Get out of your comfort zone as much as possible. When I’m about to do something that makes me nervous, I always tell myself that it’s a good thing! How often are we doing things that make us nervous? Being out of your comfort zone is where the most growth happens.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ray Powell. Ray serves as the CEO of Stir Brands + Entertainment. Stir is a highly specialized consultancy dedicated to generating ad revenue for digital publishers and content creators. His expertise in digital marketing and content monetization, as well as his forward-thinking approach to the evolving digital media sales landscape, compelled him to launch the firm in 2018.
Ray operates seamlessly between two major entertainment hubs — Los Angeles and Nashville. Under his leadership his client roster continues to grow and has included Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, WatchMojo, Moonbug, GoldieBlox, The Try Guys, Whistle Sports, Merrell Twins, Lip Smacker, Kin Community and many more. Stir has most recently been recognized for outstanding work by the Streamy Awards.
Prior to joining Stir, Ray honed his skills at AwesomenessTV as the Global Head of Entertainment Brand Partnerships, Twentieth Century Fox as the VP of Global Brand Partnerships and The Walt Disney Company as the Director of Strategic Marketing and Promotions. He garnered additional experience at Davie Brown Entertainment, Mattel, Nestlé and LiveNation.
Ray earned his MBA at USC’s Marshall School of Business. He resides in Nashville with his wife and two young children.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Looking back I realize that my career is a neat, little progression of steps — one decision lead to another opportunity and then another. It’s kind of like I was guided by an invisible hand that always seemed to push me in the right direction.
Somehow I’ve always found myself at the intersection of brands and entertainment. I started my career as a marketing coordinator at a jazz magazine called Jazziz, handling jazz festival partnerships. That quickly morphed into starting my very first company managing music artists and producing concerts and music festivals. During that time, I began working with brands to sponsor my bands and their concerts and one of my first brand partners was Jagermeister. I developed a really strong relationship with the Jagermeister brand team, and then they hired me to handle the promotions for the very first national Jagermeister Music Tour. After being on the road for a while, I decided that the road life wasn’t for me. But I had yet to figure out what I was passionate about, so I did what most folks do in that situation. . .
I went back to school.
After that, things happened pretty quickly for the next few years.
A move to LA to attend USC’s Marshall School of Business led to me being recruited to Mattel as a Brand Manager where I worked on Disney and Warner Bros. licensed games. Then I joined an entertainment marketing agency, Davie Brown Entertainment, and led their SiriusXM Radio account. While at Davie Brown Entertainment I had my first full-circle career moment — I eventually pitched (and won!) the Jagermeister Music Tours account where I literally ran the show that I had been working promotions for years before. That was one of those moments where even if I didn’t know where I would ultimately end up, I knew I was moving in the right direction.
My boss at Davie Brown left the company to oversee marketing at Disney’s Walt Disney Records. Once he landed, he offered me a position to run brand partnerships for the Disney Music Group. At Disney, I found myself matching up brands and artists again, this time on a global stage. I partnered global brands like Samsung, Kellogg and AT&T with Disney artists like Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez or Disney soundtracks like ‘Frozen.’
I eventually left to join 20th Century Fox on the film side of the business — a new aspect of entertainment for me. I oversaw Global Brand Partnerships and coordinated a team throughout the world in 20+ countries, aligning global and regional brands both domestic and international with Fox’s film releases.
My stint at Fox prepared me for AwesomenessTV, which was exploding as a red-hot player in the multi-channel network and burgeoning influencer marketing space. I ran the entertainment brand partnerships team and was enjoying it, but I started to realize that my priorities were changing. I had gotten married and my wife and I were starting a family.
I knew that I wanted freedom, flexibility and independence. That became more important to me than globe-trotting or ascending higher on the corporate ladder. So, I set out on my second entrepreneurial endeavor and established my own firm, Stir Brands+Entertainment. That’s where I am today.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
As I mentioned, one of the main reasons for starting my own shop was so that I could have the flexibility to spend more time with my family. At that time, our young family consisted of myself, my wife and our one-year-old daughter. I was barely getting going with my first client when my wife and I found out we were having another baby. We weren’t tied to a particular physical location, we wanted more space, and were open to something new. So, we decided to move from Los Angeles to Nashville once the baby was born.
