Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Peace Out

Graduation day! With Britni McCotter, Basia Tunkis, Suzanne Bonifaz & Sarah Granger   Photo courtesy of B McCotter

Whew! The last 2 weeks have been a blur! I can't believe I graduated 2 weeks ago in Austin - and now here I am settled into LA! 

If I really want to freak myself out though, I just think back to 1 year ago today: when I arrived in LA for my internship at Participant Media. Little did I know then how much I would love this city and wind up moving here! 

Going back to school has been quite a remarkable journey, bringing its own unique opportunities and challenges. And while our recent graduation closed that chapter, it has prepared me for this next one. As I've begun to look for jobs here in LA I'm thrilled to find so many exciting opportunities that are directly related to my work experience and recent education. What's the next for this dMBA graduate? I dunno exactly. But I am having a blast exploring the different options.

Thanks for taking this journey with me via this blog. This will be my last entry here, but if you have any questions feel free to contact me. In the meantime...
I spotted this mural on 6th St. in ATX shortly before graduation.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Capstone - The Beginning of the End

I took this photo over Spring Break while hiking in Pacific Palisades.  At 512 steps, this staircase is supposedly the longest set in all of Los Angeles.  That meant, of course, that I had to climb them.  But why someone spray-painted "Tech" onto them, I'll never know. Or, perhaps, I really do.

I've mentioned earlier that I dove into all things digital a few years back because I wanted to stay on the cutting edge of where business is going. This inherent drive to stay ahead of the curve eventually landed me at St. Eds' dMBA program. My foray into both technology & this program has, at times, been an up hill climb. Nevertheless, these experiences have prepared me well for "Capstone".

"Capstone" is the final 7 week term of our program. During this time teams are assigned to companies to help them research, develop & execute a plan of action to solve a problem or launch a project. Its not an internship - its richer than that - we are knee deep in problems... & solutions.

We are a week into this new term... 1 unlike any other.  In addition to our Capstone (I have the best freakin' team ever in Kevin Kettler & Gabe Maldonado) I've picked up 2 clients of my own & am consulting with an international nonprofit org and start-up company.  I love the mix of these various organizations - they are all in very different industries & each has different levels of comfort with digital/social marketing & community building.  As such, I've been required to adjust my approach & presentation to not only each client, but to various members of my clients' teams.  For the eager & prepared, I'm jumping right into strategy & execution.  But for the more skeptical, like a dutiful business student, I'm presenting metrics to justify the ROI, generating buy-in from cynics & following up with designing & delivering training for employees.

Is it weird that I've used several pics of Travolta to illustrate my points on this blog?  No? I didn't think so.
This experience is a 360 view of digital/social media in practice. My clients, those who are in position of authority in their orgs, range from Gen X'ers to Baby Boomers.  From them its becoming clearer & clearer that we've spent the last 2 years in a bubble.  Now, its been a great bubble - but a bubble nonetheless.  Most of my cohort are Millennials so we've been in a bubble in which it is obvious that digital/social media are valuable tools.  But to some of my clients, these tools are strange & foreign. Capstone is about translating what we've been learning into practical business application. Said another way, we've been studying the individual pieces of the puzzle for 2 years - now is the time to put those pieces together.

View from LA's Giant Steps in Rustic Canyon
Capstone means I've traded in my jeans (classroom attire) for my Ann Taylor pencil skirts & suits (to meet with clients). And its awesome. I love returning to the "real" world and its incredibly rewarding to put these dMBA puzzle pieces together for clients... the view from the top of this climb is spectacular!

For more photos from my travels, follow me on Pinterest!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

South Buh-Bye

Dancing with Anne Marsen from Girl Walk // All Day after the SXSW Premiere
So long South ByAnother great festival has come & gone and, for me, it was bookended with some really great film events: First, the opening night premiere & dance party for GirlTalk's Girl Walk // All Day. Then I wrapped up the fest with perhaps a SXSW world record: 15 hours in 1 day at the Alamo Drafthouse (South Lamar) watching movies! Lemme know if you got that beat!

