TIP 016 | Editorial Content

TIP 016 | Editorial Content

Welcome to Influencers!

Today, we have with us Bill. For those of you who were listening last episode, there were several hints to suggest who Bill is. He grew up in Western Pennsylvania. He is most proud of winning the National Magazine Award for General Excellence in 2015. And as a hint, his last name rhymes with a brand of light bulb.

Then, the second interview is anonymous. If you can figure out who it is before we reveal it in the following podcast, you could win a coveted invitation to the Influencer Salon.

Listen To The Podcast Here:

What Has Changed In The Editorial Content Industry? with Bill Phillips


Listeners, I hope you are prepared to be influenced because the person we have on the show today is one of the most wonderful and extraordinary people I’ve had the pleasure of working with throughout the years. It is the legendary Bill Phillips. Bill, thank you so much for coming on.

Jon, it’s so great to be here. It’s so great to talk to you again.

Will you tell the listeners a little bit about what you’re up to and what you’ve done in your career, because it’s absolutely amazing?

I got started in my career in the trade magazine industry back in the ‘90s after I graduated from Penn State. Spent some time in DC, moved to New York and worked a couple years at Popular Mechanics magazine, worked six or seven years at Popular Science magazine. Then in 2003, I got an opportunity to join the amazing team at Men’s Health. I spent thirteen years there and rose up through the ranks from Managing Editor to Deputy Editor to Executive Editor of MensHealth.com. Then finally was the Editor-in-Chief of the brand for four years until about a year ago when I broke off on my own to start my own editorial consultant company. That’s what I’ve been doing since I left.

I love how I always have to pull all the fun facts out of you. You won essentially the Academy Award of Publishing, right?

TIP 016 | Editorial Content

Editorial Content: One achievement in my career that I’m most proud of is winning the National Magazine Award for General Excellence in 2015.

Yeah. If I had to pick one achievement in my career that I’m most proud of, it is winning the National Magazine Award for General Excellence in 2015. That was awarded to me in Men’s Health but it’s a team effort. To put out a magazine, create a brand like Men’s Health, which is in 42 countries and domestically, is a goliath just in terms of advertising, circulation, newsstand. An amazing achievement for myself but also for the team who everyday worked super, super hard to serve the Men’s Health readers.

I have to say, one of the things that if you would ever listen in on hallway conversations, I would consistently hear about you, and you probably don’t even know this, is how dedicated you were to your team. It was really wonderful to hear the gossip about the boss to be so wonderful. Whatever you were doing, it was good.

My leadership style is very much team first. You have to lead and you have to get people motivated and to follow at the same time. You don’t have to be a complete jerk to do that. You can treat them humanely, as long as you’re transparent and honest with them. You don’t have to be a jerk.

When people discover what you’ve accomplished, what’s their most common question?

“What’s it like to work at a big magazine?” There’s still that allure there even though magazines aren’t what they used to be in terms of their place in popular culture. People still love them and respect them. They still see them as the most credible source of information, along with newspapers of course. There’s an allure to working in a big magazine. People want to know what it’s like to sit around and create a magazine. Believe me, it is super, super fun, super hard and it takes tremendous amount of dedication both being there, being present; hours are not 9 to5 certainly.

Also because of the headwinds that the industry has been facing since 2008. It’s been a tough time because the industry is facing severe financial challenges as advertising falls and readers aren’t going to newsstands like they used to, circulation has been weak just across the industry. It’s been challenging times for the industry, lots of cost-cutting and that sort of thing. Still, there’s nothing like going and sitting with your team and just creating a magazine. It’s so fun.

It’s interesting because I would expect people to ask, “How to get abs? How to lose weight? How to have better sex?” After all, it was Men’s Health. Isn’t that what I, as a man, really want to know?

TIP 016 | Editorial Content

Editorial Content: There’s just more to this next generation of men than there was maybe previously.

