A 12-year veteran of the marketing industry, Brian Salzman originally sought out a career in Hollywood, working as both a celebrity assistant and producer. But after years of watching celebs toss away products that brands sent them and attending events where the elite would come to support a product they had no interest in, Salzman knew there had to be another way to marry brands with influencers.
As founder and CEO of RQ Media Group, Salzman is now doing exactly that, working with major brands to hone their approaches to influencer marketing in a more honest and authentic way. As part of that effort, he created a formula for an “RQ,” similar to an IQ, which measures a brand’s relationship intelligence.
Read on for our conversation.
CMO.com: You started your career in Hollywood. How did you transition to marketing?
Salzman: It was a natural evolution. The politics of big Hollywood really turned me off, and I met a guy who said, “Look, there’s a solution of how Hollywood and advertising play together.” This was 13 years ago, so it was definitely way before everyone started talking about it. I had this intuition that there’s a better way to do it in terms of how brands play with Hollywood, and then obviously evolving beyond Hollywood to culture, in general, so film, TV, music, sports.
CMO.com: How did those experiences in L.A. prepare you for doing this?
Salzman: What I noticed right away is that Hollywood is a pay-to-play model. The lack of authenticity when a celebrity works with a brand is kind of shocking. I knew that if there was a real relationship between a brand and a celebrity per se, the money would be so much greater over a long period of time than a one-time paycheck. I saw this from working as a celebrity assistant and working within the film studio system. I saw that a transactional relationship could be bountiful.
CMO.com: How did this lead to the genesis of RQ?
Salzman: We turned 1 year old on Feb. 1. Spending many years in the brand world at different companies, at different agencies, that pay-to-play model became very frustrating. The fundamentals of marketing are connecting with consumers and building relationships with consumers. The conversations I was having with high-level marketing executives was, “Where is that honesty?” Are we lying to consumers by paying someone to be in a commercial who’ll never use your product? This led me to really articulate and create this new form of consulting that helps brands create that honesty again.
CMO.com: Tell me about the origins of the relationship intelligence. How can it help brands be successful?
Salzman: In the marketing world that we live in, everything is a metric. Everything is about data and success and ROI, but it’s hard to connect data to a human relationship. Human networks are invaluable to word of mouth, invaluable to success, and all that fun stuff, but there was a lack of something measuring it. You use Nielsen’s for ratings for TV. You use impressions for PR, and you use different methods for different marketing tactics, but there really wasn’t one for word of mouth, so what we’ve done is worked with some data scientists out of Silicon Valley and come up with a metric measuring human social networks, as well as the value they bring. This is an RQ score. The RQ is still being developed ... but we’re super excited it’s a tool that we think will revolutionize the industry to be able to put a number or a metric against the value of a relationship.
CMO.com: This is a metric that most companies aren’t familiar with yet. What is the conversation like with a new client? When you lay out goals in the beginning, what are you talking about?
Salzman: The fun thing for me is that every brand has a PR company, an experiential company, a creative agency, a social agency. They don’t have a relationship agency, and so the first thing I say is, “Who owns your relationships? Definitely not you as a brand. It’s your agency.” The first thing that we say is we want to help them centralize their relationships but then have them own them, and that gets them excited. And the second thing is about honesty. In this day and age, brands are being forced to stand for something—not necessarily political—but consumers want to invest their money in or spend their money with brands they connect with. (In) talking with CMOs and our clients, honesty is really important.
We, as RQ, have amazing relationships with the pop-culture industry, film, TV, music, fashion, arts, and sports. I’ve built that with my team of 20 people who all come from those industries, so having that intelligence is important, but we don’t sell our Rolodex. We sell strategy on how to connect with those people and are very real with our clients on the value of honesty and owning relationships. That’s usually how this conversation starts.
CMO.com: When companies come to you, are they doing things wrong, or is your solution just a new way of thinking?
Salzman: I don’t like to say someone’s doing something wrong, but I think there’s a way of doing things better. I think our industry is becoming one of, “Quick, check the boxes. We’ve got to get this done. We’ve got to get this many likes. We’ve got to get this event off the ground.” That’s just the nature of marketing. It’s real-time, and it’s moving fast. What we’re doing is always on, and it takes time to build those relationships, so having the marketer who believes in the longer-term relationship and the longer-term vision of these type of programs will autocorrect what’s going on. You’re always going to pay celebrities, and you’re always going to pay for events, but we’re saying pay the right people. Pay people who actually use your product or love your product, and I think finding a balance between what’s currently going on and what we believe will be the key to success.
CMO.com: Can you name some of the companies you’ve worked with and give me an example of what you’ve done for them?
Salzman: There’s Google, Airbnb, and Samsung. Using Samsung as an example from a home appliance side, for the first time ever we were able to identify people who aren’t necessarily chefs but are influencers--people who are redoing their homes and are actually using Samsung Home Appliances. The brand is building relationships with a dozen people who have not been paid. We’ve been building relationships for Samsung Home Appliances for about six months now, and as they start to roll out new products in Q2, Q3, we’ll start activating those authentic relationships. I think it’s been great for Samsung to see how people react to those appliances. What interests them? It’s been driving other agencies to utilize these people.
CMO.com: How do you differentiate from other agencies?
Salzman: I live in Los Angeles. Our agency is based in Los Angeles. There are dime-a-dozen agencies that connect brands with celebrities, that connect brands with social media influencers. How we’re different is we’re connecting them with people who actually care about the brand and are helping them with a system that we’ve created that helps them pick those people and work with them until they get to that point. We are truly the essence of passionate people who want to see movement for our brand clients. We are 100% always on because that’s what relationships are.