SXSWi 2011: Cisco's Tim Washer on business humor

SNL's Amy Poehler said: "He should consider a job in corporate communications"

Tim Washer was a podcaster and corporate communications guy at IBM® where he produced the now legendary spoof video series, Mainframe: The Art of the Sale. Now a social media guy at Cisco, Tim's comedy moonlighting has included appearances on The Onion News Network, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and as a writer for David Letterman. Scott ran into Tim at SXSWi in Austin and did a quick interview on the street in front of a sports bar while they waited unsuccessfully for a table. Scott ends up eating a granola bar. Tim settled for some used chewing gum on the porch railing.

Scott Laningham (scottla@us.ibm.com), Podcast Editor, IBM developerWorks

Scott LaninghamScott Laningham, host of developerWorks podcasts, was previously editor of developerWorks newsletters. Prior to IBM, he was an award-winning reporter and director for news programming featured on Public Radio International, a freelance writer for the American Communications Foundation and CBS Radio, and a songwriter/musician.



18 March 2011

developerWorks: Scott Laningham with IBM® developerWorks on the street at South by Southwest Interactive 2011. This is day three, or two and a half, I guess, Monday, and I'm standing here with Tim Washer. Tim, how you doing?

Washer: Scott, thanks for having me on the show.

A Johnny Bench Batter-Up set and mike: All you need

Listen to this podcast.

developerWorks: It's been a long time since I've seen you.

Washer: It has. My publicist had a tough time getting me this spot. So, I don't know, let's try to do it a little bit more frequently in the future.

developerWorks: Yes. She was tough, though, on your price. You know, I don't know that we're going to able to handle ... maybe we can do about 30 seconds, is all I can do.

Washer: I got a coupon. [LAUGHTER]

developerWorks: You and I worked together at IBM in years passed, and the first thing that comes to mind is a photo shoot that we did for an iTunes page that was going to show all the IBM podcasters. [LAUGHTER]

Do you remember that? And we all looked, I thought we looked quite attractive. There were a lot of ...

Washer: We were very handsome, yes.

developerWorks: You remember the pose you did? It was ...

Washer: Yes, I was wearing the same shirt, actually. I do.

developerWorks: How do you keep it ...

Washer: George Faulkner was wearing this shirt.

developerWorks: How did you keep it so unwrinkled all those years?

Washer: I did. It's a wrinkle-free Dockers® shirt. [LAUGHTER]

I'm test marketing it for them right now. I remember that.

developerWorks: You know, they didn't use that photo, and I think ... I don't think any of us quite measured up to the level of beauty they needed.

Washer: No, that's right. That's right. But if you go, I think you've seen this on my Facebook page. I've actually added George Faulkner's look-alike Kevin Bacon to that photo.

developerWorks: Yes. He looked a lot like Kevin Bacon.

Washer: Yes.

developerWorks: Matter of fact, are they related?

Washer: Yes, I think they are. They were in a movie together.

developerWorks: Now, did you see the photo that actually replaced ours that got used? I did. Did you see it?

Washer: No.

developerWorks: There's a lot of very beautiful people. I don't think any of them were involved with IBM in any way. But they actually did a different photo.

Washer: Oh, you're kidding me. They used stock footage or something like that from somebody?

developerWorks: It was very politically correct. It was very balanced.

Washer: Right. Nice.

developerWorks: Everybody had hair. That's probably the reason I got ditched.

Washer: Yes, I think ... I think that's what it was, yes. That's too bad, man.

developerWorks: Tell me what you're doing now.

Washer: Now I'm working for Cisco in the service provider marketing group. So we work with clients like the AT&T, Verizon, Telstra, British Telecom, those kind of folks.

And in social media we do ... you know, get the content out to them that we think is going to be relevant. And some of that is just, a lot of it actually, is quite technical and just information that we need to share.

developerWorks: Okay.

Washer: So my favorite part about the job is taking part of that budget and saying, look, let's just create some entertainment for our clients.

developerWorks: Exactly.

Washer: And that's where I kind of come in.

developerWorks: Well, and that's what you were so good at, among other things, I'm sure, at IBM. I mean, everybody knows about the legendary Art of the Sale and Mainframe video series on YouTube. If you haven't seen that, you've got to check that out. You wrote that series, right?

Washer: That's right.

developerWorks: And produced it?

Washer: That's right.

developerWorks: And it's hilarious.

Washer: Thank you. Thank you. That was a fun spot to do.

developerWorks:The Office, you inspired The Office show to actually be created.

Washer: Yes. Ricky Gervais saw that and he said, "you know what? I wonder if we could do this on TV but be even more cynical." And so that's, and The Office was born at the BBC, and so was Ricky Gervais's career.

developerWorks: That wasn't the reason you left IBM, was it?

Washer: Because of the Gervais controversy?

developerWorks: Yes, yes.

Washer: That, I'd rather ... the HR reps have asked me not to, I cannot, contractually I can't comment on that.

developerWorks: Okay. Talk about what you presented here for 45.3 seconds today.