I would say that you, as a man, really wanted to know that in 2001. Men have changed since then. This generation, especially the millennial generation, they want more out of life than just a great body, great abs, great sex and great girlfriend. They want to feel passionate about the work they do. They want to give back. They want to be stewards of the environment. They’re very well-rounded as a generation. There was a study, and we used to quote it all the time when I was in Men’s Health, that American Express commissioned it. It asked what the top twenty measures of success are. The young men especially, picked good health as number one. Money was number eight. A fancy car was number nineteen or something like that. It was good health. There’s just more to this next generation of men than there was maybe previously.

For people who are looking to get into the industry, since it’s changed so much, it seems the normal rules may not apply. The advice you would have given somebody 30, 20 years ago to get into the publishing world or into media may no longer apply, but what would you give as advice?

The definition of media has changed. It used to be that I might have said, “You want to break into magazines, come up with some story ideas. Target a senior editor on the masthead.” In every magazine, there’s somebody responsible for all those short stories in the front of book. That person is pulling their hair out every day because they have to assign and edit 70 stories a month and need all the help they can get. If you can prove to be a valuable freelance contributor to that person, even doing 200-word stories, that’s the way in. That’s the traditional advice. I think I would stop the person and say, “Slow down a second. Make sure to figure out what exactly you want to do.” There’s no such thing as a magazine editor anymore. Everybody who is an editor or a writer in the media space is thinking about how they reach readers every minute, not just every month. You have to be a great writer and editor but you also have to be a great social media editor, a great website editor, a great magazine editor. You have to think about who you are and what you want out of your career.

There was a quote I read a few years ago and somebody said, “If Burberry has 50 million Facebook fans, why do they need Vogue?” I thought that was a really powerful quote because it’s getting at this idea that brands can have their own readers. They can reach their own customers and readers and serve them editorial content just like any magazine can. The internet has brought brands and their customers and fans closer. What I do in my business today is I try to help brands connect with their customers directly. In some ways, the media, the magazines and newspapers, they’re middle men. Red Bull doesn’t have to go through Men’s Health to reach a bunch of people with the content they’re creating. They do a great job of it. That’s one thing.

Truth be told, they probably reach a lot more people than Men’s Health.

They probably do. Red Bull in particular probably does because they saw this coming years ago and they got on it. Most companies are only now figuring it out. I work with a handful of companies who have been in the B2B space before but they’ve never been in the B2C space to reach consumers directly. I’m helping them do that. They’re amazed, “Look at this engagement. It’s through the roof.” It’s great content. It’s great editorial content. There will always be a place in the world for great writers and editors. The traditional definition of who that person is and where they work is completely changing.

It’s something I talk about a lot that we’ve spent millennia passing down knowledge through an oral history. If something doesn’t stand out, if it’s not remarkable, if it’s not told in the format of a story, for whatever reason, we don’t engage with it. It’s been the truth for thousands and thousands of years and yet companies are only beginning to realize now how important that is. It’s incredible to me.

TIP 016 | Editorial Content

Editorial Content: Anything that you write and edit, it’s about the person reading it.

The companies who are recognizing it are still at the leading edge of it. A lot of companies think they get it and they’re creating content to serve their readers and their customers but it’s not high quality. It’s because they don’t understand those people, how they think, what they need. Readers are actually very selfish beings. It’s about them. Anything that you write and edit, it’s about the person reading it. It’s not about the person writing it. That’s a fundamental problem that most people don’t understand as they try to create content. They try to make it about them. It’s really about the person you’re writing it for. That means, you have to actually understand the person you’re writing for.

In light of that, what are three pitfalls that people should look out for if they’re going to be entering this field?

Number one is you have to understand the reader. Your writing is not about your writing. It’s about the reader. You could be the most beautiful creator of prose in the world but it doesn’t matter because the reader is trying to pull something out, something actionable to help them today. That’s really especially true in the digital space. Some magazines are still maybe a feet up, lean back read, but more and more, they’re not. More and more readers are busy, they’re picking through what can they pull out of it, what can they use in their life today. If the answer is nothing, you’re not going to last very long. That’s one.

