NYC AdWeek From A Comms Student Perspective

I’m attending AdWeek NYC for the first time. (That’s a career milestone, right? Adding it to my resume.)

Starting my master’s in Communications has already opened doors and my mind; I wouldn’t have known about AdWeek’s student rate had a classmate not mentioned it during a lunch break (thanks Anthony!). Both panels I attended today reinforced key concepts from a course in Organizational Strategy:

We Have A Plan, #AWXII

Concept 1: Success Isn’t Defined By Competition Alone

In a discussion about entering “the millennial music stream” moderated by a FastCompany Senior Editor, Rob Brunner, the CMO’s of Spotify (Seth Farbman) and Pandora (Simon Fleming-Wood) discussed how each company views the other as a “complementary” rather than competitor brand. Normally I would have felt this was lip service. And maybe it was. But the discussion definitely swam into Blue Ocean territory when Apple Music came up. When asked about their thoughts on Apple Music, each CMO stated if the service is a “category expansion” or an innovation, they view it as a good thing for the entire industry. The prevailing attitude was one of healthy competition and a deep mutual respect. Farbman expressed his appreciation for Apple as a brand that provides “something for others to measure themselves against,” which challenges other brands to remain clear about what makes them unique.

A love of music was tangible throughout, as Pandora’s CMO used a beautiful metaphor, comparing music to an “emotional sherpa”. He explained, “We know where we want to go throughout our day. We rely on our music to take us there.”

 

Concept 2: Social Responsibility as Strategy, Not Afterthought

The last panel I attended was called “Global Brands, Global Goals, Igniting Social Good“. We watched the newly launched #WeHaveAPlan ad for GlobalGoals.org and listened to a discussion of the campaign strategy by its co-creators, film-writer and director Richard Curtis CBE and BBH founder Sir John Hegarty. Also on stage was the CMO of Getty Images, a partner in the campaign. She introduced the panelists as “men who are not only great in their fields, but are also good men. And when great and good men come knocking on your door, you open it.” Immediately I knew I picked the best panel for that time slot.

Again, concepts taught in class were reinforced by the conversation.  Specifically that it’s no longer enough to think of Corporate Social Responsibility as merely an initiative or a campaign, tacked on as an after-thought. Rather, the most successful companies and organizations bake sustainability into their core business strategy.

Perhaps most compelling was the discussion of whether the #GlobalGoals campaign can actually produce deep, meaningful change or if it’s just glorified slacktivism – and if this even matters, so long as the Global Goals are achieved. It was a healthy debate, as another audience member asked how the campaign plans to sustain itself over the next 15 years, after the initial media push from last weekend’s Global Citizen’s concert.

The response was an honest acknowledgement by Curtis that many people in the business world consider sustainable development to be naive, liberal or too left-winged to be taken seriously. Yet…revolutions start when a few like-minded, passionate people band together. That getting a Facebook Like is better than doing nothing. And that “revolutions start on the edges, not the center”. And that “we mustn’t forget the power of broadcasting” – a quote by Sir John Hegarty I will take to heart as I navigate my career in communications.

BOOK REVIEW: Global Content Strategy: A Primer by Val Swisher

I discovered this handbook on Twitter through a discussion with The Content Wrangler, a member of the content strategy community. This is a group of writers and strategists dedicated to improving the stuff we see on the web. Specifically, the stuff that brands and businesses put on the web, in the hopes that it’s seen by an intended audience. In a way, we’re all in the business of turning hope into reality. How beautiful.

TL;DR

Global Content Strategy: A Primer is good crash course on a complex topic. Ideal for pitching senior management on a strategic approach to large-scale website translation.

Global Content Strategy by Val Swisher

I’d recommend Global Content Strategy as a useful handbook for anyone working with global audiences in need of a multi-lingual website. Specifically, anyone tasked with managing the translation of multiple languages. The information is not relevant for small sites with a few pages or sites translated into just one or two other languages; it’s for companies with large websites and a global audience, interested in translating web content using a cost- and time-efficient approach, without sacrificing on quality. If you want your content understood by lots of people in lots of different languages, here’s a breakdown of how to manage that process.

