Friday, May 30, 2008

Help Me Choose the Best Burger Joint in Des Moines

I'm crying "uncle." I'm breaking my cheeseburger fast next week. Why this premediated act of weakness? Because I'm going to Des Moines.
It's been awhile since I was in Des Moines. I got snowed in waiting in vain for Vice President Al Gore to arrive. He was supposed to unveil a brand new Internet initiative that was a partnership between MCI and the public library system. I was managing the check presentation event. It was a long, tedious day of standing around watching the snow storm roll across the plains. My companions were a few frustrated MCI staff, and a clatch of humorless Secret Service personnel. With no sign of Mr. Gore by nightfall, we packed it in. A local person invited us to thaw out in a restaurant. I remember asking the waitress to recommend something. "Steak, honey, have the steak. You're in Iowa. Best beef you'll ever have!" She was right.

This time I am going to Des Moines as part of the RenGen on the Road lecture series, sponsored by MetLife.Tuesday, June 3, I will be speaking at 9:30AM at the Iowa State Historical Building. Drop by. It's a FREE lecture!

Now, where to do the deed? I mean, if I'm going to succumb, it'd better be a mind-blowingly good burger. I asked around and below are the options. Can you help me choose? Anyone out there been to any of these establishments? Cast your vote. I've got one shot at this. Then it's back on the wagon.

Choices so far:

Michael Morain, arts reporter for the DesMoines Register votes for the Drake Diner Maytag Burger

His colleague, food writer Tom Perry, seconds this choice. As did a "secret burger guru" who wishes to remain anonymous.

My buddy Joe Butcher likes Be-Bop Drive-in.

My host in Des Moines, Mary Sundet Jones points me to an "under-the-radar burger served up at the Olympic Flame. She advises the grilled onions and "over-cooked" fries to round it out. She also likes Jesse's Embers.

Des Moines radio personality John Busbee feels an entire burger tour is required to do this research right. That means hitting spots he likes such as Little Steamers in Garnavillo and the Gunder Burger in Gunder. But he tips his hat to the Maytag Burger, as well.

Okay, any votes out there? Iowans let's hear from you!

photo courtesy of Memm74 at Flickr

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Simple Acts By Individuals Do Make a Difference

I'm reposting this stunning creative from Amnesty in case you missed it. It shows us how a simple act can make a world of difference.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Art of Brand-building Meets the Power of Purpose

Cause-marketing has moved from the shadows into the spotlight. It's been around as a marketing tactic since Jerry Welch whispered into Lou Gershner's ear at American Express. "What if we made a contribution to the Statue of Liberty Restoration every time someone uses our card?"
It was the 1980's and that campaign drove 20% more card usage. Pretty good ROI.

The ROI issue for any marketing tactic is not going away. Got a new idea? Better run an ROI scenario before you present it. The trouble is that many cause-related opportunities tie to something very deep within people--a feeling of achieving a greater purpose. A good cause solves a real problem. And while a recent piece in Ad Age suggests there may be cause fatigue among consumers, it's more likely that people are suffering from problem fatigue. Which problem can we solve now, solve next, solve well?

The relevance that cause-marketing delivers is on the rise not the decline. Clutter exists, to be sure. But as long as people feel overwhelmed by a chaos of crises, unrelieved by governments that are impotent, then consumers will take note of the brands that are helping contribute to a can-do culture of hope based on solid acts.

This stunning creative from Amnesty International tells the story better than I can. How a simple act can make a world of difference. This is not something a company can achieve with any credibility unless it has a partnership with a mission-driven, non-profit.

Cause-marketing gives brands in the RenGen a purpose. The more profound the issues, the more purpose is achieved, the more powerful both brands become. In this unstable, tumultuous, often overwhelming world, the future will be pioneered by for-profits and non-profits working together. I can't imagine a better case for creating a partnership than the very survival of your brand.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

Today is a national holiday. From the looks of it, people are enjoying it. Planting gardens, riding bikes, kicking back. But what about Sponsorship Monday? I decided to hold off this week and honor for Memorial Day for its true intent. Look for it next week when I'll feature an e-content sponsorship deal that Rox Darling and Susan Bratton collaborated on. It's an excellent model.