In between losing myself in films, were the invaluable panels.  A major sentiment I noted this year across various panels was the idea that for digital/social media campaigns to be successful they must be fully integrated into a business & marketing plan, rather than existing in its own digital silo. This approach was encouraged from both large & small media companies: "Digital media should be a company wide effort, not just the effort of 1 or 2 people" was the advice from Bravo's panel, Top Chef: How Transmedia is Changing TV. And reps from small media start-ups concurred, "Content creators need to be marketers & marketers need to be content creators. There is a behavioral shift & this is perhaps what slows down change." (Screw the Big Screen, We Have the Web!

This latter comment on what slows down the embrace of change was discussed further by this panel as a cultural issue: "Technological problems are a reflection of the culture." This sentiment was echoed by another panel I attended, Meaningful Use & Beyond: Health Software, Etc.  Presenter, Fred Trotter, claims that issues in the relationship between IT and healthcare are not technical - that the appropriate technology already exists - but rather that changes are slow because of political reasons.  Now political isn't just a Democrat vs. Republican thing - but rather, perhaps more significantly, its the smaller scale politics and bureaucracy which exist in the everyday workplace. During my 15 hour movie binge at the Alamo I grabbed a quick lunch with a friend who told me about his thoughts and efforts at his job to implement social media to already existing platforms.  His ideas are all solid & there are case studies to back up why they would add value to his organization... the only thing that remains is navigating the layers of bureaucracy & creating buy-in from others across his organization.
Articulating my friend's challenges, Marc Schiller lamented that, "digital typically gets siloed... & its essentially at the kid's table", (Empowering Filmmakers, Marketing/Distribution Keys). "Digital is not its own thing [however], rather its about the amplification of content". As an MBA student, who has spent more hours than she cares to remember on statistics, I agree with Schiller's assertion that analytics are critical to sharply defining your plan, measuring success & identifying weaknesses. Bottom line from Schiller, "More data allows for more insight into the most profitable revenue streams".  

My big take-away from this year's SXSW is "Integration = Success". While technology is moving rapidly, what slows down progress more than anything is perhaps culture & entrenched ways of doing things. As we approach graduation & I spend more and more time consulting and applying what I've been learning in the dMBA program, I'm finding myself navigating people and organizations who are sometimes shell-shocked by new media. In working with many of them I find myself labeled "the digital person". But as these panels have reminded me, & as the dMBA program has trained me - the value in digital technology is not in digital itself, but in its seamless integration across an organization or venture.

Most of the above panel links will take you to recordings of the discussions... or for something completely different (& fun!), check-out "Sh*t Panelist Say" from Flow Nonfiction below.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Artist & PressPausePlay: Films for Our Time

PressPausePlay from House of Radon on Vimeo.
When we look back at every other industry that was built in the 1920's and 30's we look back and say, 'We wish we were there then because, wow, wouldn't it have been cool what we could have done?' This is even bigger than that.  And most people are ignoring it saying, 'oh there's a recession, rah rah rah.' This is the best shot you've ever got.                                               ~ Seth Godin in PressPausePlay
Do you remember the scene in The Artist when silent film superstar George Valentin has his nightmare of a world filled with sound?  My favorite shot is when a feather delicately floats down then unexpectedly hits the ground with a loud BOOM.  Like many before and after him, poor George found himself in a world rapidly changing due to technology - a world where one minute you're at the top and the next minute you're spiraling out of control trying to cling to the what used to work. 

I loved The Artist.  All I knew about it going into the theater was that it was a modern film shot audaciously as a silent black-and-white film.  Knowing only that, I settled into the theater prepared to be transported to another time and another place.  What I didn't know going in was how closely the film parallels the current reality of the film industry.  One genius aspect of the film is how it transports you to the 1920's while still maintaining a foot solidy in 2012.

