We in public relations do a lot of writing. Sometimes, that writing is on behalf of someone else so the session The Real Art & Economics of Ghostwriting – featuring NYT best-selling author/celebrity ghostwriter Joni Rodgers – sounded like it could provide some good insights on how to become a better ghostwriter.
Important to note that the session was focused on ghostwriting of books which isn’t something that generally falls into the scope of a PR person but the trials and tribulations of nailing someone else’s voice, establishing efficient processes and creation of content people care about are the same, no matter the output.
One thing that struck me about Joni was her caring, motherly nature. Driven in part by her sharing the stage with her daughter and business partner, Jerusha Rodgers, but also by the genuine compassion she demonstrated for the clients she has collaborated with.
They talked a lot about the concept of humility and abandonment and that you must be completely comfortable with not being the sage on the stage to find happiness in ghostwriting. This concept also wasn’t lost on me as it relates to PR – often we’re the people working hard behind-the-scenes to shine a light on our clients.
Joni’s first piece of advice to budding ghostwriters was to write a book yourself first so you fully understand the process. The second alluded to flexibility and working with your client on their terms – ensuring they’re in their natural habitat to maximize creativity and a good working relationship. Jerusha talked about a strong agreement upfront behaving like a moat: of course there is a bridge but the water provides a barrier, allowing you to control the process and stay safe.
Here are the three things Jerusha and Joni look for when assessing whether to take on a project or not:
- Storytelling ability. Can the person tell a story?
- Style compatibility. Many partnerships fall apart because of a mismatch of style, not personality.
- Do they have the skill to turn out a feasible project?
The last bit I wanted to touch on is Joni’s commentary around content. She pointed out that it’s easy to fall in love with someone’s “story” but that doesn’t necessarily make for a riveting book.
Asking what is the point of telling the story, why will people care, why will they care right now and what the larger meaning is all help in the decision-making process. The decision on format – the use of flashbacks, vignettes, etc. – is also key to helping structure the project. All questions us PR folk ask every day when it comes to pitching the media and indeed, in the creation of thought leadership content on behalf of our clients.
You can check out the books Joni has penned (including Sugarland, Love and Other Natural Disasters and Nancy G. Brinker’s Promise Me) here: http://www.jonirodgers.com/#!work/c1pen
DGC is officially on the ground at this year’s SXSW Interactive and it’s already been a busy couple of days of meetings, sessions, music, client catchups, reporter briefings and of course, parties.
My topline takeaway so far (and I’m not tapped into whether official attendance levels are down from years past) is that the whole experience feels much more manageable this year.
There are of course the same logistical challenges of transport, lines to get into events, etc. but there have been only a handful of sessions I’ve wanted to go to that I couldn’t get into and there has been ample space to decompress and work along with ample power outlets (I haven’t run out of charge yet!). Here are some of the trends we’re seeing emerge this year:
- Privacy is front-and-center: There’s been a lot of talk about privacy, being driven in part by the industry’s focus on personalization and data but also controversial and heavily promoted feature presentations from Julian Assange (hosted by The Barbarian Group) and Edward Snowden (a discussion between Snowden and Christopher Soghoian, the American Civil Liberties Union’s principal technologist) who skirted U.S. law by engaging in their discussions virtually. As we’ve seen in many recent industry conferences, people are talking a lot about privacy but are playing it safe- they’re saying it’s important but are talking less about how to navigate it and statements seem almost circular.
- Be there, but be smart about it: We’re seeing less of the enormous, splashy brand presences than in year’s past (like the three-house Google Village in Rainey Street from SXSWi 2012.) Notably, Foursquare turned their decision to not have an official presence at this year’s SXSWi into PR by responding to Adweek’s Chris Heine and the WSJ reported Snapchat and WhatsApp would be no-shows. There are certainly branded “houses” encouraging punters to experience a company’s brand such as Funny or Die’s takeover of Lustre Pearl, Yahoo’s space at Brazos Grill and AT&T’s The Mobile Movement activation but they all feel very sensible and experiential vs. going for enormous scale and pure stunt value.
- Where is the wearable? Lots of chatter about wearable technology and its potential but on the whole it’s been tell, not show. Perhaps that will change once the exhibition hall opens but there’s been fewer sightings of Google Glassers than we expected. The question remains: is wearable still ahead of its time?
