advertising agency. I'm applying it, you know, every single day and teaching, you know, and teaching the, the younger staff that I have on, on how to manage clients and set their expectations the right way, right. And sort of say no to clients that I don't think are gonna pay out. All of that is so valuable in my, in my work today and, and teaching, you know, teaching my team how to, you know, sort of jump over the, the 15 years of me doing that.

Joe Perello (12m 54s):
Like if I could teach them how to do that in one, that'd be, that'd be great. Yeah.

Mark Graban (12m 59s):
So first off, not a huge mistake to say shit. That's fine. So I've seen

Joe Perello (13m 2s):
It once.

Mark Graban (13m 2s):
Now I don't think we need to mark the episode explicit for that. I appreciate you mentioning the learning joke. Cause that's really what the podcast here is meant to celebrate, right? It's not to make ourselves feel bad about the mistakes, but to celebrate the learning and the growth. And, and, and you're alluding to that and no, I guess I was gonna ask, you know, a follow up question, if that, if that previous situation was something you described as a work divorce, were there any kinda lessons learned or reflections or are there anything that you could do differently to prevent some of that Yeah. That situation popping up in the future or?

Joe Perello (13m 36s):
Yeah. I mean, the number, the first thing is, you know, you have to take responsibility for the relationships that you build. Like, you know, sort of in the heat of battle you could sort of lay blame on others. But, you know, I could have managed a relationship differently. That doesn't mean that the outcome may have been different, right? Right. But I, I looked and said, how could I have managed this relationship differently? And I could have absolutely positively changed things. So number one is I took responsibility for the relationships and how they worked out. Yeah,

Mark Graban (14m 13s):

Joe Perello (14m 13s):
Can. And I took a lot of lessons from that and said, okay, you know, it's, it can't always be one-sided. Sure, you have to protect your integrity and you have to protect sort of what you care about, but you also have to compromise, you know, every single day. And when I look back on things, I also, it's like, Hey, you know what? I wasn't willing to compromise on on certain things. And that certainly contributed to, you know, our relationship. And I took respon, I take responsibility for that. And it's also helped me, you know, in my new endeavor and saying, you know, you gotta take responsibility. You're not perfect. And other people's points of view matter, and, and it's very likely they're probably better and you should listen to them.

Joe Perello (14m 59s):

Mark Graban (14m 60s):
Yeah. I mean, you know, I No, I appreciate you sharing that. I mean, we can take responsibility for our own actions or our own inaction, like I said, a work relationship and a, in an organization, it's, it's more complex. It's like you said, you, you, you can take res, you can learn and, and, and do things differently. It doesn't mean the situation necessarily is gonna work out cuz other people have their role, they play if you made certain mistakes and you know, along the way, and they've also made mistakes.

Joe Perello (15m 32s):
Yeah. How do we, you know, you can only, you can only take a responsibility for your own behavior. You cannot control how everyone else is going to behave. And it actually sort of got me into like, which is like a craze today, but I started reading sort of Ryan Holiday sort of became popular at the time that I was going through this. And it was very appropriate, right? Because his whole approach to stoicism is focus on the things you can control. And it's always been a, it's always been sort of a mantra of mine, but at the time I started, you know, really taking that to heart. I had time I could read and, and that had made a big difference for me is, well, what can I control here?

Joe Perello (16m 18s):
And the only thing you control is your own behavior or your own reaction to what happens to you. You can't control other people's behavior. And so if you, a, you have to take responsibility for yourself and b you know, you can only control how you react to things. Right. And do your best.

Mark Graban (16m 37s):
Yeah, I think that's true. I mean, I think it's interesting within a team dynamic, if people are making mistakes, like I, I I, I think, you know, admitting a mistake if, if, if both sides are multiple parties within a team are willing to admit mistakes and, and work through it. I, I think that's probably helpful in terms of relationships. But if everyone sort of doubles down or digs in on their mistake, well, it's not, not, not my mistake. It's, you know, it's not, it's not mistake of what I said. It's your mistake and how you reacted to it, you know, that that could get dysfunctional

Joe Perello (17m 14s):
A hundred percent. And it's also, that has been a tenant of how we work at Props today. And it, you know, part of it is because I want to create an environment where, you know, you could be wrong. And, you know, our co-founder Oliver Blot feels the same way. And we try to, we, we don't always succeed, but we try to create an environment where people can propose things and, and, and be wrong. And we're wrong all the time. And sort of when we say, Hey, let's try this, let's try that, we could be wrong and we could be proven wrong.

