Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fat Kids: Michele Obama Seeds a Culture of Fitness

Rock hard abs. It's a goal for many of the people at my gym. Sadly, at our age (boomers), it's pretty hard to attain. 

My daughter is on the wrestling team at her high school. Last night, she beckoned me to come and look at her abs. "Rock hard!" I proclaimed. (FYI, the photo is of a model, not my kid.)

As it does for everyone, having a fit body demands two things of my daughter: perseverance and curiosity.

Perseverance: She's up at the crack of dawn to spend an hour having her body hurled around on the mats, mainly by boys, since she is one of only two females on the team. And by the way, the girls push each other--the coaching staff is friendly but pretty much indifferent to them.

Curiosity: Adolescents like to test their limits. It's what drives aberrant as well as admirable behaviors. My daughter seems to be searching for her own limitations--in this case, physical. She's curious to see how far she can push herself.

Who doesn't admire Michelle Obama for taking on childhood obesity? It's an epidemic that will cost us all dearly. As a marketer, I consider what it'll take for her to seed a culture of healthy living among American youth. I suspect her success will have little to do with posters of food pyramids. If Mrs. Obama can re-ignite that sense of rugged American self-reliance that drives people to push past their limitations, she'll make an impact.

Fat kids may not develop rock hard abs during the Obama administration's tenure. But they may get back in touch with their own wonderment about themselves and what life has in store for them. That's aspirational. It's a message about hope for the future...which the Obamas have down cold.

photo courtesy of Ben Wester.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Snapshots from the Future: Photographers Feel the Crunch

I'm not very photogenic. Really. So I shuddered when I had to have my photo taken professionally this week. I powdered and plucked myself to the point of surrender. As it turned out, it was a great session with Tori Soper, a local photographer I discovered right here in town.

As she snapped away, I couldn't help taking in all the gorgeous landscape photos arrayed in her studio. "Wow, these are gorgeous shots," I remarked. She shook her head and said, "Too bad there's no market for landscape work anymore." I guess the opportunity lies in portraits—like the one she was snapping of me.

According to the New York Times, there's a crisis among professional photographers. It's all tied to the decline in ad spending. Fewer ads means fewer pages means fewer photographs. In 2000, the magazines measured by Publishers Information Bureau, a trade group, had 286,932 ad pages. In 2009, there were 169,218—a decline of 41 percent.

Yet, a thing of beauty is a joy forever, right?  So it makes me wonder if photographers will do what writers like Virginia Postrel and Cory Doctorow have done. Will they begin the deeper innovation process needed to ensure a future for their work? That means not only making the art, but making new markets and building new business models to boot. It's arduous work. But then, isn't every new frontier?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sponsorship's Dirty Dozen

Spring always puts me in mind of sweeping things clean. Having trouble attracting corporate sponsors? I know, I know—the economy stinks. But deals are getting done. Spring marks the planning cycle for most brands that sponsor. You can do something today to clean up any of these sponsee bad habits, I call them the Dirty Dozen, that could be costing you dearly:
• Slow replies to queries
• Poor planning that leaves you little time to sell
• Failure to network with decision makers
• Failure to work to collaborate internally
• Lack of outreach
• Lack of ongoing communication with your prospects
• Failure to adopt cutting edge marketing tactics
• Negative attitude
• Fear of failure
• Lack of imagination
• Wasting time with dead beat prospects
• Cold call paralysis

Pick a few to tackle today. And remember, it's not the grand and glorious gestures that make the most difference. It's the incremental steps that build a winning sponsorship program. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Graffiti Art Meets Philanthropy--All For the Price of an iPod Shuffle

Tony Quan is a Los Angeles-based graffiti artist. His writing, done under the name "Tempt One", is legendary in LA as well as beyond. In 2003, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, which left him paralyzed--except for his eyes. 

Enter Zach Lieberman of the Graffiti Research Lab. Quan's story inspired him to create a gadget that allows the user to draw with his eyes. The Eyewriter, as it's called, is low cost ($50, about as much as an iPod shuffle) and open-source, meaning anyone can access information about the hardware, including the design and the software that drives it. The cost itself is revolutionary--pre-existing "eye-tracking technology" devices cost between $10,000 and $15,000. 

