The Data Doesn’t Lie: Secrets From The World of Data Science And Advice On How To Map Your Career

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How cool is data? I just attended a panel discussion entitled, “Talk Data to Me” put on by the good folks at General Assembly.

The focus of discussion was how data drives business and product decisions across industries, but also the ups-and-downs of working as data scientist, what companies who hire data scientists look for in candidates and what it is like to be a woman in the industry. Panel members were as follows:

  • Panel Members
    • Jessica Lachs, head of business operations & analytics, DoorDash
    • Lily Jiang, data science manager, Quora
    • Laura Burkhauser, senior product manager, Le Tote
    • Ive Cojuangco, data analyst, Everlane
    • Ling Chen, data science manager, Glassdoor

I live-Tweeted the event. Below is a roundup of the most interesting insights shared by the panel members. I hope you enjoy what they had to say as much as I did!   


* * *


  •  What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job?
    • Fav and least fav part of job? Fav: working with really rich #data says @lilijiang_data from @Quora | #TalkDataToMe
    • Fav and least fav part of job? Least: having to say no to people due to lack of data says @jesslachs from @DoorDash | #TalkDataToMe
    • Fav and least fav part of job? Least: Having to make decisions really fast says Laura Burkhauser from @letote | #TalkDataToMe
    • Fav & least fav part of job? Fav: the exploration that leads to new ideas & things to fix says Ling Cheng from @GlassDoor | #TalkDataToMe
    • Fav and least fav part of job? Least: when teams put a spin your data! says @poisoniveee from @Everlane
  • Where do you see the data industry going in the next five years and how do you keep current on changes?
    • Where do you see data in the next five years? “Democratization of data within companies.” from Laura Burkhauser of @letote | #TalkDataToMe
    • How do you keep current on the industry? Online courses. Very important, even though not required says @lilijiang_datafrom @Quora | #TalkDataToMe
    • It’s important to learn from the people you work with from all different backgrounds – @jesslachs from @DoorDash | #TalkDataToMe
    • How to stay current on the industry?  Meetings w/ cross-functional teams so we can learn says @poisoniveee from @Everlane | #TalkDataToMe
  • What Skills Are Companies in the Data Space Looking For When Hiring?
    • Skills you’re looking for when hiring? Someone who can solve the RIGHT problems on the roadmap says @jesslachs from @DoorDash | #TalkDataToMe
    • Skills you’re looking for when hiring? Background in #stats, #ML & cultural alignment says @lilijiang_data from @Quora | #TalkDataToMe
    • #Skills you’re looking for when hiring? Scrappiness, #efficiency & ability to communicate says @poisoniveee from @Everlane | #TalkDataToMe
  • As you move up the ladder and focus more on people management, how do you let go of the fun stuff – doing the actual work?
    • As you climb & manage more, how do you let go of fun stuff? Identifying new #data projects helps says @lilijiang_data of @Quora | #TalkDataToMe
  • Is It Important To Discuss Gender In Data Science?
    • Important to talk gender in #DataScience? I’m a data scientist. Not a woman data scientist says @lilijiang_data of @Quora | #TalkDataToMe
    • Important to talk gender in #DataScience? Yes b/c there is skepticism of female ability says Laura Burkhauser of @letote | #TalkDataToMe
    • Important to talk gender in #DataScience? My advice: find female mentors & talk issues thru says @poisoniveee of @Everlane | #TalkDataToMe
    • Important to talk gender in #DataScience? Bonding by M & F happens differently. What I’ve seen says Ling Cheng of @GlassDoor | #TalkDataToMe
  • How Do You Empower Colleagues to Empower Themselves When It Comes To Data?
    • Making #data more accessible makes it less scary to people says @jesslachs of @DoorDash | #TalkDataToMe
    • How do you empower colleagues to empower themselves/approach #data? Empower them w/ tools! says Laura Burkhauser of @letote | #TalkDataToMe
    • How do you empower colleagues to empower themselves/approach #data? Show them how it’s done! says @poisoniveee of @Everlane | #TalkDataToMe

(Note: Some of these Tweets were modified slightly from their original form for clarity.) 

