Tuesday, September 30, 2008

RenGen on the Road heads to Providence and Boston

Today I'll be speaking in Providence, an official RenGen city. I'll be joined by panelists Jenny Mello, Senior Research Manager at Performance Research Group; Don Keinz, Founder, Acadia Consulting Group, and Gail Alofsin, Director of Corporate Partnerships at the Newport Yachting Center
Details can be found here

On Tuesday morning I'll be in Boston, one of America's richest cultural capitals. Lesley Bielby, EVP and Chief Strategy Officer at Hill Holliday; Jason Schupbach, State of Massachusetts Creative Economy Director; and Dan Salera, Sponsorship Consultant at Salera Consulting will join me as panelists.
Click here to register.

Please drop by and say, "Hello!"

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sponsor as Evangelist--McDonalds and Chicago's Olympic Bid

This week, I'm glad to offer some equal measure of good news to temper the bad for burger giant McDonald's. (As some of you know, the 1996 burger photo from Culture Scout Karen Hanrahan caused quite a stir.)

Chicago is on the short-list of cities vying for the 2016 Olympics. Enthusiasts over at Medalupdate.com are predicting it will be another record-smashing Olympiad with Usain Bolt looking to become "the first man to break the sound barrier powered by his legs alone." Coincidentally enough, the Windy City is also home to McDonald's Corp., top sponsors of the Olympics. And while they’re not officially coming out and saying it, "McDonald’s is heavily hinting that they’d “prefer” if the International Olympic Committee chose Chicago."

Winning an Olympic bid is difficult and expensive work. Chicago could use the leverage of the Golden Arches to win over other sponsors who will see an American market as being less strategic than a large, relatively untapped market like Beijing.

Photo credit: Karbon69

Thursday, September 25, 2008

McDonald's SEO Strategy? Or Something Else?

Yesterday, green blogger Karen Hanrahan posted her photo of a perfectly preserved vintage 1996 McDonald's hamburger online. She has kept it in a plastic container all these years and done nothing to it. It looks like she bought it yesterday. Over 300 people logged on to argue the case on behalf of the burger giant. " Unpatriotic, idiotic!" they called her.

Ordinarily, Karen's blog attracts about a dozen comments. She is a good writer and has an established network of fellow bloggers so traffic is steady. She's also one of our Culture Scouts. But this outpouring says something else. Either there are over 300 passionate fans of the fast food chain who can navigate their way around the blogsphere, or her unretouched photo taken in her kitchen triggered a hail storm of "hired guns" paid to fry her for her heresy.

Search Engine Optimization 2.0?

RenGen in the News

The New York Times featured a story about the RenGen yesterday. Business writer Marci Alboher, asked my perspective on the bigger picture regarding the implosion of the credit market and what lies beyond the crisis. We talked about the rising generation that will reinvent the way we live and work.

I assured Ms. Alboher, because history bears it out, that this is what it looks like right before a renaissance. Chaos, decline, confusion all run rampant. Conversely, creativity and innovation abound. Add to the mix a facilitating medium for the sharing of ideas and information as robust as the Web, and you have the recipe for a renaissance. But I did share this caveat: that a renaissance is not guaranteed. If we deplete our resources in these tenuous times, we could flounder.

The incoming leadership of this country will decide whether we are reborn into a more innovative and enlightened civilization or fall into a dark age. So, vote and vote wisely!

On a personal note, I've long considered the New York Times a pinnacle news source. It arrives in my "in-box" online and I am awakened every morning by the slap of it hitting my driveway. I devour it over morning coffee. So naturally, it's a strange and wonderful feeling to be featured the same week that a minority opinion contends “Whatever the New York Times once was, it is not today by any standard a journalistic organization." Huh? Tell that to my kid who sent a text message from his college dorm, "OMG, mom...yr in NYT!"

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Manage Your Muse! Bandcamp Launches

Rule #3 of a Renaissance: colossal creative output.

The flood of creativity is pouring in from all sides. A blog is born every minute. Painting classes at my local arts center have been sold out for months. If each of us has an inborn muse, we're apparently all tapping into it. Perhaps that's why the hot new catch phrase is "idea management."

Difficult as it is, it's not enough to dream it, jam it, refine it, and produce it. You have to manage it. Push it out there, too. Get it seen and heard. Enter www.bandcamp.mu, a new site that helps RenGen musicians make their mark. Bandcamp was created by a team of renegade developers formerly with Yahoo!, Microsoft and Adobe.

