More often than not, panel presentations disappoint. The panelists haven’t prepared. The moderator can’t maintain control. The answers come off as too repetitive. But last night I participated in a different kind of panel. A competitive faceoff in which panelists competed to remain on stage and the audience decided who offered the most useful content.
Boston University’s Digital Media Club and Maurice Rahmey drew big crowd to hear four of us – Hill Holliday’s chief digital strategist Mike Proulx, Arnold’s digital platform director Drake Pusey, content strategist Margot Bloomstein, and me – attempt to avoid elimination by offering better answers than our rivals.
There were three rounds. The first had five questions, the second four, and the third three. The first two sets of questions were shared with the participants in advance. The last three came from the audience.
Moderator Eric Leist served up the initial query to one person in particular, but after that it was a bit of a free for all as there were only three minutes allotted to the panel for each question. There was a clock staring us in the face. We knew how much time we’d used and how much time remained. To be fair the moderator did let anyone who got shut out of a topic give a 30-second response. But the format forced us to be opinionated, concise and even disagreeable. More importantly it called for us to avoid repeating earlier answers.
After each round the audience texted who they wanted to hear more from and the last place contestant exited the stage.
This is how to do a panel. If you’ve never organized one this way, give it a try. If you typically avoid doing these kinds of appearances, re-consider if you get offered this format. It’s fast, fun, intense and actually gets your pulse rate up.
On a different note, it was also impressive to see the questions that students came up with. I’ve listed some below along with a very condensed version of my answers. I did not win, though I made it to the final faceoff where Mike Proulx kicked my ass with his knowledge of social TV.
First Round: Trending Topics (three minutes per question)
Two current digital media headlines are discussed. Panelists give detailed arguments and can offer rebuttals as well.
Q: Will brands flock to integrate iPhone Passbook and pave the way for mainstream mobile commerce?
A: Brands don’t flock to anything, at least not initially. Most marketers and retailers, despite the so-called instant success of Sephora, will wait until they see what consumers do. Brands like scale as we all know. As for paving the way to mainstream mobile commerce? That’s more likely to come from the credit card companies. It’s important to remember that technology comes first. Early adopter consumers come second. Brands and marketers are always the last to the party.
Q: Are second and third screen experiences affecting the way voters make decisions during political campaigns? Why or why not?
A: Not really. They are essential for access to content, they serve as a distribution channel and leverage social sharing of ads, videos, and candidates’ faux pas. But the technology alone is not affecting decisions. It may have played a bigger role last time around in the way Obama connected with younger, more digitally savvy voters, but less so this year.
Buy or Sell: A rapid-fire segment in which panelists are asked to “buy” or “sell” (be for or against) three different concepts (this time in terms of what audience needs to do to be better equipped for job market).
Concept 1: The interest graph is more useful to marketers than the social graph.
A: Yes. It’s always better to market to a consumer who’s raised his or her hand and expressed interest. The trick is to learn to leverage Pinterest, Springpad and other platforms to both identify those interests and to inspire their expression.
Concept 2: Web 2.0 sites have shifted from banner ads to platform native advertising. In the future, all content networks will adopt some form of native advertising. (Sponsored Tweets, Stories on Buzzfeed, Facebook Sponsored Stories, etc.)
A: We all know that old-fashioned banner ads don’t work. But when is the future? All content networks? They should. And inevitably they will. But it will take some time, simply because of how inventory is sold and the legacy systems, processes and habits already in place. Students, however, should know how to conceive and execute native advertising ideas. It will make them more valuable to forward thinking employers.
Second Round: Controversial Topics (2 minutes per question)
Q: Should marketers care about pay-to-play (ie non-ad revenue supported) social networks like APP.NET?
A: Certainly not yet. Though there is an underlying message. Social users don’t want ads and or a platform beholden to advertisers. Paid platforms may not take off, but smart marketers on the other platforms should take note enough to make sure their content and engagement is useful and welcome, not intrusive and self-serving.
Q: What non-payment mobile trend/tech is having the biggest impact on the retail industry for marketers?
A: Images, Instagram and in-store innovations similar to what Burberry is doing in Dubai and London.
Q: The web has broken down the barriers between PR, advertising, and in-house marketers. Who is the ideal person to create content on behalf of a brand?
A: PR people are best equipped. Marketers are used to multiple layers between themselves and their consumers. Advertising practitioners know how to make messages. PR professionals, at least those who’ve learned social protocols, understand one-to-one and real-time engagement.
Q: At TechCrunch Disrupt, Mark Zuckerberg stated that mobile ads are more effective and will be more akin to television than the web. Is there a non-annoying future for mobile advertising?
