sam rosen on the future of media

  • What are some of the different views of the value, role, and best approaches to paid, owned, and earned media?
  • Why are conversation and storytelling so important in today’s media?
  • How can companies use content to make people’s lives better?

These are the questions I cover in today’s inteview.  My guest is Sam Rosen, Creative Director and Co-founder of ThoughtLead, an organization whose mission is “to spread important ideas that positively impact our world through online marketing.” 

Sam began his career as an award-winning social entrepreneur, founding and leading local and national initiatives to increase funding and awareness for community service.  He then became enamored with the field, practice, and philosophy of marketing, and switched his focus to digital strategy for lifestyle, business, and personal development publishers and experts. To merge his passion for changing the world with his love of marketing, Sam founded ThoughtLead where he now he ideates and directs campaigns that help brands like Dow, IBM, and HubSpot.  You may recall I featured an analysis of one of his conferences, The Future of Marketing, earlier this year, so when I heard he was involved with a new event, The Future of Media:  Radical Integration, I asked him to join me for a conversation.

Give this interview a listen and check out Sam at www.thoughtlead.com.

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Today’s interview is with a guy who has curated some of the most interesting, recent conversations about marketing. Sam Rosen is Creative Director and a co-founder of ThoughtLead. An organization whose mission is to spread important ideas that positively impact our world through online marketing.

He ideates and directs campaigns that help brands like Dow, IBM, HubSpot reach millions of people with inspiring messages and initiatives. Now if you haven’t heard of ThoughtLead, then surely you’ve heard of the series of online micro conferences called “The Future of Marketing”, where marketing luminaries like Guy Kawasaki and Tony Hsieh speak on a topic for 30 or 60 seconds.

I actually had featured an analysis of the inaugural conference on my blog earlier this year. Most recently, Sam contributed to a Future of Media: Radical Integration conference. I asked him to join me today to talk a little bit about that and the future of marketing in general. Welcome Sam.

Sam: Thank you, Denise. Thank you for having me.

Denise: Great. I want to jump right into it because I’ve got lots of questions for you. I want to start off with some of the things that I heard in the Future of Media, the Radical Integration conference. There were lots of different perspectives, but one of the common themes that I heard was about conversation and storytelling. I was hoping that you could talk to us about why are these important given what’s going on in media and marketing today.

Sam: Absolutely. For the first, they’re kind of one package, the first conversation. It’s a buzzword that’s been around for a few years now. Especially since the emergence of social media and there are a lot of satirists out there, who would like to make fun of the word conversation because it’s been so overused, but I’d like to talk about it in, maybe, a slightly different context. If we look at marketing form a more evolutionary perspective, you have at the early phases of marketing and selling, it was pretty simple. It was people going into a storefront, it was promoters going out and talking to people. Then as the economy industrialized and companies globalized, that became much more complex.

We didn’t actually have the communications infrastructure and the media platform to be able to have large-scale conversations. Where we are today, is at a very interesting point.  I don’t think what we’re doing is going back to an older time, but I think what we actually have the opportunity to do now, is to create large-scale platforms for brands to co-create, from my very biased perspective, a better world. That’s what I think the role brands need to play, with their customers and constituents in a global context.

The only way that brands can actually do that, and create evangelists, and loyal fans and people who are going to be co-creating the future with them, is to engage in a conversation and not just, this is one way it differs from the days of old, about what you did today or about the latest product and service or about what Sally said about her son the other day, but about important and meaningful things.

That’s where storytelling comes in, because if a brand is telling a big story that engages people in a meaningful and interesting conversation that impacts their lives and empowers them to do more and to live a better life but not only that, but to contribute to a better future. Then that brand will have a kind of power that it couldn’t if 1, if it’s not engaging in a conversation at all, not telling a story at all, and 2, if that conversation or that story is very limited or small.

