Reputation “Rev”amped: How Rev used email to regain favor after getting trashed by the NY Times

Ep. 7 ft. Nick Guadio, formerly of Rev

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How do you win back public favor when the NY Times slams your company? They say no press is bad press, and for Nick, the NYT thumbs-down was just the opportunity he’d been waiting for. Here’s how his overhaul of the Rev email program rebuilt brand equity, reinvigorated the dispirited team,  and grew a cult-like following.

Timestamps:
(3:14) Why the New York Times slammed Rev – and how Nick took the opportunity to turn around the brand voice by the (sled) reigns
(4:32) How they reduced risk pre-send
(6:59) The follow up email that snowballed the campaign viral-ity
(10:31) Why you shouldn’t plan an airtight content calendar
(13:00) How Nick reapplied media principles and community building methodology to bust expectations
(15:28) The benign violation theory that gives these emails their magic
(19:19) The craziest job offer story that sounds too crazy to be true
(22:23) Why Nick’s favorite email lists change so frequently

About our guest
Nick Gaudio is a native West Virginian, ENFJ, Ravenclaw, Scorpio, Wood Ox, and Chaotic Good. He’s earned an MFA from The University of Michigan, as well as seven awards from the Press Association as a reporter. Nick has served as a writer and/or email expert for many companies, large to small, B2B to B2C, ecom to SaaS: including theCHIVE.com, Saatva, Rev, Infinite Ranges, RunYourPool, and most recently, Rattle. He lives in Austin with his very patient wife and three toddlers.

Links from this episode:
Take a look at the first email we’re talking about today
Take a look at the second email we’re talking about today
Follow Nick on ⁠LinkedIn⁠
Get Nikki’s email musings at ⁠nikkielbaz.com/subscribe ⁠

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Transcript

Speaker 1: 

Welcome to Email Swipes, where we peek behind the scenes at the emails that catch your attention and earn their place in your swipe file. Every other week, we’ll talk to an email expert about an experiment they ran and in the following episode we’ll dive into the strategies and methods used in the email so you can inform and inspire your own email work. I’m Miki Elbas, the copywriter behind winning emails for eight and nine figure sassan ecommerce brands like Shopify, forsigmatic and SproutSocial, and I know that hearing the background stories to these emails will help you turn pie in the sky. Insights into plug and play actions. Ready to make inspiration tactical. Let’s go First. Let’s read today’s email.

Speaker 2: 

Yeah, let’s do it Be here. So let’s talk about the email where it came from.

Speaker 3: 

Sure the story is, and I guess you have to know a little bit about Reb.

Speaker 2: 

Actually wait, I forgot to ask about you.

Speaker 3: 