Second is that there’s this dirty term, content marketing. Everybody’s into content marketing now. What is that? Social media is really content marketing when it comes from brands. Content marketing is just service journalism. That’s the opportunity for young journalists. That’s the opportunity for editors who might want to change if they’re unhappy with where maybe the magazine industry is going. There’s tremendous value in being able to provide service to a reader as a journalist. Every company in the world needs that talent on staff. Less than one-tenth or 1% have it. That’s going to be super important. The third thing I would say is, and this is the golden rule, talent always rises. If you’re talented at writing and editing, be honest with yourself, but if you’re talented, you will succeed. It’s just a matter of finding your path. Every path is different. The bottom line is, a good writer, a good editor, that’s part gift. It’s not all learning and experience. If you have the gift, you’ll go far.

What’s something completely unexpected about reaching this level of success? Day one, you became Editor-in-Chief of Men’s Health. All of a sudden, life changed.

In 2012, Maria Rodale, the CEO of Rodale Inc. tapped me on the shoulder to become the next Editor-in-Chief of Men’s Health. It was obviously incredibly exciting. I couldn’t wait to get started. At the same time, I was succeeding a legend. Dave Zinczenko was my predecessor. He is another legend in this industry and has accomplished as much as anybody quite honestly in this industry. He led Men’s Health in its tremendous growth throughout the decade of the 2000’s. I was really truly coming in behind a legend who had accomplished so much. That was scary and daunting, A. B, there are a few challenges. One is the magazine industry was reeling after the crash of 2008, 2009. When you looked at the business, there was no chart that showed anything going up. Everything was down. Here you are, running the biggest men’s brand in the world, trying to figure out, how do we turn those charts around? You’re new to the scene. Your team is looking at you differently because you went from peer to boss. It was tough. It’s cliché to say, it was a bit lonely.

TIP 016 | Editorial Content

Editorial Content: The decisions I would have made on day one had I trusted my gut, I ended up making them anyway. It just took a year.

The one thing that I learned is you have to trust your gut. Probably the first year, I didn’t realize that. I had these gut instincts on certain things but I was getting people’s advice on things and trying to make sense of data and science. When the reality was, I did have a lot of the answers in me. I just didn’t know I had to trust my gut yet. That was the one lesson, I should have gone in. The decisions I would have made on day one had I trusted my gut, I ended up making them anyway. It just took a year. That’s the one major thing that I learned. It started me ever since.

It’s interesting how when you’ve had years and years of experience, what your gut says is very different. You’re pulling from a collection of knowledge and achievements and failures that inform your instincts in a completely different way.

Add to that, you feel the weight of the brand and the company and its future on your shoulders. It can be paralyzing. At the same time, every successful editor-in-chief that I’ve ever met, and I think many would agree with this, they got there because they made some decisions that didn’t necessarily look like the smartest decision on paper, but they felt it was the right decision. I tried to live up to that learning in big and small decisions. I had a case just recently with one of my clients where, this is a little inside baseball, they had this massive email distribution list for an editorial content newsletter that they do. They weren’t sending to half of it because most people never open newsletters and they were afraid they were just pissing them off and that they were going to mark as spam and they were going to hate the company. I said to them, “Here are some editorial content, send it. This is a great story. I know they’re going to like it.” They fought me, fought me, and fought me. I was like, “You’re paying me as a consultant. I’m telling you they’re going to love this.” They finally gave in, sent it, massive open rate, click through-rate of 70% which is unheard of for any newsletter. It’s insanity. They’re like, “Wow. How did this happen?” I was, “That’s the power of great editorial content.” When you’re serving the reader, and serving I’m not using that word flippantly, I’m using it very intentionally. You serve the reader. When you’re serving them, they get it. They recognize it and they want it.