What does Bandcamp do for artists? Here's a description so deliciously clever it warrants a giant quote:

"We're not yet another site wanting to host your tracks alongside the trailer for High School Musical 4: I'm Pregnant. Instead, we power a site that's truly yours, and hang out in the background handling all the technical issues you dread (and several you've probably never even considered). We keep your music streaming and downloading quickly and reliably, whether it's 3am on a Sunday, or the hour your new record drops and Pitchfork gives it a scathingly positive review. We make your tracks available in every format under the sun, so the audiophilic nerderati can have their FLAC and eat mp3 v2. We adorn your songs with all the right metadata, so they sail into iTunes with artwork, album, band and track names intact. We mutter the various incantations necessary to keep your site top-ranked in Google, so when your fans search for your hits, they find your music long before they find bonkersforlyrics.com or iMyFace."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What's a Good Camera? Meet Chicago Camera

For months, I searched for a good blogger's camera. I bought a used Canon Rebel on eBay, and it arrived broken. Ugh! The return process was contentious and I wondered why so many people hassle with eBay. It was an empty experience.

Then I walked into Central Camera nestled beneath the EL tracks on Chicago's gritty Wabash Avenue. There I encountered uber Camera Man. He advised me sincerely, squaring me in the eye and I walked out with a Nikon D700 feeling ready to tell my story in photos (more to follow soon).

To experience thoughtful, earnest good service of old-school retail put me back in touch with the value of boutique transactions. It's life-enhancing to be served in such a personal way. I emerged from the shop feeling confident with my purchase, a feeling Barry Schwartz would consider remarkable in a time of too much choice.
Authentic, educational and compassionate service are all attributes of a RenGen brand experience. I guess that's why Central Camera, founded in 1899, is still in business. As we face the quake of Wall St., it will be the simple, hardworking American businesses like Central Camera that will keep the wheels of our economy turning. And they will also have to pick up the tab for the less genuine businesses that marked the last eight years, which are now belly up.

Monday, September 22, 2008

For David Wallace Sponsorship Made Great Fiction

By now you may have heard about the premature passing of David Wallace. I'm devoting Sponsorship Monday to his memory. He was the first novelist to my knowledge whose fictional world came complete with corporate sponsors.

In 1996, his popular second novel Infinite Jest, a futurist swirl of tennis, drug addiction, art, terrorism and loneliness set in a future year was known by the name of its corporate sponsor (e.g., the Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar). Time Magazine hailed him as, "America's No. 1 literary seed, at the top of a hierarchy that was, one suspects, largely meaningless to him."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Instant Karma and Why Death Comes to Wall St.

Long time, no blog. I spent most of the week in New York and was too dispirited to blog. Despite my love for Gotham, the place felt eerie. The crash sent ripples in all directions. There was noticeably less foot traffic on the streets. The volume of conversation in restaurants seemed subdued. My lunch guest told me his wife came home mid-morning with a box full of her things, abruptly ending a 15-year career with Lehman Brothers. I felt for him.

Yet, are any of us really surprised? The truth is that the money business in America has long been excessive, indulgent, greedy and reckless. Financial markets suffer from our least attractive cultural trait: we are addicted to the short term. We like our success instantly, thank you. We like it in our business, celebrity, and now, even in our politics. This makes us vulnerable as a people and fragile as a financial power.

So the financial crisis on Wall Street is a reckoning. The Karma bank is calling in its note on easy money. But it's also the most dramatic sign of the brighter news that lies ahead--the coming renaissance.

History teaches that death comes before rebirth--especially one as robust as a renaissance. The emptying out creates a void. It also stimulates creativity as we search our collective minds for solutions to our plight.

Long term, the news from Wall Street portends great things. The question is, can we quell our passion for the instant long enough to realize it? The bail outs tell me otherwise. The most respected economists say the system needs an overhaul.

That takes time.

Monday, September 15, 2008

RenGen on the Road Heads to New York City

I'm in New York today. It's Gotham's stop on the RenGen Tour. I'll be joined by  Paul Melton, strategist for LaPlaca Cohen; Jan Ohye, Vice President and Director of Wunderman Impact; and Jennifer Rooney, editor, CMO Strategy and TalentWorks, Advertising Age. Drop by for the RenGen discussion that will take up the question--Are We on the Brink of a Renaissance? Event details click here.

Cause-marketing's Fate Tied to Economic Woes

When times get tough, do we get more self-interesed as consumers? Yes, we do says a new study by Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Their survey of chief marketing officers distracted by the downturn are placing less emphasis on cause-related and environmental issues. In fact, marketing that is "beneficial for society" or that minimizes the impact on the environment ranked at the bottom of five priorities listed by respondents for the next 12 months.

It's interesting that the study doesn't argue that cause-marketing and green marketing have fallen out of vogue. Instead, the fall off seems based on concern for the economy. As in Maslow's hierarchy, a weakened economy hurls people down to the bottom of the needs pyramid--food and shelter become priorities.