It covers the basic tenets of content strategy (audience definition, voice and style considerations, having a multi-cultural approach to icons and symbols) as well as technical, project management advice (choosing translation vendors, maintaining a central database of TM, which stands for Translation Memory, and more). It was a good refresh of the basics and a succinct overview of the complexities of large-scale translation projects. Val Swisher definitely knows her stuff when it comes to executing and managing (wrangling!) what can seem an insurmountable mess, known as Global Content Strategy.

The Paradox of Time Management Apps

I actually spent 3 hours last week testing time management apps and reveling in the irony of it all. Each app had its own attractive life-saving combination of promises and features, user interfaces and API integrations. None of them offered to actually do my work for me and none was obviously more helpful than the others.

The one valuable discovery I did make during this otherwise complete waste of a morning was the Pomodoro technique which is actually a concept not a proprietary product. In other words it’s useful (and free). The idea is you work for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break. Repeat.

The concept of 25 minutes is easy to visualize, especially if you grew up watching TV sitcoms. During a standard 30-minute TV show a dramatic problem is both introduced and resolved. An entire family can learn a valuable life lesson (e.g. Full House). A dynamic duo of teenage youth compete to get the shit scared out of them by surprise attacks from evil “temple monkeys (e.g. Legends of the Hidden Temple). You get the point.

The Pomodoro technique works because it forces you to do the following:

1) Focus – Suddenly you’re on the clock and you only have a relatively short amount of time to actually get something done. Yet it’s long enough to be considered a waste if nothing comes of it.

2) Prioritize – Working within concrete, regular intervals enables you to conceptualize projects into individual tasks. You ask yourself ‘What can I get accomplished in the next 25 minutes, that will move my project forward?’

3) Stay sane – We’ve all been there; you’re so overloaded you don’t know where to begin. Because the Pomodoro technique includes taking a break, you’re left with no excuse but to simply Start. Somewhere. The break gives you a chance to either remove yourself from the task or take a step back and evaluate your approach.

So give the Pomodoro method a try using your watch or phone. During your first 5-min break, watch this 4:41 artistic interpretation on the meaning of Time. Take the remaining 1:19  to scrape your thoughts from the ceiling. I warned you!

The Power of Art on Social Consciousness: Social Media & Peacebuilding – Part II

Last week I wrote about discovering meaningful work and left off with an allusion to social media as a peacebuilding platform. I want to try and explain my vision for this path through a series of well-timed events I attended/watched/discovered this week. I’m a big believer in synchronicity and “connecting the dots”; noticing patterns and trends of concepts that seem to pop up from various directions is not something I attribute to coincidence. It signifies a deeper meaning.

 

I. Ai Weiwei at the Brooklyn Museum

“Everything is art. Everything is politics.” – Ai Weiwei. This quote eloquently summarizes Ai’s view of his work and the world.

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei is one of China’s most (in)famous contemporary artists. He’s a multi-medium artist who is as controversial as he is hard to categorize. He’s a sculptor, photographer, architect and activist who forces us to reconcile ugly truths about political and cultural values and the rights of the individual in modern-day China. He’s an avid Twitter user and a staunch supporter of digital and social media as a massively powerful platform for activism and raising social consciousness.

In 2011, he was detained by Chinese authorities and held in a secret location for eighty-one days, with no official charges filed. The arrest caught the attention of international human rights groups and art institutions who fought for Ai’s release. Despite this and his continuous surveillance by the Chinese government over his daily life (his phone is tapped and there are cameras outside his house monitoring his every move), he continues to produce confrontational art focused on themes of freedom of expression and social (in)justice.

II. Graphic Advocacy: International Posters for the Digital Age

Think creative advertising at its very best — in terms of deeper purpose.

Graphic Advocacy

This exhibit of 120 posters is on display at the Art Director’s Club of NY through August 13th. They were created to raise awareness around a variety of causes: a series was dedicated to aid for Japan following the 2011 earthquake, remembering 9/11, global warming, geo-political issues like landmines, oil control in the Middle East and the Occupy movements…each totally unique and visually impactful with inventive compositions often articulating a message through creative, subversive elements. An apple with a worm inside represents the “hidden disease” of cancer. A dove covered in oil representing the fight over oil control in the Middle East destroying lasting attempts at peace.

