Episode 82: Jim Meskauskas, ICON Intl on Digital Ad Agency Evolution, the Future of Ad Networks and The Inca Trail
It's fitting that Jim Meskauskas works at a company called ICON International, because he's an icon in the digital media industry.
Jim comes from the agency business - Left Field, MediaSmith, Underscore, Pericles and now manages corporate trade barter deals for Omnicom.
He explains how these barter deals work; the top issues affecting the digital media agency in the 21st century; where the ad network business is headed and how we should be executing media "according to the protocols of optimization, algorithms and database management."
Jim is known for his wide-ranging interests, deep insight, high-level thinking and ridiculous phraseology. In this interview you'll hear everything from references to Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys to "sweating like Paul Prudhomme on a hit of ecstacy." Find out what pushed Jim's edge the hardest in his whole life and why peeing is involved in the axiom by which he runs his life.
Woman: This program is brought to you by PersonalLifeMedia.com.
Susan Bratton: Welcome to “DishyMix.” I'm your host, Susan Bratton. Hey! I am so happy to have you listening to this particular show because we're going to have a lot of fun. Sometimes, you learn things about people, sometimes you learn things about process. In this particular case, we're going to have a good time because you're going to get to meet Jim Meskauskas. What's great about Jim is that not only is he a super fun guy, but he's very, very smart, super wizened about the interactive space. I, absolutely, guarantee you'll have some fun and get some key take-aways you can apply to your business.
So, on today’s show, we're going to talk about everything from Star Wars collectibles – that sounds fun to me, I always wanted to be Princess Lea – to the death of the ad network. We're going to go down the Inca Trail with Jim. We're going to talk about executing media according to the protocols of optimization, algorithms, and managing databases, which might, actually, be interesting and fun. We're going to talk about peeing, because that is something that, apparently, Jim thinks, is very, very important.
So, Jim is the VP and Director of Online Media at ICON International, which is a New York-based company. It's part of Omnicom’s corporate trade barter business. We're going to get Jim on the show and find out what the heck that is.
Jim Meskauskas: Hello! How are you?
Susan Bratton: I am good! How are you, dear?
Jim Meskauskas: After such an excellent introduction, I am fabulous, gravolous, zip, zop zabulous.
Susan Bratton: Fabulous, gravolous. Wow! I wish this wasn’t virtual. I'd be given you a little pinch right now.
Jim Meskauskas: Now, I'm turning red.
Susan Bratton: Wow! Better not Jocelyn listen to this, huh?
Jim Meskauskas: No, she's out to lunch.
Susan Bratton: Okay, good. Whew! We're safe. We can flirt all we want.
So, barter, ICON. I thought you're just like a massive media-buying dude. What the hell is this barter stuff? You're not spending money?
Jim Meskauskas: Well, I, actually, am spending money. The big misnomer about barter is that what I'm really doing is I'm trying to secure media inventory with dump trucks full of broken toasters. That is not, actually, what the barter business is. There's a great deal of cash in the marketplace. It's just the methods I employed to try acquire inventory that is of a certain value in the marketplace is different than an agency is allowed to do.
Susan Bratton: So, tell me about that. Give us an example, like make it real for us.
Jim Meskauskas: I would give you a real world example. Though there are some examples that are even more fun, I'll use the one that somebody used for me when I first started about three years ago doing this. I couldn’t seemed to grab any kind of sense of what it was about.
Alright, one of our clients is Tyson Chicken. Tyson Chicken has the contract with McDonald’s and they send Chicken McNuggets to McDonald’s. Those McNuggets have to be of very, very precise specifications. There's got to be a certain number of bread crumbs on them. They’ve got to be a certain shape, a certain size, a certain weight, and a certain density. So, when that person, who was at the other end at the franchisee’s place and they're zipping off that paper bag and pouring it into the frier later, those things cook up in two minutes on the spot.
If, for some reason – and this happens from time to time – there are too many bread crumbs on that Chicken McNugget. Or, there are too few or comes out in a shape of a triangle instead of a kidney. Whatever it is that makes these McNuggets no longer McNugget acceptable, McDonald’s turns them back. They said, “Forget it, we don’t want it.”
So, let's say it's a truckload of these McNuggets, and Tyson’s got on the books a million dollars’ worth of nugget sales that they're anticipating. That thing has worked its way through their balance sheets, corporately. Suddenly, they're stuck. They can do one of two things. They can liquidate the now distressed asset, i.e., these misshaped McNuggets, and sell them to prisons or hospitals or summer camps or public schools. Whatever it is that these kinds of things can go. They're going to get something [xx] of a million dollars. Likely, they're going to get $250,000, maybe $300,000 for it. They can do that, they can write that down and put on their balance sheet as loss.