Joe Perello (17m 58s):
We're like, yeah, we were wrong. Okay, move on. Yeah. Not the end of the world. You know what I mean? Right. We don't know everything. So I mean, it, look, it's harder when you've got younger staff because they don't wanna look bad. Right. Your team, they want, everyone wants to look good. I wanna look good. Everyone wants to look good. You don't wanna look stupid. So you really have to go outta your way to say, okay, there's no bad ideas. Everyone speak up. And then there's, then you sort of match that with the intensity of performing every day, right? So there's like, okay, I want everyone to speak up, but we also have to deliver for the client and therefore, you know, e either we perform or we're out.

Joe Perello (18m 45s):
So you have to manage the intensity of delivering results every day. And also sort of the openness of, of allowing people to come up with ideas. And it's, it's a balance. It's like you almost have to be, you know, you have to do the opposite every day because managing intense performance, you know, requires accountability and follow through and follow up and, you know, and creating a creative environment where you can be open means, you know, relaxing all those things. Right. Temporarily.

Mark Graban (19m 20s):
So. Well, I mean, it seems like if, if, if you don't go out of your way to create an environment where it's okay through your words and your actions where it's okay to try new things that don't work out. How, how can there be creativity if people are in constant fear of being wrong or constant fear of making a mistake? It can't happen. Right?

Joe Perello (19m 40s):
Then the other thing here is you also have to have people that have a little bit of a thicker skid. Like, like, it's not personal because you can't just walk around and say, okay, we're all sort of snowflakes here. And you're always right. You're, you know, you also have to sort of manage, you know, merge it with Yes. But we have to perform at the end of the day. Yeah. So if you come up with an idea and you were wrong, you have to be able to say, Hey, that that wasn't right. I would do it this way next time. And sort of, and still have the same level of enthusiasm going forward. If you propose something and it didn't work out, you know, you can't shrink.

Joe Perello (20m 24s):
You have to be able to have the fortitude to come back and say, well, now I'm gonna come back smarter and not lose any sense of confidence. And that, and that just comes from not taking things personally.

Mark Graban (20m 35s):
So, so how do you help encourage that as a leader you're working with, with younger people? Are there, are there things you can do or your co-founder can do to help them bounce back?

Joe Perello (20m 45s):
Yeah, so we have rules now in our meetings, right? So we have daily performance meetings where we only talk about the performance and, and then we have meetings where it's more open, like where there's, it's anything's, anything's allowable. And then we have sort of quarterly meetings where it's like, there's no rules. You could propose anything, you've gotta think it through. You can't just like, oh, well I think we should do this, well gotta make the case. And so we, but, but what's funny is Oliver and I are the ones that, that have to discipline ourselves not to get off track.

Joe Perello (21m 29s):
Like, oh, we're the ones who violate the rules the most time.

Mark Graban (21m 35s):
So you could be wrong

Joe Perello (21m 37s):
As we're, yes. Well, we're the ones who say, well, you know, we get off track and we try and focus on daily performance when we're doing a brainstorming thing because we look, we wanna win, right? But I think the thing that we say the most for the whole team is, I don't wanna be right. I just wanna win. That's what we say over and over and over again. I don't, I don't, I don't wanna be right. I just want to win. Yeah.

Mark Graban (22m 10s):
Well, and I, I think, I mean this, this idea of wanting to be right or needing to be right, I mean, if, if you, you, I think it all connects where you talk about an environment where you can be wrong. Like I'm playing around with different subtitles for the book I'm writing, kind of inspired by the podcast here. And one phrase, I don't know if it makes a good subtitle, is something like, how getting it wrong helps us get it right. Because that environment where you can be wrong leads to improvement. I mean, you're talking about wins, like learning from small losses leads to wins. So you think the football analogy, you, you come out play the game, you got a certain strategy on offenses.

Mark Graban (22m 53s):
Yeah. You're getting stoned. You've gotta learn from that, right? And those small losses, the first couple times you have the ball could lead to an adjustment that then leads the game. So the worst criticism, you know, of a football coach or of a business owner is like being stubborn. Like, well, we had our game plan and we just needed to execute it better. At some point you need to say the game plan was a mistake and pivot. Right?

Joe Perello (23m 16s):
A hundred percent. Especially today. So look, I was, I grew up sort of as a direct marketer, right? And direct marketers, it's just test and learn and test and learn. So, you know, you just to say you run nine campaigns, eight of them failed, one of them was a winner, and now you're now, so you want

Mark Graban (23m 36s):
Oh, interesting.