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Thinking About a Career Change? Here’s The Secret To Knowing If You Are Ready

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Earlier this year I attended a workshop hosted by Career and Personal Branding Consultant Joseph Liu.

The presentation focused on helping participants realize what it takes to truly align your ambitions and personal values with your work to achieve happiness and fulfillment. The theme of the session was “career reinvention” and it delivered a realistic picture of what it takes to reach that goal. The session’s highlight was undoubtedly Liu’s walk-through of his patented “7 Stages of Career Change Roadmap.”

After coaching and speaking with hundreds of professionals navigating career change, Liu began to recognize certain patterns emerging among those who had successfully reinvented their careers. For those seeking reinvention, the roadmap provides clarity when sorting out the confusing emotions associated with unfulfillment and longing for change. Coincidentally, it also bears a striking resemblance to Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief. I’ve summarized it below:

  • (0) Status Quo – Individuals at this stage enjoy their jobs just enough. Their gigs don’t inspire true happiness, but it pays the bills and is tolerable.
  •  (1) Doubt – At this stage, lingering doubt begins. You often find yourself sitting in meetings and zoning out. You begin to wonder if this job is right for you. You conclude that you don’t actually like your job.
  • (2) Dismay – Here is where doubt leads to dismay. You realize you don’t enjoy your career at all — even if you were to switch to another position within your organization or perform the same role at another company.
  • (3) Mitigation – According to Liu, this is where people tend to get stuck. They tell themselves, “I am going to try and fix this,” because mustering the strength to enact true change in their lives is not easy. Another way this might manifest is by trying to do what you love on nights and on weekends. (Also, LOL.) This strategy rarely leads to success because you can only fool yourself for so long.
  • (4) Exhaustion – At this stage, you feel stuck. You have run out of energy trying to make your mitigation plan work. Most of your weekend is spent recuperating from the week prior. You are not living your best life.
  • (5) Departure – The exhaustion gets so bad, you finally leave your job. You resign, even if another job isn’t lined up. You take a break. You need time for yourself to get away from it all.
  • (6) Reflection – You have left your job. You take some time off or take a lower intensity gig. The reason being, you need some time and space to think about what your next step is. This time is important because it gives you the clarity to figure out what your next move is.
  • (7) Relaunch – This is your moment. As Liu says, this is where you say, “I’m going to give this thing a shot.” You’re determined to make a change and fully realize you owe it to yourself.

Mind-blowing stuff, right? I’m sure many folks reading this can pinpoint exactly where they currently fall on the roadmap in about two seconds flat.

Identifying where you are on the roadmap is only the beginning. According to Liu, the next step is to make a move in the direction you know you want to take your career. It could be taking a class, attending a networking event or talking with someone who works in an industry that interests you. And, taking even the smallest step is better than standing completely still.

So, what do you think? Where do you fall on the roadmap?

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3 Hacks for Building a Successful Content Marketing Program

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The old saying goes that you are entitled to your opinions, but not your own facts. Well, the facts are in and one thing is abundantly clear modern B2B marketing budgets are allocating more and more time and resources toward content marketing efforts. For these organizations, content marketing is an effective, economically viable path to achieving sales goals. Why? Because content marketing is marketing.

The most obvious element of developing a content marketing program is creating great content. But often overshadowed by the importance of developing great content is successfully laying out the following three foundational elements of a content marketing program  1) developing an editorial calendar, 2) defining your editorial voice and 3) setting and tracking clearly defined/achievable goals.

