conferences

On the Beach pt 2 – Awesome People Talking

Last week we sent Alana King, Strategist and Tom Willner-Reid, Commercial Finance Manager, to Silicon Beached. Here, Tom tells us about what he learned about creativity. Part 1 is here.

Sketch Notes from Silicon Beached, by Natalia Talkowska

Sketch Notes from Silicon Beached, by Natalia Talkowska

At BBH I’m in Commercial. I’m not a creative. I observe creativity happening from a distance; I greatly admire the genius of those who sit in an unlit booth all night and come up with something as brilliant as the Chokeables. Spreadsheets, on the other hand, now we’re talking. What would I learn from a festival of ideas such as Silicon Beached?

1. Here we are at the Conway Hall, home of the Conway Hall Ethical Society. They’d have a field day debating the ethics of advertising.

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2. They are also hosting a debate on the ethics of Star Wars. Brilliant, but sadly nothing to do with today’s festivities.

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3. The theme of the day is simple: to have awesome people talking about their day jobs. The line-up is all women. Therefore we have 10 awesome women talking about their awesome day jobs. This fact is pointed out. But these are supreme experts in their field who just happen to be women.

4. 99.9% of the audience is white, however. This does need pointing out.

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5. Proceedings kick off with a TV advertising lobbyist (Lindsey Clay of Thinkbox) extolling the virtues of her medium, allowing us all to shrug off the notion of working in a declining industry and feel better about our world. TV is the saviour of advertising!

6. Ms Clay goes on to talk about targeted TV advertising, such as the Sky AdSmart service. Since watching live TV is still by far the largest recipient of our watching time (>50%), this seems a logical step forward. Are the terrestrial channels doing anything though…?

7. Liz Pavitt from Rubber Republic asks us whether we would “date our brand”? Experience tells us that lying on our dating profiles isn’t going to get us anywhere in the long term, so why do so many brands go for short-term dishonesty over longer relationships? Her sound advice is to be honest, and take the piss out of yourself, like in this Innocent ad (no danger of BBH not being “rugby” enough!).

8. Matthew, our suave, pink-jacketed MC, is behind today’s event. If only more conferences could ditch the “theme” and maintain the element of surprise by giving participants an open brief. It keeps a sense of anticipation among the audience.

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9. One (American) presenter realises Brit audiences don’t punch the air, whoop, nor have the stomach for 25 minutes of self-promotion and motivational quotes. Sorry, it just doesn’t play here.

Spot-on with your final slide though.

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10. Chocolate covered cookie-dough balls are mighty fine tea-break treats. Not only very delicious, a couple of these sugar-loaded snacks ensure the audience’s attention levels are right up there for the final session.

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11. Any minute now, the robot accountant army is going to usurp me and my kind. So proclaims Pip Jameson, founder of The Dots. Luckily the creatives are safe.

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12. Pip gives some fascinating personal insights into the start-up experience. I realise it’s for braver people than me. She then describes how she pioneered the use of wall space in her office for employees to post all the random things they love. She calls it the Glory Wall.

13. You cannot go wrong in finishing your event with an industry legend reeling off a few anecdotes from a glittering career. MT Rainey delivers in spades. Her concise, witty tales and re-runs of classic 80s ads give the dwindling crowd a little late-afternoon boost. And make us pine for Ridley Scott to go back to directing for the small screen.

14. To sign-off, MT gives us some sage advice. Take regular time out to consider things you’ve achieved, things you’ve worked on, things you’ve been a part of. Keep the memories of being involved, because you’ll want to remember them when you share your experiences with others in later life. I think she’s absolutely right!

On The Beach pt 1 – A Conference for Everyone

Last week we sent Alana King, Strategist and Tom Willner-Reid, Commercial Finance Manager, to Silicon Beached. Here, Alana writes on the significance, or not, of a conference where all the speakers ‘happened to be’ women. Part 2 is here.

 

Something strange happened this week: I attended a conference (Silicon Beached) where all ten speakers were women. Even stranger, the conference promotion made no mention of the fact that the speakers were not men. And perhaps strangest of all: the topic of the conference was not “working while female” and all its variants (“how to be confident”, “how to be less stressed” or “how to achieve work-life balance,” as if only women have feelings or families).

It was an experiment, according to the conference’s organizer: he invited ten speakers who happened to be women, and asked them to talk about their work, not their gender. Given that the sky hasn’t fallen in and the sun still rose today, the experiment was a success and one I’d love to see the rest of the industry pick up on. (Or, even better than all-women speakers, it would be great to see mixed panels organized and greeted with a no-big-deal attitude.) As you’d expect from any group of 10 human beings, some of the talks were excellent, most were good, and a few not great.

But if I dwell any longer on the all-women line-up, I wouldn’t have learned the lesson would I? So taking a page out of Silicon Beached’s book, I’d like to talk about the speakers’ work, not their gender.

For me, the theme that emerged from the best talks was a reminder that the creative and digital industries thrive when they help and delight real people–not customers or viewers, but emotional, social human beings.

Lindsey Clay from Thinkbox presented some fascinating ethnographic research about TV viewing that reminded us that people watch TV to participate in the shared social fabric of the nation.

Liz Pavitt from Rubber Republic asked us to use the “would you date your brand” filter for whatever we put on our brands’ social platforms (“possibly”, “no way” and “never in a million years” was my conclusion).

Lauren Currie from Snook told us about her mission to ‘invert the pyramid’ in order to get to brilliant service design: that is, prioritize the wisdom and experiences of people who are closest to the service in question, an idea that shouldn’t seem revolutionary but probably is.

