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Today’s heroes are the makers- lessons from psfk’s ny conference

April 8, 2011

Joe from airbnb shows us his real estate in NYC

Having spent a few hours at the excellent PSFK
on Friday, I couldn’t help but be struck by the observation that
we have new heroes in our business that are different to the heroes
of old.

Rewind back 10 years and imagine yourself at the typical
branding/marketing conference; there would be a bunch of talking heads
taking credit for the things they had reportedly done.

There would be brand
managers presenting case studies of how their campaign carved out a dominant share of the market and creative directors
showing TV spots to wild acclaim.

At PSFK’s conference, the
audience, average age 26.2, had no
interest in hearing such things.

They were looking for something else, they
wanted the “Zuckerberg Mythology”; the story of the a couple of guys or girls
working away at something they called their own and achieving business success.

This is why they were enthralled by the likes of Kickstarter, Thrillist and airbnb who
all brought their personal stories to the crowd.

Instead of claiming they were geniuses and had all the answers, they talked about
humility and perseverance in this face of some tough challenges and how their creativity
helped them through it.

The airbnb story was the one that stood out because it had
such a nice cadence to it and you could easily see yourself in these guy’s shoes.

Two industrial designers knowing they wanted to be entrepreneurs acted too fast and quit their
jobs with no idea to go to. Desperate for a source of cash to pay their rent,
they looked at the available floor space in their apartment and realized it
could be turned into accommodation. Conveniently, the ISDA conference was
coming to SF and the city’s hotels were sold out. As a service, the guys told the
leading design blogs about their space and that got coverage
and their first three customers.

As the business developed, they looked for ways to attract
attention- including the Democratic National
Convention, another event in a town with sold-out hotels. Here they created their
own cereal brand as a promotion- Obama O’s were a big hit and became a national news story.

The story continues onto today where they now have expanded
the concept beyond the airbed, to become what they describe as “The Ebay of
available space”.

The airbnb story sounds like a movie pitch, no wonder these twentysomethings want to create their own stories

These digital entrepreneurs are the new heroes.

The digital hero is living proof that the American dream is
still alive, albeit faded into the background.

The most significant thing is
that these stories show others that with guts, application, creativity and some
skills, you can go along way and achieve something that you can be really proud
of making and having been a part of.

The event made me think of just how challenging it is for Madison Avenue to
compete with this kind of opportunity because today more young
people would rather be Mark Zuckerberg, than Alex Bogusky 1.0, which perhaps explains why
even Alex changed careers?

The ad business has got to learn from this
world and it doesn’t mean encouraging people to build micro sites for clients,
it’s about allowing them to access the values of the start-up;
pride, teamwork, fun, creativity, accomplishment and reward.

This suggests the structure of agencies
needs to change to embrace cross-departmental project teams, where all members are “creative”. These teams courageously lead their clients to compelling business and communication ideas and get rewarded for doing so.

Maybe this is this work was a stepping-stone for people who could later be given the opportunity to create
platforms and ideas that agencies can invest in and sell on, sharing the spoils with
the teams that created them.

We have the opportunity to build an industry that attracts
the best, but we’ve got to re-configure what we do and how we do it.

Maybe an ad agency needs to be an organized collection of start-ups.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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