On Perspective Agents

  • “Thirty years ago the best fund manager was the one with the best intuition, says David Siegel, co-chairman of Two Sigma. Now those who take “a scientific approach,” using machines, data and AI, can have an edge.”









  • “Lions and tigers were kings of the jungle, then they wound up in cages. I believe the same will happen to us. This comment from Internet pioneer Josh Harris opens the documentary We Live in Public, a film about about loss of privacy in the digital age.

    The film’s centerpiece is a surveillance-as-art-project shot in the late 90s, featuring more than 100 people living underground for a month in New York City. The bunker was equipped with food, drink and a fleet of webcams that captured a first-of-its-kind, live stream experiment. It also follows Harris’ personal life outside of the bunker, where he and his girlfriend opened their lives to the world through more than 30 cameras installed in their apartment.

    The not-so-surprising spoiler: Neither the group nor couple’s experiment ends well. The film concludes with Harris suffering a mental breakdown — foreshadowing the heavy price that comes with Internet fame.

    While the film takes status-chasing to the extreme, it’s viewed today as an early warning of the risks of oversharing on social media, related questions about well-being and willingness to exchange privacy for connection. Recently Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), one of the most influential political voices on social media, was the latest public figure to delete her Facebook. She cites feelings of anxiety and addiction while suggesting social media is a public health risk. She continues to publish several times a day to Twitter.

    The conflict of quitting versus committing is tough for public figures or quasi-celebrity influencers who rely on consistent social presence. It’s instrumental to the power game that people like Ocasio-Cortez can’t afford to lose.

    Still, it’s hard to overlook a growing social movement gaining momentum. Headline-making leavers span well-known figures in media, technology and entertainment. In aggregate, the steady stream of departees and post-deleters suggest that disappearing from view is in fashion.

    Entrepreneurs are hopping on the trend through apps like Jumbo, grounded in privacy management, that allow you to wipe old posts, clear search histories and remove voice interactions from connected devices.

    Despite shifting sentiments toward the value in building a social presence, we can’t look away — if anything engagement is getting stronger. TwitterSnapchat and Facebook  crushed earnings last week.

    The takeaway–while building social capital is fraught with issues ranging from privacy to well being, don’t count on anything resembling an exodus from social media anytime soon.

    Beyond connection, for those seeking power and influence it’s a hell of a drug.

    This post was adapted from my newsletter on the fusion of machine intelligence, media and marketing.

    This week’s updates include narrowing attention spansfacial recognition machines and how 5G will affect journalism.









  • Thursday was my favorite day of the week growing up. That may seem like an odd call, but it’s the day that, roughly 50 weeks a year, Sports Illustrated arrived in the mail.

    Back in the 1970s and 80s, the magazine fed my obsession with sports — whether it be Franco Harris, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Super Bowls against the Dallas Cowboys; fictional (and almost fictional) characters like pitchers Sidd Finch and Mark “The Bird” Fidrych; and as I’d later come to appreciate, the originality of writers like Dan Jenkins, whose style was a precursor to new journalism practiced by icons outside of sport like Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese.

    Sports Illustrated was a factory for profitable ideas like Sportsman of the Year, Faces in the Crowd and the annual Swimsuit Issue. These concepts transcended the magazine into standalone platforms and spawned numerous copycats that make up sports media today.

    I thought about the fading legacy and creative depth of magazines like Sports Illustrated while exploring Apple’s shiny new news bundle, Apple News+. With the decline of publishing dating back more than a decade, Apple News+ as a model for media engagement is especially consequential considering the 1.3 billion iOS devices that can now run it.

    As reported in The New York Times — ironically joining The Washington Post as one of the few major publications who declined to join up — $9.95 a month gets us access to a digital newsstand carrying more than 300 publications. Selection ranges from high-end magazines like The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Vogue, to newspapers including The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, to a deep catalog of branded and niche content like Airbnb Magazine and Salt Water Sportsman.

    The Apple News+ user experience presents conventions like “publications,” “magazines” and “newspapers” as fading constructs given the content blend it presents from hundreds of sources. The experience leans on previous investment in its digital newsstand, Texture (where many titles were PDF replicas of print copies), combined with repackaged articles and curated summaries included in the first rev of Apple News.

    As only Apple can do, its media buffet attracted over 200,000 subscribers in the first 48 hours. As a frequent user of Texture, I was quick to sign up and can say without question that it’s both awesome in inventory, and daunting on where to direct my attention. This is both a personal and professional context.