In the spirit of Memorial Day I'd like to honor my father, James Robert Martin, who entered the Unites States Navy at the age of 17. Having grown up a coal miner's son in West Virginia, he begged his mother to give her permission to send him into war. I like to believe he felt his fortunes were improved by war, considering his conditions. My grandmother would later tell me it was the most painful decision of her life signing her underage son into combat. He served with honor on the USS Flasher as an electrician's assistant, decorated twice. It was a gunboat that sank more Japanese tonnage than any in the US fleet.

He survived the war. Returned home. Packed his belongings and made his way to Detroit to study at the General Motors Institute. GM offered generous packages to young men coming out of the war who had mastered technical skills. It was his ticket to the American dream.

Thanks to my father and all the men and women out there with similar stories. It's important to set aside a day for all of us living in freedom to remember its price.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Houston, The Energy City A-Glow with Bright Lights

My brain is pinging. I have so much to tell you about Houston. Big confession, it was my first visit to the city. To my great relief, no one held that against me. In fact, the Houstonians I met exuded both Southern charm and Southern hospitality.

The MetLife RenGen event drew a RenGen crowd...diverse, for-profit/non-profit mix of marketers eager to exchange ideas. There were many cultural marketing mavericks on the panel that followed my talk:

Claudia Solis from the Museum of Fine Arts Houston Museum, really rocked the place with her story about their partnership with Starbucks, titled Starbuck's Mixed Media. To attract a young RenGen audience, she held a series of Hip-hop mash-ups late at night in the museum. The series grew the audience from a few hundred to 7,200. "It got a little scary. I felt like the kid whose parents have left town. There I am with the car keys in my hand!" (Meaning the keys to the museum). She has had decent luck converting the attendees into museum members (1,000).

Hamilton Masters from Gallery Furniture shared a terrific success story about how he launched a contest for video artists that generated over 75 original 30-second spots and launched the otherwise traditional "mattress Mack" into the woolly world of Web 2.0. His advice--"Follow what they say about your customer service on Facebook and Yelp! You can rebuild a bad reputation by listening to complaints and being responsive. Ignore them and they'll kill your business!!!"

Ed Shipul has a social software and web design firm that manages large-scale communities. His big message: "Stalk the web!" He is also masterful at creating opportunities for his customers to gather and get to know each other. Ed is a very funny guy. He ribbed me openly about glossing over the "Death Comes First" axiom of a renaissance. Audience roared.

Heather Pray, who got sick of meeting friends in bars and invented the HYPA--Houston Young People for the Arts. This is a take on a social club that communicates virally and gathers at gallery openings, opening nights and such. Her numbers continue to grow.

Grace Rodriguez Twittered through out. Shannon Buggs was there representing the Houston Chronicle.

Many thanks to my host, Jonathan Glus CEO of the Houston Arts Alliance and his team Jerome Vielman (a cultural marketing maverick who blew me away with his savvy in promoting the event) and Margaret Miller their PR Maven who whisked me off to an interview with Catherine Lu of Houston Public Radio. Jonathan has won over Houston by taking its formidable arts scene and shining a national spotlight on it so the rest of the world knows about it.

Among the many surprises:

Unbelievable amount of world-class sculpture in Houston. I mean OMG, blow-your-mind quantity and quality!

I walked into the radio station just as Georgia Engel from the Mary Tyler Moore Show (mild-mannered Georgette) and she was exactly like her TV persona.

Houston has a great downtown. It's loaded with untapped potential and awaits discovery by people fed up with the expensive, tedious commute into the sprawl that has grown around it.

