Archive for New Norm | Transparency

Event Marketing Summit Presentation



In early May of 2012 I presented at the Event Marketing Summit 5 trends facing the Experience Marketing industry. That presentation is embedded below.



Some additional notes related to this presentation:


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No [self determined] Good Deed Goes Unpunished


During the fundraising for the New World Symphony in Miami, there was a donation for $90 million. The scale of the donation is not the most interesting aspect, the fact that the donation is from “anonymous” is. A business making a donation of this size would want the associated publicity. But why would an individual not?

As the saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished”; referring to the challenge, and often failure, of seeing reward for doing something positive. It is much harder to “punish” someone named “anonymous”.

With the increased focus on equality, and the rise of transparency, what was once a good deed may no longer be. Changing times call for a change in goodness.

How could it be wrong to try to help the homeless?

BBH Labs tried to help the homeless at the SXSW event in 2012 with a program called “Homeless Hotspots”. They paid select homeless $20 a day [some say more, some less] to serve as Wi-Fi hotspots.

They received unfavorable press and questions about the morality of the program. The publicity aspect certainly took from the “pureness” of the good deed. Nonetheless, conversation was generated and awareness rose.

It was suggested that had the organizers hired college students like at a tradeshow, there would have been no controversy. However, it is likely these college students would have been paid minimum wage, provided meal breaks, and had their earning reported.

But as a charitable innovation initiative (as the organizers called it) the intent was to “support the homeless population”, not college students. This intent seems to have become well buried. The objective seems lost in the execution; the promotion of the social and economic conditions submissive to the technical one.

It is often quoted in the mobile industry that there were more mobile phones than toothbrushes in the world. Wouldn’t the best way then, to have a positive impact on the world, be to provide more toothbrushes?

Instead of being a Human Hotspot, What would a $5,000 to $10,000 3-month internship have meant to these individuals? With only 13 participants listed on the web site, the costs would have been less than the annual [possibly quarterly] salary of one creative director.

The opportunity to gain more than just a few dollars during SXSW might have supported the homeless population in a different way. The individuals benefit by being exposed to careers and opportunities in the advertising industry, and BBH gains the opportunity to add new talent, voices, and insight on a segment of [admittedly not currently very active] consumers. Who could have a problem with an internship?

It turns out, some interns do.

A staple for career development, apprenticeships and internships are found in many professions from blue to white collar. Interns and apprentices can be found on construction sites and in the White House, law firms and ad agencies, large and small companies.

In some industries, an apprenticeship or internship is a required career step; just ask Mickey Mouse and the Sorcerer. Serious, high schools to doctorate programs encourage and assist in placing interns annually.

Yet with the changes in social and economic norms, the days of  low or unpaid internships may be ending. Once a rite of passage, some internships maybe reaching beyond mutual benefit and towards unfair labor practices.

Equality, like much in life, needs to work for all parties involved – whether the homeless, interns, or large organizations. Maybe the saying should be altered to say:

No [self determined] good deed goes unpunished” 



Note: As always, the desire of Janus Dialogs is not to adjudicate the appropriateness of any trend, but to bring it to the forefront for consideration by the caretakers for the shared moments in time we call experience marketing.

Full disclosure:

  • I make most of my personal donations under anonymous or my cats’ names;
  • I am not the donor to the New World Symphony mentioned above;
  • I had several unpaid internships while in high school and college, and paid internships in college.


The extremes of transparency


To over simplify the issue of transparency – there are two extremes. One that hides a truth; the other that reveals too much. And the importance of the truth changes with the social, technical, economic, and political context.

In both extremes, the circumstance matters. Does lying on a resume that you have a degree in computer science matter when applying for a counter job at Burger King? The fact that you lied certainly should, what you lied about lesser so. Do the same thing as the new CEO of Yahoo, and both the action and substance matter more.

It appears that Scott Thompson has been telling his lie, or at least not being fully transparent with the truth, for a while. On radio programs, in conversations, and on his resume to Yahoo during the recruiting process.

The level of the job is one aspects that changes the circumstances around “full transparency”, but being in the computer industry and the expectations of senior management weigh heavily on the discussion.

As does the expectation that such a thing would be caught in the vetting process. Given the importance of the CEO job, (certainly at Yahoo and at this time in their history), it would be expected that a complete and thorough review of the candidates would take place. In fact, the board of directors did have one of it’s members (Patti Hart) leading the search, and a prominent recruiting firm as well. Both failed to catch this issue and bring it to light. Ms. Hart has since resigned.

Which is the greater sin – hiding the truth or the failure to catch it?

This is a question experience marketing caretakers must think about. Do your presenters, exhibitors, executives, special guests have secrets or hidden truths that are germane to their character or role with the events? Do they have the education, experience, and background claimed; have they written those case studies and white papers? The lesson from Yahoo so far is that the one who should be “catching” the transgression is as, or more, likely to pay the price.

