Cindy Gallop reveals the hardest part of running a sex startup (hint: it's you)

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The latest in our series of interviews between a rising copywriter and a senior executive about making it in the ad industry.

When you get the opportunity to dine with Cindy Gallop, you take it.

Two years ago, I walked into Cindy’s famed black apartment in New York's Chelsea neighborhood and remarked on its gorgeous kitchen. "I never cook," she told me. "This full kitchen is for all my kind friends who come in and cook for me." Naturally, I signed up immediately to host the former BBH chairman in her own home. Two years later, though the setting had changed (Gallop moved to "the Sky Apartment," as she calls it, in February 2016), the conversation was exactly as stimulating as expected. Over shrimp curry, we talked about her current relationship with the advertising industry, her life as a startup CEO and our culture's unfortunate lack of sexual values.

You quit your day job a while ago. What about it do you not miss?
Nothing at all. I love working for myself. I love not having to go to the office. And, I love everything about what I do now.

Your presentations are less of a keynote and more like a rock concert. How did you develop your killer presentation skills?
I think it’s a combination of two things. I have done a lot of student theater. So when you’re acting you get used to delivering speeches. Then, in advertising, you’re pitching and presenting all the time. And because you are in the business of communication, you have to be good at communicating in order to make everything you want to happen, happen.

You manage your time impressively and reply to emails almost instantly. And you are prompt on social media. How does all that come together?
I try to deal with as much as I can instantly and just get it off my plate. I always have a to-do list, and I try to get emails out of my inbox as quickly as possible, because I hate it when they pile up. Also, I speed read, which is very helpful, and I have integrated social media into the way I operate on a day-to-day basis. I encourage people in our industry to do the same.

What’s one of the toughest things about running your own startup?
The toughest thing has been the fact that there’s no support for Make Love Not Porn from the advertising community. My own industry is not rallying around to help. I have reached out to a number of people, and—I mean, a lot of individuals have helped—but corporately I’ve got no support.

I’ve just released my first social crowdfunding campaign. I’ve also structured rewards at a corporate level. But so far no one in the industry at a corporate level has taken that up. Also, very few agencies have booked me to speak. Everyone wants me to speak for free. The moment I say, "You have to pay," they don’t.

So, there’s a lot of emotional support for what I’m doing. But in terms of practical support, there is none.

Why has it been so hard to get corporate support from the advertising industry?
First of all, it’s ironic that the industry is not rallying around to address an issue that impacts us globally, and is even more imperative now. In a world where grabbing women by the pussy is now presidentially endorsed, the world needs Make Love Not Porn more than ever before.

And what’s your favorite thing about running MLNP?
Our community writes to us every day. We have people write in to say, "You saved our marriage." We have an MLNP baby. In the first year, a couple wrote to us saying, "We’re trying to have a kid for ages. The scan just proved what we suspected. Our child was conceived when we watched this video on MLNP. Can’t really say [we] couldn’t have done it without you, but you really helped." Which is wonderful. We love that. We have an amazing community.

Social sex is making amazing things happen around opening up about sex. So yeah, we have loads of stories.

Please elaborate on the impact you hope MLNP will have on global society.
We are building a community around shared values. I believe that everything in life and business starts with your own values. I ask people the question, "What are your sexual values?" And nobody can ever answer me because we aren’t taught to think that way.

Many of us are born into families where our parents bring us up to have good manners—a good work ethic, a sense of responsibility, accountability, etc. Nobody brings us up to behave well in bed, but they should. Because empathy, sensitivity and honesty are as important in bed as they are in every other area of life.

So when you can talk honestly about sex, you teach children to have great sexual values.

That way you don’t bring up rapists anymore. You teach children and, later, adults about consent, about empathy and understanding. When you get more openness around sex you begin to eradicate rape culture and you end what lies at the heart of sexual violence.

So is that your mission?
Our mission is very simple: to help everybody talk more openly and honestly about sex. When we do that, we completely transform the world, we end rape culture and we empower women. I speak very openly about the fact that sexual harassment is very endemic in our industry. Sexual harassment has been responsible for lost talent, waste of creativity and ended careers.

You said at Cannes that our industry was failing to acknowledge sex as an universal area of human experience. What do you mean by that?When I spoke at Cannes, I spoke about "Porn, Youth and Brands." I asked the planners in the auditorium, "How many of you while writing a brief for the creative department write a psychographic that reads: He is an 18- to 24-year-old male, these are the things he likes to do in his spare time, this is the beer he drinks, this is how much porn he watches and this is how it impacts the relationship with his girlfriend?" There were no hands. I said, "This is exactly what I’m talking about."

We do consumers a huge disservice when we research the shit out of everything else and completely ignore this area of universal human experience.

Second thing: There is a far broader business application for this information than anybody has yet perceived. For example, a lot of people have a lot of sex in cars—particularly in markets or countries where pre-marital sex is frowned upon. Countries where people live with families, so even husband and wife cannot be intimate. Or where young people live with their parents until they get married, so they don’t have anywhere to go. A huge number of people all around the world are having a huge amount of sex in cars. Yet the automotive industry is spectacularly failing to factor this into their product design and into their marketing.

Even more fundamentally, people have sex in bed, yet the mattress industry focuses all its R&D on sleep. The point being there’s a far broader business application for all of this than anyone is thinking about currently. There’s an opportunity to make a shit ton of money.

You mentioned at the 3% Conference that you get fed up with people mention the cliché "sex sells." Is that right?
Yes! Because when they say "sex sells," they’re thinking about sex in the male lens. We have not even begun to see how effectively sex can sell when we welcome it as just another facet of human experience. And importantly, we haven’t even begun to see how effectively sex can sell from the female lens. And that’s a whole different ball game.