When we think about the future of media, media has always been our way of communicating with each other whether it’s two way between people, which is now happening with social media or one way. Where brands are communicating to a much broader audience. It’s always been our communication medium, so now what we see is this extraordinary opportunity for that communications platform to facilitate a much better world and a much better future.

To me, this is again, my personally biased perspective, that’s why they’re so significant at this point in time.

Denise:  Hmm. Hmm. I want to pick up on something you said because I think it ties to your contribution to the Future of Media conversation; and I think it’ll help us better understand what you’re talking about. When you talk about brands providing stories or content that leaves people’s lives better off or advances a more positive future, I’m wondering if you can help us understand what you’re talking about there.

Sam: Yeah. Absolutely. There’s a more objective, marketing perspective and then there’s a more philosophical perspective. From a philosophical perspective, it’s like, “Well, what are we doing with our lives, guys?” We’re all marketers, we’re media people, we’re brand people, PR people. We’re defining how people think about products, services and the world. I think we’re at a point now where, if we look at where we are in a global context and the great challenges that we face, do we really want to just keep selling widgets? Do we really want to just keep selling small stories and selling products and services in a way that either doesn’t improve people’s lives or worse, makes them more self conscious or feel more limited?

From a philosophical perspective, to me, it’s like, “OK. Time to grow up, time to have everything that we do make a positive impact.” From a marketing perspective, I had mentioned that an e-marketer recently came out with a report that, with mothers, they’re much more likely to click on and engage with an ad, if it’s informative and leaves them better off and more informed.

I think from that perspective, we’re seeing performance tied to content and types of advertising that leave people’s lives better off. There are many examples of this. One example, I guess, to be a little bit self-serving and also because it readily comes to mind, is a project that we’ve been working on with Dow, called The Future We Create. That and another series of micro conferences that talk about important issues: The future of women in chemistry and science, the future of water, the future of sustainable chemistry. It engages thought leaders and also a broader marketplace in a conversation around what kind of future are we going to create.

What we found is that really engages influences, which is something that brands always want to do, in a conversation that’s relevant to them, that’s important, and it also develops new stakeholder relationships for Dow. Meaning, it’s good for business. It’s good for their overall objective of wanting to broaden their network and engage in substantive conversations with people who are going to contribute, not just to Tweeting a few things about Dow, but helping them to grow in a way that they want to, in a way they’re most inspired to.

Denise:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. It strikes me, listening to your description of that, that just sparking the conversation, and getting people together to talk about this or talk about a particular subject is a powerful first step in advancing an idea, or advancing a movement, or advancing a cause. It really speaks to the power of conversation, and the power of talk, and the power of ideas.

Sam: Absolutely. If you look at TED, for example, TED has been a fantastic conference for many years, but it was really when they launched their website that it started to have impact, and people started to change the way that they thought. If you look at TED’s model, they’ve got some of the best brands that are sponsoring their conferences and also their website. They recently launched a whole idea and conversation exchange, and you see hundreds and hundreds of comments in every single thread, so you see a hunger for that.

When brands are thinking about owned content and different types of content they want to produce, it’s now possible for brands to become a TED in their space, or become a TED in the broader marketplace depending on how far their reach is. It shows you that if you’re producing that kind of content, if you’re curating excellent content, which is a way that brand’s don’t have to hire their own journalists, if you’re curating really excellent, thought provoking content, then sparking conversations, like you’re saying, around that content, then what you can do is build that kind of brand and build that kind of equity that’s going to lead to hundreds and hundreds of people, thousands, millions of people, talking about things that matter to them, and your brand, you’re hosting the whole thing so then they naturally develop a relationship with you.

Denise:  Right. Right. That’s very powerful. Let me ask you, again, from my reading of the Future of Media transcript, one of the things that struck was that there are different types of thinking when it comes to paid media, owned media, earned media. I’m wondering if you can help me understand what you’ve heard are some of the different perspectives about those different types of media and the value and role and best approaches to them.