    As a content consumer, gone are the days of deep, scheduled reading that leads to anticipation and appreciation for a content brand like Sports Illustrated. In its place, at least for me, is a venue better suited for breezing through story highlights, across an array of interests, from a multitude of sources.

    In a professional context, gone too are the days of solely directing energy toward driving clients to known entities. In its place is a mandate to continually assess and work with the most engaging voices — irrespective of past categorization — by taking an analytical view at a moment in time.

    Anyone Can Produce Content. Distribution is a Different Story.

    While anyone with an internet connection can be a content producer, what’s not democratic is content dissemination and visibility for it. Apple News+ is the latest and perhaps most visible case of big tech platforms having means to orchestrate that.

    The scale of distribution through Apple’s devices, combined with a model that elevates its own editorial curation with algorithmic publishing, gives reporters at venues like Vanity Fair ample reason to question if the company’s move represents a “party or wake.”

    For some esteemed media brands my bet continues to be on the latter. Only the strongest, most technically savvy sources will survive.

    This post was adapted from my newsletter on the fusion of machine intelligence, media and marketing.

    This week’s updates include Conde Nast selecting a tech leader as chief exec, why data is the new sex at Cosmo and vulnerability of Internet archives.









  • Media is getting smarter. So should you.

    Tech and media have always evolved together. From Gutenberg to Radio to Television, changes in technology wrought changes in media, always accompanied by massive shifts in behaviors and social conventions.

    At the birth of the World Wide Web, that cycle of change went into overdrive, launching a Moore’s Law velocity that sees cycles of change growing shorter and shorter, and the impact ever more radical. Thirty years since the Web said Hello, World, we’re living through the most disruptive shift in tech and media yet.

    Machine learning and artificial intelligence — still in their infancy — have become foundational capabilities within new media platforms, extending the scaffolding that supports our digital media ecosystem. Technology is no longer just a tool for communications directed by human intelligence. It has its own intelligence — one that at times augments human understanding, and at others confounds it. The implications — for businesses, for society, for communicators — couldn’t be greater.

    Our own journey at Weber Shandwick has directly followed this technology trajectory — from building static websites, to creating social media profiles and business processes, to riding the brand publishing and social commerce wave. But this time is different. The stakes are higher — and so is the learning curve.

    Consider the impact of how intelligence changes the game. Through the lens of fake news dissemination, it calls into question what we hear, read and watch. Through the lens of platforms, it creates opportunities to disrupt entire industries. Through the lens of automation, it changes the shape and viability of employment sectors.

    Machine intelligence changes the dynamics of business practices that came before it, introducing a completely new set of communications issues we have to react to in the moment. If you don’t have a sense for how the systems work, it’s hard to get a sense of what we can be done about them, or with them.

    Technology is no longer just a tool for communications directed by human intelligence. It has its own intelligence.

    Consider a very small sampling of headlines over the past few days alone — do grounded airplanes have “too much computer?” Or can companies be prosecuted for sharing data? Or if there is a way to stop the spread of horrific images social media sites.

    Understanding these technologies are now table stakes for communicators. That’s why we pulled together a research team to help our global employees become more fluent in these building blocks — including AI and machine learning, platforms, synthetic content, media forensics and immersive experiences.

    The output of our research is Media Genius: a study guide on tech forces behind media change. It has a summary of trends, real-world examples and hundreds of hours of free classes and tutorials curated from Stanford University and National Taiwan University, Amazon, Google, and lots more.

    Launch the Guide

    Media Genius breaks down the current intersection of technology and communications into five key categories:

    Implications of Artificial Intelligence

    AI — specifically the subsets known as Machine Learning and Deep Learning — form the basis for change we see unfolding. Media and communications pros must be fluent in the terminology. From natural language processing to advanced automation and personalization, machine intelligence is changing how media works. What’s more, as AI takes on new tasks, it’s having a range of impacts across business and society. Some of these help us explore the meaning of being human, while others are automating our worst tendencies at scale.

    AI is now creating art , assisting marketers in creative personalization and anchoring the news in China.

    Platforms and Power Dynamics

    Platforms are far from new. But the speed, agility and use is highly variable (Did you know the favorite new social network among teens is, of all things, Google Docs?). Understanding platforms provides visibility into ebbs and flows of media gatekeeping (from publishers to platforms to influencers). They enable new paths to billion-dollar franchises (seen through the “Uberization of name category” and DTC players upending retail). And most perhaps most troubling, change political discourse and authoritarian practice.