Thanks, Houston!

photo by by Jade001 courtesy of Flickr

The New World According to Rox

So much to blog about, so little time! I'm just back from Houston, and I will blog later about it. Suffice it to say that Houston is a city of surprises...all of them pleasant.

Now, I'm itching to share some wisdom from one of the Web's most sincere oracles, Rox Darling. Her simple concept, a morning walk with her dog is a new media juggernaut. Hundreds of thousands of people take a virtual walk with Rox everyday. For many, it's part of the morning ritual--coffee, bran muffin, Rox.

Rox's instincts for what works virally is remarkable. But it is premised on a belief that is very analogue--human need. Rox stays focused on how people want to experience Life 2.0, and then how the Web facilitates that, not the other way around.

Below are her tips for people struggling to understand how to succeed in the virtual world, especially those with mega-brands like Coca-Cola:

So says Rox.....

"So, let's stipulate these facts into the record:

1. It is really hard to get it, especially the bigger you are. You are too shielded from people who will tell you the truth and who will take risks and who actually have any experience down here on the streets of the web where all of the market disruption and social media creation is taking place.

2. There is a level of chance and unpredictability involved. Going "viral" is not something you can plan for and purchase off the shelf. A viral response online is just like it is in biology - an unexpected mutation that takes off in an entirely new direction.

3. If you have any hope of having a concept go viral however, you FIRST have to get out there and make media, have conversations, and take risks. It ain't gonna happen in the safety of a board room with your usual suspects. If you don't know who they are,
email me and I will explain it to you in private.

4. IMO, any company serious about developing a social campaign should have BOTH the stable of brand agency players as well as a young upstart new media expert firm in the planning and execution. I've written previously about errors made by such luminaries as
Walmart and Ford who spent a lot of money on big agency misfires. Remember, big agencies have the "big" problem too. See #1 above. You want a tour guide who speaks the language natively, not someone who just bought the Cliff Notes, on your team.

5. Please have a tolerance for messiness. People raised online
cannot be controlled, and you will only lose more, faster, by trying to do so.

6. Try and get over your
addiction to big numbers. They were mostly meaningless in terms of actual response rates.

7. Relax. The Internet is not going away. You have time to experiment, to see what works for you and the nuances of your corporate culture. The marketplace on the one hand is very harsh on people who try to game the system, but incredibly forgiving of those who are willing to have a meaningful, valuable exchange of ideas, products, and services. "

I will be featuring Rox on Sponsorship Monday regarding her clever approach to content sponsorship.
Check back.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

RenGen on the Road: Here Comes Houston

I will be in Houston on Wednesday to talk about the RenGen, as part of the MetLife sponsored tour. In anticipation of my arrival, Shannon Buggs at the Houston Chronicle posted this article. Shannon is a business writer for the Chronicle and an "open-source" thinker. She blurs lines, collages ideas and enjoys a good mash-up. Very RenGen. When the article appeared, I got an email from my friend Mike Hennel, CEO at Silvon Software saying he'd read Shannon's article as part of a CEO news service. (I love the Web, don't you?)

Here is her piece:

How to reach and engage the renaissance generation
By Shannon Buggs

The revolution will not be televised because the revolution is live and direct on the Internet.
A paraphrase of
Gil Scott-Heron's classic spoken-word anthem describes Patricia Martin's message to community arts and business leaders. Martin, a cultural marketing consultant based in Chicago, is documenting a "cultural metamorphosis" that is part of "the disruption that occurs when the dominant civilization loses its relevance and another rises to replace it."

And what comes next is the renaissance generation, RenGen for short, an era dominated by people who are "smart, self-expressive, idealistic and cynical all at once," she predicts.
Martin writes about the phenomenon in her book RenGen: The Rise of the Cultural Consumer and What It Means to Your Business. And she will be discussing her theories in Houston at a May 21 forum hosted by the
Houston Arts Alliance, Americans for Arts and the MetLife Foundation.
I have to admit what Martin is selling — a world-changing cultural shift promulgated by never-say-die baby boomers, Gen Y hipsters and growing-up-too-fast children — sounds a lot like an updated version of the 1970s to me.

