Issuu on Google+

NEIL GAIMAN + BLACKBERRY: A Calendar of Tales


this will be a spread of a giant


t picture of SoHo

here there will be a title and text promoting our blog and signing up for STRATEGIST daily

GET YOUR DAILY DOSE OF CONTENT STRATEGY WWW.CONTENTLY.COM/BLOG Named “The best content marketing blog on the web” in 2012.

THE CONTENT

STRATEGIST


#STRATEGY 13 14 16 18 20

Storytelling is How We Survive (And How Brands Can Grow) The Politics of Content Cops & Writers: The Milwaukee PD Embraces Content Telling Big Stories from Big Data

Can Content Marketing Save Publishing?

22

VOICES The Byline Brand John Hazard The Blueprint Ritika Puri The Integrity of Commercial Content Matthew Rothenberg Going Native Kyle Monson

29 BRANDED CONTENT WITH RED BULL

TA B L E OF C O N TE N TS

5


#STORYTELLING

36 38 40 42 44 47 50 52 54

6

Why i Want to Be Chipped by Qualcomm and Peter Ha Grownups are the New Gamers by Coca-Cola Mayank Sharma - His Illness and Recovery by FacebookStories.com Dive Into New York’s Bloody Past with HBO’s Copper and Gawker Genomics + Cancer Cures by T.RowePrice Curiosity vs The Twittersphere featuring NASA 1783 by Jameson and The Onion A Calendar of Tales by BlackBerry and Neil Gaiman Destination Undisclosed by Jaguar and AFAR

TABLE O F C O NTENTS


STRATEGIST VOLUME 1.02

EDITORIAL PUBLISHER EXECUTIVE EDITOR MANAGING EDITOR SENIOR DESIGNER CONTRIBUTING WRITERS

PHOTOGRAPHY

Shane Snow Sam Slaughter Michael Howerton Wendy Kim Joe Lazauskas Ritika Puri James O’Brien Lauren Kirchner Anthony Kosner Tom Slaughter

CONTENTLY.COM CTO VP OF TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPERS

Dave Goldberg Sanjay Ginde Dan “The Bear King” Barrett Zach “DJ MuZach” Feldman Kevin Curtin Ian Jennings

BUSINESS CEO VP OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGERS

Joe Coleman Maxine Friedman Corey Cummins Justin Davey

OPERATIONS ACCOUNT DIRECTORS OPERATIONS MANAGER INTERNS

John Hazard Rob Haber Rebecca Taskin Evan Kendall Daniel Ellis-Ferris

ANIMALS MASCOT DOGS

FERRETS

The Pandamouse Charlie Lighthouse Ollie Roxie Grizz Peanut

© Contently, Inc. 2013 All rights are reserved. The greatest care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of information in this magazine at time of printing, but we acknowledge potential errors may exist and will print any corrections at contently.com/blog.


10

F ROM TH E PUBLISH E R


From the Publisher

I

f there’s anything the Internet generation is good at, it’s avoiding advertising. TiVo helped us skip commercials (before we discovered Netflix). Adblockers shield us from Punch the Monkey and mail-order bride popups. Social media lets us leapfrog advertorials. Kids pay for Spotify Premium, so they can listen to their EDM in peace.

I don’t need to rehash what this is doing to the ad and publishing industries. (A randomly selected issue of CJR or Ad Age can catch you up if you like horror stories.) But the same advances in technology that let us skip the annoying or irrelevant have also led to the democratization of content. Advertisers don’t need to make ads anymore. They can create the content people log onto the Internet for in the first place. Since the last issue of STRATEGIST—when we swarmed Austin, TX, for a week to extract stories about content marketing at SXSW—brands have shifted huge chunks of their advertising budgets to creating Internet content. Corporations like American Express, Qualcomm, and Coke are launching increasingly ambitious content campaigns. The challenge is no longer pulling the trigger; it’s hitting the target. At Contently, we often recite the saying, “Make stories, not ads.” This issue is about exactly that: our favorite stories created by brands, and the story of those stories. I hope it will provide a little inspiration. As traditional media continues to struggle, we’re going to see an arms race emerge as brand publishers try to fill holes and steal mind share by telling bigger and better stories. Brands have the cash to produce feature-length snowboarding movies like Red Bull’s The Art of Flight (which you’ll read about on page 30) or amazing narratives like the BlackBerry-sponsored Calendar of Tales, a series of a twelve magical short stories by the author Neil Gaiman. Who knows, perhaps the next long-form multimedia masterpiece a la New York Times’ “Snow Fall” will be produced by a brand. I’ll take that over Punch the Monkey any day.

Shane Snow Cofounder of Contently @shanesnow

F R OM T HE P U B L ISHE R

11


#STRATEGY

12

STRATEGY


STORYTELLING IS HOW WE SURVIVE

(AND HOW BRANDS CAN GROW) BY MIC H A E L HO W E RTON

O

ne common trait of all writers—and this goes for journalists, marketers and novelists alike—is that they live by their ability to tell stories, to sell a narrative, to make their particular ordering of events and information compelling enough that others pay attention. Stories are the lifeblood of good content. We all know that brands should use content to find ways to emotionally connect with followers and fans. This has become cliché; it is such often-quoted advice that it hardly registers anymore. The core of content marketing is the content, and the core of good content is a good story—simple, right? But in the emergent brand-publishing world, still getting its bearings, putting it into practice usually isn’t. Most of us who work with words probably think of ourselves as good storytellers. That’s why we do what we do, right? But are we sure we all agree on what makes good storytelling good? I am often reminded when I drive my 7-year-old to school that storytelling is more complicated than just imagining an exciting storyline and a workable theme. Every morning my daughter asks for the continuation of a story cycle about a group of clever kids and their adventures in a mystical world. I make it up as I go, but I am thankfully aided by a very perceptive and persuasive co-author. She won’t let me get more than a block or two before she begins chiming in on the story, critiquing the narrative and suggesting alternative developments. The only way I can finish the story is by adapting, mixing in her additions with my ideas. I quickly found that collaborating with her on the story creation was way smarter than fighting her on it. It wasn’t my story, after all, I grudgingly realized; it was our story. This is true, I believe, of all stories, or at least for any story that seeks and cultivates an audience. Storytelling is a collaboration, in which listening and reacting is an indispensible part of the creative process. Granted, I have a quicker feedback loop than most—the back car seat to the driver’s seat— but that’s not that much faster than what is possible on social media. Maybe it’s useful to think of readers, or consumers, as the first-grader in the back seat – ignore them at your peril. They are telling the story along with you, editing it as they go, whether you like it or not., They are your collaborators. Joan Didion famously wrote, “People tell stories in order to live.” Everyone is a storyteller just by virtue of living in the world—it’s how we get through our days. We all tell ourselves (and each other) stories constantly – our narratives clash or align with one another – but they are the currency of life. Your audience is far from passive; they are their own publishers on social media, storytellers in their own right, and they can amplify your brand’s story or they can disrupt it, hijack it and drown it out. The point is, storytelling is a two-way street. It works best, and really only, when it’s responsive, flexible and interactive. The audience is part of the process, and that’s good news for publishers of all kinds because it accomplishes the goal of the enterprise: to reach people, to make them more engaged, more informed, more active and more thoughtful.

