Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Seven Shows I Loved (And Six I Let Go) In 2014

Television just keeps getting better, so the stakes for the networks and cable have never been higher.

While 2014 was another great year for television, it was also a year when several senior shows ran out of creative juice. Here are the shows I loved, and a few I let go, in 2014.

And the winner goes to....

The cast of The Good Wife
Photo Courtesy: CBS
The Good Wife. In its sixth season, this show just keeps getting better. This season, somehow stronger than Season 5, reinforces The Good Wife as a creative tour-de-force. And, in a rarity for an ensemble cast, everyone - even the smallest roles - more than punch above their weight.

The runner ups:

The Americans. This show combines appealing leads with great chemistry, a strong supporting cast, and enough twists and turns to make every episode a visual feast.

The 1982 setting never fails to remind me how analog the recent past was, and it somehow makes the show feel very familiar but also very far away at the same time. And then there's the white appliances, paneled station wagons, and gravity-defying hair!

Alpha House. This Amazon Prime original, in its sophomore season, is a fun romp around the inside of the DC beltway. And the cast is picture perfect. One name: Wanda Sykes.

The Fall. This atmospheric, tight thriller is superbly acted by Gillian Anderson, only proving that she has way more to offer beyond re-runs of the X-Files.

Looking. Finally, a show about gay men in the teens. As much as Queer As Folk documented the lives of "gay ghetto gays", it never felt real. Most of us don't only have gay friends and live in the gayborhood. Looking is far better acted, and more realistically set - even if its San Francisco location is a little too pat.

Girls. Everyone is railing on Lena Dunham as a poster child for white privilege and entitlement, but it doesn't detract from the fact that she has written the definitive show about being early 20s and adrift in New York.

Veep. In the words of Selina Meyer, "why don't you put on your running shoes and get to the f*&%^#^g point?"

Of course, 2014 wasn't kind to every show. Some just ran out of gas.

Homeland. Season 2 was an unmitigated disaster, with weird plot tangents about Brodie's kids and blowing up the CIA. I hear Season 3 got a "reboot", in which Carrie gets sent to Pakistan.

Because I am sure that's exactly what the CIA does with all of its agents with bi-polar disorder and a history of going rogue.

Archer. Also rebooted for 2014, but I just never could get back into it.

Nashville. Who doesn't love Connie Britton? Unfortunately, even she can't save this show, which is veering dramatically into soap opera land - and not in a good way. Basically everyone except Connie, Hayden Panettierre, and the guy who plays Deacon Claiborne should be fired.

The Blacklist. An awesome Season 1, followed by a snoozer Season 2. I only have so much time, and The Blacklist didn't make the cut.

Person of Interest. Without Taraji P. Henson and the loft it's just not the same.

Honorable Mention For Worst Crash of 2014: The Newsroom. Probably one of the most-hyped shows ever put on HBO, The Newsroom was actually (if we are honest) terrible from the very beginning.

The pacing was wrong, the "stars" had zero chemistry, and the script was pedantic and preachy. The Newsroom had none of the incisive probing of The West Wing, nor the humor of Sports Night. John Gallagher, Jr. and Alison Pill must have had one of the least romantic and wretched "love affairs" in TV history.

In the end, I was just longing for scenes with Jane Fonda (who singlehandedly carried every scene she was ever in), Mamie Gummer (who has all of her mother's skill), and Dev Patel. Sadly, they were almost totally absent in the end.

See you next year!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Why Did Wendy Davis Lose So Badly?

Wendy Davis
On November 4, 2014, Wendy Davis lost by a million votes.

She lost the state's most important prize - Harris County (Houston) - and, to add insult to injury, her state senate seat was nabbed by a anti-choice Tea Party candidate.

It's easy to read into these results that Texans emphatically rejected Davis' vision of the future, but that would be incorrect. Texans rejected voting.

Just 28% of Texans voted in this year's mid-terms, ranking us 51st in the nation in voter turnout. Somehow, we managed to vote in fewer numbers than even the states that had no real contest on the ballot. As Texans, we deserve the government we're going to get.

For starters, Greg Abbott will wage war on virtually everything that Davis, and the 1.7 million Texans who voted for her, hold dear: choice, education, gay rights, equal pay, and corporate accountability.

Despite his multi-million dollar settlement courtesy of his personal injury lawyer, he will almost certainly make sure you don't have the same day in court.

Despite his ludicrous arguments against marriage equality, which have been laughed at as "unserious" by appeals judges, countless millions of dollars will be spent defending the dustbin of history.

And forget about choice. We are about to get an administration that will make us remember Rick Perry fondly.

Greg Abbott will spend the next four years shrinking Texas government just small enough to fit into everyone's bedroom.