Two aspects of this exhibition stuck with me:

  1. I noticed a pattern in the little blurbs next to each piece by the artists: doubt in the power of a poster to elicit any real change. For instance, one of them said she knew her poster wouldn’t cure AIDS. Yet, she felt it was better than doing nothing and just standing by. These artists expressed hope in the power of messages and images to raise consciousness over important issues. Their raw honesty inspired me. These artists chose to express something important to themselves, despite the probable helplessness of their efforts. They felt compelled to act, using their creativity and power of expression to make something rather than sit back and remain silent. It reminded me of this insanely powerful op-ed piece by Israeli author David Grossman on choosing hope, not despair.
  2. There was no mention of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There were posters about the control over oil in the Middle East, protesting tyranny in Iran and Russia…but nothing about the Palestinians’ lack of a country or about Israel’s right to exist free of rocketfire – issues at the forefront of media today. I’m sure there are artists who focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and I intend to research them, but I was somewhat disappointed to not find that issue represented here. I am curious whether this was intentional; the exhibition was dated 2002-2012, but there were skirmishes between Israel and Hamas (and Hezbollah) during those years.

 

III. “Countering Violent Extremism: A Peacebuilding Lens” Forum

I attended (virtually, via live streaming) a discussion panel at Johns Hopkins University held by the Conflict Resolution and Prevention Forum – a collection of organizations dedicated to conflict resolution and public policy.

I signed up for the forum on a whim and was glad I woke up early to tune in. Rather than preaching to the choir (promoting peace to the peaceful), the discussion was focused on engaging influential leaders who have the power to change the narrative within their respective communities.

What struck me about this discussion was the similarity between peace building efforts and social media marketing for brands (what I do for money). Some common obstacles to peace-building efforts include: How do you measure success? What metrics do you use? How do you find and engage with influencers? How do you inspire them to promote your message? All of these concerns are integral to devising solid social media strategies, and are the types of tough questions asked by savvy strategists throughout a project. We’re dealing with strategic communication, a fascinating and highly relevant area of expertise. See Columbia University’s MS in Strategic Communications, a relatively new program and the first advanced degree of its kind among Ivy League universities. I’m sure the tools and methods taught in this program are highly applicable to conversations about constructive peace-building efforts.

 

IV. Joining Seeds of Peace & Soliya

I recently became involved with two organizations focused on dialogue and communication among young people in areas of conflict as a peace-building activity:

(1) Seeds of Peace provides leadership training for young people and educators around the world in areas of conflict. Each year since 1993, they’ve sent “Seeds” from 27 countries to an International Camp in Maine as an opportunity to meet one’s “enemies” face to face and work together toward a better future. I will be visiting Camp in August for two days (blog post to follow!).

(2) Soliya provides cross-cultural exchanges by hosting weekly online group discussions among university students from different countries. Each week for a semester, a small group of eight to ten students meets with two facilitators in a virtual group video chat. Soliya’s Connect Program teaches “21st Century Skills” to university students, like the ability to see things from the perspective of others and engage in cross-cultural dialogue. I should be starting Facilitator training in a few weeks (and plan on sharing my experience there as well).

These two organizations are inspirational for their peace-building strategy: cross-cultural communication among young people. Starting to see the pattern here?

V. Starting Classes at Pratt

This feels like one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself professionally and personally.

Graphic Design at Pratt

I am beginning classes at Pratt toward a Certificate in Graphic Design in the fall. I’m beyond excited to start this new chapter and to find ways to integrate it with my digital strategy work for clients, as well as my personal interest in conflict resolution.

It also feels like the most serious declaration of myself as an artist I’ve made so far. I have always used words and images to “connect the dots”; it’s about time I celebrated rather than shied away from that ability.

 

VI. Operation Protective Edge on Social Media

Facebook is overflowing with visual messages from both sides of the Israel/Hamas war, churning out what looks like “branded content” complete with hashtags and logos.

Operation Protective Edge

Pro-Israel examples include the #IsraelUnderFire hashtag, the IDF’s Facebook Page and Stand With Us. Pro-Palestine examples include the #GazaUnderAttack hashtag, this Tumblr account and Ads Against Apartheid.

I’m interested in analyzing those visual messages in order to create ones that bridge the gap rather than encourage polarization. Which ones receive the most engagement? What types of content are most successful? Is it the ones that educate? Enlighten? Cause controversy? Or inspire hope? How much does aesthetic value add? Do posts made from creativity and beauty perform better than straightforward, hate-infused content? What principles from traditional advertising and branding can be applied to maximize the reach and impact of socially conscious content?

