WIE Symposium..aka are you fabulous? …Ramble

The WIE Symposium held its first annual conference today, in fact it’s still going on while I write it up. The astounding $500 ticket price lead me to volunteer. Somehow they knew to put me with talent. Up, down, up, down chase the panelists all over the building. Oh goodie.

While schedules were incorrect, gift bags short and direction lacking, the panelists were such an incredible group of women I quickly undid a snafu for panelist Katherine Schwarzenegger. Her “people” were very nice.

Since I only got to hear snippets of the conference here and there (oh how I love you Nora Ephron, my seven sister’s school high five to you) so you’ll have to hit up Twitter for more speaking comments. I’d search for the always entertaining @CindyGallop founder of IfWeRanTheWorld.com .

My day entailed chasing and then checking in VIPS like the fabulous make-up guru Bobbi Brown and trying hard to hear what Diane Von Furstenberg was saying in an on-camera interview.

The fabulous outfits on women in attendance offered such a variety of fashion it was a wonderful celebration of color. Some of the VIPS included a Baronness, A Queen, A Princess– and under the column function “Of Sweden”; the very tall and wondrously humble former supermodel Christy Turlington looking very serious in a dull grey suit. I was absolutely smitten with amazing laugher Elizabeth Banks but of course, the best geek moment was breathing the same air as Melinda Gates. I felt a little taller and wiser as she was whisked through the green room.

Now, for you Real Housewives fans…seriously, you didn’t know I could combine my love of all things digital, women empowerment and the Real Housewives, did ya? Well YA got Jill Zarin- of Zarin Fabrics-go see Bobby at the store, to thank for that. She is so thin now it seems a little unnatural on her and I imagine without the show perhaps she’d still fabulous but slightly more like her frumpalicious sister who I had not one, but two she-wishes-D-list moments with– seriously. Jill Zarin was not on the VIP list my friends. Oh no, she talked her way into the Green Room. Then all the people working the event were questioning who this Faux Celeb in our midst was and I was the one with the answer, putting my countless hours of Bravo addiction to good use for a change. I was more than nonpulsed to be on the receiving end later by Jill’s “before” representation in her sister. Egads Jill why don’t you get her a decent haircut at least? Meow! The claws come out rrrr!!! Someone must have twittered about it because then even the models who showed up for the VIP Fashion Show now-in-progress wanted to get people “on the list.” Sweethearts, are you for real?

Another fabulous conference over and out and I’m exhausted! I will find a nap seriously empowering in 5, 4, 3, 2………..zzzzzzzz

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5 Questions with @jessalbert…Ramble

It was in Santa Monica a few years ago I first hung out with the dynamic ‘ginger’ that is Jesse Albert. He is smart, focused and cuts right through the spindoctor spiel to find out how to make deals happen. This is a noble quality in business and in life.

Location: Hollywood
Vocation: Producer/Consultant All Media Platforms
Sign: Libra

1)  In the last year you left a talent agency to embrace your digital entrepreneur? What are some of the lessons you learned and what are the advantages of working for yourself?

Yes, I did leave ICM where I was a new media and branded entertainment agent.  At the risk of sounding like the bitter ex-employee, the biggest realization for me was that talent agencies are not the place for new media or branded entertainment practitioners.  As an industry we went thru an exploration of talent agencies getting involved in new media around 2001-2002 and it didn’t work then either and while there is more opportunity now, I don’t think agencies are committed enough to supporting either medium in a way where they can have a meaningful impact.  I get that it’s sexy for a talent agency to represent a large brand, but most agencies tend not to have the necessary strategic capability or patience to understand and provide uniquely tangible benefits to brands.  There’s simply not enough revenue from digital in the deals to warrant the necessary expenditure by agencies to cover the new media space.  Never mind the constant and ongoing perception that digital media is cannibalizing traditional media.

Talent agencies have a core expertise that they do very, very well and if 97% of entertainment revenues are derived from traditional media then that seems like the obvious place for a talent agency to concentrate their efforts.  On a personal level however, I’ve been working in digital media since the mid ’90’s. I’m not interested in being in an environment where I feel like I’m pushing the boulder up the mountain every day just to get people to understand what I do.