- You can make, but can you run a business? There have been a lot of sessions focusing on corporate culture, operations and staying happy. SXSWi is a conference with an eye firmly on innovation, creating and making but the convergence of the startup world and general business seems to be driving more discussion around “staying power” and how to run a company efficiently with an eye on the long term. It feels like a natural exchange of expertise: startups are teaching corporations to be more agile and corporations are teaching entrepreneurs the benefits of a little structure and direction for lasting success.
- Shhhh: This observation could go in two directions – 1) people trying desperately to escape the crowds and quieten the noise and 2) apps like Secret and Whisper helping people create inner circles. Avoid Humans, an app that utilizes Foursquare data created by Austin-based GSD&M, is indicative of the former as attendees (and locals) try desperately to create pockets of zen amongst the chaos. The latter is an extension of the trend behind Google+, Path, and the like: Intimacy is key and the smaller meetings, discussions and events are the ones people are really valuing.
We’ll be sharing some outtakes of some of the most interesting sessions and activations we’ve been seeing in the coming days, so stay tuned!
SXSW isn’t just for music, tech and movies. In the last four years, it has increasingly become a hotbed of marketing and communication activities with big brands spending big dollars. This year was no different – there were dazzling parties, free swag, and utility-based activations like Oreo-branded pedicabs.
Many brands had a memorable impact. But as we reflected on our experience at SXSWi 2013, we were surprised that our standout marketing moment happened miles away from the action downtown, in the back of an Austin cab en route to the airport.
Outside of our hotel we flagged down a cab, and the driver, Bob, told us he was on his way to pick up someone also going to the airport and that we could share the ride if we wanted to. “Sure!” we said. A huge favor from Bob. After a few minutes of listening to the music playing in the cab, we inquired about the artist.
Gemma: “Who’s singing this song? I like it!”
Bob: “Oh, it’s this guy, Josh Halverson. He’s a local musician who was a passenger in my cab a year or so ago. Do you want one of his CDs?”
Bob gave us both a copy of Josh’s CD, on the condition that we like Josh’s Facebook page and comment on his wall to let Josh know we received it from Bob. We’d heard enough of the music to decide that Josh deserved a “like,” and did so right there in the cab as we were chatting. Bob handed us a business card so we could credit his name correctly and before we knew it, we had followed Bob on Twitter and were chatting about his blog, “Confessions of an Austin Cabbie” and his personal Twitter strategy.
The beauty of this moment was that Bob let us discover the music he was playing in the cab. He didn’t push it, he just played it and let us decide for ourselves whether or not we liked it. With a simple word-of-mouth recommendation, Bob earned our social currency and this column space on The Hit Board. He also helped PR his buddy Josh (not a paid arrangement) in the process.
It speaks to a trend many SXSW attendees noticed – the need for a more personal touch in an always-on digital world. As we neared the airport, Bob pointed out that it was hard for him to see out of the back window because it was covered with a big white sticker – some kind of outdoor branding. Which company had paid good money for this window space? Who knows? We certainly didn’t notice – or care. The real “cab-vertising” moment happened inside the car.
Signing off for this year!
Goodby Silverstein and Partners assembled an all-star panel at the Driskill Hotel Sunday night in Austin, “So When the Hell Do You Sleep,” but the real meat of this packed session was how a group of uber-achievers create, invest, manage and generally take the world by storm.
Hosted by Jeff Goodby, Co-founder and Co- chairman of GSP, the panel included: Paul Bennett, CCO of Ideo; Damian Kulash, lead singer of OK Go; Ivan Askwith, Sr. Director of Digital Media for Lucas Films; Aileen Lee, partner, KPCB; Bing Gordon, partner, KPCB; and Livia Tortella, Co-President and COO of Warner Brothers.
So how does one become massively successful? Practice the 4Cs:
Collaboration: All agreed collaboration is the key to creating great work and great organizations. Said Bennett, “the number one skill we seek in talent is collaboration. If someone says we before I, that’s what we look for.” Lee pointed out that smart people sharing ideas in conversations can be even more valuable than degrees, “it’s about being in these Petri dishes.”
Confidence: Over-achievers do in fact experience pangs of self-doubt – Askwith dubbed it “healthy neurosis–” but part of their success comes from comfort with failure. Goodby summed it up: “Creativity is about being confident and fearful at the same time.”
