April 13, 2010
 

A Conversation with Sarah Fay in wwwLand, Part 3

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By Wendy McHale

Disney's 2011 version of Alice in Wonderland debut's next month, 60 years since the company released its original cartoon version in 1951. It joins a catalog already filled with thousands of other artistic interpretations of Wonderland in traditional and digital media form.

Beginning with Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Disneyland, the inspiration for his fantastical use of animals as walking, talking human-like characters created an industry in and of itself. Lewis Carroll also inspired the Beatles. We could spend hours around the digital water-cooler talking more about it, but as the White Rabbit sang back in 1951:

I'm late, I'm late for a very important date,
No time to say "Hello", "Goodbye,"
I'm late, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!

In a business or tomorrow, time is so precious, which is why we are so appreciative to Sarah Fay for spending so much of hers in helping us bring her journey into wwwLand to you.

In wwwLand there is never enough time; that is, unless we make it ourselves.

So without further adieu, in Part 3 of Sarah in wwwLand, Editor Tim McHale and Ms. Fay discuss how she makes time for herself and her family in a world of social media and industry growth.

Sarah also shares some advice for those who are considering jumping down their own digital rabbit hole, and how they - like Alice & Disney's Wonderland - can collaborate together to make wwwLand a bigger industry, in and of itself!


Tim: Are you a geek?

Sarah: LOL! Am I a technology geek? No. My former IT staff would be holding their sides laughing if they heard that!

Tim: Why is that?

Sarah: Well, I do love technology! The opportunities it creates to innovate and to communicate are what make me a big fan. Of course, I'm not the person creating technology or picking it apart to understand how it works (I have geek friends who do that for me.)

Tim: What's your favorite mobile device?

Sarah: I love my iPhone. I can easily say that it has changed my life. It has become an extension of my body, and there is almost nothing I won't do on my iPhone that I would otherwise do on my computer (except typing long emails - the blackberry was better for that.)

Tim: Agreed.

Sarah: Technology has brought many time saving advantages to people, and content that they would never have had access to before the days of the internet.

Tim: How about from a marketing perspective?

Sarah: Brands are finding ways to hitch a ride on these advantages and help to deliver experiences to consumers that are useful and time saving. There's a whole new level of branding that can create a feeling of gratitude and respect for brands - we call this "the gratitude effect".

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Tim: Good term.

Sarah: The bar is constantly being raised almost daily on what consumers now expect of the companies they buy from. In many cases it goes well beyond just the products they're purchasing. At the same time, I'm wary about what technology might be subtracting from our lives.

Tim: Like what? Give us an example.

Sarah: Neil Postman refers to technological advancement as a "Faustian bargain" - something is always given in return. If you caught Renny Gleason's presentation at TED, you'll see the inattention to the real world that mobile usage is creating. It's something to think about!

Tim: He's amazing. What do you think about digital subscriptions? Rupert Murdoch is once again out front on this topic.

Sarah: Well, Rupert is correct that the model of "free" is not optimal for publishers - and certainly WSJ is in a position to charge for its information. I believe WSJ is still a must-read for the finance and business marketplace. But how many content sites can say that?

Tim: Not many when you think about it.

Sarah: It's going to be a huge challenge for most publishers to gain large online paid audiences, because of the wealth of free content that exists for consumers to access. Right now I can't see how in the industry at large will convert to selling straight online subscriptions. That said online subscriptions aren't the only way for content sites to generate revenue. There's nothing to say that publishers won't be successful in augmenting advertising revenues with some level of payment for specialized content.

Tim: Give us an example.

Sarah: Content providers may sell information or services that are relevant to the reader in the moment - special reports that relate to areas of content, seminars, forums, perhaps even products.

Tim: Okay.

Sarah: We'll see different kinds of companies potentially playing a role in generating more revenue from web audiences: PayPal, our friends in Telco access; companies like Amazon, Apple, Google as well as banks, and credit cards. All of these players offer handy micro-payment systems, and may become much bigger providers in that capacity. It'll be interesting to see who takes the big step forward here.

Tim: So your advice to publishers is to remain free to readers?

Sarah: The danger with subscription-based profit gains is that sites run the risk of losing a hefty portion of traffic and therefore advertising revenue increases. If you're betting on the growth of the digital advertising market, in my opinion, the bullish strategy is to grow your audience aggressively, which means keeping barriers to access low - like free!

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Tim: There's no secret formula. It's a good reason why what we do is called work! Perfect segue. Talk to us a little about when you're not focusing on work. How do you catch your breath? What do you do to clear your head?