That’s fine, we can talk about me. I’ll talk about me all day. Yeah, 30 second pitch to me Writer background. I have an MFA at the University of Michigan in fiction writing. I went and I taught creative writing and argumentative writing at some state schools in the morning and then I also ran a newspaper at night for a couple of years and then I moved into the media industry in Austin. I was working so much and I was the head writer for thechivecom for a few years and then I moved into the sass world. This is my first non media job was with Rebcom and ever since then the sort of success of the email program has sort of set me off onto email and brand and that kind of life which I really like and prefer to the media world, because this actually was the coming out party of my sort of ethos as a marketer. So that’s why it holds a very special place in my heart, because it’s sort of the inflection point of my career where I was like I’m just going to do this thing that I think will work and it work, and then I kind of use that for the rest of it and since then so like the last six years. So it’s weird to kind of see this again with that frame around it, the story to take one step back, because it’s important to know what Rev was and then why this was about Like. So Rev at the time. It’s sort of shifted a little bit, but they still do this. But speech, text and people go with their audio files and video files, upload it. It goes to a backend where there’s basically like an uber situation where transcriptionists, like human transcriptions go in, they claim the file, they, and then they listen and they type it out right and AI takes the first pass at that. So this was where AI sort of got the thrust it has lately. But you know what happened was they made this decision on a friday to sort of say look, we’re going to change the parameters of how we pay you. It’s gonna. The easier stuff is going to pay less, the more difficult stuff is going to pay more. Now they didn’t have a traditional communication person to write this thing that they told people and it’s spun out of control wildly. They’re like you’re not going to pay us as much. And then it’s the press. So and I’ve shown you in these clippings, the new york times were this thing like how a gig worker, revolt begins. And then, like all this precipitous, like terrible press, we got in it was on a tuesday because there was veteran’s day weekend and we’re like what, what happened? Because no one was paying attention. And then we got back in we’re like, oh no, this is terrible. Like there was like a fire drill, had our pr person, all the marketing team got together and like this is what’s happening. We’re really taking on the chin. People were calling over and over again, like trying to talk to our ceo and like get him to legitimize his decision, and we’re like no, no, no, it’s more complicated than that. But the cat was out of the bag, right. And I was like, well, you know, we’ve been doing a lot of safe stuff and it looks like our brand is really taking on the chin. I would like the chance to sort of make us look a little bit more fun and human and all this other stuff, right. So like, yeah, you know, I guess we can try a test. So we wrote a very standard December email, like you know, here’s the stuff we’ve been doing. And then I wrote this right, I even do my first foray into a photoshop with that little rev logo on the box at the time rev logo looked like that. So it was like that red rev and I was like this looks perfect, we’re to slap a logo on it. We did that was sort of where I was like this is going to be really fun. So basically I wrote this blog post sort of touting all of rev’s new things, like we had an app and all this other stuff and I was basically pitching it. You know you don’t want to get this to your eight-year-old nephew. And then I was like I’m gonna write this email. So we wrote this email, sort of tongue in cheek, about how, like, every company in the world sort of writes their Christmas holiday season email, even if it doesn’t matter and it’s like it’s sort of because we had marketers right like most of the people were marketers sales in that universe, right. So they were cognizant of it, right. So whenever we went and met and we started being self-referential, we were already sort of tapping into the world lexicon that they operate in, right. So we’re sort of like a little touch of the nose to everybody there saying like look, you know, everybody does it, even like this baldness cure, but we wish you a very Christmas. Right. So it’s like very cute and you know, affable and approachable, right and self flagulating right. Like basically saying like we’re gonna do that, but also we know that it’s silly to do it. Right, and it landed really well, right. Like there’s some point where I said hey, there’s no rev gift card. I don’t know if it’s an email itself or in the blog post that it links to, but basically I monitored the we had mail trim at the time and I was monitoring the reply email and people were like writing back I would love a rev gift card and like they’re like this was really cute and stuff like that. Somebody actually took a photo of like they printed out the little girl, the image at the top, and like put it on their office and I was like this really took off and like it seemed to have built this lovely brand equity right. People started liking us again after we had just been completely like snowed under with all this hate and it was curious. I mean, I guess the public changes their perception pretty quickly. So I was like this really works. Of course, the good news is that the test that we sent was like to a very small, limited amount it blew it out of the water right like 10% to 10%, and the other one didn’t get it. I was like, well, let’s just send it to all of them. Now we sent to the whole list I think it was like 800,000 people and it was on social, like it did really well and I was like, well that this, really I didn’t expect it to go off so well, so I get to go back to my boss and was like, look, you know, I’ve been really wanting to write like this this whole time. And now here’s the data, right, like the reply rates through the roof. You know we’re getting positive mentions on social. We had like a listening tool that was about like our sort of like positive negative mentions, like spike through the roof on positive mentions and stuff like that. So, like I had all this data to get to them and say, look, I’m gonna follow this up by thinking like there’s a rev gift card. And then that’s where we kind of went into the next step, which was the next email. This one actually was the one that I really felt like. It kind of proves that you shouldn’t always outline every single email that you want to send, because sometimes there’s an opportunity in doing something a little off the cuff, right. So this was literally like a couple days later where I was like okay, so we have like 70% of the rate, we have all this great engagement data, so let’s send them something that like just reminds them to you, in that like little link at the top, what we had previously sent to them, because I was worried about the other 30%. So it’s a recap of all the other stuff that I wrote in the other email, and then basically like being playful back with them, like, oh yes, we’re being contrarians and so you know, we don’t have a gift card, we don’t have the resources that Santa does. So in lieu of that, here’s what you should do. It’s like take some cash out of your wallet, put for reviews only on it and take a picture of it and put it on Twitter or Instagram. And we ended up changing the gift to Reb hashtag to something funnier. So it was Reb Holiday mugshot. We went into the supply closet and I was like what can we give people? And my social girl she was like we have mugs. I was like let’s call them hot chocolate mugs. And we counted. We’re like okay, we have 40. That’s what we did. And she agreed to kind of monitor social and then it blew up. I think like 400 or 500 people did it. It was like credit cards, like we saw some British like Euro’s and it was. It was wild. After that my CEO had like come by my desk and like people me into the room, was like can we do more of this? Like I can’t believe. Four weeks ago it was this and he held up the New York paper right the New York time, and now it’s this. And I was like, yeah, I think we can leverage this a little bit more and be meta and be more like a community focused brand. So that’s the story as far as from soup to nuts there.

