Advertising Age: Tell me about the genesis of
your company? How did you come up with the idea for a company that
writes wedding speeches?
Nathan Phillips: My wife, Victoria, who's
British and my partner in the Oratory Laboratory, and I were
driving back from a wedding upstate and she said [affecting a
British accent], 'Why aren't there people to make sure the speeches
aren't like that?'
It's true! Why aren't there people who do that? So we made a
little placeholder website, which got picked up by Cool Hunting and
then Urban Daddy and basically kind of blew up from the little
Wordpress jam I put up. And it turned into a business.
Ad Age: When was that -- when you started the
Mr. Phillips: 2009.
Ad Age: So how many hours a week do you devote
to something like that?
Mr. Phillips: It depends. At times, when I
wasn't working at an agency, the Oratory Laboratory might take up a
ton of time. Victoria is fulltime there. For me, it's a much
lighter touch. I'm here [at Narrative] all the time.
Ad Age: Who are some of your clients at the
Mr. Phillips: I can tell you stories, but I
can't tell you who they are because part of the thing is it's a
luxury service that thrives on discretion.
Ad Age: OK. Tell me about the different types
of work you do for clients.
Mr. Phillips: Wedding speeches -- every wedding
speech you can possibly imagine from all the different positions:
maid of honor, mother of bride, groom, best man. Some are different
than others. We do, for example, a lot of finance guys who don't
have the time but they have the means and they'll hire the Oratory
Laboratory to knock a speech out.
But I also wrote a speech for a 65-year-old gay man who's
getting married and the speech was about how he'd been a guest at
everyone's wedding and finally this was his chance to stand up and
be the man of the hour. I cried reading it. It was a super
emotional, very powerful, once in a lifetime experience.
We have everything from that type of speech to the more kind of
quick one-offs. Corporate scenarios like keynotes -- 45 minutes on
the state of the business or launching a new product -- to more of
'I have an important presentation coming up and I need to find a
way to integrate my personal brand into me speaking about the
And then there are college commencements; we've done TED talks;
we've done eulogies, we've done break up letters.
Ad Age: Break-up letters?
Mr. Phillips: Yeah, one of our very early
clients was this woman who had been in a relationship for, like,
decades and she couldn't write the break-up letter, so she engaged
us to do it and it was super emotional for her but she needed
someone to help her with it.
Ad Age: How much does a wedding speech cost,
give or take?
Mr. Phillips: A wedding toast starts at $500
and can go over $10,000 for a major event like a keynote,
commencement or a TED talk. It all depends on research and
additional elements like presentation materials. We also do
retainers and media training.
Ad Age: It kind of sounds to me like you're
running a PR agency that also does wedding speeches and break-up
Mr. Phillips: A PR agency has rules, standard
methods of operation. What we do is much different --much more
special and personalized. The way I think about it is I use
technology to turn ordinary people into heroes. The technology
might change, the context might change, but ultimately that's a big
Ad Age: I'm sorry, but wedding speeches and
technology don't sound like two things that jibe.
Mr. Phillips: So with the Oratory Laboratory,
we craft these questionnaires, which are a type of technology, and
we find a way to pull stories from these people that they would
never think to put in a speech. The other piece of technology we
work with is their mouth because people might be great at texting,
they might be great at speaking on Twitter, but they're losing the
ability to really effectively communicate with their mouth. So we
work with everyone on how their speech is delivered.
Ad Age: How does all of this relate to what
you're doing here at Narrative?
Mr. Phillips: User-generated content has such a
bad rap. But, ghostwriting speeches is like the deepest UGC
campaign you can possibly do. You have to set them up for success,
train them about best practices and make sure they stay on track to
nail the brief, which is not to offend anyone, sound like a hero
and actually make funny jokes. It's a big ask, but I've definitely
learned that with the right process in place I can get amazing
content out of anybody which has really changed the way I think
about designing interactive work. No one is too nerdy, wacky or
quiet to make a roomful of people weep or laugh hysterically. No
one boos at a wedding. You just have to know your audience.
I think the best content is when a brand works like a
ghostwriter. Giving people the tools they need to tell their own
story in a much bigger way. We like to say that the goal of the
Oratory Laboratory is to get people laid at weddings. But however
you measure success, making people feel like the hero of a story is
a righteous goal -- for brands and for speechwriters.
Ad Age: You said you've written a book and sold
a pilot to TV. Tell me about it.
Mr. Phillips: This past spring I had a book
come out called "The Unorthodox Haggadah."
Ad Age: What about TV?
Mr. Phillips: Like quite a few of my copywriter
brethren, I have sold a few pilots, some of them shot, none of them
aired. But I had a reality pilot; I had a deal for two different
comedy shows. I had a blog called Manfear, which is about the
thing, once you turn 30, that wakes you up at 5 a.m. and makes you
bug out, which got turned into a TV show.
Ad Age: What's your Man Fear right now?
Mr. Phillips: Right this very second?
Ad Age: Right this very second.
Mr. Phillips: My voice is going to sound funny
and it's going to make you respect me even less as a human being
and as a man when you're transcribing this and ultimately that will
reflect poorly on this interview.