 


 

What This All Means

By fusing together things like creative advertising, digital strategy, cross-cultural communication and graphic design…I think I’m onto something. These are the topics I’m fixated on these days, and “these days” are actually months and years worth of contemplation, work experience and personal interest. Stay tuned to watch as I unfold exactly what that entails.

As always, please feel free to leave comments/criticisms.

 

 

Finding Meaningful Work: Peacebuilding & Social Media Part I

Home office with Basquiat portrait in top left.

Home office with Basquiat portrait in top left.

Finding Meaningful Work

Meaningful work shouldn’t be so hard to find. Meaningful work that also pays the bills seems like finding a needle in a haystack next to a group of horses who haven’t had any hay in a long time (horses eat hay right?) and don’t care about you or why you don’t just order a new needle online.

There is one line of work that holds promise in terms of longevity and sustainability, in an ironic kind of way: global conflict resolution. There’s a ton of conflict out there. At the risk of sounding opportunistic — or as one friend called it, “industrializing” the issue — there is more work than there are jobs in the field of peace-building.

Information Anxiety in a Global, Digital World

You know that self-righteous attitude your co-worker assumes when he or she enlightens you with a major news story you haven’t yet heard about? Working in digital communications, the noise of the internet makes its way into IRL conversations constantly.

“Did you hear about Facebook’s new algorithm that detects when you’re about to sneeze and advertises a brand of tissue based on the type of fabric softener your mom used to use? No?  Good luck making it in the media industry without staying ahead of the curve. Even if the curve is actually a line Mark Zuckerberg peed onto the sand somewhere.

This anxiety can be multiplied when it comes to national tragedies. We all have constant access to information, so there’s no excuse to not be informed. It can feel like you’re a bad Jew if you haven’t heard about the latest horrible skirmish with Gaza. This leads people (and the media) to focus on obtaining the most heart-wrenching nugget of information to share with his or her social circle; it’s like tragic currency.

Remember the stories from 9/11 about the phonecalls made to loved ones from the planes? They were exchanged like trading cards. It’s human nature to narrow in on such stories because they are how we relate to the human aspect of otherwise overwhelming, complicated events.

Peace In The Middle East ?!?!

The Middle East conflict doesn’t impact the daily lives of your average American. And yet discussing it can feel like an important form of gossip. This “tragic currency” phenomenon runs rampant in conversations (more often arguments) about the issue. It’s like watching ‘Keeping Up with Israel’ on Fox and NBC. It’s sad, frustrating and unfair. It’s tragic.

It’s also scary to voice my opinion on the subject, because I want to be part of the solution. Which means I want to participate in conversations about the topic without coming across as biased. I’m a Jewish American who lived in Tel Aviv for four years, but I am also many, many other things at the same time. I also want these words to be read and not glossed over, so I’m going to stick to short pieces and see where the feedback takes me. Like the conflict itself, several challenges present themselves.

I have tapped into some “meaningful work”.

Stay tuned for Part II: Peacebuilding & Social Media!

Thoughtful comments/arguments welcomed.

 A Content Strategy Rallying Cry

The internet makes it simultaneously easier and more difficult to have your words heard.

The trash heap of shitty content increases by the millisecond. We all have the ability to write (technically speaking) and access to the marketplace (social media, blogs, ads, etc.). Because of this radical democratization of communication it’s more crucial than ever to start with why when considering whether to produce content.

The distinction between ads or “sponsored content” and editorial content is becoming so blurry it’s like we’re all swimming underwater, and we all need to clean our goggles with that goggle-cleaner fluid but no one wants to miss out by taking the time to emerge on the surface, clean his or her goggles, and see more clearly. Brands instead choose to churn water, pushing forward with mediocre, unnecessary, uninspiring and even self-defeating content that actually does more damage than good (and is an incredible waste of resources).

Brand managers and content strategists are generals in the battle for authenticity in modern advertising. Social media is where the bloodiest squirmishes are lost, in the form of dull content that falls on deaf ears; no one sees it. At least no one valuable to your bottom line sees it. If they do, they aren’t persuaded to do or think in any meaningfully different way.

If a shitty Facebook post gets no reach, does it make a sound?

