Keep Climbing with Bill Zadeits

March 21, 2024
There's power in showing up, ready to learn.
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Bill Zadeits is a a pillar in the automotive media landscape and the President of Cherokee Media Group. Zadeits shares his fascinating journey from a young aspiring sportscaster to leading a media group that profoundly influences the automotive industry. With a blend of nostalgia and insights, Bill narrates his transition from radio and TV into the automotive space, emphasizing the evolution of content delivery and the indispensable value of understanding business from a revenue perspective.

This episode not only offers a retrospective look at his impressive career but also serves as a beacon for the automotive industry's dynamic nature. His emphasis on continuous learning, adaptation, and the transformative power of personal connections paints a hopeful and exciting future for automotive media and the industry it serves.


0:00 : Intro with Paul J Daly and Kyle Mountsier
6:55: Bill's initial challenges transitioning from broadcasting to the automotive industry
14:59: The irreplaceable value of in-person interactions
18:08: The future of Cherokee Media Group
20:22: A sneak peek into the upcoming Auto Intel Summit

Bill Zadeits is the President of Cherokee Media Group

Paul J Daly: 0:00I'm excited about today's episode because

Unknown: 0:08

this is Auto Collabs.

Paul J Daly: 0:10

Today's guest is kind of a foundational part of the automotive media landscape. And I've heard so many people mention his name and say great things about him. But we've never had a conversation. And those are some of my favorite podcast episodes.

Kyle Mountsier: 0:25

Yeah, the man has bills, the dates and he has a long history of serving the industry, specifically, with us car knowledge. It's like, very, very defined what if you go to church immediate group or to auto remarketing, you know, what you're getting yourself into, you are learning about the pace, the progress, the people that are doing it best, the changes in the used car market. And so I'm excited to see how that kind of how that's continued to stay that refined as the business has grown. The business has been

Paul J Daly: 0:59

around forever, I think any any dealership or any business that has been around for decades. And you can measure that in the plural. There's definitely something to learn. And they've seen a few cycles of the auto industry specifically, we've been talking about like, hey, it's nice to eat, we see a couple cycles. But our couple cycles are relatively recent when we talk about the last 1015 years. But they've had the opportunity to see like big cycles and big technology changes. And it'll be interesting, because I mean, I've just only heard good things about this man.

Kyle Mountsier: 1:31

Absolutely. Well, we hope you enjoy this conversation was Phil's Nice. Oh, man, Bill, we are so excited to have you in a conversation today, another partner in the automotive media verse as it is. Thanks for joining us here on Auto Collabs. Oh,

Bill Zadeits: 1:51

man, Kyle, Paul, I appreciate this. It's an honor for me to be able to spend some time with you guys. And yeah, looking forward to our time together and in our conversation is gonna be a lot of fun. Yeah,

Kyle Mountsier: 2:00

awesome. So you know, many people have heard about the properties by which Cherokee media group now manages over the years that you have kind of grown the reach and the events and the digital and the print and all the things that that serve our industry, so well. But how did you get into or where did that start? Go back to the beginning.

Bill Zadeits: 2:24

I remember going way back. I'm a lot older than you guys. So this is still take you back. But yeah, so I joined the company in 9519 95. So I'm coming up on my 28th year here in middle of March. But you know, my background. I was in radio and TV. You know, I was in radio and TV. So I came out of college and like a lot of guys, I wanted to be a sportscaster I want to get to ESPN. I wanted to be that guy and happened to be you know, really fortunate. We're here in North Carolina, and I got a job with the University of North Carolina Tar Heels doing some of the Oh no. So you guys. Yeah.

Paul J Daly: 3:05

The good news is I'm not from se Okay. Okay. All right.

Kyle Mountsier: 3:08

I got you. I'm a Duke fan.

Bill Zadeits: 3:11

Oh my gosh. Well, good talking to you guys got

Paul J Daly: 3:16

college sports. I could stay right.

