Conversation CEO Frank O’Brien Stands Out In Episode Four of AMC’s “The Pitch”

In episode four of AMC’s new reality TV series “The Pitch,” New York-based agency Conversation vies with Charlotte, NC-based BooneOakley for the business of fast-growing snack-maker PopChips, which is looking to have an agency “create a digital video or interactive campaign that people will want to share.”

English translation: Make something that will ultimately go viral.

Similar to episode three, the contrast in agencies was stark, which is certainly by the producer’s design. But what was most astounding, at least to me, was the manner in which Conversation founder and CEO Frank O’Brien polarized, well, anyone within arm’s reach.

We knew we were in for a treat when O’Brien remarked about his initial impressions of BooneOakley after the initial brief from PopChips CEO Keith Belling and his team.

“The questions the other agency asked were kiss-ass, which is very off-putting,” he told us. And later O’Brien would inform us that, “We’re usually the first to utilize new forms of media” (just like Conversation’s Flash website that inhibits SEO and limits usability).

fobfinalThen came the cultural trainwreck inside the walls of Conversation.

O’Brien entered the team meeting and informed his staff the campaign would be “People of Pop,” a website where people would upload videos and photos (novel) and a video that would set the world record for the longest, most viewed viral video ever. No brainstorm, no collective thought, nada.

One of his employees looked dumbfounded, remarking, “That’s not very impressive.”

O’Brien then tells us about his perspective on ideas or concerns that emanate from staff, “My focus isn’t on other people’s opinions.”

How loveable!

Design director David Orellano was seen struggling with O’Brien’s concept, arguing with his boss (who was utterly dismissive of any concern), leaving work to play drums and clear his head, and then we are told Orellano had a breakthrough — which apparently was “The Year Of Pop,” essentially encompassing the initial “People of Pop” concepts.

Upon the Conversation team reviewing the more fully-baked idea post-Orellano’s design efforts, an employee remarked that it was “a dope idea.”

O’Brien, with great humility, quickly told the employee, “It’s a dope idea that I came up with.”

Are you kidding me?

(spoiler alert)

In the end, Frank and his Conversation team — funny enough he takes three others to the final pitch who say nothing — win the PopChips business.

While I congratulate him and his agency which obviously worked hard to come up with a winning idea, I cannot imagine anyone who would see the episode and want to work for him. And one has to wonder what the PopChips folks will think about their new agency chief after seeing the episode.

Conversely, while the BooneOakley partners seem like great idea generators that simply lack direction (and their final idea, indeed, lacked direction), at the very least there was a sincere interest in the thoughts of their team, a genuine concern for their employees’ well being, and a general respect for colleagues that permeated the agency.

And quite sadly, what stands out most from episode four of “The Pitch” is a self-centered, combative agency founder who is disliked by his employees and just may be very lonely, very soon, if he doesn’t learn some modicum of appreciation for those around him.

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