Dennis Pitocco - BizCatalyst360 Degrees on The Writers Hour - Creative Conversations with Janine Bolon

Dennis Pitocco – CEO & Reimaginator of 360° Nation26 min read

Janine Bolon: Hello and welcome to The Writers Hour Creative Conversations. I am Janine Bolon and with me today, I have Dennis Pitocco who happens to be the CEO & Reimaginator of 360° Nation. Now in case you have not heard of this award-winning global media digest, it encompasses a wide range of multimedia enterprises, including BizCatalyst 360°. And that is how I came to know Dennis. I have been working with him for three to four years and one of the things that’s been a lot of fun is he gives a foundation and a purpose reaching around the world to help writers, authors. Basically, he helps you capture produce and deliver those positive uplifting messages that you have. He does it through two amazing organizations or productions such as Hope Fest 360 and Good Works 360. This is a pro bono Consulting Foundation focused entirely on providing mission-critical advisory services to nonprofits worldwide. Everything that I know about Dennis, everything that he does is carried out for good rather than for profit. He reflects that belief in his time and he really just wants a renaissance of just pure unbridled wonder to happen for people that have been totally ensnared by a lot of the social media. So he feels it is time to renew in both our hearts and in our souls much more joy, kindness, compassion, understanding and that magical sense of truly belonging to something greater than the status quo. It is time to bring back humanity at its very best and he would like to bring that to the forefront of what you do. The other fun thing about Dennis is he is also a contributing author to the best-selling book “Chaos to Clarity: Sacred Stories of Transformational Change.” Thanks for being with us today. It is wonderful to have you, Dennis.

Dennis Pitocco: Janine, thanks for that lovely introduction. You are hired.

Janine: Thank you.

Dennis: Frankly, you took the wind out of my sails but you could not have said it better, I really appreciate. And you are so correct, we have been like cat and mouse chasing each other for quite a few years now. Actually when you came aboard with us as one of our writers, I would not say we were in the startup phase, but I was told back in my prior career. I was in banking for many years and we were doing a lot of what we thought change management startups operations. And there were three stages of an organization: forming, storming and norming. You caught us at the storming stage and frankly, I hope we never get to the norming stage because we are twisting and turning with the world around us with particular reference to the world over the past year. So I am glad we finally caught up with each other.

Janine: It took some time. I remember you were so gracious and you accepted ten articles from me and we started working at that point. I had a community of writers, we were working on the Book A Year program because I knew that it takes time for authors to be able to really share their stories. And so, we were working on trying to set up funnels and working things and, like you said, we had to keep twisting and turning according to what was happening in our world. Now that we are here, what I really want to chat with people about is talk to us a little bit about how you assist a new writer with their, if you will, their author platform. You may not even have a platform but you offer a platform for a brand-new debut author to kind of share the message of hope that they bring.

Dennis: Well, that is probably what has fueled our growth. There is a couple things we have done and I would have to take you back to the beginning and come forward because it folds nicely into your question. You made a point earlier Janine which really does distinguish us from the rest of the folks out there that are publishers. We are compared to Forbes, we are compared to Huffington Post, but it is hard to compare us because the single biggest difference is everything we do, we do for good. There is no profit. There is no advertising. You won’t find an ad on our site and we are blessed to be able to say that, but it gives us such freedom to say to a new author, if you were one Janine I can say to you honestly, “Look, so long as you know how to write, we will give you that opening to share with our universe and we will do that freely and there is no strings attached and there is no hooks and then nothing for you to sign. It is just that.” But the most important thing we say to our writers is– well, let me back up. When we started this we went and talked to writers, people that I knew in business that wrote for these other publications. What we are doing is trying to figure out where does it hurt? Where is the rub? Why is it difficult to write for these other folks? And if there is any bumps in the road, what are they?