Joe Perello (23m 37s):
Yeah. And so in, in, you know, the digital marketing, digital media landscape, we are in the direct response business. And so you, you can't just, you're not gonna pick a winner tomorrow. You're gonna, you're gonna test 10 things, seven of them are gonna fail, and you're only gonna have spent a little bit of money on those seven, three of 'em are gonna win it, and you're gonna have unlocked a new audience and you're gonna unlock success if you don't go in, you have to go in it like, okay, most of these things are gonna fail, and you put the guardrails on there so you don't, so you don't blow the whole enterprise up with those seven failures.

Joe Perello (24m 20s):
And that's how, that's direct response marketing one-on-one. I try to apply that to sort of, everything that we do is you've gotta test and learn it. You know, though it's a Silicon Valley mantra, fail fast and sheep, same idea. And I think that has proliferated most of our culture today way more than it existed when I entered the workforce, you know, in, in the nineties. Yeah. It was, if you fail, you stick.

Mark Graban (24m 51s):
Say that again. If you failed you

Joe Perello (24m 53s):
And Yeah, when I, when I started in the workforce, it was, if you fail, you stay. Yeah. And today, if you fail and you come away with the lessons and how you can apply it, then you've won

Mark Graban (25m 5s):
Ah, okay.

Joe Perello (25m 7s):
Provided that you can execute better the next time.

Mark Graban (25m 11s):
That's the learning. Right. So I mean, it seems, I love that idea of test and learn. You're right. Entrepreneurship, lean startup methodologies talk about, you know, testing your hypothesis. At some point you're shifting from opinions that lead to a hypothesis, and then at some point that gets replaced with data. And hundred percent, I mean, how, how do you fight the urge? I mean, I imagine someone sees the early returns, if you will, like, well, we just need to give it more time. Like there's a judgment call of like, how much data is enough to decide that that strategy is winning or losing? Or does that become pretty obvious if, if you're actually looking at data

Joe Perello (25m 47s):
In the digital marketing space? It is, I think it's easy because you have so many different options. You have so many different audiences. It's like, it's almost like you can't really screw up major league if you, if you switch gears too early, you know what I mean? It's, it's not, we're not making Super Bowl commercials here. Right. That you could really,

Mark Graban (26m 14s):
That's a big, that's a big bang.

Joe Perello (26m 16s):
You could screw that up pretty big, you know? Yeah. But in the world of sort of direct response marketing and content marketing, like, you know, when we do, when we publish and promote content from our clients' websites, we'll pretty much promote four or five stories from four or five different independent experts. And two of them probably aren't gonna work. But we've only spent three grand on that. And so the clients are sort of, they're like, wow, it's great. I thought this was gonna work. Awesome. It doesn't work, but these three others work and we only spend a few thousand bucks on that. Right.

Mark Graban (26m 55s):

Joe Perello (26m 56s):
So there's, you know, there's really never a disaster in my mind. The only disaster is if you don't pay attention.

Mark Graban (27m 3s):
Yeah. Yeah. So I wanna learn a little bit more about Props. And you, you mentioned the company had pivoted. Maybe tell us a little bit about the pivot and, and tell us more about what it is that, that you and Props do today.

Joe Perello (27m 18s):
Sure. So when I was recruited here by the investors, there was really no business plan. There was this sort of, this like vague idea of essentially medium with brand sponsorship, and it was very creator focused and not really brand focused. So, so basically I was just like, like, there's nothing here. We're just gonna blow this up, and the only thing that's really valuable are the investors. And so I was like, all right, I'll figure this out. And we came up with this idea, and I had always been married to this idea of, if you bet on authentic content in any form, my bet was you're always gonna win if you, if you don't dilute that idea, right?

Joe Perello (28m 18s):
So we came from the world to sort of influencers, right? And branded content. And we are, I, we assured that we're like, that's not who we are. What we're going to do is we're going to bring the credibility and authenticity of journalism to the world of direct response marketing. Okay? That's, that was really the idea. We're also gonna do this using sort of the attractiveness of independent content creators. That that's, everyone was sort of being drawn to these influencers, because like I said, they, if one of them didn't work, you'd just use another one.