Or, a company like ICON can come to them and say, “Hey, guess what, you guys? I will give you a million dollars. All you have to do is spend $5 million through my company. We're going to identify with those things are that you're going to buy through us. It's going to be stuff you buy anyway. So, you don’t have to spend any extra money, nothing new. You don’t have to add it to your expenses or anything. You're just going to buy whatever it is you buy and I'll give you a million bucks.” That is what we do. Now, there's a way to make that work, and why it is that we don’t lose money is a longer conversation. If you'd like, I can get in to that, but that’s how it works.
Susan Bratton: So, when they're buying things from your company, are they buying advertising services?
Jim Meskauskas: That is correct. Ninety percent of the time, what they're buying is media. Now, they can buy travel, they can buy printing, and they can buy corporating. But, in order to earn off a million dollar trade with $5 million worth of spend, $5 million is a lot of hotel rooms, a lot of printing.
Susan Bratton: Where do the nuggets go?
Jim Meskauskas: The nuggets then are liquidated through whichever distribution channel the client approves.
Susan Bratton: The nugget liquidator.
Jim Meskauskas: Yes, that’s right. Typically, the nugget liquidator does all kinds of things that I'm sure we don’t want to discuss now.
Susan Bratton: I'm not going to touch another nugget, I can tell you that. Not that I do.
Jim Meskauskas: But, one of the channel distributions are those that I had mentioned already, that the client, themselves, which is the hospitals, the schools, the summer camps, the prison systems, or whatever. We do the same thing. We don’t have any magic juju[sp] to get any more money for. We still take the loss and the asset. But because what we are is a principal risk capital finance company, in essence, we assume that principal risk and we make that loss our loss. In exchange, the client agrees to do us this favor and that favor is spending the money. It's a multiple of loss.
Susan Bratton: Okay. What I see now about why this was appealing to you is that it's more complex than buying media.
Jim Meskauskas: Yes. It turns out that it kind of seems to be, yes.
Susan Bratton: You like to put your brain in the “accelaratorometer” and push it to it's highest velocity. That is what makes you happy. So, this is like, “Yes, I'm a media guy but I'm like the crazy media guy that does principal risk, whatever, goodoodly thing with media.”
Jim Meskauskas: Yes. That’s right.
Susan Bratton: Now I understand. Okay. So, you’ve been in media a long time. You’ve worked at Underscore, Pericles, Left Field, Hawked Media, CKS, USWeb, MissingOne. I'm doing this from memory.
Jim Meskauskas: That’s [xx].
Susan Bratton: Mediasmith.
Jim Meskauskas: There you go. Oh, yes, of course.
Susan Bratton: We're going to talk about Davy; wavy, Davy, gravy. We're going to talk about him in a minute. But, you told me that the worst fork in the road of your life happened around your Underscore time. What was it?
Jim Meskauskas: I was working at Underscore. I was a partner there with Tom Hespos and Eric Porres. The fork in the road was to continue or to try something entirely new. What that something entirely new was – this may come as a surprise to some, I'm not sure – was to leave the Ad business altogether and apply to Columbia’s Graduate School in Journalism. They had a dual program – they still do – where you get a Master’s in Theology[sp] and your Master’s in Journalism. I wanted to do that.
So, I opted to leave my partnership at Underscore to pursue that. I ended up pursuing it a little bit but I ended up not, actually, following through and going to school and all the rest. I did apply to go to Graduate School in Journalism. I did get in, and once they tell you how much it's going to cost, you start to think, “Well, let's see here. I'm earning zero and I'm spending like somebody who’s not earning zero. Then I add this Ivy League Graduate School built to it, where will do I end out? Where I was going to end that out was going to be a little bit painful.
But I did pursue it for a number of months. Then, finally, decided to take the time that I had, suddenly, found myself with to go for long walks, try to work on a novel, play some video games, get to know the city of New York better, see my family. I spent a lot of time going out to California. I ended up having a very, very, very good positive soul-searching year, but leaving Underscore. In retrospect, Underscore was one of the best career work experience that I've had.
Susan Bratton: We had Tom Hespos on just recently. He also said that you're the most favorite person that he ever worked with.
Jim Meskauskas: Get out of here!
Susan Bratton: I swear to God. How can be [xx] that episode. You thought you knew everything about Tom Hespos, huh? Yes, he really enjoyed working with you. I think, because you come at things from such a creative perspective. You know, it's good that you pursued the idea of the Columbia education. Then, you realized it, actually, wasn’t worth the trade off, so you, at least, explored it and didn’t spend your life wishing you had.
One more thing I'll tell you is that we're launching a new show on Personal Life Media. It's called “Philosopher’s Notes.” It's about big ideas in Philosophy. It's kind of a Cliff Notes program, it's a weekly podcast. Actually, we're going to do a couple a week, and Brian Johnson is the host of the show. In like three to five minutes, maybe eight minutes – depending on what it is – he's going to go through, not only all the classic philosophers but it's like cliff notes. Okay, you want to understand these philosophers and what their concert was? He’ll tell you, he’ll tell you the answer, you don’t have to read the work. He also does all the spirituality people, the consciousness people, the self-empowerment people. So, there's, every week, a couple of these new “Philosopher’s Notes” that you can listen to on the go.
