Sunday, 23 March 2014

Mum's the word, a mediocre idea comes good at last

As a rule of thumb most of my ideas are pretty average.

But even mediocre ideas can change over time. They can develop and grow. They can mesh into other ideas.

Serendipity can work its magic linking two things together that were, until that point, drifting alongside each other.

On 28th January, only two months ago I woke up and realised I knew what we had to do. A moment of clarity at last. A bolt from the blue so to speak.

It was a conundrum I'd been trying to solve for at least five years, although it's fair to say in the last year or so I'd given it a bit more thought. 

Having tried and failed to find a way of making Asda cool on YouTube (saving you money TV was one of the early hopeless attempts), I'd come to the conclusion we needed to curate not create. 

A year ago - armed with this new found perspective - I was still none the wiser what to do next.

Who's content should we curate?

Then in July, following an all day session with YouTube, it started to become clearer.

A very glamorous lady from LA (I forget her name, Stephanie I think), introduced the concept of StyleHaul from the US. A network of independent content creators, amplifying each other's work.

Suddenly I was really interested. Product related content. Created by individuals who had already found an audience, and a big one at that.

According to a report published last month beauty bloggers on YouTube have racked up more than 14.4bn views for their content.

Did you hear that? Fourteen point four billion views.

As a point of reference a typical video posted on YouTube by Asda gets a few hundred views. We have a grand total of 1300 subscribers.

So you can see why it peaked my interest.
It was then that the chaps from YouTube suggested I meet Dom from Gleam.

He was doing in the UK what StyleHaul was doing in the US. That's how I understood it anyway*.

Emails were duly dispatched. Meetings arranged.

In a little side street near Covent Garden in the lower basement of a small office my world was about to change. For the better I hasten to add.

Dom walked us through his talent presentation. Pictures of mainstream celebs on one side. Young people I didn't recognise on the other. Who had more twitter followers? More subscribers on YouTube? More fans on Facebook?

The answer was obvious. But the thing that stood out was the video of Tanya Burr meeting her fans in Covent Garden. Advertised in advance via her Twitter account, and expecting a few to turn up, things quickly got out of hand.

Security stepped in to avoid a crush. The Apple store had to close. Tanya had to be whisked to safety via a restaurant's kitchen fire exit.

This is big. Really big. 

Dom then shared an anecdote of a senior marketing director at a brand who had questioned the value of all this 'social media stuff'.

A call later. And a quick tweet from one of Dom's talent and suddenly Google analytics lit up on the brand's website. A website they were spending millions on via traditional TV but to limited effect suddenly had a surge of traffic thanks to one seemingly innocuous tweet.

Ok I get it Dom. Where do I sign? How do we work together. And quickly before everyone else gets it too!

We decided to pick an event to test the art of the possible. Dom proposed a number of different options.

Let's do them all I said. Much to his bemusement. 

I won't bore you with the details as I blogged about it at the time. But needless to say it was a pivotal moment in my career.

Feels a bit weird saying career. But as I hurtle towards my 40th birthday, my twelve year at Asda and sixteenth in PR, this moment feels like a turning point.

For the first time I feel like I actually know what I'm doing at last. And rather than keeping it to myself I feel the need to share. As Austin Kleon said in Austin it is our duty to teach others what we know. 

On Friday a week and a half ago we launched Mum's Eye View the UK's first dedicated YouTube channel aimed squarely at mums 

Hosted by established talent like Pixiwoo the channel will only be as good as the content they choose to create for it. We will merely curate it.

In effect I've handed over control to them as unlike me they literally know best.

And less than 48 hours into our new venture my hunch was proved right. Tens of thousands of views. Thousands of likes and clicks and thousands of usually hard fought subscribers.

Without wishing to over egg it, this is the most exciting thing I've done in 16 years of trying.

*As I've grown to understand what Gleam do I've realised they are not like StyleHaul at all. 

StyleHaul are an ad network; combining channels (not talent) to create reach through impressions rather than engagement and relationships. 

Gleam is a talent management company. They care about the talent and their audience and see the potential in the relationship that they have with them.

They are developing talents individually into brands rather than making them part of a larger commodity.

Whereas StyleHaul are brokering both talent and platform.

The talent StyleHaul mention when they talk about a community of creators is often talent that Gleam manage.  

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Business or pleasure Sir? Both. I hope.

I have just returned from attending SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas for the first time

To those following events from afar, SXSW may just look like one big jolly.

But I beg to differ...

It's a melting pot of the kind of people I most identify with. Creative types. Social media bods. Digital innovators. And party goers.

In recent years Austin has gained a reputation for being the coolest City in America.

Home to one of the youngest populations, what was a sleepy Texan town is now bigger than San Francisco.

A combination of Californian promise and stubborn southern independence (Texas is the lone star state, the only US state allowed to fly its flag higher than the national flag).

Keep Austin Weird is the town's motto. Something you see almost as often as the State flag.

Out on its streets there is a heady mix of quirky hippy madness, making the town seem somewhat out of place alongside the oil rich city of Dallas and the aeronautical hot spot of Houston.

I read in the BA in-flight magazine that Austin is the only place in the State, possibly entire US where it is considered acceptable to swim in its central lake in the nude.

SXSW is one part conference, one part festival and one hell of a party by all accounts.

The Interactive conference which proceeds the better known music festival has 800 events crammed into five magical days. I start off with a small session in the Courtyard Marriot called 'Workplace redesign: the big shift from efficiency to collaboration?'

Full of interesting case studies like Toyota turning its entire workforce into problem solvers.

Or Steve Jobs when at Pixar who deliberately didn't employ enough serving staff in the company canteen so people in different teams would be forced to queue up. What do you do in a queue with work colleagues? Talk to each other. Cross pollinating ideas. Smart guy that Jobs was.

Off to the next event. This time Austin Kleon delivering a keynote about the theme from his new book 'Show Your Work'

Austin in Austin no less. He offers up a few gems including: Shut up and listen; Don't be a hoarder; Teach what you know; and the Importance of attribution.

Then it was a quick dash to Mashable House to swing on a big wrecking ball Mylie Cyrus stylee and stroke a grumpy cat.

Ok. At this point I admit the work element of SXSW is slipping towards the pleasure aspect. But all the while inspiration is around you, infecting your being. Brands jostling for attention. Start ups showing off their new app, their new city friendly motorised scooter or their new social network.

My particular favourite brand on display was Samsung who'd cleverly employed a team of battery exchange angels. Simply stop them on the street and they'd swap your flat battery for a fully charged one. Failing that tweet #poweron and they'd come find you. Genius.

As the days and nights passed I grew fonder and fonder of Austin, its people, and its spirit.

Some argue it has grown too big. Lost its uniqueness.

Maybe so for the original old timers. But for a SXSW virgin like me it was everything I'd hoped for and more.

Weird. Wonderful. And truly inspirational.

Roll on next year Austin.

My Top Five Sessions

Austin Kleon's keynote
Bernie Su and Jay Bushman's session on transmedia storytelling
Robert Scoble's and Gary Shapiro's #techtrends session
How to run a badass TEDx
And Yu-kai Chou's session on Gamification

Biggest disappointment

Biz Stone talk. Left half way through. Sorry Biz. No offence.

Biggest surprise

Edward Snowden. Very compelling speaker, even via dodgy Google Hangout connection

Weirdest moment

Swinging on a Mashable branded wrecking ball

Update: On my return I heard the awful news of the car crash that killed two and injured many others. But for the grace of God go I. Thoughts are with everyone cruelly affected.