Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What I Learned In Texas: The Geographical Habits of Young RenGen

A few days ago, I presented to a group of Houston civic and business leaders a major piece of research about the size and scope of the region’s creative economy. It was a challenging piece of research to pull off--so much of the economic activity among creatives happens below the surface. 

Just up the road from Houston is Austin, the spunky college town that's bursting at the seams with vibrant RenGen businesses--film, music, game developers and the like. Not to mention that Austin plays host to the annual SXSW festival. 

I’ve been to SXSW and found it exhilarating. But I’ve always gone home feeling a little puzzled. Austin's a big college town. Why has it captivated people so much more than, say, Madison, Wisconsin or Ann Arbor, Michigan?

Spent and feeling the sense of post-project letdown after presenting my findings, I retreated to Galveston Island for a few days. As I peddled my rental bike along the beach it came to me…

We are entering a post-metropolitan era. 

Here’s my hypothesis: Kids who grew up in suburbs want excitement and opportunity without the hassles of big city life. A city like Austin is perfect. It’s hip, opportunistic and totally manageable.  An entire generation of young people from all over has gravitated there and loves it. Let’s call these folks subMetros.

Houston, on the other hand, is filled with urban challenges. But it too has attracted an entire generation of young people. In fact, over 60% of Houston’s population is under the age of 50. Its young people are urban pioneers, eager to buckle down and help solve vexing problems: installing light rail, making the city more walkable, fixing the public school system, and embracing diversity in housing policies. Let’s call these people newMetros. By nature, they prefer to live and work amidst the complexities of big cities.

Cities and businesses are in a race to attract and retain the best young talent. I guess my question is this--which type of talent do you want? It matters. If you’re located in Omaha, for example, you can recruit newMetros endlesslessly. But they won’t bite. Why? Because there’s no metropolis there big enough to hold them. Rather, you’d want the same folks who find Austin appealing.

So who are you? SubMetro or newMetro?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sponsors Squeezed to Please

As the sponsorship season heats up, there's one thing to keep in mind above all else. Return on investment isn't everything--in some cases, it's the only thing. So make sure you have evidence to prove your opportunity can deliver: hearts, minds, communities of interest, new media, engagement, interactions and sales leads. Yep, all that. Maybe more. See the research below for insight into the sponsor's mindset. 

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.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Tinkers": How A Dark Horse Novel Took The Fiction World By Storm

If you've been following the Pulitzers, you know by now that Paul Harding won the Fiction prize for his book Tinkers, which is also his debut-novel. You probably also know that the book was published by Bellevue Literary Press, a tiny imprint that's part of New York University's School of Medicine. It's the first time a book published by a small independent press has won the prize since A Confederacy of Dunces--which was published by Louisiana State University Press--won in 1981.

Like Louisiana State U. Press, Bellevue's main focus isn't fiction. In fact, the press only turns out one fiction book per season. They primarily publish non-fiction--their specialty is work that explores the convergence of science and art. But Erika Goldman, Bellevue's Editorial Director, instantly fell in love with Tinkers, and knew right away that she wanted to publish it.

Still, there's only so much a tiny press can do. The original print run was 3,500 copies--a miniscule amount, especially when you consider the fact that the book went on to win what's arguably the most prestigious prize a writer can receive. From the start, the book drew a great deal of attention from those that did read it. But even with rave reviews coming in from The New Yorker and The Los Angeles Times, others, including The New York Times Book Review, missed it entirely.

As an aspiring writer, I couldn't be more excited by the possibility that we'll see more small press-published books get recognized in such an important and noteworthy way. There are a lot of great books out there that are just waiting to be known. I can only hope that we'll see more surprise gems take the Pulitzers by storm--ideally, far sooner than 29 years from now.

--Mo Hickey

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Corporate Philanthropy and Innovation

This week marks the 9th Annual Global Philanthropy Forum Conference in San Francisco. It will bring together the leading voices from the NGO community, international aid organizations, and government and business. The conference is taking a "back-to-basics" focus on access to health, food and water. It's all about survival, not revival. Still, there is considerable innovation going on in corporate giving. So much so that it may become a company's smartest investment when it comes to delivering ways to try new things, reach passionate communities and make a meaningful connection between employees and customers.

