KJ is the Co-Founder of Ike Media, the international sports brand started in Wisconsin and is now found in 90 plus countries across the world. He's a designer, dealmaker, consultant, podcast host, video producer, and graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with degrees in International Business and Marketing. Words that describe KJ are optimist, bold, creative, and driven. KJ currently lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he helps athletes, businesses, and individuals grow their brand.
Could you tell me about the origin of IKE and what you do?
IKE is an international brand that helps individuals, athletes, and businesses position and grows their brands through creative media vehicles and podcasting. We have an international reach, but we have local roots. On Twitter, there are a lot of people who follow IKE specifically for the IKE Packers podcast, or IKE badgers podcast, or our Brewers and Bucks podcasts which allows us to have a very strong local footprint because that's what we're all about. Home and family are some of our biggest values, but also having international backgrounds we work with anyone throughout the world. We enjoy being creative, we model and position all of our work after some of the highest brands in the world. We love helping anyone grow, helping them grow their business, helping them grow their brand, helping them bring their dream to life. They say the best companies have a story and we like to think of ourselves as the pen and paper to help them write that story.
Why do you think people in companies need that strong brand?
Frankly, people are starting to see through the BS. They're seeing that these companies aren't as sincere as they portray themselves as, and they aren't sure if these big Fortune 500 companies really care about them. People are getting smarter, they're getting smarter with their emotional intelligence, they're getting smarter with their actual intelligence and I think people in today's world which is so run with media and technology, crave a genuine connection which is why we're seeing a lot of local brands, regional media networks really rising up. The big fortune 500 companies really having to do a lot of whether it's donations, whether it's PR, they have to kind of prove to the world that they are actually good for the world. It just allows people to connect with the little guy, the local person down the street, the woman with the flower shop, the athlete who is going to Wisconsin who wants to take his dreams to the NFL. Everyone has a story and it's really hard to stand out in this digital landscape without one because there's just so much media. People have no shortage of it and the story is one of those things that cuts through the noise. It's really something you have to have and if you don't have one, you're behind the game.
What would you recommend are some of the best ways to build a brand in 2021?
At IKE we take an approach that's all about deeper connection. What I mean by that is, there are certain crazes going around, whether it's tik tok or Instagram. An overall trend is that video keeps getting shorter and shorter and shorter and shorter. We love data as a society, companies love data because it tells a story. What we try and cut through the noise of is that maybe you get a million views on a tik tok video, but maybe someone only watches it for seven seconds. How many of those people can you actually make a genuine connection and in seven seconds? How many of them are just going to scroll past and go and laugh at the next thing? We take the approach where in a world where long-form content seems to be getting pushed more and more to the back burner, we don't even care. We'd rather make 10 deep, meaningful connections with people we can help, form a relationship with, help them grow their dreams, help them follow their dreams, help them grow their business, their finances, whatever it might be, help them get in touch with a certain individual who they thought there's no way they would ever be able to get in a conversation with. We produce results and it really starts with that long-form approach in actually getting a connection. So if someone even has 100 listens on a podcast episode, for example, those people are essentially spending 30 minutes in the room with you. If you spend 30 minutes in a room with someone, you can really connect with them and then you might have a relationship, you might have something that can benefit you both whether it's, a mutual friend, or maybe it's something like a business deal. It could be all of those things, but we take a quality over quantity approach and we're really not afraid to show it because we've worked with some of the most incredible athletes in the world, frankly, and that helps us gain credibility.
Can you share one of your most successful or favorite networking experiences that you've had?
Growing up, I would wake up in the mornings on Saturdays and I remember as a family we would watch the Badger game. Sometimes we would even be able to go to the Badger football game in Madison. They were 11 o'clock games and you would have to get up super early and get on the road. At that age, I probably wasn't very enthusiastic about it, but I would go to these games and it had an impact on me early on, whether I realized it or not. It all started with one connection. We met someone, we formed a genuine connection and he happened to be a player on the team. Instead of making relationships transactional, Brian Anderson emphasizes making relationships, not transactional. You can't approach relationships transactionally because it'll just never work. But basically, we ended up meeting this one guy and he ended up being the first athlete guest to come on our show. We've since turned it into dozens and dozens of athletes by producing high-quality content, providing value, leveraging opportunities of a brand, leveraging connections and now we work with athletes all across the board and are able to tell their stories on our podcasts, which help us gain credibility in the eyes of people in business, you know, people with their own companies, people with their own practices, such as the real estate market. We've actually had clients of ours have the Top Producing real estate agents, and also the Top Producing real estate team, that leader on his podcast. So it doesn't really matter what field it's in, if you apply the appropriate tactics, if you lead with value, if you do a good job, if you form a genuine connection if you actually try and help people and show them what they can gain the sky's the limit. If I were to go back when I was a kid and tell myself, "Hey, you'd be talking to these guys pretty frequently," I would have said, "No way you're lying!" It's really opened my eyes to just the possibilities of it all. Networking can change someone's life, whether it's a job or something else. You might apply to 100 jobs, but you might have a phone call with someone you know and that might be the door opening that actually leads you to an opportunity that is worthwhile, and you follow up on. We've seen podcasts turn into this vehicle that allows people to both benefit while also connect. It's just been this unbelievable experience and cultivated in front of our own eyes, whether it's the IKE Podcast Network, or whether it's even podcasting in general. Over 200 million Americans are familiar with podcasting and over half of Americans have listened to a podcast increasing exponentially each year. Really, the key is starting. It doesn't matter if you have 10 people listen. If you have 10 people in your podcast, that's still like you doing 10 meetings a day and that's pretty impressive. But once you start to work at it, and you get up to 100 listeners, you get up to 1000 listeners, that's when the benefits are really unbelievable. It's almost like you don't know what the possibilities are until you jump into the arena. I encourage everyone if they're a little worried about if it will actually work, if you stick with it it's going to create a lot of positive opportunities.