As such, do you need to ask more, check more, reveal more about the program and the people involved? As the host, it may be implied (or clearly stated) that you are endorsing the content, people, and experience taking place. And the rise of user-generated content means more sources to review. How are you validating that nothing relevant is being hidden?

The other extreme is when too much is revealed.

While some believe that Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels promote transparency as a path towards integrity, they also make it so much easier to share that at times too much is revealed too quickly.

Just ask Spike Lee.

The home address of a person named George Zimmerman may not be relevant to most of the world, most of the time, but it was when Mr. Lee released it to his 250,000 followers on Twitter. Why, because Mr. Zimmerman had shot and killed Trayvon Martin while part of a neighborhood watch program.

Why Spike Lee shared this information reveals once again the importance of context to the discussion of transparency. Given the highly charged political environment surrounding the shooting, it was speculated what Mr. Lee was looking for, or at least assisting anyone who might be looking for, “justice”. Likely vigilantly justice.

When does revealing information, even relatively easy to find information, “cross the line”? How hard would it had been to find the address of George Zimmerman? Spike’s actions were again less about the information, and more about sharing too much.

As part of ensuring your event has nothing to hide, how do you avoid revealing too much? Do you share when a speaker doesn’t have the degree they claim? What about a criminal background, law suit, or bankruptcy? Did they plagiarise the case study, or fake the data in the white paper? It is a fine line, but a necessary line to define. Let’s call it the “thin clear line”.

While it would be almost impossible to vet every person, every claim, and every action related to your event, it is important to prepare for situations like these and their consequences. It is likely that someone will “out” some thing related to your event – what will be your stance or position once the truth is revealed? Did you “do enough” and are you ready to react?

Further caution needs to be taken when it is not actually the “truth” that is revealed.

In the case of the address Spike Lee shared with his 250,000 followers (for reasons that may have been less than generous in nature), it turned out to be the wrong George Zimmerman. It was the home of a couple whose only connection to the case was having a son with a similar name. They were forced to relocate from their home after Mr. Lee’s tweet due to fear for their safety.

As Patti Hart – the board member at Yahoo – learned, there is a price to pay for failure to discover if you are seen as the one who should have known. Spike Lee also found out there can be a real price to pay for revealing too much – he settled financially with the couple.

UPDATE: Scott Thompson has resigned from Yahoo but the impact continues.


New Norm | Transparency

“No more secrets Marty.”

The defining line in the 1992 movie Sneakers where the prize is a code breaker (“No. It’s THE code breaker”) capable of breaking into any computer system and ensuring there are never any more secrets.

Since the dawn of time individuals, governments, and businesses have worked hard to protect their secrets, and find those of others. And since the dawn of time, the greatest asset on both sides of this battle has been wetware – people. It is people who are the agents, the traitors, the decoders, and those whose secrets are shared.

New technology is always introduced to secure, or crack, the code but one of the most powerful tools is the social acceptance of keeping or protecting secrets. When is it acceptance to steal or share, and when isn’t it?

Would the president’s disabilities be acceptable to share?

Today, sharing every challenge facing a world leader is the norm, but during the 12 years Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House:

“In keeping with social customs of the time, the media generally treated Roosevelt’s disability as taboo. News stories did not mention it, and editorial cartoonists, favorable and unfavorable, often showed the president with normal mobility. According to famed broadcaster David Brinkley, who was a young White House reporter in World War II, the Secret Service actively interfered with photographers who tried to take pictures of Roosevelt in a wheelchair or being moved about by others.”1

Such interference by the secret service today would cause more of an uproar than the actual story.

Somewhere between John F. Kennedy (who was rumored to have many affairs during his presidency) and Richard Nixon (who was impeached in 1974, 11 years after Kennedy’s assassination) a Janus Moment occurred (likely Watergate) and the press corp. – and the country ­– expected much more transparency into the life, and actions, of the president.

The social constraint on the acceptability of sharing information appears to still to be on a decline. Wikileaks was born December 2006 and serves as a poster child for the ease with which information can be shared from even the most protective of organizations.

The desire of Janus Dialogs is not to adjudicate the appropriateness of any trend, but to bring it to the forefront for consideration by the caretaker for the shared moments in time we call experience marketing.

As such, with an increasing technical ability and reach, and decreasing social constraint, what impact might this rise in transparency have on events? Consider:

  • Measurement | event measurement is often closely held by those who host the program. Specific results (often the best) are shared to prove the relevance and success of the program, and to attract attendees and exhibitors for the next year. How will you deal with the potential sharing of data in all its good and bad? Will you protect it more? Demand to see more? Open it to all?
  • Event Secrets | Mom always said, “don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to read about on the front page of the paper.” Did you make any deals with exhibitors, the organizer, presenters, or keynoters that you would rather not share? It may be a matter of time before this is shared to all. How might this change the way you conduct event business?
  • Speaker “unauthorized” Bios | what would a background search of all your speakers reveal, and how would the release of this information impact your organization and/or event?

Can you think of other aspects and elements of marketing and events that could be impacted by the rise of transparency?