Dennis: Well, we got this avalanche of bureaucracy feedback and we took all that and we said we are going to do it differently because we are going to break all the rules. Some of the rules we broken. For example, if you are a writer I can say “Janine, I do not care if it is a hundred words. I do not care if it is two thousand words. I do not care how often you write. I do not care if you have written it for somebody else and you would rather have it re-syndicated with us because we have a different audience. I do not care whether it is about life, culture or business. What I care about is as long as it is respectful and as long as it is evergreen or timeless. We do not do breaking news. We do not do dates sensitive stuff.” And the reason we do not do that is, if you write for us and we share it today, we are going to share it again down the road every three months, every six months. So, all of that work that you put into your writing whether you are a new writer or an established writer, it does not burn out after two weeks. We both know, Janine, on social media you publish something and a week or two later, now you are back to blank sheet of paper. Well, if it is timeless and it is something that you and I can read a year from now and still be worthy of our attention, why let it die? We broke all those rules which fueled the growth of what we are doing because we have a nice mix now of new. Some of the experienced writers, I look at them sometime. I say to my wife “Why in God’s name are they writing for us? Look at their credentials.” Well, they want the freedom because with that freedom “it takes away the blank sheet of paper, they tell me, and the writer’s block.

Janine: Right. It is wonderful when you know that you have a community because that is really what you are. You are the head of this amazing community of writers. They are liking your stuff. They do more than like it, they will comment about the, you know, “Janine, when you mention tip number three, I have totally forgotten about that in my business. Thank you for the reminder.” I mean it was like I was getting feedback that was not anywhere else on the internet for me and I wanted something more than just the “like” button. You and I have talked about that. So I would love for you to share a little bit more about what you were wanting and you set up the freedom, the friendship bench and stuff like that for it.

Dennis: Yeah, I will come to that because that is part of our 360 Nation Studios. But a key point you just made unlike other publications, when you go to our site we have 25,000 articles now. Go to any one of them you will never see a date, which some people say that is insignificant. That is very significant. The second that you won’t see is how many people visited an article. We learn very early on, it is not about how many likes you get, it is about how many people want to engage with Janine because they were inspired by what she wrote. We have learned that because I was talking to a guy that is much smarter than me. He has been in the publishing business for a long time online. He has a publication and he said, “You know, a good rule of thumb when you are doing what we do is
take the number of articles you have published and multiply by 10 percent. And if you have at least that many comments on your site, you have an engaging audience. Well, we did that formula. Remember I said we have 25,000 articles times 10 percent, was it 2500 comments? Let me tell you. Our comments are over 35,000. So we have more comments and we have articles which tells you the formula is working. Back to your point, people will engage because you do not put it out on social media if you are a writer just to get likes. You would like to see the likes but you want to know what they think. Our writers tell us the engagement is what drives them, not only to form relationships and often they will get business if they are consulting or doing something, but it also inspires them to write something else from a different angle because they never looked at it that way, the audience was looking at it. Anyhow, that is a little background on that, that was triggered by what you had said.

Dennis: As far as the friendship bench and other things, literally a year ago, a lot of coming up on a year on April 2nd, we launched… we did our first online thing on zoom and it was called the Friendship Bench. The idea was “let us bring people together once a week every week for 60 minutes and provide a safe place where they can feel seen, valued and heard and where people are ready to listen.” Now that was the intent. Little did we know around April 2nd, that is when the pandemic started hitting and people moved on to zoom about the same time and there were a lot of difficult issues out there that had to be talked about. We turned into that Weekly Forum, in fact we just had one today where people show up for an hour with a lot of familiar faces now. They are from around the world and the relationship we have developed had been great and like somebody said it is like “Then as you were Wizard of Oz and you finally came out from behind the curtain because now we can see you versus just understand that you are a publisher of this big thing.” We took that experience and we formed a couple more online forums, Janine, but the most important thing we did with all that online experience and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable with conversations is… My wife and I, we do a walk every morning here in Tampa Bay and that is where we do all the thinking and come up with the ideas. Last August, we were walking around the community and I said, “You know, it is August. This has been one of the worst years for so many people. We are blessed because it has not been a bad year. We are still doing what we are doing virtually. There is so much negativity. We need to do something differently here. We need to break through all this. We got this giant platform. We can reach so many people. We have got writers. We have got connections everywhere. Let us see if we can do something for good, for real. We had this notion of what we call– we came up with Hope Fest and what it was is, if I am walking down the street and I say to you Janine last year, “Janine, what are your hopes for the new year?” All I am asking you to do is tell me right off the top of your head on a video what your hopes are.