A: Yes. We just don’t know what it looks like yet.
Third Round: Questions from the Audience
Even these were quite good and challenging. One was on Facebook suggesting it would launch “wants,” and the potential impact on making it a better, more effective paid medium. (It’s a response to the interest graph.) A second was on the biggest disruptive challenge to agencies. (The need to compete with Silicon Valley for talent.) And the third, which killed me, was about Shazam and social TV. (I attempted to change the subject to the SuperPAC app.) But the audience was too smart to fall for that.
Got better answers to any of the questions? Please leave them below. Been on a panel like this? Please share your reactions. And thanks for stopping by.
Photo: Heather Goldin, Daily Free Press
Should a copywriter know how to launch and execute a social media campaign? Is it necessary for an art director to be able to program a Maker Bot? Do you think a planner needs enough knowledge of Final Cut Pro to edit her own videos?
A few years ago the answer to all of these questions might have been no. But that may not be the case anymore. In a recent book called Mash Up, Ian Sanders, marketer, author, FT columnist argues that it’s no longer enough develop a single skill. Ian’s premise is that you’ll find a more fulfilling job, enjoy a competitive edge and make more money if you develop or leverage multiple skills.
Forward thinking companies want multi-skilled people
But in the long run, you may have no choice. At innovative companies, diversity is the new expertise. IDEO doesn’t have constrained job descriptions. They expect you to design your career and contributions in the same way they solve problems for clients. At Google’s Creative Labs, which has grabbed some of the ad industry’s top creative talent, Strategy Director Ben Malbon seeks “people fluent in one language, but literate in many.” The same is true at Mullen. In the long run, an art director who can invent and launch a new app might be more valuable than one who can only art direct.
In some cases there are new positions emerging that in and of themselves call for multiple skills. Five years ago creative technologist, social media strategist and experience designer were non-existent roles in most agencies. Chances are that over time, these newer jobs will become even more prevalent, or at least offer greater opportunity.
You may already be that T-Shaped multi-skilled person. If you’re not, here are some simple things you might want to do.
1. Learn more about technology and what you can do with it.
Everything from emerging social platforms to HTML5 to the accelerometer in your mobile phone. The more you become aware of their potential, the more problems you can solve and the more opportunities you can create.
2. Make something yourself.
These days if you can think it you can create it. With resources that include Apple’s software developer kits, 3-D printers, cheap hosting on Amazon and the distribution power of the Internet, you (or your employer) don’t need a lot of money to invent an app or even a platform. Mullen art director Sam Mullins, just launched this. TourBus.
3. Partner with people who do what you don’t.
I had a student last semester who conceived a platform to help students change their housing. He had no idea how to build it, but decided to find some other students who did. Six months later BU Room Swap was up and running.
4. Change where you sit
I’m constantly surprised what a difference this can make. If you are surrounded by people who do exactly what you do all day long you lose out on the serendipitous collisions that open your mind to different ways of problem solving.
Multi-skilled does not mean generalist
However, being-multi-skilled is not shorthand for lacking a deep talent in at least one area. Simply being a generalist won’t get you hired. At least until the typical agency staffing plan gets reinvented. Most plans don’t include generalist or multi-skilled as a job description. They list all the usual positions, from account management to studio artist. A client agrees to pay for a certain number of FTE’s and that determines who gets hired and put on the business. And at the end of the day writers still have to write, designers have to design, and animators have to animate. The objective is to master your craft and learn enough about the other roles and functions that can make you better at yours.
Share your thoughts. Working somewhere that welcomes or demands multi-skilled contributions? Or frustrated in a company that still compartmentalizes people?
Thought I’d share a lecture I used to in my first week of teaching Fundamentals of Creative Development at Boston University’s College of Communication. If you are an advertising student or professor you might find it useful.
Some background. As many of you know, I’ve joined BU as a Professor of the Practice in Mass Communication, Advertising and Public Relations.* Not to worry. That does not mean I am teaching unwelcome, interruptive message-based marketing. Quite the contrary. The future of advertising — digital, social, mobile, ad-tech and emerging media — is what interests me. And it’s certainly what the next generation cares about.
In fact take a look at this. BU Room Swap. A student in Strategic Creative Development, a course I teach during the spring semester, conceived it as part of an assignment to solve a marketing problem with an invention rather than with an ad campaign. The new platform is now up and running, helping students find better housing.
Nevertheless, anyone coming into this crazy, wonderful and often maligned industry (sometimes justifiably so) needs a basic understanding of why brands advertise, the role of creativity, and the characteristics that separate great ideas from the mediocre ones.