More on the study is reported in AdAge.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Teens, Technology and the First Amendment

I've been listening to candidates discuss their plans for education. So when I came across research sponsored by the Knight Foundation, it struck me that technology and educational content may be becoming inextricably linked for young RenGen.

Recent research shows that high school students who blog, who read online news sources and who chat online regularly are more likely to understand and support their First Amendment rights. That's according to Kenneth Dautrich and David Yalof, authors of Future of the First Amendment: The Digital Media, Civic Education and Free Expression Rights in the Nation’s High Schools.

Their initial 2004 survey found that 75% of U.S. teens surveyed don’t know or don’t care about the First Amendment. Bummer. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, of assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

With the 2006 survey, the authors explored the impact of digital media and recent advances in information technology on students’ appreciation of the First Amendment. Their results found a positive correlation between using online news sources and blogs and supporting the forms of free expression protected by the First Amendment.

Frequent users of online news sources were 12 percent more appreciative of their First Amendment rights than those who don’t get news online.

Students who blog to publish their own content show even higher levels of support.

And 73 percent of chat-room users agree that music lyrics should be allowed, even if deemed offensive, compared with 65 percent of those who don’t use chat rooms.

The authors conclude that a deeper education in both civics and digital technology can help students learn to appreciate the First Amendment.

Here's to more technology making it's way into the classroom!

Dautrich, associate professor of public policy at the University of Connecticut, and Yalof, associate professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, authored the book along with colleague Mark Hugo Lopez, a research assistant professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland.

Their work is based on the Knight Future of the First Amendment survey, which questioned more than 100,000 high school students about their knowledge of and opinions on the First Amendment. The 28-question survey portrayed general feelings of “ignorance, lethargy and agnosticism” in high school students when it came to the five freedoms of the First Amendment.

It seems that when First Amendment rights are made relevant through self-expressive technologies, kids grasp it. It makes the case for why information privacy needs to become part of the First Amendment freedoms.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Investigative Reporting Takes a Holiday with GOP

"Bread and circuses" is from the ancient Roman for people choosing food and fun over freedom. It applies to people of giving up their civic duty and following whichever political leader offers to satisfy their more base desires.

These days, it appears that the media may be the biggest consumers of bread and circuses. The buzz on the web cries out for more information about the GOP ticket. Yet for nearly a week, the traditional news sources provide only cursory coverage. No hard news to report, no interviews, no quotable quotes from someone running for Vice President just a few months before a national election.

Bloggers and traditional news sources alike are on pins and needles waiting for the National Enquirer to break the story on Palin.

What does it say about our culture when the responsibility for investigative political journalism is being shouldered by the National Enquirer and bloggers?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Political Event Sponsorship in Second Life

Political fundraising is now a Second Life phenomenon, complete with corporate sponsorship packages. Blogger Jordy Carnell has developed a fundraiser for Obama-Biden in Second Life. And he's selling sponsorships to the event. The event seems to have sprung from digital grass roots, and not authorized by the Obama camp. But it makes a person wonder about the amount of enterprise the campaign seems to be generating. Last week, I attended an outdoor concert and every vendor had some rendition of an Obama t-shirt for sale. Sarah Palin is a new face, but I suspect she will also inspire grass roots entrepreneurs to make hay with her identity.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Culture Scouts Featured in New York Times

If you didn't catch our Culture Scouts featured in the New York Times yesterday, here's the story. Will Hopkins and Mary K. Baumann (top) are award-winning magazine and book designers. They teach a renowned "Visual Trends" class at Stanford and for decades had a cool office loft in Chelsea and a deluxe apartment on the Upper West Side--I'm talking 2,000 square feet with a courtyard in famous Apthorp, arguably New York's grandest rent controlled building. When Will and Mary K. got the news that the building would go condo and units would sell for $4.5 million a pop, they made a plan. Move! Not across town. Move back to Mary K.'s home town Minneapolis.

They bought a condominium in the basement unit of an old flour mill with river views. Hired a hip architect. Sold the office loft. Packed up the apartment and did what felt like the scariest step of all for two people who make their living in publishing--they left New York.

I visited them a while back to check out their new digs. With sweeping views of the river and the stunning new Guthrie Theater right up the street, they've landed in what has become Minneapolis's toniest urban residential areas. They walk to everything. They've built out an office area that is neat and efficient.

They are an extraordinary couple. The kind that people love being around because they're casually brilliant and curious about the world. I have no idea how many magazines the two of them consume, but no matter what the topic of discussion, they can always reference some idea or fact they've encountered. You walk away smarter and more inspired.