Dennis: Well, we sent that request out to the people that we know we thought we might– this was launched last August, September. We were going to gear up for a year-end production. We have never done it before, never done any work on YouTube. We reached out to people. We expected maybe a dozen or two. We ended up getting a hundred and fifty-three videos from six continents. We released an eight-hour production which we learned that is as long as you can go on YouTube. On December 31st, as of this morning, we have had almost 29,000 views and from 68 countries and it was all based on the notion of hope. What did we learn from it? The power of video versus just publishing versus just zoom. The second we learned that when you ask these questions, we learned so much the difference of what hope means to people based on where they live, what their culture is. Is it personal? Is it professional? What are they going through right now? Interestingly enough, out of all those videos, we had almost no replication of answers because people were looking it through their lens versus ours. Now, that has really gotten us excited because we have this new medium that we are playing with and we made every mistake along the way. We are now gearing up for another worldwide event later on this year based on all the wisdom we learned from that one. But it was fun and it was such an educational experience.

Janine: One of the things that I am most proud to share with people is the fact that, and it is going to cycle back around to the fact that you do not tell people the date and article is made and that you do not tell people how many people have visited an article. One of the things that has happened, and these are unintended consequences of the way artificial intelligence moves through social media, is that you can have content that is very similar, but just enough different that people will go to the one that is the most popular, and that causes articles to move to the surface that really are not offering anything more than the other article and it causes a pop culture or a dialogue by society that may be holding an accurate. One of the things that Dennis and his people have found out is by doing this eight-hour session and looking at all the different perspectives, everybody now has an equal voice on his platform, which you do not see in any other social media platform because you do not have an AI sitting there looking at the number of hits and deciding who is going to be popular this week, who is not popular and the popular kids are the only ones that get to be put in front of the rest of the community. You do not see that with Dennis or any of the 360 Nation. So I just wanted to share that as a comment rather than a question as people talk about their difference. What is the difference here? I am like it is significant and it is huge. Would you care to comment at all on that?

Dennis: Yeah. You actually triggered another thought, whether it be the artificial intelligence, the other platforms and we all know that there has been a fair amount of keyword bias over the past year on Facebook, even on LinkedIn we are seeing that now, where things are being monitored as far as opinion said and things are being deleted or moderated. Somebody asked us a question. I had never had this question before surprisingly after almost nine years, but somebody asked a question about a year ago. They said, “What is your editorial bias?” and I was struck by the question because I never have thought about it. We came back with the answer and it did not take more than a few seconds. Our only bias is for action. Back to the words respectful, if it is respectful, if it is not breaking news, it may be opinion, it may be politics. We do we poetry. I mean, it does not matter provided it is leaning towards action. What are you going to do with the information? If Janine writes a wonderful article and she is sharing that value with me, can I leave her article and take her advice? And I am equipped to do something going forward and that is what our biases, but beyond that it just does not matter. There is no moderation which again, gives the writers and the readers freedom that they do not feel– over the last year, obviously, that has come up even more stronger because people, some of these writers I talked about where I look at them, Janine, and I said, “Well, my goodness, what are they doing with us?” They said they had too many controls, editorial controls being imposed on them in the last year and it really crushed their creative spirit. They did not feel like they had the freedom of speech that they would like to have and I am not talking about disrespectful people. They were just being cordoned off and so they came in our direction and we are glad to have them.