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to a lot of great editors-in-chief. It’s consistently a conversation about what are we going to do for our readers? The moment that the brand loses site of that is when you really begin to see that the readers leave for somewhere else or the brand loses value. I’m going to switch gears a little. I bet there are probably some crazy stories throughout your years at the magazine. Is there any completely wild experience that you had with somebody you interviewed, a story that just went completely haywire, anything like that?

The culture of a magazine is incredibly collaborative and fun and super great times. Back in the day, there are certainly the clichés. You see on Madman or whatever of people drinking around the table and throwing footballs around the office. That is the culture. One of the moments that transcended for me was transitioning from a print editor to a digital editor. That happened in 2009. I remained on the print side of things but I took over the website, MensHealth.com. It was a foreign language at the time. We had a web team. They sat on the other side of the floor across the foyer that you dared not walk cross. They spoke in language that no one understood like Drupal and HTML, that sort of thing. For us, they were the tech geeks.

When I took over the website, I really had no idea where to start. Just started meeting that team and realizing that the problems they’re trying to solve were the same. It’s serving readers and how we do that. I was like, “I don’t know where to start. I can’t code anything. I can’t login to a Drupal and build anything. Where do I start?” Somebody said, “We’ve got this daily newsletter that goes out. Why don’t you just edit that?” That’s where I started. At the time, that newsletter drove a couple of million clicks back to the site a month. Just by editing it and putting better stories and better language, sharper words, better subject lines, sharper headlines, we went from 2 million to 22 million in just a couple of months. Traffic went up eleven times just being smarter about the language and the stories and the words we use and how we engage readers directly. That was, for me, just a transcending moment in my career because I realized that it truly is all about the content. The platform truly does not matter. That’s important. If anybody who wants to get into the writing space, wants to get into the editing space or wants to transition from print to digital or vice versa, again, it’s all about serving the reader. You just have to figure out what that reader wants. You have within you the talent to serve them.

TIP 016 | Editorial Content

Editorial Content: You have the analytic tools in the digital space that are so powerful. You can see everything that’s happening in real time.

That was a great run because we drove traffic. It went up ten times during the period that I was overseeing the site. You just had the analytic tools in the digital space that are so powerful where you can see everything that’s happening in real time. There were times when we would have a story just breakout and you would see that 5,000 people are reading it at the same time or something would go up on Yahoo! and a million people come into the site that day. Those were the most exciting times. What a dopamine hit when you have all these people flooding into your site, all these new people experiencing the brand. That was always the most exciting part.

We’re going to go a little rapid fire. Are you ready? A whole bunch of questions are going to come at you, do the best you can and don’t stress.

All right.

Is there a book that influenced you the most or inspired you or you really care for some reason?

I wrote a book called The Better Man Project a couple of years ago, which I personally love and I refer to often. Essentially, it’s all the best tips and advice that Men’s Health has published over the years all in one place. It’s a great refresher in terms of how to be the best man you could be. Really that book boils down to one message which is, “Take a step.” Just take one step. People know who they want to be and they know who they are but they don’t know how to get from here to there. No matter what challenge you’re facing in life, the correct answer is to just take a step forward. It doesn’t have to be a big one, but do something.

There’s that great quote that goes, “The best thing to do is the right thing. The next best is the wrong thing. The worst thing to do is nothing.”

I agree with that 100%.

Imagine you get an email in your inbox from a complete stranger. You’ve never heard of this person. You don’t know anything about them. They want to meet you for coffee. What is the content of that email that has you accept and say yes?

The person says, “I have an idea I want to share with you.” That is powerful, Jon. You mentioned it at the top. I love hearing about ideas, I love hearing people’s vision for things that could change. That’s what my business really is right now is connecting with people who have ideas and don’t know how to act on them. If somebody emails me and said, “I think you could help me. I think I could help you. I have an idea I want to share with you. Let’s work together.” I’m going to take that coffee meeting.