Speaker 2: 

It’s such a great story because it really goes from bad press to blowing up on social that’s. That’s incredible and I think it’s a little bit to your CEO’s credit that he didn’t just say like, okay, we got to go safer. You know, we, we took some risks and it didn’t work out and we just got to go safe, safe, safe, safe. And he said, no, okay, I’ll give you your chance and your chance worked, which is amazing when that happens. Yeah, it was cool, and the rest of the team too. Like you mentioned that you know, in the Slack group, everyone was feeling so much happier about their jobs and the real, the company, morel and all that. So kudos, thank you. There’s so much I want to dig into here. Even you know, just like the little fun lines, like you know the Santa level resources, like they’re just so fun, and I think part of it is what you mentioned in terms of the meta, in terms of asking, like you know it turns out, the team, you know very much working with that corporate culture that’s not so corporate but kind of like that marketing corporate culture, and really really digging into that and knowing your audience, which is interesting as you came from a media background and this was your first marketing role. How did you get that depth of relevance and understanding of your audience?

Speaker 3: 

I think that one thing that I’ve read a lot of before this was how important it was to reapply media principles elsewhere and that companies weren’t doing a really good job of it back then especially. But like saying, like B2C principles really work in B2B world? Right, this notion that we have this different self at work and that is separate and distinct, that uses only the logical parts of your brain, doesn’t care about everything else right, like that’s a misunderstanding out of the way that humans operate and make decisions. Right, that’s where I came from. I was like well, everyone is saying now like let’s do this thing where we’re going to be like a media company, but what they’re really meaning is let’s use these principles that happen to their emotional centers right, that make you like the people you’re doing business with. And that’s what media companies had to do, especially back then, because there was so much of it. Right, the media bubble was growing and growing and growing and the only way you can separate yourself from the competition was building a community. Right, and like having that relationship with your audience. You know, for all its faults and some of the things that just didn’t age so well, the CHI did do community building really well. They built their brand on building a community of Chivers and things like that. I was like, well, we can reapply that here, like we can be human, and one of the things that’s really in our pocket is that people aren’t expecting this from a transcription company. Right, like they’re like transcription is boring. It’s like, well, yeah, it is, and we can have fun with that. That’s sort of what the first email is about, right, like saying, look, we know we’re boring and that’s fun already. Right, you’re like what is this not fun company suddenly being fun about? And then you’re ready to keep going a little bit and sort of using that thrust right. So it was almost easier to reapply these media principles on something that was perceived as boring than it would be to be the state where you’re expected to be entertaining at all times. That expectation from the audience is sort of like well, you’re supposed to be this flashy brand and you’re being flashy big deal, right, moving on with my life, right. So this is the thing where it really was highlighted by the expectation of boring.

Speaker 2: 

That’s such a good point, cause I just recently saw a campaign from a company that is not perceived as boring and they’ve built this brand of being very funny. They did a recent campaign that everybody was thinking was so, so funny and kind of analyzing and thinking it’s not that funny, it’s almost. They built this brand, so now people are looking to expect that. So you just kind of have that like immediate reaction. But it doesn’t have that same, this kind of reaction Like from the gut fun, like I love this.