“Tick-tock, tick-tock”

Developing A Content Marketing Editorial Calendar
A content marketing editorial calendar serves as a day-by-day roadmap that ensures your efforts are organized, optimized and ready to reach the right stakeholders. Beyond the topic of the content itself, here is what a good calendar should contain. (H/T to Andy Raskin for insight on this topic):

  • Persona – Which buyer persona are you targeting with your content?
  • Stage – In what stage is the development of the content?
  • Content Type – Is it a blog? A podcast? A video?
  • Distribution Channel – Via which channel will you be distributing it? (company blog, Youtube, Medium, etc.)
  • Publication Date – When is each piece of content scheduled to go live?
  • Desired Impact – What is the desired impact of the content?
  • Industry Target – What sector are you trying to reach with your content? (Key when marketing a B2B product/service.)
  • Impact Metric – How will the effectiveness of the content be measured? (More on this later in the post…)  

Defining Your Editorial Voice
An inconsistent editorial voice is a major faux pas for any organization. In my experience, this issue tends to impact SMEs and large enterprises as opposed to startups and SMBs, which often benefit from less fragmented communication across internal teams. Your number one goal in defining your editorial voice is to achieve stylistic cohesion across all of your content marketing efforts. Getting to this point requires lots of listening, internal research and consensus/approval from the brass. Below are several questions to help get you get started on defining your editorial voice:

  • Can the style of your editorial voice be summed up in 3-5 words?
  • Who are your editorial voice “heroes?” What organizations would you like to model your efforts after?
  • What are you sure you do not want your editorial voice to sound like?
  • What is your goal/reasoning for adopting the voice you eventually settle upon?  

Setting Your Metrics and Goals
Establishing goals for your program is an absolute necessity. Key to reaching these objectives, however, is matching the right metrics to be tracked for each established goal in an effort to ensure success. Below is a quick guide to get you thinking:

  • Your Goal: Brand Awareness & Engagement
    • Metrics to Measure:
      • Direct Views
      • Social Shares
      • Subscribers and Followers
      • Click-throughs
      • Comments
  • Your Goal: Lead Generation
    • Metrics to Measure:
      • Click-throughs (which lead directly to landing pages, sign-up pages, form downloads, etc.)
      • Conversion Rates
  • Your Goal: Sales Enablement
    • Metrics to Measure:
      • Conversion Rates
      • Length of Sales Cycle
      • Size of Contract

With an arsenal of relevant and compelling content and the aforementioned foundational elements in place, your content marketing program will be primed for success. Your company’s bottom line? If it were human, I’m sure it would thank you. You might just have to settle, though, for a show of appreciation from your CMO. 😊

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Navigating Constructive Criticism: 5 Tips For Managers Who Deliver Feedback

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Who loves performance reviews? Spontaneous feedback? Subtle criticism?  Yeah. Nobody does. Especially managers.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Modern managers worth their salt undoubtedly understand the importance of delivering constructive criticism and feedback. They recognize it is essential for learning and growth, as well as advancement in their employees’ careers.  But there is an art to delivering it and lots to consider before putting that meeting invite on your employee’s calendar.

With all this in mind, I recently attended a workshop dedicated to the topic. Titled, ‘The Art of Constructive Criticism,” the session was led by conflict management expert Amanda Dean of Crux Consulting. Anyone second-guessing the value of this 3-hour workshop should take pause right now and consider the following stat Amanda provided at the start session:

“Studies show that managers spend between 3 and 8 hours a week dealing with conflict and most of that conflict is ongoing or persistent.”


The collective brain of my readers upon digesting that statistic.

Sadly, to many in management, this is all too familiar. The biggest takeaway of the session for me was a clear understanding of what is known as the “W-5” method.  Because in addition to helping individuals navigate the tricky minefield of delivering constructive criticism and feedback, the W-5 method challenges managers and encourages them to look inward prior to doling out feedback to members of their team. 