And those times were repudiated by the greed of the 1980s and 1990s.
But Martin says the big difference between now and back then is access. The Internet has not leveled the playing field, but it has brought more balance.
People 29 and younger use social utility networks, such as Facebook and MySpace, to promote what they like and bash what they don't.
"What's important to the younger generation is their hip-hop music, their poetry and poetry slams, the books they read," Martin says. "They are not only hungry to consume arts and culture, but they are producing it as well. It's a perfect circle."

But it's a circle that can easily exclude arts organizations and other nonprofits, she warns.
"The RenGen is not an equal opportunity phenomenon," she says. "The young RenGen, if they can't find a way to get in there and start working, then they will leave and go start something themselves."

The solution to the problem is to collaborate with your patrons and volunteers, your competitors, your corporate sponsors. It keeps you connected with the people and institutions that matter to your organization and helps you avoid looking inauthentic or like a culture vulture.
That's the model of the
Fresh Arts Coalition, a collaborative of 25 small and midsized Houston arts organizations.

The groups pool financial resources and market productions together, even purchasing outdoor advertising. This summer the coalition is present and producing "Fresh Fridays" at the new Discovery Green downtown park to showcase the member groups' work and attract new supporters. "We are very cognizant that funders are more inclined to give to groups that collaborate because it broadens the audience and maximizes the funds," says Marita Fairbanks, founder and chief executive officer of the coalition.

Drawing them in. Martin offers these steps nonprofits should take now to meet the RenGen where it lives:
1. Establish a Facebook group and a MySpace page.

2. Understand why your core customer is turning to you.
3. Identify your potential nonprofit and for-profit collaborators.
4. Brag about everything you do. Fake it 'til you make it.
5. Get out of the house and join the chamber of commerce.
6. Rethink the ancient patronage model.
7. Forge marketing deals that mimic sports marketing deals.
8. Be "open source" by allowing people to enter your game and morph and fuse with it without lowering your standards.

"Being open source is a good metaphor for all of this," Martin says.
Here's to the renaissance generation having the fortitude to establish a long-lasting aesthetic. May the revolution stay live and direct.

Columnist Shannon Buggs has completed the personal finance planning certificate program at the University of Houston. Contact her at

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle TOOLS

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sponsorship Monday: Why Riccardo Muti is so Sponsorworthy

Rumors circulated for months. Would, could the Chicago Symphony Orchestra actually land Riccardo Muti as its next music director? Some people argued it was madness to hire him. Muti's tempestuous personality accompanies his brilliance, making him a handful.

Like many great talents, Muti seems to suffer from occupational narcissism, an affliction suffered by people whose work lives seem to grant them licence for over-the-top self love. No matter. Muti is worth the price of friction. He has a rare thing in classical music: a personal brand. It transcends the rarefied world of oboes and Stratevarious violins. Muti is one of two classical personalities whom corporate sponsors might recognize. Yo-Yo Ma is the other. His presence should help the CSO revive its corporate sponsorship program.

The CSO was a pioneer in corporate sponsorship of the arts. Back in the late 1980's, a sports marketing executive from MCI wandered into Symphony Hall looking to do a deal. Previously, he had only sponsored PGA tournaments and had a few NBA deals under his belt. (I know this story because MCI was an early client.) CSO gently, but firmly guided him through what became MCI's first arts sponsorship. "No, it's not a good idea to hang your logo behind the musicians." That deal alerted the CSO to its potential for tapping corporate marketing budgets. Later on, it formalized a sponsorship program. Over the years, the program waxed and waned depending on the leadership.

