Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Summer Journal: Thriving in Seattle

As Labor Day loomed this past weekend, I couldn't help but take stock of all the projects and activities that consumed my summer and my prevailing thought was “Wow! What a great summer!” In contrast the WSJ weekend edition plopped on my porch with a lead story by Joe Queenan that gives the summer of ’09 a thorough drubbing in his article “The Summer of Our Discontent”

While one person’s summer is not a measure of the zeitgeist, I feel compelled to balance the editorial scales and suggest to Mr. Queenan and his readers that one’s summer memories should not be tabulated nor defined merely by the sum of external events, but rather by the pro-active action and creativity of the individual.

In large part my summer was so enjoyable precisely because as the days grew longer and the temperatures raised ever higher, in parallel multiple strands of my life, work and interests (and those of my family, friends and colleagues) began to merge into a wonderful set of inter-related activities creating congruency between the personal and the professional and, as a result, all the more fulfilling. To follow then is my recipe for how I created a very memorable and thoroughly enjoyable summer:

Coming into Focus: Photography and Photographers

Photography was a thread throughout the summer connecting people, places and events. The summer kicked off with an evening I helped organize to showcase to buyers new work from mutliple photographers at the ASPP West Chapter meeting. The event not only re-connected me with working photographers, both current and former colleagues and old friends whose new work I had not had the privilege to see, but also awakened in me a dormant need to go out and create new images.

Frank Veronsky’s images of fashion and reportage in particular resonated with me. I was also struck by Frank’s generosity in launching digital photography workshops in his home state of NJ to support learning and creativity of student photographers and it encouraged me to think how I might do the same. I subsequently organized the first photo safari to document the Ballard Sunday Farmer's Market amongst some friends and fellow-photo enthusiasts who were interested in learning from each other on how to create better pictures and expand their range of photo taking skills.

The early results of this first outing are visible here. Given the success of this first initiative the group is now discussing the possibility of taking on a long term project that could result in a group show, website, book or ……

Projects, Inspiration and Pausing to Ask/Listen
A real highlight of the summer was having the opportunity to work with the team at Glow Images to launch a new image portal website at the HOW Design Conference.

A centerpiece of the product launch is the new Glow Images Marketplace which offers designers a new resource of professional stock photographs with prices starting as low as $1. Needless to say, given the quality of the images and the over 4 million fresh photos to choose from, the launch at HOW was a big success. But again, business aside, the most memorable part of HOW was the designers I met on the show floor, in the seminars, galleries and after-show parties. I wrote extensively about the show highlights in the Glow Images Blog.

Surrounded by literally a sea of some of the most creative designers on the planet, one could not help to be inspired to act, create, and deliver. Of the many inspirations were the creative variety of business cards I collected from designers I met at the show. After seeing what these creative minds were able to create with this humble medium, I took the initiative to avail myself of the services of and designed a set of new cards that feature a selection of my photographs. The feedback from folks I've given them to thus far has been overwhelmingly positive. If you see me, be sure to ask for one!

While spending a good chunk of the summer supporting the launch of a new website for Glow, I paused long enough to reflect upon the many decisions -- both strategic and tactical— marketers and business owners are required to consider when building a successful site. This question led me to a terrific set of informative conversations where I probed this topic with respected colleagues and new contacts alike.

Ric Peterson, a professional photographer and instructor at UW and Art Institute of Seattle has been diligently at work the last few months re-configuring his web presence. Over a pleasant lunch in Seattle’s Occidental Plaza, Ric shared his thoughts about the role of the web site as a lynchpin that not only does a good job communicating to customers the breadth and depth of his work, but as importantly, connects and optimizes traffic flow to and from social media sites where Ric is an active participant.

As you might expect, since re-launching the site this summer, Ric’s strategy and investment is paying off with a 5x increase in traffic resulting in more work and opportunities coming his way.

Stewart McCullough, owner of Montana Banana Website Design and Development, provided some terrific advice in what it takes to succeed on the web: Keep it simple.

Through his own example, Stewart owns the domain and launched a web-based business built around this common, yet very engaging product.

Easy navigation, simple graphics, and concise descriptions make for a very effective e-commerce experience. A strong reminder that in the drive to innovate, simplicity is an oft forgotten virtue that adds tremendous value.

And then there was BING!
When Microsoft launched bing their new “decision engine” I was immediately taken with the simple, yet effective design of their home page. I was especially pleased to see photography play such a central role in establishing a unique brand identity for bing.