Jim Meskauskas: That’s very cool. I'm staring at my office, two books on Heidegger and one book by Theodore [xx] on culture.
Susan Bratton: It's hard to read them.
Jim Meskauskas: It is.
Susan Bratton: One of the things is that if you listen to the cliff notes of “Philosopher’s Notes,” and you like how Brian sums it up, that could say, “Alright, that one is, actually, worth reading. In my time of life right now, I could use that information.” Sometimes, they are, and sometimes, they're not. You're trying to build a body of knowledge. So, in a way, at least, it gives you the highlights, so you can make a decision about where you want to put your time.
Jim Meskauskas: Yes, that’s a great thing. That’s what's nice about the survey work.
Susan Bratton: So, now, you worked also with John Durham, and John’s been on “DishyMix,” too.
Jim Meskauskas: That’s correct. John and I, we're also partners.
Susan Bratton: At Pericles, a great Roman statesman, named after a guy who loved democracy – Pericles.
Jim Meskauskas: He's considered the Father of Democracy.
Susan Bratton: The Father of Democracy. John Durham, what's he the Father of?
Jim Meskauskas: What is John the Father of? That’s a really good question. Aside from my enthusiasm for Amerones, which has become a difficult and expensive pursuit, I guess, I could either thank him or blame him for [xx].
Susan Bratton: Are these cigars or is it a liquor?
Jim Meskauskas: Amerones are wine from the Veneto Region of Italy.
Susan Bratton: Italy! Italy! Italy! Italian.
Jim Meskauskas: It's Italian wine. They're really good. If they're ever really good, if they're not ever good and expensive. So, if you want the good stuff, you're going to have to pay for it. Even the kind of good stuff is you're going to have to pay for it.
Susan Bratton: But it's, totally, worth it. I'd rather drink one fabulous bottle of wine than three or five or ten crappy bottles of wine.
Jim Meskauskas: That is correct. For the cost of one good bottle of Amerone, you could, probably, get ten bottles of crappy ones.
Susan Bratton: Exactly. So, you worked with John on Pericles Consulting. That was a Republican media company helping the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign. You did a bunch of Senate campaigns, all kinds of things. Now that you’ve seen the Obama Democratic Campaign, what do you have to say about where politics and interactive media meet?
Jim Meskauskas: One of the things I want to make clear upfront is that we weren’t, necessarily, specific to the Republicans, it just worked out that way. My decision, when the three of us talked about will we accept this business was to adopt the philosophy that was applied to Voltaire by his biographer. It was that, “I may disagree with every words you say, but I will defend unto my death, your right to say it.”
Susan Bratton: Yes, beautiful.
Jim Meskauskas: So, I took that approach and that’s kind of all of our approaching. I mean, in business, “There's only one party, the Green Party,” and they don’t mean the environment. Here is what was interesting about Obama and here is how it differed, I think, from Republicans. Here is an alternative – I'll try to make [xx] very brief – here is how, I think, politics, at least, for the time being, from the marketing perspective of using the Web. That is that, when we did it, we, actually, tried to do actual messaging on behalf of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.
There is only one effort that we ended up executing against. It was rather a sizable one and it was early in the campaign, but it was to message. It was not to solicit donations. It was not to talk about the other guy. It was, strictly, to say, “Hey, here's why I'm great.” It was the “No Child Left Behind,” to feature that initiative. That was something that hadn’t been done before, really. The Bloomberg Campaign in 2000 had done some of that stuff at a local level. I guess, 2001 is when that was. McCain, the same thing when he was running for the primaries in 2000. They did a little bit of that, but nobody really did anything to the extent that we were doing it then in ’04.
What happen this time around is the Republicans almost ceded the space entirely to the Democrats when it came to buying messaging. Now, a lot of the messaging itself was, actually, fund raising messaging. What we found – because we did a lot of that for the Republican National Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2004. All of their messaging was sort of a combined, “Hey, Tom Daschle stinks. Crazy bad liberal. Hey, give us money.” A lot of the Democrats this time around, the Obama campaign, just ran, “Hey, [xx] and donate tiny bits of money.” They had tons and tons and tons of people doing that that allowed them to raise extraordinary sums of money.
The rest of the space, itself, was, strictly, used as a communications forum. People, friending each other on Facebook, and by doing so, being able to stay in touch with one another. Let each other know what everyone was up to, what the new issues were, what the new lies were, what the new talking points were. Whatever happen to be that people needed to communicate to a group of like-minded individuals, they used the Web to serious, serious with positive effect in doing that.