Speaker 3: 

I think you raised a really good point in that. Also, corporate funny is almost always not funny. It’s this usually old means being recycled. I think Reddit has its like hello our fellow kids. Sort of super popular sub Reddit that they make corporations that try to like enrich themselves by using these tips and tools. So, like you have to be a little risky, right. Like I encourage anybody listening to this benign violation theory which is like or why things are funny and it’s like it’s a negotiation between a violation of your expectations and it being super benign. And this is sort of the perfect storm here. Where it’s like the expectations are a transcription company should be dry and boring. Where you know to violate that doesn’t take very much. So when I’m talking about calling ourselves the elves at Rev and stuff like that, that’s just a little bit. It’s such an easy layup to do. I had a super great product markers. To go back to your question, how I knew she’s like here’s the people who are using red land, here’s our problem. So she’s the stuff that was helping me with constraint of creation too. So she’s like marketers, right, content creators, these types of people are using it. Here’s their pain points, here’s their like, psychographic and biographic and all this data right. So when I make like little references, I’m like, okay, I know that our average audience is 25 to 35. They’re a little bit in the early doctor crowd. They don’t take themselves too seriously, but they are also pretty well and great in the marketing world. Do you know all this stuff about them before? I went into this and that kind of helped and I often say like a really good PMM will make you more creative because they create these constraints.

Speaker 2: 

Yeah, 100% constraints. And also the depth of understanding your customers, that you can really tap into that and lean into that and make it super relevant. Yeah, no, those are the two. That’s the PMM’s job.

Speaker 3: 

She’s fantastic. We worked on a couple other things. We worked on a choose your own adventure thing. We went with type form where you get to pick your persona at the very beginning. So she’s like we have four personas now because we added new products and stuff like that. I was like, well, let’s just make it so you can pick your little own persona and then live a life where you need rev, and it was really fun. That was all really hurt again coming up with the constraints and me saying how do we talk to all four? And then at once, right, maybe we can’t. Maybe we build a game where you have to self identify as the thing you are. We know that you don’t know our first name. This is a merge tag, right, we know. Right, so a lot of the meta sort of that’s, I think. Really, what did it was like this subtle undercurrent of we kind of knew we were being self aware, speaking in this way and things like that, and I think that’s what a lot of marketers appreciated.

Speaker 2: 

And again playing to this whole idea that marketers know the rules and know about personas and know that you’re doing it and instead of it just kind of being this like behind the scenes, like almost like, sometimes it turns creepy, even where it’s like, okay, you’re trying too hard or you’re creeping me out or anything like that, it’s like, okay, you know we’re doing this, so let’s, let’s have fun with it together. Okay, so what do you think contributed to this email success, aside from all the things we actually just covered, but any other things?

Speaker 3: 

I honestly think that having social on board too with it because she was really excited Rachel her name was she’s still there, I think, and she’s doing a great job. I pay attention to the stuff that they come up with, so you know, having her on board and saying I need somebody to actually monitor just in case this thing does blow up and she had said come back and said, no, I can’t do that, I got too much to do. We wouldn’t have run this. Honestly, can’t do that. Like I have other things to do. So getting that alignment and again, like it was one of those things where the whole marketing team was seeing the response. We had like a Slack integration where when people were back, they were seeing it light up. Like this is awesome. Going a small team at the time was like six people, but they were seeing it and they were getting excited too. Like, hey, you know, we kind of got out of the doll droves of getting pummeled and feeling a little bit better about the company we were working for, saying, okay, as we thought I think those, like the optics, were a lot better. So she signed on for that too and she has some great ideas in terms of the mechanisms and all that kind of stuff. Because I was like you know how do we get people to do this and how do we reward the behavior? And you know, she’s like, well, I definitely swag storage closet and I was like that’s perfect, so got her buying in again. We probably would have never ran it. And also my VP marketing at the time was like pull the trigger. Like I was like you sure we want to test this. He’s like no, the first one was good enough. Clearly we’re onto something here, so let’s just do it. Having that buy in and having that test initially. To point back to what was really important, Cool.

Speaker 2: 

That’s so fun when you have a test that just so clearly shows you okay, yeah, this is the winner, Just keep doing what you’re doing. That’s amazing. That’s awesome.