Our next Lieutenant Governor is a non-entity. After refusing to even debate the intellectually formidable Leticia Van De Putte, Dan Patrick managed to under poll Greg Abbott by 80,000 votes. This was in a year that was a statewide Republican rout. But we're getting him anyway.

Wendy Davis lost big on Tuesday because the people she needed to win stayed home. All across Texas, voter turnout lagged 2010. In the Rio Grande valley, Davis spectacularly underperformed Bill White's 2010 turnout. You can't win Texas by winning big in Austin.

We already have a great state for business, for growth, of low taxes, and high aspirations. Greg Abbott wants a Texas that works for small sliver of us, and he succeeded in getting that on Tuesday.

Wendy Davis lost big because she ran before the storm that's about to engulf all of us. She'll be back, but it might be too late.

Monday, November 3, 2014

When Did We Lose Our Nerve?

Coca-Cola's most famous ad: Hilltop

('Hilltop': an early example of breakthrough content from Coca-Cola. Courtesy: The Coca-Cola Company)

Last week, I hosted an amazing panel at the Spredfast Summit with Brian Marks from Aramark, Jennifer Brown from Edelman, and Deirdre Walsh from Jive Software. After about 30 minutes of lively conversation about great social content and paid media, I asked the audience how many of them felt that their brands put out “brave” content.

Five people raised their hands. Five.

That means that of the roughly 100 brands in the audience, only 5% consistently produce work that makes them proud. Hopefully, they didn’t all work for the same company.

Folks, we’ve all collectively lost our nerve. Producing great content is why we’re here.

I’m writing this post somewhere above the bayous of Louisiana, on my way to the CMO Summit in Turnberry, Scotland. As I look out the window at the total blackness below, I’m reminded of last week’s New York Times Magazine cover story: every hour, an acre of Louisiana falls into the ocean. What if a Louisiana company had broken that story? Even more heretical, what if an oil and gas company had done it?

I used to work for Coca-Cola, and my proudest Coke moment was during this year’s Super Bowl when the brand debuted ‘America Is Beautiful’America the Beautiful sung by young, American girls in seven languages. The xenophobic backlash was intense, but Coke stood its ground. Why? Because the brand decided it was time to stand for something. The idea that that what makes America beautiful is its diversity, intense beauty, and colorful cultural fabric was a hill worth dying on for the brand that brought us ‘Hilltop’.

We all work for businesses that need to make money, and angering as few people as possible along the way is usually a good thing. But sometimes, there’s positive ROI in telling a certain segment of the population to just shove it.

And bravery doesn’t always mean incendiary. It can also be ‘Think Small’ or ‘Gracie’ or ‘Thank You, Mom’.

Social media today is like television in the early 1960s. It’s still the Wild West, with an entrepreneurial-anything-can-happen air about it. If we reduce it to the digital equivalent of a billboard, we’ll have squandered a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Instead, let’s do work that matters, work that people will write stories about one day.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What It Takes To Be Successful: The Definitive List

My dog Gus Gus
Who could resist this guy?
Recently, my LinkedIn newsfeed has been chock full of tips on how to make me successful. Or, rather, a form of successful that equates to the weird ideal of a workaholic life coach or CEO.

So, I decided it was time to take back my morning, and write the definitive list of what it takes to be successful in life.

1. Go to sleep and stay asleep. On almost every single “what it takes to be successful” list is a gentle admonishment to get your lazy self out of bed earlier. Despite flying in the face of virtually every scientific study on the subject, somehow ambitious people have gotten it into their heads that waking up hours before dawn is a good thing.

Waking up a 4am is insane. Unless, I guess, you go to sleep at 8pm every night. Which brings me to my next point.

2. Watch Million Dollar Listing or Project Runway. Why? Because they’re fun. Life is about more than work and thinking about the impact of technology on the global economy. Watching great reality TV is like drinking coffee: why wouldn’t you do it? For the record, Million Dollar Listing Miami is superior to the other two franchises.

3. Rescue a dog. Or a cat if that’s your thing. Why? Because good people like animals. A dog makes you a better person. Gus, my partner in crime, always cheers me up after a bad day. Who doesn’t love a good game of “Rawr” (which involves me chasing him around the house while yelling “rawwwwrrr”). And pets help you get your steps in!

4. Go get a drink. All work and no play makes you dull as dirt. Smart people know that social time is as important as work time, and that being the company wallflower won’t get you anywhere. Many a disagreement has been resolved over a pint, and wine-o-clock has saved more than one team’s morale.