When is a person not a person? When he/she is a brand! With Muti on board, the CSO can revive that program. His name will open doors. His personality will attract media attention. His narcissism will command respect among alpha males. In a business where perception is everything, CSO now has an incredible marketing asset in its possession. I trust it will not be sotto voce about it.

photo courtesy of Papa Rocket on Flickr

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Finding Faith and the RenGen

I'd like you to meet Reverend Barry Winders. He is a United Methodist pastor in Jackson, Missouri. Barry is the author of Finding the Missional Path (2007). This autumn, he sent me an email after reading my book, posing some very deep questions about the nature of faith in the RenGen. Thus, began an unusual collegial relationship that exists solely online. A few months ago, Rev. Winders published an article that addresses, as he describes it: "The spiritual questing of RenGenners who, even though they are disinterested in traditional church are nevertheless receptive to those congregations who are willing to re-invent and re-imagine."

I include the complete article here:

"Does your faith engage your heart? I hope so. People need to see us live out our faith with a passionate kingdom vision. A blogger friend named James gave me a great quote by Howard Snyder, author of Liberating the Church (1983).“Church people think about how to get people into the church; Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; Kingdom people work to see the church change the world.”

During my own upbringing in rural western Kentucky, my protestant beliefs largely shaped my values and viewpoints of a linear world. In my youth, I adopted a core set of beliefs: the worth of every person, the importance of a good education, and equal opportunities for all. Dotting the cultural landscape was a stable infrastructure of churches, schools, and social agencies that helped people live better lives.

Since those “Leave it to Beaver” days, times have changed drastically. People seem to need something else. Patricia Martin, author of RenGen (2007) says, “The faith many of us were raised in lacks meaning.” Martin contends that shortly before a new renaissance of thinking and believing emerges a culture that looks like ours. During the decline of established religions, she believes new spiritual practices will crop up. Amid the “Me Generation”, the MySpace, iPods, and internet sites that instantly recognize your login and preferences, much of today’s interest among the younger generation is on spirituality.

To be painfully, gut-wrenchingly honest, my faith has not prepared me very well for this post-Christian era. My faith in God’s ability has remained strong. Like many other boomer-age Christians, I want to prove the existence of God in a culture that does not need the proof. We have fallen prey to our own appetite. Unfortunately, those of us who grew up in church have become infamous and irrelevant for asking the wrong questions.

If our western culture is on the verge of a rebirth or renaissance as some suggest, then we must open up and lean forward anticipating something new. This younger generation of adults has an insatiable appetite for the experience of the Holy. They do not want to have their journey mapped out for them by those of us who already have laid claim on our faith. Instead, they crave the unexplainable yet recognizable--prophetic lessons one can receive for their lives. They are mystics who welcome others to join their spiritual conversations as they “till” their faith.

Now, I have a new set of questions.

In the face of this incredible hunger for spirituality, will the church continue to be ambivalent toward younger adults?

Will the church continue to overload this generation with the same “details and trappings of religion”?

Many believers are committed to some form of spiritual practice, just not in traditional ways. Putting an end to amputated feelings toward organized religion is not the goal. Rather, the goal is the acceptance by the church of individuals who carve out their faith differently."

Thanks for letting me share this with my readers, Barry.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Neural Buddhism: Sacred Secularism is so RenGen

I'm late. I read David Brook's essay on Neural Buddhism earlier this week and am just now blogging about it. Alas, based on the number of letters to the editor at the New York Times and all the blog chatter, I see I'm late to the discussion. So let me hasten to the point: Brooks is dead right--the next cultural wave in secular faith is not atheism, or geneticism, it's transcendence. But just as I am late to the debate this week, Brooks is late to the reality of this movement's potency.

Spirituality of the kind Brook's is talking about, based in part on Eastern practices of meditation and prayer, has been quietly brewing in America for a two decades. Even longer in California, naturally. But what struck me about having someone like David Brooks dissect this rising "spiritualism" is that it makes it real.