Janine: I would like to chat with that just a little bit. We talked a lot about the freedoms that we have in certain areas in certain countries, but one of the things that has occurred when people use social media and those platforms that they do not own as a megaphone for whatever their message happens to be. And again, what I have seen on your site and what I have experienced myself as one of your authors has been a very respectful community. If people disagree they were like “I am going to agree to disagree with you on this and this is why”, but you do not see the flaming that happens or people running around just as trolls trying to be difficult with the authors. These are other authors who have done their scholarship, have done their research and this is their opinion piece on XYZ, but always with a lot of respect. I had financial planners that were talking about my articles and they would say they disagreed with certain things or I had not taken into account certain things and we were able to have respectful online discussions and I have thrived in that. I was very grateful for that. So that is where the 360 Nation. If you are a new debut writer, you would want to definitely get into that. Even if you are an author like myself who has 10 books to their name, four different genres, that is still a location that will give you quality feedback. And I think that is what you really offer people is you have 25,000 articles, but you have got quality there. You have a community that is amazing.

Dennis: Thank you for that. Yes, and I am glad you brought up people that have published books like you. The value we give to some of those folks and we are learning this as we go is “Yes, they have written a book and it is up there on Amazon or wherever it might be, but like everybody else there are a lot of books out there.” So they use our platform and they pull excerpts out of their books or chapters or just slices of some of the better parts and they share that freely with the audience. Call it a teaser, call it marketing, call it what you will, but so long as they are delivering value from all the time they spent writing that book, why not share it with the audience. And if there is a link at the bottom to buy the book, that is wonderful. You are giving them a taste of something they never would have seen. So, that is another value the writers tell us they get no matter how experienced they are.

Janine: So, where are you headed with 360 Nation? What are some of the things that you hope for as you move through 2021?

Dennis: Great question. We have a sign up on my wall here and my wife and I put this up just as we turned in– we were coming off the excitement of 360 Nation Studios, which we launched to launch Hope Fest and we were just pretty enthused. What we decided was we put a sign up, it says Groundhog Day. You might remember the movie from way back called Groundhog Day.

Janine: Yes.

Dennis: Well, we put a sign up and there is an [inaudible] which means we do not want to be the place that does the same thing the same way and gets the same results. I had this discussion on a zoom call a couple weeks ago. We do not want to be the French event. We do not want to be just another Zoom call. We want to be different. We want to bring different topics to the table and not all the sameness that seems to be permeating out there. 360 Nation Studios, when we launched that production, I remember saying to my wife “I want to do something.” This is last August, we had never done something like this before. We had no familiarity with YouTube as a medium other than we know how to go there and we get stuff from it. But I said, “You know, I want to do something bigger, braver and frankly, scarier than we have ever done.” Well, we had the same discussion in January and we are saying we are going to do something to follow up Hope Fest. We have got some ideas. I have a list on my screen here of 18 things we will do differently this time around, but it has got to meet that bolder and scarier because it was scary trying to patch us all together. I have no idea whether it was going to work but it was such a learning experience. I do not have a clean answer to that except if it does not match that litmus test, it is not good enough for us because we do not want to be just another production again, and everybody has got YouTube videos. Well, this has got to be the kind you are going to want to go to because maybe you can get some value from it.

Janine: Just saying that about not wanting to be Groundhog Day is amazing. Also what we have discussed about how you do not have these search engines that are filtering out a lot of your articles for other people. I mean, you can go onto your site and you can find it and it is given equal value. For folks who do not understand how social media works or how programming in Google searches and all that, if you do not understand how that works you may not understand how amazing the 360 Nation is in its platform. So that is why I am kind of going on and on about that.

