A trip to Seattle, a couple of days with the Marine Corps & Microsoft, and a day on Whidbey Island.

Whidbey Panorama

A panoramic view of Whidbey Island. Standing on the beach in Langley looking east. Camano Island across the water.

I’m on the plane heading back from Seattle after finally scoring an upgrade on a cross-country flight, so I’m in relaxed, in a good mood, and reflecting on a pretty awesome past couple of days. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to attend a couple of days with our Marine Corps client, our media partners, and several different disciplines within Microsoft. We spent yesterday on the Microsoft Campus in Bellevue with several members of the advertising team, the Xbox team, and a few different groups within the Kinect team. Today we were lucky to get some time before we took off for the airport with the Skype team and had a really great discussion around the possibilities of their platform. Lots of great conversation, great ideas, and great technology. It’s tremendously rewarding to have chances like this to sit around a table with incredibly smart, enthusiastic, passionate people who love what they do and spend an afternoon brainstorming ways to make something better. To make an experience better. To make a process better. To work on something that’s already good, and make it great.

I know the specs are out there, and anyone can see on paper how much of an improvement the v2 Kinect (The Kinect on the Xbox One) is over the v1 (360), but witnessing a presentation and seeing some pretty compelling demonstrations of it up close, is another thing entirely. The increase in resolution and camera/microphone capability, plus the leaps in software development have enabled the former “Natal Project” to begin to realize its potential as a game changing User Interface. Microsoft is one of the leaders in Human-Computer Interaction research - Natural User Interface (NUI) is something they’ve spent a lot of time looking into – and the things they were able to demonstrate beyond gaming are amazing to see. I was completely blown away by some of the ways the technology is being used.

In addition to the time spent with Microsoft, we had a really great time with the Marines. It was a real pleasure to have a chance to spend some time with Maj General Brilakis & Lt Col Hernandez and their respective teams, and hear firsthand how the work you’re doing is impacting the challenges that go hand in hand with recruiting the best & brightest and turning them into Marines. We had an absolutely amazing dinner on Lake Union and were able to continue our conversation about technology, recruiting, advertising. We were even able to swap some stories and I learned what everyone’s first car was! I hadn’t thought about that Mustang in years!

Deception Pass Bridge

Deception Pass looking south, towards Oak Harbor and Whidbey Island.

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of the trip for me, was a chance to spend a day driving up to Oak Harbor and Deception Pass. I haven’t been back there in years, and it turned out that Sunday was the ceremonial, “first beautiful day of the year” with a 70 degree day and not a cloud in sight. My friend/co-worker Dave and I made it to Mukilteo in time to catch the 9:30 ferry over to the island and got to Langley just in time to grab an incredible breakfast at The Braeburn Restaurant before making our way up the Island. After spending some time wandering around the park at Deception Pass we headed back south to Oak Harbor. I made Dave drive the long way around so I could snake back through “downtown” and was pleased to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Downtown Oak Harbor still looked exactly the way I remembered it. We stopped at Seabolt’s Smokehouse, grabbed some lunch (again, with the crab) and I made sure not to leave without getting a gift box of Seabolt’s Smoked Salmon to take back to the ATL. A gift I’ll be sure and pass along to myself for a job (some job… any job) well done!

All in all, a really great trip. Both professionally, and personally, this was one that I really enjoyed and can look back on and really soak in what I was able to see, and discuss, and think about. These things cram a lot into a few days, but I have no doubt that I was sufficiently inspired to go out and make cool shit. Lots of cool, cool shit.

Adobe Marketing Summit 2014 and an Evening with Vampire Weekend

Salt Lake City

A panoramic view of Salt Lake City, Utah

I was in Salt Lake City last week for the Adobe Summit, their annual Marketing Cloud gathering. I’ve attended over a dozen Max Conferences, which cover the Creative Cloud portion of the business, but this was my first experience at the other side of the equation. I’m looking at working in Adobe Experience Manager over the next twelve months so I was looking forward to digging into some of the new features of their platforms. I wasn’t disappointed.

The theme of the conference this year was “Reinventing Marketing” and both of the General Sessions (Tuesday and Wednesday) were great platforms to demonstrate not only what reinvention looks like, but how Adobe’s suite of tools are leading the way. With a host of new features focused on customers and their various interactions all along the funnel, it’s clear that the future of CRM/Media/Social/Analytics/Marketing/Content is all becoming one “cloudy” ecosystem of interlocking tools that are allowing marketers to gain insight in ways not previously seen.