“I have an idea. It’s an informational packet on how to wrap burritos.” You’d be like, “Yes. I’m in.” I don’t believe that for a second. The idea needs to be remarkable in some way. When it comes to you, it either needs to serve in a specific audience or it needs to serve you if you’re going to read that email.

Here’s the thing. Obviously, I’m going to check this person’s track record and I’m going to see who they are. The reality is creativity is an iterative process. Studies prove this. If you and I sit around the table and create a lineup for the next issue of Jon Levy magazine, it will be good. If we get two or three other people around that table, it’s going to be better. At this point in my career, I know what I’m really good at. I’m really good at elevating ideas. I’m really good at taking something and just positioning it slightly differently or adding a little bit of juice to it and taking it to the next level, especially in the editorial content space. If you give me something and I can dig out a little nugget, I can build on that and make something better.

To change gears a little, is there a certain organization or a project or nonprofit that you’re really committed to?

The nonprofit that I’m really committed to right now are my kids, which they’re definitely nonprofit for me and my wife because they’re very expensive kids. I donate a lot to my alma mater, Penn State. I donate to a lot of health facilities, that sort of thing. I don’t really want to talk about that really. My girls are fourteen and eleven. I’m trying to everyday enjoy every moment with them. They’re super busy. They’re both big into soccer. There’s lots of travel involved. Every moment I get in the car with them, going to practice, going to the game, I’m just trying to enjoy that moment with them because they’re going to be off to college soon enough. We’ll worry about how do I connect with them after they go. Right now, I just want to be in their lives and be present every day. At Penn State, I do have a scholarship fund for journalists who need help. If anybody were interested, they can reach out to me and I could tell them how to qualify.

What’s a very human secret that you would feel comfortable sharing on the podcast? In the past, people shared they deal with anxiety. I would share that after first grade, my first kiss was when I was in college.

TIP 016 | Editorial Content

The Better Man Project: 2,476 tips and techniques that will flatten your belly, sharpen your mind, and keep you healthy and happy for life!

I’d say that you have to understand where I came from. I was afraid of the world growing up. I grew up in a very small town in Western Pennsylvania, a town that very few people left. My family and all of my extended family were still there. The world was scary to me. We didn’t just pick up and go to the beach. We didn’t pick up and hop on a plane and go to Florida. That was terrifying to me growing up. I went off to college to Penn State. I knew that I was a really good writer and editor at Penn State. I actually published the very first thing I wrote for our class. I knew that New York was the center of the publishing universe. I was terrified of it and had this tremendous anxiety about cities and I live with it every day; just afraid to go out into the world and to be the center of attention. I had to really fight through that.

One of the reasons I moved to New York was just to prove it to myself that I could. One of the manifestations of this anxiety was an OCD. I had to do everything in force up until probably in my 20s. My body had to be balanced. If I touched something with my right hand, I had to touch it with my left hand. Finally, right around the time where I was looking to move to New York, I was just like, “I’m done with this, cold turkey, not happening. I’m not letting my mind control my actions in such a negative way.” For the most part, I just got over it on my own. It took some time. Certainly, being successful and achieving your dreams helps you be a little calmer. It was really debilitating for probably the first couple of decades of my life.

That sounds insanely difficult. I’m incredibly impressed that you were able to take that on and overcome that.

I’m incredibly impressed that I didn’t become a drug addict trying to control it, which I managed to avoid.

If you could be any comic book hero, who would it be?

I’d have to be The Invincible Man. What else is there?

There are so many. There’s Wolverine, there’s Batman, there’s Superman, there’s Professor X, if you want to be in a wheelchair.

I almost said Superman. Maybe that’s harkening back to where I came from too, that idea of being invincible but still seeing everything. It’s still a bit appealing to me.

Imagine I invite you back to dinner and you could sit down with any three people, but they have to be living, we can’t resurrect people from the dead. Who would you want to sit with?

