In Episode 1 of the Brendan Egan show, Brendan Egan interviews Daniel Hennes, co-founder and CEO of Engage and sports booking agent to famous athletes like Jake Olson, Ryan Harris, Shelley Smith, and others.
In the interview, Daniel shares his experience being a 19 year old sports agent to his then college roommate, Jake Olson, as well as co-founding and running a successful technology startup, Engage, at the young age of 23.
Daniel has experience dealing with hundreds of major media publications, and has landed interviews and appearances on The Today Show, ESPN, Dan Patrick, and countless other major media avenues. Daniel shares with us his secrets to maintaining strong relationships with these publications while continually finding ways to get his story and his clients’ stories in the media.
To connect with Daniel, click on the links below:
Brendan: Welcome to episode one of the Brendan Egan show. I’m your host Brendan Egan. And today I’m thrilled to have with us, Daniel Hennes. Daniel at age 19 became a manager to Jake Olson who was the first college football player to ever play in a game completely blind. By age twenty-three, Daniel was the co-founder and CEO of Engage, a platform that is focusing on digitizing the process of booking talents for speeches, engagements, and events. Daniel, thanks for being here today.
Daniel: Thanks for having me, Brendan.
Brendan: Before we dive in, Daniel, tell us a little bit about your interesting background. So obviously you’re super young, you’re in the sports world, CEO of a company. How did you meet Jake and how did you become his agent?
Daniel: Yeah, Jake and I met actually at USC as a random freshman year roommates. Completely random– obviously Jake’s story had been [inaudible] from the time he was twelve, and I was a big sports fan, but I never heard Jake’s story. And when we were first moving in, we get a bio. I was living with seven other people and we get a bio on each of the eight people, each of the people we’re living with and Jake’s bio, he goes, “Hi, I’m Jake, I’m on the football team.” And I’m thinking that’s sick like I want to be a sports agent [inaudible], football player. And then it’s like, “But I’m also applying and I have a guide dog Quebec. So I’m like, this guy’s funny as hell. Like there’s no way these things are real, but this is just a really funny guy. That’s awesome.
Brendan: You thought he was pranking you?
Daniel: He thought these things were super [inaudible], great sense of humor. So either way, I mean I was still pretty excited. I’m like either he’s a football player or is a really funny kid. And then I didn’t really think anything of it. About a week or so before we were going to move in, I texted one of my other roommates, Ryan, about figuring out having the TV dropped off. And Ryan goes, “Do you think it’s okay to make Jake pay his part for the TV?” And I go, “Of course not.” And Ryan goes, “Because he’s blind.” I’m like, “Oh wait, that’s real? like he’s actually blind?” So then, of course, I started reading about his story, watching his story, and obviously it’s incredibly inspiring. And I showed it to my parents and then my parents were… every time we would see a family friend before moving out, they’d be like, “Ask Daniel who was one of his roommates is, this kid’s incredible.” So going in, I was definitely excited to meet him, but you never know what it’s like, what it’s going to be like or he’s going to be [inaudible]. You don’t know any of those things. I mean, I remember being super on edge. I didn’t want to make references but like, “Did you see that?” Or, “I can’t believe what I just saw”, or “Did you watch that show?” I was super on edge. Obviously the first time you meet Jake you realize really nothing offends him, he’s got a great sense of humor. He’s such a normal fun person. So we became friends pretty quickly. I started sort of working with him and representing him. A couple of weeks into his freshman year, he got to practice for the first time and I told him, “Jake, we practice it’s going to be a huge story, you’ll have a lot of interviews. Let me be your PR person.” And he goes, “You know, no one’s going to care what I practice. That’s not a story at all.” Sure enough, he practiced and it was a huge story. So he grabs me one day after class, he’s like, “Come to the sports information office with me, put on a suit. You can bounce from interview to interview.” So I’m like a college freshman who wants to work in sports. I’m like, “Oh my God, this is amazing. I could die right here and go to heaven.” And we get there. And Jake introduced me as his PR person entirely as a joke. At that point, I’d known Jake for two weeks. And the USC Sports Information Department was just like, “Great, here’s the schedule of interviews he has. We’re gonna keep sending you stuff as they come in.” So I just sort of started coordinating his interviews two weeks into school. And then January of our freshman year, so it would’ve been January of 2016, he asked me if I would want to take over and start managing his speaking engagements. And obviously I said yes and it just sort of grew from there. So that’s a really long-winded answer to your question.