With the ability to do advanced real-time audience profiling, predictive marketing mix planning, and technology that seamlessly manages content across the Web and mobile apps, the Adobe Marketing Cloud is growing into a compelling suite of tools. Most of the sessions I sat in on were focused on Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) and it’s clear that this is the centerpiece of the collection. The latest release of AEM has a nice list of new features that will go a long way towards realizing the “reinvention of marketing”. Language Translation, Content Insight, App Authoring, Digital Asset Management, Unified Moderation, and (for me) the most interesting of the bunch, a tag language that can create HTML assets at runtime from Data pulled from the server. Really interesting stuff. As someone who was new to the platform, I was quite blown away.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Adobe event without the “Adobe Bash” and this year didn’t disappoint. I’ll leave you with a couple of things. First, Adobe is obviously making all the right moves. They’re centralizing a realtime engine for digital marketing and it’s pretty epic. Secondly, there’s no greater band on earth than Vampire Weekend.

Welcome to SXSW – Day 1

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First day in Austin. Landed this morning, straight to the Palmer Center to work on the Mario Kart experience we’ve been putting together since late last year. It’s nice to see all the hard work and big ideas come to life. It’s the most rewarding part of the job, by far. Make sure you check out the accompanying website that my team in Dallas put together. I’m really proud of the work they did.

Next up, a packed day two!

The JWT Holiday House

Earlier this year I held an “Ardiuno/RaspberryPi Challenge” for my office in Dallas. I was looking to inspire engineers to activate and engage their creative sides and I did so by purchasing Raspberry Pis and Arduinos for anyone who signed up to participate. They didn’t disappoint. We wound up with several ideas, a couple of which made in front of clients (and potential clients!) and one which I cherished and latched onto the moment I heard it.

First, a little backstory. I manage Creative Technology, Database/CRM, Reporting, and Analytics disciplines. A majority of which are working out of our Dallas office. So I routinely fly back & forth between Dallas and Atlanta to manage projects, oversee the teams, etc. As you can imagine, any time you’re bridging both a cultural gap (engineers and creatives) and a literal distance gap, you face challenges. We’re always looking for little ways to make that “connection” between the two offices. With that in mind, one of my developers came up with the idea of creating an interactive “greeting card” that could connect two places in a meaningful and engaging way. The minute I heard the idea I said, “Okay, we’re making that. I don’t care how it happens, we’re making it”.

The result? The JWT Holiday House. A raspberry-pi-powered, proximity-detecting, photo-taking, wifi-enabled, Tumblr-posting “Gingerbread House”. Styled after the 8-bit world of “Minecraft”, the accessories and embellishments were fashioned from our 3-D printer, and the house itself was built by the guys and gals in the Dallas office as a holiday season labor of love. Beginning after Thanksgiving, and concluding a week before Christmas, the team threw themselves into cutting, nailing, glueing, soldering, painting, and printing after hours and on the weekends. Once the mayhem was complete, what we had in our possession were two identical holiday houses, one for Atlanta, and a surprise second house that we sent to New York. They were created to be completely turnkey. You unboxed the house, plugged it in, and it powered up, got on the network, and began looking for people to walk in front of it.

When you approached the house, the proximity detector noticed you and played a random, prerecorded Holiday Greeting from someone in Dallas, then once it had your attention, it snapped a quick picture of you, uploaded it to Tumblr, and connected you (your photo) with the person in Dallas who wished you holiday greetings.

It was a tremendous success, the participation and engagement was off the charts. So many people loved the idea and spent a lot of time coming up with hilarious ways to play in front of the camera.

Best of all? It was a truly creative idea that originated and was produced entirely within the “engineering department” of the agency. Agency nerds, normally tasked with banging out code rolled up their sleeves and got in touch with their creative sides. I couldn’t have been more proud.

Media Mentions:
Celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, Ad-Agency Style (Ad Age)

More of 2013′s Best Agency Holiday Cards (Digiday)

USMC Mobile Website

This week, ahead of schedule and under budget, my team delivered a hugely successful mobile deployment for the United States Marine Corps. A terrific example of powerful teamwork and collaboration, this project represents a continuation of the increasingly complex work we’re doing in mobile. With a mobile display layer that accommodates a huge array of handsets and screens, this one was a nice sized effort that required tremendous oversight and a lot of planning & strategy.