Speaker 3: 

And I think I can say now, like I definitely wrote that first one, that the aid part of this baby test was very boring, like just intense, sneaky, a little sneaky, but I was like you know, most of this other stuff isn’t really that great anyway. And I told you this I got an offer for two jobs. One was like a corporate job that paid more and they’re just like we want you to believe her and no creative, it’s just email right, like maybe some testing here and there, but no like real. You know interest. And they actually got panned as a terrible email program Like and they’re like you want to do email, right, you should see redcom.

Speaker 2: 

No way.

Speaker 3: 

I mentioned that because I got a job offer the same day by these two companies. Wow, one paid less, paid less. So they’re like you have complete creative control and I was like awesome, and that was like six months before and it really wasn’t that way until this sort of crisis.

Speaker 2: 

That is so funny. That’s so funny. No, but even if that B test was boring, B boring it’s still the A was such a clear winner, not in comparison to the B, but just in the number of responses that you got and how it blew up, which ties back to the whole, like it’s not just about the opens, not just about the clicks, it’s about the response, and, especially since you were aiming to build a community, the responses were so critical to building that feeling. Yeah right, If you could go back in time and perfect that email, is there anything that you would have changed about it?

Speaker 3: 

I would probably tighten it up a little bit. A lot of things that people wrote back these emails were like I read the whole thing right and I’m like that means it looked too long. You know, I look back and I think maybe I could tighten it up a little bit. But no, I mean I’m still, even though I beat myself up on a lot of things that I’ve sent out in the past and definitely gotten a lot wrong. I think that I’m pretty happy with this, just simply because of the response.

Speaker 2: 

It’s nice to have things that we could just be proud of, without all those inner gremlins grumbling at us.

Speaker 3: 

So clearly like an inflection point and like a successful story after one off to get a bunch of clients from this kind of stuff. It’s hard to look back on an inflection point where you think, wow, my life got a lot better as a result of this and look back and think you need to change anything and also open them up to think like more creatively too, because I think like I want to take for credit for that. But like there’s sort of oh, we can have fun at this job. Until then, everyone was sort of just like okay, well, we’re a trans Christian company and this is what we do, please, just text studies and things like that. And then we have people coming in who are like, hey, we can do some wild stuff. You know, we did a lot of things that are kind of embarrassing looking back and maybe that’s another, that’s a different podcast, but like it definitely opened up the creative side of everybody and we definitely failed hard on a few things after this because maybe a little overconfident. But yeah, we in the day it’s still. I think that it’s still data to point back to that you can use for other things and other decisions that you make. Eventually we dialed it in like we’re like oh, we took this and we went wild. And then we’re like, okay, maybe we went a little bit too far, let’s bring it back. And then we kind of reassess why it worked and why the other hypothesis didn’t.

Speaker 2: 

Yeah, and you know it’s a balance. It’s finding that you know, anytime you start something new, it’s going to be a bit of an experiment until you get to that point where it’s like, okay, no, we can’t work with that, we should work with that. And it’s a journey, you know, getting to that point where you’re like confident that it’s going to work. And sometimes even then you’re still wondering or super confident in something, and then the response is terrible yeah, part of the game.

Speaker 3: 

Yeah, that’s the name of the game. You test and you learn.

Speaker 2: 

Yeah, it’s like permission to experiment and try things, which always comes with risk that things will fail, but the upside of it is so worthwhile. That’s email Definitely All right. So who are you following now? Who’s your favorite brand to get emails from?

Speaker 3: 

I have two and they’ve since changed and I think what happens a lot. What happens is these people get in the job and they’re really good at what they do and then they get voted. I really, really liked Shinesty’s email program for a long time. They do mail mail. They just had a really aggressively honest voice and I really thought it was refreshing and the humor of their Pete and baboon to the moon. Whoever did their email, I can just almost tell them a moment. They left their job. They used to be fun and awesome and engaging and then they went to the sort of like straight up visual thing where they didn’t add any copy and I was like this is boring. I can, you know, I can go to the website. I want this stuff to be entertained, like this isn’t cheeky, this isn’t engaging or community building or like talking to me as a human. It’s just like showing me I don’t really care, right? So those two and I think they recently changed their people and I would actually go and look on LinkedIn to find them and just be like, yeah, I really was a big fan of getting your emails and I look forward to them both and I’m sort of disappointed, especially with that but it’s new and, like my wife bought a bag from them and she was the one who pointed out she’s like they’re running like you and I was like they got better than me. I went and feel so energized about a bag right, like it’s even harder for them because they have like a much more competitive space. There’s a lot of people that have space that are doing that sort of a reverent thing your consumer brands. There’s always somebody in that, in one part of the field, that’s doing some sort of like gesture, archetype type of threat, and that they stood out was really impressive to me.