The “W-5” Method for Managers
In a nutshell, the W-5 method is a self-test for managers to administor prior to any instance where they deliver constructive criticism or feedback to a direct report. See below:

  • WHO – Who Is the Person To Whom You Are Delivering Feedback?
    • Questions to consider:
      • At what point in their career is this individual?  
      • Who needs to be in the room while this feedback is delivered?  
      • What style of feedback delivery do you believe will be most effective based on your understanding of/relationship with the individual?
  • WHEN – When Will The Recipient Be Most Receptive?
    • Questions to consider:
      • When will the individual be most receptive?
      • At what point during the day do they tend to operate at peak attentiveness?
      • How immediate/important is the feedback you have to deliver?
  • WHERE – Where Will You Deliver The Feedback?
    • Questions to consider:
      • Where will you deliver the feedback?
      • Hint: Not in a room full of people. Not in the office kitchen. Not in public. Not on a large email with peers copied. Find a conference room or hold the feedback meeting in your office. Remember — treat people the way you would like to be treated.
  • WHAT – What Exactly Do You Need To Say? 
    • Questions to consider:
      • What main points do I want to get across?
      • Hint: Prepare a concise list of the top three points you would like to make sure are addressed in a feedback session. By setting a limit, you are forced to focus on only the most important points. 
  • WHY – Why Are You Providing This Feedback?
    • Questions to consider:
      • What do you hope to gain from delivering this feedback?
      • Hint: Ideally, you are delivering feedback because you are seeking to align expectations and make sure you are both on the same page when it comes to achieving goals.

Not only is the W-5 self-test useful in a professional setting, it is also perfect when gearing up for difficult conversations in your personal life. The reason for this is simple — the W-5 method helps you first get to the root of an issue and then provides guidance on how to successfully manage a conversation around it from start to finish

Additional Observations
Lots of additional ground was covered during the workshop. Here are some of what I found to be the most interesting nuggets from the session. (Several have already been in my arsenal for quite some time.) Hopefully, you will find them equally useful. 

  • Remind your employees regularly they must “speak their need” and never hesitate to ask for guidance, support, assistance in removing roadblocks, etc. If they don’t state a need, it makes it extremely difficult for you to know what they require to move things forward.
  • Sometimes it is difficult to move past an issue with a specific individual, especially if you need to continue working with them after an incident. The solution? Consider how you may be able to shift your expectations. Ask yourself, “How can I adjust my approach with this person in order to achieve team goals?”
  • Don’t make an issue with one of your employees your manager’s problem by dumping it on their desk. Instead, develop a plan to consult with them regarding it.  Come to the table with proactive solutions and an intent to seek advice and consensus. Anything less and you risk appearing both incapable of performing your duties as a manager and appearing problematic yourself.
  • Ask an individual who you are planning to give feedback when they have time to talk. Once that time is established, along with a calendar invite, send a quick agenda so there is an expectation of what will be discussed. This helps “prep” people emotionally in advance of potentially difficult conversations.
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Economic Realities of Actual Hardcore Show Promoter Differ From Those of Imagined Show Promoter

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For many years, I ran a production company/booking agency with my best friend and business partner Regan Clarke. We were young, excited and active members of the Boston area hardcore/metal music scene and realized that if we wanted to see the bands we enjoyed, well, we’d just have to book them ourselves DIY style.

So we did. And it was a blast. It was also at times pretty miserablePlenty of stories from those years. We met so many characters. They mostly ran the gamut from awesome bands and really cool booking agents to asshole bands and complete scumbag booking agents.  Club owners, sound guys and the “Can I get on the list?” crowd? Well, I could write another whole blog (or book) on that without issue, but I’ll save it for a rainy day.

Anyway, plenty of you are likely aware of the awesome punk news satire site The Hard Times. I wrote an article that satirized and summarized the aforementioned crazy years and submitted it for consideration. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the editorial cut. Hey, it happens! So with that, I decided to post it to my own site. You can read it below. Safe to say about 75 percent of it is 100 percent true. For the faint at heart, please be aware it contains a bit of blue language. You’ve been warned. Enjoy! 