Brendan: No, that’s awesome. That’s a great story and obviously, Jake’s done a lot of great things. I know that kind of transpired into the idea of figuring out a business model from that. So what you’re doing now with Engage, which is digitizing the process of booking. Tell us a little bit about Engage, just briefly and kind of how your experience with Jake helped shape that company.
Daniel: Yeah, so basically what happened was Jake has, as I mentioned, ever since he was twelve really, he’d been speaking, he had a pretty managed the flow of speaking and appearance requests for the first couple of years of college, it was nothing overwhelming. After he snapped in a game for the first time, we just got flooded with request and everybody has the same questions, right? What does he charge? Where does he travel from? What does he talk about? So I go from completely in control of the situation to just overwhelmed at around the same time I picked up Ryan Harris who played the NFL for ten years and [inaudible] with Broncos. I picked him up as a client. So now sitting there with two clients, a ton of demand, answering the same questions over and over again and like, “Okay, I’m having this problem with two clients, you know, agents with ten or fifteen or twenty or a hundred clients must be overwhelmed.” So there’s got to be an online platform to do all of this. I mean, you can buy a car online, you could rent a house online, you should be able to book a speaker online. So I looked around [inaudible], I found that there really wasn’t one, there was no platform at all that digitized it. So Jake and I called a bunch of talent and agents we knew and they sort of said it was a huge problem, but they never had any time to do anything about it. And as college kids, Jake and I had plenty of time. So that’s basically what led to founding Engage. And that’s what led to us and basically what Engage does it completely digitized as the process of booking talent for anything from a speech to a round of golf to long snapping. Because we found with so many of our talent too, that they like to do things other than just speaking. And in today’s day and age, more than ever, people want experiences. They want something memorable. And we’re really the only platform that A, digitizes the process and B, allows you to be booked for more than just a speech and it’s really grown from there.
Brendan: With your impressive background, Daniel, between managing Jake, being the CEO of a tech startup Engage, you’ve certainly accomplished remarkable things by the age of 23. I know one of the things that you also really specialize in is PR, in public relations. I know that that’s just kind of naturally become kind of part of the territory in terms of managing Jake inbound requests, getting him booked on shows and obviously transitioning that into getting your business in front of the press. Talk a little bit about that for our listeners because our listeners are really interested in marketing their businesses and growing it. And PR for a lot of businesses is a very tricky marketing medium to tackle just because of what’s involved in it. So talk a little bit about maybe your experience with PR, both with Jake and Engage and also just your philosophy around it.
Daniel: Yeah. So my experience basically, fortunately, you know, Jake’s like the hack for PR because once he snapped in his game the first time, it was such a viral story that we had a unique situation where we had everybody coming to us. And I think one of the things that’s amazing about Jake, is Jake was willing to do every single interview, every single one, whether it was Rich Hayes or a Dan Patrick or some dude on Twitter who was inspired by his story and wanted to have him on his podcast. Jake did everything and it was important to him. And because of that, I built a relationship with people. I sent everybody a thank you note after they have him on. I kept in touch when they have other big guests. I have this massive list of people I’m constantly keeping in touch with without wanting anything from them, just building the relationships because I enjoy talking to them, I care about them. I want to help. And then when I have a business or when I need something from them, it’s not like they haven’t heard from me in two years and all of a sudden [inaudible] up. I have that relationship, I’ve kept in touch. They know what Jake’s up to, so that’s what I would say for business owners, right? You’re going to have a hard time if you just go to an outlet, you’re like, “Hey, I want you to do a story on my company.” They pitch hundreds of times than that. The first thing I would do is get to know them personally like it’s a person on the other end. Talk about you know, why you’re reaching out to them. Make it personal. If you’re ever doing cold outreach, it should be personal. Mention a specific article they read, they wrote that you read. Talk about why you like their site in particular, talk about what you respect and like about that. But honestly, even earlier than that, I would recommend reaching out to these people before you even need a story and understanding from them what they look for in companies they cover, what you can do to craft a compelling narrative. People are always happy to get advice, and these reporters want to cover good compelling stories. So if you can build that relationship with them before you need them, before you need a story, that’s how you get them to respond to your emails and publish the story. It’s all about having a good story and having a good relationship. I always say PR is easy. PR is either the easiest job in the world or the hardest job in the world because either you have relationships and they like you and you can anybody book to talk about anything or you don’t have those relationships and it doesn’t matter how compelling your story is, you’re not getting showcased.