What I just can't say about using the Internet for a messaging forum for politics is I think we're still not ready for it in terms of me buying ads on like AllRecipes.com to talk to the female voter. That is simply not an environment that people are comfortable with being spoken to about something that they deem that personal. I found that political messaging tends to be of the shouting and yelling variety. That works great in a TV set that’s on in the other room and you're doing dishes. But it's terrible on the lean forward personal and more quiet environment of the Web. I don’t think that it's ready for that sort of thing. Right now, it's still going to be the bloggers and the Politico.com and the Daily Cause. Whatever those different things are that want to try carry political content.
Susan Bratton: Okay. That was helpful for me. I like your perspective on it. I want to ask you one more question before we go to the break. This is just a quickie but very interesting for our listeners. You and I were, recently, at the Aspen Group part of iMedia – the iMedia Agency Summit – where it's a closed meeting just for the agency executive leadership. John Durham, interestingly enough from Catalyst, San Francisco, ran a day called “Agency Rx.” You broke up into workgroups to come up with solving some of the bigger issues that digital agencies face today. Could you just tell us what those top issues were that you voted on to get together into break out groups and discuss?
Jim Meskauskas: Alright. What John had done when deciding what we should discuss during the “Agency Rx”- if anyone [xx] what's Rx, it's a prescription, a prescription for the agency of the future. One of the most important things that need to be focused on. He’d sent out a survey to 150 of the agency attendees, 96 of whom had responded, which is a pretty good response rate. The five issues that had risen to the top as being the most important to agency executives and marketing leadership in the online space were the following: they were client value, the training and development of talent, reporting or metric issues, emerging media, and, finally, collaboration.
Susan Bratton: What did collaboration mean?
Jim Meskauskas: Collaboration really means is internal collaboration, though nobody said that. Well, they did, they focused on it a little bit. But they also tried to include the client. The truth of the matter is that in order to have a successful collaboration within your organization as an agency, you need to have it from your client as well. Client is to communicate clearly to what he's looking for so that way you can manifest that, yourself, internally, with the right people. If those people are not somebody who sits with you or in your office or next to you or in your department and you have to reach outside of that to get them, you need to do that. That, definitely, comes from the client. But, that was what that was.
Susan Bratton: That’s good, that was very interesting. I'm sure it’ll be interesting to anyone else who are working with an agency or in an agency to find out what the key issues are for agencies going forward.
So, I want to take a break to thank our sponsors. When we come back, we're going to talk with Jim Meskauskas, the VP and Online Media Director for ICON International. I want to talk about a story he did recently about whether the death of ad networks was greatly exaggerated. I want to talk about that Don Epperson, the CEO of Havas Digital. What he was talking about changing the way we execute media because that’s interesting, too. Then, of course, some fun things like peeing and Star Wars and the Inca Trail. We've got a lot of work to cover, Jim! So, let's go thank my sponsors for allowing me to have this much fun with you. When we come back, we'll get to our work.
Susan Bratton: Alright, we're back. I'm your host, Susan Bratton. We're with Jim Meskauskas. Let's get right to this death of the ad networks. Is it greatly exaggerated or are there just too many? What do you think?
Jim Meskauskas: It is greatly exaggerated and that there are too many.
Susan Bratton: Okay. I think that’s technically cheating, Jim.
Jim Meskauskas: It might be, but I'm one of those people who believe that if you're going to have cake, you might as well eat it, too. Yes, there are too many. The death of the ad network, at large, is not really what we're going to see. What we're going to see is the kind of consolidation that happens in any maturing marketplace. That is what we're going to get. What we've got now are, literally, hundreds of enterprises out there who are all, basically, fishing out the same hole.
Now, the way I try to describe this to clients in the past who were looking for the right ad network, trying to see how they can maximize efficiency, which, of course, to them means cheap. But I always have to remind them that what efficiency is is performance and cost, and where those two things intersect. If I've got 300 people holding a fishing pole and they're all dropping in the same line trying to fish out that hole. What they're fishing here, in this case, is inventory that’s cast far and wide, whoever has the biggest worm is going to get the most bites. Now, that means that whoever got that biggest worm is offering the marketplace large amount of money.
That’s not going to be positive for everyone because everyone can't do that. Those that aren’t going to be able to offer to clients that cost to clients who think the deficiency is strictly just price, they're going to end up with only kind of – for lack of better word – crappy inventory. Now, I'm one of those people who, firmly, believe that if somebody is there at the site, whether I've heard of it or not don’t really matter. If that content place is important to someone, then the impression generated there is just as much of value as one generated somewhere else where client has heard of it.
But what's going to happen is…this is not going to be enough last. So, all of these people who are going to offer the lowest lowest rates out there are going to not going to be able to deliver. They're going to miss the market. They're not going to be able to bid out on the inventory. They're not going to deliver. Then, the client, the agency, whomever that’s buying their inventory or tempting to buy their inventory, won't come back and they’ll go out of business.
