When the website Funny or Die launched in 2007, the big news were the names behind it—its founders include Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, and Chris Henchy.
In 2014, the site has taken over social media and expanded its comedy portfolio to include television and movies such as Comedy Central’s Drunk History and @Midnight, IFC’s The Spoils of Babylon, and its unscripted reality show, American Muscle, coming later this year to the Discovery Channel. That’s why we named Funny or Die one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2014.
The company’s focus from day one has been two-fold: Be talent-friendly and focus on creativity. "Content drives the deal, not the other way around," says Dick Glover, president and CEO of Funny or Die. "The business supports the creative, not the other way around." Glover notes the company’s structure: allowing creative, talented people to do what they do best, and giving them the resources to create great content—isn’t the typical Hollywood arrangement.
"We set out to be talent-friendly. Do what you want, have fun, and have the resources to do it well," he says. In the early years, before social media took off, user-generated content was the "be-all, end-all," Glover says. The site utilized A-list talent with user-generated content, a self-selection process to find "the good stuff"—as the name suggests, it’ll either be funny, or it’ll die.
Soon after its launch, the company tried to expand the franchise into the culinary, sports, and video game worlds with the ill-fated Eat, Drink or Die, Shred or Die, and Pwn or Die. Glover says the company learned what it was good at, namely, comedy and enabling talent to perform, and today focuses on those. "We’re sticking to our knitting," he jokes.
One of the key lessons at Funny or Die is to trust the process. "Do things the right way and trust that you’ll attain your goal at the end," says Glover. Case in point? President Barack Obama’s surprise appearance earlier this month in the Zach Galifianakis series, Between Two Ferns.
According to Glover, the first meaningful communication the company had with the administration was in October 2011, when White House staff was exploring ways to reach young people, something Funny or Die did well. Over time, relationships developed, and last summer, the White House called a meeting with entertainment executives to discuss ways to reach young people about the Affordable Care Act.
The company always knew the most significant "get" for the site would be the president, and the idea was pitched. Everything came together a couple of months ago, Glover says. As President Obama told Ryan Seacrest in an interview last week, he wasn’t familiar with the series, but after seeing his teenaged daughter Malia’s eyes light up after mentioning it at the dinner table, he knew it would resonate with young people.
"The most important thing from the video is it worked, it delivered," Glover says. Funny or Die linked to the Affordable Care Act website, and that site’s traffic went up 40%, program signups were up, and the video remains a top referral for the site.
"It reached the audience in a very authentic way," Glover says. It’s a hard-to-reach audience, and if you don’t reach them authentically, then it can be very damaging. If the video hadn’t worked, the danger existed that other high-profile "gets" wouldn’t want to participate in future projects.
But it did. And they will. "We know our platform works, [but] it’s great to get public validation of it," Glover says.