“It wasn’t my story, after all, I grudgingly realized; it was our story”

STR AT EGY

13


POLITICS OF CONTENT:

BY J O E L A Z AU S K A S

When the marketing world talks about brands that are “social savvy” and “kings of content,” the focus usually falls on a few favorites, names like Old Spice, Red Bull, Amex, and Oreo. But what about the brand that puts all others to shame? The brand that has used social content to rally the support of millions, and demonstrated that Twitter and Facebook have more marketing power than anyone thought possible? The brand that’s rewriting 200-year-old media rules as we speak? We don’t often think about the President as a brand. But we should. THE PUPPET MASTER? Recently, Politico made headlines with “Obama, the Puppet Master,” a story that cast President Obama as a “master at limiting, shaping and manipulating media coverage of himself and his White House.” According to Politico, the Obama administration does this by eschewing press corps stalwarts like The Washington Post, Politico, and The New York Times in favor of friendly, “softball”

14

STRATEGY

interviews and social media interactions. The complaints sound like sour grapes from a political news organization that has seen Obama’s following and reach greatly exceed its own, shifting the balance of media power in the president’s favor. Past presidents needed the journalism big boys to get their messages out, but if President Obama wants to reach millions of Americans, he doesn’t need The Post—all he needs is his Twitter login. The Obama administration, of course, isn’t the only brand that’s figured out that it can be its own media company. Major brands used to need media outlets to reach consumers; now, all they need is new media skills and something interesting to say. A JOURNEY TO SOCIAL If every brand could amass 32 million Facebook fans and 28 million Twitter followers like Obama, the marketing world would be a much different place. But the president didn’t build his media empire overnight; it took six years of dedicated social engagement to build. In February of 2007, shortly before announcing his


candidacy for president, then-Senator Obama spoke with his friend Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape and a Facebook board member. They met late at night at a San Francisco airport. According to The New York Times, Obama asked Andreessen if social networking could help him defeat the powerful Clinton political machine. “It was like a guy in a garage who was thinking of taking on the biggest names in the business,” Andreessen told The Times. “What he was doing shouldn’t have been possible ... He was clearly supersmart and very entrepreneurial, a person who saw the world and the status quo as malleable.” To attract support through Facebook and Twitter,

photo to the press, members of Obama’s senior staff tweeted the photo out to the masses. David Plouffe’s tweet was particularly entertaining and masterfully crafted: “Attn skeet birthers. Make our day—let the photoshop conspiracies begin!” The skeet tweet was part of President Obama’s multipronged content attack to sway American opinion on gun control. Since the shooting, President Obama and Vice President Biden have both talked gun control policy with Americans via Google Hangouts. After a user named David G. launched a gun control petition on the We The People platform that became the most popular cause ever on the platform, the White House released a comprehensive

“It was like a guy in a garage who was thinking of taking on the biggest names in the business,” Andreessen told The Times. “What he was doing shouldn’t have been possible... He was clearly supersmart and very entrepreneurial, a person who saw the world and the status quo as malleable.” Obama needed to create content that would deliver value to people’s lives and inspire them to spread the word. Luckily, Obama already had a “Patient Zero” for that kind of viral content: his 2004 DNC speech, which captivated Americans with its message of hope, and became one of the first political speeches to go viral on YouTube. Obama would go on to win the presidency by delivering non-stop doses of hope through social media. CONTENT: THE ULTIMATE POLITICAL WEAPON By the time Obama was sworn in, he had amassed millions of followers on Facebook and Twitter and had the email addresses of millions of supporters. In other words, he had a direct line to the American people. President Obama used that direct line to rally support during his battles with Republicans over health care, the deficit, and everything in between. President Obama also turned policy talk into a twoway conversation, launching the We The People petition platform in September 2011 and promising a response to any petition that garnered 25,000 electronic signatures. As the Obama presidency matures, the administration is getting better and better at using social content as a weapon in battles with Republicans. Politico’s “Puppet Master” story focuses on one instance in January, when the White House released a photo of President Obama shooting skeet at Camp David, in order to end speculation that the President had lied when he told The New Republic that he shot skeet “all the time.” Instead of handing the

response, including a personal response video from the President, which was viewed almost 400,000 times. The White House also quickly launched a visually stunning and informative micro-site on preventing gun violence. It’s the kind of creative work that ad agencies gush over at SXSW and Cannes. While the White House Press Corps may be getting less access to President Obama, the average American is getting more access than ever before. The White House’s digital briefing room lets you track everything from the President’s daily schedule, to his pending legislation, to each White House press briefing. President Obama also films a weekly Saturday morning address to the nation, and Vice President Biden is launching an photo-podcast series, dubbed “Being Biden,” that gives Americans a behindthe-scenes peak at the VP’s life off the public schedule. All of this content, in addition to various other images and infographics that support Obama’s positions or put him in a flattering light, is distributed through the White House’s various social channels. The Obama administration is on a never-ending mission to execute the golden rule of content marketing: Figure out what your fans are talking about, and own that conversation. Whether the conversation is about gun control, taxes, Michelle’s bangs, or the day-to-day happenings of The White House, the Obama administration owns the talking points masterfully. It’s time for brands to take note and learn a few lessons from the most persuasive brand publisher on the planet.