Washer: Yes. It was the executive path, you know, it was an elevator pitch. I was on a panel with a guy named David Meerman Scott who's a best-selling author in the social media space.

developerWorks: Yes. Yes, I know David.

Washer: Oh, he actually ... he included the Mainframe video in his very first book, New Rules, New Rules of Marketing and PR. He mentioned the mainframe as a case study back in the day.

developerWorks: He also wrote World Wide Rave.

Washer: Ah!

developerWorks: Yes, yes.

Washer: Yes. And we did a video together. I'm surprised that didn't get, I love that video. That was a lot of fun. World Wide Rave, David Meerman Scott.

developerWorks: That was good one.

Washer: Search for that. That was fun.

So I was here speaking on his panel and just showing a few examples of some comedy that we've done at Cisco to kind of help our content get social, and most recently for our Videoscape launch. We just did a launch about a product called Videoscape, and so I just showed just an absurd video that we did to promote that. And it was a lot of fun.

developerWorks: Yes?

Washer: It was fun.

developerWorks: Did you get some good questions?

Washer: I did. I did. A lot of people always ask, there was a woman from E*TRADE who asked about the metrics, because one of the points I made is, you know, be careful that you frame your metrics in the correct way, set expectations to the right way, make sure people understand what social media is about.

It's not necessarily ... you know, we didn't sell any mainframes from the video we did back at IBM. You know, nobody stumbled across a YouTube video and said, oh, let me pay a $100 million for a mainframe.

developerWorks: Right.

Washer: But it's just like, look, can we reach our influencers? Who are our key bloggers, and can we maybe deepen our relationship with those bloggers just by entertaining them and still having a little bit of a story line in there, but make it fun.

developerWorks: Yes.

Washer: So ...

developerWorks: And IBM spends millions of dollars on branding and just getting a culture out there to the entire viewership of television and a lot of media, anyway ...

Washer: Right.

developerWorks: ... why not spend some of these more efficiently used dollars to entertain them in a more pocketed manner, right?

Washer: That's right. And, you know, and the mainframe video, in that case, you know, we launched that on this new mainframe blog that was back in 2005. And, you know, our traffic went up 25 times when we posted that video up.

developerWorks: Wow.

Washer: So there are ... if you're truly trying to help your social media plan get started, you know, and connect with people, it's a great ... it's a great tool to use. But it's definitely tough for people to understand, okay, how is this going to deliver, what's the ROI. You know, that question comes up quite a bit.

And people do ask ... they ask about hits, you know. And hits I think are not that important. You're always going to be asked how many hits did it get. That question will always come up. The thing is, you have no idea who's clicking on the video.

developerWorks: It's more about who hits you, right?

Washer: That's exactly right.

developerWorks: Yes.

Washer: And so the qualitative measures, like I remember with the Mainframe video when James Governor blogged about it, that was a huge win for us, the San Francisco Chronicle, you know, we got some good coverage. With some of the Cisco stuff we've done, we've got into New York Times blogs, and that's helped drive traffic, but it's more important that we're in the New York Times and Network World and light reading. Yes.

developerWorks: What about The Onion? Are you getting any there?

Washer: Haven't, no. We haven't heard from The Onion yet.

developerWorks: I saw that you did, you do some correspondence work for them, or you have in the past?

Washer: That's right. I play a character, an ex-, a senior baseball analyst, Jim Ridgeway.

developerWorks: Play a lot of baseball? [LAUGHTER]

Washer: I had a Johnny Bench Batter-Up set when I was a kid, and that's about my extent of knowledge there. [LAUGHTER]

Have no idea. Not a big baseball fan.

developerWorks: Can we still see some of that stuff on The Onion? Is it still up there?

Washer: Yes. Yes, it's up on The Onion, Onion Sports Network, either on YouTube or The Onion site. And I think I have some up on my site as well, some links to it.

developerWorks: I loved it. I think you look gorgeous on camera. And the purple shirt, it's always there. That's the way people find you, right?

Washer: You know, that's kind of you to say, and I appreciate you reading these cue cards they just wrote down. That's sweet of you. But thank you. Yes, that was a lot of fun. I hope to get to do more of that. That was a good time.

developerWorks: Tim, I'm glad I ran into you here at South By, and I hope we can stay in touch and do these on a regular basis, like maybe every four or five days.

Washer: Every four or five days, I'm in. I'm in, Scott. Good to see, brother. Man, good to be back in your town. I love it.

developerWorks: Have a good time.

Washer: All right. Thank you, sir.

developerWorks: Tim Washer who is now at Cisco, a social media lead there, comedian extraordinaire, here speaking at South by Southwest Interactive 2011. I'm Scott Laningham with developerWorks. We'll be back later.

Search terms for these topics: Tim Washer | Cisco | South by Southwest 2011 | SXSWi 2011 | World Wide Rave | David Meerman Scott

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