April 13, 2010
 

Nick Friese & the Roads Yet Taken

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Distinguished Man of Letters, Robert Frost planned to recite a poem he wrote, titled, Dedication, on the occasion of JFK's inauguration. He approached the microphone, but blinded by the sun's glare on the snow-covered Capitol grounds, he was unable to read it. Thinking quickly, he instead recited from memory, "The Gift Outright," a poem he had written in 1942!

It set the tone for the event and captured the fresh spontaneous excitement of that era. Back then, the country was waking up from a quixotic past and chomping at the bit to get on with the future.

Known at the time as the most respected poet in America, Mr. Frost's prose added poetic justice to Kennedy's breathtaking "Ask not" speech, which challenged for Americans to dedicate themselves to public service. The result of course was the 60's.

Almost 50 years after Poet Laureate Frost read his words, the recital about to take place in this era is titled, the Digital Publishing and Advertising Conference, or DPAC for short. It's author, Robert Frost-lookalike, Nick Friese hopes it will set the tone for the year 2009!

DPAC has rapidly established itself as a most refreshing industry community event; which is why we wanted to catch up with Nick as he plans DPACII on October 27th & 28th at the Marriott Marquis in New York City.

On the eve of the world anticipating America's choice of the person to lead our global village into the 21st century, many in our business hope that DPACII will rush in a new era of change; as brisk as the blue-skied air of JFK's January day.

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Tim: How's it going?

Nick: It's going very well, thanks!

Tim: Before we discuss DPAC and industry trends, Tell us a little about your background. You have a diverse background in media sales, marketing and industry-community education, and evangelism. What has it been like?"

Nick: I've been very fortunate. It's been a very interesting ride for me. I began my career in publishing with companies like Gruner and Jahr, Hearst, and Meredith. This gave me an inside look at the mechanics of working with the agency community with sales. But it also gave me an inside look at the mechanics of how content is produced.

Tim: Who did you work for?

Nick: Some of the smartest people in publishing. Legends like Cathy Black, Alan Waxenberg, Jim McEwan and Jerry Kaplan among others. I tried to soak up everything I could from these pros with the hopes that one day I would be running my own titles with their same sense of style, confidence, and business acumen. That's the way I try and operate my media business and event business. It comes directly from the experiences and lessons I learned from them.

TWO roads diverged in a digital wood,
And I'm glad to say I traveled both,
And be one traveler, long I've stood,
And looked down them as far as I could.

(From Frost's: The Road Not Taken)

Tim: I worked for Alan Waxenberg too. He had a huge influence on me. What about the size of the companies you worked for? They are all giants.

Nick: They are. but each publication is run like a small business. You have the benefits of worlds.

Tim: That's interesting. Anything interesting happen while you were in print. I have to believe you have a few stories to tell.

Nick: Oh yeah! I think probably the most memorable experience was tagging along side Bill Murphy of Meredith Custom Marketing for a year. It was great, watching him work with a multitude of world-class brands; building from scratch the most creative multi-media and marketing solutions for them.

Tim: How would he approach a project?

Nick: Before the meetings with the brands, Bill would take a marker to a white board (pre-internet boom too!) and start mind mapping ideas for the brands. And by the time he was done with the ideas he had a plan that would take most brand marketers years to figure out , with line extensions, books, in-store promos, TV specials, celebrity endorsements, and more.

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Tim: Interesting.

Nick: The creativity just flowed out of him and his sensibilities were spot on and helped build that part of Meredith's business into a powerhouse that drove big revenue with Kraft, Home Depot, GM, and many more blue chip brands.

Tim: What was your takeaway?

Nick: I've learned two things that make this business tick - great relationships to get the ideas in the door and then thinking like a CMO is essential to take the ideas from a conference room to the market.

Tim: I agree. You have two companies. Tell me about DM2 Media and Sound Publishing. What drove you to establish them? What voids were not being served?