Sarah: As compared to the corporate world I've been a part of, while I'm not exactly taking a vacation, I'm reveling in a slower pace this year. It has been great to have weeks without travel.

Tim: Especially nowadays.

Sarah: I love my pilates class. I now have the time to go to the gym, cook dinners and be there for my daughter's homework time. Since I first became a Mom, I've tried not to make family a second priority, but I have sacrificed a lot of time with them due to travel and long hours.

Tim: So would you describe yourself as a home-body now?

Sarah: Not really - I do still have business trips on my schedule, but not half as much as before. I love having a career, but I also enjoy more time at home. This year has also included a few real vacations - and I sure do believe in those.

Tim: No surprise.

Sarah: Everyone has to decide what's important on an individual basis. I personally like to make my vacations count - my first choice is to do something memorable. Life is short, and I like to experience things - beautiful sunsets in a new place on earth, hiking, sailing, skiing, snorkeling.

Tim: For sure.

Sarah: I don't live in a big house, and I don't drive a particularly racy car. But I will spend my last dime traveling to a place I've never been to before. I am also married to a serial adventurer, so I may never relax on vacation!

Tim: LOL!

Sarah: It's always an adventure. I've hiked, driven, swam, or sailed to some of the most beautiful places on earth because Richard dragged me there. The nice thing is I don't usually have to lift a finger in vacation planning because he does all that!

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Tim: Sounds great. Now let's talk about mobile. For as much as it gives us more flexibility, there are bills in congress to heighten the penalties for using our hand-held digital mobile devices while our hands are on the steering wheel

Sarah: That's right - this is a major epidemic. I suspect that you and I have probably been offenders here.

Tim: I confess you're correct.

Sarah: But we need education as much as enforcement.

Tim: Agreed.

Sarah: Think about it. It's not unlike driving drunk. Before the education and enforcement of drunk driving, I will admit I was in many a car with a drunk driver behind the wheel (this is going back to the 80's).

Tim: Guilty as well.

Sarah: However when you look at the statistics over the years, accidents from drunk driving are a fraction of what they were before government and business decided it was too important to ignore. This same kind of awareness needs to be created quickly about texting and driving.

Tim: You're right.

Sarah: I like what Verizon is now doing. They're running out of home advertising urging people not to text while driving, and I think that is commendable. Regulation and enforcement should also follow.

Tim: Let's talk about our industry. What achievements did you see the digital industry make in moving forward? Has the IAB helped us in your opinion?

Sarah: I am a big fan of Randy Rothenberg's. In the last year, the IAB has done a great deal to address the challenges in the digital marketplace.

Tim: An example?

Sarah: As you know, the online T's & C's which has been an outstanding issue to resolve for years, has made big progress over the last twelve months. Randy and his team really moved the needle in creating standards, and banging out agreements to keep business processes moving forward. People who are not close to the execution of online advertising programs may have little to no idea how much time goes into resolving ad delivery discrepancies. It's one of the industries biggest issues. The IAB worked to bring all parties together to come up with new technologies and practices to help catch discrepancies as they happen. This is a huge time saver, and eliminates problems that can create bad feelings between buyers and sellers.

Tim: What else impressed you?

Sarah: I know from my work with Better Advertising that the IAB is right in the front lines, working with the FTC on what the digital advertising marketplace needs to do to address the privacy concerns that are percolating. This involves a mixture of education and a plan for action. You may have seen the online advertising campaign targeted to consumers called "Advertising is Creepy"

Tim: Brilliant. Talk about the thinking that went into it?

Sarah: It's fairly simple, really. It's meant to educate people on behavioral advertising and how data is used to make advertising more relevant to individuals without violating their privacy. The IAB is also playing a role in guiding advertisers on best practices to ensure that privacy violation does not happen.

Tim: What about industry cooperation with other media types, say the AAAA's?

Sarah: The IAB has been working closely with other associations such as the AAAA's and the DMA to ensure advertisers hear a unified message about best practices and other initiatives. Randy and his team are making the IAB an important part of the advertising ecosystem. And they're doing it without grand-standing or competing with other associations. This has done much to bring the industry together, in my opinion.

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Tim: Let's touch upon Twitter for a moment. I know we could have a separate discussion about social media alone, but what are your general thoughts about social media's relevance in today's marketing mix.

Sarah: Without doing a deep dive, I think Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace have become platforms for brands to immerse themselves in communities that exist already. These are vibrant and flourishing platforms that have amassed giant audiences, and significant usage from these audiences. All you have to do is look at the time spent in social media. It's already surpassed content-based media.

