MY YEARLY OPEN LETTER OF THANKS AND MUSINGS: Thank You for that Humble Pie

By Ryan Gill

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

C.S. Lewis

And humbled I am…

With the fourth annual The Gathering/Summit arriving any day, I have to take a moment. What started as a crazy “imagine if” idea five years ago while sharing a scotch with Rob Howard, one of our key leaders at Cult Collective, has turned into a powerhouse that now generates its own heat. An astonishing fact that leaves me a humbled man.

This “imagine if” idea has transformed into a coming together of the world’s most coveted brands, their influential leaders, and the enlightened professionals who opt to listen to what these visionaries are willing to share with us. Each year it keeps growing, keeps casting a wider net of influence and keeps igniting real relationships.

How is it possible that it just gets better and better? One answer: My dedicated support team who has stuck by me throughout this crazy ride. Oh, and maybe another key ingredient: Hard work and hustle.

“People need the experience of real connection. They need it now.”

But why, you might have to ask, do we do this at all? I could run a marketing agency with my brilliant business partner, Chris Kneeland, feel comfortable, make some money, lead a more routine life, and maybe accomplish what we set out to do (which is to reshape the marketing industry), but it would take us 20 years. The Gathering speeds up our mission, because, as we see year-over-year, people need the experience of real connection. They need it now.  They need real world examples of brands that are doing it differently and reaping the amazing benefits of the “better way” – The Cult way.

“The Gathering is an experience. It’s special.”

We hear this all the time. There’s something about The Gathering that makes it about the experience in addition to the education. It has become ground zero for true relationship building. A feat that could only be cultivated by a group who shares a common vision about the future of marketing and who has intentionally created an event to reflect that.

Call out to Greg Damus, The Gathering’s Managing Director. With an event that is all about delivering a high touch/high engagement experience, Greg supports The Gathering’s growth. He’s a relationship-building kind of guy. Greg knows that you need to go to the source, sit face-to-face with people, break bread together, and cultivate that human connection to really get things done, and done with INTEGRITY. He’s not a transactional guy. Greg’s in it for the long term, and Chris and I respect and value that as he stewards the pride and joy of this agency.

Our lineup of stellar speakers and partners is a reflection of Greg’s deep understanding that a phone call just doesn’t cut it. That’s why we get on planes, crisscross the continent, and meet with people on their own turf to forge actual relationships. Remember those three-hour drives for 15 minute meetings? They seem crazy, but there is no other way to do it. This effort has made a huge difference in solidifying The Gathering’s success.

The same goes internally for The Gathering’s support team. Whether Greg is getting in front of our guest speakers, or I’m driving six hours just to shake a stakeholder’s hand, the rest of our team is back at the office, putting in the long hours required to organize the event and ensure that we are delivering excellence at every touch point. (Side note: It’s nearing midnight as I write this post, and the whole team is still down on the main floor of our office working hard. I haven’t asked them to stay. I’ve actually told them to go home…But they just won’t. They own this beast, and they love it. It blows my mind!)

“The long and the short of it—I can’t accomplish anything on my own. Without my team, where would I, or The Gathering, be?”

The Gathering/Music creates Real B(r)and Connection.

As usual, things are moving fast around here. The Gathering/Music debuted in its baby beta form last year, and this year we’re coming out swinging. Folks, the time is now to take down the corrupt music industry and fight for our artists. Just as we launched The Gathering/Summit to create a place for connection and experiences, The Gathering/Music does the same. Rather than provide another avenue for the bloated music industry to capitalize on musicians, we’ve built a place for bands and brands to directly meet with one another, and with their audiences, and to hopefully forge some meaningful commercial relationships.

I’ve been over this before, but it’s worth a recap: Smart brand leaders know that traditional advertising will never create the emotional connection that music naturally can. And many musicians now understand that partnering with the right brands is the best way to conquer a greedy and increasingly irrelevant music industry.

The Gathering/Music is speaking loud and clear to artists.

In fact, this year we’ve got Bob Moses (2017 Grammy winner) and the legendary Sam Roberts headlining the event. They’re coming to Banff. They’re playing intimate venues. This never happens. I think we’re onto something.

But, oh my god, has getting The Gathering/Music off the ground been hard! Even when I know we’re right. Even when industry articles point to the growing importance of the relationships between bands and brands—it’s still been painful to get this thing going, explaining to people just what in the hell we’re trying to do and why. 

Talk About a Humbling Experience.

It’s going to get easier. Band and brand relationships are a now topic, and I believe that in another year or two we will shift our attention away from educating and turn it towards crafting a better and better festival experience for attendees. The only way to start normalizing these connections is by doing the hard work and having a team committed to the same vision. Get on board and buy your tickets before they’re gone.

Success is Built by a Connected Team of Real People.

Hopefully by now you recognize that I didn’t build The Gathering/Summit and The Gathering/Music on an island. A talented team, who I am humbled by every day as I see their continued commitment, built it with me. Huge, big, mad, loud shout outs to the following people. Don’t be shy. Stand up and take a bow. You’ve earned your time in the spotlight.

  •      Greg Damus (HUUUUUGE!)
  •      Ciera Jones (HUUUUUGE!)
  •      Conrad Behrman (HUUUUUUGE!)
  •      Chris Kneeland (HUUUUGE!)
  •      Brandon Harris
  •      Brad Foster
  •      Duncan Bureau (Air Canada)
  •      Mike Germano (VICE)
  •      Afdhel Aziz
  •      Scarlet Lee (PLE)
  •      Scott Goldman (The Grammys)
  •      Geoff Cotrill (Formerly Converse)
  •      Peggy Garritty (ATB)
  •      Lorne Rubis  (ATB)
  •      Justin Martin
  •      Rob Howard (my go-to guy when in a jam and scotch connoisseur)
  •      The Entire Cult Staff
  •      All the 50+ volunteers (I want to name you all but I fear I’ll miss someone – so it’s safer this way – but, believe me, all of you are gems)

And finally, I have to call out my wife, Aimee, and my daughter, Scarlett… Without you two ladies, my life would be a lot less meaningful. Thank you for putting up with my late nights and early starts week after week after week after week leading up to this great event. Who knows, we may even welcome a second baby into the fold right after the event. Let’s get through next week and find out!

“Easy Isn’t Our Mission; Connection Is.”

I accept that our mission won’t get any easier. Ever. I expect that, and I don’t feel bad about this truth. If it’s not hard, it’s not worth doing. But hard doesn’t mean it’s not fun. I’ve never felt more alive and pumped. However, if I ever forget that I need great people to lift me up along the way, then somebody, please, knock me down. Remind me that staying humble is the only way to make real change in this world. Also, remember that being humble doesn’t mean acting weak or quiet. Humility screams strength.

Come celebrate, learn, and connect at the event that my amazing team built from scratch.

The Gathering Summit//Music runs February 22-25 in Banff, Alberta, Canada. See you there!