Dennis: There is something else that I should bring up that we are really excited about, Janine and it all came from Hope Fest. We started the Hope Fest with all these videos but then could anybody really sit there and watch eight hours of production? Of course not. It was New Year’s Day, one of writers came to us. He ultimately gave us a video. He is from England. He said, “Dennis, I love what you guys are doing. This is going to be magnificent but my wife and I walk every morning and we would like to do like the podcast routine where we are listening to something for say 15 minutes at a time.” We thought that was brilliant. We went back and chopped up Hope Fest. We did the big production but every day in January, there was another 15-minute segments being released for those people. We also learned, and again, no brilliance here. We learned along the way. We had independent recording artist approaching us from around the world when they heard about this and they wanted to step up and donate their music. Obviously, they wanted the visibility because think how their world has been crushed. They cannot go to studios. They cannot go to venues. They cannot perform. They cannot tour. We offered them an opportunity. They offered us and we offered them the opportunity for visibility. So we ended up getting over two dozen recording artist. We spliced their songs in between these 15-minute segments. One of them is a Grammy nominee. So, these are people that have been out there for a while.

Dennis: What came from that, we finished all of it up end of the year and we realize there was some real power in that music. Why don’t we launch a channel? Again, we are not advertiser supported. I do not have a board I have to go to. So, within a week of the ending new year, we launched new channels called Good Vibes 360 and it is different. It is not just a music channel because we do not want to be just another music channel. We said to the artist, “Look, we will give you visibility beyond Hope Fest as another way of thanking you for doing what you did for free, but send us your music video, but you got to tell us the story behind the song, the inspiration behind it. We now published about three dozen. We launched, I think it was January 15th, three dozen plus music videos on our site under a new channel and the inspiration behind it because a lot of people like to know where did that song come from. Another offshoot of that, which invented because of Hope Fest and that goes back to not being Groundhog Day.

Janine: Exactly, because one of the things that Peter Jackson did for the movie industry was because he showed the story behind the story. He showed in a 16 DVD set… I forget exactly how many DVDs. I have the whole section of it and I paid the money because I wanted to see the stories behind the story of the amazing movie of Lord of the Rings that was finally produced. People love that stuff. You are absolutely right and I enjoy so much hearing an artist talk to me about what inspired them for their song because as a fellow artist, even though that is not my medium, music is not my medium, he or she is inspiring me in ways that I could never have been inspired before. And then we have a whole other segments of our population who are pushing against the binary definition of even gender who are coming out with their interpretations and it is fascinating the number of perspectives. And so, I just wanted to say thank you as somebody who has waited her whole life to be able to see a community that like you have built. I get very excited about this stuff because it is like I do not think you understand just how radical this is, but because Dennis is the soft-spoken guy that he is, he talks about it as like “Can we just do this? Can we just do that?” I am like, “Do you realize what these people have built? It is incredible.” So I just want to say thank you for serving the communities that you have served and allowing me to be one of many that gets to say “Yeah!” and I had a little part in that and that is amazing. It is so much fun to be able to say. Any last words you care to share with us before we close off?

Dennis: No, I think you touched upon it. Our doors are open to anybody. A lot of websites will do once a year. They open up to new writers. We are open 24/7 for anybody that is writing, would like to fine-tune their writing and just need to do that thing. The hardest thing to do is to break into somewhere where they can get published. Well, we are that door. It is as simple as that. So, we welcome come on, come all.

Janine: And would that be to BizCatalyst 360° or what…?

Dennis: The best way to reach us is you can come to our site but write to me directly or connect with me on LinkedIn. It is Dennis Pitocco, best place to connect to me there because it has got all my contact details, and from that you will find your way to me and we will have you up and running.

Janine: Definitely. So I highly recommend get out there and definitely get on LinkedIn and connect with this man. He will help you establish yourself if you are a debut author and if you have already been on multiple platforms and things just were not working for you, I assure you they will on that community. Thank you for your time today, Dennis.

Dennis: Thanks for the kind words. I really enjoyed it, Janine.

Janine: And this is Janine Bolon with The Writers Hour Creative Conversations where we encourage you to keep your feet firmly planted on Mother Earth and grounded reality while you are standing there reaching for the stars of your dreams. Have a great day today.