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Riding through Hell: 2009 World Business Forum Recap

October 11, 2009 1 comment
Blogging live at the WBF. See the back of my head in the front row?

Blogging live at the WBF. See the back of my head in the front row?

It’s Day 1 of the World Business Forum. I’m tucked comfortably into my puffy velvet seat on Radio City Music Hall’s third mezzanine. Despite some wi-fi challenges (what conference is complete without them?) it’s been smooth sailing for the 50 or so of us who are here as part of the official Blogger Hub. Two levels below, the orchestra seats are steadily filling to the accompaniment of the Lite FM-ish smooth jazz flowing through the sound system (you were expecting Lady GaGa?)  Despite the stated “business casual” dress code, it’s a sea of gray suits down there. I’m in standard issue PR girl black head-to-toe, with gold flats and crystal drop earrings. (This is my business casual.)

Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton takes the stage to open the conference, and something he says sets the tone for all the speakers who follow:  “When you ride through hell, you don’t stop.”  It’s an old cowboy saying, but pretty apt right now. No denying things have been pretty hellish for the past 12 months. It’s a common refrain with nearly every speaker – unemployment up, GDP down. American small business dying on the vine. We may technically be out of the recession, but the hard work of recovery has just begun. And there’s the question of sustainability and whether economic recovery will happen at the expense of a planet which, as speaker Jeffrey Sachs reminds us, “is bursting at the seams.”  

How appropriate that climate-related disaster metaphors are a recurring conference theme: it’s Katrina, a cyclone, a tsunami. Cataclysmic. The eye of the hurricane is past but the challenges left in the aftermath are monumental. Hellish indeed. But as Hinton says, this is no time to stop riding. It’s simple in business: Grow. Do. Wherever the market goes next, we must focus on growing. Innovation brings good fortune. It’s always time for ideas. 

There is no shortage of ideas coming from the Radio City Music Hall stage. My head and laptop are swimming with them. I look down at my notes in between speakers and am amazed I can keep up at all (Thank you 10th grade typing teacher. Name: forgotten. Impact on my professional life: priceless.) Themes emerge from speaker to speaker and begin to coalesce on my monitor; here are the two that resonate most powerfully for me:

Truth: Saatchi and Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts tells us the truth is ugly. Don’t be afraid to face it. Bill Conaty, former HR chief of GE, describes “truth and candor” as pillars of a performance culture. Management guru Bill George cautions against denial, says leaders willing to face organizational and personal realities free up their companies to move forward. Or make tough but crucial decisions like, as Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld suggests, killing your company’s sacred cows in times of crisis.

Creativity:  Needless to say, there is much to absorb from the event’s most high profile speakers George Lucas and Bill Clinton. In both cases it takes me a minute to get my star-struck fingers typing, once I do I find my notes coming back consistently to creativity. The Lucas Q&A with film critic Ben Mankiewicz is billed as “The Future of Cinema” but feels more to me like a blast from the past. In a good way, considering how forward-looking Lucas’ past actually was. It’s easy to get so caught up in his role of father of the “Star Wars” mythos that I forget the boldness of Lucas’ business innovations. Small action figure movie tie-ins didn’t exist before Lucas pioneered the model with Kenner and forever altered the movie merchandising landscape.  And when he couldn’t find a production shop able to make the visual effects needed for “Star Wars,” he created Industrial Light and Magic.  I have no idea what enables a human being to have the courage and means to look into a void and simply invent what’s needed. Where others would see a yawning chasm, Lucas saw opportunity.

As for Clinton, creativity as well as collaboration are recurring themes in his speech. He cites interdependence – not globalism – as the word he believes best describes the century we live in.  According to Clinton, it is not just about the movement of money around the world, but the flow of diverse people and ideas. And in his view, there is no such thing as a personal rainstorm. The problems of the 21st century – terrorism, poverty, famine, diseases – will be solved only by cross-border creativity and collaboration. And while there is hope embedded in that message – of people and organizations putting aside individual agendas for a common good – there is a grave warning, too:  “We have to find a world where we can all win, otherwise, none of us will.”

Go here for more blog coverage of the World Business Forum.  

(image via)

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The Homefire

September 30, 2009 1 comment

firepit fire

This started out as a Wordless Wednesday post, but I love the picture so much I had to Use My Words. Making this Wordy Wednesday.

This is our firepit up in the country. You can just make out my husband’s profile off to the left and though you can’t see it I recall that my son is curled at his feet, mesmerized by the flames. My 17-year old nephew took the picture and me, I’m just out of frame doing not much of anything at all.

The Catskills house has a pacifying effect on this family. We don’t bicker up there. I don’t know if it’s something magical in the air or well water, or maybe the mountain view changes our collective seratonin uptake. Whatever — I’m not complaining.

I was looking for a poem about campfires to accompany the post because poets haz pretty words and I needed backup. Happily, I discovered Linda Parsons Marion. Her poem is technically about a homefire but close enough. I love it.

I’ve learned where the lines are drawn
and keep the privet well trimmed.
I left one house with toys on the floor
for another with quiet rugs
and a bed where the moon comes in…
Home where I sit in the glider, knowing it needs oil,
like my own rusty joints. Where I coax blackberry to dogwood
and winter to harvest, where my table is clothed in light.
Home where I walk out on the thin page
of night, without waving or giving myself away,
and return with my words burning like fire in the grate.