What advice would you offer that business professional who's really looking to grow their network?
I think you have to be willing to do it. Podcasting is one of these ways to do it that applies to today's world, in regards to someone looking to grow their network. A lot of the people, whether it's a kid, whether it's a CEO, are afraid to put their image out there. They see what goes on online, they know they have to network online, they know if they just network in person they might be missing out on valuable opportunities. But really, for better, for worse, most likely for worse, online isn't always the nicest place to be. There might be cyberbullying there might be whatever going on. I find that a lot of business leaders, a lot of professionals, love podcasting as this opportunity because they don't necessarily have to put their face out there. They can still give themselves to an audience in a deep, long-form, meaningful way, without having to be in the camera. Some CEOs are like, "Hey, I'm a great business person, but I'm not an actor, I'm not a movie star," well, they love podcasting because it allows them to thrive in that role. I think was LeBron James who said, "Be a star in your role," and some people are meant to be stars in podcasts, some people are meant to be on TV, some people are meant to be on the radio, some people are meant to, and people are meant to connect online in person. This is one of those ways that really allows people to touch on all those points.
If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less than or differently with regards to your professional career?
I think you can always tell yourself to be patient. I think you can always tell yourself that you're going to maybe have to reinvent a few things. IKE originally started off as a sports website. I was seeing all the fake news being spewed by ESPN, I was seeing how they were covering the Oscar Pistorius trial and it wasn't really about the sports. So I saw an opportunity to cover this in a blog format, more like an article format to be accurate. We made this beautiful website we modeled after Apple and Tesla and ended up being called IKEsportreport and we put all these beautiful articles on the site in various categories, but we didn't really have an audience yet to read these articles. So from there, we had to reinvent in a sense, and we started working at building a following. We found that sportspeople who love what we're offering existed a lot on Twitter. What that meant was a reinvention of what the original concept of IKE was. What ended up happening from there is these Twitter accounts gained a lot of popularity, but even then, we didn't want to just be a popular Twitter account, we had to be more so we evolved into podcasts. If I were to go back and tell myself anything, I think I would preach patience. I think I would preach being open to adapting and evolving. I think I would tell myself that it's going to work out and you're not going to regret this when you're 90. As I go back to that story about watching the Badgers going up and now talking to them, and potentially unveiling something special with some of them, potentially, in the future, it's all just like, pinch me moments, and I definitely don't consider myself someone who has made it by any means. I've got a long way to go, but I don't think I'm going to regret that I didn't try and follow my passion when I'm older.
I understand you have an offer for our listeners today?
We have some really cool things we're doing in the podcast world. We're actually going into this phase in our business where we're able to take on more clients. No matter what size your business is, whether you want a basic package, we're actually offering some specials right now, where if you want to pay in bulk, we offer some pretty hefty discounts, to say the least. I think one thing that's also becoming more and more relevant in today's world is a subject matter expert’s time, right? So it's not even just the act of getting a podcast or getting a brand, it's the act of you know, really working with people who have cultivated brands and are doing it at a level that makes them proud and something that you can truly own and be proud to show off because that sometimes doesn't show up in the value proposition. I love working with people from all different backgrounds and I'm excited to keep work with some new people. You need a story to connect with someone, you need a story to grow your business, you just a story to sell products or just a story to meet people. I would encourage everybody just to start. We've been doing podcasts for a long time and we have cultivated some great audiences, we've charted top 40 multiple times, we've been listened to in over 90 different countries, we've had professional athletes, collegiate athletes, CEOs, entrepreneurs, you name it, and we'd love to help anyone listening today who might be saying, "Hey, maybe video isn't my bread and butter, but I do have an incredible story and I'm ready to tell that story in a certain way. I'm ready to work with someone to do that." I'd love to help.
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