ST R AT EGY

15


COPS AND WRITERS The Milwaukee PD Tells Its Own Story

B Y JA M E S O ’ BR I E N There was time when, if a municipal department such as a police force felt it wasn’t getting a fair shake in the local press, it called a media conference and told its own version of the story. In 2013, however, that same agency or department can just publish the story itself. Gone are the days when it requires an outside reporter to reach readers. In Milwaukee, the police department is doing just that. And doing it with big pictures, big graphics and big stories. The site is a visual feast, full of dynamic photos of police vehicles, heroic photos of armed teams of cops with assault weapons drawn, and gritty photos of police work and crime stats. One element features mugshots of the city’s most wanted felons complete with their criminal history, sliding alongside a huge photo of an officer in battle gear and a assault rifle. It is agressive content in every way, using imagery more commonly associated with video games and TV dramas than traditional municipal community relations. “We’ll correct the news stories that got it wrong, and we’ll highlight the ones that got it right,” the blurb at Milwaukee’s police blog, The Source, reads. “Most importantly, we’ll create our own content, so you can see what the Milwaukee Police Department is really accomplishing in the community.” When we talk about branded content, we often talk about companies and corporations wanting to reach consumers. But content marketing and the strategies that come with it also apply to municipal and law-enforcement agencies competing for engagement with their audiences.

16

STRATEGY

‘THE SOURCE’: MUNICIPAL MESSAGE CONTROL AND THE NEWS In recent years, the Milwaukee Police Department faced a media-relations hurdle: the way the city’s news outlets covered the force left many in the department feeling there were better, or at least different, stories to tell about their work. “I wouldn’t say a dysfunctional relationship, but I’d say a challenging relationship,” said Sgt. Mark Stanmeyer, public-information officer with the MPD. “I understand the need to process news in a certain sensationalistic or ‘sexy’ way. Unfortunately, when that news is processed it doesn’t always get across the message that we were trying to get across.” And so, in April 2012, the police department became a publisher. It connected with a local advertising agency and secured some pro bono design time. It stopped its morning press conferences and replaced them with The Source. Still in its first year, the site has now received 814,469 visits from 619,235 unique visitors. Stanmeyer writes the pieces with the help of two other civilian employees within the department. Readers find both hard-news style pieces such as crime statistics and policy announcements, such as “Chief Flynn Call For Reasonable Gun Laws,” but also softer stories, such as “MPD and Wendy’s Start March Book Drive,” “Good-news stories don’t always make it onto the 10-o’clock news,” Stanmeyer said. “I understand that completely ... This way we can get a good news story right


out to the public and hopefully put a bit of a positive spin on a police department that’s often criticized.” Stanmeyer said the lion’s share of any criticism of the force in question comes from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which he described as taking an aggressive investigative angle with the police department. And the Journal Sentinel has taken the department to task in its pages for the nature of The Source. “Milwaukee Police Department administrators continue to resist efforts by independent news sources to fairly and accurately report what’s going on without their filter and spin,” Martin Kaiser, the paper’s editor, said to a reporter in a Journal Sentinel stories about The Source, last year when the news broke that the morning pressers would be replaced by the website. “They want to control the news— but they can’t. We’ll continue to follow the truth wherever it takes us.” Stanmeyer suggests that perhaps there’s room for both publications in Milwaukee. “This is a good way to get our message out, [one] that may have been lost somewhere on a reporter’s or on an editor’s desk,” said Stanmeyer. CHANGING LANDSCAPE: POLICE BLOGGING What The Source is up to in Milwaukee—as a reactive online publication that’s taking its perspective directly to the public—is part of a developing picture, nationwide. The change in how police departments approach blogging and getting the stories they want out to the public started to gel in the mid-2000s, according to Elaine Driscoll, former director of communications at the Boston Police Department. Driscoll helped steer the BPD’s

blog to approximately 250,000 visitors per month. She left the department about eight months ago to manage communications for a state agency in Massachusetts. “We put our heads together about leveraging social media for law enforcement,” she said of those early conversations, meetings that included officials from Milwaukee. “There was a switch in mentality where many of the departments started to realize that it would be very beneficial to start operating and running a media-relations office as if it was a public-safety news outlet.” Other law-enforcement bloggers and publicinformation officers say that the Internet is newly empowering their points of view, but that not every step of the process is as simple as pressing publish. For example, police-department blogging could open law-enforcement agencies up to less than rosy community relations. Imagine a circumstance in which a reader—or even a reporter who’s story “got it wrong” according to a department—sues the police for impugning their personal or professional reputation? “There are many angles that are considered before a department makes a choice to publicly expose themselves the way that Milwaukee has,” said Brian Cain, a sergeant with the PD in Holly Springs, Georgia (and a self-styled “new-mediapreneur” and online publisher of resources for police officers). Cain spoke about the process of vetting and approving information before it goes online, in general, as he suggests happens in police departments. “It is carefully scanned for legal compliance so as to not open up the department for a civil suit,” he said. “It is not a choice that is made in the heat of the moment.”

ST R AT EGY

17


TELLING

BIG STORIES

B Y A N T HON Y KO S N E R Visual storytelling has undergone a popular renaissance of late, thanks in no small part to the massive amounts of data that accumulates about us as we go about our lives online. But popular and credible do not always go hand in hand, and the majority of contemporary infographics are actually big on graphics, but small on info. There are really two different kinds of visuals that are considered “infographics.” The first use minimal means to express maximal data. These are actual data visualizations. The other are really just graphic designs—the aesthetic arrangement of factoids from diverse sources. Yale professor Edward Tufte, one of the leading experts in data visualization and the author of four of the most important books on every information designer’s bookshelf, is clearly in favor of the first kind. “Graphics are at their best for really large data sets,” he told Matt Carmichael of AdAge. But not all meaningful data is big, so Tufte advises that “Sensibly designed tables usually outperform graphics

18

STRATEGY

for data sets under 100 numbers.” There is nothing inherently wrong with small sets of numbers— if they are compelling. But the more decorated an information graphic becomes, the more the attention goes to the design instead of the data. Getting your hands on “big data” has become easier than ever as all of our connected sensors and devices feed mushrooming global data centers. “Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data,” according to IBM, “so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.” “I get excited when a client turns over lots of information,” says New York designer Tommy McCall, the owner/founder of infographics. com, a data visualization agency. He particularly enjoys “developing data visualizations that lets the reader swim in and explore a vast data set.” He points, for instance, to Smart Money’s groundbreaking and still massively useful Map of the Market as an example of an immersive big data graphic. But even McCall admits that

sometimes “the best solution may be to simplify thousands of numbers into a few relevant ones. This can actually be harder because you have to find that needle in the haystack and shine a light on it.” The key to successful data presentations is, unsurprisingly, the data. This is why the producers of the best information graphics are as much researchers as they are designers. Tufte explains that at The New York Times, which he considers to produce the best visualizations of any media outlet, the designers are actually “Graphics News Reporters” and are responsible for gathering their own information. McCall helped redesign the financial pages at the Times and came up with a very simple device that placed a dot towards the left if the stock was trading at a low, or to the right if it was trading at a high giving context for the hundreds of numbers on the page with a minimal device. Great information graphics should strive for this kind of economy and make sure that the graphics do no obscure the information.