Far from the sterile (and I would say boring) all white interface of Google, bing offers users a daily dose of dazzling photography and engages visitors to scroll over quick facts and figures about the particular place depicted. On bing’s first week after launch, I was delighted to see several images featured from the collection of friend and collaborator Danita Delimont.

Even better still I was delighted to see the relevant results I was getting from my searches.

As advertised, bing delivers more than search results, but often reveals relevant facts and related resources that I find of added value.

E.g.: Earlier this summer I searched bing for directions to a recital hall to see my daughter’s dance troupe. Not only did bing retrieve accurate driving directions for me, but alongside the directions, displayed a list of nearby restaurants, shops and other services. Anticipating that we might be hungry after the performance, and not being familiar with eating establishments in Shoreline, WA, bing suggested several restaurants, along with user comments pulled in from yelp, and voila! we were off to a terrific dinner after the show. Firefox’s open source community quickly released a bing toolbar widget and now bing is my default “decision engine”.

Moreover, as a marketer and buyer of online advertising, I was also delighted to see how quickly bing drove traffic to the websites I was managing giving me yet another channel to affect customer acquisition, promotions and branding.

You can take it with you!

While launching Glow at HOW I was thrilled to see another client I’ve been working with this year generate new business creating viral videos for Microsoft.

The creative team at VMCreative did a fabulous job taking a fairly dry and arcane message (helping IT managers understand how Windows 7 Virtual PC will run legacy apps smoothly) and turning into a heart warming story.

Check out the latest work from VMCreative and pass it on!

The Enterprise Strikes - Again
After a successful engagement serving as team mentor for a dinner program on the "Future of Advertising" with MIT Enterprise Forum last January, I was asked again to lead a team to put on a dinner program tentatively titled “The Future of News Gathering and Distribution.”

During the closing weeks of the summer, this project has put me in touch with executives and thought leaders from media and technology companies all focused on bring to reality the future of news. For a preview of the complex set of issues facing news organizations today, take a look at this thoroughly engaging discussion presented by the Aspen Institute:

There is almost no business sector or demographic that will not be impacted by the changes taking shape in how we gather, distribute, share, and consume news. If you are in Seattle, mark your calendar for November 18th . This is gonna be a good one. More details on speakers and out issues summary in the weeks ahead, but suffice to say kicking off this project is yet another milestone that makes this summer one for the books.

But all work and no play...
In between crafting and executing marketing strategy, consulting projects, site launches, conferences, event planning and work, work, work I was not going to let this once-in-a lifetime Seattle summer (beginning in May we had 92 consecutive days of sunshine) get away from me. Fortunately, I managed to get out to enjoy the weather and achieve some personal milestones that really make this summer one to remember:

Going Low
I set a goal at the beginning of the season to consistently break 100 – my low round this summer was 94. Most progress was the short game and getting the drives (more) consistently in the fairway. Oh and let’s not forget the inspiration Tom “Terrific” Watson provided all golfers at this summer’s British Open.

The Great Outdoors
Thanks to my daughters, the last few years I’ve re-kindled my love for camping. Not the bring along the RV/trailer, but real roll-out the sleeping bags, put up the tent camping. Well, okay so the cooler was in the back hatch of the SUV a few yards from the campsite. Inspired by my dear friend Carlos' visit to Seattle, we set out for the Olympic Peninsula for a long weekend camping trip with our friend Tom. The weather was gorgeous and nearly matched the impeccable scenery that typifies the Great Pacific Northwest. But it was the camraderie of good friends, taking pictures and creating new memories that ranks this excursion really high on my "all-time buddy trips" list.

Beaching it
My idea of vacation is put me on a beach with warm water and sunny skies. Few places deliver on these criteria than the Jersey Shore. Add in a group of loving family and dear friends and I had a perfect week of pure relaxation.

Family, Friends and More
As I said at the top of this post, ultimately what made the summer of 2009 so very special was the co-mingling of work and pleasure with family, friends and colleagues. This summer I was blessed with an abundance of all. Here are just a few of the smiles I managed to capture along the way.

Add into these highlights, a July 4th parade and neighborhood block party (the 52nd annual) Bastille Day celebrations, lazy weekends at the pool, Julie & Julia, great books ("The Looming Tower" "City of Thieves", "Free: The Future of a Radical Price"), BatMitzvah celebration, recording three-hours of video interviews with my parents, numerous barbecues, making home made blackberry jam from handpicked berries and, did I already mention lots of really fun golf?, together with friends and family, we created one heckuva terrific summer.

Sorry Mr. Queenan that summer was such a disappointment. I respectfully disagree.


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