Some of the trends I'm seeing in corporate philanthropy are fascinating. Many companies have finally seen the light that giving back has strategic value beyond reputation.

Here's what I'm seeing:
1. Companies are doing product beta testing with grantee communities.
2. They're creating market research programs to gather insights using grantee communities.
3. They're selecting grantees that have advanced expertise and partnering to transfer knowledge about tactics such as social media and online community development.

Corporate philanthropy is growing more innovative--and for good reason. Consider that philanthropic programs provide value, not to mention tax credits, for pennies on the dollar compared to many marketing investments. What's more, they deliver connections to communities that are passionate about changing things for the better. In a cynical world, that may be the most cherished of all assets--reaching people who care.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cash, Credit or iPhone: The Rise of Technology-Based Money Exchange

About a month ago, Paypal came out with an iPhone app that allows users to--you guessed it--pay for items using their phones. It's fast and easy--simply enter the amount you wish to pay, tap your phone against another user's, and the money from your PayPal account is transferred into theirs. 

As we've seen over the last ten years, Apple has done very well for itself. iPods are no longer a rare luxury--at least in many middle to upper-class families. By far, the most popular computer at my school is the MacBook. (During finals, the library becomes a sea of apple-emblazoned laptops.) Despite mockery of its name, the iPad is slated for worldwide release. In fact, the international release date has been delayed because U.S. demands were far greater than Apple anticipated. And Apple users tend to be loyal consumers, so pleased with their products that they're likely to buy new ones. So, with that in mind, could we be looking at a new trend with this iPhone app? Will we see a decrease in the use of paper money as we see an increase in the population of iPhone users? Only time will tell.

I have to wonder if this change in the way we pay will also change the way we think about the payment itself. In my experience, paying with cash feels different than paying with a credit card or a check. There's something about holding the money, taking it from my wallet and handing it to someone that feels realer--more tangible. I'm more careful with it. When I pay with a credit card I'm more likely to overspend, since I can't see the actual money. It's as if it's coming from nowhere, or a very far away place. It's easy to check how much money you have in your wallet. Checking the balance of your bank account is less convenient. 

Of course, the iPhone app does show how much is in your PayPal account. Still, as our lives become digitized, the way we think about everyday things changes too. People conduct business, have entire conversations and even date without any real, face-to-face human contact. After years of this, the consequences--good and bad--are clear. Why should our perceptions of the value of money be an exception to the rule? 

--Mo Hickey

Monday, April 12, 2010

Music Sponsors Find Their Groove: Network, Be Seen, Listen Up

It was a dark and stormy night in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Dozens of corporate sponsors braved the spring rains to attend a private preview event at The Music Hall.  Their motivation? To network, to show visible support for a cherished institution and, ofcourse, to hear what's on for the upcoming season. A VIP event known only to its corporate partners, brings together like-minded leaders from a diverse mix of industries. The common thread: a clear understanding of the value of partnering with a performing arts center. More here

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Will Success Make You Happy?

A while ago I blogged about happiness—specifically, about whether or not it's a frill. The question drew some discussion. Maybe the topic presses some kind of button in all of us because recently, I was stopped cold when a colleague at the Carl Jung Institute asked me whether or not I could experience happiness in the absence of success.

I’m a classic example of the female entrepreneur—driven, competitive and fiercely determined to rise above my defeats. But after years of surviving recessions, the dead zone post-9/11, and the re-ordering of the marketplace we're in now, I admit that my notions about “happiness” and “success” show a little scar tissue. 

So, is happiness possible in the absence of success? My answer: "I don’t know."

Successful people tend to eat and sleep a sort of success mantra. Tom Peters says his most valuable one is a strong bias toward action. He’ll pay the price, high or low, to keep pressing forward toward his vision of success. I think most of us would agree that Tom’s a successful guy.