Sam: Absolutely. I think there’s a spectrum from less to more integrated, and that’s one of the reasons why the subtitle for the conference was so great. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everybody is already radically integrated across the entire media, marketing and PR landscape.

I think what it points to is that on one side of the spectrum, there’s more segmented thinking. There are the media buyers and planners, who are thinking what kind of media they’re going to buy. Then you’ve got the creative agencies who are thinking about what types of, whether it’s advertising or owned content that they’re going to be producing. Then you’ve got the corporations that are grappling with how paid, earned and owned integrate. Then that corporation will bring on, let’s say a PR agency that understands that there’s an integration happening, but they’re still looking at PR as reaching out to journalists and pitching an idea.

Then they’ll have an ad agency that is talking about owned content but their owned content still feels and smells and maybe tastes like advertising. It doesn’t taste like owned content. It’s understandable that, on the client side, you’ve got a lot of companies that are looking to a lot of different types of agencies out there and even journalists for, ‘What’s the right perspective on this?’

I think on the, let’s say the left end of the spectrum, you’ve got a lot of different approaches and a lot of different types of thinking that tend to be less integrated. I think all the way to the right, to the most integrated, it’s seen as one thing. I think what that one thing looks like is it looks like an ecosystem of everything contributing to everything else. Meaning that your owned content truly is owned content like we were talking about TED, it has journalistic quality, validity and value.

Similar to TED, it’s making an impact. It’s not just a veiled advertisement. Then your paid is contributing to that. All your paid media, rather than just having an ad for a particular product or a micro site that’s a veiled advertisement, you have an ad that’s a 30-second clip of this really inspiring and powerful talk that you had on your website.

Then your earned media, because let’s say you’re getting a lots of thought leaders together, or your getting celebrities on board for a cause, your earned media then bolsters your paid media because your paid media is so interesting that it leads to earned media and then it’s driven by your owned content.

I think that a lot of perspectives on it right now tend towards the less integrated perspective and I think where we need to go, again, from my own biased perspective, is toward this radically integrated perspective where we’re saying, “We’re not thinking about earned in its own context, but we can only think about it in this context of paid, earned and owned working together, driven by this vision of how can my brand facilitate a platform that’s going to bring people together in a conversation that matters and that’s going to turn them into evangelists and advocates.”

Denise:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. What is going to get us there? Are there specific barriers or issues that need to be addressed, on that journey to that radical integration?

Sam: That’s an interesting question. I think part of it is that we need to be having our own conversation about this kind of thing. A lot of us are experts; a lot of us are blogging, and video blogging and holding conferences about these kinds of things.

In terms of creating open forums, the kind of forums I’m talking about that brands need to create, I think that we really need to take a step back and look at our industry, look at the convergence that’s happening around multiple industries in terms of PR, media, marketing, journalism and others and say, “Where do we want this to go?” And start making some conscious agreements and develop a vision together, of what this is all going to look like. Because I think that right now, you’ve got a lot of competing agencies, we’ve got a lot of different folks who have their perspectives and have their expertise. I think really need to open up, so to speak, and look at a broader conversation of “What is our intention for how paid, owned and earned is going to look like,” as an industry and as multiple industries and where are we actually going to take it.

Denise:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Great. That seems like a great way for me to wrap up or, for us to wrap up, because I think that’s a call to arms in a way, of having conversation, or using this mode of conversation as a way of bringing people together. Sam, I want to thank you so much for being with me and with my listeners today. For my listeners I want to let you know that you can learn more about Sam and his work, and also contact him through is site, thoughtlead.com. That’s one word, thoughtlead.com, and you can also learn about the Future of Media conference, which I referenced at www.futureofearnedmedia.com. That’s futureofearnedmedia.com.Sam, again, I’ve been a fan of yours for quite awhile now and it’s been a pleasure to have you and to hear some of your perspectives. Thank you so much for being here today.

(transcript by Speechpad)


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