FROM It is important for content producers to realize that popular infographics have become a form of “link bait” on the internet and it is not uncommon to see long scrolling “chartoons” (in Tufte’s words) about subjects that bear only a passing relationship to the company sponsoring them. Online eduction companies, in particular, have earned a bad reputation as abusers of this trend. This is significant even for print projects because this style of presentation itself is gaining disreputable associations. Tufte prepared detailed analyses after both the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters that showed how the use of inaccurate information graphics obscured by “chartjunk” led NASA engineers to underestimate the risk of those launches. The same can happen to brands if they produce misleading graphic confections with facts cherry picked to support their own interests, in other words, disinformation graphics. But even if you have your facts straight, overly illustrated data graphics, “chartoons,” trade analytical intelligence for anecdotal “coverage” of a topic. A fanciful image of a floating island in the clouds used by Microsoft to sell its cloud computing services in Asia, for example, is just an armature on which to hang numbers (localized, in fact, for different markets within the Asia Pacific region) where visual scale and quantity bear no relationship to the imposed data. Contrast the meaningless cloud image with an even more beautiful rendering of the solar system created for National Geographic by Samuel Velasco of 5W Infographics, that renders the history of space exploration

BIG DATA

as an accumulation of lines from earth that curl around the moon, the planets and the sun. This design device is as stylized as any art nouveau floral motif, but it also communicates a lot of information in an intuitive, efficient and pleasurable way. It is possible to take Tufte’s minimalism too seriously and forget to delight in the pursuit of big data. McCall offers an example of a graphic that he created for Gallup that achieves a density of more than 20,000 data points on a single page and communicates at a glance the historical arc of the presidency from FDR to Bill Clinton. Contrast this to an attractive but lightweight take on the presidency through the eyes of their pets from veterinary content portal Vetstreet, which contains a whopping 22 facts in roughly twice the space of the Gallup graphic. Both Tufte and McCall feel that content producers often underestimate the sophistication of their audience when it comes to information literacy. “Overload, clutter, and confusion are not attributes of information, they are failures of design,” Tufte says. “So if something is cluttered, fix your design, don’t throw out information. If something is confusing, don’t blame your victim—the audience— instead, fix the design. And if the numbers are boring, get better numbers.” Properly formatted, big data can tell big stories. These visualizations “tap into the power of our visual cortex to absorb information at a much higher bandwidth than is possible through words and numbers alone,” says McCall. “It’s the only way for us to drink from this new fire hose of data.”

ST R AT EGY

19


BY S A M S L AU G H T E R

All the talk is about how brandsponsored content is ruining publishing, but what if publishers could take advantage of the trend?

O

n the 7th floor of a refurbished industrial building just outside the Loop in Chicago, a pack of very funny 20-somethings were standing in front of a green screen, unwittingly trying to save the publishing industry. Ostensibly, they were simply shooting a commercial under the direction of Onion Labs – a rag-tag group of 7 people that serves as de-facto creative agency for the well-known satire site The Onion. Onion Labs is tasked with making sure that brands are able to effectively communicate with its audience – which in this case means teaching a stodgy brand like Microsoft to be satirical, hilarious and most likely offensive to a least somebody. It’s typically the work of a highly compensated ad agency, and it’s possible that in carrying it out, a site dedicated to fake news finds itself on the leading edge of a business model that could change the way real journalism is financed. Onion Labs was born barely over a year ago, out of necessity rather than planning. Microsoft was planning an ad buy to coincide with the release of its IE9 browser, and they deemed it “important to get the Onion’s voice and sensibility in their ads,” according to Grant Jones, the Onion’s former advertising director and now the VP in charge on Onion Labs. We were sitting at the bar of a small restaurant just down the street from his office, poking distractedly at a bowl full of cheese curds. It being Chicago there were about 6 different hot sauce options, along with jalapeno-flavored beer. Microsoft had approached him directly, circumventing the traditional brand-calls-agency-callscreative-shop-calls-media buyer calls-publisher process that big advertisers often use. The result was a series of goofy shorts in which a man attempts to work through his pathological hatred of Internet Explorer through psychotherapy. (It being The Onion,

20

STRATEGY

there’s also a sub-plot where he thinks his cat is a policewoman called “Officer Cupcake”.) The spots are well-produced, funny, and are clearly ads for a Microsoft product, but they are unmistakably The Onion’s voice. The campaign was successful enough that Onion Labs became a formal entity, with Jones in charge. And then a funny thing started happening: brands started seeking out Onion Labs’ help for campaigns that had nothing to do with The Onion at all.

Call it what you want: content marketing, native advertising, brand publishing – but the idea of advertisers creating editorial content has gained an amazing amount of momentum in the past two years. Well-respected journalists like Dan Roth (Fortune/Wired/Linkedin), Melissa Wall (Newsweek/NY Times/How About We) and Rod Kurtz (Inc./Huffington Post/American Express) have moved to full-time jobs working for brands – and as a result those brands and others are cranking out full-on editorial publications. And even brands who don’t have their own editorial teams have begun using journalists to create “native ads” – advertisements that are in many ways indistinguishable from the journalistic content along which they appear (full disclosure: my company, Contently, helps brands find journalists for just this purpose). Native ads are different from traditional advertorials in that they aren’t overtly about a brand - and they’re more effective than banner ads because they engage the audience with interesting content, as opposed to overtly promoting a product. The debate over the ethicality of these ads is by no means settled (see Sullivan, Andrew and Feed, Buzz), but what’s not in dispute is that the line between content and ads is becoming ever more blurry; a reality that both publishers and advertisers will have to contend with if they’re going to prosper.