Bill Zadeits: 3:20

That's good. So yeah, no, no, you know, like anybody you start out, you're the low man on the totem pole. But it was just a great learning experience. This is back in the day, when the radio play by play guys were iconic, you know, before the internet, and you know, they. So I learned a lot, man. And it was great. I have my wife was in school in North Carolina at the time. And so I got a chance to meet her. And that's been a been a great thing for me throughout my life. We just celebrated 30 years last year. So that's so yeah, I learned a little bit about the business from that standpoint. I was on the on the broadcast side. And so I learned a lot about production. And I learned a lot about you know, how that business works. But I think the biggest part it was it was almost like an unofficial grad school thing for me because I really didn't understand the business side of it, you know, the revenue side and how it all worked. And and so that was that was really formative for me at that time. And so, after doing that for a couple of years, I was fortunate I got the I got a TV gig. There's a small market here in North Carolina, if you're familiar with Wilmington Myrtle Beach area, kind of down on the coast and southeastern North Carolina, and I got a job as as their sports anchor. And you know, 22 years old rolling down was the the NBC affiliate done in Wilmington.

Paul J Daly: 4:42

You're like doing the walk right? Oh

Bill Zadeits: 4:44

my gosh, man. Yeah. I thought it was big stuff. But again, you know, it's it's part of the it's part of the growth, right? It's part you're young and you're figuring it all out. So I worked in TV for about four or five years and anchor sports and did that type of thing again, a lot They're learning a lot of understanding about the production side and how things come together. But even more so about the revenue side of the business and how you how you're, you know, the goal to couple great content for whatever your audience may be with the revenue side, which kind of underwrites and keeps everything flowing. And so after four or five years there, I had had enough of, you know, getting home at 1230 in the morning, and that type of thing, we knew we wanted to start a family. So we kind of came back here to the triangle area, the Raleigh Durham area. And I was fortunate to to join our company. I was the fourth one, there were three people at the time, I was the fourth one. And my job was to come in and and start selling advertising for auto remarketing, which at the time was just a eight and a half by 11. Magazine that we produced 10 times a year, and kind of selling

Paul J Daly: 5:50

the magazine, like how did selling that tell us it was you know, it was

Bill Zadeits: 5:53

difficult because I don't have an automotive background. Right, I have no automotive industry background, everything I had done before would be considered B to C type of stuff, you know, to a vast audience, whether you're a Tar Heel fan, or whether you like sports, you know, NASCAR, whatever it was in southeastern North Carolina. So it was coming into a b2b audience that was you know, auto dealers, you know, franchise independent, the the OEMs, the banks, you know, all the vendors, all that type of thing, and learning the business a little bit. And, and I'm not that smart. So it took me a long time, I'm still in that learning phase. But, you know, I was fortunate because of that the, you know, the five or six years before that I didn't understand kind of coupling, advertising or sponsorship dollars with content. And, and it's, yeah, 28 years later, here I am, I would, you know, I'm still around so we can

Paul J Daly: 6:47

firsthand experience. That's not easy.

Bill Zadeits: 6:50

It's not

Paul J Daly: 6:53

like just taking notes over here.

Bill Zadeits: 6:55

Okay. I wish I had a magic bullet for you.

Paul J Daly: 6:58

I know. I mean, we always we feature your content quite a bit in our morning show. Actually, I think the first store today was an auto remarketing story about how people value how the in store experience actually makes a big impact on the overall experience, especially with millennials and Gen Z. You've been you've been in that seat now through the transition of a couple of these generations. And how have you been like approaching things differently now? I mean, we're starting to see Gen Z become a major buying demographic, and, and millennials becoming, you know, leaders inside stores and having some authority and obviously pushing a lot of feedback up and looking to you for guidance, you know, and your publications.