Economic Realities of Actual Hardcore Show Promoter Differ From Those of Imagined Show Promoter

North Shore, Mass. – Stinging accusations have been brought forth toward Boston-area show promoter Nicholas Clarke, claiming he has unscrupulously built a six-figure empire on the backs of hardcore bands by booking shows at local VFWs and church function halls.

Clarke, who has spent the last four years as just-North-of-Boston’s most active promoter, is responsible for regularly bringing mid-level punk and hardcore acts to the Massachusetts’ North Shore communities. His efforts have grown a vibrant scene that sees punk and hardcore kids from surrounding cities and towns regularly making trips to attend his shows, all of which he absolutely loses his own money on regularly.

In regard to the accusations, locals happily weighed in on the topic with their completely uninformed version of the truth.

“Nick thinks he’s Ari-fucking-Gold,” said Local Scene All-Star Johnny Spinkick. “When he first started, shows would cost $5 at the door. Last week, he brought in three touring bands from Chicago and had the balls to charge $7. He said, the bands, ‘needed money for gas and food.’ Yeah, right. We all know he pocketed that extra money.”

According to Clarke, he spends about three Saturdays per month and now many weekdays producing shows from start to finish.

“Most DIY promoters won’t book a show unless it takes place on a Friday or Saturday,” he said. “Someone has to help out these touring bands with weekday gigs. I’ve stepped up to the plate.”

Running shows, according to Clarke, includes collecting money at the door, making sure sets don’t run over schedule and preventing the area’s self-proclaimed “biggest supporters of the scene” from sneaking in the back door of the venue to avoid paying admission. After mopping the floor once the venue has cleared, sources have stated that Clarke can be found alone late into the night sweeping up cigarette butts and glass from broken beer bottles left in the parking lot by show patrons.

“Every time I get a call from this kid, I can’t stop laughing,” says Robert McKinley, a local police officer who attends each of Clarke’s shows — a mandatory regulation set by the city which costs Clarke $350 per event. “I once asked him why he keeps doing this and he went on about ‘the scene being important’ and how ‘it’s a brotherhood, man.’ It was at that very moment I pointed out one of his ‘brothers’ who was pissing down the slide of the playground St. Mary’s Church uses for its pre-school/daycare program.”

Members of the local scene recently weighed-in on the matter even further via the highly respected message board Poster MoshFiend92 had some choice words for Clarke’s upcoming show featuring the return of local ‘core legends, Activate Hate.

“Here we go again with Clarke and his money-grubbing ways. Ten bucks at the door for admission? That asshole says he regularly loses money on these shows, but I saw him and his girlfriend eating dinner at Taco Bell just last Tuesday.”

Chimed in poster BoneNeedle18: “The one around the corner from the one-room apartment he shares with her? I just read that shit-hole they live in had no running water and was condemned by the city last week.”

“Yeah, that’s the one,” replied MoshFiend92. “Anyway, fuck him and his shows. Guy doesn’t give a shit about the scene. I’d totally start booking shows around here myself, but Zumiez just changed my schedule from five hours per week to ten, so I don’t have time.”

We were able to catch up with Clarke once more via email prior to this story going live. Below is his final statement on the matter, printed in its entirety:

“Sorry for my delayed response to your email. My cable/internet was shut off last month and I can only get to the library to use its public computers once a week since my car was impounded for unpaid parking tickets. Anyway, the show ‘MoshFiend92’ (BTW, Ricky – I know that’s you) is complaining about paying $10 for? Let’s do some math. One show with five bands. That equals $2 per band. That’s on top of the hall rental fee, payment for the cop, the two cases of water I provide and the monthly repayment plan I worked out with St. Mary’s after someone ripped the sink off the wall in the bathroom and smeared feces in the shape of an inverted cross on the mirror during last January’s Burnt Neck show. (Ricky – I know that was you, too. Can’t you just grow up?) Listen…I’m sorry, but I need to cut this note short. I only have an hour on this computer and I need to figure out how to apply for food stamps.”