Joe Perello (28m 60s):
Now, we don't go that far. We spend a lot more time curating the content creators, right? But that, that was the ideas attractiveness of we're leveraging this gig economy. Then we departed big time from the original idea, and we said, there's no medium, there's no Props, there's no website where we're gonna drive people to. We're gonna put the content where it matters most, which is on the brand's website directly. Okay. Seems simple. You know, when we proposed this to the, our prospective, they were like, what you gonna put it on my website?

Joe Perello (29m 43s):
Like how Yes. It's gonna be on your website. So it's gonna be a, a story made by someone who has probably written for the Wall Street Journal or Conde Nast Traveler. Like, so they're legit. What I say is your, your mom thinks these people are talented. Yeah. Put it that way. Yeah. Number two, they're gonna write about subject matter that is related to what you do, but not you. So they would say, well, where's my brand? You don't need your brand in the story because it's on your website. Oh, okay. Got it. How are you gonna get people to read it? Great question. We're gonna promote it with paid media and we're gonna promote it through the author.

Joe Perello (30m 26s):
Right? This is when sort of whitelisting was totally brand new, and we really had to explain that idea of whitelisting a person and spending paid media dollars to promote their story. So now Props is now four years old. We've got more than a dozen clients. We've proven this model over and over and over and over again. And essentially what we do is we, we publish and promote authentic content directly from our clients' websites, and we promote it through the author reaching the audiences that are going to respond at the highest rate for that content. I'll give you a real easy example.

Joe Perello (31m 7s):
So one of our clients is College Ave. Student Loans. Awesome company pioneering in the college, in the student lending space. Great. Inter a great journey, all digital, it's really smart. They wanna reach parents of high school seniors between the months of April and June and only in those months. So, and they don't wanna reach the students, right? Because the students don't have the credit to back the loan. So we need to reach the parents. So simple. Our content creators have all written books on how to get into college, how to deal with your kids when they go into college, how to manage your kids' process of getting into college.

Joe Perello (31m 54s):
It's all about parenting for the high school kid who's about to go to college. And they're, they've all written books, they're all former authors. And so, you know, five tips for how to get into college, what to do when your, your kid is worried about college, managing all the stress around that. So number one is the kids never click on that article. Sure. Cause it's for parents. Yeah. Two is, the parents always click on that article because they're stressed out about, you know, this crazy process. Yeah. And, and that's how we attract people in. We never talk about college. We're only talking about, about the process and the stress and the solutions for how to manage your kid when they're about to go to college.

Joe Perello (32m 41s):
And this has proven to unlock audiences that would normally ignore the ad.

Mark Graban (32m 47s):
Yeah, that's smart. So

Joe Perello (32m 49s):
It sounds like now now they're being introduced to College Ave and now they're, they become a prospect for maybe I'll, maybe I'll use college a too. Yeah. It's proven to be that the, one of the most efficient ways for college a to source new loans.

Mark Graban (33m 6s):
Yeah. Well that's great. And being digital, and you can look at the, the data and the impact there, but yeah, it sounds like there was this kind of, this old mindset of people think, well, I need articles written about me, my firm in other places then, then people will come to my site. Well, who cares about me? They care about their problem and their situation and Yes. You know, and, and then I'm sure through, like you said, paid promotion or good old Google search results, if you can, if you can figure that out, that's gonna bring people to the website. And that content builds trust. It's informative and like, oh, college ab student loans seem like helpful

Joe Perello (33m 48s):
People. Well, you nailed it. You nailed it with the trust. You nailed it with the trust is this is a trust. This is, you're setting a relationship up based on trust and authenticity. And, and the biggest shift in marketers minds is to think like a publisher, right? Because a, a marketer, you said it, mark, you said, the marketers like me first. Right? Where's my brand? Where's my offer? Me, me, me, me, me, the way the publisher thinks is audience. What does the audience want to read? How do I engage the audience, audience, audience, audience, audience. And that everything is engineered based on the audience.

Joe Perello (34m 32s):
So we let brands think like a publisher, but the audience first since the content's on the website. And then the brand can be me first. Me too. Like, they have to, they have, they gotta drive a commercial result. So the model is set up so that brands can actually think like publishers and still get a return. And that's why the paid media is so important. Yeah.

Mark Graban (34m 58s):
So I know you, you, you focus here on authenticity. Are are there mistakes that marketers make? Like, is is what's the more, the more common problems just being inauthentic or failed attempts at authenticity? Probably now that I'm saying that out loud, like if you're trying too hard to be authentic, it, it's probably not authentic.

