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UCLA

Word-of-Mouth Wizard

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By Maya Parmer

Published Mar 9, 2009 10:57 AM


art

Photo by Tyler Starrine.

"What is politics but word of mouth?"

So says politics major David Reis '95, who originally wanted to be an astrophysicist. But instead, he explores the strange new space of digital culture.

Reis is an emerging media expert and founder of two marketing firms, Word of Mouth Marketing Agency and DEI Worldwide, which landed him back at UCLA last month as keynote speaker for the Gravity Summit seminar on "Social Media Marketing for Businesses."

In marketing circles, Reis' niche is retro but red-hot: it's an axiom that word of mouth is the oldest and most persuasive form of advertising, but digital technology has taken the technique to entirely new heights. Advertisers and ad agencies are fascinated with the promise of social media, where real people can have real conversations, albeit virtually, and social networks hum with the experimentation of the nation's largest companies.

Skittles, for example, took a rapid-fire plunge earlier this month when it changed its homepage to its Wikipedia page, then to a Skittles Twitter page, and then to its Facebook page.

Any place where user-generated content exists — chat rooms, blogs, bulletin boards, etc. — is a potential target for marketers because, unlike pop-ups and banner ads, social media marketing is interactive. But it's a delicate and tricky proposition to make sales calls in online forums where people really aren't expecting or asking for advertising.

Enter experts like Reis who are becoming increasingly critical players in a consumer-controlled marketplace. "This will be the future," he asserts. "It isn't companies who have bigger voices than the consumer. The power has shifted."

As a political science major, Reis learned what it takes to influence people and start a revolution. After graduating, his career began as assistant director of Television Services at the White House during the Clinton administration, where he was part of the team that landed the sax-playing President on MTV and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Next, he headed publicity at the Miss Universe Organization and began incorporating backstage webcams and interactive Internet exclusives to increase ratings and profitability.

In 2000, Reis founded his true passion project, Guerilla PR — today re-named DEI, which stands for Directly Engaged Interactive/Impression — and capitalized on stealth campaigns, like sidewalk stenciling and graffiti art, to connect with consumers. Coca-Cola, Kellogg, and Hershey all have Reis to thank for recent marketing campaigns, but he thanks his UCLA professors for inspiring him to return to campus as a tenacious businessman, instead of as an astrophysicist, his original major.

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