I adore the irony of The Artist winning the Oscar for Best Picture... after all, The Academy has a reputation for being old-school and the SOPA controversy is framed as a battle between Hollywood and the tech industries. But then there is Harvey Weinstein's delicious take on the whole thing.
What is the message at the heart of the film? "... it’s a film about technology. We are surrounded by all these magical gadgets, we’re texting, tweeting, reacting, and blurting, but it’s getting in the way of our humanity, just as the advent of sound was getting in the way of George’s art. What’s happening with technology, people can’t really have conversations.” But you don’t have to give in, you can resist. Just because technology changes doesn’t mean you have to let it change you."                      - Harvey Weinstein on The Artist
While The Artists beautifully illustrates the emotional havoc disruptive technology can create, the documentary PressPausePlay artfully explores our world as it is transformed by digital technology.  By weaving stories on both sides of the disruption in the film, music and design industries, the film doesn't spell things out for you... the film... and our world... well, they're more complicated than that.  If you're looking for clear cut answers, PressPausePlay isn't for you.  

One thing that is evident from both The Artist and PressPausePlay is, that as technology changes so to must business models. Like with the dawning of the "talkie" era, the film industry is struggling with how to move forward.  Specifically, the stinging defeats of SOPA indicate the expectations of an online world.   But as indicated in PressPausePlay, we don't really live in a black and white world where its "us vs. them" - but rather, to thrive, we must ask ourselves, how can we embrace change, like the former Fox Broadcasting Chief, Barry Diller.  

After all, don't you remember how happily George Valentin danced when he finally embraced change?

Right now we' re not in a world where we can determine or predetermine where we think things are going to be. We're all operating in the dark. we have no clue as to what's going to happen and that to me is what makes it all fun. 
- PressPausePlay

Friday, February 3, 2012

Congratulations Suzanne and Rob!!!

Rob and Suzanne pitching their award winning business plan to Jackson Nat'l Life Insurance Co.
... it was less than 15 years ago that the Internet began to assume the role it now has in companies... the way they served customers, transacted business, worked with partners and managed employees.  Social technology is about to do the same thing: transform the way people work together and do business.  The only question is, how fast will you get there?
 ~ Groundswell: Winning in a World 
Transformed by Social Technologies

Looking around and looking ahead at the disruption of traditional business models, Jackson National Life Insurance Company recently reached out to college students across the U.S. looking for ways to integrate social media into their business operations.  Thus was born the Jackson Social Media Business Plan Challenge.  Well, guess who won the challenge... along with a cool 15K?  None other than Suzanne Bonifaz and Rob Flores, fellow classmates in St. Ed's dMBA program!

What is particularly exciting about their Grand Prize win is that the plan was developed for a traditional insurance company.  Often, when people hear about our MBA program focusing on Digital Media Management, they typically assume its solely focused on the music, film, tech and media industries.  While many of my classmates will work in these industries upon graduation, Rob and Suzanne's win demonstrates that the principles we've been studying apply across the business world.  While perhaps media is the most "glamorous" industry, its ultimately about all industries staying competitive and thriving in our ever-evolving new business environment.

Exemplifying the program's infusion of 'Digital Media Management' into a traditional MBA,  Suzanne and Rob applied the principles recommended by Forrester Research in Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technology (required reading for our Digital Consumer class).  For example, remembering that social media is ultimately about relationships and creating tight ties with the customer (rather than simply the technology), Rob and Suzanne didn't settle for the obvious answer of simply suggesting a Facebook or Twitter account.  Instead, they took into account the technographics of Jackson's customers to create a plan that would fit the overall objectives and strategies that would make sense for Jackson's unique needs.  Further, because Jackson is a financial services company, subject to strict oversight and regulation, they employed the "issue spotting" skills developed in our law classes. 

As our cohort nears the end our dMBA journey, (graduation is just over 3 months away!) it is inspiring to see our classmates succeed in applying to the real world what we've been studying.  Not only does this encourage us that businesses are clamoring for our skills... shoot... thanks for just making the rest of us look good!  

Congratulations Rob and Suzanne!