And, yes, it’s probably wise to learn something about the creative revolution along with the evolution of media and consumer behavior that led to where we are today.
Take a look. As always, thoughts and comments welome.
*Note that I remain at Mullen, my professional home for nearly 30 years, as part-time chief innovation officer. But with an amazing new management team emerging as the agency’s next generation of leaders, Mullen doesn’t need me full-time anymore.
Also note: Other than Jet Blue, Monster.com and Google Nexus, the work in the deck is not Mullen work or my work. I did not add detailed credits or agency credits as the work is all over the web and in award shows. If you want credits, they are easily found. But it’s important to say that I take no credit for the work presented in the lecture.
We have pages on Facebook to gather fans. Twitter feeds to share content. YouTube channels to post training videos. Pinterest boards for pretty pictures of our products. And if we believe in listening, we’ve built command centers to monitor social conversations.
We have dashboards and spreadsheets to track and count fans, followers, likes, re-tweets and click-throughs. And though it’s not totally reliable, we have sentiment analysis.
Too many brands, however, remain better at using social than at being social. Their objectives are to acquire likes and followers. They push out self-serving content. And when it comes to data they don’t have systems in place to determine what they should do next or to predict future customer behavior.
If a company is willing to make the effort, being social offers a wealth of rewards. Consumers will share their locations. They’ll express interests. They’ll even reveal their purchases. But that information isn’t there simply for the taking. Consumers post all that information for the benefit of their communities, not for brands. If marketers are to leverage social’s potential, they have to re-invent their relationships with prospects and customers by designing experiences that deliver value and earn attention. And then by putting to good use the data they gather.
With that in mind, here are the seven things every company should be doing, or at least planning to do, if they’re to scale their social efforts. I’ve left out the obvious ones such as learning to listen, establishing systems and processes, and training employees. That’s social media 101. Instead I’ve chosen to emphasize the following.
First, change your culture
Social can’t be a medium. It has to be a behavior, a belief and a philosophy. Acknowledge that customers are in control. Being open, accessible and transparent is a start. But a social culture takes more than that. It needs support and participation from senior management and a demonstration of commitment in everything from product development to customer service. FedEx is one company that’s taking this seriously.
Develop a user-based content strategy
Once upon a time we could get away with messages that were all about us, intended only to persuade. Today content has to add real value. Give viewers, readers and listeners a role. Assure your content — be it entertainment or utility – takes into consideration how and when an individual engages. Think of social as an isolated program and you miss opportunities. Use social media as nothing more than distribution channels for your brand stories and you fail.
Start everything with mobile
The future of social is mobile. What’s on everyone’s smart phone? Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Foursquare and Path. As a new cashless society emerges, their money will be on their phone soon, too. Users share where they are, what they’re doing, and the things they’re buying via mobile. Start all of your marketing and customer facing programs with the technology that matters most.
Embrace the interest graph
The social graph is great. Facebook and Twitter leveraged the network effect to gather millions of users who connect us to their friends. But there are new platforms emerging — Pinterest and Springpad to name a couple — where users reveal their interests. Be it food, music, tech, travel or fashion, consumers raise their hands and declare, “this is what I am into.” Start now to use and develop corporate-wide ways to tap into the interest graph.
Make real-time one to one marketing your objective
Marketers that figure out personal, one-to-one conversations with individuals and the communities in which they are active will win. But if you’re only posting on Facebook between 9 and 5 when most users don’t show up until after 7 you have a long way to go. You don’t have to DM with your customers one at a time. But you do need apps, technology and services that deliver answers, content and utility relevant to the moment. Hellmann’s cash register receipt is a perfect example.
Consider having an API
You might think that APIs are for startups and social media applications. But APIs can be great for large companies, too. You have reams of useful data and information. It’s possible that by freeing that data you’ll inspire external developers to invent new uses for it and attract new customers. APIs may not be a social medium, but they are a social behavior.
Learn to predict not just to measure
Finally, what do you do with all the interactions you inspire and measure via social media? Marketing is no longer about persuading consumers what to do or buy but rather predicting what they want next. For that you’ll need all of your customer analytics integrated with your social programs. It would be easy if there were an off the shelf program that did exactly what you need. There probably isn’t one. But if you’re spending money on a staff or agency to engage across social platforms maybe you should also invest in the quant geeks who can help make sense of it all.
Have a different idea? Please share. And as always, thanks for reading.
(Shortly after posting this, I came across this piece in Fast Company suggesting there is huge potential in productivity and capital by getting the C-suite on Twitter and other social services. So make Number Eight on the list this: Get your CEO to embrace social. In fact, it’s likely you’ll never really change the culture unless he or she does.)