When I began giving talks on the RenGen, and explaining that the phenomenon of secular spirituality and transcendence are signs that we are entering a period of enlightenment, people looked dubious. Granted, these are hard concepts to convey in a hotel ballroom over Chicken Vesuvio. Still, people seemed less convinced that the spirituality movement had any impact as an organizing system that could shape the entire culture. But it does. The fact a centrist/conservative like Brooks takes the matter up is exhibit A.

For a while, I stopped talking about spirituality in public. It depressed me when people looked unconvinced. (Buddhists would decry my ego on this point!) Recently, I've taken it up again. I figure WTF? If there is one soul in the audience who gets it, I'm good with that.

Well, if my talks are any kind of litmus test to the veracity of the growth of this movement, then I can tell you the tides are shifting. Many heads nod in polite recognition. I get emails afterward from people wanting to talk more about it. Or to simply say, "I so see this in my life, all around me."

Here's the crux. The secularization of spiritual practices allows every day people to tap into "the existence of the sacred." This is akin to the way Martin Luther redefined how the average man could commune with his God--directly! No middle man (read Catholic priest) required. He was on to something BIG! Brooks is onto something, too. He's a little late, as am I this week. But we're talking about a higher power here. A greater good, light and love. I say better late than never!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Scene at the Ivy in Beverly Hills

I had lunch at the Ivy in Beverly Hills. I got to see the paparazzi in action. Kathy Bates was having lunch with some friends. They looked fun and low-key compared to Sharon Stone and Melanie Griffith who were being swarmed. The two sat near the picket fence and at one point, a photographer extended his telephoto lense through the picket fence and onto their table. I was appalled. Waiters scolded the aggressor and body guards pressed in on him. It was a scene. All of which seemed perfectly normal as I glanced around the room. Hey, it's the Ivy, it's what everyone came for.

In the midst of this scrum, my cell phone rang. It was a reporter from the Houston Chronicle. Okay, now imagine the odds of that? It's not my son wanting to know if he can ship his clothes home from college. It's not my daughter asking me if she can forge my signature on a permission slip. Nor is it my office telling me a fax arrived. It's the media calling me right there at the Ivy.

Turns out it was Shannon Buggs, business writer from the Houston Chronicle. She wanted to write a story in anticipation of my talk in Houston next week. What a great sport she is! She earned my gratitude for holding her deadline until I could extricate myself from the madness of the Ivy and do a proper interview. I walked across the street. A homeless guy let me share his bus bench. I got to watch from afar. There I was. Shannon on the phone, homeless guy on the bench, Melanie and Sharon across the street being mobbed--all in the same swirling moment.
But the real event of the day was the MetLife Forum hosted by the LA Stage Alliance. There was a capacity crowd and an impressive panel of experts. We discussed the increasing clout of the cultural consumer and the future of cultural life in LA. Terence McFarland who heads the Alliance, is using the event as a springboard for future convenings. Thanks for a great event to kick-off the series, Terence!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Spnsorship Monday-Integrity and Sponsored Content

Content sponsorship is thorny, as anyone running a content-rich property can tell you. Take for example the folks at Unshelved who took some heat for posting a comic strip about a tutoring scenario the same week that was the site's sponsor. Editors quickly responded to complaints explaining it was an unfortunate coincidence and begged forgiveness.

The editors over at Boing Boing earned 150 negative comments when they unveiled a content sponsorship deal with Honda that allowed the car maker to sponsor categories of information.

This March, the vaunted TED Conference allowed its loyal sponsor, BMW, to provide a speaker who gave a pro-hydrogen a talk on the future of fuel. The speech is promoted on the home page of TED's heavily-trafficked website with the headline..."Ideas from Our Sponsor."