When working on the Eyewriter, Lieberman--along with developers from Free Art and Technology, OpenFrameworks and the Ebeling Group--studied Quan's artwork in order to create the most effective software for him. Besides creating basic shapes and letters, the Eyewriter allows him to add color and shading to the words, extrude them in 3-D and more. But the team's vision goes beyond Quan--they intend for it to be available to anyone with Lou Gehrig's (also known as ALS). Their chief goal is helping people who will use the device to communicate, literally and figuratively--whether by graffiti or by basic written words. In fact, their website includes instructions for building a DIY Eyewriter using a hacked PS3 and a cheap pair of sunglasses--again, all for a cost of about $50.

So how does Quan, the man whose opinion matters most, feel about the Eyewriter? “That was the first time I’ve drawn anything since 2003!" he says. "It feels like taking a breath after being held underwater for five minutes.” 

Thanks to urban_data for the picture.

-Mo Hickey

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Politics of Astrology and the Secret Lives of CEOs

Remember when the Reagans were scalded by the media for consulting an astrologer? It makes me wonder if times have changed. Will the Obamas be consulting their astrological charts any time soon? I put the question to Susan Miller, the popular astrologist and columnist who was in Chicago on Sunday to give a lecture.

Over slabs of glazed salmon at the Drake Hotel dining room, Ms. Miller and I discussed the astrological year ahead for American politics. Read more about our conversation here

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Why We Love Dogs--Customer Journey Research

Meet Killi. She’s a German Shorthaired Pointer who is gracing our lives while her human family takes a holiday. Her owner brought her by this weekend for a meet-and-greet. It was love at first sight.

Sadly, my own dog passed away last year. We miss her terribly. A brutal travel schedule and indifferent teen-aged kids make my home inhospitable for pets, so I’ve been dogless ever since. But for the sake of my research for the pet supply category, I’m playing host to Killi for two weeks to reacquaint myself with the rituals and purchase decisions of life with a dog. Read more about the experiment here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day--Keeping It Real

Happy St. Patrick's Day! For real...

The celebration of St. Paddy's Day in America is like most holidays, over hyped and over celebrated. I always skip the annual parade in Chicago, mainly because it's a drunk fest having nothing to do with the heart and soul of the day.

I am the product of an Irish home, meaning my mother is from the old sod. In fact, she grew up in a mixed neighborhood of Belfast where celebrating St. Patrick's Day was a political statement weighed judiciously lest you get roughed up.

Her own mother sent her children out the door with green shoelaces and medallions of the Blessed Mother fixed to their lapels with green ribbon. Subtle, but demonstrative. As mom tells it, all the Irish kids in her neighborhood were turned out in similar fashion. The walk to school could be dangerous that day, so the kids formed their own parade. With strength in numbers, they'd walk together down the middle of the street. British soldiers stood by. Mothers came out on doorsteps to keep careful watch over their children as they marched to school.

Food plays an important role in any culture. Hartman Group does cool research on dining occassions that explains that the "who" and "when" of food is as important as the "what." Tonight, I'll gather friends and family for corned beef and cabbage. My daughter and I will bake Irish soda bread from scratch. It's an old fashioned affair: I'll set the table with Irish linen, china and Irish crystal. We'll play traditional music as well as a little Van Morrison as we tuck into our supper. There'll be laughter and stories....because we're Irish.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pitch Perfect: Finding a Sponsorship Hook

Selling a sponsorship means finding the right hook. I’m talking about that deep need that hooks a sponsor’s attention and gets them thinking creatively about how they might work with you. Erik Gensler, manager of sponsorships for New York-based TMG—The Marketing Group, handles sponsorships, marketing and promotions for Broadway theaters. He recently secured a deal for the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau in Fort Myers, Florida to sponsor the Roundabout Theatre Company’s series of post-show discussions with theatergoers and actors. The time from conception to contract: three months.

Gensler was able to close the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel deal because he not only showed an understanding of the potential sponsor’s needs--he also found creative and appealing ways to meet them. “New York is an important feeder market for Florida,” he explains. “They were looking for an opportunity to reach an upscale demographic, and people who have money to go to the theater have money to go on vacation. They were also looking to get tickets to entertain travel agents.”

The Roundabout’s series provided an opportunity for marketing to the theater's subscribers along with sponsoring private parties. “This fall we’re planning a night on Broadway, where they can invite their clients to a cocktail reception and then to see the show,” Gensler says. “They’re using this sponsorship to give a great evening to a couple hundred of their clients.” It’s a great hook.

More here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

CDC Uses Twitter to Protect, Inform

The Internet is complicated. Perhaps that explains why Twitter has become so popular--it's simple. Tweets are limited to 140 characters, so they have to be quick. When you follow other users, all their updates are right there on your homepage. There aren't many actions to take in the first place, and most take a few short seconds to complete.