You're not following them on Twitter?
Well, you should be!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Digital Casualties

How you are you keeping up in our digital and globalized world?  Hopefully you're faring better than Kodak who, after 130 years in business and at one time enjoyed a 90% marketshare, filed today for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. 

Once a blue chip company, Kodak actually developed the digital technology that has since cannibalized its own market.  That sad irony is only heightened by the many good decisions of Kodak's management which included setting digital aside in order to focus on products and services because this is what their customers wanted (at the time).  But as the seminal, The Innovator's Dilemma demonstrates, the path of blind customer service can kill innovation and is littered with the corpses of once thriving organizations.  

On the other hand, we have the entertainment industry.  Music, film and television companies have been fighting for years what consumers want: digital access to content.  The music industry brought us the bitter fight over Napster and the recent efforts of SOPA and PIPA have created a firestorm with popular websites shutting down in protest to successfully sway Congressional supportSOPA and PIPA are backed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) who see their power, and their bottom lines, disintegrating. Many of these industry players are as old as Kodak and have held a monopoly for close to a century.  But the democratization of content production and distribution, made possible by the digital technology and the Internet, is disrupting these old business models.  

I feel for the entertainment companies at the center of the SOPA/PIPA controversy and who are struggling to protect their copyrights and battle piracy.  I am an advocate for artists and content creators who should be compensated fairly for their work.  After all, without protecting the talent, perhaps this SNL skit is a glimpse of a bleak future in entertainment. 

As is indicated by Kodak's bankruptcy and MPAA/RIAA's flailing efforts to save their skin, these old business models are dying hard as the new business models struggle to take shape.  It is easy to look backwards to understand how business "should be done".  As we recently discussed in our Digital Consumer class, it took decades of observation of traditional business to come up with the classic Four P's (price, promotion, product and place) taught in every Marketing 101 class.  But with the advent of digital marketing and digital consumption... well, that's still a new frontier and the business principles governing success are still being discovered.

Its not just business models that are being disrupted, however.  The bankruptcy of Kodak and the struggles of the entertainment establishment are centered in the respective "company towns" of Rochester, NY and Los Angeles.  As these cities struggle with the economy they are a microcosm of larger shifts happening throughout the United States and the rest of the world.  They reflect the Brookings Institute's latest study which reveals a very real economic and power shift from the West to the East.

A look at an interactive map from the study illustrates that its not just certain cities and certain industries that are struggling to adapt to the new realities of a digital world.  As the U.S. and Europe struggle, other regions are gaining ground.  Competing as individuals, as organizations and even nations require re-shaping business models and business practices.

Hopefully you're not filing for bankruptcy or facing a radical shift in your specific industry, but are you keeping up in the digital landscape and adapting? If not, why not?  As I tell tech-phobic clients, "give it a try... its not like you can break the Internet!"  A great place to at least start is with Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies and The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company that is Connecting the World.  After all, if you're not learning... you're dying.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Digital Bridge: Parker Westbrook

Meet my friend, Parker Westbrook.  Parker's a bad-ass... but don't take my word for it, she's just been named Krav Maga Instructor of the Year at Fit & Fearless. 

Yet, despite Parker's physical and mental toughness, there is 1 thing that leaves her a little queasy: technology.  Parker isn't alone, though. For those of us not born into the Net Generation, aka Digital Natives... the online and digital landscape can be daunting.

Now, I'm not a "Digital Native" either, and I'm certainly not a natural-born "techie" so I completely understand the feelings of overwhelm with technology for those of us who haven't grown up on the Internet.  But understanding that digital tools and platforms are critical to the new realities of our world, I've gone out of my way to embrace them.  This has left me in an exciting role of being a bridge between the 2 worldviews (that of Millenials and Non-Millenials) and I absolutely love it!  In being a "digital bridge" I relish being the calm voice, teaching and encouraging non-Digital Natives to harness social media for their own purposes.