The problem these content sponsorships face is that they blur the line between authentic commentary and advertising. The web is a platform for an influential cadre of rebel writers who take risky positions. Because they take potshots, they can't appear to be shills. Loyal audiences are buying into a particular voice, a no-holes-barred style that makes it worth investing the time to read. You can surround this kind of content with sponsor messages, which readers ignore, or you can embed sponsor messages and run adjacencies that look like content and force readers to distinguish.

The problem with many content sponsorship deals is that they are simply lazy, limpid interruption campaigns. Think logo slaps with hotlinks. Only they're web-based. Skip it, right.

So how are sponsors supposed to justify their involvement if they can't wrap their brands around what the audience truly cares about, namely the content?

Web 2.0 is a world rich with content.The content sponsorship conundrum demands sincerity and deftness if it hopes to monetize the Web. Today, the approach feels more like in-your-face-direct mail than artful web-based advertising, in the same way that early television looked more like live-action radio.

While the maturation process takes its course, I recommend these guidelines for those of you out there contemplating getting sponsors:

- Bloggers should think twice about placing ads on your blog sites. Truly, it's turn off to be having a conversation with someone and have some loud mouth (read tower ad) interrupting.

-Product reviews and endorsements need total transparency, and a willingness to offer upside/downside critique.

-Themed content sponsorships where you agree to discuss a sponsor's product should be timed and spaced out on weekly rotation. Subjected an audience to higher frequency runs the risk of your becoming boring. Worse, a boring shill.

Three ideas for sponsored content:

1. Sponsored videos or Flickr streams. These work well, especially if they involve the product.

2. Sponsored chats on topics that relate to the sponsor's product. For example, a women with a skin problem recently hosted a chat for fellow sufferers. The community shared their sorrows and tips. The sponsor was Unilever's Eucerin line for troubled adult skin, which was transparent. The content was so valuable, and with sponsor presence that made it possible, the audience grew symbiotically.

3. Sponsored contests. These are fun traffic drivers and everyone wins. Free trips, citizen content, juried creative content, all make great opportunities for win-win promotions.

Always keep in mind that the reason any property is sponsor-worthy is because it has an audience. Risk that, and you cash in your value.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Virgin Sponsors Brain Power

Virgin's Earth Challenge is a $25 million global science and technology prize. And it's a smart, strategic business move. Richard Branson set it up with Al Gore last year, just as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported. It buttresses other action Virgin is taking to address climate change.

Virgin's sponsorship of Earth Challenge makes sense. The company is addressing the biggest issues it faces and getting media attention in the process. As for public good will, a recent survey reported in the London Times revealed 53 per cent of consumers think that Virgin is the airline doing the most to tackle environmental issues, more than twice as many as for British Airlines.

Compare this with corporate sponsorship of the Olympic Games. Let's start with the price tag. The Top Tier of Olympic sponsorship sells for $45 million. For sponsors of the Beijing Games, it's an investment that conflicts with serious social and environmental issues their customers care about. Now, the principles of the Games are still emotionally relevant. No argument there. Who doesn't love to root for their country's athletes? But consider that 67 per cent of consumers say they think that commercial sponsors should withdraw this year over China's human rights record.

The dark clouds growing over the Olympics is more evidence of the sea change occurring in sponsorship in the 21st-century. Smart companies increasingly are integrating all the marketing tools they have to help to build their brand and reputation - and ensure that they are all working to address matters that mean something in people's lives. Consider that sponsors who invest in NASCAR, with its gigantic carbon footprint, and Earth Day are sending hypocritical messages. Where this conflict is rising to a head is in the vigilante power of social capital investors.

As more companies seek to have their stocks held in the portfolios of the rapidly growing number of socially responsible mutual funds, they've had to face the scrutiny of these investors. The Internet has made this group vocal. The revered Domini Fund has an established process for taking community input for the fund, and fund managers take seriously the opinions of its share holders. Look for a day very soon when a company's sponsorship investments will play a much more strategic role in how the brand is conceived and communicated.