The larger players are going to start – probably, if they can, they have the capital reserves to do so – maybe merged with some of the medium-sized players. The only reason they would do that is if those medium-sized players have relationships with publishers that these larger guys haven’t been able to get. What they have is some sort of technology or service that these other players providing better than the gobbler, in this instance. So, I think, the marketplace is, actually, strong for ad networks. I just don’t know that I need 300 of them. Every time a truck rumbles by, another ad network is born. I don’t think that that’s sustainable.
Susan Bratton: Is there any one definitive place you can go to find all the ad networks in the universe?
Jim Meskauskas: There is one place that is trying to position itself as the definitive place where you can go to buy all the other ad networks.
Susan Bratton: What's that?
Jim Meskauskas: That’s Real Media 24/7 B3 Networks. It's interesting, they’ve been sort of under the radar even though they’ve been operational for a good six months to maybe even three-quarters now for the book of 2008. You don’t hear a lot about them. A lot of it is because they are going to clients direct. They're going to agencies direct, and they're not making a lot of noise in the marketplace on their own behalf. What they propose, what they advocate they're able to do is, basically, they go out and buy ad network inventory on ad networks. What they will guarantee to you, the advertiser, is top of fold placement or above the fold placement. The places that they put you based on their metrics, their ability to optimize those placements, will yield greater what they would say “our engagement values” than if you just bought the ad network alone.
Susan Bratton: Okay. We're going to check out B3. That was helpful. I wish I had time to talk to you about engagement versus impression versus click-through. You’ve been railing on that particular subject for almost a dozen years.
Jim Meskauskas: I have. Yes, you're right. It's been a long time.
Susan Bratton: But, I want to make sure – and maybe we just have to have you come back – I talk about Don Epperson’s keynote at the iMedia Agency Summit. What he was saying is that we have to entirely change the way agencies are executing their media buys. Focus on buying around optimization and leveraging algorithms, and managing databases. The agency needs to, essentially, get into the metrics business and, by the way publishers are selling, did I get it right and how do that go over?
Jim Meskauskas: Yes, you did get it right. It went over – I don’t know – it's to say like a lead balloon of a mistake.
Susan Bratton: Like, “Wow! That’s not how we like to operate. That’s not our [xx].” Right?
Jim Meskauskas: The agencies were not as morose about his postulation as the publishing community was. What he’d suggested, without actually saying it though when we asked him later pointblank about it, he did, basically, say yes. He would, eventually, be able to buy around publishers and, essentially, around ad networks and act as their own ad network and start to buy inventory. Some publishers on other locations where their audience is there, looking for, can be found at lower cost but married to more robust data. That would allow them to extract greater value from the impressions that they were buying from these other places.
Now, publishers don’t like that idea because, essentially, what he suggested to us is that, “After I do business with you, NewYorkTimes.com or iVillage.com or whoever – I'm just making these up – for 30 days and I've collected the data I need, I now can find your audience somewhere else. I've segmented them in such a way that I know how to maximize the value I'm going to extract from the impressions that I'm going to pay less for elsewhere. Then, I'm not going to buy you anymore.”
Susan Bratton: It's three targeting, right?
Jim Meskauskas: More or less, right. I mean, there are people in the behavioral marketing and the data economy space who, probably, would say, “No, it's a little more precise [xx].” Yes, that’s what it is.
Susan Bratton: Yes. Interesting. So, the agencies then just skim off the information, grab that information into their own databases and don’t need you anymore. Now, they can, essentially, look at the entire industry as just one big, potential network.
Jim Meskauskas: That is, exactly, what he was getting at. Though he wouldn’t say that that was the vision, that was the vision. I mean, the stuff, “No, there's a good role out there for…” I think, it was Scott [xx], actually, who would asked, “Is there a room for the consultative salesman anymore?” He said, “Yes, sure, there is.” But, I think, if [xx] wouldn’t have come up with any samples [xx] given his vision of the future.
Susan Bratton: Yes, pretty cut and dried data oriented, very interesting.
Jim Meskauskas: Yes, very data-driven.
Susan Bratton: What I like is – at least, the perspective on how it could be. That will never be a perfect moment in time, but I think, agencies are all moving that way of collecting their own data - the purchase of 24/7.
Jim Meskauskas: That’s correct. WPP’s purchase of 24/7. Havas is creating their own network. Everybody is trying to kind of figure that out and get in to that space. Part of is is because there is a book of inventory out there whose value is not certain and whose price [xx] undetermined. So, what I can do is I find a cost to something and the sign of value to it and figure out where those two things meet. I can do it without having to deal with somebody else. I'm going to yield somewhat greater efficiencies on the part of my client. Of course, the reason I'm doing that is because the large ad agency, I'm getting paid almost nothing by these clients to do all these work. I'm going to find another way to make a little money.