Joe Perello (35m 18s):
Yeah. So that's a good question. We set up our platform to protect authenticity without forcing it. And it seems at first risky, and I'll explain. So when we curate writers and, and photographers and filmmakers, we do it all with an a and r team. Like imagine a record label. They have an a and r team. We have an a and r team, right? And they're out there looking for new talent and they use, you know, manual searches with some art, with some AI to curate a group of content creators that are going to resonate.

Joe Perello (36m 3s):
They think the best towards the subject matter, whether we're writing for FTD or writing for AAA, or we're making content for a bank or student lending. They're curating content creators that they think are gonna tell the best story that's relevant to this audience. Number two, the creators actually come up with the ideas that they're gonna write about. All we do is say, Hey, you know, parents are dealing with these three issues and college ad would like to hear your thoughts on these three issues. And the creators pitch the ideas themselves. And we've created this sort of virtual edit meeting where the clients can actually see these pitch ideas and they can, and they pick one.

Joe Perello (36m 51s):
So we're not in the middle of it. We're not, and the client's not dictating anything. So that's number one is the, the stories are from the experts themselves. Number two is the client. I mean, I'm sorry, the creators, technically they have final cut. So a client can certainly make suggestions on what they, how they want to edit. If those are reasonable suggestions, they're get, they'll get paid. But the creator can say, I'm not gonna publish that. I'm not gonna make those edits. And because we have clients, we need to serve them. We, we make sure that there's another creator that will fill those shoes.

Joe Perello (37m 32s):
So we protect the integrity of the creator, right? But also respect the commercial need of the client. Yeah. And that's where we sort of create this authenticity at every step of the way.

Mark Graban (37m 47s):
Well, Joe, I think you've been really authentic with us today and kind of talking through your story professionally and, and learning from mistakes and, and, and working there at, at Props. So I'll give you Props for that. I guess I had to be said, it's not that creative.

Joe Perello (38m 3s):
You wouldn't be, you

Mark Graban (38m 4s):
Wouldn't be the first. I know. But you could go to Props.Co not, don't make the mistake of going to Go to and you can learn more about Joe and, and Props and their approach. And let, let me ask one other question here. If you indulge me. Like, that time working for George Steinberger, I mean such, such a legendary persona, but those of us in the public may be making the mistake of being fooled by, you know, kind of the, the persona or Larry David mocking him and, and Seinfeld and like that, you know, that, that, that, you know, do we make the mistake of confusing the legend with the person?

Mark Graban (38m 45s):
I'm curious what, what reflections you might have that you could share with us about George Steinbrenner.

Joe Perello (38m 51s):
I think that, well, first I miss him dearly. I really do miss him. And working for him was a highlight of my career. Number two is the thing that I learned from George the most. The boss was what it really takes to win. What does it really take to win at anything, let alone major league baseball. And, and he, you know, his behavior and drive really showed me, this is what you have to do to win.

Joe Perello (39m 31s):
And it's not easy and you need diligence and persistence, you know, and you gotta pull yourself up. So I, the number one thing I learned from George is here's what it takes to win. Cause I came from a corporate environment and, you know, great experience at MB a America, amazing experience. But I was protected. They were, there were pe there, there were people around me that also wanted to win, but they were, they would help. And they had coaching. I had, you know, I had help. And then you go into an environment, you know, in the South Bronx at the Yankees, and I don't wanna say it was every man for himself, but it was an environment where you had to perform.

Joe Perello (40m 17s):
And if you didn't perform, nobody else was gonna be there to perform. And thankfully I learned really fast and did, you know, really great work for George and loved working. And the team, you know, the other side of this is, this is the New York Yankees. So, you know, was it me a little bit, but it was mostly the Yankees, you know, it was mostly the Yankees. You know, did I get some extra revenue for the boss that he maybe wouldn't have gotten? Of course I did. I I absolutely did. But you know, look, it's the New York Yankee. So yeah. Could I have done that for the twins? I don't know. Maybe, maybe a little bit.

Joe Perello (40m 58s):
But the boss was a unique guy. Incredibly generous. I, I'll tell you a quick story. You know, the boss would get really upset when you did stupid stuff. And rightfully he did stupid stuff. He would get upset if you made big mistakes. Like you tried hard and you swung big and you missed, he would be right there. Hey kid, listen, you tried it, huh? Good job. You know? Okay, we'll get him next time. Like, I was real. I thought I was dead. I made, you know, I made some big mistakes with honest, tried hard, swung and, and missed.