Back in 1998 everyone was likening the internet to the wild wild west and here we are today and I often hear that phrase repeated.  The reality is that we’re now in a state of perpetual beta which is a great opportunity and a fun place to be.  I think that we’re at a cross roads in how consumers consume their media and creators and distributors monetize it. Working outside of an agency, I love being free to engage in the exploratory process, looking at and testing new financial models, developing or producing a variety of types of content and expanding upon distribution formulas to incorporate a more global footprint.

Given my new-found freedom, I get to do whatever I want and whatever interests me which is fantastic.

I love strategically connecting businesses and/or teaching them how to interact with one another. I’m starting to like more of what I’m seeing in the high end “web” content space. I’ve found a couple of properties recently that appeal to me which I’ve been able to help develop and sell and to explore different financial models that include foreign distribution, home entertainment, television licenses and of course web advertising and/or brand sponsorship.  Some of the work being done on the web is more akin to filmmaking with the only difference being the overall financial investment and how distribution is windowed.  I think that audiences, a vast number of whom are now consuming content online, are hungering for types of content that they’re not finding in traditional media.

I’ve also been an early evangelist of transmedia or cross-platform development. I think it has huge ramifications both strategically and financially for Hollywood and it’s something that I’ve become passionate about over the last several years, especially as I’ve been fortunate to work with and represent many of the thought leaders in the space such as Starlight Runner in NY and Hoodlum out of Australia.  I’ve been able to take those relationships and expand upon them both in entertainment, but also explore the concepts in branded entertainment and even advertising. Randomly, that interest has also led to being tangentially involved in some very early stage research in developing strategies for usage of digital technologies in new theme parks, and how to extend an IP, mythos or experience into new platforms both within and without the park.

2)   You tweeted about scaring Movie Studios with digital tactics that involve the word “free.” How do you think traditional companies evolve past seeing free as a bad word?

That’s a probably a question better suited for Matt Mason who wrote The Pirate’s Dilemma (Available for free download  which I highly recommend).  There’s a lot of dialogue happening right now about free, IP theft, and net neutrality. And sadly I think most of the entities with a vested interest be they studios or unions are taking an antiquated approach. I did mention some ideas to a studio division that will remain nameless, how they might take advantage of what’s happening.  Needless to say, I was pretty much greeted with blank stares.

I love some of the stuff that Gavin McGarry at Jumpwire is doing with peer-to-peer for instance where you can measure interest and geo target it to such a high degree that you could anticipate and stock retail according to corollaries in online traffic.  And by looking at what’s being downloaded via P2P of “your” content, you can start to anticipate audience interest and buying intent not just by-product, but also again by location.  Rather than fear what’s happening, let’s turn the tables and use this information to better focus our efforts.

3) In the last couple of years Comic-Con has attracted more Hollywood Big Names. What was your impression of events this year and what was your personal highlight?

This year was a personal low light actually.  I used to love walking the floor,reading the books andmeeting the creators, but now the floor, the parties and events feel very overrun by Hollywood and certainly some of the attitudes that I was happy to escape from. I also found a lot of the show programming to have nothing to do with comic books.

4)  You are very vocal about social issues. What is the most important issue people should be aware of that will affect them but in general seem to be paying very little attention to?

Where does one begin, lol!  I tend to be quite outspoken and maybe having kids reinforces the need to be so.  I blog, tweet, donate and write letters to editors about everything, but right now, the role of corporate money in politics is becoming of paramount importance because the voice of the people has been lost in almost every issue from net neutrality, to our environment, to pretty much every regulatory effort to protect the rights and needs of you and I. Or perhaps it’s the negative influence of Rupert Murdoch.  Pick one.

5)  As a father your kids are growing up with a digital profile from birth. How do you guide them when it comes to Internet and what have you learned from watching them use it?