I just want to make sure my industry covers here. I would want to sit with Barack Obama, for sure. I’d like to sit down with Anna Wintour, maybe, just talk shop with her, just to get a sense of what it’s like living her life over at Condé Nast everyday and what she’s seen over the years. I’m trying to think of maybe like Coach K. Somebody from sports, a real amazing coach; Coach K, Roy Williams, somebody like that, just really big in their leadership philosophy.

Bill, this has been an absolute treat. Thanks for making the time. I know I’ve probably taken you away from your kids or taken you away from providing great value to readers somewhere. Thanks for taking the time to hang out with us for a bit.

Sure. I love talking with you again, Jon. I hope to see you soon.

Listeners, stay tuned because next is the anonymous interview. If you can figure out who it is, maybe you’ll be seeing us at The Salon.

About Bill Phillips

TIP 016 | Editorial ContentFor the past two decades, Bill Phillips held leadership positions at the world’s most successful magazine brands. Most recently, he was the Vice President & Editor-in-Chief of Men’s Health, the world’s largest men’s magazine. Previously, he held senior positions at Popular Science and Popular Mechanics.

Bill Phillips won dozens of print and digital awards for his writing and editing, including the National Magazine Award for General Excellence, the industry’s highest honor. “Hunting My Father’s Killer,” his first-person investigation of the disease that killed his father, was recognized as a National Magazine Award finalist.

Anonymous Guest Interview

I’m so excited. You all know that this is my favorite part of the show. We’re going to do the anonymous interview. Today, we have the legendary JG with us. Welcome, JG.

Hi. Thanks.

JG, let’s give the listeners some background on who you are. Tell us a little bit where you grew up.

I grew up in Southern California. My dad was LAPD. I spent my childhood in Southern California but I spent every summer in Lynchburg, Tennessee where they make Jack Daniel’s liquor, which both of those places had big influences on them. I think I would have been a totally different person if I’d just grown up in one or the other. I learned how to surf but I also know how to shoot groundhogs.

Let me ask you a question though as it pertains to your career. Was there an incident or a teacher experience that really inspired you to go into what you do now?

I have to say that my early influences would have kept me from going into what I do now. I’m a poet and my earliest influence, my upbringing was not focused on the intellect or the arts, that’s interesting. Part of my choice was to move out, to speed out of my upbringing as soon as I had the money for gas meaning college. I think like a lot of people, I have a string of teachers. Looking back now, not that I work with young people sometimes and not that I’m just an adult, I had a stream of teachers starting in elementary school through junior high, certainly high school that spotted something and moved me along.

Shout-out to Mr. Borax in fifth grade when I was nine years old. He taught me how to use the semicolon, which was a little bit advanced, we weren’t studying that at the time but he taught me how to do it. I know this because I’ve saved all of my elementary school papers and big ones anyway and you can see the moment where I learned a semicolon because after I learned it, every sentence needed a semicolon from then on. Even when they didn’t I thought that I had to put one in because that made your writing official. Starting with him and going all the way through a string of really, really impactful teachers that I feel absolutely blessed. When people start talking about there’s this one person, I had at least one every year of my Southern California public school education. God bless them.

Is there a certain accomplishment in your career that you’re most proud of?

If there was an accomplishment that I was most proud of, I wouldn’t say it because pride goes before the fall. I will say that when young people ask me for advice, which they tend to do a lot over the internet, young poets, I usually tell them I don’t give advice either. I don’t like to be prideful. I don’t like to give advice because I don’t know who you are but you’re asking. I do think I’m really, really, really freaking good now at eye contact. I think that’s something at the beginning of my adult life and certainly at the beginning of my career I noticed I wasn’t good at. I set about trying to do it. I would practice with the Jamba Juice cashier and with liked ones and loved ones and I got really, really good at that. I guess we can say that I’m proud of it. I know that when I went in, I knew I was bad at it. Now, I know that I’m solid at it.

You are such a character.

Why is that?

Most of the time people have these stories of, “I’ve won some award. I did this thing.” Didn’t you at one point hold the record for most TED Talks or something like that?

