Don’t Let the Big Fish Get Away

Posted on March 8, 2013 by Comments Off

There is an old saying that states it is not WHAT you know, but WHOM you know that matters. I prefer a twist on that saying because I have found that the “what” is often just as important as the “who.” Speaking of “it’s whom you know,” my flight from Seattle to Austin for SXSWi was full of familiar faces.

Of course, in today’s rapidly evolving social media landscape, culling through all the noise to figure out what is important and who are the influencers can be a nearly impossible feat. And if you plan on attending a big industry event — like I am this week in Austin at SXSWi — well, good luck sifting through the tweets from attendees tossing back a few beers at bars and clubs to find the smart posts from experts and panelists.

With this in mind, we recently joined forces with two brilliant up-and-coming Portland companies, Little Bird and Tater Tot Designs, to create a new Web application called Hey Big Fish. Hey Big Fish launched earlier this week at SXSWi and will help those attending and/or tracking the event measure the people and topics that carry the most influence in the SXSWi pond.

I’m excited about the partnership for two reasons:

First, we are building an extended family around our agency by partnering with two companies that have complementary strengths to our own. Little Bird contributes the influencer discovery platform that the app is based on, and Tater Tot Designs delivers the digital solutions that make the app responsive and easy to use.

Second, the result is something NEEDED by our industry and our clients — global brands that want to reach their key audiences in the most effective way possible. Hey Big Fish generates data that help these brands identify     where their audiences are and which topics interest them most, enabling our clients to break through the noise.

With Hey Big Fish you can track your own influence and networking success with personalized event scorecards to see where you rank in the SXSWi pond.

Personally, I plan to use Hey Big Fish to follow the conversations around reducing waste in the vaccine supply and the efforts to reduce global poverty — personal passions and topics of interest for me. This tool allows me track the conversations at SXSWi and discover new influencers who share my interests, enabling me to connect, share and, ultimately, make an impact.

I strongly believe we have some of the smartest people on the planet at Waggener Edstrom. Part of my respect and esteem for these colleagues is their recognition that our industry is always changing, and as it changes we need to be at the forefront, developing new ideas and new solutions that will continue to deliver impact for our clients. Sometimes this push for impact means looking beyond our own agency.

Check out what the future looks like.


#NewsFeed – Waggener Edstrom Aligns With Shout Communications Korea

Posted on March 28, 2012 by Comments Off

Last fall I shared some exciting news about how we teamed up with Buchan Consulting to better share our clients’ stories in Australia through integrated influence.

I’m pleased to share with you news about a similar investment we are making in one of our long-time Global Alliance Network affiliates, Shout Communications Korea. Our colleagues at Shout Communications Korea are experts in the IT and consumer markets and work with some of the largest brands in the world.

And they work in a progressive country that not only enjoys the highest Internet penetration on the planet, but where 1 in 5 people carry a smartphone.  Is it any wonder Korea is a hub of innovation in mobile, gaming, semiconductor and online technologies?

We have known Jessica Kim for many years now and have admired how she has built an incredible team of smart and passionate communicators. As CEO of Shout Communications Korea she shares with me the deep belief that technological innovations bring incredible impact to the way we work, play and live. Fundamentally as communicators, we have a role to play in helping innovation get into the hands of those who need it the most.

Welcome to my colleague Jessica and all of Shout Communications Korea to the Waggener Edstrom community!

Defining innovation

Posted on March 26, 2012 by 1 Comment

“… If you are an innovator you have some level of power because you change the way people live.”

True and insightful words from a member of a panel we recently conducted on innovation and how it is experienced and defined by the millennial generation.

I shared some of the initial findings from these panels (conducted in several U.S. cities) in an editorial on the PSFK site today and I encourage you to check it out and share your comments on how innovation is experienced and defined.

“Smart” vs. “Stupid” – The Austin version

Posted on March 10, 2012 by Comments Off

Greetings from the land of Longhorns, bats and barbecue!  I’ve just concluded participation in the Council of Public Relations Firms – More Smart, Less Stupid: PR for Better Business panel at SXSWi and if the energy and wisdom from attendees is any indicator – then I have every confidence that no matter whether you’re a large or small startup, the role of communications as a transformative tool is more solidly in place than ever. 

My esteemed colleagues that joined me (Mark Stouse, Bob Pearson and moderator Gary Stockman) all made incredibly smart points and were integral to the vibrant discussion. 