(from “Home Fires: Poems” copyright ©1997 Linda Parsons)

How Sharpie Does It

August 4, 2009 4 comments

Sharpie___Converse_by_GlowynDdarkAs many of you know, I am obsessed with Sharpies. They are much more than pens to me. They are self-expression accessories, if you will. They bring color, boldness and clarity to my life — both my lives, actually. Professional Life and Private (Mom) Life.  I think with Sharpie, I create with Sharpie, I edit with Sharpie, I doodle with Sharpie, I label with Sharpie, I define with Sharpie. 

Yes, I think Sharpie is fine. Ultra-fine! (Heh.)  I also think Sharpie is smart, smart, smart. I’ve gushed about the brand blog before, I still hold it up as a model for powerful branded presence in the social media space. The presentation below (from SlideShare) provides a fabulous glimpse at how the Sharpie team does what they do. Kudos to Susan Wassel — or SharpieSusan, as she is known to her Twitter followers — who’s been the tireless force behind this work.

View more presentations from GasPedal.

 

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Dancing with T-Mobile

March 10, 2009 1 comment


Advertising at its joyful, ridiculous best! How do I get to be a T-Mobile dancer? Maybe I’ll just start hanging out at Grand Central doing the mashed potato and see what happens. (and as one commenter on youtube points out, it does seem to be inspired by Food Court Musical which I posted about here: https://ssmirnov.wordpress.com/2008/08/13/bad-day-at-the-office/)

Much thanks to my pal Laura Freedman for sending this my way.

Happy 25th, Macintosh

March 9, 2009 Leave a comment


The Ridley Scott Superbowl spot for Macintosh is still electrifying, after all these years. Had never seen Steve Jobs’ keynote address unveiling the spot in Fall, 1983. Also electrifying. Was happy to have found this at Guy Kawasaki’s blog.

File this under “How to Present with Utter Command and Conviction.”

How to Lose New Business (but not your soul)

March 5, 2009 2 comments

The previously mentioned new business hooplah unfortunately did not end well.  This happens.  Ego aside (I hate to lose), it was probably for the best given this particular client but nevertheless…I hate to lose.  We got the news on a Saturday morning so I had all weekend and a bonus snow day to lick my wounds.  And find comfort unexpectedly on the Starz channel, in a terrific documentary about Pixar.   

Required viewing for animation and culture-of-innovation geeks everywhere

Required viewing for animation and culture-of-innovation geeks everywhere

I watched The Pixar Story through the lens of this new business failure, marvelling at how the studio succeeds again and again (sometimes against great odds) and gets back up again when they’re thrown a curveball. 

Was amazed to learn that Toy Story 2 almost got trashed before John Lasseter and team stepped in and rescued it — essentially turning the whole production around and getting the film to market in eight months.  Which is insane.  I also am inspired to see that in fact, mastery and genius CAN be replicated in teams — Lasseter has done it (cf. Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton.)  I am neither a master nor a genius but what I take away from this is a) you can get the crap kicked out of you and still come back with a big win and b) creativity and presentation “magic” must reside with more than one person on a team —  and that the sum of a team is greater than its parts.

Speaking of crap-kicking, perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from our new biz miss was that you must never — EVER — go into a pitch being anything other than the agency you are.  Do not hide your light under a bushel, as my mom used to say.  Don’t apologize for anything — your size, your history, your client roster, your specialties.  Be who you are, and you will win the right business.

And while it’s one thing to stretch and be courageous, it’s another thing to try to shoehorn yourself into the image of the agency you think the prospective client wants to see. 

So.  Who are we?  We are mid-sized.  Not a boutique, and not a big multi-office shop.  We have a luxury heritage.  An upmarket, style-informed sensibility informs everything we do, regardless of the category or distribution channel. We have a lot of big, iconic mass brands on our roster.  Not niche brands, not cult brands.  We do consumer PR really, REALLY well.   We will not try to convince you that we do lobbying, investor relations or public affairs. 

All of which is just fine.  Great, in fact.  We love our clients, and we love who we are.  When we allow that to shine through, we tend to win new accounts.  Good to remember this, and also very good to keep ego out of it because BOY is that not helpful.  (Unless you’re an Oscar-winning Pixar director, maybe.)

P.S. — for more on the Pixar culture, check out  Incredibles and Ratatouille director Brad Bird discussing it here, and an entire Harvard Business School case study on the topic here (fee required).

What I Learned from the Arnell Design Brief

February 12, 2009 2 comments

pepsi-copy-copy

 

 

 

 

 

Image via.

 

OK, I am officially never going to worry again — ever — that the presentations I write are too high-concept or academic.  Thanks to my esteemed colleague Lee, I had a chance to behold the joy that is the Peter Arnell “Breathtaking” Design Brief for the Pepsi rebranding. (Check it out here.)  This feels ever so slightly…high-concept and academic. 

I’m inspired to try a new torture test — would any presentation I write hold up to ridicule if exposed online? It’s fine to be smart and provocative (and yes, sometimes strategic explication requires sophisticated diagramming and fancy-pants words), but a person can go too far.  

All that said, I am a big admirer of much of Peter Arnell’s work.  He is among many other things the man who gave us the iconic DKNY billboard that graced the Soho landscape for nearly two decades (see below).  I was an assistant in Donna Karan’s office at that time (now there’s fodder for blog posts) and truly loved my work.  I was 24 with my first Big City Job, working in the epicenter of this crazy company just beginning to explode with growth, serving a woman who can credibly be called one of the design geniuses of our time — and this billboard made me burst with pride every time I saw it. 

It  never felt like advertising.  It was like Donna and Peter’s love letter to the city.  For that alone I’d forgive Arnell the Pepsi/Golden Ratio/Mona Lisa silliness. 

DKNY at 600 Houston Street, R.I.P.

DKNY at 600 Houston Street, R.I.P.

 Image via.