Pip Jamieson, founder of The Dots (a LinkedIn for creative people) gave an honest account of the human side of founding a successful startup, both the emotional highs (easy to talk about) and the emotional lows (easier to keep to oneself).

And MT Rainey closed the day with some wonderful stories from her career in advertising, including babysitting Kevin Costner’s dog on the set of an Apple ad, defending Apple’s now-famous “1984” to a hostile board, and a nerve-wracking address to the board of News International in 1997 about whether this internet business will take off and whether it will change journalism, brilliantly and boldly entitled “Crystal Bollocks”.

Most inspiring was her observation that her experiences didn’t seem as remarkable at the time as they do in retrospect, and a gentle reminder to step back and appreciate your professional life as it’s unfolding.

Dreams from the land of Geektopia

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How I went to Austin expecting to learn about browsers and came back wanting to change the world.

Author: Agathe Guerrier, Strategy Director, BBH & BBH Labs


I went to SXSW for the first time this year, with the firm intention to learn about UX, data visualization trends, and new, exciting browser features. As I landed in Austin, I couldn’t wait to find out more about the native vs. web-based apps debate.

In reality, although clearly there WAS a lot of talk of browsers and coding languages and apps, I  found myself confronted with a much more fundamental subject: that of meaning and purpose. More than acquire new knowledge, I was filled with new enthusiasm (and a little bit of concern) about the task that lies at hand – basically, redefining the rules of our economic, political and societal framework. Rethinking the world. Yup. Something that we need (the creative and tech community) need to take part in for two reasons: because the last 10 years have demonstrated the need for a new paradigm, and because the growing importance of technology in our world, means it now intersects significantly with world views, beliefs, and ethics.

Take the “Skynet vs. Mad Max: Battle for the Future” dual session (by our very own Mel and Jeremy). It drew a parallel between the small, apparently benign technology choices we make today as consumers, and the future of the human species. Who imagined that buying an iPhone represented a leap towards a world where individual identity would be reduced to one login, one identity, one self, the scary simplicity of this system ultimately leading to totalitarianism? It’s removed, but not far-fetched.

Tim O’Reilly, in his fantastic “Create More Value than you Capture” discussion with Andrew Mcafee, made a powerful case for embedding social good and genuine value(s) in all businesses. He pointed to a brilliantly obvious truth: it’s enthusiasm and passion that fuel creativity, not greed. For the sake of the social equilibrium that it depends upon, the objective of a business can not simply be profit, it has to create value for society at large, as well as for itself.

Ben Silbermann (CEO and co-founder of Pinterest) took part in a Q&A session with Christopher Dixon and kept surprising us with disarmingly candid answers to “hard-nosed” questions. When asked what product feature he was most excited about developing, he answered it was his team, because “your team should be the most interesting product you’re building”. A few minutes later, brushing away a question about whether he was concerned by the various attempts to copy or rip off Pinterest, he explained that their effort went into improving the product and making it the best it could be, not preventing others to imitate it. In his eyes, success comes from putting all your efforts into making your product and experience brilliant, and if others copy you, it probably means you’ve got it right.

And finally, against a backdrop of high risk, economic worries and general breakdown, I was surprised at how optimistically confused Bruce Sterling’s Ultimate talk left us all.  He forecasted a move away from the chaotic “internet” and towards vertical stacks or platforms like Google, Amazon, or Facebook (more organized, less messy – an echo to the Skynet vs. Mad Max talk and its crowd-sourced prediction of Skynet’s victory)… but also the ulterior demise of stacks.

He didn’t say what they would be replaced with, but this legendary cynic seemed pretty optimistic about the ability of the interactive community to make sense of the “augmented, ubiquitous, post-stack future”.

In building this uncertain “new world”, we might find inspiration in community-based, generous value creation models like Kickstarter, Airbnb, or Task Rabbit (which were unanimously praised as the most inspirational things to have happened in the last 5 years).

But there is still a lot of work at hand, especially for our industry, in translating the inspiration from Geektopia  into actionable ethics for the world of brands…

In the spirit of starting small, here are three things I’m going to start or do more of:

  1. 1. Get rid of any obsession with single-mindedness, and make sure to respect people’s intelligence by recognizing that “There is not one You”, as Christopher Poole pointed out
  2. 2. Broaden the definition  of “Business objective” to entail the creation of value and values for consumers and society at large, not just profit for the company
  3. 3. Behave more generously everyday, by building great teams and empowering them to create and make even greater things

Keep Austin Weird

So in 10 days we’ll be relocating the BBH Labs experience to Austin, Tx for the annual geek jamboree that is the South by SouthWest Interactive festival. I last attended three years ago, when I was an earnest book publisher and before advertising folk had descended in force and totally harshed the vibe, man.

This year I’m really looking forward to meeting lots of likeminds and seeing where, if anywhere, the paradigm has shifted and intend to follow @katylindemann‘s guidance of not going to see anything I already know anything about already, which makes for a pretty packed itinerary.

Given that the web based scheduler is, imho, ‘not very fun to use’ it might be that twitter or sitby.us prove to be more useful discovery tools for the good stuff, providing of course that wifi and/or 3G are in operation. We’ve hacked together a rough list (with agile development and rapid iterations built in!) using the web interface, the recently launched official app, an old fashioned contacts book (yes, friends and family are represented at SXSW) and have uploaded it to sitby.us where you can find it here.

Ping us if we’ve missed anything vital, if you want to hang out and, most importantly, to let me know where I should go for breakfast tacos now that Las Manitas has closed down!

See you there.