And yet the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a nine-page primer on how to use Twitter. The document, titled "Micro-blogging Requirements and Best Practices", explains the basics of posting, covers lingo, addresses Twitter etiquette and talks about how to best reach audiences. Whatever they're doing must work--their feed, CDCemergency, has nearly 1.3 million followers.

The Twitter compendium is part of a larger social media project that has continued to grow since CDC put it into action. They have also published guidelines for text messaging, Youtube and viral videos, motion graphics, and eCards. As they say on their website, "the use of social media tools is a powerful channel to reach target audiences with strategic, effective and user-centric health interventions." Talk about using the Internet for good purposes. 

Read more about CDC and social media here.

--Mo Hickey

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Profiting From The Idea Economy

Last Friday, the deadline closed for entries into the National Endowment for the Arts logo contest. The controversial call-for-entries raised important issues for the creative economy, the biggest question being the value of creative work.

We live in a time of unprecedented creative output. Much of it is facilitated by the Internet and mobile technologies. Take Facebook, for instance. A vast digital canvas for creative expression, Facebook now has a population equal to the fourth largest country in the world.

Recently, Pepsi's bold "Refresh Project" shattered marketing records when it offered grants from its charitable coffers to young leaders for their altruistic community-building projects. AdAge magazine hailed it as a "pivotal test case for other brands." This suggests the seeding of a marketing trend. For more see my post at Huffington.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Advertising Spends for Sponsorship Give Clues to Larger Trends

One of the surest ways to follow trends in sponsorship is to keep an eye on advertising spending. Women are important targets for sponsors. Did you catch any of P&G’s “Proud Sponsors of Moms” spots for the Olympics?

This year, Good Housekeeping Magazine marks its 125th anniversary with a live show. Called “Shine On,” it’s scheduled for one performance on April 12th. The subtitle is “Celebrating 125 Years of Women Making Their Mark.”

“Shine On” will be sponsored by Maybelline, owned by L’Oréal. Maybelline will also sponsor a section in the May issue devoted to the 125 women “who changed our lives.” The show is indicative of efforts to bring media brands to life by creating an experience.

Advertisers are increasingly interested in “partnerships that extend beyond the basics,” said Deborah Marquardt, vice president of integrated marketing communications for the Maybelline New York and Garnier lines at the consumer products division of L’Oréal in New York.

“The things that resonate with us as an advertiser is when our DNA matches theirs,” Ms. Marquardt said, as with “an event like this one.”

The Maybelline sponsorship includes elements like sampling to the show's audience members, she added, who will be treated to touch-ups of their makeup by roaming brand representatives.

“Shine On” is to be composed of performances, including musical numbers, and video tributes. The women to be saluted include Susan B. Anthony, Madonna, Dorothy Parker, Sally Ride, Martha Stewart and Diane von Furstenberg.

Among the celebrities who will take part in the show are Broadway performers Laura Benanti and Kelli O’Hara, comedian Fran Drescher and actresses Kristen Bell and Meryl Streep.

Source: Stuart Elliot, New York Times

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Making Science Sexy: Seeding the Digital Culture to Dig Science

The transfer of knowledge is highly attractive to young RenGen. Today, I'm live blogging from Young Professionals event in Omaha. I'm listening to a panel of scientists who built online movement of passionate non-geeks by using mix of classic and social media. Their Science Cafe series gathered momentum for events about science. 

Dilemma: How to make science interesting to young professionals. 

Experiment: Hold live Science Cafes in local brew pub. 

Day part: Happy hour/after work

Tactics: Traditional--posters, community events calendars, PR, word-of-mouth
(Traditional tactics were used to create awareness, but not build the network)

Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Opt-in email
(Social media used as a traffic driver and generate virtual attendance)

Biggest lesson:  Content matters, a lot.

Hot science content for the average peeps: Science of Beer, How the Brain Works, Science of Sex (drew over 200)

Geeks only: Robotic surgery

How they grew their social network: 
1. Upped the ante with ever cooler content. 
2. Blogged and tweeted. Email got dropped from the campaign entirely. (Demographic resented email intrusion).
3. Asked venue to co-promote and offer bar deals.

Did people show up to a live event featuring local scientists? 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Survey Findings: Marketing Executives Squeezed to Please

Marketing executives are like canaries in the coal mine. Just one whiff and they can tell a market about to collapse from one that’s rich with opportunity. This week, the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) and Anderson Analytics issued findings of a 2,000 member survey of Top Marketing Trends. While there was a trend toward optimism, the most consistent theme was the need to prove that marketing delivers any bottom line value to business. 