One of the biggest challenges with this project was leveraging the existing CMS for content, while presenting larger, longer-form experiences in smaller, bite-sized chunks. We needed to build over an existing infrastructure, a way to take content that was originally (and optimally) designed for a desktop experience, reduce it in both size and scope, and wrap it in a mobile display layer that still reflected both the brand and a look & feel consistent with the desktop experience.

Mission accomplished. Check out some of the shots below, and make sure you take a look at the website in your mobile device.

Speaking at Digital Hollywood, Fall 2013, Los Angeles, California

Last week, I participated in my second speaking engagement at Digital Hollywood. I had previously spoken there in May, on a panel there to discuss the USMC Youtube brand page and I suppose I must’ve done okay because they invited me back again. This time, I was on another panel, and once again the topic was Youtube. The topic of my Panel was “The Power of YouTube: Unlocking the Power of Programming, Premium Content and Advertising” and it was part of the “strategic sessions” track. I had a fantastic time and was part of an amazingly talented group of panelists. We discussed YouTube channels, business models for success, curation challenges (which I totally owned… that was my sweet-spot!), and the challenges of creating compelling branded content. I had a blast. As the only “big agency” representative on the panel, I was able to offer some unique insights that I felt were well received. The difficult task at a lot of these panel type affairs is to ensure that you’re offering up a nice balance of compelling insights and participation. You don’t want to dominate the conversation, and you certainly don’t want to be a wallflower. The conversation flowed nicely, the moderator was terrific and kept the talk moving along, and the varied expertise of the participants made for a wonderfully eclectic POV on an issue that, quite frankly, not a lot of people have really successfully wrapped their heads around. I was fortunate that I had a good story to tell and an even better case study in effective use of YouTube, and was able to ultimately tie it all back to the topic. Of course, it’s super easy when you’re repping such great work.

The Power of YouTube: Unlocking the Power of Programming, Premium Content and Advertising
The Strategic Sessions – Let’s Get Started!
Monday, October 21st
10:00 AM – 11:15 AM
Digital Hollywood – October 21 – 24th
Michael Chiang, VP of Platforms, Break Media
Jeff Small, Director of Creative Technology / JWT Atlanta
Michelle Sullivan, VP, Digital, Kids & Family, National Geographic
Evan Bregman, Director of Digital Media, Electus
Alex Jacobs, Vice President of Social, Digitas
Paul Snow, Manager, TV and Film Content Partnerships, YouTube
Sharalyn Hartwell, Executive Director, Magid Generational Strategies™, Moderator

SXSW 2013 and Walter

Last month, I had one of the most amazing experiences of my professional career. I was a participant in WALTER. The first startup agency for startups. We spent 5 days from start to finish, introductions and pitches to go-to-market campaign, hellos to goodbyes.

Then poof, it was over.

In those five days we met over a dozen startups, put together a brand strategy, developed a creative brief, and put together a fantastic 60-second spot. We also ate barbecue, stood in some lines, and listened to some great bands. It was a hack-a-thon for advertising, and we killed it. I’m so proud to have participated in it and it’ll remain one of the greatest experiences of my advertising career.

Media Mentions:
JWT Launches ‘Walter,’ a Pop-Up Agency for Startups at SXSW

JWT LAUNCHES POP-UP AGENCY THAT WILL ONLY WORK DURING SXSW

Why JWT’s “Walter” Will Work

JWT Pops Up As “Walter” At SXSW

JWT is Launching a Pop-Up Agency During SXSW

JWT’s WALTER Announces Plotter as Winner of Startup Brand Campaign

United States Marine Corps YouTube Brand Channel

We recently launched another great experience, the USMC Youtube brand channel. It’s another great idea with some terrific functionality. We had a problem to solve, and it was a content curation problem. We had all the content, but how to subjectively appeal to the broad audience that comes to the United States Marine Corps’ Youtube Brand Channel? That was the challenge. The solution? A “Pandora-esque” quick-like-thumbs-up content tagging and smart recommendation engine. We took all our content, and cross referenced it within YouTube then layered a “smart playlist builder” algorithm over it to create the first of its kind YouTube Brand Channel functionality. As you can see by the case study video above, it got quite the reception, with a 1500% jump in engagement within the first month.

