Marketing sure is a lot more fun these days


I'm about to embark on an uncharacteristic whirlwind of travel. I've been lucky enough to be invited to speak at BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas, Marketing Profs Digital Marketing Mixer in Chicago and the Social Media Business Forum in Durham, NC. All three are crammed into a span of nine days. I'm not looking forward to being away from The Mrs and The Boy (especially since he changes every five minutes these days), but I'm really looking forward to these events, much more than I have to other business trips in my previous 20 years as a professional communicator.

Being in marketing (or communications, or marketing communications) sure is a lot more fun these days, and I've been thinking of all the reasons why.

The tech

Let's just get this one out of the way. I have incurable Shiny Object Syndrome, and I love learning new tools and technology. There's been a quantum leap in my career in the tools available to us to communicate in cool ways. The first web site I ever helped put up, when I worked for the World Trade Center North Carolina in the mid '90s, was done for us by an agency. We had no idea how it worked, and only one person in the office (not me) had any idea what HTML was and how to perform the alchemy required to make the words change on the screen.

Contrast that with last week, when I used a free web tool to create an animated movie, or the week before when I used my webcam to shoot a short video. Last night I played around on Google Wave with a friend in California, and another who I don't know where he lives, come to think of it. When I'm traveling later this week, I won't just call my son to say goodnight, I'll Skype him. He's 20 months old and video calling is already old hat for him.

And I haven't even mentioned the iPhone.

The people

I've been to a lot of business conferences in the last 15 years or so. I've had a lot of conversations about sports in general, golf in particular, and kids (before I had one of my own). That's what was safe to talk about, and that was just the lead-in to the pitch. I've been pitched a lot, often in a half-hearted and dutiful manner, mostly while sitting in a big room with collapsible walls eating overcooked chicken.

These days the people I run into at events remind me more of the people I met when I worked in the music industry. A lot of them are smart, funny, irreverent and not a little profane. And unlike a lot of the people I met when I worked in the music industry, they also know how to Get Stuff Done.

Most important, I very seldom feel like I'm getting pitched, even when I'm talking to somebody with something to sell. (I still getting plenty of ham-handed, old-school pitches, but over the phone or in email.)

The events

I once sat politely and listened to a presentation about the benefits of dredging ship channels at the Port of Wilmington. None of the people in that room were actually in the dredging business, or had anything of their own that required dredging.

I went to a two-day conference on newsletter publishing several years ago. Here's everything I remember: People respond well to prices that end in seven, except for patients in Turkish mental institutions, who prefer the number three.

I have been to several events in my career where people have fallen quite obviously asleep in their chairs. One august and dignified representative of a major international organization managed to roll off his chair and tumble gently to the floor. I remember one woman in a bad brown pantsuit sitting in the back row of an auditorium, head back, mouth open and snoring.

To be fair, I have fought with varying degrees of success to stay awake at more than one event. But nobody is napping at the social media events I've been to in the last year. Everybody is wide awake and on the edge of their seats, because they know the information they are hearing will have an immediate impact on their jobs and their lives. Plus, it's hard to fall asleep when somebody like Jason Falls, Chris Brogan, David Armano or Gia Lyons is speaking.

The attitude

I think it used to be okay to be boring. It was a work event; we had to talk about work even if we didn't really want to, or enjoy it. Nobody really expected it to be fun, and so they weren't surprised or disappointed when it wasn't.

It also used to be okay to be phony. Everybody had their work persona, and often it had nothing to do with who they really were. We didn't really expect to make real connections with people, and if we did it was a big surprise.

It's not like that so much anymore, at least at social media conferences. If you're boring, people walk out, or call you out on Twitter. It puts more pressure on the speakers (and I hope I haven't just jinxed myself) but in a way it also sets you free to be yourself and talk about what you really care about.

Yes, I realize I am idealizing social media, and no I don't think everyone in social media is beautiful and smart and honest and pure. But social media and the principles behind it are a big part of the sea change that is taking place in marketing, and irrevocably changing both the profession and the people who practice it.

And making it a lot more fun.


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