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The One Question You Should Ask Everyone You Meet

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At the risk of dating myself, who else remembers “The Sunscreen Song?” The track was put to wax by Baz Lurhmann during the summer of 1999 and features lyrics taken from a hypothetical commencement speech penned by Chicago Tribune Columnist Mary Schmich. The tune features some great pieces of advice. Specifically, though, it features the following advice about advice:

“Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

I love that line. Dispensing advice is a way of fishing from the past, taking the best parts and reusing it. While this line and the majority of the song was written with the personal aspects of life in mind, I’ve found it applies to the professional aspects of life as well.

I mean, it makes sense, right? The best way to learn is to take on advice from those you respect and those in places you aspire to reach. Whenever possible, I ask the business owners, marketers, and entrepreneurs I meet to share with me the best advice they have ever received. You’d be surprised how much insight such a simple question can yield.

As it relates to PR/marketing, here are a few of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received in no particular order. Hopefully, they will help you on your own journey.

  • If it’s going to take two minutes, do it now.
  • Be strategic in everything you do. Moving forward with an idea? Vetoing an idea? Shifting direction? Have a reason why.
  • Take complete ownership of both your victories and failures.
  • Think big – every time – and scale it back to meet your needs.
  • Learn how to write (yes, this needs to be said).

Oh, and one more piece of advice. Remember cool songs written during the years before you were of legal age to vote. They might help you write a blog post one day!

(This post has been updated since its original publication in February 2016.)  

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8 Reasons Why PR Agency Pros Will Miss “Mad Men”

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Did you watch the series finale of Mad Men? It was exactly what you’d expect from the modern classic – emotional, compelling and wrought with existential crises. But perhaps most important, it delivered a fitting conclusion to the tale of Don Draper – arguably The Golden Age of Television’s most “difficult man.”

For those who work in agency life, the end of Mad Men allows for a different type of mourning, for we are no longer able to see elements of our profession represented during prime-time. Here are thoughts from me and several of my colleagues — all huge Mad Men aficionados and PR agency veterans — regarding what we appreciated most about the show as well as what we will miss:

  • “I will miss having a reference point for explaining what I do for a living to family members. My explanation usually goes a bit like, ‘Have you ever seen Mad Men? It’s sort of like that, but not at all.’” – Nicholas Porter
  • “I’ll miss seeing Don create campaigns on the fly. At his best, he’s a brilliant strategist who cuts through the clutter, drills into what the client wants and paints a vivid picture that sells the consumer on the client’s product. Heinz ketchup. Jaguar Cars. Coke. The stories he spun were inspirational. Now, on the other hand: Don at his worst? That’s a different story…” Michael O’Connell
  • “I will miss seeing the collaborative process on the small screen! Seeing individuals working together in one room to bring ideas to life was always my favorite part of the show.” – Jen Bonney
  • “I will miss watching Peggy Olsen’s career trajectory and her struggle to be taken seriously. It was inspiring.” – Gaby Berkman
  • “I will miss seeing the reality of agency life on television. Change is the only constant in this world and Mad Men exemplified that as each big idea or opportunity led to a new agency, and a new challenge for the core characters. The show demonstrated how smaller, more nimble agencies like Sterling Cooper Draper Price – and PAN – best serve clients by staying ahead of the curve.” – Shelly Runyon
  • “I will miss how the show used 1960s culture and historic events to tell modern stories that agency professionals and ‘civilians’ alike could relate to. I also loved Megan!” – Alyssa Miron
  • “I really enjoyed how spot on the series was when it came to 1960s pop culture references. It was a fun tour through history that felt more like “real life” than what we were taught in school or learned from our parents.  But the number one reason I will miss the show? Joan! – Nikki Festa
    • The show did a great job of capturing the décor and the attitude of the times.  My first agency job in was in a heavily smoking office working with a guy named “Sterling” who, in some ways, was a lot like Don Draper. I’ll miss the protypical agency characters. My favorite Mad Men scene: the picnic in an early episode where Don, Birdie and the kids have a picnic outside in a park. Instead of cleaning up the trash when they leave, they just pick up the blanket, dumping and leaving all the garbage all over the ground, and drive off. My second favorite scene: the birthday party/cookout with the kids wearing plastic bags on their heads and shooting guns at each other and not a single parent being concerned. I could relate to Mad Men—and that’s what I’ll miss most. It was like watching memories from my childhood – Tim Monroe

