Author Archives: Gemma Pollard
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!
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.
I just finished the January edition of Wired (which is a cracker by the way – you should buy it) and felt compelled to pen some musings on the cover story “The Robots Take Over!”
The article reports on the array of robots that are currently making our lives easier and more effective – both at home and at work. The subhead starts with “Imagine that 7 out of 10 working Americans got fired tomorrow. What would they all do?”, and it sells the inspirational notion that we will all dream up new things on which to spend our time when the quoted “epic” robot takeover kicks in. Creative things that critical thinking humans are custom-made to do that robots cannot do (yet).
This prompted me to recall a story about Tamworth, a country town in Australia, which was the first town in the whole country to be lit up by electric street lights. The tale goes that when the council first set out to educate residents about “electricity”, the majority proclaimed, “Why would we need this thing called electricity? We’re just fine as we are“.
It was impossible for Tamworth residents to imagine in 1888 that appliances like washing machines, microwaves or televisions could exist, let alone be the essential household items we see in nearly every home in the western world today. Technology begets innovation, even if you can’t humanly grasp the beginning of that path yet.
Every day we employ Google and Bing bots to search the world wide web for us and we use ATMs to access our cash, but can you see yourself taking orders barked at you from a “Gymbot”? Would you get your script filled by a pharmacist bot that demands a thumbprint ID for verification, or pay to go and see a “Data”, a TED-featured comedienne bot that adjusts its humor topics by measuring audience response to its gags?
The article states that over time musicians, athletes, yoga masters and even reporters will be replaced by robots. In fact, a piece of software by Narrative Science can write sports-focused newspaper stories directly from game stats, or “generate a synopsis of a company’s stock performance each day” from information available online.
A quote from our fearless leader, Sam DiGennaro in an Ad Exchanger article titled “Marketers Explain – What Is An Agency?” got me thinking about how a robot might replace the work we do as PR professionals. She states “…all the technological savvy in the world is for naught when an agency focuses too much on automation and algorithms at the expense of the human touch.”
I agree 100%. There’s no tried-and-true PR formula that works every time. We engage many forms of technology every day to help us do our jobs but could the creative thinking needed to draw out newsworthy information on a corporation and package it perfectly for the press really be replaced by 0s and 1s?
The quality of the journalism in Wired makes it one of a small handful of hard copy magazine subscriptions that I keep renewing. I simply have to mention the mind-blowing feature “John McAfee’s Last Stand” on the former virus software giant. It opens with a double-page spread of McAfee holding a pistol to the side of his head and the article doesn’t drop pace from thereon in.
I can’t begin to imagine what detailing the chronicle was like for the writer, Joshua Davis. He cites several middle-of-the-night paranoia-laden calls from McAfee weeks and months after their first interview, loaded weapons flippantly waved around as he sat on McAfee’s heavily guarded property in Belize, killer guard dogs, raids and suspected drug labs (claims are so far unproven)… and all the while he maintains a mature and honest, yet level-headed objectivity through the finished piece, making for compelling reading.
While I sincerely can’t wait to see the things a generation of coding, iPad kids will create, I’d like to see a robot try and write a story like that.
The Direct Marketing Association’s DMA2012 Conference & Exhibition – touted as THE global event for real-time marketers – happened last week and our sister agency in London, Eulogy!, jumped the pond (and much of the United States) to attend the Las Vegas conference.
Additionally, the Eulogy! team even showed their support for our clients at Hyper Marketing Inc., by joining their cocktail party at Eyecandy Sound Lounge inside the Mandalay Bay.
Some of the highlights:
Louisa reported on Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson’s opening keynote and the realization that Big Data is not little data only bigger, but a whole new approach.
She also posted the question “Is big data just snake oil for marketers” in her coverage of GMA’s Going Global Breakfast roundtable. In a panel that sounded fraught with debate (and who doesn’t love disagreement on panels, especially over breakfast!), marketing execs from Motorola, Cyance, Fedex, KBMG and Wunderman discussed glocalization, what “big data” is, and whether it holds relevance anymore.
Mark got a literal “elevator pitch” from the guys at Think Ink Marketing, where old-school becomes new again. Using a workforce of over 2,000 scribes, they achieve cut-through in the tough world of postal direct marketing, by “Making it Personal,” hand addressing envelopes and attaching a real stamp before sending your marketing on its way.
During a Direct Marketing News session titled, “Battle of the Brands: The Best Bet in Entertainment Marketing,” Michael Miller, chief marketing officer of Hyper Marketing Inc., discussed the pros and cons of two casinos’ marketing strategies – pitting each brand against one another to determine which had the most wining marketing.
Louisa also wrapped up Don Peppers’ (Founder, Peppers & Rogers) keynote presentation on honesty becoming the driving force of competitive advantage for brands; will “trustability” be the new success metric in this real-time social world?
Reading through all of the buzz, DMA2012 sounds like it was a cracker event. For a deeper dive into the world of big data, customer engagement and marketing accountability, many of the sessions are up on DMA’s Youtube channel.