Leaving Porter Novelli: Fresh Woods and Pastures New…

After 15 years of Porter Novelli, my bags are packed, my boxes shipped. On Monday morning a new life starts, in a new office, as the new managing director for Universal Media Belgium. While Monday will be a great day, and every cell in this cathedral of a body of mine is longing for this new challenge, today is misty, rainy and foggy in me.

I pack more than just a container of stuff. This place was my life for fifteen years, it was so much more than work, it was a place where I happily spent my day, with amazing people, working for great clients. Saying goodbye to such a fabulous experience would rip my heart open, so I just won’t.

This place, these people will be in my heart forever. Their voices, ideas, laughs, hugs and friendly strength, together with tons of Cowboy stories,I will take all that with me. And I’m sure some vapor projection of me will roam this building for still a while to come.

Life teached me in the most kind of ways that people that really matter stick to you as Velcro, regardless of what you do, regardless of where you go. So it is with the bravest of smiles I’ll walk through today.

Thank you Porter Novelli for a fabulous ride. Go Rock On, I’ll be watching you!

Monday it is time for pastures new…

SxSW –Music is even more social, stupid!

#SxSW. The social media community is making the last preparations for the yearly high noon in Austin, Texas. For a couple of days social media will and shall be noticed in every single corner of this buzzing town.

The old cabdriver that calmly cruised me to my meeting today does not like it a bit, all that social. “It was better before” he said: “before it was all about music. About doing gigs for people. Real encounters, ya know…”

A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Will.i.am: front man, performer and producer of the Black Eyed Peas. A monument, podium beast, multi entertainer and style icon. When Porter Novelli sent me to Cannes to meet the guy that sold 30 million albums and won 7 Grammy’s… I was excited!

The Intel Corporation appointed Will.i.am as Director of Creative Innovation. The young guy talking about technology, life, style and innovation has nothing in common with what you would expect from an Intel executive. Will.i.am is different. Way different. He is a trendsetting visionary.

“I help people understand that we’re passed the Nineties now”, Will.i.am said: “the technologies are here, but people do not embrace them yet. I tweet on my mobile phone (@iamwill), but just before I go on stage, I need to swap it for a microphone, an ugly thing from way back when. There is no reason that I could not perform with what is the centerpiece of my life: my mobile phone. That kind of insight is what I help Intel with. “

“People are still separating technology and lifestyle. But that is just so wrong. Technology is part of what you do, how you appear, what you are. Connectivity and the tools that help you connect help define the you in your social space. The Beatles made songs in a studio, to be broadcasted on the radio. I am different. I make my music on the internet, sampling ,interacting, producing my text on the internet… marketing and selling it on the web. And people buy and listen using the same medium that I used to create. “

“You see, I am not a brand, I am a part of community. What I do, what I use, defines who and what I am.” Will.i.am comes on strong when he describes how style, personality and technology are one, in defining personality and perception. As an avid musician, a skilled communicator, a creative producer, a crowdsourcing director, a top selling fashion designer and an enthusiast ambassador for good causes, he proves how a smart use of technology made him one of the trendsetting successful males of the moment.

I hope my weathered cabdriver gets it: the link between music and social media goes way beyond what Napster did. The internet is by all definitions the medium on which music is created, bought, distributed and consumed. Music gets crowd sourced,  albums get crowd funded,  and the old groupie motorcycling gangs are swapped for highly busy buzzing Facebook fan pages.  Online marketing, peer to peer distribution and interactive viewing platform have made musicians all over the world, from the Black Eyed Peas, to Gregoire in France, Sonic Angels in Belgium and countless others, thriving millionaires.

Social media became de facto not only the Long Play of 2012, but also the record studio, and the record label. The internet is the new Stratocaster.

Music. These days, there is an app for that….

So long Steve, long live the king

It’s sad to see how everyone, from markets, over journalists and influencers to White-Van-Man is overreacting when something terrible happens to one of the leaders of star corporations.

Steve Jobs passed away, and people all over the planet make his testament, and -in one breath- the one of his beloved Apple Inc. I’m sad that Jobs lost his yearlong battle against cancer. I feel for his family and friends. I feel for his colleagues at Apple, and I feel for the broad Apple community. The world lost a charismatic futurist. His loved ones lost a loved one…

But Steve Jobs is not Apple. Apple was never diagnosed with cancer. Apple never was one man. Hearing Bob O’Donnell from research firm IDC say that the timing of Jobs death is “unfortunate” gives me the creeps. What is a good timing then? Is it really better for anyone to read the obituary after the launch of the iPhone 5?

Analyst Chowdry from Global Equities Research said on abcnews.go.com: “Apple is Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs is Apple, and Steve Jobs is innovation, only God creates innovation.” God? Really?

Apple’s stock dropped 2.3 percent after the sad announcement. Earlier this year, when Steve Jobs asked for some privacy and time off to deal with his health issues, the Apple stock dropped 5%, instantly.

