Behind the Marketing Curtain: An Interview With Comedian, Marketer Tim Washer

Behind the Marketing Curtain: An Interview With Comedian, Marketer Tim Washer. “What I really enjoy doing is comedy and improv, and making people laugh,” he said. “When I pitched my first comedy video to IBM, I didn’t have any budget, but I called him up and he worked with me on it. These days, there’s so little content out there that truly connects with people. So much of marketing is telling people how great we are. If you’re going to do comedy, it’s critical to get a comedy writing and a video production team that are experienced with producing comedy. Letting fear have too much influence over their decisions—and dropping this habit certainly requires some deep personal reflection. Ask yourself how does fear hold me back in my job? What’s one thing you would ask the all-powerful marketing wizard for? Thank you so much, Tim.

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Behind the Marketing Curtain - Tim Washer

As we marketers long to make meaningful connections with our audience, we often look deep into our figurative crystal balls in hopes of finding a way to lay an irresistible field of content that will trap their attention. Unfortunately, we can end up putting our audience to sleep—leaving the door open for more colorful characters to swoop in and carry them away.

So, how can we take to the sky and get our audience to surrender to our content? By crafting a narrative that has empathy, humility and wit. And there’s certainly no better person to look to for inspiration than comedic treasure Tim Washer, Creative Director of Marketing for the Service Provider Division for Cisco.

As part of our Wizard of Oz-inspired Behind the Marketing Curtain interview series, today we’ll pull back the fabric and get to know more about how Mr. Washer arrived in the wonderful world of marketing, and share insights that can help you harness the power of comedy to humanize your brand and connect with your audience.


The Man Behind the Curtain

Tim grew up in Houston, TX and attended college at Texas A&M University, majoring in—you guessed it—marketing. But after graduation he took a sales job at Xerox—which was certainly not in his original plan.

“As I was getting close to graduation, there was one thing I knew I didn’t want to do: work in sales,” Tim recalled. “But as I was looking at marketing jobs, most open positions seemed to be promotional jobs—and I wasn’t turned on by that.”

“Then a professor of mine mentioned Xerox, and said their sales team was rated No. 1,” he added. “So, then I thought: ‘Why not start there?’ This seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a better idea of how customers think and what their needs are, which is essential in marketing. It was a total one-eighty for me.”

After snagging a meeting and shadowing someone for a day, Tim landed the gig at Xerox—laying the foundation for what would be a long career in the software and technology space. A few years later, he went back to school to get his MBA. Then, in the late 1990s, he made his way to New York City and has been there ever since.

But shortly after his move, Tim realized he wasn’t exactly working in his calling.

“What I really enjoy doing is comedy and improv, and making people laugh,” he said. “That’s where I feel at home. That’s my Kansas.”

As it stands today, Tim has been able to merge his practical sales and marketing experience with his true passion. As previously mentioned, he’s currently Cisco’s Creative Director of Marketing for the Service Provider Division, and specializes in corporate humor and video content. Here’s a little taste of his work:

Prior to Cisco, he spent about six years doing similar work at IBM. In addition, he’s still active in the comedy arena, with writing and acting credits for his work on Saturday Night Live, Conan, The Onion, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

But how exactly did he get here? We’ll get to that in the next section.

Following His Yellow Brick Road

Like Dorothy Gale, an unexpected twister hit Tim without warning, sending him on a long and winding path.

“I know the exact moment it happened,” Tim remembered. “It was March 3, 1998.”

It was the season of Lent, and Tim said he was thumbing through a devotional guide that his church— Fifth Avenue Presbyterian—had created for the season.

“In there, I saw a Frederick Buechner quote that said: ‘The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger coincide,’” he recited. “And there were a series of reflection questions, the first one was: ‘What is your spiritual gift?’”

For Tim, that answer was easy. It was making people laugh—but he asked around just to make sure others felt the same way. But it was the next question that sealed his fate.

“The question asked: ‘How…