    Platforms like Tik Tok and Twitch are on the rise, while Snapchat struggles to realize its potential.

    Challenges (and Potential) of Synthetic Content

    The tech and media communities are still coming to grips with the creation and spread of fake news, the emergence of deep fakes and our means to determine what’s real or not. But thanks to open source explorations from incubators like Betaworks, a deeper look into the world of synthetic content has creative potential as well. Framed as a fusion of CG and AI, intelligent avatars may transform how we present ourselves, how influence gets generated and how news content gets artificially generated.

    From Deep Fakes to Avatars and Virtual Influencers, the hard lines of reality are blurring.

    Media Forensics and Issues Detection

    Did you know that social listening has evolved into a much more sophisticated forensic ability? One that is capable of processing massive amounts of data reflecting human and bot-generated interaction — through visible and dark web — to determine what is spreading, its velocity and predictions for potential impact. This forensic listening capability, along with advances in fake content detection, may provide a technical counter measures to the proliferation of fake content and brand safety concerns.

    From Meme Tracing to Culture Tapping and identifying Misinformation, media forensics provides context in a chaotic media landscape.

    Immersive and Micro Content Experiences

    New technology creates almost unlimited potential to shape stories and experiences. From 1:1 experiences to AR platforms, the means to engage through media has never been more rich. This limitless potential is generating a true creative revolution through a huge array of intelligent platforms and content management systems. Even as creative opportunities are exploding, others have opined that emphasizing creation over personal connection is a trap. Regardless of your perspective, the content innovation genie is out of the bottle.

    Creative opportunities are exploding, offering new modes of collaborative storytelling and interactive experiences. Even politicians are seizing these new opportunities.

    The categories above should make clear that as intelligence infiltrates all aspects of media, the changes we’re facing are rapid and widespread. By breaking down underlying forces at play and supporting them with relevant examples and classes, we felt the need to share resources for communicators to begin to understand these changes.

    By no means do we look at what we’ve provided as comprehensive or the end of the discussion. Building new instincts, based on open collaboration, is the only way we see staying smart as intelligence accelerates into all avenues of our world. If you’ve come across great examples, papers, books or big misses in how we’re thinking, we’re all ears.

    Special thanks to Julia Dixon and Mike Connery for their contributions to the project and leading collaborations with our teams and research fellows.









  • Agencies need to prioritize solving new problems over the easy sell

    Rarely does a day go by without a jarring, technology-induced headline suggesting that too much change is happening way too fast. As Alvin Toffler predicted almost 50 years ago in Future Shock, a new, technology-altered reality and sense of disorientation is setting in.

    As I write this, my newsfeed includes the following:

    Tesla is said to be subpoenaed by S.E.C. over Elon Musk’s Tweet…a Denver Bronco fan starts a GoFundMe page to cut quarterback Paxton Lynch…selfie filters trigger cosmetic surgery epidemics known as ‘Snapchat dysmorphia.’…Alex Jones’s InfoWars ban continues the debate about free speech and social media…The World Economic Forum warns that AI may destabilize the financial system…a hacker posts Snapchat’s source code on Github…a new facial recognition technology will authenticate 300,000 people at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics…oh, and SpaceX is organizing an inaugural conference to plan landings on Mars.

    The list could go on and on. And isn’t just stuff on the edges. These headlines signal deep changes in how society, warfare, markets and culture work.

    Are agencies today truly tuned to a changing reality?

    I view these changes as someone working inside a global agency paid to make sense of implications for clients. Based on my experience in the industry, common reactions to these types of headlines are:

    1. They’re not relevant or too far removed from planning and current campaigns.
    2. It’s someone else’s job to interpret or connect the dots on implications for the work.
    3. In aggregate, they portray a highly complex picture to be simplified to do anything actionable.
    4. They represent trends that will pass and can be ignored.

    This is reality distortion laid bare. And in that reality lies a stark choice for people in our industry: Go through the motions and face extinction, or move with urgency to rethink what value in this context might look like. That may include technologically relevant ideas, creative solutions or protective measures that reflect deep structural change unfolding in front of us.

    Solving for the necessary, new and unknown.

    We know at Weber Shandwick that we’re not immune to this reality. Given our global reach and work with emerging technology and new business models, we spend a lot of time on the forefront of change. We also help organizations of all types uncover new paths to drive value and execute programs that deliver it.

    Our belief is that a new, high-stakes era in marketing and engagement is unfolding— one that requires agencies of all kinds to “Solve for X” or else.