Bill Zadeits: 7:42

Yeah, I appreciate that. You know, I have to give all the credit to our content team. I don't know if you guys know Joe Overby, Nexon, he's coming, he's coming in this year. Yeah, good, good, good. Those guys are great. And they're really the ones that have their fingers on the pulse of the industry. They in their own rights have kind of grown up with us as well, we hired them when they were just young guns are both former newspaper guys, and worked in sports worked in news had endured some really great experiences, learning experiences coming out of it. And they too, they've kind of learned the industry, right. And neither one of them had worked in a store. Neither one of them has sold a car, none of that type of stuff. But what they do, and I give them great credit for it, is it a great listeners, you know, they're great listeners and, and really smart in their own right. So it's been great to see those guys grow up and kind of grow up the editorial team. Beneath them. And, and, you know, we're humbled, you know, the fact that people trust us as a content sources is something you can't buy, you earn over time. And, and we've been fortunate to do that. But yeah, I mean, it's changing, right. I mean, we're hiring people now that, that actually understand social media and, and unlike me, yeah, right. I'm thinking I made a Facebook post a couple of weeks back, you know, that, you know, it doesn't work that way. And I think I think part of it is, is being humble enough to understand that I'm not the person with the skill sets for to reach as you mentioned, Paul, I mean, this new generation, right, I mean, or new generations as they come through my kids communicate completely differently than than the way I do and in understanding that and diving into that and not being afraid of it understanding you're gonna make mistakes along the way, but also being bold enough to say, hey, you know what, you fail fast and you keep going, man, it keeps stepping forward. Keep climbing is one of our phrases around here. They're tired of me saying I'm the old guy that says hey, you know what, Kyle? Great work, bro. Keep climbing. They're like, Oh, yeah.

Paul J Daly: 9:39

That's like no, it's like a sign off. That's the radio. Yeah, the radio sign off right, keep flying, keep going. So like

Kyle Mountsier: 9:47

what, you know over the years because it started out as auto remarketing but you've grown to you know, the Buy Here Pay Here space, the used car and even getting into Canada, which is which is a whole other ballgame of content and the way that dealers and industry partners and OEMs interact, how has that like movement to scale and bring other things on, you know, impacted or been impacted by the growth that that you've experienced? And how is that transition over time worked?

Bill Zadeits: 10:21

Yeah, you know, like any company, I mean, you have some ideas, and then you end up on an off ramp, right, you know, that just didn't work, we're going that way. I think that, you know, as you understand where I'm coming from, you can feel it feel me on that. Real deep. But anyway, I think that the, you know, as we move forward with, with the, with the title and with the content, you know, we got into having a website, and we got into sending email to people, and those were some of the first kind of baby steps in terms of that, I would say one of the biggest things in our give our founders, a gentleman by the name of Ron Smith, who started the company years and years ago, originally just as a small public relations firm. But Ron, I mean, and he retired a few years ago, back at the end of 2017, and kind of entrusted us with his baby, you know, to kind of carry it forward. And I give Ron a lot of credit, you know, he, he saw the opportunity in live events, and that really changed the face of what we do and how we do it. You know, you talk about Canada, going into Canada, and and starting an event. And that really began to help us build relationships with people other than just being on the phone or texting or, you know, whatever it might be. And, and so I would say that, you know, that that really was a major factor in it, you know, the, the example I give to a lot of our staff or to people that asked me about the value of that. It's, it's as if you're a sports fan, or you're a music fan, or you're a comedy fan, whatever it might be, yes, you can watch that game at home. You can sit on your couch, you can drink the beer from your own fridge, you can eat your own snacks, and hang out and relax and just chill. And when it's over, you turn it off, or you go to the next one, or whatever it might be. But if you go to a football game, or you go to a Buffalo Bills game, or whatever, it's the tailgate, it's the interaction with the people. It's the vibe, it's the smell, it's the excitement of that. And I'm not comparing an automotive event other than yours to that type of experience, right? I see the music back there, we're breaking out the guitar, we're hanging out. But being there showing up does make a difference. The relationships are cemented, they're grown, they're new, whatever it might be. And yes, hopefully you get some knowledge out of that. Maybe you further to relationship for your business, maybe you further to relationship for your career, and the next step, whatever that might be. But that really started the energy in our first event was October of 99. So we're 25 years into it. It's changed a lot. It's changed a lot. You know, I never knew we'd have a pickleball tournament at our event. Right? That was

Paul J Daly: 13:03

so cool. So smart. That was that was Kyle's and I first event that we had been to like us car week. And we went out and like we pulled up and like we're looking at the agenda. We're like, doing this right? Yeah, the vibe was great.