Brendan: That’s super powerful and, and honestly that’s been my experience too and working with clients are that you know, you’re either one end of the spectrum of the other. There’s really not much middle ground when it comes to PR. It’s very rare that people fall in, you know, the– hey, I can get PR sometimes not other times, they’re either great at it or they’re terrible at it. And I always tell my clients, Daniel, the same philosophy that you just mentioned, which is, you know, form that relationship. Think about the fact that the writers, the journalists, the people producing the content, you know, they have a need to fill this with information and they’re always looking for resources. You know, reach out to them give them some helpful insights as an industry expert without asking them to kind of pimp your brand or your business and form that relationship. Help them with their job. And then when you want coverage, it’s much easier to ask a warm receptive person who you’ve already helped with something than just, you know, think of all the emails I get every day from business that is just like, “Hey, cover me, cover me, cover me. I want to be covered.” You know, so that, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I love that philosophy.
Daniel: Yeah, I’m glad we agree on that. It’s the key.
Brendan: That’s awesome. What are some of the, just for our listeners that maybe aren’t familiar with Jake story or Engage, what are like your top three or four favorites, you know, favorite venues that you’ve worked with in terms of PR, like the biggest favorite people to work with, greatest shows, any cool stories that you’ve had working in the PR space?
Daniel: I got to make sure I list everybody right. First and foremost, first and foremost, obviously, ESPN has been above and beyond. I remember when we were going into Jake’s junior year, we sort of had the feeling that it might be time for Jake to snap. So we call the ESPN, we call the team over at E-60 and we’re like, “Hey, we think Jake is going to snap, would you want to do feature-length type documentary piece about it?” They said, “Yes, of course, no problem, we’ll be there.” Like, “Let’s start shooting right when school starts to have content for the piece.” So we’re shooting his piece, right? And everything about the process is chaos. I’m not going to go too far into it because I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus, but everything about the process is chaos. The one thing we were specifically told is that Jake would not snap a week one, he would not snap on September 2nd so the week before that ESPN was out there just to do interviews. Super chill, Great time to get content, he’ll snap later in the season, talk about above and beyond. Thursday the game’s on Saturday, Thursday, Jake lets me know that coach Allen has told him he’s going to snap on that Saturday and it’s going to be his first snap and it’s going to be awesome. So, we’re sort of like, “What do we do? Who do we tell?” So we tell the ESPN people and ESPN to make sure they had everything, they nailed a story. They flew in like another six-person camera crew on short notice. Like ESPN was very much a spare, no expense, do whatever we can, tell a story. They drove down to Huntington Beach to make it easier for his parents. I mean, so obviously everything about ESPN, they’re above and beyond. And that’s a long time talking about relationships that when it was between Good Morning America, The Today Show and Ellen DeGeneres, the ESPN people ask that we go on Good Morning America and there was no doubt in our mind we would do it because of them because they’ve known Jake since he was twelve. They covered his story before anyone cared. They’re the reason that Jake’s story got out there, that the behind the scenes, I mean those producers would drive him home from practice when he didn’t have a ride. They take him to dinner. I mean, it works on all sides. They build the relationship with the talent and we spiked, we spiked at NBC nightly news piece for them. Like we did whatever we could because that relationship meant a lot to us and it’s a mutual thing. Other PR that I love The Rich Eisen Show, Rich Eisen, and his people have just been wonderful, they’re fun to work with. Dan Patrick, I’ve worked with on multiple people. He and Todd Fritz, his producer, they could not be better to work with. The Goal like in Wingo people they’re really awesome. Once you have those relationships, if you treat people right, it really is a world full of nice people.
Brendan: That’s amazing. And obviously part of it is having something in demand, right? So, I mean, you’ve been fortunate to work with Jake and think, you know, one of the things that businesses struggle with is figuring out, you know, “Hey, I’m just a business making widgets. You know, how do I stand out?” And you know, in my experience as a marketer, every business is unique. You know, whether it’s the founders that have a compelling story, whether the product they’re making is doing something amazing, you know, there’s always a story to be found, I feel like. And you know, obviously some, some like Jake’s are much more obvious than others, but I think if you’re a factory making widgets, you’re not going to be on The Today Show for that, right? But there are tons of great industry publications, smaller venues that maybe don’t reach as many people. But part of the PR magic, and I’m sure you know this Daniel, and you would say this as well, is getting in front of the right audience. So sometimes the right audience isn’t the biggest one. Right?