A couple of weeks ago, I entered on a nondescript metal door across from garden full of broken statues in Man-


THEY’RE MORE EFFECTIVE THAN BANNER ADS BECAUSE THEY ENGAGE THE AUDIENCE WITH INTERESTING CONTENT, AS OPPOSED TO OVERTLY PROMOTING A PRODUCT hattan, walked three flights up a narrow stairwell, passed by a ginger-bearded receptionist and four long banks of ear-budded young people typing away on Macbooks, and entered a conference room that was the temporary inner sanctum of Studio@Gawker – the native advertising arm of Nick Denton’s hipster colossus. Though the origins Studio@Gawker date back as far as 2007, it’s formal inception is very similar to that of Onion Labs – it came about almost by mistake around the needs of a single advertising campaign, for HBO’s “True Blood”. “Our strict church/state editorial/advertising divide meant we couldn’t rely on editors to create the content for us,” says James Del – the Executive Director of Studio@ Gawker. “And the sheer size of the campaign meant we needed to hire a writer and designer to work on all the content we were contracted to produce.” They results of the campaign were mixed (Gawker received some criticism for trying to deceive readers), but when it ended, the writer stayed on and Gawker began the process of formalizing an internal creative team to work strictly with advertisers. Studio@Gawker now boasts a rapidly expanding team of 13 designers, writers, brand strategists, project managers and even event coordinators – all the hallmarks of a traditional (albeit small) ad agency. “I think Studio@Gawker is going to play a massive part in this company’s growth over the next few years”, says Del, “as more brands recognize the need to act more like publishers and connect with their consumers on a deeply personalized, direct level—that’s what we do best.” The Onion and Gawker are but two examples on a laundry list of new media companies who’ve realized the earning potential of the agency model. Vice has been described as “an agency solutions company cloaked in a media model”. BuzzFeed has an in-house editorial team of over a dozen people dedicated solely to creating content for it’s advertisers. Even The Atlantic – at 156 years young hardly an example of a new media johnny-come-lately – has created Atlantic Media Strategies, an internal team dedicated solely to creating agency solutions for brands. It’s safe to say that the big ad agencies of the world

have taken notice. Edelman recently promoted longtime exec Steve Rubel to head up its content strategy practice, with specific instructions to make sure the agency is in a place to create the editorial content that brands are demanding, and other agencies have made similar hires and re-orgs. It remains to be seen whether these new mini-agencies inside of publishers represent a real threat to the traditional agency model (they might), or whether they’ll wind up as helpful adjuncts while agencies continue to shoulder the majority of the brand management burden (more likely). One thing is certain: editorial expertise matters, and publishers have it in their DNA. Agencies have a lot of capabilities in a lot of important fields that publishers can’t match - but communicating with customers in a trusted manner is not one of them.

Questions remain about whether these agencies and ads – with their roots in journalism but their fealty to brands – will be able to coexist inside of a traditional publisher without polluting its editorial credibility. As the blogger Andrew Sullivan pointed out, “…if advertorials become effectively indistinguishable from editorial, aren’t we in danger of destroying the village in order to save it?” Despite, or perhaps because of this, most people I’ve spoken to believe in keeping advertising clearly demarcated within a given site. “We don’t want to fool anyone,” Grant Jones told me. “If we run an ad without context around it – that’s not good for anyone. The lines are clearly drawn so everyone knows what they are getting into.” It makes a certain amount of sense too – neither the brand nor the publisher benefit from “fooling” a user into a click. And that’s really where these internal agencies can have a huge impact – by creating advertising content that’s just as engaging if not more so than the editorial around it. “The philosophy is surprisingly similar to our editorial mission here at Gawker Media,” says James Del. “Create great content that’s devoid of bullshit.”

Most of these internal agencies are still in a nascent stage. I was unable to get any hard numbers on how much revenue they are generating for their parent companies, but suffice to say it doesn’t look like anyone’s popping champagne corks just yet. Yet there is a tremendous amount of potential – not to mention money – in the agency model. And in an industry that’s come to expect bad financial news with mind-numbing regularity, the numbers are moving in the right direction. Could agency services be the magic bullet that allows journalism institutions like the New York Times and Newsweek to stay in business? We’re a long way from knowing – but for an industry that’s fighting for survival, the more ammunition the better.

ST RAT EGY

21


VOICES

BY JOHN H A ZA R D Atop this sentence sit 10 letters: J-O-H-N H-A-Z-A-R-D. It’s my byline, I’ve used it for 14 years, and it probably had very little to do with your decision to read this article. In print publishing, the title draws readers to the content and the authors play a background role to the words on the page. That dynamic is flipped on its head in Web publishing. On the Web, where audiences find, follow, and consume content almost irrespective of the source, the byline is king. The byline movement (no one’s named it yet, why not start here) has been heralded as a breakthrough opportunity for journalists who are able to develop personal brands and audiences and leverage it for better wages and working conditions. It’s been mostly a bad thing for legacy publishers that are now playing a background role to the talent and can no longer count on readers by default. What hasn’t been said is that the byline movement is a big opportunity for content marketers. As the Web and content marketing open doors for brands to publish content in the same space as media empires, the byline movement provides them the chance to stand on equal footing with those Goliaths out of the gate. Adam McKibbin has it figured out. McKibbin is content marketing manager at Central Desktop, which makes collaboration software applications aimed at mostly marketers. His job at Central Desktop is to set up a media operation that can compete against and draw readers from the same audience already reading Advertising Age, AdWeek, AdRants, and DigiDay. McKibbin’s strategy to grab eyeballs from readers of those content sources? He hired some of their authors. His biggest get to date was Steve Hall, a blogger behind the popular site AdRants, a must-read among marketers. “Steve is a tastemaker in the industry,” McKibbin said. “There are the tastemakers and influencers among jour-

22

STRATEGY

nalists, bloggers, reviewers. There are people who value his perspective and are ready to read a story because Steve wrote it.” Hall brought with him a strong following ready to read his perspective on the industry whatever site publishes it. For many publishers, this built-in audience is a prime reason to bring on a notable byline. The legacy media world witnessed that tactic just a few weeks ago when Jim Roberts, a longtime editor and reporter at The New York Times, took a buyout. Poor Jim. Except Jim had spent the last few years cultivating a twitter following of more than 80,000 who were hooked on his byline brand. He and his audience were instantly sought after by media giants and ultimately picked up by Reuters. For content marketers, a big byline isn’t just about an audience grab, McKibbin said. “Hiring someone like Steve lends immediate legitimacy to what we’re doing,” McKibbin said of hiring Hall. “Readers understand he’s not a shill and the content he is producing isn’t a shill. He has a voice and a perspective and he’s not interested in conforming to our voice. He understands the pain points of marketers and how to write something that provides value. Readers trust him and respect him.” McKibbin’s contributors list also includes journalists with bylines from Forbes, GigaOm, Inc., SmahingMag, and Time, making the Central Desktop blog an “interesting place with interesting voices,” he said. “I hope to have a whole roster of those folks one day.”

