We just finished up a digital capabilities video that was used in some creds pieces and some digital business pitches. It was a fun experience and I appreciated being able to boast a little bit about our capabilities. I think we do amazing things here, I’m proud of the team we’ve assembled at JWT. The work is creative, fun, easy going, collaborative, and something to look back on fondly. Have a look, see what we’ve done!
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.
Celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, Ad-Agency Style (Ad Age)
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.
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I just flew back from NYC, spending the day yesterday in the Stack Overflow offices participating in StrategyHack, a hackathon for startups and strategists. It was an amazing experience, and I’m go grateful to the organizers for selecting me and providing me an awesome, awesome opportunity. In true hackathon fashion, we met, drank coffee, brainstormed, strategized, and shipped, all in less than a day.
It had all happened pretty fast. I had applied to participate in StrategyHack around the end of October. I was quickly notified that I was accepted, and began making plans to fly up for the day. It’s a NYC advertising/marketing/startup/technology community focused effort, so everyone else was just getting up early on Saturday and heading into the offices, but the team at StratHack reassured me that I’d be fine flying in, and the only thing I’d miss would be the mixer event last Thursday. That did kinda bum me out because teams were announced, and it would’ve been a great chance to meet the startup I’d be working with and spending some time with my new teammates. But I’d be alright, so I flew in Friday afternoon and flew back Sunday morning, giving me the entire Saturday to participate. Begrudgingly I tried to get a good night’s sleep even though I was staying down in Chelsea, which I think we can both agree, is a great place to be stuck on a Friday night.
I was fortunate enough to draw both a great team and a great startup. The Startup I was paired with was CreativeWorx, makers of the Time management/tracking software “TimeTracker”. I had attended Adobe Max earlier this year, in May, and they were an attendee whose tool piqued my interest because of its integration into CreativeCloud. As a CreativeCloud “Power User”, I was intrigued. The actual person that we were partnered with was Mark Hirsch, CEO of CreativeWorx. He’s an amazingly smart guy with a passion and an idea that you can’t help but get caught up by. He could talk to you about the idea, the business, the competitive landscape, the challenges, the successes… he wasn’t afraid to try new ideas and was completely engaged in the whole process and brought so much to the table.
Joining me in a tight, smart, enthusiastic three-person team to tackle his challenge was Cindi Rosner and Hiroki Murakami. Two terrific teammates who jumped in with both feet and really hit the ground running. By lunchtime we were beginning to understand the challenges that Mark faced, and were starting to gel around a central “theme” or idea. That was right around the time the StrategyHack final presentation requirements went out and we realized we had only a couple of more hours before we had to have a C-suite level presentation ready to go and present to a tough room that wouldn’t hesitate to challenge your assumptions and make sure you were on your toes. It’s time like this that you see first hand that pressure can crush things mercilessly, but also produces diamonds.
As we were walking off after presenting our comprehensive strategic vision concisely eloquently in the supplied six minutes (it goes by fast!) and successfully fielding a few astute questions, I was able to gain further insight into what I picked up from my WALTER experience at SXSW. The “hackathon” process of high pressure, forced focus, with real deadlines and real deliverables, is an entirely appropriate framework for quickly gaining traction among multiple discipline projects. The ability to come together, focus on a problem, engage teams of thought leaders to think outside of comfort zones can really result in great things. As we’re tasked more and more with providing solutions, and those solutions are taking the form of complex ecosystems, the need to explore various iterations of tightly integrated teams becomes more and more important. It’s not enough just to have them in the building. You have to throw them together in ever-increasingly complex combinations. This ensures that you’re actively seeking to find the right combination of spark, timing, insight, inspiration, and enthusiasm. You’ve got the brains and the talent, now cook them in different soups and see what works in pleasantly surprising ways.
How do you demonstrate the value of switching to Pennzoil? How do you take a bunch of car data, mash it up with fuel efficiency formulas and communicate (effectively and in an engaging way!) why you should switch to Pennzoil? How do you show, in a tangible way, what those savings represent?