Penelope Trunk has a success fantasy that's separate from her business reality: “My dream life is living on the farm and posting on my blog.”

It doesn’t matter what your vision of success is. It’s only important that you have one. In a culture where the organizing mythology is about self-reliance ala the American Dream, you’d damn well better have a vision of success. Without it, you’re naked.

But are success and happiness inseparable, really? The more research I do on the rising generation of young creatives, the less certain I am that our shared beliefs about success will survive another decade. 

We may be getting ready to shed our belief that success and happiness are intertwined. The economic and social realities of our lives are prying open a gap between our aspirations and our real lives. As the gap widens, people will become less satisfied with their lives—less happy. We used to fill that void by consuming things—but it seems we no longer find buying things as therapeutic as we used to.  

So I ask you…could you be happy in the absence of success?

Monday, April 5, 2010

How to Get a Sponsor for Your Blog

Sheila Conlin is a television news producer. She has a mission. With hundreds, maybe thousands of journalists out of work, Sheila has decided to follow some of their stories. Finding out how these journalists are making money selling news on the web is part of her research. Sheila has invited me to stay tuned as she uncovers the most promising models of content sponsorship. She, like Joe Pulizzi at Junta42, is shedding light on what's working in content sponsorship (e-sponsorship for some) that you can replicate.

The people who land sponsors for new media don't have big organizations behind them. Consider Adam Huff over at Gaper's Block, a Chicago news site he and his buddies built from scratch. Huff sign's sponsors one at a time. He cold calls. He pitches. He occasionally scores.
The people succeeding at e-sponsorship have great content. And they are creative. And in the case of the journalists Sheila Conlin is following, they have very little to lose. And that may be the most important factor of all. In these times, courage may be peeled from the pavement to which people have fallen. Those who strive to pick themselves up and rebuild their lives represent a powerful creative force in America now. It's about building a world and a monetary system out of grit and imagination. I'm excited to see where it goes. I'll share what I learn.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Bus Stop: A New Approach to Elder Care

If you've ever had a loved one who suffered from Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia, you know what it's like to watch someone you care about slowly lose touch with reality. They forget family members' names. They forget that you're visiting and ask what you're doing in their house. Worse yet, they wander off, lost in some memory.

When my grandmother got sick, my grandpa was a saint. He took care of her for years and never complained. In her more lucid moments, my grandmother would say, "I hate doing this to you. Maybe I should go to a nursing home." He would adamantly refuse. "You're never going to one of those places," he'd say.

There are some decent homes, yes. But there are also some very bad ones. Even the best staff struggles with responding to patients with dementia. Trying to convince them that the reality they believe to be true is not proves futile. It isn't uncommon for patients to insist that they have to leave the hospital because they believe someone they used to know needs them, or because there's somewhere they have to be--work, for example. Therein lies the dilemma. You can't argue with them, but you can't let them go either. So what do you do?

Benrath Senior Centre in Dusseldorf, Germany may have found a solution. Franz-Josef Goebel, a member of the advisory board, came up with an idea that's unbelievably simple, unorthodox, and oh so controversial. He proposed that they build a bus stop outside the hospital doors. It should look like every other bus stop in the city, except for one thing: the bus will never come.

Their theory is based on the fact that the first place most wanderers go is the nearest bus stop. So when a delusional patient insists on leaving the home because he or she has somewhere to be or something to do, they let them go. They let them walk out the door. After a while, a staff member goes to the bus stop and retrieves the patient. By this point, they say, the urge to leave has usually passed, and the patient agrees to come inside.

Despite the fact that it seems to be working, some people have called the system cruel and unfair, saying that the nursing home is "tricking" the patients. But that's not their intention at all. They simply figure: why not permit patients to live in their reality rather than trying and failing to extract them from it? Walking out the front door and waiting for the bus allows them to feel like normal people, if only for a moment, and the staff gets to keep an eye on them the whole time. I'd call that a win.

Hear the full story here.

--Mo Hickey