Media Mentions:
Marines Launch New Pandora-inspired YouTube Brand Channel

UPDATE: As of March 21, 2014 this has made it’s way to the National Addy Award. On February 19th, 2014, it won Gold at the Atlanta Addys, and on March 21, 2014 it was the District 7 Addy Award Winner, advancing to the National Addy Awards. 

So what is it about Neal Adams, anyway?

I was a Batman fan before I could read. Growing up in the early 70s, my exposure to Batman was courtesy of the famous Batman television show. Sock! Pow! Bam! “Holy Campy TV Show, Batman!” I was under the age of ten, I wasn’t reading yet, and my early experience with comics was learning to read (“so the fluffy clouds mean they’re thinking… and the plain round balloons mean they’re talking!”) via Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes. Pretty harmless stuff.

Then something happened.

It happened around 1977. I was ten years old and I saw something that made me stop in my tracks. It was the oversized collection of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ Ra’s Al Ghul stories. Originally published in 1971, the series completely redefined a Batman who was suffering from camp and overexposure, returning him to his “Dark Knight” roots and electrifying the comics industry with a combination of O’Neil’s dark, compelling stories and Adams’ dynamic, almost hyper-realism. All this had occurred about six years earlier, but it was all new to me. I was about six years or so behind that curve, but my childhood love of comics was started by the very same series of events. Up to that point, I thought Batman was funny. He fought silly villains named, “The Mad Hatter”, “Egghead”, “King Tut” and “The Riddler”. He had a hyperactive sidekick who only seemed capable of annoying you to death with his endless stream of “Holy Catchphrases”. He certainly wasn’t someone to take seriously… like Superman… or Flash.

But here he was, on the cover of that book looking like he could easily kick the ass of every character in the DC Universe, and he was suffering… and waitaminute… is that Robin? Dead? And who’s that evil sonofabitch behind him with the claws, looking like he’s actually happy that Robin’s dead? Now, I’m only ten years old, but I couldn’t help but notice there’s a very exotic woman there looking pretty damn sexy off to the side. What’s she got to do with all this? It’s a dollar, it’s a giant comic book. Well, I just HAVE to have this.

So I got my hands on it and sat down and proceeded to learn about Talia, Ra’s, the Lazarus Pit. I was mesmerized. This wasn’t the Batman I knew. This was… I dunno, a real Batman. This wasn’t a guy with impossible powers travelling at Super Speed, or an alien from Krypton. This was the world’s greatest detective, and he was detecting. He knew martial arts and was a master of disguise. He was a scientist and an escape artist, and he was armed with the most awesome set of gadgets money could buy.

Once this switch was turned on, it would never again be turned off, and I would never again look at “comics” or “superheroes” the same way again. This was the bar. Neal and Denny had raised it to precisely this point.

It also exposed me to “creators” for the first time ever. I mean, I had to learn, “who were these guys?” and “Why was this comic so radically different from everything else I had read before?” and the answer of course was storytelling and art. So naturally, I had to find out, “who wrote this?” and “who drew those amazing images of Batman and Robin?” I began looking for more of Neal Adams’ work, and more stories written by Denny O’Neil. The next, most obvious discovery was the work the pair did outside of “The Demon” series of stories involving Ra’s. The work on Batman and Detective with Two-Face, the Joker, and the reinvention of the gothic Dark Knight Detective. That led to his work on Brave and Bold, and eventually I came across the ground-breaking work the two did on Green Lantern/Green Arrow. Admittedly, those books were a little too advanced for a ten year old, but I still “got it”. These weren’t your typical superhero books. This wasn’t Spider-Man cracking jokes and shooting webs at a Lizard Man, or a guy who could stretch his arms around Dr. Doom. This was… well… “real”.

So that’s really it in a somewhat long-winded nutshell. I love superheroes, I love Batman, and I’ll never forget the first time I realized that Batman was real.

One of my greatest disappointments in life.

I think if I had to look back on my life, I would be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed that I never worked in a, “top-secret nerve center”. I mean, who wouldn’t want to go to work every day in some sort of underground (I’m assuming they’re underground, since… you know, I’ve never BEEN inside a “top-secret nerve center”) place, humming with the activity of very, very important work, essential to… something. Right?