"While more marketers are optimistic about the future prospect of growth, marketers are still feeling the pressure of a tough economic cycle with the need to prove a return on their marketing investments,” said Tom H.C. Anderson, Managing Partner of Anderson Analytics. 

American business is in a perilous struggle to innovate. The creative brain trust in corporate America has traditionally been housed in marketing departments. But recent trends reveal a shift. Departments such as design and product strategy are taking on roles that marketers used to play. Consider that Chicago-based Kraft Foods has a department devoted to innovation. They’ve begun engaging customers to help spur new ideas. This kind of communication would ordinarily be considered marketing. But today, the creative action is percolating elsewhere.

I recently attended Northwestern University’s Kellogg School Annual Marketing Conference. The energy and enthusiasm of the marketing MBAs running the event was inspiring. But reading these MENG survey results and reflecting back on those marketing executives in training made me wonder if they realize what they’re signing up for. ROI (return-on-investment) pressure means a bean counting job, not a career in creative strategy. 

Call it what you want—innovation or marketing. The truth of the matter is that American business desperately needs to rethink how it relates to consumers. The rise of social networks has profoundly altered the culture. These times demand experimentation and a spirit of adventure. 

ROI is about retrenchment. Security in numbers. It’s a cover-your-ass approach that leads to a protectionist business culture—not innovation. To be sure, I am not advocating some sort of creative free-for-all in American business. Rather, I’m hoping that the bean counters find solace in the numbers, and leave the pursuit of new markets, creative engagement of audiences and out-and-out ingenuity to the people with the most insight. That is, those with an ear to the ground, an eye on the horizon and a story to tell about the future.

Top Five Findings:

1. 66% of marketers are more optimistic about business opportunity in 2010, 28% view 2010 similarly to 2009, and only 6% are less optimistic about the outlook.  Compared to last year’s survey findings, marketers are: More likely to increase marketing budget; Less likely to reduce staff and more likely to hire incremental staff; and more likely to increase spending on innovation and R&D.

2. “Marketing ROI” moved from the third most important marketing concept in last year’s survey to the number one spot in this year’s survey, followed by “Customer Retention” and "Brand Loyalty.”

3. Social media remains hot with 70% of marketers planning new social media initiatives in 2010. Interestingly, "social media", "twitter" and "social networking" ranked as the top “buzz words marketers are most tired of hearing.” Regarding companies’ presence on social media sites, large companies are more likely to have a presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and MySpace while smaller companies rely more on LinkedIn.

4. Overall marketing executives are more likely to rely on internal employees for their social media initiatives than any outside firms. Companies that are going outside for help with social media strategy and implementation are much more likely to look to social media consultants--and to a lesser degree, interactive agencies--than to advertising agencies or public relations firms.

5. Not surprisingly, China was still ranked as the top geographic opportunity for growth, followed by India, Latin America and Brazil. And among the various target demographics, MENG members still feel that Boomers represent the best opportunity for customer targeting, followed by women and Hispanics. The overall importance of different demographics has not changed significantly since last year’s survey.  

Monday, March 1, 2010

Social Media and Creative Content Help Charities Communicate Value

A new form of social capital is rising. It’s a hybrid model—part venture, part vision. And there are new strategic philanthropists rising along with it--hedge-fund managers. More and more, these business savvy philanthropists are getting good at communicating their sponsorship and charitable goals to the public.

It’s pretty easy to be cynical about this trend. Arguably, hedge-fund managers are part of the devolution of the global economy. But what’s intriguing about social enterprise models emerging from the rubble is the fact that the charities best able to make a personal connection with the public attract the largest donations.

Having a strong message is not enough. It’s about delivering that message across the organization, down into the grass roots and across advocate channels. Tall order? No doubt. But some non-profits are using social media to get the word out at a fraction of the cost. I predict that social media will stimulate a renaissance in creative content coming from charities.

I just love the work that StellaPop did recently for GoodWill with its very viral YouTube video. I posted about it a while back, but it deserves a second look. 

The last century was built, in part, by captains of industry who believed in being generous. I remember discovering the simple genius of Andrew Carnegie’s quest to build the public library network. If a town wanted a library, he built it for them—as long as they agreed to pay the overhead in perpetuity—staff, heat, lights, books. Today, America has more public libraries than McDonald’s stores. We’ll see if this next wave of social venture can leave a similar legacy.