Susan Bratton: Yes, absolutely. I want to take a little switch now. I want to just talk about some of the things that you like to do besides, cleverly, buy media. I did want to mention, too, that you write a column for iMedia. What's your official title there? It's Media Strategist Editor? Is that right?
Jim Meskauskas: That is correct. It's Media Strategist Editor. In fact, I, actually, addressed in this past Tuesday’s column. Where they place it all the time, it depends on what it's about, so sometimes I don’t really know. But somewhere on the iMedia site, as of Tuesday of this week, there was piece I did, actually, about the data issue that Epperson [xx].
Susan Bratton: Yes, so if you want to read more about it, that’s a good place to go.
Jim Meskauskas: I call it “Data, data everywhere.” Can someone help me think. But I'm not sure if that’s the headline I ran or not.
Susan Bratton: I don’t think it is. I read that story and I don’t remember that is the headline. They, probably, changed it.
Jim Meskauskas: Yes, I'm sure they changed it. They're, probably, around the room.
Susan Bratton: So, you write 80s punk rock.
Jim Meskauskas: I do, I do.
Susan Bratton: What kind of 80s punk rock? That’s a pretty wide genre.
Jim Meskauskas: It is a very wide genre, and I'm most – since I'm a Californian boy – it's mostly California stuff. So, the first punk rock I ever listened to – and I was, probably, junior high – and it was Dead Kennedys because they're a San Francisco band.
Susan Bratton: Sure.
Jim Meskauskas: The guy, I used to ride on the bus with. He's a couple years older and he was a big fan. Of course, when you're like 11 or 12 older kids, you just want to do whatever they do.
Susan Bratton: Of course, unless you want to be massively anarchistic.
Jim Meskauskas: That is correct.
Susan Bratton: You're just like one massive contrarian[sp] when you're 11 or 12 anyway. Right? It's just getting started.
Jim Meskauskas: Right. At 12 years old, you have no idea what the consequences of no rules might, actually, be. But, everybody’s got the positive stuff, the early parts of [xx] seems appealing. You don’t realize until you get to the end of the book how bad it can all go.
Susan Bratton: Exactly.
Jim Meskauskas: Yes, Jello Biafra uses like hooo…
Susan Bratton: Jello Biafra ran for what?
Jim Meskauskas: He ran for mayor.
Susan Bratton: Mayor of San Francisco or Berkeley?
Jim Meskauskas: That is correct, for San Francisco.
Susan Bratton: Right. What else did you like? What other 80s punk rock did you like?
Jim Meskauskas: Black Flag.
Susan Bratton: Oh, I liked the Black Flag.
Jim Meskauskas: It’s Henry Rollins’ band.
Susan Bratton: Yes, yes, I liked them, too. I liked the X.
Jim Meskauskas: Oh, X was great when Christine changed name to Exene.
Susan Bratton: Exene.
Jim Meskauskas: Exene Cervenka. I liked X, too. Again, they're another LA band.
Susan Bratton: “Soul Kitchen,” what a classic. I love “Soul Kitchen.”
Jim Meskauskas: What's funny is to listen…my college years were late 80s and early 90s in them. What a road trip spent with those bands on the tape deck, which is what people used to use in those days.
Susan Bratton: Have you been collecting Star Wars merchandise since you were a kid? You're of the era that Star Wars came out when you're, probably, 11 or something.
Jim Meskauskas: When Star Wars came out, I was 7 years old, almost eight when the first movie came out. My Mom, on Mother’s Day in 1978, bought me two Star Wars figures.
Susan Bratton: Which ones?
Jim Meskauskas: One was a Storm Trooper and one was Dart Vader. It's pretty funny because Dart Vader, of course, remained, ever since, my favorite character in the story. I collected all the comic books, I've seen all the movies. Right now, on my desk, I'm looking at Lego’s Star Wars pens that are…I think it's R2D2, we've got Chewbacca, we've got Dart Vader. You can, actually, take them apart and put them back together again. They're Legos, but they're also working writing pens. I've a very large talking Dart Vader bank. When you put money in it, he speaks a little dialog from the movies. Yes, I've collected all of it.
Susan Bratton: Do you actively collect it, like do you call on eBay and have alerts set up and stuff like that? Or, does it just come in to your life because you're open to it?
Jim Meskauskas: I did for a while, and then I met the woman who’s to become my wife. Lo and behold, she did not want to be married to the 40-year-old virgin, much like Catherine Keener’s character. She's like, “You know, you got to get rid of the stuff.” I have not gotten rid much of it yet, but like thousands of comics, my Star Wars merchandise, and what have you over the next – I don’t know how long will it take, ten years, I'll probably, have to [xx] as Christmas presents to nephews or I'll sell on eBay.