Fast forward 9 months and everything seemed to be happening at once. My son had just been born, my business was thriving, I had acquired multiple new clients, we were trying to sell our LA home while buying a Nashville home, I couldn’t take time off, and it was just me running every aspect of the company alone.
While I tend to thrive under pressure, I really felt the weight of EVERYTHING on my shoulders. I no longer had a full-time job with paternity leave (let alone benefits), I had several new clients that I had worked hard to bring on and also had to figure out a cross-country move with a newborn and a toddler. It was a bit overwhelming, I’ll have to admit. It’s true when they say to surround yourself with good people, and all I can say is ‘thank God for grandmas!’
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I’ve always heard ‘bet on yourself’ and take that to heart. Knowing that everything is riding on me with no one else to blame, I am willing to keep rolling the dice and write my own ticket. I remind myself that, yes, times get hard, but times get hard in any job. At least on this path my satisfaction level is through the roof.
I can work from virtually anywhere and I can enjoy this incredible flexibility and more time with my two small children. In the back of my mind I know that if I choose to, I can scale my client load down, work part-time, or take a year off and come back to it all later. The fact that I have these amazing options free from the constraints of full-time employment is what keeps me going.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self regarding life lessons, things you would like him to know what would they be and why?
There are so many things I would tell my younger self, but here are the few that stand out the most.
- Don’t underestimate the value of your tenacity. I feel like most of my success can be attributed to bouncing back and sticking it out. Most people quit too early. Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
- Don’t be afraid to make audacious requests. I’ve learned that no one is going to give you anything if you don’t ask, and you’d be surprised at what people will give you if you do. When I toured with bands, we ate for free at more than 30 locations of a famous national restaurant around the country. All because I’d just ask the manager. We were turned down only once, and one split the bill with us. Don’t be afraid to ask.
- Do what you enjoy. Your life will be much sweeter if you’re stoked to wake up and tackle it each day.
- Set and achieve personal, adult goals. How can you better yourself, learn new skills, or master interesting hobbies? I chose to get a pilot’s license and become a craft beer brewer (which I later one multiple awards for!)
- Bet on yourself. You are the last person that you’ll let down, and we are all way more creative and resourceful than we give ourselves credit for. When push comes to shove, you’ll be surprised at what you can do.
- Get out of your comfort zone as much as possible. When I’m about to do something that makes me nervous, I always tell myself that it’s a good thing! How often are we doing things that make us nervous? Being out of your comfort zone is where the most growth happens.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What I think makes Stir stand out most is that we specialize in one amazing thing — helping digital publishers and creators monetize content. We’re the best at it and there’s no one exactly like us. (Not we’re the best at it because there is no one like us! That’s an important distinction.)
Before starting Stir, I noticed that a lot of agencies work hard to try to be everything for everyone. I originally planned to incorporate all of the skills I’d gained in my career into Stir. But, I quickly discovered that there was a high demand for our company’s highly specialized skills in digital and social video, especially amongst small to midsize companies that NEED exactly what we do. Demand is outstripping supply right now, even when things are super uncertain for a lot of people. I don’t take that for granted in the slightest.
My experience in this is less of a specific example and more along the lines of something I’ve learned along the way, let yourself be the leaf in the stream and allow yourself to be guided along. Not fighting against the current helped Stir become what it is today!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
- Plan your work schedule and the tasks that you want to accomplish. It will allow your mind to rest easier.
- Have a solid Friday afternoon and plan your next week before the end of the day. It will help you have a more enjoyable weekend and allow you to take a much needed break. Plus, it will reduce the Sunday night dread feeling.
- Take calls outside when possible. It’s too easy to get shut in all day, and who says you need to be inside?