Daniel: That’s a key thing to understand. Understand who the people are, understand what the PR is in your industry better than the major power players, right? For instance, my PR strategy for Jake is different than my PR strategy for Engage. For Jake, I just want it like right now it’s about getting a story out to as many people as possible. So Rich Eisen and Dan Patrick, those guys are great. For Engage we had a big article come out on us in Sport Techie and that led to a ton of things. Sport Techie isn’t nearly as big, but it’s a publication that’s read by everybody in our industry and in our field. So that led to more than anyone interview Jake’s done as of how targeted the audience was. I mean that’s great advice. Business owners should understand what the big deal is in their industry. It’s not about audience size, it’s about who you’re reaching. And that’s really, really important. Oftentimes those smaller publications really appreciate the personal reach out, really appreciate that somebody wants to be featured by them and them exclusively or them first. That’s a really valuable thing to understand.
Brendan: I always tell my clients, and I love all my clients, but audience over ego, sometimes people’s egos can get in the way of who their true audience is.
Daniel: I’ll tell you what, I’m going to steal that. There you go, I’m going to steal that. That’s a great thing to start using.
Brendan: Daniel, you’ve shared some awesome PR tips with us. Just broader picture marketing-wise, obviously you have a lot of experience in marketing, Jake, in marketing your other clients and marketing yourself, and obviously in marketing your business Engage. Do you have a top marketing tip? You have one tip that you know, that you could share with our listeners from a marketing perspective or maybe a PR perspective, but just something you could share with them as a takeaway, just to give them kind of a tidbit of information that’s helped you along your journey.
Daniel: Of course, of course. Other obviously than hiring Brendan Egan. Other than that I would tell you, understand what you do and do not know about marketing. Marketing is such a broad thing. It’s everything from personal relationships, digital marketing in person-trade show marketing. There are so many different aspects of it. So my advice for marketing is one, understand what you are good at and do as much of that as you physically can as often as you physically can, and two understand what you’re not good at and find someone who’s really great at that and let them do their job. Like I would be a moron to tell the person running our digital marketing how they should be doing that. So the key is to understand what you’re good at and what you’re not good at and find a great person who can do what you’re not good at.
Brendan: I love that. That’s so true.
Daniel: If you only market it, it’s about building consistency and momentum across a ton of different things. If you’re only good at content marketing, but you don’t do enough digital marketing and you don’t do enough relationship building, your business won’t work. It doesn’t matter how many relationships you have. If you don’t supplement that with scalable marketing like digital marketing and content marketing, your business won’t work. In order to be successful, you need to do everything all of the time. So you need to make sure you’re surrounded by people who make sure that happens.
Brendan: I love that. And obviously I’ve been in marketing for going on over a decade and there’s a lot of things that I still learn every day that I don’t know. And there’s a lot of sub-areas in marketing that are just not my forte, trade show marketing and even some of the new and upcoming very specialized areas in digital, so that couldn’t be further from the truth. And I preach that in practice every day because it’s important to find people that really specialize and are great at what you need. And it’s important as a business owner to focus on all the different spokes of the wheel in terms of marketing to make sure that you’re getting the most effective full circle campaign possible.
Daniel: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s everything.
Brendan: Awesome, Daniel. Well, hey, as we wrap things up, for our listeners that want to connect with you, reach out maybe book Jake or do a booking through Engage, how can they find you and how can they connect with you?
Daniel: Yeah, so I’m a social media ghost. I’m on LinkedIn, it’s just my name, Daniel Hennes. I’m on LinkedIn. But you can definitely follow our company, Engage, follow us on Twitter and Instagram both @lets_engage. And you can follow Jake on Twitter and Instagram @jakeolson61. So a whole bunch of different ways to get connected and see what’s going on.
Brendan: Awesome. And we’ll include those links down below, below this audio episode. But on behalf of myself and Daniel Hennes, thanks to everyone for listening to episode one of the Brendan Egan show. Listen along and stay tuned. We’ll have episode two coming your way soon. Daniel, thanks again.
Daniel: Thanks, Brendan.