My eldest son Sean is 7.  I’ve been very hands off in terms of influencing what he can and can not do.  I love watching the discovery process thru his eyes and so try not to guide him too much in any direction.  I gave he and his younger brother Brendan (4) a used iMac very early on and have allowed them to discover on their own starting with playing games to rudimentary surfing and a lot of search by Sean as he learns to spell. My eldest will now see a commercial when they’re watching Clone Wars and go to his computer to enter the URL, or he goes to Google or Amazon to look up light sabers or robots or toys.  He’s amazed that the computer knows what he wants all the time!  So he’s becoming more savvy and identifying the power of the internet if not necessarily understanding the actual process.  It’s fascinating to watch.  I’m not terribly worried at this point given the type of interactions they’re having on the computer.  At worst, there may be a lack of privacy with regard to ad networks and cookies, but they have no credit cards or real personally identifying information that can be abused.

When they start to venture into other forms of social media and network destinations, or have phones or cameras I’ll have to worry and start being more hands on and protective.  For now it’s really fascinating to watch how children learn and teach themselves.


5 Questions with @iancrogers…Ramble

The second week I was at Yahoo! I was sent to a meeting full of intensely smart people who were deciding things about the future of music and which ways to move forward. Two of those people were Karin Gilford and Ian Rogers who fell into the scary-crazy-smart category and really showed me that moving across the country to work at Yahoo! would elevate my knowledge.

There are some people you meet in this life that you admire without restraint. They are not flawless or claim to be, but they even inspire the most burnt out person to whom hope is a just a four letter word. Ian is one of those people. @iancr makes you think, makes you want to do your best and pushes you past that even when you think you are done. He will hear his employees out even if he doesn’t agree with them and find solutions. I beat him at Wii bowling and he even lost gracefully. (Sorry Ian, I have to make people see you are human.) These days he moves music digitally forward at TOPSPIN.

Location: Santa Monica, CA
Vocation: Decentralizer
Sign: Virgo
Blog: Fistfulayen

1)   How has your perspective of launching an artist using digital tools changed since you added the role of co-manager of Get Busy Committee?

There have been a lot of lessons in this; it’s been invaluable.  The two major lessons which come to mind now are:

1) Content is more valuable than promotion.  Not to say money spent on PR and promotion isn’t worth it, but the most important thing is to keep creating.  New sound and imagery is paramount.

2) Know and target an audience before you start.  Attention is moving from mass media to niches, but building your own niche from scratch takes a lot of time and energy.  If possible/appropriate, target an existing niche and see if you can get the folks within that niche to lift you up higher, faster.

2) You are one of the busiest people on the planet, aside from being the CEO of Topspin, Husband, Father of two and co-managing GBC –yet you always return emails within a day. What are your time management secrets?

Well, considering my inbox has 3890 *unread* messages (forget about un-replied-to) in it that’s unfortunately not true.  I’m pretty underwater from a time perspective and the unfortunate fact is I can’t actually do everything I need to.  My entire team is in the same boat.  Plus, we’re a startup so I don’t have the luxury of hiring an assistant or all the staff it would take to support acting on every opportunity that comes our way.

I think this is the case for everyone today.  There’s no shortage of input.  You could spend all day replying to emails, reading Twitter and Facebook, and at the end of the day not have anything to show for your time.  For all of us, prioritization and filtering is important. Some people choose not to participate in things like Twitter and Facebook to cut down on these distractions.  I’m convinced in the future an ability to prioritize and focus, an ability to use these tools for what they’re good for and not be distracted by them, will be characteristics which lead to success.

I have LOTS of room for improvement but here are a few of the things I do to try to remain productive:

I make lists.  In the spirit of GTD (Getting Things Done, the book, the technique) I put what needs doing onto a list when it comes into my head so I can process serially.  If I’m at my computer I record them in a program called Things, and I assign them to projects or tasks and put deadlines on them.  If I’m not, I just write them in my notebook and process them later.

I try to keep my blackberry and computer out of meetings, and not look at my computer when I’m on the phone.  I know my limitations, and if I’m talking to you while I’m staring at my computer, I’m only half listening, if that.  If I’m going to take the time for a meeting I want to focus, know what I am really getting of value out of the meeting, get it, and move on.  If I’m not getting or giving anything of value, the meeting just shouldn’t be happening.