- Everything is a matter of perspective. Have gratitude for the things you have or the opportunities you are given.
- Do your best work, and feel satisfied knowing that you can’t give any more.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There have been more than a few in my life, but one that stands out is Rick Zeiler. Rick was the Marketing Director at Jagermeister when I was managing bands in the early days. He’s not only responsible for giving me my first brand partnership as a sponsor for my artists, but for later hiring me to go on the road as an assistant on the first national Jagermeister Music Tour. If not for him, I wouldn’t have made some of the amazing connections that have carried me along in my career.
The experience with Jagermeister introduced me to people behind the scenes at Live Nation, which led to me getting hired as the tour manager for an NBA tour, and later as an introduction to the head of Davie-Brown Entertainment. It was at Davie Brown, years after the first Jager Music Tour that I pitched Rick to be the Executive Producer of the Jagermeister Music Tour Program. Rick took a huge chance on me, hiring me to run the tours, soup-to-nuts, which led to numerous sold-out national concert tours featuring rock acts like KoRn and Pennywise, and country artists like Eric Church.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
This was a challenging question for me to answer because initially I had a different perspective on what “goodness” meant. I thought it was acts of charity, but then I thought about it a bit more. “Goodness” can be as simple as how you want to show up in the world and in the lives of people around you every day — your family, your friends, your co-workers and your clients.
With that in mind, I’m bringing goodness into the world by being as useful as I can to everyone around me. I try to actively add to people’s lives, instead of taking from them. Everything I do, I make sure that I have a clear conscience at the end of the day. I strive to be a good human being, be a better person than I was yesterday and the day before and, honestly, just be a good example for my kids.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Your time is the most valuable asset. Find people, freelancers and part-timers to do as much as possible for you in order to allow you to focus on the key “money making activity” of your business. For me, I’ve found that I can quickly get distracted by some aspect of the business that may be “more fun” than the hard tasks, but not as critical to the business. I enjoy putting presentations and pitch decks together for our brand pitches, but I’ve realized that my time can be better applied to other areas in the process.
- The “downs” can be as big as the “ups”, just keep riding the wave. The wins are exhilarating, but the set-backs can be gut-wrenching. I’m pitching brand partnerships day in and day out, and it can sometimes feel like I’m hitting a brick wall each time. But things seem to go in waves, and a string of wins can follow just when you finally think you’ve lost your touch. Just keep riding the wave.
- Of course it’s hard. It sounds cliche, but if it were easy, everybody would be doing it. Creating earth-moving partnerships between brands and content creators is hard. We’re not selling widgets, we’re selling human process, culture and audience attention to advertisers, and there are a hundred things that can go wrong along the way. Our clients rely on our experience developing these partnerships and understanding the pitfalls that can happen before they materialize. The end results are fantastic, but it is usually never a completely smooth road.
- You’re not expected to know all of the answers, the key is to be resourceful enough to know where to find them and to act on them efficiently. The digital media landscape changes quickly. To be relevant for brands, we have to continuously pivot along with it, which means knowing the cultural trends and how best to leverage each social platform given the changing benefits and limitations of each. As with any CEO, I don’t always have all the answers, but I recognize that winners are smart enough to find the answers they need to problem-solve quickly.
- Try to keep a good perspective on your overall situation. You chose this route for a reason. Have fun with the advantages it provides. Otherwise you might as well get a job.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d like to see the world’s Content Creators take more responsibility for what is being put out into the world. We need more positive content. Too many publishers are chasing algorithms with mean-spirited pranks, negative content, and fail videos. Mental health is a crisis issue and the net negativity that we are consuming is feeding into this. We have a generation of kids that are growing up consuming an endless stream of unfiltered content from poorly lit environments, which is affecting how they see the world and themselves, and how they are treating each other.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Ray Powell: https://www.linkedin.com/in/raypowell/
Stir, Brands+ Entertainment: https://www.linkedin.com/company/stir-brands-entertainment/