    “Solve for X” will require a deeper, more intentional fusion of data, utility and emerging technology.

    The “X” might be a more efficient solution to drive leads, sales or new businesses models.

    It may be using new platforms or applications that connect people or advance important causes.

    It might incorporate intelligence on how an unforeseen development or rogue interest group could damage reputation.

    It might be a new planning or production method that blends computing power with creative insight.

    And unquestionably, it will also force new ways of measuring the impact of marketing investments.

    This set of solutions follows a somewhat predictable path. But to get there we’re dealing with a growing list of unprecedented considerations.

    Like the fact that someone can build a billion dollar empire in 36 months off of snaps, stories and tweets. Or that soon we’ll need to manage reputations when anyone can Photoshop video and audio as easily as an image. Or need to decode how botnets and closet broadcasters communicating in coordination spike trending topics. Or be heard when news videos are produced algorithmically and distributed in as little 10 seconds or less.

    The speed at which we need to digest unthinkables can be hard to process. It’s also core to the job.

    It’s now part of the gig to understand new phenomena, make it a priority to discuss them, and develop new frameworks for what is valuable — and moral. Following fading conventions or using new technology without forethought of implications is not only inconsistent with reality, it’s fraught with risk.

    Technology seers like Joi Ito from MIT Lab are evangelical on the pace at which we need to view the world through a different lens, to hardwire an ability to adapt, and see things we would otherwise ignore because they don’t fit our current conditions.

    To that end, we’re taking steps to expand the ways we help clients and accelerate our mission to Solve for X.

    This includes creating The X Practice — a move that fuses our global capabilities across data-driven intelligence, digital innovation, technology sector insights, and media R&D into a blended team model. The horizontal practice has already led to a range of new services developed on behalf of clients — encompassing new analytics platforms, digital commerce, lead gen models, and media forensics that guide media buying decisions, stakeholder engagement, and more.

    But these advances might not take us far enough or as fast as needed with a move like this. As AI becomes more embedded in media and communications, we’re on the verge of a new era for agencies. As this happens, the criteria for assessing strategies and creative direction will change, along with the means to produce work and our talent mix needed to deliver it.

    Broadly speaking, the urgency to take meaningful steps is ratcheting up quickly. Klaus Schwab, Chairman of the World Economic Forum, suggests the required levels of leadership and understanding of changes underway across all sectors are low when contrasted with the need to rethink our economic, social, and political systems.

    There is tremendous opportunity and business risk for organizations around the world hanging in the balance.

    We Solve for X, or else.









  • Academic research teams are on the case. Here’s a sample of what they’ve discovered.

    Last week, I wrote about a big media paradox playing out in front of us — we’re tuning in to the news more than ever, but don’t fully believe what we see.

    According to Gallup, only 32 percent of us trust the media. While fake news is certainly a contributing factor, it masks a deeper movement taking shape — one that’s more about social engineering than validity of content created.

    These social mechanics have a major influence on what reaches us, our trust in sources and what we choose to believe.

    The revolution taking place here won’t be televised. What’s fueling change is happening beneath the surface in digital networks. Through a growing base of academic and expert research we can begin to see the way fake news originates, spreads and how that can inform our collective media literacy. Following are a few sources to help visualize what’s happening:

    Hacking the Attention Economy

    danah boyd

    Danah Boyd, Principal at Microsoft Research and the founder of Data & Society, posts frequently on mindsets and methods of hacking attention. From her studies, she suggests attention hackers initially wanted to show that they could manipulate media narratives through systems understanding and technical skill— and then demonstrate that they could break it. Over the past 15 years, it’s since expanded with a much deeper and broader methodology behind it:

    A new form of information manipulation is unfolding in front of our eyes. It is political. It is global. And it is populist in nature. The news media is being played like a fiddle, while decentralized networks of people are leveraging the ever-evolving networked tools around them to hack the attention economy.

    Pathology of a fake news story

    Leon Derczynski

    According to Leon Dercznski, a research fellow at Sheffield University, content and network analysis shows that propagation of fake news follows a very distinct and powerful path. Within this post, he dissects the process, showing how scale of attention can be achieved through a new, more diffused form of message dissemination. He says:

    Having a very high, rigorous standard of investigation isn’t necessarily related with motivating a large or important part of a population. If you want to present many voters in a swing state of the US, like Ohio, with a certain narrative, there are much more targeted — and cheaper — ways of doing this than getting a big authoritative story on CNN.

    Can Elections Be — Bot?