Joe Perello (41m 42s):
And he was there like, wow, we're gonna get him, we're gonna get him next time. Kid, kid. Cause I was a kid

Mark Graban (41m 50s):
Was a difference between, well, you know, not all fail, you know, we talk about learning from mistakes and learning from failure, but I would argue not all failure is created equal. You, you alluded to this earlier, the failed Super Bowl commercial versus a failed experiment on a direct campaign. Did, do you think he distinguished between the stupid thing that shouldn't have even been tried versus, well, here, here's an idea. Everyone thought was good, but we just didn't execute or just didn't pan out and that's where he was

Joe Perello (42m 18s):
Supportive. Yes. Yes. Absolutely. He would, you know, he cared about rules and you wanted to follow the rules, and if you didn't follow the rules in terms of like day to day, he would be upset with you. And, and I certainly broke some of the rules by impulsivity, you know, or just because I was immature. But no, not, not enough to, to really irk 'em. And also my performance was, was great, right? The team's performance was good. We were making money, George is happy. There were big things that we tried to do, and some of it we succeeded wildly.

Joe Perello (42m 58s):
And George wouldn't always give you credit, but you knew he, he knew. And then there were things where you tried and where you like failed miserably. And he, and, and he knew what you were trying to do, knew you were trying to, you know, further the team and, and he was there to pick you up and encourage you. And those are the times I remember about George the most is wow. When, when you really tried to swing big and you, and you failed and he was there because he knew he wanted you to go out and do it again, try again. Maybe you'd succeed the next time. And he didn't want you to be discouraged, you know, because you thought you were gonna get yelled at. Yeah. Unless you did something stupid.

Joe Perello (43m 38s):
Yeah. And then he would yell at you. Yeah.

Mark Graban (43m 42s):
Oh, well thank, thank you Joe for painting, you know, a more complete picture. I, I, I figured, I figured the, the, the, the caricature on Seinfeld was, was, was, was just that a caricature? But you know, it's interesting to look and, and, and, and see, I looked this up. So I grew up a Yankees fan when a lot of the or not, I, I grew up not a Yankees fan, I grew up a Detroit Tigers fan. But this was all happening in the Bronx Zoo in the first 23 seasons of owning the team, he changed managers 20 times. Steinbrenner did. Billy Martin alone was fired and rehired five times.

Joe Perello (44m 16s):

Mark Graban (44m 17s):
What a fascinating dynamic there of,

Joe Perello (44m 20s):
Well, I was fired twice by George.

Mark Graban (44m 22s):
You were?

Joe Perello (44m 24s):
Yes. And people said, look, if you didn't get fired then you're not trying hard enough. So I was like, oh, that's something

Mark Graban (44m 32s):
So fired. Twice, so fired, rehired, fired, and then

Joe Perello (44m 36s):
Rehired. Yeah.

Mark Graban (44m 37s):
Then you, then you left voluntarily. So rehired twice.

Joe Perello (44m 40s):
Yes. Yeah, yeah. Okay. Yes. I, I left to go try my hand at the internet with David Bowie was the, that's what lured me away to try and get rich really quick with the internet

Mark Graban (44m 53s):
Back in the com,

Joe Perello (44m 54s):
Which doesn't Yeah, that never happens. Yeah, it was too late. I got the net, got the com. Wow.

Mark Graban (45m 1s):
Well, Joe, wow, this has been fascinating. There's, there's so much more I wish I could ask you, but I appreciate you for your time today and everything that you have shared with us, I will encourage people to go check out Learn more about what Joe and his team there are doing. And, and, and thank you again for sharing. I think some really interesting, you know, and nuanced perspectives about the late George Steinbrenner, The Boss. So thank you. Thank you again. You got it. Really appreciate it, Joe. Thank you.

Joe Perello (45m 32s):
Alright, Mark, take care. Thank you. Proud.

Mark Graban (45m 34s):
Well, thanks again to Joe Parlo for being our guest today and for sharing so many interesting stories and insights with us. To learn more about him and his company Props, look for links in the show notes or go online, As always, I want to thank you for listening. I hope this podcast inspires you to reflect on your own mistakes, how you can learn from them or turn them into a positive. I've had listeners tell me they started being more open and honest about mistakes in their work, and they're trying to create a workplace culture where it's safe to speak up about problems because that leads to more improvement and better business results. If you have feedback or a story to share, you can email me

Mark Graban (46m 17s):
And again, our website is

Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus. He is also a Senior Advisor and Director of Strategic Marketing with the healthcare advisory firm, Value Capture.