Conviction: Trust your gut. OK Go, a band credited with helping to reinvent traditional music industry business models — not to mention music video aesthetics –releases video content they like, even if it garners less-than-favorable feedback from executives and internet commenters. Lee cited regret over not listening to her own gut when she had the opportunity to invest in white-hot mobile payment app Square but passed because she was counseled against it.
Cool: “The reason SXSW works is because you don’t go to work for a week, you hang out with people, drink with them and just chill,” Kulash said. Sometimes you have to take the pressure off and relax– ever notice how your best ideas come in the shower? Last night’s session ended with an 8-minute acoustic set from Kulash and his band OK Go. A small, intimate show in a historic Austin hotel — what’s cooler than that?
Beer + technology. Isn’t that what SXSW is all about? Anthony Stellato, the Head of Research and Prototyping at Arnold Worldwide knows it and his session Drinking Your Way To The Future walked his audience through what goes into making a talking, tweeting beer vending machine.
Arnie, Arnold’s resident beer dispenser, lives in the Boston headquarters. He’s a conversation-starter, perfect party guest and a key feature on tours of the agency. Arnie was born out of Arnold’s “Lab” thanks to their internal The Make Project initiative, that aims to set the stage for innovation. Arnie has earned himself a lot of media and as Stellato shared, people leave events at Arnold saying things like “You work for the best place in the world.”
There was an overwhelming sense of inspiration emanating from the audience. I don’t know that the audience members knew they could do this kind of work at an ad agency and many of the questions were talent-related. In fact, Arnie is really great for talent and not just because of the free beer. Ad shops are frequently competing for top digital talent and Arnie is a real, tangible example of the tech opportunities available at Arnold.
Stellato summed it up well by stating that if you don’t invest in hiring people whose job is to constantly be looking for new technology, you’ll fast become obsolete.
So what’s next for Arnie? Stellato would love to build voice recognition and a way to dispense Jack Daniel’s into Arnie 2.0. As Angela Wei, Arnold NY’s Chief Digital Officer so aptly stated, Surprising or not? the beer brewing part was harder than the tech part. Our thoughts: not surprising at all. As much as technology is close to our hearts, beer is closer for many, especially those at SXSW.
If you’re not tapped into the hardcore tech at SXSW, here are Stellato’s top picks for what’s hot:
- Raspberry Pi, a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard.
- Lead Motion, a motion controller that lets you control your computer with your hands without touching your computer.
What’s the reward for getting up early for my first SXSW Salon? A free mimosa and a pair of bright orange sunglasses. Oh, and GEEKSTA PARADISE: The Ballers of Uber, Airbnb + Github. First up, Dave McClure (of 500 Startups) sat on the stage with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and the overarching theme of their chat was innovating in the face of strict legislation.
Many startups are born of the desire to solve a problem and Uber is no different – the company coins itself as the future of transportation. They’re currently active in 28 cities and although they’re a darling of the tech startup scene they’re not so popular with local governments and cabbies, having been accused of illegal taxicab operation.
Kalanick cites the city’s resistance to embracing Uber as protecting an incumbent industry through anti-competitive measures. To launch Uber in Austin, the drivers have to charge 20 times the taxi rate. In Denver, the cars wouldn’t be allowed to operate downtown or charge by distance and Uber would have to own all the cars that provide the transportation – an unsustainable model.
Kalanick was asked about Side Car which is regularly heralded as one of Uber’s low cost competitors and the message was the same: Side Car is Uber, but with unlicensed drivers. It keeps the cost down, but there’s certainly more controversy and the long-term sustainability is questionable. While he stated that there has to be a low cost Uber, it is at the mercy of the law.
The philosophy of open source is the opposite innovation-crippling red tape and we’re hearing more and more about entrepreneurs having to engage a two pronged approach of being creative within legislative parameters, and lobbying to extend or even remove those parameters. Member numbers give weight to this lobbying, as does strategic PR that places your issue firmly on the public agenda.
It’s nice to see the content extend outside downtown Austin with a livestream feed. You can catch the replay at The Lean Startup SXSW site or sift through the Salon’s Twitter hashtag for key takeaways.
I would run out of fingers if I tried to count the New York Tech Meetups I’ve attended but last night’s event was a little different. For one thing, I sat for the first time at a simulcast at New Work City, a co-working space, rather than the main event at the NYU Skirball Center. Secondly, they started the night by bringing to the stage some tried and true New York startups.