What will you miss the most about Mad Men? Feel free to share!

(A version of this post previously appeared on PRSpeak.)


Via Vanity Fair
Via Vanity Fair
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Hitting the Deck: Untraditional Networking with 1000Pirates

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If you claim you don’t love pirates, my claim is that you have no soul.  🙂

Entrepreneurs, start-up founders and tech gurus are certainly among the many who adore these swashbuckling heroes, and rightfully so, since they have plenty in common.

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending Boston’s 1000Pirates networking event. Yes, the event is as random as it sounds – a night where business folks are encouraged to forgo traditional networking in favor of donning pirate costumes and partying. A few days later, I recounted the experience and what I learned from it in a post for my agency’s blog. Today, I learned it was the most trafficked post our site received during the entire month of October. (I also got this nifty little block trophy and a gift card to Starbucks for the achievement!)

I’ve decided to share the post for you all here as well. Happy reading..ARRRGG!!!

Hitting the Deck: Untraditional Networking with 1000Pirates

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Indie Film’s Not Dead, It Just Needed a (Social) Kick in the Ass

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When it came time to bring his passion project to the screen, indie film maker Dom Portalla wasn’t counting on a venture capitalist to swoop in and save the day. Instead, he turned to the crowdfunding platform IndieGogo to turn his latest vision into reality — an approach a large number of  independent directors are now taking.

I caught up with Dom to discuss his upcoming film “Nicky,” the role of social media in independent film and the the most rewarding aspects of his profession.

Name, rank and why we should care?
Dom Portalla — writer, director, cinematographer and editor for Door Eleven Productions. Fans of independent film should care because we at Door Eleven are fully committed to delivering the most interesting low-budget cinema to the Greater Boston area.

Dom Portalla of Door Eleven Productions

Can you tell us about your latest project, “Nicky?”
“Nicky” has been a passion project of mine and Ken Flott’s (actor/co-writer/producer) for the past several years.

Ken had been writing “Nicky” as a short story and posting it in increments on Myspace while we were making our first film, “Duality”, back in 2006. He came across an image on of a little boy wearing a tuxedo and standing outside of a women’s restroom. Don’t ask me how, but from the image, he immediately formulated a story of a man who lost his little brother in a kidnapping who was never able to get over it.

What really drew me to the story was the profound sense of sadness in the narration. We’ve all had terrible events happen in our lives which cause us to grieve, but one day you wake up and it’s just an idle Tuesday at the office – life goes on. For “Nicky’s” main character, though, this didn’t happen — his entire world sort of ended the day his brother disappeared and he seemingly became disconnected from everything but his own sense of guilt.

I’d find myself checking online more and more frequently to see what new chapters had been posted and even giving Ken the third degree on set to try and find out in advance what would happen next or what left turns the story would take. Years later, I took a stab at restructuring and adapting it as a short film and here we are.

Above: The image that inspired Portalla's upcoming film, "Nicky." Portalla developed a full-scale "crowdfunding" campaign which included a personalized video pitch from his production team as well as test-footage from the film.

Since starting your career in film, what role has social media played in bringing your art and ideas to life?
Social media has provided me the opportunity to connect with those seeking an alternative to mainstream cinema.  It has helped us develop and foster an audience which is crucial when you’re an obscure name in the process of establishing your niche.