With the words of Mark Cuban ringing fresh in my ears about how startups should not hire a PR firm, it is important to say that despite his core position, we actually agree on more things than less.  I couldn’t agree more with the need for a CEO to communicate, and the pure value of communications overall. I do however fundamentally disagree with Mark on his headline point: My opinion is that start-ups must have PR execs in place – agency, internal and probably both over time. Good PR professionals start with the business opportunity or problem, they don’t just tack on communications programs at the end of the decision-making.   

Speaking in the startup village at SXSWi, as an entrepreneur myself I felt kinship with attendees who have to wear so many hats at the same time. 

Having started WE, I know what it’s like when you’re just getting going, and I’ve had the honor of working with many start-ups going from inception, to launch, to public offerings to becoming a household name with many different brands over the years. It is critical to share your vision in a compelling way, engage your stakeholders from the very outset, and take feedback while learning from it continually. Most importantly, it is imperative that you set the goal of ‘being the story you want to tell’.  In other words, your actions will speak louder than anything as you set about telling your story. 

I wanted to share some of my other observations and key points for each from the panel here on what makes for ‘smart’ vs. ‘stupid’ PR and how brands, whether startups or big established multi-nationals, can maximize the former and minimize the latter. 

Business decisions must weigh brand impact: You no more own your brand, than you own the air your customers breathe.

You must earn the benefit of the doubt: You can recover from a stumble, if you’ve thoughtfully earned the respect and trust of your customers in the months and years prior. It is human nature to forgive.

An ounce of prevention is worth two tons of cure: Spend your time on the front end in communications planning, rather than reacting on the back end in a crisis. I guarantee it’s a better use of your time.

Doing the right thing is a lot of work – but the value is immeasurable: Kids don’t like to hear ‘eat your peas’ and sometimes brands don’t like to hear ‘prepare’ when it comes to a crisis but both are great advice.  As well as engage your people – they are  your best allies and ambassadors in a crisis.

It’s not enough to just innovate: Innovators must continually show their value and impact – innovation is meaningless unless there is adoption. So the value your customers continue to receive is the most important metric of all.

In addition, the CPRF and my fellow panelists will have other perspectives to share, which I’ll post on this blog next week when it becomes available.  

Communicating in times of crisis and challenging decisions today is more complex than ever.  The advent of social media gives all your customers their unique voice…but that should be considered a huge opportunity vs. a risk.  Starting with that grounding helps you ensure that you’ll always be leading with the smart approach.

‘Smart’ vs. ‘Stupid’

Posted on March 7, 2012 by 2 Comments

As a communications professional, I find that the times you give a client really “smart” counsel (which should be ALL the time) and they internalize it and use it to enact change for impact can be among the most rewarding moments of your day. And conversely, when you see something that makes you cringe as a comms counselor, the inclination can be to question the old adage of “Any PR is good PR” – but less true words have hardly been spoken.

 I firmly believe smart communication is a transformative tool for organizations and that getting it RIGHT is more important than ever. Here is where an old adage is entirely true: “Actions speak louder than words.” This leads to a discussion I am looking forward to participating in this weekend at SXSWi, which is sponsored by the Council of Public Relations Firms (CPRF) called More Smart, Less Stupid: PR for Better Business.

 Too often, the response that something was a PR mistake oversimplifies the reality of the situation. A lack of a strategic comms counselors within the organization may be the real culprit; a business strategy that fails to engage key constituents ahead of time for input, or a lack of understanding of how brands live, tenuously at times, in the hands of your customers and not within marketing departments can both be the reasons communications come off as less than smart or “stupid,” per the title chosen by CPRF. And smart is a matter of often employing a communicator who is willing to hold the mirror up to the leadership of an organization and ask the tough questions, such as, “Why?” “Why are we doing this?” “Is this how we want to be recognized and perceived?”

The panel discussion will be in the Interactive Startup Village at SXSWi, and I can’t wait to hear the questions and input from those attendees on this topic. The entrepreneurial spirit of a startup can at times be the most active to embrace communications as part of its overall brand strategy — or, unfortunately, at times it can become an afterthought once crisis hits.

Until my boots hit the ground in Austin, though, I’m interested to hear (in comments below or on Twitter) what is either the “smartest” or (if you dare share!) “stupidest” communications advice you’ve ever received or heard?


Crowdsourcing and the Ox

Posted on March 2, 2012 by Comments Off

TED Talks are always quite phenomenal — almost always an intellectual, creative and visual delight. The speakers inevitably bring humor, insight and wisdom.