The answer is yes – in the form of a digital footprint. It’s easy for competitors or prospective business partners to check out a brand’s Facebook page only to find tumbleweeds. You don’t delete posts that fall flat; they remain there for all to see.

Savvy and strategic thinkers already know this; the problem is getting through to the masses. Fortunately, this means there will always be work for content strategists. Unfortunately, everyone with opposable thumbs and an internet connection fancies him/herself a content strategist.

All we can do is stay calm and carry on.

Check out the (7!) books closely/loosely relevant to this topic I bought yesterday. Reviews to follow!

books on branding

 

 

Advice for Brands on Chasing the Facebook Dragon

 

Chasing the Facebook Dragon

Determining the ROI on a Facebook ad campaign is one of the most frustrating parts of social media marketing. And it’s just getting worse. Brands have signed onto the notion that Facebook serves a silver platter of highly targeted, engaged audience members. But it’s not a bright and shiny platter; it’s an oxidized platter with the kind of stains that might not be stains but might just be oxidation but you can’t really tell.

You put up a Page Likes ad to jump-start your page’s growth, you get a sudden spike of fans, and you’re hooked. Then you chase that dragon down a wormhole of News Feed algorithm updates, revised campaign structures and increasingly hard-to-decipher reports.

Integrated Marketing AssClownery: Confusing the Medium for the Message

A comparison can be made between the pitfalls of Facebook advertising and SEO methods in wide use a few years ago. Brands who wanted to rank in search engines relied too heavily on “gaming the system”. Massive amounts of low-quality content combined with keyword stuffing was the formula to success. But Google was smarter, and updated its algorithm to detect websites relying on spammy, superficial methods that don’t actually do any good for real human beings . . . rendering those methods obsolete.

The same holds true with Facebook content and advertising. Relying on the platform won’t get you far. It’s just a method of delivery. It’s not a sustainable strategy.

Three key problems from focusing on advertising (i.e. the medium) instead of your content (i.e. the message):

1) The medium changes on a dime.

Facebook is constantly changing. “Improving”. They roll out changes to their ad platform so frequently that I’ve had instances where the coworker sitting next to me has access to different features in Power Editor than I do. Nothing’s more irritating than convincing a client to invest in a certain type of ad only to discover that ad type was discontinued, and was only offered as a test for a short period of time.

2) Access isn’t guaranteed.

If your ad sucks, guess what? No one will click on it. And Facebook will stop showing it. With more brands than ever competing with each other for ad space, shitty ads that don’t speak to their target audience with tailored messaging and a bit of creativity just don’t get shown. This is why “Ad Optimization” is a key component of a successful ad campaign.

3) Not all impressions are worth the same.

Do you want Fans? Website visitors? Post engagement? Or just impressions? Picking a metric and sticking with it gets complicated when too much focus is placed on the medium, as opposed to your content or your bottom-line. Figure out if it’s brand awareness, community engagement or visits to your website you’re after. Write it on a piece of paper. Stick it on your forehead. Turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about.

 

The Path to Recovery

The true goldmine of opportunity on Facebook lies in getting your fans to share your content with their friends. For free! Having someone Like, Comment or actually Share content you post on your page is what leads to organic, viral success. Lots of people get this; Gary Vaynerchuk and Jonah Berger are two examples. Brands like Magnolia, Martha Stewart and Seamless take advantage of the image-based UI. Does this mean your financial services client should post high-res closeups of tax forms and accounting sheets? Limited resources are better spent elsewhere. Like on providing content that’s actually useful for your existing audience. Thinking creatively about ways to engage people who have already indicated they care about what you’re saying. User surveys with real insight.

  1. Put users first. Understand their needs. Who are they? What are their problems?
  2. Consider your company or product. How does it solve the problems you just listed?
  3. Think creatively. Focus on the message. Then figure out if you’re going to translate this into Facebook ads or posts. Whether you post something as an ad, a post, a link, a photo or a nosehair really doesn’t matter; what are you trying to say!

TL;DR

It’s too easy to focus on the medium at the expense of the message, and pour money into advertising something with low-quality content. X dollars doesn’t equal Y sales. Focus on your users, your content and your objectives. Use Facebook Advertising to boost that effort – not drive it. A sustainable strategy puts users before robots, platforms and delivery channels. A sustainable strategy involves tapping into real, human insights and developing interesting and engaging content.