Bill Zadeits: 13:19

It's a lot of fun, you know, these these after hours events and these different things, you know, that really, that really kind of make it what it is as an experience for people.

Paul J Daly: 13:29

relationship goes faster. Yeah, right. I think that that regardless of whether it's a new relationship, or it's an existing one that gets cemented, it goes faster and farther when you're in person, you know, like, we're all used to these zoom calls. But I guarantee you if the three of us were in the same room right now, yeah, we would have a vastly different experience than we are right now. Totally different. You know, because it's the it's the pregame. It's the postgame, like you mentioned live music. It's, it's the nuance of the presence of the band, right? And then the other fans, you're the presence and the nuance of the other people in the community that believe the same thing in a slightly different way in a slightly different take. There's just a level of trust that's built instantly. And you cannot I think we've learned through the last three, three years, with all the questions being asked like, will we return to Office? Will this just be the way it is our events dead? Like, I think we've answered that question once and for all that they will never you will never, ever ever to be be able to replace the velocity and the intensity of relationship when you're in person.

Bill Zadeits: 14:34

No doubt, no doubt. Like I love to listen to Rush right? So I've got rush cranked up in my truck coming into the office this morning. But unless you're standing in that stadium or that Coliseum and you got Geddy Lee just you know, belting it out,

Paul J Daly: 14:46

watching Neil Peart just do his thing

Kyle Mountsier: 14:49

on a drum

Bill Zadeits: 14:50

right hurt just tearing it up, right. I mean, you know, God bless him and we would have great I mean, all time, right? But you're

Kyle Mountsier: 14:57

like now I'm like, okay,

Bill Zadeits: 15:00

Yes sir people my man, right. But But unless you unless you went to that rush concert, you know, you can't tell him. It's we've all seen it right some guys at a concert and he's recording it on his phone. You don't do that. It's not immediate. Yeah, he posted it and you're listening to it. It's just like, totally over modulated the lights off. I mean, the kids you go to,

Paul J Daly: 15:22

did you go to the sphere when you were good. And I didn't get

Bill Zadeits: 15:25

a chance to get a chance to Thailand. I

Paul J Daly: 15:27

went to the we went to the welcome reception. One. We didn't go see you too, which I really wish we could go. Yeah. And we're in there, right. And you're in this immersive experience, right? And everyone's got their phone out. And like I did, too. I was like, then, then I was like, This doesn't even come close to explaining not even close to that. And I brought it home to my family. I was like, Look at this. I was like, they're like, oh, it's cool. It's like no, no, this isn't like a planetarium. Like, nevermind, nevermind,

Bill Zadeits: 15:55

yes, yeah, you can't even close and I get it, I get it an automotive event may not be a rush concert, and may not be you know, the Superbowl or whatever. But what we're talking about is just the basics of human nature, right? If you're in the automotive industry, and you're not hitting these events, and you're not investing, I get it, it's more expensive. Yeah, you're gonna spend more time all of those elements play into it. But if you go, and you really, you know, apply yourself to it, get so much out of it. So, so many unexpected things. Really, I

Paul J Daly: 16:30

think there's there's a lot of like, what we're starting to see now, like, I mean, we're just getting started in our journey. But even seeing like, last year at the event, the collaboration that happens between dealers and industry partners, yeah, that would never ever happen on a zoom call, because they just get to talking. Right? Right. And like, when you schedule a zoom, there's this pressure of like, we have to accomplish this in this timeframe. So everyone's like, alright, and you have people call, but they get they get to talking and we've actually watched like, products be developed, shot synthesized at conversations when people were in person, no doubt. And that can't happen any other way. No,