5. Play Cards Against Humanity, because that game, to butcher Benjamin Franklin, is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

Ultimately, successful people remember my favorite quote by Dr. Seuss: “why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

Saturday, August 16, 2014

You Have To Be A Challenger

Photo: Flickr/Bill Selak

Earlier this year, fellow Minneapolis-based General Mills not so quietly put a stake in the ground supporting diverse families. During the Sochi Opening Ceremonies, Chevrolet became one of the first brands to ever feature a gay couple during an Olympic spot, and my former employer, Coca-Cola, produced an ad called ‘America Is Beautiful’ that featured ‘America the Beautiful’ sung in seven languages.

It was, in my opinion, Coke’s strongest creative moment in years.

These are just a few examples of a select group of brands that are doing what it takes to win hearts and minds. They are brave organizations putting out brave content. And the world needs more great content, not more shiny objects or snark.

At Spredfast, we counsel our partners to #BeBrave. Regardless of vertical or product, brave content has a few core beliefs:

You have to stand for something: The days of saying “this social issue isn’t relevant to my business, so we are going to stay out of it” are over. Inequality, injustice, and racism are not optional issues for any brand that wants to be relevant. And sometimes, there is positive ROI in just ignoring the folks who think otherwise. Acting like an ostrich doesn’t even work very well for the ostrich.

Be moving, be funny, and be useful. Pick two of three.

Give hope and optimism and fight despair. Things might seem tough, but there’s never been a better time to be alive. People help each other out, pick each other up, and usually do the right thing. Make those moments the focus of everything you say. If your brand relies on scaring people, or is generally odious, LinkedIn can help you find a better job.

Delight customers. It should be why you’re in business.

And if you can’t do any of the above, and you keep hitting a brick wall, and you can’t do work that you’re proud of - go work somewhere else. Your soul will thank you.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Facebook's Mood Experiment Isn't Creepy, And The Uproar Is Absurd

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
The rest is up for debate.
There has been considerable consternation about the revelation that Facebook throttled user newsfeed posts in an attempt to elicit an emotional response.

The experiment, which curated posts to make users feel happy or depressed, apparently affected precisely 689,003 Facebook accounts - or about 0.0001% of users.

This uproar is absurd.

All mainstream media outlets curate the news to affect the beliefs of 100% of their audience.

Every day, news directors and editors go into work. And their job is to review the day's events, decide what's most important, or what their audience would most enjoy reading or hearing, and then publish or broadcast that information.

In other words, all media, everywhere, do exactly what Facebook did last week.

The only reason why it bothers us so much is that Facebook probably did a much better job of it than anyone else.

Except maybe Fox News, which manages to have both the most popular newscast while also keeping their audience totally untroubled by actual facts

In fact, people who watch no news at all are better informed than people who watch Fox News.

So while Facebook might curate your reality, at least they're not totally making it up like our friends over at Fox.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Austin's Incredible Growth In Pictures

Austin is booming.

From 2000-2006, it was the third-fastest growing city in America. With an estimated 885,000 people, it's now the 11th-largest city in the United States and Austin has roughly doubled its population since 1985.

From 2000-2010, the population grew by 20%. From 2010-2013, it grew by another 12%.

This population explosion is fueled by an annual economic growth rate of 6% - red hot even by emerging market standards.

To give you a sense of what that looks like, I used Google Street View's time lapse feature. It helpfully goes all the way back to 2007 (all images courtesy of Google).

The Intersection of 3rd & Lavaca

3rd & Lavaca, Austin, Texas 2007

3rd & Lavaca, Austin, Texas 2014

South Congress Street - Looking North Toward the Capitol of Texas

South Congress Street, Austin, Texas 2007

South Congress Street, Austin, Texas 2014

South Lamar Boulevard - Looking North-East
S. Lamar Blvd, Austin - Looking North, 2007
S. Lamar Blvd, Austin - Looking North, 2014

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Impact Of Social Media Is Absolutely Measureable

The Facebook Like button.
You can measure that.  
Photo: Flickr/Sean MacEntee

Somewhere around 2009, a myth took hold that social isn't measureable.

This falsity has rooted itself so firmly in the minds of marketing leaders that almost every social leader at almost every brand deals with "the ROI question" almost every day.

It's time to set the record straight.

The impact - or ROI - of investing in social media can be measured with more precision than almost any other type of media.

The social technology landscape is amazing, and getting better every day.
All of the major social networks - Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter - have built sophisticated targeting and measurement capabilities.

As I've noted in earlier posts, you can now put the right message in front of the right person at exactly the right time. And you glean a wealth of data from those engagements.

Social response platforms (SRPs) (full disclosure: I work for Spredfast) can tell you exactly how your social content performs. These tools report back to you not only "impressions" (how many people saw your content), but also "expressions" - a critically important thing to track. Expressions can be a retweet, a comment, a share - anything that requires an effort by the consumer - and are solid markers of true engagement.

That's at least as good as other types of media, and I would argue even better than the results we get from TV, print, or even experiential.