When Eric Schmidt announced that Google did not need his babysitting anymore, black hatting tweeps preached the end of the world, and Google-as-we-used to know it. Remember the day Bill Gates told the planet he would find wise ways to spend his capital, and would leave Microsoft in the hands of Steve Ballmer?

Let’s get real. Apple will survive Steve Jobs.  That is why Jobs worked so hard. There will be Google after Schmidt. One might argue that Microsoft is experiencing a second youth under Ballmer.  William Procter and James Gamble; William Hewlett and David Packard, have found their place in history books (and on Wikipedia), but P&G and HP are still very real.

France had Napoleon, De Gaulle, Pompidou… the US had Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy… The UK still is a great nation, even with Churchill long gone… Good corporations, and most nations, survive the change of leadership.

The King is Dead, Long Live The King. Life, even corporate life moves on. Historically, change in leadership opens room for new blood, new ideas, new challenges. Darwin would argue that change, of all things, generates evolution.

Strong charismatic leaders are important. But not more than that… It takes lots of people to make a thriving company.  Antoine de Saint-Exupery voiced it perfectly – “How could drops of water know themselves to be a river? Yet the river flows on.”

Rest in peace Steve, we’ll miss you…

To Viral or not to Viral… is not even a question (bis)

It happens way too often, and it gives me the flying Trombones: in a meeting room without daylight somebody with great corporate hair will put on a strategic face and will utter something along the lines of “for this bleeding edge campaign, we need a viral component to generate word of mouth that will bla bla bla”.  Here in #canneslions there are even Lions for best viral campaigns. *sigh*

Let’s agree something.  Please, here from the beaches of Cannes: You cannot buy viral. You cannot make viral. You should not sell viral. Full. Stop. Viral is something that will eventually happen, if the online public decides to. There is no magic formula, no guaranteed ways of making it happen. It is –by definition- purely an organic thing. Whether marketers and spin doctors like it or not: going viral is a community driven phenomenon. Seed all you want!

Buying a gazillion online views and paying for countless banners does not guarantee a campaign to be/become viral. It guarantees views, eyeballs, and opportunities to see. Nothing wrong with that: that is what the job is about. Getting the message to the audience. Simple.

The online world has no need for more viral. The online world has a need for more quality, more skill, and more community understanding. As Redford says: more compelling stories. Instead of burning all this useless energy and money in trying to fake something viral, I’d rather see the effort invested in state of the art insights and metrics, strategic choices that drive change, awesome engagement strategies and a flawless execution and delivery plan with respect for the organic nature of the social web.

We’re professionals, not artists.  I prefer awesome to viral any day. One day you might get lucky and experience one of your brainchildren go viral. Good for you. I hope your other online work is awesome enough to move the needle without a viral throw of the dice…..

Community is your model, connection your strategy

Wandering through the old streets of Cannes, the various advertisings and teasers are about online. Digital, you know, and social media.  #canneslions 11 is going to be Social. For sure.

Sipping cooled drinks, awaiting the official start of the event, conversation goes on about the future. The future of advertising, communication, news, influencing. The future of some very influencing industries. And, apparently, between industrial quantities of Pastis and Pernod, it has been decided that that future is going to be digital. And social. For sure.

I, for one, think that this is missing the point entirely. I agree with The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University: the real future of advertising, communication, media buying and news lies exactly where it was in the past: in the ability to deliver a compelling message to a selected audience.

Having insights (metrics, data, intelligence,…)on the communities that harbor your target audience enables you to plot a suitable connection plan, fueled by conversation topics and appealing content.

It does not matter if that community is on or offline. A good strategy is built around the connecting points, encompassing on- and offline, making sure to reach the community in the least intrusive way. Stop bringing the people to the mountain… move the mountain…

If you reach out to communities… do not forget you reach out to people, not to numbers, or dots on a chart… reaching out to people is pretty social in my book, it always was…

The key to success is still the ability to benefit from insights, to have the right empathy to feel the community, and to cleverly select the right mix of influencing channels.

Some old games never change, they just dress differently…

In a Spin: both feet in… unless….

When @GaryStockman, CEO Porter Novelli, tweeted yesterday: “Final lesson from weekend’s perfection driving school: In a spin, both feet in. It doesn’t really apply to biz, but it sure saved me yesterday”, some people asked me what he meant.

As a fellow lover of fine fast machines, I knew exactly what he meant: When you lose control of a speeding car, press both clutch and brake to the floor. This will keep you from stalling the engine (and, while spinning backwards, prevent from ruining it). Moreover: locking up all four wheels gives the car a straight, predictable path (nice for other racers who go out of their minds to avoid you). Thirdly; four fat strips of enhanced expensive rubber screeching on the asphalt slows your car down… and every mile/hour slower is a good thing, especially when you’re heading for that unforgiving concrete safety wall…

There, I explained it, clear good advice that can save your car and some precious body parts. But before you take off, in a local imitation of Alonzo on speed… wait a second. You need to know that Gary is driving a mighty rear wheel powered car, with modern ABS system. On older cars, without ABS, locking your brakes will flatspot your tires, with a risk of them exploding. Hm…  and, when you’re losing control racing a front-drive car, slamming the gas to the floor and some skilled counter steer allows you often to recover from certain disaster.