Bill Zadeits: 17:05

it can't. And I can say one of the things that really is cool to me, and this is over the course of time. But inevitably, in the automotive industry, someone gets pushed out of a position or decides to leave a position, whatever it may be, you know, it's just not the right fit. And maybe I've got a relationship with that person. And they said, you know, Bill, I'm not working with XYZ company right now, but I'd still really love to come out. I would absolutely probably done this 10 or 12 times over the course of time like Hey, Paul, no doubt you come out if you can pay for your flight in the hotel, you have a free pass to come and network and find this next position. Right? Right and talk about fulfilling that when they get that note back or some dude I just it at your place, you know, at used car week I met so and so and guess what, I start on Monday. And that that to me is a little bit of a cool factor that nobody sees it's kind of an underlying type thing. But again, it's the power of showing up you know, you can't do that on Zoom. You can't do that on a call. Here's my resume whatever.

Paul J Daly: 18:07

It is the power showing up

Bill Zadeits: 18:08

Yeah, sure. Yeah, so those are some of the little little things that over time had been gratifying and and a lot of fun for me a lot of fun for me because I think the skill sets that I had early on kind of naturally lead into hosting a panel conversation or building out content or trying to you know trying to figure some stuff out and not that we haven't right you know, we're always tweaking you know, always trying to get better but it didn't really give me personally at least a good foundation for where we are today which is still you know, a lot of fun for me.

Paul J Daly: 18:39

I always say never straight never straight always forward is kind of like well never get there actually. You're just kind of keep keep moving, keep climbing. Keep climbing. Yeah,

Kyle Mountsier: 18:50

so what's on the horizon like as you're climbing What are you looking forward to next and the next year to what is Cherokee Media Group auto remarketing used car week, kind of gearing up for?

Bill Zadeits: 19:03

Well, you know, we're in the process right now of hiring some new people I mentioned some younger people younger demographics that understand our social better understand our technology better understand some things that I know we need to be doing better, but I don't have the skill sets for it. And for me at this point, it's almost kind of sitting back and saying and listening continue to listen because everyone has different ideas about which way we should move but for us, I mean certainly when you look at the title auto remarketing our goal is to be you know the source for used car information and that spans from as you mentioned, Buy Here Pay Here all the way through to you know, Brian Binstock and his CPO operation whatever it may be, right? We want to be that source that first source for used car information for the industry, franchise dealers, independent dealers, OEMs banks, auto finance companies, the vendor community, all of that so that that is primarily that is our that is job one, we want to be that. And so that's as you said, that's a never ending game every day starts fresh. There's always some new things there. So we continue to kind of climb in that direction.

Paul J Daly: 20:11

Well, the auto Intel Summit is coming up in April 23. Right, yeah, we're

Bill Zadeits: 20:18

2013 the 25th app. So

Paul J Daly: 20:19

what is that? What does it tell us about the event? For people who might not know? Yeah, you