In this case, TED speaker Lior Zoref not only brought wisdom, he brought CROWD wisdom. And he brought an ox as well. More on that in a moment.

This is NOT the ox. It is a stand-in for the ox brought on stage.

It turns out that when Zoref, self-proclaimed crowdsourcing advocate, attended TEDx in Tel Aviv last year, he shared his dream to be a speaker at TED.  And then set about to achieve that dream. He used social networks to gather crowd wisdom. In short, he gathered crowd wisdom to “write” his speech. The result: phenomenal. A highly creative speech within a speech.

I’ve always been a huge believer in the power of collective thinking, rejecting the idea that any one person truly owns the solution. And with clients we are increasingly bringing the power of the crowd to help tell their stories and strengthen their connection to communities.

 Zoref’s reference to one of my favorite John Lennon lyrics describes perfectly the impact of this kind of thinking:

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”

And about the ox. Turns out that more than 500 TEDsters, when they use their smartphones to share their collective understanding of an ox’s weight in real time, really CAN guess an ox’s weight. Within about 3 pounds in fact.  Now that’s crowd wisdom.


Iron Your Cape

Posted on March 1, 2012 by 1 Comment

I wrote earlier from #TED2012 (, reinforcing the idea that asking the right question is more important than driving to the “right” answer. I was struck today by a corollary to this truth when I attended the TED session called “The Lab.” Once the answer or answers DO reveal themselves … then what? How would we proceed if we thought we absolutely, positively could not fail? Regina Dugan, director of DARPA and noted artist/engineer, wisely noted that some of the finest scientists are the ones who are able to defy the impossible and refuse to accept failure as a possibility. They teach us, in her vernacular, to get in touch with our “inner superhero.” But what about us mere mortals? Do we, too, have the ability to defy the impossible and refuse to fear failure?

As I experience life, both personal and professional, I see how easily self-doubt and fear can creep in as conventional wisdom is challenged and vision moves into the messy and far more pragmatic (and frightening) business of execution. Ms. Dugan recalled one of her darkest moments at DARPA, where fear and self-doubt did indeed creep in. She spoke of an important mentor in her life who sent her this short message in response: “There is only time enough to iron your cape. Then back to the skies for you!”

I, too, have been fortunate enough to have similar influences in my life when that insidious self-doubt creeps in — whether my family, mentors, professors, true friends, or numerous colleagues. TED itself is a place where inspiring people provide this influential reminder – to one another.  So pause. Go ahead. Take time to touch up your cape and then get back out there. And never, ever allow self-doubt and fear to stand in the way of making the seemingly impossible… possible.

TED2012: The Question Is Often More Important Than The Answer

Posted on February 29, 2012 by 2 Comments

It is the “season” for science fairs in elementary schools across the United States. As a closet science junkie (who as a kid may or may NOT have nearly blown up the basement with my chemistry set) I love the focus of young students as they explore the great mysteries of our world. Curiosity is one of the most important attributes, one that we all should cultivate.

At the heart of curiosity is a question: what, how or, most important to me, why???

I bring this up because the first session at TED2012 was all about the question. Linked to finding answers, of course, but what really stood out was a call to each of us to make sure we constantly ask ourselves if we are even answering the right question.

We all know that many companies focus on asking candidates just the right question, which in turn will get at many attributes that the company wants and needs in their people — to innovate and to win in the marketplace. The same is true for creating a vision and direction in business. Asking the right question first focuses the vision and addresses a big question: To what end are we doing this?

This first session, though, was not at all about the way businesses use the power of the right question.

  • Physicist Brian Greene kicked it off by stating that our very definition of the universe is wrong and that (perhaps) we are just one of many multiverses.
  • Sarah Parcak, a space archeologist (how cool is that title?!?), proved that we know far less about our world than we thought when she used satellites to show that 99 percent of ancient Egypt remains to be discovered. I was just in Egypt, and our lecturer also told us this — and no one really believed it.
  • Author Susan Cain made us question our assumptions about extroverts and the quiet and contemplative introvert.
  • Writer Paul Gilding challenged us to consider new ways to reinvent the global economy in the name of social progress
  • And futurist Peter Diamandis discussed his goal to solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges, through the lens of life’s possibilities.