It has been particularly useful at this stage in my career when seeking financing. Crowdfunding sites like IndieGoGo allow filmmakers to independently raise funds by making a pitch and offering incentives to encourage donations. It is also a great way to include people in the process by involving them on the ground floor.

One thing I’ve always believed is that when it comes to the arts, particularly film, you vote with your wallet. That is why I have upwards of 1,000 DVDs as opposed to a crowded hard drive full of pirated flicks. I feel compelled to put my money where my mouth is. In the same breath, it’s also why I usually refuse to take my lady to see an obviously crappy romantic comedy in a theater. I know if I slap down that $20, they’ll make another equally abysmal film just like it next year and I’d rather not encourage that. Crowdfunding and social media invites everyone to be a part of the system. Don’t like what we’re selling? No harm, no foul. But if you see potential, you have the power to turn a pitch into a reality.

How do you see social technology shaping the future of the independent film community?
I think we are only beginning to see the tip of the iceberg with some of the things guys like Edward Burns and Kevin Smith have been doing. They’ve both recently made modestly budgeted films that became profitable without receiving real theatrical distribution or traditional promotion because they have tapped into a “direct-to-fan” market via social media. The same can even be said with dozens of different recording artists who are able to record and distribute their own music on their own terms without a record label fat-fingering its way into the creative process. Social technology allows us to cut out the middleman.

Now, with Edward Burns and Kevin Smith — one must realize these two already enjoy the luxury of an established audience who will follow them wherever they go. As 90s indie film superstars with tons of Facebook and Twitter followers,  it’s not as difficult to get the word out and create exposure for their projects. However, that is not to say that someone who creates compelling and innovative work can’t rise up from total obscurity and be the next big thing. That ability is purely due to social media.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of the career path you have chosen?
Aside from the opportunity to collaborate with some exceptionally talented people and the friendships that I’ve made, watching my films play to a live audience is probably the most rewarding aspect of what I do.

Our last feature, “The Darkness Within”, was picked up by several festivals and I had the opportunity to see it play in different parts of the country which was an amazing thing for me. As a filmmaker, what you want more than anything is for people to see your work, otherwise you’re just working in a vacuum. Making movies with the potential to find viewership is what makes all the hard work worth it and it keeps me motivated to keep doing what I do.

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9 New Media/PR Lessons from the Experts at Boston University

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I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on a Boston University College of Communication course titled, “New Media and Public Relations.”

Taught by the PR veteran/thought leader/dragon slayer, Todd Van Hoosear, the 300-level course aims to explore the effects of new media on the fundamental theories, models and practices of public relations. It also covers and uses the interactive tools that are currently redefining the practice of public relations.

Below, I’ve shared nine key take-aways from my audit of the course. These — along with several others — were shared during my live-Tweeting of the lecture. I think even the most seasoned professional can pick up something new, here:

  1. Filter bubbles = dangerous. Our info is being filtered by our friends as well as Google and FB. | #BUNewMedia
  2. Key elements of a successful viral video: brevity, humor and appealing subject matter. | #BUNewMedia
  3. You can’t guarantee a viral video. But, you can maximize its likelihood. | #BUNewMedia
  4. Videos are filmed with 1st, 2nd and 3rd screens in mind — TV, computer and mobile screen. | #BUNewMedia
  5. Pinterest and copyrighting – major concerns emerging as businesses incorporate service into marketing strategy. | #BUNewMedia
  6. Blog comment activity has plummeted in last two years. Convo has moved to social media platforms — where it’s owned by FB, etc. #BUNewMedia
  7. Blogs — really referred to as websites and news sites these days. “Blog” now really refers to content management systems. | #BUNewMedia
  8. Facebook “Like-gating” proven to be a negative engagement tactic. | #BUNewMedia
  9. PR is about telling stories. New official definition [from PRSA] does not get an A+. | #BUNewMedia


Note: Some Tweets listed above were slightly altered from their original form for the purpose of this blog post.

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