Bill Zadeits: 20:22

know, I think that, as we kind of looked at our portfolio of events, and as you mentioned, Canada is used car week is in June, we have used car week in November, we had this whole in the spring of each year. And one of the thoughts around it was that, you know, the industry and this was 2018. So we've kind of carried this baby through COVID, and kind of do a restart with it. Because it, as you guys know, two or three years, you really, I mean, if you don't have it after the third year, you really need to rethink what you're doing. But we had some great momentum. And what we thought with regard to the focus of it was built completely around business intelligence, we get it, there's going to be networking, we get it, there's going to be you know, VPs of sales, all those kinds of things that might be part of it. But it was really digging deeper in answering the question for for AAS, the question that needs to be answered at this event is what's next. And that changes from year to year, it's again, we're always looking forward. And so the idea was to bring in these experts, these people that we wouldn't might not normally have at any of the other two events and have them share with us. Some of those thoughts, some of those prognostication, some of those things that, hey, we don't know a thing about I don't understand the thing about this AI, whatever it was, right. And have that come together. And it's just, it's just played together very nicely. It's, it's not our biggest event. You know, it's not designed to be our biggest event. But it really kind of serves a need amongst some of the brainiacs out there. You know, at first we were like, are we gonna call this the conference for the nerds? And I'm like, No, that's, that's, that's, you know, I don't want to say that that's not what I'm there. I'm Chief nerd, right, I'll be the nerdiest of the nerd, but certainly not qualified to speak. But anyway, so that's where we, that's where we came out of the ground with it. And it's kind of evolved over time, we have brought in a little bit of our core remarketing group, in that they were saying, you know, to us the feedback was, hey, this is great, but we'd really like to see a little bit more on the wholesale side and what's happening there. And such a dynamic, you know, industry that always incredible, just the supply of the US vehicle, you know, market is is incredible, and on its own. So, we've blended those two together, and it's been a lot of fun. And yeah, we're gonna be in Cary right here, right down the street from our offices in April and it's coming together really nicely. So you guys have a personal invitation love to have you come down and scope.

Paul J Daly: 22:49

Thank you for that. For that. Actually have a really good friend who lives in Carrie. Yeah, it was my best friend growing up and grew up in Philly in New Jersey. kinda you know what they call Carrie? Yeah, Ry containment area for relocated Yankees?

Bill Zadeits: 23:02

Yes, they do. But as a native, as a native North Carolinian, I would say that's still a good blend.

Paul J Daly: 23:10

Don't let that keep you. Bill was amazing. spending a few minutes with you. Thank you so much for sharing some of your trip down memory lane and also for the meaningful work that you're doing every day. Keep climbing. I'm gonna say to you yeah,

Bill Zadeits: 23:25

guys, I appreciate it. Paul. Kyle, great. Spend some time with you appreciate what you guys are doing. I really do. I think it's a creative and the energy and the passion that you have for man is obvious. So yeah, keep climbing guys hope you have a great day.

Paul J Daly: 23:41

Keep climbing kale, keep

Kyle Mountsier: 23:43

climbing. That's fantastic. It is it's a sign and you said it's like a full on radio sign off. You know,

Paul J Daly: 23:49

I'm gonna remember he's like, I'm the old guy doesn't seem that old to me. But maybe that's because I'm getting close, right? I'm, I'm rounding the corner now where it's like, I'm getting to the point where it's going to be 40 I'm gonna be 45 soon. So it's like, I'm no longer a young man. I'm not an old man. I'm just just a man. Just

Kyle Mountsier: 24:07

just a man, just a man learned to be a man I so appreciate because we talk so much about what live events mean to us, personally, but also the brand of asoto more than cars and how we see communities like flourish through live events. And I love how he said, Hey, if you're not at least hitting a couple of few events a year, like it is worth the investment isn't our time, your finances to do that. Because the speed of innovation, the speed of connection, the speed of conversation that happens within these live events, no matter I don't care which one you go to. It can be the newest one, the oldest one, the biggest one, the smallest one. They all have something unique to offer that if you do them the right way carefully attend them pay attention, engage With the right people can provide massive business change way more than I mean, we love podcasts, we love interviews, we love daily emails, we love all of that part of media, but it is so much faster when you're in person,

Paul J Daly: 25:12

because let's be honest, you're gonna turn this off and you're gonna forget about it. They're right in when you're in a live event, it's right there. And you you make connections and even like, neural connections. Yep, this and this because you're perceiving all the nuance. Well, this

Kyle Mountsier: 25:27

implies feel the end get Yeah, it's, it's, it's all

Paul J Daly: 25:31

of that, all of it. I mean, we weren't intending on saying this now. But we are having an event called may 14 through 17th in Baltimore. We hope you can join us there because we put a lot of intentionality into all the nuances of the event, and the people that show up there. Yep, they're ready to do that too. But for today, on behalf of myself and Kyle Mountsier Thank you for joining us on Auto Collabs.

Unknown: 25:53

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