Congratulations Will and Mary K. for taking life by the horns.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Branded Empire: The Sarah Chronicles

It was a knock-out speech. Sarah Palin made it clear that she is no cream puff. But she didn't strike me as a pit bull with lipstick, either. She's Ronald Reagan without the sunshine. Her personal brand seemed more polished and tailored compared to the photos of her in hunting gear that have been circulating on the Web.

There was one tone she struck in her speech that I wondered about: the division between big and small. Big cities versus small towns. One being blue and the other being red, presumably. Big ego versus little ole' me. It's not the cry of an underdog that gave me pause. It was that it was a reductive way of seeing American culture. That our lives and work together as a people can be boiled down to those simple divisions: big and small.

The emotional need state of American consumers right now is less about what divides us. People are coming together, forming communities online, feeling the need to unite in the face what may lie ahead, namely more hard times. Social optimism is not a message only one party can tap into, it's an equal opportunity platform. So while Ms. Palin is a new face and a self-described maverick from a maverick state, her message is off-trend.The rising RenGen are about fusion, not fission. They want to bond, not feel divided and vulnerable.

Palin made it clear she's not interested in any one's "good opinion of her" so I expect any commentary really is like clanging our cups in an echo chamber.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Social Media and the Marketing of Mad Men

Mad Men alert: Don Draper now has a Twitter account. So does his alter ego, Dick Whitman. Hardly period appropriate, but it's fresh and funny! You can follow Don's every trist, every client pitch, every hip check he throws to those who get in his way.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Branded Empire: Political Conventions

Some people relish Super Bowl Sunday. Others ogle the Olympics. Me, I never miss coverage of both political conventions. I hunker down on the sofa with my trusty dog Luna and soak it all in, even the lousy speeches. This election year I've been struck by the marketing savvy of the Democrats. And shocked by both parties' failure to grasp the fundamentals of gender politics.

It's clear that Barack Obama is benefiting from having people on his team such as Ann Fudge former CEO of Young and Rubicam, not to mention Oprah Winfrey. The Greco-Roman set design for his speech gave the impression he already had the gig. When he finished and walked back into the faux White House with his family, it was like a happy ending to a long day on the job. The DNC beat out the GOP's convention earning 30 percent more in corporate sponsorship fees. And his campaign is tracking the web and is tuned into the blogosphere.

Back in April, blogger Joe Jaffe dared Obama to respond to his post criticizing the campaign for spending too much on traditional media, especially television. Jaffe's beef was that if the Obama campaign was sincere about reaching younger voters, it shouldn't use a dinosaur medium. Obama replied. Someone in Obama's camp had to be tracking Web commentary and had to know Jaffe's influence made him worthy of a reply.

Back to the convention. My faithful dog Luna is such a sensitive creature. She can't bear it when people raise their voices. She picks up on passive aggression, let alone aggressive aggression. Anything with venom in it, and she tucks her tail and slinks away.

As Obama's speech wore on, he began lacing into John McCain. Luna's ears perked up and before I knew she was squeezing herself under the sofa. So for those who fear that Obama lacks the machismo to defend himself against McCain, I can tell you, he scored high on the Luna senso-meter for steely talk.

As for the Republicans, they've been stalled by the latest Gulf storm. But Laura Bush got a rousing reception when she spoke. Cindy McCain got warm applause. I'll stay tuned to see how Sarah Palin is received.

That leads me to my point about the strange disconnect in both parties regarding Hillary supporters. They're angry and it's not going away until someone, hopefully one of the candidates, validates their anger by using the "D" word. Discrimination. The plain truth is that women are discriminated against. They earn less, have less power, and enjoy less upward mobility. These are proven facts. Hillary is a symbol of how far women have come, in the same way that Obama is for African Americans. Asking Hillary supporters to "get over it" and "get in line" only exacerbates their frustration. And asking them to get behind a female VP who is unqualified for the job insults them. Someone needs to drop the "D" bomb so these women feel heard. Then the healing can begin and Hillary loyalists will throw their support behind the candidate who had the machismo to speak the truth.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Susan G. Komen Teaches Sponsorship Basics in Dubai

The Susan G. Komen organization is serious about going global. It recently presented a workshop on the cause-related marketing at the Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry. The day-long workshop was conducted by Emily Callahan, Managing Director of Marketing Communications at Susan G. Komen for the Cure based in the US.

Clearly, Komen is taking the long view. By starting its sponsorship outreach with education to businesses, Komen is cultivating a business culture that understands sponsorship as a marketing tool. Smart move. It's also clear that Komen is in the same boat with many American companies. Having saturated the American market with its nearly ubiquitous brand, Komen is striking out into far-flung markets such as India to keep growing.

Mammogram film courtesy of Darel Heitkamp