For those that haven’t been before, the New York Tech Meetup (NYTM) usually runs to a pretty standard format – two hours of on-stage demos from startups. No Powerpoint, no conceptual ideas, just things that entrepreneurs have actually made and launched (some products just that day). Among them: apps, websites, software products and robots. Rarely do you see big, established brands with polished performances. It’s scrappy, and that’s what makes it so cool.
Having said that, it was very cool to see the more refined “demos” from three established New York-based startups as they returned to the same stage some of them originally launched on. Here’s my quick overview of what How About We, Shelby.tv and Catchafire.org are up to now…
How About We: Co-CEOs Brian and Aaron launched How About We two and a half years ago at the NYTM. They now employ 45 people in their Brooklyn HQ with the shared goal of helping people fall in love by taking online dating offline.
They used last night’s forum not just to give an update, but to announce the next rendition of How About We which also caters to dating couples. The 1,000 couples already playing with it during the beta period have been exposed to discounts, date gifting and a concierge service to help keep their romance spark alive and now it’s live for everyone to use.
How About We is a fabulous New York startup success story and it’s great to see this outfit grow. The company has found a niche in a cluttered dating marketplace with a well-defined brand and they certainly used PR to help them along. I remember reading about them just after they launched and they’ve stayed well on my radar since, through regular appearances in earned media.
Shelby.tv: Another darling of the New York tech community, Shelby.tv, got its start not just through NYTM exposure, but also through their earlier selection as team HomeField in the NY TechStars incubator program; a program that is featured on BloombergTV.
Full disclosure: I’m not a big consumer of online video and Shelby has stayed on my radar mainly due to their presence in earned media and an impressive brand tone consistency. I read some articles in July last year about the difficult decision Shelby made to shut down their service to allow them to rebuild. Not only was the decision bold (and their CEO Reece Pacheco was publicly praised for this) but the company’s use of PR was gutsy too.
They used earned media to amplify their reasoning and from last night’s display, it certainly seems like it worked. Reece and his team’s tenacity and enthusiasm are bang-on brand for Shelby and it has consistently shined through in their press, their social channels and in this case a web TV show, right from day one. Big props.
Catchafire: Self-proclaimed “How About We for volunteering,” what’s not to love about Catchafire? Not all of us are made for food distribution and we can’t all attend volunteer efforts in-person. Catchafire helps non-profits define what they need and identify who they need to make it happen and that’s where the matchmaking comes in.
Catchafire members detail their skills – be it coding, web design or copywriting – and the site algorithm matches them to prospective non-profits that need those specific skills. It’s inspiring to see these guys up on stage so passionate about what they’re accomplishing.
In the leadup to SXSWi where the nation’s hottest startups, agencies and brands congregate in Austin, what strikes me about these three startups in particular is the dedication they have to building their respective brands. Not only do they believe in what they’re doing, but they appreciate that staying power can be found through engaging their community and working with earned media, alongside solid product innovation.
The NYTM is streamed live (and taped). You can check it out the recording here: February 2013 New York Tech Meetup.
Our Friday Feature usually recaps some of our clients’ best media coverage of the previous week. This week, we want to draw attention to the good work our clients are planning at SXSW Interactive. In other words, the second most important voting event of 2012 is upon us: the SXSW PanelPicker 2013!
A number of our clients are vying for a spot on the stage at SXSW Interactive 2013, and even our very own DGC executive team has thrown their hats into the ring with two panel ideas.
The SXSW Festival has increasingly become one of the most popular events of the year among the advertising, music and film industries. The event uses a crowd-sourced format to populate the speaker sessions, along with input from the event’s advisory board and SXSW staff.
The process for voting is simple. First, you have to sign up for a SXSW account, if you don’t already have one. After you’ve signed up, search/vote for any and all of your favorite panel ideas by hitting “thumbs up!” Voting closes August 31 at 11:59pm CT. Take a look below at a roundup of a number of great sessions you definitely don’t want to miss.
DGC – Building Buzz for Your Company via PR & Social
In this session, learn the basic steps to create buzz among your target audience. Hear practical and actionable guidelines from Sam DiGennaro, communications strategist and founder of DiGennaro Communications, the leading PR agency serving the advertising, media, marketing and entertainment spaces. Sam has been an integral force in managing the public image and strategic messaging of well-known C-suites, in addition to serving as counselor to many independent companies on the road to acquisition.