    Jonathan Albright

    Since the election, Elon Professor Jonathan Albright has done extensive research mapping connections between right-wing websites, social media accounts and the content that links them. His research found that bots play an important part — in certain cases being the loudest voice of all. Expect to see more on this front:

    In the networked politics of the future, the deployment of advanced automation strategies will become standard fare for campaigns seeking to shape public sentiment.

    Information Wars: A Window into the Alternative Media Ecosystem

    Kate Starbird

    Kate Starbird, a University of Washington professor, focused her initial research work on “crisis informatics” — or how information flows after a disaster. But soon she got dragged down the rabbit hole of assessing Twitter-boosted conspiracy theories — and ended up mapping how political moments now take hold.

    …“strange clusters” of wild conspiracy talk, when mapped, point to an emerging alternative media ecosystem on the web of surprising power and reach.

    Study: Alt-media ecosystem altered broader media agenda

    Columbia Journalism

    The Columbia Journalism Review recently covered just how powerful and influential these networks can be. Research teams from the Harvard Berkman Klein Center and MIT recently examined the rise and influence of alt-media networks.

    Based on analysis of more than a million news articles, social networking behaviors, and patterns that connected them, researchers uncovered a new, sophisticated organizing system at work. The study concluded:

    “This sphere appears to have not only successfully set the agenda for conservative media but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda.

    In Spite Of The Crackdown, Fake News Publishers Are Still Earning Money From Major Ad Networks

    Despite calls to curb fake news and fraud in the digital ecosystem, the money is still flowing. According to Buzzfeed and their Open Labs team, fake news publishers continue to find ways to earn money from major advertising networks, especially content-recommendation ad units, which provide ads made to look like real news headlines. The unfortunate truth:

    As long as the traffic is real and the ads are being served to real people, ad networks will accept fake news sites.

    There are a number of programs to watch to deepen our collective understanding around this issue, including the forthcoming Field Guide to Fake News from Public Data Lab and First Draft and cross-industry consortiums to help the industry address it — most notably the Jeff Jarvis and CUNY J-School-led News Integrity Initiative which my firm, Weber Shandwick, is a part of.

    While these represent a short list of studies and initiatives, it’s by no means exhaustive. Would be great to hear from you on other noteworthy examples we should be looking at.









  • You can say a lot of things about the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election, but one thing can’t be argued: Our collective media interest is cresting.

    According to figures reported today, Fox News delivered the highest-rated quarter ever in cable news, growing 27 percent in total day viewers compared to last year. CNN also had its best first quarter in 14 years reaching key demos and overall audience. Despite a third place finish, MSNBC viewership was up 55 percent. In Q1 publishers also saw a post-election surge with subscriptions growing at The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and more.

    While these numbers suggest all is well in the industry, media executives have serious, unprecedented issues to navigate. While we can’t seem to look away, we don’t necessarily buy what we’re seeing. According to Gallup, only 32 percent of Americans say they trust the media. Contributors like fake news, alternative truths and reaching a splintered public are now well known.

    Still less clear: What’s enabling the trust erosion to begin with. For those of us working in media and content-driven businesses, interpreting how underlying, disruptive trends mesh is essential to determine how influence and trust is now earned — and how to respond. Based on our own research, work and participation in industry forums, we believe deeper social network sensibilities and distinctive brand value are vital territories to explore.

    The conventional wisdom among media and corporate leaders says renewed focus on quality content — in marketing speak a product upgrade — is the answer. The belief is that better journalism, stronger storytelling and higher production standards will overpower niche or nefarious content, and in the process, get the trust mojo back. The talk of production upgrades alone is a trap.

    A growing chorus of thinkers like Ev Williams, Jeff Jarvis and Bharat Anand believe a fundamentally new direction is required — not simply to deliver better quality content, but to innovate around deeply ingrained network behaviors. Anand says: “In content worlds, we focus on the actions, tastes, or behaviors of consumers in isolation rather than on what connects them; we focus on making the “best” content rather than on what makes users share; we focus on the creative spark of genius and how to nurture it, or on a particular threat and how to suppress it.”