I have always celebrated “the question.” And, in fact, curiosity is one of Waggener Edstrom Worldwide’s values. I am attending TED2012 to engage with a diverse and extremely accomplished spectrum of innovators. And through my own questioning and curiosity I expect that some remarkable linkages and learning will occur. Best of all, I will hear from and meet people who have different points of view. And who live their lives asking the right questions to come to more robust and novel answers.

Sparking the Fire of Influence

Posted on January 31, 2012 by Comments Off

Like many in the U.S. last week, I found myself closely tracking the dialogue around the president’s State of the Union Tuesday evening. Ideological debates aside, what struck me most was the media’s continuing willingness to reference and embrace social media in the political dialogue. More recently, Twitter’s CEO even declared that 2012 would be the year of the “Twitter election.

The “let’s go to the Twittersphere” (Can we just refrain from creating any new words that involve “sphere”?) references were frequent, and nearly made those as deadpan as Brian Williams sound enthusiastically interested in getting perspective from real people via this medium. The fact is old-school labels that hinge around economic class, status and possessions don’t apply in this social medium and, in turn, result in a stronger freedom of expression for many who use them.

Of course, the new channels that open up through emerging digital tools and broader adoption of social media among journalists, politicians and individuals make for a more complete and dynamic forum for discussion during the upcoming elections. In particular, it is encouraging to know that with the broad adoption of social media, millennials have a channel they feel they have directly built and participated within.

A recent post on Mashable also hits on a few of the ways that media are using digital tools to both inform and observe the discourse — no longer is social media some passing reference handled by the most junior of staff, but it now is as core a piece of political media coverage as a live debate broadcast.

But does greater ubiquity of channels for individuals and organizations equate to more thoughtful dialogue? In some cases it does, but, as this post highlights, all but one of the most shared tweets around the State of the Union came from the @whitehouse account.

Resharing from one source could lead to the conclusion that info is simply being passed along without thought or point of view. But politics are about people, and people have emotions that can be real and highly passionate — even raw at times — so the challenge, and of course opportunity, for our leaders, media and industry as communicators is how to use these channels as means to engage, discuss and inform the entire debate from all sides?

Because influence is alive, it’s energetic and in motion. Candidates are aware of this ever-shifting landscape and seek to harness its power and bend it to their favor. Instead, they could gather and foster the sparks of influence that exist in this social space, be buoyed by their force, and help guide them — without bending them to their platform. If they do that, they can take the sparks and ignite a fire.

Then it will be a truly noble and valuable social experiment that we’ll have all taken part in.

I love my job – Reason #10: Making a Difference

Posted on January 26, 2012 by Comments Off

I’ve just had a fantastic day which began with typical Waggener Edstrom work, but then I took off mid-morning to join a dozen or so of my WE Washington colleagues at the YWCA’s Angeline’s Women Center to work in the dining room. Waggener Edstrom was founded with an eye toward what impact we could make in the world, and of course being a communications company a lot of what we deliver is how we help our clients make THEIR impact. We also do this through our Social Innovation practice, specifically partnering with innovators that embrace the practice of doing well in the world as a successful way to run a business. When it comes to our own programs of making an impact, we’ve put our money where our mouth is so to speak, which amounts to 1 percent of our total fee revenue being donated each year. (We beat our 1 percent goal this year.)

While giving and building a business that supports the practice of driving change are important, and something I am proud to say this agency continues to do, in the end the most important thing we do is empower every single WE person to get out into their communities — from South Africa to Munich and from Austin to Singapore — and lend their TIME to helping improve the places where they not only work but live.

 I was impressed with Rochelle Calkins and Hollianne Monson the director and volunteer manager for the Angeline’s YWCA. I also enjoyed very much talking to the women who were there. One woman and I discovered we favor the same novelists, and another one compared notes with me about the beauty of the Ethiopian countryside. In addition to meeting new people and being part of a community effort, it makes for such a rewarding day when you get to spend time with your colleagues outside the usual environment, especially when you hear from many of them how great it is to get the chance to spend time pursuing their own Make a Difference goals.

As an aside, the staff at Angeline’s noted our efficiency, but also our sense of humor, which really is one of the WE traits we seem to have in abundance and one that I appreciate daily from my colleagues.

While doing these things in terms of how we run our business is far from a new commitment by Waggener Edstrom, it is part of our core and something that I have heard directly from our people makes this a place they feel proud to work for — and for that I am grateful and inspired by their efforts every year to drive impact right in their own backyards.

Older Posts

← Back to