As the RenGen rises, cultural consumers grow hungry for something more substantial than the vague goodwill associated with 20th-century style sponsorship. They want change. They want help with problems that seem beyond them. They want to buy products from companies who are their friends not their fathers.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Looptopia a Soggy Triumph

On Friday, despite heavy thunderstorms more than 200,000 revelers gathered in Chicago's Loop for Looptopia. Chicago's all night party-goers proved indomitable as they huddled under umbrellas and awnings. My raincoat got soaked to the pelt as I waited it out, watching the sky shed rain in sheets.

At last, the front blew over and the festivities were on. Fire dancers, performance artists, musicians performed all over the downtown. My favorite was the Hoe-Down in Daley Plaza. Beneath the cross-eyed gaze of the Picasso, a motley crowd of about 100 people danced the "Virginia Reel" and "Dip the Oyster" accompanied by a snappy blue grass band who kept it coming. Wet and bedraggled, the newbie dancers, all strangers to each other, sashayed and do-see-doed to their hearts content.

By happy coincidence, I ran into Ty Tabing the maestro of Looptopia as we were both cutting through Macy's. He was undaunted by the bad weather because his 20-something crowd was toughing it out Woodstock-style and the families with young kids were starting to show up, as were Loop residents. Tabing is a force of nature in Chicago. He's one of a type--catalytic personalities essential to a RenGen city. His story is in my book. I continue to marvel at his ability to take on large-scale projects and make a difference people can see and feel in a city still, remarkably, coming into its own.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Changing the Culture of Sexual Harrassment on Campus

How to Kill a Brand 101. Lesson #1--Destroy credibility among the core customer base.

University of Georgia has been struggling lately with sexual harrassment issues. Yet they chose Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to speak at this year's commencement ceremony. You're kidding, right? Nope. He will walk and talk at graduation. I cannot imagine anything more damaging to the university's brand.

Changing a culture on a campus, or in any operation, is a delicate matter. But when females constitute over 50% of the average college population, giving a platform to the guy who unconvincingly defended himself against Anita Hill is worse than a slap in the face. It's brand suicide.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

It's May Day -- Choose Your Vibe

It goes way back. May Day has pagan roots. It marks a shift in weather, attitude and outlook. It has always meant a day of self-expression. That holds true whether your are protesting or partying. So consider it "Choose your vibe day."

Decide if you want to be out there demanding change (anti-war protests, labor marches, gatherings with a message, all qualify) Or it could mean dancing, performing, or promenading in the public square. Be colorful, be a little outrageous, and be out there. Today, it's allowed. Consider it your sacred duty. Break your routine. Buy lunch for the loser guy. Wear a funny hat. Give out May Day hugs. Cut out for a long lunch and go do the May Pole thing if your town has one.

May Day is a blank check that allows you to do something quirky and fun and just a tiny bit dangerous. The main thing is that it comes from your heart. Because the ancient cultures believed that May 1 marks a day when a portal opens in the universe. Let me translate: all beings, even the forces you cannot see, are a little more open minded. Make sure your vibes are all about some greater expression of yourself and it should beget a whole season of the same--positive change, fun and frolic, peace and love.

For me, I have a sick child today. I write this while she sleeps. Even though she's a teenager, she needs my attention. She fainted last night. Flat out on the floor. Despite what we'll learn at the doctor's office, I intend to remain optimistic. Lest she be sick all season, see. The great thing about kids is that it's usually nothing serious and they do get better. Still, I cut some flowers from the garden this morning, and placed them before my much neglected Blessed Mother statue in our hallway. I prayed. (May 1 is also a religious holiday for some folks with rituals involving flowers, prayers and virgins all aimed at boosting one's fertility mojo.)

I will save my reveries for tomorrow when I brave the crowds at Looptopia, Chicago's all night party in the Loop.

Happy May Day!
photos credits:

Top to bottom--TiffanyJBT, Chicago Loop, Hippolito, Danny,
all from Flikr