Just to say: advice should never be taken out of context. As every driver knows: every car is different. Same goes for tips and tricks on communication. There is no one size fits all, no boxed approach, no always-win tricks. Every situation has a history, a context, very own specificities… it requires a strategy and tailored solutions…

Trust me, I’m a consultant 😉

Pretty please? It’s not about stuff, it is about us…

Everybody needs to make a living, so I respect that everybody sells something. And listening to all the people selling their thing-of-gold @ #SxSW I cooked up a very simple rule-of-thumb to separate the chaff from the wheat.

It’s no rocket science: ignore the people that are talking about applications, software, browsers, plug-ins and tutti-quanti. They will not make it. Selling stuff will get you nowhere in the charts in the social media world. And a quick poll amongst the influent bloggers in the blogger lounge shows a similar view. Selling stuff is an indication that you do not get the game., it proves that you are playing in the wrong league. It proves that you are on a rollercoaster to lonely oblivion…

Because the game is social. And social just does not care a bit about stuff, social is about people, social is about experiencing and social, more than everything, is about us.

And the people selling experiences stand out like traffic lights in the Mobiwashi desert. Because the online consumers do not want to buy, they want to experience. And if good experience goes through a quick tap through their credit card, they do not care.

So, spotting great user experiences, gives you a great roadmap to real successful companies. How do you benefit from location based services? What curation service will get you the most relevant content? What platform will give you the most interaction with your audience, what tool will let you travel without having to worry about keeping track of your important shared documents?

It’s no longer about bits, and bytes, and CPU’s and whether or not it runs on Honeycomb, OS, Win7 or magic stardust. It’s about how and where and why. The web morphed from tech to social, from geeky to ubiquitous, from stuff to us…


Cali Lewis: girl power!

There are a lot of men in the Blogger Lounge. But when Luria Petrucci walks in, most of the male audience is a bit disturbed.  Better known under her internet alias Cali Lewis, the 30 year old brunette is one of the most popular American internet celebrities in Europe where her dynamic podcast  GeekBeat.TV is top of tongue.

Her dynamic personality and easy going nature made her the role model for a whole generation of European Geek Girls. A celebrity with absolutely no capsones, as I could find out during a short interview.

Smiling young people with tremendous influencing power: are you ready for them?

The Magic of “How do you do that”…

Browsing #SxSw in Austin for content, the old journalist in me has a field day. Some of the smartest brains on the planet that are dealing with social interactions and digital media are literally  within a square mile from this laptop. An amazing amount of brainpower, egos and strong viewpoints are competing for attention.

What makes me happy and hopeful is that in about every conversation I witness, the little phrase “But how do you do that…” pops up.  @GuyKawasaki was talking about Enchanting, but he very quickly went down to “But how do you do…” to everyone he interacted with. Steve Rosenbaum (@magnify) asked me “But how do you deal with info in multiple languages”…. Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang) and @briansolis were talking in a panel yesterday on data curation and “How do you do…” came back multiple times.

How do you do social across borders? How do you curate? How do you measure? How do you interact? Engage? Spread? How do you get noticed? What are the rules?

My grandfather always told me that the quickest way to become smarter was asking lots of questions. The fact that the smartest brains I’m following on Twitter are still asking these questions every single minute they mingle proves me that our future is in good hands :-).

You never walk alone…

While covering #SxSW in Austin is fun, educative, entertaining and generally nice… it is also hard work. The ten venues that encompass the event this year are not exactly in spitting distance from each other, and endless long hall ways, tricky stairs and Austin’s historic pavements are a pure torture for the feet.

Add to that the murdering difference between the soft autumn temperature outside, and the freezing chill inside the meeting halls, the long hours, the time differences and relentless jetlag, the greasy-food-on-the-go, the pressure to choose wisely between more than 6400 keynotes, talks, panels, demos and chats… and you are up for nerve-wracking body-breaking experience.

Luckily, we do not have to do this on our own. The local Porter Novelli team in Austin, captained by energybulb Aaron De Lucia, goes lengths to make this an as smooth as possible experience for the weary PN’ers coming from far away. From reservation, to registration, to help and encouragement “on the floor”, this team does an amazing job.

In between their busy client work, they are great company, they leave their loved ones alone at night to show us the places-to-be and assist in solving a myriad of small but urgent problems.

The PN content team is amazing as well, from the first cry of the Austin rooster, to the last round of the VIP swamped party, these people are everywhere… hammering their dusty keyboards till way too late in the night to produce content to share.

“With a little help from my friends” or “You never walk alone” cheesy songs, but they spring into mind when the team converges a couple of times today for updates and energy sharing. Tao Tze said you cannot walk to your destiny alone… but I’m not scared…

Porter Novelli? It’s a well-oiled Social Army….


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