    This isn’t a theoretical statement coming from academia. There are five interrelated factors revolutionizing the way we interact with media content:

    1. Power: The big switch in information power from media producers to technology platforms is nearing maturity. Platforms such as Facebook and Google are now primary information gateways and referrers of traffic to publisher sites. They’re also our default networks for news. According to Pew Research, 62 percent of American adults access news on social media, up from 49 percent in 2012. With this power, Google and Facebook operate as a virtual duopoly, controlling over 65 percent of digital advertising growth last year.
    2. Personalization: Optimized to make the user experience as engaging as possible, online platforms capture a billion plus minutes of our attention each week by algorithmically delivering what we like to read, endorse, comment on and share. Have-it-my-way information feeds totally overturn the status quo around media control, influence and trust.
    3. Context: This power shift isn’t just about how editorial and ad content gets delivered. When platforms serve as information gateways, media producers not only forfeit control, they lose context. The idea of a carefully curated front page or brand experience gives way to a feed where news stories and ad units show up intermingled with baby pictures, offbeat memes and hateful, offensive content.
    4. Engagement: Declining trust in established media opens the door to new information sources. The best informed, most socially engaged sources will bypass institutions operating on production excellence alone. Those with the deepest understanding of psychology, network behavior and new protocols stand a far greater chance of reaching us than those who simply tell a good story.
    5. Influence: This is where it gets particularly disruptive for content-centric operators. Individuals who share content are now seen to deliver as much value as those investing big money to produce it. Even more, those who build human connections and automated systems that enable scaled content dissemination completely upend the dynamics of media influence.

    New research released last week reinforces why network engagement around news and information is more important to grok today than the content itself. A joint study published by The American Press Institute and The Associated Press enlisted 1,400 US adults to determine how much faith people placed in news sources — and each other.

    Roughly 50 percent said stories got the facts right when it was shared by a public figure they trusted, compared to 35 percent who said the same when they didn’t trust the sharer. Participants were also more likely to engage around the article when they got it from an influencer they trusted.

    The news source that reported the story didn’t have much of an effect on whether the respondents believed the story to be true. Only about 2 in 10 could remember the source of the article.

    Remember, the #1 shared article for the six weeks preceding the election was a piece from the “Denver Guardian.” Apparently, not only do we care less about the media outlets we receive information from, we might not even care whether or not they actually exist.

    While the search for truth-well told remains a primary goal, there’s a pressing question for media strategists and producers that accompanies it: Do you deeply understand network and influence patterns around issues relevant to your agenda?

    Those who possess more knowledge and power here have a major leg up. Not merely because they are more connected, but also because they actually design and influence the new ways that media works.

    In another study, research teams from the Harvard Berkman Center and MIT recently examined the rise and influence of alt-media networks. While post-campaign expert analysis continues to focus on the rise of fake news, decline of truth and outside actors interfering with the election process, it overlooks new, underlying fundamentals that may have swayed election results.

    Published this month in the Columbia Journalism Review, the study found that a densely-networked group of alternative news outlets operated as an internally coherent, insulated knowledge community throughout the campaign. Based on analysis of more than a million news articles, social networking behaviors, and patterns that connected them, they uncovered a new, sophisticated organizing system at work.

    Repetition, variation, and circulation of content across densely-linked sites and social media accounts made claims — factual or not — familiar to people and elevated them via trending topics, top search queries and mainstream media pick-up.

    The study concluded: “This pro-Trump media sphere appears to have not only successfully set the agenda for conservative media but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda.”

    TRANSFORMING THE MEDIA BRAND. A common Web 2.o refrain suggests as content becomes king all companies must become media companies. Given the network effects now in play, the tables turn a bit. All media organizations must become innovation driven, user centric brands.

    The most sophisticated consumer brands are symbols as much as products — painstakingly designed to embody ideals their target users value and help people express who they want to be. The best brands also recognize that taste, choices and behavior are not static, and therefore, make innovation part of their DNA. And they complement product and intangible qualities with a highly influential voice that leads to a loyal, repeat following.

    The New York Times is making headlines for this type of transformational approach. According to Wired, hundreds of Times’ journalists, designers, engineers, data scientists and product managers are hard at work rethinking their business model while breathing new life into their brand.

    Beyond their recent “Truth is Hard” campaign, they are developing plans to deliver a new content and services proposition that leads to Netflix-like engagement and subscription revenues.

    To help bolster its news brand the company has tasked an internal innovation team to deliver a new suite of editorial products —including apps, blogs and verticals — that span political commentary, cooking, gadget advice, entertainment, real estate services and more.

    The products are being delivered through a range of technology and reader engagement initiatives that include content partnerships with Facebook, big bets into VR, augmented reader interaction via artificial intelligence and in-person educational programs for students.

    It’s one to watch closely. The New York Times is taking a page out the new marketing playbook: Become a primary information and services platform that comprehensively addresses user needs and social behaviors.