Back to Parker.  She's got the training side of things down cold, but she's more than just about teaching people to kick and punch. Parker is driven to empower people to take responsibility for their own personal safety and well-being. Moved by her mission, and since she can't teach 24 hours a day, I began pestering her to broaden her digital footprint to reach a wider audience.

To that end, for the last several months I've worked with Parker to develop her online presence.  Together, we've developed an overarching strategy to communicate her message and I've trained her in using various online tools.  For me, the most compelling tool she's using is podcasting.  This idea was born out of Parker's unrelenting quest for knowledge exhibited by her habit of interviewing "people on the front lines of what’s happening in the world of combat sports, self-defense, and psychology".  When I learned about these interviews, drawing on my background in documentary filmmaking, it was a no-brainer to suggest she begin recording these interviews to share with her audience so they could hear first-hand lessons from assault survivors as well as leading experts in their field.  The results are inspiring podcasts published on her website.  As a part of her digital repertoire, the podcasts not only set her apart, but serve to educate a wider audience.

Working with a tee-tiny budget, Parker's digital footprint is all DIY.  Because of Parker's initial resistance to technology, one of the most rewarding parts of working with her has been encouraging and supporting her to embrace the tools to create and sustain her digital footprint.  When we first started working together she was skeptical about creating and maintaining her own website, etc, but its been fun for me to increase her digital confidence and prove to her that she can do it!

In addition to working with Parker on the digital platforms themselves, its has also been exciting to apply the business principles that we've been learning in the dMBA program - especially the areas of Marketing & Branding.  In fact, working with Parker has been a rewarding opportunity to put the Digital in Digital MBA! 

Thank you to Joni McClain of Love and Light Images for the use of Parker's photo.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It Takes a Team to Build an MBA

Yay! Fall semester... DONE! In a near consensus, this has been the most challenging term yet in terms of workload and complexity of the content.

But despite the demands
of it all, this has actually turned out to be the most rewarding term. Last year was spent laying the foundation of a solid business education and this year has been all about putting that foundation into action.

Besides the content however, the how of getting things done is quite different this year. Laying that foundation last year required a lot of independent reading, writing papers and doing homework ensuring that we individually understand the core business principles. This year though, working in teams to get our projects done wasn't just assigned, it was critical to our success. From my fabulous teammates in New Venture Creation, to my awesome partn
er Tish in Digital Law and my tireless collaborators in Branding and Promotion, I've loved working in groups this term as the dynamic simulates what its like to be out in the working world again... working with different personalities & experience levels, negotiating compromises, balancing strengths and encouraging each other when things get tough... There were a lot of moving parts to manage but doing so made all the difference to our success.
Aside from our assigned teams however, studying for Law... sheesh - I don't know how I would have digested all that content if it wasn't for my study buddies. To give you an idea of all the cases we had to master in a short seven weeks, here they are, shown w/ Basia's head for scale.

Anyhoo - its time for a break over the holidays before we come back in the Spring to wrap this thing up.

Until then, dMBA'ers congrats on a tough but valuable semester.
Go ahead and strut... we've earned it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Digging Deeper

The dust has settled and yesterday's euphoria has faded. Yep, we had a successful pitch yesterday - our team has even been approached by multiple people about making the business plan a reality... but its Friday night and I'm back doing homework.

I did take today off a bit. I was just drained after yesterday, so I slept in... did some family stuff... even caught part of the Tennessee Williams marathon on Turner Classic Movies.

But looming over the day were the three
Branding & Promotion papers I wanted to get out of the way today so that I'd have the weekend free. You know, free to study for Tuesday's Digital Law final exam. Free to study for Tuesday's New Venture Creation final exam. Free. Yay. Free.

Well, two papers are down... one to go. After the 2nd paper I hit the gym to feel alive again. I admit it... I was pretty bitter about another weekend eaten up with school. But then I blew out my eardrums at the gym with this gem from Linkin Park and I'm ready to dig deeper... cause after the finals on Tuesday, I'm free.

PS - thank you PW for introducing me to this stress-busting song!