After NBC’s “The Apprentice” POPstick CEO Still Plays the Jester

UPDATE An early standout contestant on this season’s “The Apprentice” reality TV show, Danny Kastner, has shown many sides to his personality in just the first two episodes. From clown to cheerleader to savvy marketer, Kastner takes on many of the same roles in his real life, where he is CEO of POPstick, a digital media and technology firm.

He’s been described by some teammates as a difficult-to-manage loose cannon, who dresses like a street performer and doesn’t respect authority. Donald Trump himself called him a “disaster.” Yet, he’s been responsible for keeping spirits up on his “book smarts” team, writing the Magna Corp. cheer and coming up with many of the marketing ideas for the show’s tasks. His luck ran out on the third episode, when Kastner’s team held him responsible for losing a task that required marketing Nestle’s Taster’s Choice coffee.

“Sure, I am a bit of a loose cannon. I’d be lying to say otherwise. But I do respect authority,” Kastner told ClickZ News. “Heck, Microsoft wouldn’t have stuck with POPstick all this time if I didn’t respect authority!”

Microsoft, Dell, and IBM have been ongoing clients of POPstick’s social network marketing initiatives. Most of POPstick’s customer relationships are long term and have deepened year over year.

“We counsel very early on that relationships aren’t built in a day. Interactive marketing — or any electronic customer ‘touch’ — works best when it’s part of an ongoing, serial campaign. One-offs don’t work very well, because there is no dialogue between the customer and the brand,” Kastner said.

As CEO, Kastner provides the vision behind POPstick’s technology and services while encouraging and motivating the operational side of his team.

“It’s impossible to expect every day to be filled with new client wins and killer results. In those other days, I feel like it’s up to me to keep my team motivated,” Kastner said. “You know, the normal stuff like jumping up and down on tables or banging on the Yamaha piano in the middle of the office. But doesn’t every CEO motivate this way?”

While some may paint Kastner’s behavior as a cry for attention, he claims it’s more for the benefit of those around him. “I may make myself the jester, but it’s only to add some vitality to the court,” he said. “When everyone has a positive outlook, it’s more likely that everyone will succeed.”

The goofiness and wackiness also serve to unite the POPstick team, according to Kastner, who says he has a serious side that comes out if team members have a problem. Kastner says clients, too, see past his unconventional approach. “They appreciate an approach that may be unconventional in style but is entirely conventional in its focus on results,” he said.

In addition, Kastner tries to bring a certain civility to POPstick’s projects — something he feels is missing from much of marketing today. “Almost all of the banner promotions or email campaigns I receive as a consumer are terribly one-sided. The company, even if it’s a company with which I enjoy doing business, is asking me for something yet offering nothing in exchange,” Kastner said.

Instead, he said, marketers should think of their efforts as a give-and-take, remembering to ask for the customer’s opinion and offering something in return, without strings attached, that meets the customer’s expressed needs.

So what’s the draw of competing on a show whose winner gets a job with Trump, if Kastner is already happy with his current company? “Competing on the show is about challenging one’s own abilities and breaking out of your comfort zone. The experience and relationships have been incredible and will only help me and POPstick be more effective for our clients,” he said.

Kastner is not allowed to discuss “The Apprentice” while he is still on the show. But an answer he gave to a question posed about the relationship between brilliance and controllability may give viewers a clue to his strategy.

“I think real brilliance has to do with creating the appearance of controllability by letting others believe what you are doing is their idea, when meanwhile it was your plan all along,” he said.

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