    Whether you’re looking into innovation happening inside the publishing and TV news industry, or outside at how brands are becoming media entities in their own right, it would be wise to look at where the engagement and money is going, despite what the current post-election numbers tell us.

    As author Clay Shirky notably said, “Communication tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. It’s when a technology becomes normal, then gets ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that’s where the profound changes happen.”

    The media industry will need all the help it can get to manage through revolutionary change to sustain their growth — and influence.









  • The creative potential of mobile platforms is growing, and still largely untapped

    I grew up fully immersed in commercial art. My Dad was a partner in the aptly named Graphic House, a Detroit-based studio that created the raw material for car marketing and advertising.

    He brought me to his office quite a bit. Far from the polished, midcentury style codified in Mad Men, his studio was where real madness played out. It was a fast-growing, blue collar outfit — an ad-house populated by artisans — typesetters, illustrators, storyboard artists, designers and more.

    The influx of desktop publishing onto the floors of agencies in the early 80s turned handcrafted art made in his place to computer code. In an instant, his business model, and the craft that came from it, was finished.

    This personal story from the past reflects what’s happening today. The way content is made, by whom, and in what formats, is being reinvented again (and again) through mobile means.

    We underestimate what we have in hand — commercial quality cameras, editing software and mass broadcast potential in our pocket.

    Our creations flow seamlessly into an environment that BLENDS consumer generated, journalist produced and commercial content into a massively growing, fully integrated storytelling ecosystem.

    What we can all do individually is increasingly at odds with a conventional, silo’d brand approach many brand and media organizations maintain. This represents a growing engagement gap, one that demands a new type of creative studio model and mindset for organizations to bridge it.

    If you’re a commercial media-maker you’ll need to leave lots of conventions behind too. We’re entering a new era of uncertainty, with seemingly infinite creative possibility to tell stories.

    So in this package on Media Decoded, we’re asking some bright thinkers and makers to offer their perspective on what works and where new creative opportunities are there for the taking.

    Here are some highlights to come:

    — Chief Creative Officer for Weber Shandwick, Josh S. Rose, takes us on a visual journey through Los Angeles explaining photographic principles and how we can make our visuals stand out.

    — Weber Shandwick digital executive Kandace Cook explores the notion of rabid self-expression through social lenses and photo filters and lays out how brands can join this conversation — and even exercise some influence — by creating something so unique enough to stick.

    — Ian Cohen, Weber Shandwick’s production and content innovation lead, shares his rules on when to go or *not* go live as a brand.

    — We’ll also feature perspectives from comedy troupe Upright Citizen’s Brigade on how brands can infuse humor in video, TrackMaven’s Kara Burney on visual politics, Knight International Journalism Fellow and storyteller Mariana Santos on using 360 video at the Paralympics, and more.

    It’s truly a creator’s world out there — the canvas in hand allows for more ways to express ourselves, and organizations we represent than ever.

    Some ideas below provide a taste of what’s to come.


    Hillary Clinton Debate GIF by Product Hunt - Find & Share on GIPHY









  • I spent this week in London doing something I love about this business — partnering with people who have both bold vision and the wherewithal to bring it to life.

    The people in this case are the principals of Flipside, a pioneering mobile agency joining Weber Shandwick. The addition helps us address the pressing need to rethink marketing and communications as mobile remakes our world.

    Analysts have touted “it’s the year of mobile” for years. And in many ways it’s indeed here. According to comScore data released this week, mobile overall is now the leading digital platform, with total activity on smartphones and tablets accounting for two-thirds of digital media time spent.

    But there’s another lens in to confirm that we’ve arrived.

    As the market matures and consolidates within platforms like Facebook, Google and Apple, business-at-large is still in its infancy using mobile as a transformational, creative tool.

    So in that way a big gap exists between understanding the shift and going all-in to win here. We see two simple reasons for that:

    1. Speed — Taking small, incremental steps in context of dynamic, rapidly evolving platforms.
    2. Attachment — The impulse to emulate or extend what is already known, like treating mobile as a smaller version of desktop.

    Look at media and advertising in this context. To a large extent, marketers consider mobile simply as another medium to drive awareness-building, advertising-minded tactics onto smaller screen.

    If typical industry conversations are any indication, the new marketing agenda still centers around optimizing prepackaged content, media spending and programmatic placements.

    Done right, it’s all unquestionably part of the new deal. But we can do better.

    (Image source: Benedict Evans, Mobile is Eating the World)

    Leaders like Flipside use the smartphone’s functionality to create all-new, mobile-native experiences, utilities and media. The opportunity to build and extend real brand value here — versus exclusively communicate it — is huge.