Nick: I have two companies in the digital publishing and event business. Really, it's the only place I would want to be in this crazy new media economy that we're all living in. This is the time when a company like Google in only 10 years can eclipse three of the biggest media companies' revenues combined - Disney, News Corp, and Time Warner. Who would ever imagine that the media world would tip like this? It did, and the amazing thing is that no one really saw this coming.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

Tim: Nobody?

Nick: Maybe Larry Page and Sergey Brin had a feeling about it!

Tim: LOL! I think you could safely say that.

Nick: But this is what makes this time so interesting and exciting for me. Also, that it is a time when digital platforms are revolutionizing the way we digest and process information, news, entertainment, conduct business, and stay connected to the people in our lives.

Tim: For sure.

Nick: Both my businesses, DM2 which runs industry events for the digital media and marketing business. We have DPAC (The Digital Publishing and Advertising Conference), BMS (Behavioral Marketing Summit), and the DEVA Series with the DEVA Upfront, Summits, and Awards. These events are focused solely on the digital video advertising and content industry.

Tim: What else?

Nick: We'll be having the first cooperative digital video upfront event ever in April 2009, and will follow-up with high level summits with industry media moguls; and will also host awards to let the world know that this industry is established and is on a vertical trajectory. We also have a daily publication that covers news and commentary on the digital media and marketing business called the DM2daily.

Tim: I get it.

Nick: It's a daily news pub and expert commentary on all the breaking news and information that influences and impacts the digital content and ad business. It really focuses in on what's happening with the digital content side of things. I think so many there are just so many amazing and truly interesting developments and people in this area and we want to cover all the moves first and bring all of these innovators together to keep the business moving forward.

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Tim: Okay.

Nick: The second company, Sound Publishing, is really just a pet project that helps me stay connected to the music business - yet another business totally revolutionized by digital technology. We publish and present GJD - a guitar entertainment and information hub, and music based web community which also produces a daily publication for guitar enthusiasts all over the world. Both businesses stoke my passions and make it easier to work the crazy hours to make it all happen.

Tim: I love the site. Let's talk a little more about DPACII. From my initial experience, it seems different than other conferences based on the people from the investment community and the publishing and agency communities who attend. Does it make a difference that you're in NYC? Are you planning to take it on the road?

Nick: I think because the show is so focused on how digital publishing and advertising platforms are revolutionizing the media business, we had to start off in New York City. There are more publishers and agencies in this town than all other cities combined. We are planning on moving the show west next year to Los Angeles and then looking at opportunities across the pond as well. There is such a hunger for more information and events about the business of digital content I think we could prop up shows in just about every major city if we could swing it.

Tim: Let's talk about you. As compared to everyone else in the business, your job reach is to reach across the entire media landscape when you invite people to register, attend and sponsor DPAC. It sounds exciting but I imagine it requires a lot of focus to think so broadly. Few of us have that need or opportunity. Tell us about it. Now that you are president, it adds even more excitement.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

Nick: It is exciting because you have to energize people enough to get up and leave their office for a day or two, and that is a real challenge in today's hyper paced media race. But it all comes down to exposing the quality of our programming and industry leaders we put on the stage. Look, we are digital publishers and marketers ourselves and plan the event on the issues and challenges we want to solve for our own businesses.

Tim: How are you doing that?

Nick: We have a highly involved advisory board of the top names in advertising and publishing who also share the same drive to pull together an event that truly addresses the central issues we all face in the digital media economy. This is what makes the difference - we are in the business and are passionate about it. This is not about a paycheck for us, it's bigger than that. It's about the love of the digital content and advertising industry we're a part of and the amazing people in it.

Tim: What special events do you have planned at the conference? Should people come one or both days? What the post-show entertainment? Can people who can't make it come?

Nick: We have so much going on at DPAC II. It's going to be like a three ring circus with all of the main stage activity, tracks, workshops, case studies, investor meetings, parties, and with top names in publishing and advertising presenting and networking, it will be a sight to see. Yes, if you can't make it for whatever reason, although, this is an event you should do everything to make, we'll have video, audio, and news from the event on publication the DM2daily.