This week, my team launched a Pennzoil Fuel Calculator on Pennzoil.com. I was once again completely blown away by the work my Creative Technology group did on such a fantastic jQuery parallax calculator experience. The Pennzoil Creative team knocked it out of the park with their design work and guidance, and we were able to pick up on their vision and make it a reality. I personally enjoyed watching what happens when you sit creative down at the desk next to developers and get out of the way. Remember, the cleanest lines of communication are the shortest. Put the guy (or gal!) building it next to the guy (or gal!) whose idea it is to build it, and you get sweet, sweet results.
When you’re responsible for technology, sometimes it can become all too… tactical. You begin to quickly get to “the solution” place and by the time you’re reading this, we’ve already arrived at the end and are just waiting for you to get here. It’s an engineering trap. Forgetting you’re creative. Forgetting that you have a spark, or a natural curiosity; a desire to create things, build stuff. Sometimes you simply forget to come up for air and look around and smell the proverbial flowers.
So one of the first things I did when I took over Creative Technology, Database, and Analytics for JWT was work very hard to focus on the idea, “sure, you’re a developer, I get it… you’re an engineer, but you build stuff… you’re inherently creative and you work in a creative environment… embrace that shit”. I wanted my gang to enjoy using the right side of their brains. So I offered them up a little somethin’ somethin’ to get their creative juices flowing: I would buy anyone who wanted to sign up a Raspberry Pi and Arduino and let them do anything they wanted. Client related, not client related, fun, experimental, new… whatever they wanted. The only catch was, you had to come back in 90 days and give a presentation on your project. You had to tell us what your big idea was, what inspired you, and how you did it… oh, and you had to demo your project.
Five teams signed up. I was impressed right off the bat that it wasn’t individuals that signed up, but that my offer spawned several conversations among like-minded, organic groups (who, I might add, didn’t normally work together… so there’s that!) that evolved into formal ideas. There was a demonstration of Raspberry Pi running Xbox Media Center (XBMC), the open source Home Theater Software. A terrific idea involving geo-fencing/mapping, and outdoor location. One of my lead developers put together a demo/presentation of a larger idea for a “Holiday Card” that could potentially bridge the gap between two remote locations in a fun, engaging, and ultimately very impressive manner (that one I kept in my back pocket. As soon as I saw the idea I just told everyone in the room, “okay, we’re building THAT one this Christmas… you watch”). An iPhone powered paintball gun that was one of the highlights of the demonstration and created such an active discussion in the room, that it went from “An iPhone Powered Paintball Gun” to a “Twitter Powered T-Shirt Cannon” in less than five minutes. Finally, one of the engineers on my team who’s perhaps the quietest person I’ve ever met (he literally sits all the way in the back corner of the office) decided to take my offer of gratis computer power, marry it with a couple of hundred dollars worth of hardware and create a Microsoft Kinect powered, wi-fi enabled, remote controlled car. The beauty of this idea was that you didn’t even need to be in the same room as the car. The car contained all the computational power and network capability, and using node.js, was able to maintain a connection to a remote server that was coordinating the motion and movement. Theoretically, you could control a remote-controlled car on the other side of the world using just your body.
Crazy shit, right?
I relish my technology leadership role, but too often it can become mired in the tactical. The “throw it over the fence and build it” that sort of naturally occurs in these environments with their deadlines and requirements. It’s not bad. It’s the job. It’s just that sometimes it’s nice to stop and smell the roses.
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.
JWT Launches ‘Walter,’ a Pop-Up Agency for Startups at SXSW
We recently launched the United States Marine Corps Branded Destination Experience (BDE) on Xbox Live. A first of its kind experience on Xbox that utilizes the newest feature of the Xbox User Interface, built in Internet Explorer 9 capabilities. Working closely with Microsoft engineers, we were able to begin building this groundbreaking Xbox experience early enough to be able to take advantage of the new feature immediately at launch, capitalizing on the equity of the buzz around the newest features of the UI. This also allowed us to begin to capture lead information on the Xbox, putting us squarely in our audiences’ lives and putting a fantastically appropriate, contextually relevant opportunity for our primary Call to Action, putting those hand-raisers in front of recruiters.
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.
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.