    We continue to strongly believe that every company must now be a media company, and more than ever, make mobile products central to communications and customer engagement strategies going forward.

    Stewart Brand, the famed author of The Whole Earth Catalogue and respected ecologist, said once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.

    It’s unquestionably clear what’s driving tech forward. Partners like Flipside will continue to help us and our clients use its force and creative potential to best advantage.









  • It’s distinct, immature, still misunderstood. But if you’re fully invested, there’s a powerful business case.

    Photo by Leif Eliasson

    As media of all kind enters a new era, branded content has pushed its way to the front of marketing conversations. There’s an influx of investment — and, in parallel, increased scrutiny on its impact.

    Having been in the center of these conversations with lots of clients, we have a working sense on what’s unfolding and why content — through the lens of sustained brand publishing — is an essential new marketing competency.

    These lessons are hard-earned from literally tens of thousands of hours of client work. Some is award-winning; others represent an applied R&D road to the future.

    Here’s a host of honest takes on what matters in branded content:

    1) It’s editorially-based (but not journalism).

    Let’s be clear— brand content is commercial content. But when produced with consumer value in mind and honest intent it’s still unquestionably an avenue for engagement.

    Every brand has a depth of expertise and point-of-view that complements independent publishers covering the same space, in deep niches no single media outlet could profitably cover. The best brands commit to share that expertise — and don’t call it journalism.

    2) It’s honest.

    Branded content is powerful when it offers something of value. It doesn’t trick, alarm or manipulate the user in any way. Branded content masquerading as independent coverage is misleading.

    The most adept brands think deeply about what they can credibly and consistently publish to — and don’t resort to bad ideas like this.

    Photo by Karsten Knoefler

    3) It’s anti-broadcast.

    Successful publishing aligns with people’s needs, interests, identities and content platforms of choice. The context is everything.

    The most common barrier is about reuse of broadcast-minded content. It’s critical to understand the nuances of each and what people will find interesting and insightful.

    4) It’s distributed.

    Winning is not about blindly filling in boxes on web or social media pages with brand content. Build it and they will come does not apply here.

    Audience development practices from publishers apply to brands too — often requiring a mix of SEO, PR, paid, and email to get visibility, engagement and recurring visits to the work.

    5) It’s institutional.

    Moving brand publishing to the center of marketing is a change management exercise. Without a refreshed operating system — factoring in culture, talent, performance measures and processes — long-term value is dead on arrival.

    A recent Accenture content marketing report claims less than one in five leaders believe they manage content well. Leadership is required to work on the model as much as what comes from it.

    Image by Dave Gray

    6) It’s collaborative.

    Programs can’t be be delivered through talents that sit solely inside one company or agency. Too much innovation is happening in too many camps to say any single entity will do.

    Impact might be delivered by a new dynamic production entity, CMS, distribution partner — or something that defies any category slot. Leaders invest to bring the best capabilities together — from inside their halls and out.

    Members of the Mediaco team at Weber Shandwick, collaborating on the tech side of brand publishing

    7) It’s measurable.

    How you choose to measure content impact must happen early in the conversation.

    Put aside standard “content” KPIs (page views, visits, unique visitors) for a moment and take the time to assess potential business ROI — like media efficiency, lead gen avenues, brand lift, and engagement across the customer journey. A business focus, backed by measurement, is the only way to make the case for sustained brand publishing investment.

    8) It’s distinct.

    Done right, brand publishing borrows from editorial, creative, analytical, production, digital marketing and media disciplines. It’s a blend of these specialties that leads to something new.

    Whether driving through a brand or PR function, avoid the idea that it’s “just an extension of what we’ve always done.” The orchestration requires new thinking and an appetite for experimentation.

    9) It’s powerful.

    Doug Holt recently questioned the value of brand content in his Harvard Business Review cover story. He suggests that brands can’t win by trying to hijack social media audiences. And he’s right. Brands can win when they put credibility and service value over stunts and novelty. When you give people insights and power through your content, you can see returns.

    10) It’s essential.

    Some believe brand publishing is already a passing fad or that branded content is nothing new. But the reality is we’re just beginning. In the face of ad blocking and the power shift from publishers to social platforms, effective brand content will only become more essential to win in the hearts and minds of people critical to your business.

    Chris Perry is Chief Digital Officer of Weber Shandwick and global chair of Mediaco, Weber Shandwick’s brand publishing arm.