I try to process email only twice a day, instead of looking at it all day long.  Unfortunately that isn’t enough time to get through every message, which is why so many go unread.  But I think it’s more important to spend a couple hours a day going through “the list” than it is to reply to every email.  I’d rather have unread messages than an overflowing to-do list.  Unfortunately at the moment I have both! But I’ll burn the to-do list down faster than the inbox.

I try to use all the tools available to do what they’re good at.  Skype and Google Voice have changed the way I communicate.  I route all calls to my cell and if not answered there they bounce to Skype.  If I don’t answer there they go to Google Voice which transcribes the text and emails the message to me.  Whenever possible I do meetings via Skype video instead of driving across town, flying across the country, or just having a phone meeting where you can’t get any body language as input to the conversation.  I’ll use Twitter to get answers to hard questions, Facebook to keep in touch with business colleagues who have changing email address and to schedule events, WordPress to communicate with large groups of people, LinkedIn to post jobs.  And I’ve used all of the above to schedule meetups so you can get some scale out of your own time and meet lots of people who you don’t have time to meet with during the course of the work week.

Anyway, I’m no expert here.  I don’t sleep enough, don’t see my kids enough, haven’t been skateboarding nearly enough, etc.  But on balance I do alright, maybe the above will be useful for someone.  I’m also open to suggestions!

Grrlgenius note: I feel even more lucky that Ian made time to answer these questions – and, only hours after I sent them.

3) Did appearing on the cover of Billboard so early on in your TOPSPIN career add an extra layer of pressure to succeed?

Yes, it did.  To be honest, it was too early for that much exposure, but how could we say no to something like that?  It was great coverage, and I’m very thankful for it.  It’s been a lot to live up to but we’ve been working our asses off to do it every day over the two years since!

4) The female numbers continue to decline for women pursuing careers in technology while your daughter Zoe is earning a degree at M.I.T. What advice do you have for women on why they should pursue a career in such a male-dominated field?
Two daughters and a wife — I’m surrounded by smart, analytical women so sometimes I forget the field *isn’t* dominated by women.  But we’ve struggled to hire women at Topspin, we’re a male-dominated shop with only two women on our engineering team (Maria and Ana, but we have women in the company in business development, legal, finance, QA, and pro services) but not for lack of trying to hire female engineers, there are simply far less female resumes when you post a programming position.

Zoe attended a great UC program called COSMOS , which was established to take kids with an aptitude for math and science and nurture it before they decided it was “uncool”.  They mentioned they see this in girls particularly, that often they show skills in math and science early but by the end of high school they’ve lost interest. I highly recommend anyone (female, male, or in-between) who has a glimmer of skills here early stick with it and just keep going.  I didn’t know anything about Computer Science when I enrolled in the degree program in 1991.  I think some people think “Oh I don’t know anything about algebra, I’m not going to take that class” so they take an English class because, well, I already know how to read. You have to remember that LEARNING is what those classes are about.  Go in humble and ready to learn and you’ll do just fine.  Ask questions when you don’t know.  You’ll be surprised what you learn.

5) Why is information transparency a good thing and where do you draw the line at what to reveal?

Sharing is caring!  😉  Seriously, I’m convinced The Beatles were right — you get what you give. There have been so many times I’ve wondered if I should share what I was feeling, only to find there were other people out there who feel the way I feel, or who have feedback which could change the way I feel.

I generally only try to share things I think will be of value to at least *someone*. Not that it needs to be high value, but at least mildly entertaining or informative, etc.

People talk about “all the noise” out there online but those folks are really missing the point in my humble opinion.  TV, radio, and billboards are noise because they intrude where you have no choice.  If I’m reading a blog or a tweet it’s because I *want* to.  I control who is on my list.  Betray my trust and it’s one click for me to cut you out of my attention entirely.

Remember, the most awesome value of the Internet age have been people-powered, from Ebay to Amazon reviews to Yelp — even Google’s search results beat the competition because they were able to derive human intention through the links of the Web.  Information sharing + filtering and attention management is legitimate value creation.