John Hazard is a journalist with over 10 years experience, and writes frequently about issues facing freelance writers and creatives.


VOICES

THE BLUEPRINT You’ve heard of Jay Z. He’s a rapper. He’s an entrepreneur. He’s a fashion designer, record label owner and CEO. He’s married to Beyonce, and he owns his own basketball team. Oh and he’s also a blogger. Wait, what? If you’re skeptical, check out his blog Life+Times —a self-described digital experience and collection of inspiration. Like many celebrity entertainers, his personal brand is one that transcends the stage—he’s established himself as a key influencer in all-things music, sports, fashion, lifestyle. Jay-Z probably consults with the world’s best celebrity marketers on his personal brand. So who should the thought leaders of the marketing world consult? You guessed it—Jay-Z. THE PARADOX OF THE LIMELIGHT In the marketing world, KISSmetrics and CrazyEgg co-founder Neil Patel is a celebrity. Maybe not as famous as Jay-Z, but he’s been repeatedly recognized as a distinguished entrepreneur and a thought leader in his field— he’s even been acknowledged by President Obama. Patel makes celeb-status look easy—you would think that he’s backed by an entourage of PR professionals, makeup artists, and camera crews. In actuality, his largerthan-life image can be traced to a set of very simple tools— the internet, a blog, hustle, relentless determination, an amazing professional reputation, success in his field, and wicked smarts. The marketing world is full of incredibly talented folks like Neil Patel, but surprisingly—when it comes to the power of the limelight—these leaders’ self-promotion efforts fall flat. “As the saying goes, ‘doctors make the worst patients,’” said Jane Boland, founder at GetPublicized, a platform that helps early stage startups tell their stories and build rela-

BY R IK I TA PUR I

tionships with storytellers in the media. THE BRAND OF YOU Not a fan of the spotlight? Tough. As a larger-than-life personal brand is one of the most important professional investments a marketer can make. Take a lesson from Jay-Z. At the end of the day, he’s just one of 7 billion people in the world. But without the spotlight, he’d be nothing. Celebs will fight to shine. They jump on stage without hesitation, stay relentlessly strong, fake it ‘til they make it, and do what it takes to stay sane. That’s how marketers have to approach their personal brands as well. “Marketers have so much to gain when positioned as leaders in the industry,” said entrepreneur and marketing consultant Chris Kilbourn. “New clients, new job offers, speaking engagement, higher sales, more traffic—the opportunities are almost limitless. In Kilbourn’s mind, silence has no excuses. “Some marketers don’t have time, but that can be fixed,” Kilbourn said. “Some marketers don’t have the dedication to write frequently, which is fine—anyone can write a blog post once a week.” Would-be marketing celebs shouldn’t expect Jay-Z status overnight, but thats OK. What matters is having an audience that is robust, not vast. There’s no need to jump into aggressive tactics like buying fans and followers. Just keep it real.

Rikita Puri is a journalist and content strategist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

ST R AT EGY

23


VOICES

THE INTEGRITY OF COMMERCIAL CONTENT BY M AT T HEW RO T HE NBE RG

“Nowadays, ‘content strategist’ is another phrase for ‘unemployed editor,’” my colleague laughed. Ouch! There might be a sting of truth in those words. Granted, the title is better defined in some sectors—such as digital agencies, where it’s closely aligned with user experience. In other spheres, it’s quickly been devalued as a catch-all phrase for any activity that generates blocks of words. That’s especially true for companies outside traditional publishing, where words haven’t been a source of revenue. These enterprises are accustomed to content marketing, and they’ve heard that content strategy is important. Nevertheless, they may not see a role for customer communications beyond “brand enhancement” or “thought leadership.” The result? Many job descriptions for “content strategists” that aren’t strategic at all, and lots of corporate microsites half-full of articles that live in isolation from the actual business of the company. Think about it: A manufacturer of cleaning products launches a WordPress blog and hires someone to populate it with articles about housekeeping. Is this strategic content, or is it simply commoditized copy that is (a) disconnected from the business of driving glass-cleaner sales and (b) just another small voice in a Web already teeming with household tips? There’s a better way for companies to approach content—one that’s truly strategic. The key to genuine content strategy is integrity, both in aligning with the company’s brand and its business goals. That’s why I prefer to approach content strategy—real content strategy—by understanding my clients’ business strategy, especially the parts of their business that make them competitive. In today’s world of business intelli-

gence, those competitive differentiators invariably include data about customer behavior and about the markets in which the company competes. That data is the basic unit of real, competitive content, whether it takes the form of a story, video, social-media post, newsletter or tool—or all or none of the above. To help make the decision what sort of format will be most strategic for the company, I look beyond traditional marketing at the business goals it’s trying to accomplish. I believe content can influence customer behavior in four broad categories: It can increase awareness of the business’ offerings. It can drive acquisition of new customers. It can fuel retention of existing customers. It can prompt conversion of consumers to adopt a product or service Of these four, awareness is the most common goal companies assign content, but it’s also the hardest to measure. The others lend themselves much more readily to quantitative analysis, and smart companies are going to build systems to measure precisely the business results of the content they finance. Finding the “secret sauce” in your data? Giving current and potential customers a taste that will inspire them to engage with you in ways that achieves actual business goals? That’s strategy, and that’s the discipline that the brightest companies are embracing via strategic content.

Matthew Rothenberg is a former editor of ZDNet and CBS Moneywatch, and a content strategist who’s worked for eBay, Time Inc. and Estee Lauder among others.