Susan Bratton: You're reminding me of Brad Barrens, who was also on the show. Of course, he had a garage-full of comic books.
Jim Meskauskas: Yes, he's a much bigger collector than I am.
Susan Bratton: And Shakespeare memorabilia.
Jim Meskauskas: Yes, that is correct.
Susan Bratton: And it had to go, too.
Jim Meskauskas: He had to move a lot of stuff to the office because one of the things I don’t know if they're still in his office, but he's had Shakespeare action figures.
Susan Bratton: He did?
Jim Meskauskas: Yes.
Susan Bratton: That’s funny!
Jim Meskauskas: A very obscure toy maker makes them. They also make the Marie Antoinette action figure with detachable head, things like that. The Einstein action figure or the Sigmund Freud action figure.
Susan Bratton: Oh, yes, those are cute.
Jim Meskauskas: They make those kinds.
Susan Bratton: Now, you're going to listen to “Philosopher’s Notes.” You're going to have to get a bunch of new Philosopher action figures. It could be your new thing.
Jim Meskauskas: I'm totally [xx]. I can't wait to get to [xx].
Susan Bratton: So, let's see. The axiom by which you live your life, you gave me a very strange answer. You said peeing.
Jim Meskauskas: Well, I said never pass up the opportunity to use the bathroom. I try to make it as more [xx].
Susan Bratton: I just brought it down to…you know.
Jim Meskauskas: But that is really the one that I'm thinking.
Susan Bratton: Also peeing and pooping.
Jim Meskauskas: That’s right, but no, peeing is, definitely, it. That’s the key. I think that’s the very key function.
Susan Bratton: Why is this the axiom? Never miss an opportunity to go to the bathroom. Why is this the axiom for your life?
Jim Meskauskas: It's a representative of human beings, particularly Western human beings, and particularly, North American Western human beings, and particularly, those north of say, Mexico. The over-civilized world has a propensity to deny itself the things that really must do.
Susan Bratton: Like, we try to control everything.
Jim Meskauskas: Correct.
Susan Bratton: [xx] control freak.
Jim Meskauskas: That’s right, we do. I grew up doing a lot of road trips. My father didn’t believe in flying. He said that if you're a kid, you're too young to appreciate traveling in an airplane. So, you drove everywhere. If you a had a little bathroom, it was too damn bad. If you [xx] in good time, you're going to keep going and that’s just how it is. I mean, five hours until, finally, your suffering classic kidney blow-out is a little tough.
Susan Bratton: Okay. So, you had some childhood issues around peeing, which is why this became your axiom. You go like a little…was there bedwetting?
Jim Meskauskas: No, never.
Susan Bratton: Listen to how fast you came back with that. That tells me there's, absolutely, bedwetting.
Jim Meskauskas: Never. Never, never bedwetting. But yes, I just feel like we deny ourselves a lot of what nature tells us to do and what our spirits tell us to do. The things that don’t have to do with economies or making money or any of that sort of thing, we have a tendency to try to control them all. We have a very man-versus-nature mentality, when man is part of nature.
Susan Bratton: You know what I just did? I put a little trampoline or rebounder next to my desk. A couple of times a day, if I'm smart, I get up after I pee. It's really hard to rebound when you have to pee. It's like pretty much impossible, but it makes your [xx] really hurt. I get up on that rebounder and I just jump up and down 20 times. Then I go back and sit at my desk and do some more work. I'm always tethered to the phone, tethered to email, tethered to the Web. It's really tough because we're just…I always say I have a butt shaped like an [xx] chair.
Jim Meskauskas: Right, right.
Susan Bratton: So, I love the rebounder, the little mini trampoline. It uses gravity to compress yourself so it's supposed to work to regenerate you at a cellular level. I don’t know if that’s true, but it's really fun to jump up and down 20 times and take a break.
Jim Meskauskas: That’s right. Whatever it does, moving seems to help.
Susan Bratton: Moving is good.
Jim Meskauskas: Moving is good.
Susan Bratton: Absolutely. I know. I've been taking up yoga, and of course, I've been doing this meditation. We did this meditation stuff at iMedia.
Jim Meskauskas: Yes, [xx] was great.
Susan Bratton: Now, I'm doing the jumping up and down, try to like put in the little things that get me moving again because we're get [xx]. That was one of the things we talked about at iMedia. We're in this kind of…Jack Myers was on a 30-year cycle. So, if we're going to make it, if we're not going to just like crash alongside of the road physically, we have to take care of ourselves as we do all these. We're really chained to our desks.
Jim Meskauskas: Yes, you are a hundred percent correct.
Susan Bratton: So, last thing that I want to talk to you about is the one thing that pushed you the hardest in your whole life. It was the edge pusher for Jim Meskauskas. Tell us about your trip on the Inca Trail, take us there.