Speaker 2: 

Yeah, that’s so interesting that you mentioned that, because anytime I got asked this question they were on the list. And then recently I just stopped mentioning them because, yeah, and I didn’t put two and two together, that I just figured like, okay, for some reason I’m not opening anymore, but I didn’t put two and two together, that there was a reason I’m not opening them anymore. That’s really a good point.

Speaker 3: 

So, yeah, whoever was at that I would guess that the other laughter got promoted. That’s what I would say right, like I would say they left because if they promoted, they probably were like no, you can’t do this to my baby. That’s what basically happened at Rev, where they moved me from email to brand and then I was like I’m still gonna write the newsletter though, and they’re like you can handle that. I was like great, that’s my thing, please don’t mess that up. It takes a long time to hone that voice right. I would really guess that somebody would have written back to their emails and be like you’re awesome, can you run my marketing team?

Speaker 2: 

That’s super cool. Was it hard to leave? Leave, rev, knowing that. Now that’s it.

Speaker 3: 

It was hard. Yeah, I mean that’s sort of why I went back into SaaS. Like I went off into cybersecurity and then I did sports and sports gambling for a while and that was fun. But I actually know I’m back in the SaaS world because I bet it’s to scratch where I’m like I want to build this email list again and I’m hoping to call it. We sell to RevOps People at the company called rattlecom or go rattlecom. Rattlecom is a poetry journal. We sell to RevOps people, so I’m hoping to call it RevOps after dark, where we kind of have a little bit more human side of what I’m seeing about that community specifically is that it’s a very like most communities exist now are very stodgy and the people are not stodgy, so it’s like a really opportune place to sort of say hey, look, these are human problems that are part of your job. Let’s talk about them in a newsletter. I’m really pumped about getting that up and down. It’s coming out in about a month, so but yeah, that’s where I came back to SaaS all together, because I was like here’s another thing that’s really boring, that has a lot of opportunity to do it like to blow it up, and you know, arlington is a good example now of like. I think I’m trying again to relive that sort of fun of taking something boring and getting people to be like wait, this is not how a traditional RevOps company would be talking, right?

Speaker 2: 

Yeah, it’s funny because after you left Rev, I remember seeing that new headline on LinkedIn and then being like, oh, cybersecurity, like so boring. Come on and then thinking that’s so silly, like transcription was boring too, like this is exactly where he should be. You know, taking the boring and making it fun. And then you move to somewhere else and then you know each one was boring and this really has become your brand of making boring fun and interesting and engaging for people and making it human. Really.

Speaker 3: 

Yeah, that’s what I like doing it’s a lot of fun. And the thing the only problem with cybersecurity is that when people are hacked, they don’t want fun, right. So I mean, it did well for some of the things that we wanted it to do, but they were incident response. They’re like we need to, we need to get this up a little bit, and I was like, yeah, you’re probably right, so it didn’t quite mix there. Sports gambling, again, sort of one of the things where we had a lot of fun, but then when people lose their money, they’re like, yeah. So I was like, yeah, I think B2B SaaS is probably my sweet spot.

Speaker 2: 

A little less intense for people.

Speaker 3: 

Yeah, don’t mess with somebody’s money or their computer security, right.

Speaker 2: 

Nick, thank you so much for joining. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s one of my favorites. I had a great time, awesome. Thanks so much. All right, thanks for joining me for email story time.

Speaker 1: 

If you enjoyed today’s story, give this podcast a review, so email marketers like you can have more fun with email. See you next week when we dig into this story’s takeaways. Up next, on email swipes.

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