ST RATE GY

25


VOICES

GOING NATIVE BY K Y L E MON S ON

A big part of my job as a content strategist is answering questions about best practices and educating clients and co-workers about the possibilities of good content campaigns. “Content Strategy” is still a rather green discipline. One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is whether a brand should invest in building a new content property, or put their content in a sponsored section on an existing, established media property (for instance, in a native ad). The answer depends on what kind of content campaign you’re planning. BUILD YOUR OWN If you and your client are committed to content for the long haul, building your own space for it is probably the right way to go. You’ll have more control, better metrics, and probably better brand alignment too. Building a new content platform can be as easy or as hard as you want it to be. These can range from simple Tumblr blogs to full-blown digital magazines. Just remember that the more robust it is, the more it will require money, time, and skill with UX, design, and editorial best practices. Most of the dev and design partners I’ve worked with on these kinds of projects have required significant handholding to get it right. So be prepared for that. Also, be prepared for some low metrics for the first few weeks or even months. If you’ve ever launched a blog, a YouTube channel, or a new Twitter feed, you know that audience growth tends to happen gradually ... sometimes too

26

STRATEGY

gradually for your client’s taste, so be sure to manage expectations ahead of time. If the client is impatient for immediate traffic, focus your money on creating just a handful of great, shareable content pieces, and route the leftover funds to your distribution budget for those pieces. BUY YOUR WAY IN But really, if your client is impatient for short-term success, piggybacking on an already popular media brand is probably a better solution. You’ll get distribution through the media partner’s own site and network, and you can often get some good organic search traffic to your content as well. The only tricks to this method involve finding the right media outlet for your target audience, and then creating a piece of content that can appeal to everyone—brand, publisher, and reader. “Native advertising” and similar programs aren’t always cheap, so be prepared to spend if you’re building a campaign around these types of placements. But clients love them because you’re reaching an audience where they live, getting good alignment with the media property, and don’t have to fuss with building a new content platform.

Kyle Monson is a founding partner and chief creative at Knock Twice, a technology marketing company in NYC and San Francisco.


VOICES

ST RAT EGY

27


HOW RED BULL TAKES CONTENT MARKETING

BY JA M E S O’B R I E N

The button is five stops in, counting from the left on the homepage of RedBull.com. Along the smaller of two navigation bars, it’s sandwiched between “Audio” and “Games.” There it is, the fifth one: “JUST EPIC.” In a sense, the channel embodies Red Bull’s entire marketing approach. You want to click it. You have to see what it is. What is this epic stuff?! Click. Instantly, you’re browsing videos of a 12-year-old skateboarder nailing the world’s first ever 1080 (that’s three full revolutions) during a ramp jump. You’re inside a world where a man skims treetops in something called a wingsuit. Looking a bit like a bat, he hoots and hollers with the thrill. Red Bull’s universe is extreme sports and adrenaline-junky stunts. Sure, you’ll recognize the familiar twin bovine and sun logo on the skate ramp. And yes, you’ll spy the bulls on the back of the wingsuit. But there’s no mention of the actual drink, really. And there is certainly no cut to Red Bull’s now-iconic blue and silver can. Red Bull is a publishing empire that also happens to sell a beverage. Lately, every conference PowerPoint on the future of advertising or PR seems to mention Red Bull as a—if not the—shining example of a brand-turned-publisher, what every future-leaning agency encourages its clients to emulate. Yet, no one seems to know exactly how Red Bull does it. “The marketing strategy that has worked best for us is not to publish our strategies,” says a Red Bull representative. Perhaps by painting around the edges of Red Bull’s content machine, we can glimpse what’s inside the can.

ST RATE GY

29


RED BULL IS A PUBLISHING EMPIRE THAT ALSO HAPPENS TO SELL A BEVERAGE. A HIGH-CONCEPT DRINK (IN OTHER WORDS, THE DRINK IS NOT THE POINT) When we talk about “content marketing,” we mean the creation of storytelling material that attracts readers, viewers and listeners to a brand. Content marketing is not an ad on a billboard or a onepage spread in a magazine. It doesn’t have to be a commercial on cable television or the 28 annoying seconds before the start of that next YouTube hit. The idea central to content marketing is that a brand must give something valuable to get something valuable in return. Instead of the commercial, be the show. Instead of the banner ad, be the feature story. The value returned is often that people associate good things with—and return to engage with—the brand. In the early 1980s, Austrian toothpaste salesman Dietrich Mateschitz (left) stumbled upon a Thai energy drink, at the time called Krating Daeng. He recognized that if he transformed Krating Daeng from an obscure local remedy for sluggishness into a more universal concept, he could create a new beverage category. And so, he wrapped the drink in a blue and silver can, and then he wrapped that can in a platinum marketing campaign. By 2011, Mateschitz controlled 44% of the exploding energy drink market, according to Symphony IRI, and was selling 4.6 billion cans a year, most purchased by men between the ages of 18 and 35. They’re voracious endorsers of the brand, and that’s because, with the beverage, Mateschitz commandeered—if not created—a new, high-octane lifestyle category. To promote the lifestyle, Red Bull built a media house. THE FIRST RULE OF RED BULL’S CONTENT STRATEGY... Red Bull North America’s Manhattan office, 15 Watts Street in SoHo, looks like a castle. The top of its cappuccino-colored facade is ringed with arch-like details. In the giant front windows, huge images of skiers, surfers and airborne motocross machines loom above a diagonal, six-

30

STRATEGY

way intersection. In the center, the Red Bull logo launches upwards from a froth of icy bubbles. On the fourth floor, the elevator opens onto an immaculate space: shiny grey floors, high white ceilings roped with pristine refurbished industrial ductwork. The walls are wrapped in a kind of liquid graffiti splash pattern. A biking jersey sits behind a frame on one wall, the twin bulls logo upon it. The woman at the desk is pleasant, but this reporter is not going to get his interview today, she says. No, there is nobody in the building he can talk to about Red Bull Media House. But yes, such people do work here. “They’re just always in and out,” she says. And so, the reporter sits down to wait. Maybe, he thinks, a Media House employee will come through the doors. CONTENT AS AN ENGINE: RED BULL, THE MARKET, AND EVERY MEDIA UNDER THE SUN Red Bull Media House got its start in Europe in 2007, then expanded to Hollywood and New York City. An umbrella for Red Bull’s massive print, television, online and feature film production, RBMH employs over 135 people, according to its LinkedIn profile. Part Associated Press for action sports content, part production company, RBMH has an IMDB page and a sports magazine, with circulation comparable to Sports Illustrated. It even owns an in-house record label. Spidering across the media universe are snippets from the Red Bull Content Pool, a well of fan images and videos—material like the wingsuit video, the skateboarder and plenty more. While Red Bull provides a portion of its more than 5,000 videos and 50,000 photos to users free-of-charge, most of this stuff is professionally high-end enough to be network-ready. And it shows up on the news, from MSNBC to ESPN, and in specialty markets such as Halogen TV. At Halogen, which reaches viewers via cable with a message of positive change, Red Bull inked a multi-year deal for Thursday night programming. From the action


