Note: this post originally appeared on the PARTNERS+simons blog.
Last week's Ad Club EDGE Conference: Branded in Boston was a smashing success, judging by the sold-out crowd in attendance at the Westin Boston Waterfront. The day-long event brought together people from all aspects of advertising, marketing, public relations, production, design, and academia to learn more about - and celebrate - brands that were born and raised in our own back yard. Here's what I learned there (in no particular order):
- When it comes to branding and innovation, Boston is second to none. The EDGE Conference was designed to spotlight Boston as a hub for creativity and innovation by highlighting the size and scope of the communications industry here. Did you know that ours is one of the top five ad markets, top seven TV markets, and provides 143,000 jobs in the marketing communications sector? In fact, the marcomm industry (classified here as advertising, public relations, publishing, broadcasting, telemarketing, computer graphic design, technical consulting, motion picture and sound recording) is responsible for 11.5% of the Commonwealths' gross regional product, and contributes $38.7 billion to the local economy. Global and local brands that were born in the Boston area are too numerous to list here, but many participated in the day's events.
- The Seaport District, in particular, is where it's at. Mayor Menino described the city's plans to create an innovation district along 1,000 acres of the South Boston waterfront where innovators live, work, and play. The idea is to create clusters of innovative people for regular, in-person interaction, because as swell as social media is, it doesn't replace face-to-face engagement. One of the anchor tenants in the new district is Mass Challenge, a start up competition to accelerate the launch and success of the next generation of Boston brands. Is it just coincidence that PARTNERS+simons is located in the Seaport as well? I think not!
- Small agencies rule! PJA's Phil Johnson moderated a lively panel of local small agency leaders, including Steve Curran of Pod Digital Design, Jeff Freedman of Small Army, and Dave Batista of BEAM. The major takeaways? Traditional, large ad agencies no longer have a monopoly on marketing and brand. Emerging channels are much more accessible than, say, traditional broadcast, so small agencies can excel at them. Below the line is now above the line. Content is king, but many big agencies struggle to balance great storytelling with strong interaction design. Smallness means less operational nonsense and more client focus.
- It's important to expose yourself to different people and industries. Not only is it refreshing, but there are often parallels you can draw to your own business. You might think promoting a sports franchise like the New England Patriots is wildly different than marketing medical devices or financial services, but one listen to Jonathan Kraft's story about where the team was when his family acquired them in 1994 (one of the worst teams in the league, with a lousy stadium and games blacked out locally) and where they are today (most wins in 16 years, leading the league in sponsorships, sold out games) may change your mind. In a narrative both inspirational and educational, Kraft explained how building the Patriots brand started locally and grew globally. His approach: (a) know your audience - in his case, the rabid, passionate, and knowledgeable sports fans that live in Boston - and cater to them; (b) partner with [local] media - they help build your brand and keep it in front of the public; and (c) build a strong corporate community - for both sponsorship & purchasing dollars. In Kraft's words, "You can't always win, but you can always deliver value." Sage advice, regardless of your industry.
- Microsoft can innovate with the best of them. Apple and Google may get all the hype, but Microsoft's Pat Halvorsen wowed the audience with a peek into the creations coming out of FuseLabs, where they are trying to create fun, interactive and rich tools to enhance the social media experience. Check out some of their projects yourself. The fact is, Microsoft's New England Research and Development Center ("NERD") in Cambridge is the fourth largest R&D center in the world. It is a symbol not only of Microsoft's innovation, but also its commitment to New England.