Tim: Amazing.

Sarah: A brand today can win by inserting itself into consumer communication streams in ways that are helpful or interesting to people who want these brands to be a part of their lives. Brands can listen for signals of approval or disapproval from consumers, and respond when it is appropriate.

Tim: With Best Buy, I think their response over the holidays was within minutes.

Sarah: Yes, I heard about that - it was actually a topic of discussion at the CMO Summit in Beverly Hills last week. There are many brands seeing big returns from social promotions - particularly in the retail space. Social media platforms have become a natural jumping off point for influencer marketing. People who "follow" a brand or join a brand's fan base can become advocates and help proliferate that brand's messages. The vast majority of these messages are promotional - The US is still a very promotionally driven marketplace when it comes to buying influences.

Tim: What other marketers have impressed you?

Sarah: Southwest Airlines uses Twitter and Facebook as a means to advertise fare specials. I saw a case presented at the CMO Summit in New York, where a tweeted fare was so attractive that consumer's viral activity crashed the Southwest.com site. You could see this as a sign of success (maybe too much success) but not ideal for customer relations. However, while the site was down, Southwest Airlines used Twitter and Facebook as a means to apologize to people trying to make bookings, and to let them know the situation was being worked on. I thought this was a great example of a brand using those social platforms to its advantage. The voice of Southwest Airlines has become that of a familiar and trusted friend to their customers who follow the brand.

Tim: Southwest has been on the cutting edge for years.

Sarah. You're right. Today no one can argue that Southwest Airlines is a digital brand. More than 80% of bookings are made online. It's now the largest airline in the US.

Tim: How about twitter? Are we going to see legitimate knock-offs to steal share growth?

Sarah: As far as a "new Twitter" entering the market, I'm never one to say never. But I would say that a new similar platform that tries to bifurcate the existing Twitter user base with a similar model will fail.

Tim: Twitter has made an amazing impact on society as well as the marketing landscape.

Sarah: That's right. It is astounding that Twitter has become a household name already and has had monumental social impact. It's so entrenched with a massive global audience that it's hard to imagine that it will be displaced anytime soon. That's not to say that other kinds of social networking platforms won't crop up.

Tim: Of course.

Sarah: Vertical categories are still wide-open prairie. And in fact, the potential for social media exists everywhere shared interests exist. I have to confide that I am member of Ravelry, a social media platform for knitters, Open Table for restaurant reservations and recommendations, and Yelp! a resource for local recommendations - the list goes on depending on areas of interest. What web site is not inserting social sharing capabilities? Social media has brought about the biggest behavioral shift we have seen since Search. This will continue to grow. As my old boss David Verklin would say, "We're still in the middle of the beginning."

Tim: Final question. What advice would you give a college grad just getting out of school today about the media business?

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Sarah: The first thing I would ask is, "Are you up for it?" The media business is not for the faint of heart! It's fast paced and requires strong communication skills. You have to devour new information all the time, think analytically, be diplomatic... and be prepared for long hours.

Tim: LOL!

Sarah: You have to be resilient to change, as the industry is changing quickly. If the answer is "yes" then there's great opportunity to have a rewarding career, particularly if you are ambitious and want to advance quickly. Media can be an excellent choice, as long as you're prepared to constantly hone your professional skills. In fact, I believe people with initiative can move their careers faster in the media space than in many industries because the market is hungry for talent, passion and ideas. Another important ingredient for success is the power of collaboration.

Tim: Right.

Sarah: I can't emphasize enough the importance of being a strong collaborator. It may seem counterintuitive to think you will get ahead because of what the team delivers versus what you as an individual have done to stand out. But in fact, great work today is usually delivered by a team of specialists, and the quality of the output is often a reflection of how well they worked together. People are valued by how well they collaborate as much as by what they have to contribute as individuals.

Tim; Do you recommend any resource to illuminate this further?

Sarah: Kerry O'Connor of The Bellwether Group has produced a report called "45 Perspectives: How to Make Collaborative Work Situations More Productive" (click to launch pdf). This is report contains a wealth of advice from 45 senior advertising people in the field, and would certainly be a great place to start. I took the time to contribute my thoughts to it, and I also enjoyed reading what others had to say. I would have loved this material when I was starting out, and I think it would be very useful to anyone just entering a career in media.

Tim: We'll include it. I plan to check it out myself! Sarah, this has been great. Thank you!

Sarah: No, thank YOU, Tim! It's been my pleasure!

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