Learn how to use PR & social media to get news coverage in today’s complex media marketplace, align PR strategy with new-biz goals, raise an exec’s profile, recruit A-list talent & establish category expertise.
DGC – How Your Personal Brand Makes Your Company Shine
It is critical today for business leaders to build and manage their personal brands. A CEO’s brand can add incredible value to an organization as a whole. In this age of social media and self-published content, smart business execs must position themselves as thought leaders for industry “street cred” and to raise their companies’ profiles. In this session, former Forbes Executive Editor Melanie Wells explains the value of developing a strong personal brand and shares “inside” tips on how to craft a compelling one.
MEC – Is Big Still Beautiful?
Can and how do big agencies and small agencies partner with start-ups effectively?
In today’s changing landscape, big and small tech and media companies equally have an opportunity to partner with big name brands to create transformative marketing programs for consumers and clients – but is that really true? Is that really happening?
RAPP – E-tymology. How Digital Decimated the Dictionary
OMG. OMG is an official word. Mankini is in the Oxford English Dictionary. FOMO, tablet, and occupy have been nominated for Word of the Year. In this session, we explore the dramatic changes in language over the last decade, unprecedented in human history. And we ask educators, anthropologists and linguists: WTF?
RAPP – Graphic Design: Data Is The New Vector
Data has become the new fodder for design. As we become a more mobile focused on the go consumer of data, interface design is taking a back seat to data design. My discussion will focus on how to design around data, for data and with data as a means to influence interface design. Harnessing the power of data and being creative with the types of data that is available can be one of the most creative endeavors one can undertake. Designers now must think beyond just the aesthetic and move into the realm of big data and creative ways to design with it.
Organic –The Endless Aisle
The future of retail lies in the intersection of online, mobile and in-store behaviors and experiences — what we call “the endless aisle.” Think real-world purchase experiences that build off real-time data and stores that know you. Future retailers will suggest products that may best fit personal styles, or even help navigate through stores better. Consumers have become more educated than ever before, with the ability to check prices on the fly. This session will give a glimpse into the store of the future, and spell out the big opportunity for brands and emerging technologies in the retail space.
Organic – Kiss Cash Goodbye
Rumors of cash’s death are very real. Consumers have made clear their interest in going cashless — with major marketers beginning to reap the rewards. But there are still barriers to entry. The mobile payment space is highly fragmented and consumer trust in new technologies must still be established. This panel will give an overview of the mobile payment landscape –from major players to emerging companies — and insights about consumers’ behavior around mobile payment. It will outline the big opportunity for brands in mobile payments, and show how going cashless will go from mere concept to reality.
Wing – El Nuevo Gringo: Quantifying the Latino Influence
Latino influence on American culture is hard to miss. From food to fashion to entertainment, Americans are embracing Latino culture like never before. But evidence of that influence has always been solely anecdotal — until now. In this panel, Wing and Experian Simmons will reveal the results of a first-ever study quantifying this phenomenon, The Latino Influence Project. Panelists will demonstrate how non-Hispanics are taking on more and more traditionally Hispanic attitudes and behavior when it comes to food, travel, technology use, and media consumption. Attendees will walk away with stats about the changing consumer landscape and ideas for engaging Hispanic and non-Hispanic audiences alike.
Hyper Marketing Inc. – Mind Space, Digital Space, Shelf Space
Connecting with your audience is one part art, one part science. It begins with understanding your customers’ behavior (which reflects their needs and wants), sparking consideration for your product or service, and then converting that progression from mind space to digital space to shelf space to a sale and ultimately back again. That’s what it takes for marketers to win today.
Carbone Smolan – Video That Connects
No matter the product you’re launching or service you’re selling, it’s your goal to spark the interest of customers and inspire action. You need to connect with your audience, whether its buyers, recruits, internal teams or investors. What’s the best way to do this? Storytelling through video.
Cole & Weber – Project Butterfly: Escaping the Net to Be Sociable
Just being in social media and accumulating “likes” doesn’t make brands sociable.
So we set out to understand how sociable people interact in the real world, and apply that learning to help brands behave differently. Project Butterfly is a multi-city, online and offline project that merges social psychology, digital anthropology and cutting edge ethnography to dissect the DNA of highly sociable people, how they behave both on and offline, and how they differ from “hyperconnectors” – people who are extremely active on social media.