Jim Meskauskas: The Inca Trail. I went to Peru because I had always wanted to go. A lot of my friends went right up to college. What I, of course, did was I went to the [xx] path and worked as an unskilled manual labor in the refineries there.
Susan Bratton: Not your best move.
Jim Meskauskas: It was extremely educational, but that’s, definitely, a topic for another time.
Susan Bratton: Yes.
Jim Meskauskas: But all of my friends got to travel the world and do the kinds of things that well-heeled folks get to when they graduate from college. I didn’t, so I do kind of having this bug about Peru. I'm also a big fan of pre-Colombian history and civilizations and all those kinds of things. The things about America – North, South – I was really interested. So I went to Peru and I hiked to the Inca Trail. It was, actually, on the Inca Trail where I had decided that I was going to address something earlier. I was going to decide to leave advertising and try this kind of new life.
It was one of the more difficult things I ever done. That was the most difficult thing I've ever done physically even though it was short, about 28 miles. The first two days of three and a half days was all uphill. At one point, the highest point, which I think, is a little over 14,000 foot elevation, so the air is thin. It's snowing and raining at the same time. I'm sweating like Paul Prudhomme ahead of ecstasy. I can barely breathe. You know, your head is just crashing every step you take.
There kind of came the strange moment of…it's hard to explain. A kind of nothingness that was everything. I stood at the top of what’s known as Dead Woman’s Path. Look out and you can see an awful lot, a big, big swat of the Andes and small, little figures that are people walking up the trail. Clouds around and snow on the distance. I just had this moment where I was at that point far enough away and had been going long enough from my point of origin. I feel that I knew where it was I wanted to go next and what it was that I had to like most about what it is I had already been or places I had already been. I don’t know, there's kind of like a past and the present and the future all sort of cluttered one place. It was tough, I got sick as a dog. I smelled horrible. I smelled like a French cabbie getting a permanent [xx] septic tank swelter house. I mean, I was beat up and awful and nasty and it was wonderful. It was really something else.
Susan Bratton: It was a vision quest for you.
Jim Meskauskas: It really was. I didn’t know that it was going to turn up to be that way, but it did.
Susan Bratton: This is where we leave the show with some kind of an inspirational thought. What would you encourage other people to do knowing what you know about this experience of your own?
Jim Meskauskas: You mean my experiences in general, or just the wife or the Inca Trail in particular?
Susan Bratton: You can answer that anyway you'd like to, Jim.
Jim Meskauskas: Okay. I would say that you should never do anything that your soul finds distasteful. I know that that means, at least, the word “soul” means different things to different people. But I think, it's one of those things that even if we can't define it, we all know what it is. I think that we also know when we find something distasteful. I mean, what it is we're doing in our careers, how it is that we're treating the people in our lives, how it is the people in our lives are treating us. Don’t do anything a second longer in the moment your soul discovers that whatever that is is distasteful.
Susan Bratton: Nice. So, I would like to take this moment to tell you that I really appreciate that you're in our industry. I like the way you look. I like the way you act. I like the way you think. You're a warmhearted, approachable person who has a really fun, deep, interesting, and heartfelt perspective on life. I wanted to tell you today that I love you.
Jim Meskauskas: Thank you very much, Susan. That’s really sweet. You know, I was just thinking that it's been many, many years since I first met you and I think you might have been at home.
Susan Bratton: I was at Home Network.
Jim Meskauskas: I remember Enliven was something…
Susan Bratton: Yes, we acquired that.
Jim Meskauskas: Wow! It's been a really long time.
Susan Bratton: It's been a dozen years. You told me that one of the other things that is an axiom in your life is that you want to make sure you tell people that you love them. I thought, “Oh!” Well, I'm going to turn your axiom around on you and tell you that I love you. You are so welcome.
Alright. Well, you have gotten to know a little bit about a very deep man, Jim Meskauskas, ICON International. Jim, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Jim Meskauskas: Thanks a lot, Susan. I love you, too.
Susan Bratton: You didn’t have to say it, but I know you do.
Jim Meskauskas: I know, I didn’t.
Susan Bratton: I really enjoyed this time, Jim. I've been looking forward to our conversation. I hope you'll come back again. I think, we have 27 million other things we can have great conversations about. I know that people listening to the show today learned a lot of different things. You gave a lot people love to think about, which was really, really great. I thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. We really appreciate it.
Jim Meskauskas: You bet. Anytime.
Susan Bratton: Alright. I'm your host, Susan Bratton. I don’t have a book to give away today. But I've always got some shrag going on. If you want something and you listen to the show, don’t forget to join the “DishyMix” Fan Club. Just go to DishyMixFan.com, become a fan of the show and I always have good stuff for you. So, take care, have a great day. I'm your host, Susan Bratton. I'll see you next week.
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