You can track what people do when they engage on social media.
Great content always has a call to action, and great content strategies have no dead ends. Always have a "link back" to another piece of content. This is why great social strategies always include owned media platforms.

Google Analytics and SRPs can then help you trace user paths and track conversions.

Social analytics eliminate the "guess again" factor.
There's an old saying in PR: "if you want to know what people think about your company, read the paper."

The data from social media and social listening paints an accurate portrait of what your audience is interested in talking about with your brand. You just have to listen, and let go of what you want to talk about. I can tell you from my experience at Coca-Cola that this was sometimes the hardest thing for us to do.

Social data - information on high performing, highly engaging content, trends, user responses, etc. - can be fed back into the business to inform messaging frameworks and plans. It is critical that this data be used to create future content. Creative and content can also be A/Z tested on social media to determine the best performing combinations before you go to market.

This not only makes marketing and communications programs smarter, it also has cost avoidance benefits.

Focus on good digital hygiene.
Finally, never leave anything on the table.

Is your content properly tagged?

Have you included "title" and "alt" text descriptions for all photos online? Are all search description fields filled out properly? Are you using keyword research to craft headlines?

Good digital hygiene can have a major impact. For example, at Coke we saw a 100+% traffic increase to owned media from YouTube when we inserted links back to content in YouTube video descriptions.

Build the formula.
All of this data allows you to build an impact model for your business. There is no magic formula. You'll have to do the hard work to build it in partnership with your leadership.

It's critical that your formula allow you to compare the relative performance of different types of content over time.

In the coming years, social media will have a major impact on budgets and careers across the enterprise.

Data beats politics.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

What I Learned Working At Coca-Cola

TaB, my eponymous drink
My first Coke drink at Coke, December 2010
Today is the first day of my post-Coke journey. 

For nearly four years, The Coca-Cola Company gave me the opportunity to do the best work of my life. When I left, I wrote most of this post in an email to my colleagues. Rather than write the standard "good bye and good luck" note, I chose instead to list the things Coke taught me during my time in Atlanta. 

This is what I learned. 

1. Moonshots Matter
My most challenging day at Coke was the day I presented the Journey Media Platform to Coke’s senior leadership team for the last time. Because, on that day, I had to face the real possibility that it might not happen at all. From that moment on, I realized moonshot goals matter, because – as the saying goes - even if you miss you land among the stars. 

We set ourselves the moonshot goal to grow our social channels by 50% per year. We grew by 100%. Every year. For three years.

We set ourselves the moonshot goal to grow Journey's audience by 25% in year one. We grew by 30%.

I learned that when you set audacious goals, you get audacious results.

2. Be Brave And Do Things
Every year, we gave our digital business plan a theme. Our first year it was "Make the Basics Brilliant", and we focused on fixing operational weakness and delivering at 110% every time, all the time. 

Our second year – Journey's first year – we chose "Be Brave". We learned that bravery is hard but incredibly rewarding. Whether it's Twitter chats, Google hangouts, killing the press release, The Opener, making the blog platform a product, making a content pivot to video and photos, finding a digital voice for the company, completely changing Journey's editorial focus, and even the Journey Media Platform itself, our most impactful ideas were the ones that made us uncomfortable. 

We also learned that, more than anything else, we have to have a laser focus on getting stuff done. Endless planning is a tyranny, and gets in the way of doing actual work. We learned to plan the bare minimum to get something off the ground, and then just wing it, adjust on the fly, and be agile. 

Herb Kelleher, the legendary CEO of Southwest Airlines, was once asked by an analyst what the strategic plan was for his airline. His response: "We have a strategic plan. It's called doing things." 

And sometimes, you just have to run the red lights.

3. Everything Is Dying; Everything Is Being Born
The print newspaper industry is dying an inexorable death. Print advertising has fallen -66% since 2000. In the United States, the last time print ad revenue was this low was 1950 – when America's population was only 40% of today's level and the economy was only 1/7th as large. 

The collapse of the traditional news industry is a secular trend that will continue to its inevitable climax. But in its place we're seeing an incredible rejuvenation of journalism and storytelling, with citizen activismupstart blogs, incredible innovations in news, and the dominance of social media. We now live in a world where anyone with an internet connection can speak truth to power. This is exciting, and promises to breathe new relevance into our craft. But only if we seize the opportunity.

An Exciting Future
So I've moved to Austin. I'm sure I'll be a little dazed and confused for a while. But Austin is so close, yet so far out. Everyone should visit. There are lots of reasons to come: South by Southwest, Austin City Limits, Barton Springs poolthe bats.

All media technologies eventually die and are replaced by something even better. In 1997, the French navy abandoned the use of Morse Code, the transformative communications innovation of the 19th century. Their last message was:

Calling all. This is our last cry before our eternal silence.

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