I think I did. I had four TED Talks online. I think I got to four before anybody else got to four. I think at one time, I either had solo or I shared the most talks on TED.com. These were actual talks, they weren’t TEDx Talks. They were main stage TED event talks. I have six now but I no longer have the record. I don’t know who does. I think Daniel Dennett maybe or the late great Hans Rosling maybe or Stefan Sagmeister. Marco Tempest has a ton.

If there was a movie about your life, who would play you and why?

If there was a movie about my life, presumably I would have a role in casting it and I would cast a fourteen-year-old Dominican girl from Washington Heights for two reasons: One, I really like her and two, she spits fire. I understand that might mess people up but whatever, I’m doing the casting, you just asked the question. A fifteen-year-old Dominican girl from Washington Heights named Daniela.

That’s, by far, the most creative answer we’ve gotten so far. What’s the craziest thing you have ever done on a dare or a bet or maybe it was a stunt you’d pulled off that caused your success?

I feel like I have a lot of answers to the craziest shit question. They fall into two main categories: One, legal and two, hell of not legal. I’m an urban trespasser and also I think a swing-for-the-fences risk-taker. Let me think.

Just think what the statute of limitations has run out on.

TIP 016 | Editorial Content

People like a rogue even if you’re not actually one or even if you are.

I’m thinking about people and whatever. This is just a sissy answer but it matters. In 2008, there was a little get-together and it needed a rogue and I definitely did the rogue thing. If you’re asking about helping career or something, that definitely got me on the rogue radar. People like a rogue even if you’re not actually one or even if you are, people like it. I would say the aspen incident of 2008. Sorry, do you need more juicy information in that? I can’t. It involves other people and nudity and snow.

Was there a moment or experience that made you feel like you had arrived to some degree?

In early 2000’s, I had a job. I made pop-up books for a living. I was, what’s called, a Paper Engineer at the world’s largest pop-up book company. I was making really good money and it was a really fulfilling job. I thought I had gotten to a place where I was really good at it. At that time, I started doing this poetry stuff, this stand-up spoken word poetry in competitions and I started winning. That was all really good but there was one moment, I qualified for this competition at a really hot spot. It’s sixteen supposedly top poets and you’d draw your number out of a hat. I drew sixteen. That’s a really good slot right there.

There are going to be sixteen poets and I’m going last. I was very unseasoned but I had guts so I really went for it. I got the highest score of the competition partly because I did go last, which is when people are more likely to give you that perfect score. I won that competition. It’s probably fair to say that if I hadn’t won that competition, I wouldn’t be right here, I wouldn’t be talking to you, my life would be totally different. When I won that competition, it seems like such a small thing but it was weekly venue in Los Angeles. It was very cool and underground. I’ve been going to that place for years but just as a spectator. As soon as I won that competition that night in that forum, I never waited in line, did get in. I suddenly had all these doors open to me. I suddenly had respect. In the spoken word world, you can get quad in two ways. I guess this is like a lot of employment. One is you can just be around so long that you’re an OG. People just know you. You’ve done your time. Two, you can maybe have some spectacular or scandalous even success.

That was the moment. Really stepping up that stage bewildered and light-headed from my nerves, was when I thought, “I think I’ve moved up a quantum.” I don’t know about made it, but there was a quantum and I just jumped it. I’m on a different level now. This is me thinking contemporaneously, I suspect I’m not going back to the level I was at before. With that said, all that’s a glory and a lot of loose yourself type romantic imagery, 90 minutes later I was on my motorcycle driving down Wilshire Boulevard to my home. I had such bad stomach cramps from delayed nerves I had to pull the motorcycle over in front of a synagogue and threw up on a lawn.

Listeners, you’ve got a lot of information. I’m going to give one more hint. You all know that I’m the expert at 2:00 AM, but JG, when are you the expert of?

4:00 in the morning.

Listeners, you’ve got plenty of hints. If you can figure out who JG is, you can win an invitation to the The Salon series by Influencers.