Paulie Dery

YETI VP Paulie Dery on Reveling in Risk and Building Brands Through Community

From starting with just a great cooler to transforming into an outdoor lifestyle brand that enthusiasts don on hats, shirts and stickers, YETI has redefined what a brand can become. 17-year creative veteran and Austin Brand Stars honoree Paulie Dery is now leading the brand to new heights—doubling down on community, experimenting with different content formats, and even launching their own “streaming” service. From an awarded career at top agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi and R/GA to leading creative for Uber and now YETI, Paulie shares his recipe for success based on pursuing transformative risks, focusing on your community and letting fear of mediocrity guide your career path.

How did you get to where you are today? Any noteworthy learning moments along the way?

Revel in risk. Both with your work and where you work. I left Australia and a good career at M&C Saatchi after eight years because I saw the impending shift from traditional media to digital. Then, during the global economic collapse in 2008, I set my sights on R/GA NY, which at the time was a somewhat unproven small agency with just two offices.

After eight years with R/GA, I took another gamble to go “client side” at a startup called Uber. The point is, don’t be afraid of an opportunity if it will transform both your work and you as an individual.

What learnings changed the way you view and navigate your career?

“Being fired isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you—mediocrity is.”

Being fired isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you—mediocrity is. Client fires you because they wanted a straighter idea? Good riddance. Agency fires you because you stood up for your ideas? Their loss. CMO fires you because your ideas scare them? Perfect. Being fired because you were keeping other people happy with average work? A disaster.

What's one thing you learned from your prior experiences at Uber, R/GA and Saatchi that you carry into your role today?  

Most people are empowered to say “no.” Give them permission to say “yes.”

Yeti has become a passion brand in the outdoor space. From your perspective, how has marketing fueled YETI’s growth?

Nobody asked for a $400 cooler. So, YETI’s early marketing strategy was focused on two priorities that still hold true today.

  1. Demonstrate the product’s worth. This led to our crazy “YETI versus” series that showed the insane durability of our products. They were fun, crazy and informative. Advertising can’t make a product better, but when you have the best product, you should let it do all the work.
  2. Don’t sponsor a community, support it. We don’t show up to hang banners or pay our way into communities. We become part of the community and find ways to help. Even our media represents that—we place ads in some niche, targeted, almost obscure publications. Supporting those publications that are important to our core customers ensures we continue to support those communities who helped build YETI into the brand it is today.

What’s currently happening in marketing that most excites you and how is it changing the future of the industry?  

The move to an in-house agency. The impact creatives can have on a business when they are in the room making decisions is epic. And the speed at which ideas can be sold and made is electrifying.

However, the body has to be open to accepting the organ. Brands that are open to having creative thinking solve problems are the brands that are succeeding. Some brands just like the sound of an in-house agency but don't know how to manage them and that’s where the trouble starts. ... Proximity to the real decision-makers removes the layers and formalities that restrict many agency models.

What are you working on now? 

Covid-19 has freed us of our usual constraints. No rules. No restrictions. We’ve made films about music stars, tested product in fun ways, had our engineers teach kids about thermal retention science, but YETI+ is probably my favorite example.

We had a hunch that most people had blown through their streaming service’s content early on during quarantine, so we thought we could make our own streaming service...of streams. The in-house production side of this is what’s most exciting to me. We had the idea and were in the field (socially distanced of course) shooting real streams and rivers within a few days. The commoditization of production is well underway.

YETI released videos of eight streams: Oregon Stream, Colorado Stream, Big Island Stream (seasons one and two), California Stream, Vancouver Stream and two Texas streams.

YETI has created some noteworthy long-form films. What motivated your team to get into long-form and how does it fit into your overall marketing mix?

Back to our core principle—support the community. Our YETI Presents films are all about telling stories that we feel are important to be told about the pursuits we love, not product placement or ROI. ... If we can spark that flame with a great story, then we’ve done our job and that’s what we call brand marketing. It’s a big investment and it’s almost impossible to track, but we love making them and people love watching them, and that’s all that matters to us.

How have you adjusted your strategies amid Covid-19 and what do you see as the changes that will stick post-pandemic?

When it comes to stories and speed...more is more. When Covid-19 hit, my partner and outdoor industry legend, Bill Neff and I looked at each other and said, “why don't we become a publishing platform?” We obviously have a great bank of films to draw upon, so we started there and then overnight we reached out to our phenomenal outdoor ambassadors who were up to create all sorts of content. From ‘Lunch n Learns’ to ‘How To’s’ and so on, we had 50 days’ worth of content off the bat. People sitting at home loved it and all we did was feed them what they wanted—a way to experience the outdoors while stuck inside.

How are you keeping your finger on the pulse regarding changing consumer behaviors and needs during this time?

I love that at YETI, we still allow for our guts to make some decisions. Of course, we do our research, work with our media agencies, tap our consumer insights team, but we really love reaching out to our ambassadors and friends of the brand in order to gauge how our customer’s needs are changing. Our ambassadors and communities are honest with us and they keep us up to speed with what they’re hearing. We’ve been doing this more frequently over the last few months.

Considering how different today’s work environment is, what do you see as the most valuable marketing skill(s) needed today and moving forward? 

“If something isn’t going to make people take notice of us, then it shouldn’t get in the way.”

Focus. I always ask myself, “what will create the biggest impact of the projects in front of me?” If something isn’t going to make people take notice of us, then it shouldn't get in the way. Every department has limited resources and budgets to use. Focus. Don’t waste your talents on something that doesn’t make you happy to have made it. Media cycles, like life, are too short.

What advice can you offer for effectively leading and inspiring a team remotely? 

Everyone is going through something. Be slow to judge, fast to support. But what we really need is awards for the working parents during all of this.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Be the best. Be the worst. Never be the middle.