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Tim: Your knowledge in the event marketing business is acute. How do you counsel a marketer on the benefits of being a gold sponsor versus a smaller presence? What criteria should a sponsor use to determine if the event worked for them?

Nick: I think the media company has to have the drive and determination to present itself as a leader in the space. They have to feel that their entire identity is wrapped up in that image to get them to take those spots. If you don't think that way, then it is nearly impossible to sell someone on that, as that comes from the culture inside.

Tim: You're right.

Nick: To be a supporting sponsor of an event helps you build up to that place of feeling like a leader, and being able to afford it too! The success of a sponsorship comes down to how much you get behind the event and work with the organizer to promote your presence, create valuable and unique ways of connecting with the attendee, and doing it in a meaningful way.

Tim: What are the best ways to do it?

Nick: There are so many ways of doing this that I could write a book, but for now I'll just say make sure as a sponsor you work closely with the event sales person, marketing team, event programmers, pr staff, and get crystal clear on the details with the event operations staff.

Tim: Let's switch gears. What do you think the roll of academia should be in the digital space? Other than Stanford, MIT, UT, UF, why don't you hear more from others? What research companies turn you on?

Nick: Well I think they play a very important role for our industry. Especially when there is such a vacuum of talent in our industry. Look, most don't go to school and say, I want to be in advertising! It normally happens by chance and a first or second job and then the hooks sink in, as it is very fun and vibrant business with many wonderful people in it, especially in the digital business.

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Tim: What companies or organizations do you think are worth watching?

Nick: I think Ball State Center for Media Design has done some ground breaking work, for example, their new privately-held media research company that will utilize state-of-the-art methods to track consumer media behavior.

Tim: Who else?

Nick: The Media Behavior Institute (MBI), was launched under the leadership of Mike Bloxham. director of insight and research. Mike has engaged some very talented and bright students in his media studies, panels, and focus groups. He even got them writing gigs in the ad trades too. Now that's mentoring!

Tim: We hear training is drying up. What's ahead for the digital space in the age of economic anemia. Was it a flight to safety when so many brands once again flocked to TV? How painful will next year for MadAve?

Nick: Look we know how this business works. There are very few leaders and the rest are followers of the status quo, especially in tough economic times. I've been through a few media recessions and the same thing happens, buyers and marketers stick with the safe stuff. And look TV is still the king for now. It still drives sales, has prestige, filled with stars, creates emotion, and comes with a mass audience.

Tim: Why would you want anything else?

Nick: We keep yelling at the top of our lungs that online/digital is the most accountable media, and offers much more interaction and better one-on-one relationships for brands. That's a good thing! But we are still not there yet with measurement standards across platforms for marketers, brilliant and dynamic ad platforms that energize agencies. Media design online is still a bit messy and ever changing.

I shall be telling this without a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Tim: Agreed.

Nick: Moreover, we are at the beginning of original video programming, and still trying to get a sense of how long someone will sit in front of a computer and watch video and deal with advertising. Plus, I think there's still a feeling that it's still amateur hour at the web with the glut of user generated video and content. So there's much work still to be done, but there's no doubt that we are in the right place at the right time.

Tim: What do you see down the road? Another company to add on to these? Would you give us a hint if you were on to something? What advice would give to a person graduating from college?

Nick: Down the road is always just around the corner in these times, so I am not quite sure what is next. I do know that platforms are the next big play for investors and for consumer media. That's what I would be keeping an eye on as we move down this digital highway.

Tim: What about those just getting out of school?

Nick: And for someone who's graduating, I would say if you have a great idea that you believe in, are passionate about, and it is a digital play, go out and start a business. Now is the time. There are so many young entrepreneur success stories out there. Why not try and become one of them? If I could do it over I would have started there first. I would have a few less gray hairs now.

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Tim: LOL! You and I both! Last question: In 25 words or less. What should people expect if they attend DPAC?

Nick: Great content. Great discussion. Great Minds. Great People. Great Brands - all coming together with a huge passion to dish digital for two full days in NYC.

Tim: Sounds great! Thanks, Nick. Have a great conference!

Nick: Thanks, Tim. It was my pleasure.

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