sports roundup Ultimate Rush to street sports shows, such as Breakdance, this is the Red Bull brand idea, front and center on cable every week. “There is brand synergy in our ideology about content,” says Marshall Nord, senior vice president of programming at Halogen. He drew a parallel between Halogen’s tagline, “Be the Change,” describing its “inspiring and empowering programming that entertains and motivates,” and Red Bull’s slogan, “We give wings to people and ideas.” The two companies’ user demographics are also linked. “Halogen Programming desired to partner with a proven brand that would provide programming directed at young males, as well reach consumers aligned with our brand via other media,” Nord says. In Red Bull, he says, Hologen has found “a lifestyle brand with the number-one energy drink and a media company that cuts across demographics and psychographics, that produces and distributes content.” Indeed, Red Bull is working in multiple media. It recently released a feature film, The Art of Flight. The movie cost a reported $2 million to make, but when it hit iTunes in 2011, it parked atop the charts for more than a week—bringing in $10 per download. The company also publishes a print magazine—The Red Bulletin—with a distribution of about 5 million. Celeste Thorson, a self-described “adrenaline seeker” living her dream in Los Angeles—acting, writing, modeling and, well, sometimes jet-packing—is a regular reader. “I love that it features incredible photography and an action sports lifestyle,” Thorson says. “After seeing cover girls like Lolo Jones, Maya Gabiera and Lindsey Vonn, I was hooked.” As a hiker, biker and jet-packer, Thorson’s feelings about the content are a testament that the brand’s power exceeds its product. “Obviously the name does a great job of reminding you about the drink,” she said of Red Bulletin. “But honestly, I’m a bigger fan of the Bulletin and event sponsorships than the beverage. I think of Red Bull as more than just an energy drink maker. To me, it’s about having an energetic lifestyle.”

ture is stuck in the “stand” stage (i.e., motionless). At the other end of the spectrum there is Red Bull, characterized at “run” on Lieb’s graph. “Look, Red Bull has introduced its content marketing around and about the product, but it is never directly correlated to the drink itself,” Lieb says. “Nobody is going to go to a website and spend 45 minutes looking at video about a drink. But Red Bull has aligned its brand unequivocally and consistently with extreme sports and action. They are number-one at creating content so engaging that consumers will spend hours with it, or at least significant minutes.” Another question is whether Red Bull is succeeding on all fronts. Is its brand strategy adequately promoting both a drink and a collection of cool footage? “One measure of success is,” Lieb says, “are they selling more Red Bull this year than last year? Another might be brand awareness. Another might be purchase intent. “I think Red Bull’s brand awareness accomplishment is through the roof,” she continues. “Ten years ago, nobody knew what Red Bull was. Now, maybe they’re not up there with McDonald’s or Coke, but you could say they’re on a par with Starbucks.” Red Bull Media House makes content that other media outlets can use. It’s a production studio, full of writers, filmmakers, editors and other creative types. And while its in-house staff kept the reporter running in circles, some of its freelancers and athletes opened up about their experiences. First and foremost, a Red Bull assignment is mostly like any other kind of journalism.

“THERE IS BRAND SYNERGY IN OUR IDEOLOGY ABOUT CONTENT,” SAYS MARSHALL NORD

FROM THE OUTSIDE IN: CONTENT IN THE RED BULL WORLD One might ask a Red Bull executive whether the company’s media forward thinking means the loss leader is the content. Or rather, is it the drink in Red Bull’s cans? Or is there even a loss leader? Rebecca Lieb, analyst at Altimeter Group, recently published a report that categorizes content marketing efforts into progressive degrees of human motion: the least ma-

STR AT EGY

31


“I’ve never been asked to crowbar Red Bull into any story I’ve done with them,” says Nick Amies, who freelances for the lifestyle and music beat for Red Bulletin Europe, and also covers similar topics for The New York Times and The Economist. “The promotion of the brand comes through the activities I cover.” “Just because Red Bull is a brand, it doesn’t mean that The Red Bulletin is a vanity project with minimal editorial control,” he says. “It’s as hard to write for and as professional as any other international magazine I have been involved with.

THE IDEA IS FOR THE RED BULLETIN TO BE SEEN AS A GREAT LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE FIRST AND A RED BULL PROJECT SECOND.

The idea is for The Red Bulletin to be seen as a great lifestyle magazine first and a Red Bull project second.” Alison Smith, a New Zealand-based freelancer—who cut her teeth following and writing about the world surfing circuit—worked with the Red Bull marketing team from 2000 to 2002. “Much of the media strategy was in its early stages in New Zealand at the time, so developing a team of freelance photographers and video people to work on projects with was also part of what I did,” Smith says. “At the same time, they wanted someone cool enough—if I’m allowed to say that—to get on with their athletes, understand their culture and be fun to be around when attending the events and trips with athletes.” She says shackles were never part of the editorial side of Red Bull’s projects. “I worked independently and had pretty much complete editorial freedom,” says Smith. “I don’t recall ever being questioned about the work I produced, and was very much in the mindset of a freelance journalist. That’s what my card said, in fact, ‘freelance journalist,’ even though it

32

STRATEGY

had a Red Bull office number and cell.” Red Bull is also, of course, a way for athletes to get noticed. If you had to distill the Red Bull aesthetic into one such athlete, you’d end up with a performer most probably like Ryan Doyle. An acrobatic freerunner, Doyle seems to exist free of the laws of physics. He can float across a slanted roof, roll along the railing on a flight of stairs, launch himself into and off of solid concrete surfaces, and descend from heights in freefalls that would put most of us in traction. He is a devotee of parkour athletics, which emphasizes speed and agility, overcoming obstacles with no equipment. His version of athletics bonds martial arts with ballet, then tosses the whole thing into a kind of urban, cross-country blender. This is not the NBA. But it is RBMH. “I often find parkour athletes to be ‘divergent thinkers,’” says Doyle. “Where there is never only one answer, they are open-minded, creative. And Red Bull is a fantastic company that loves to get involved with the parkour world.” RED BULL’S CHALLENGES IN THE CONTENT WORLD Red Bull Media House has swiftly progressed toward something that looks more like a studio model than an advertising agency. While some see this as a new creation, others suggest it actually reflects an older dynamic. “You have a patronage model that goes back a thousand years, where some rich guy is paying some artist to make himself look good,” says Kyle Monson, founding partner and chief creative at content marketing and public relations firm Knock Twice. “Red Bull makes a sexy video about snowboarding? Total patronage,” he said at an August panel hosted by Outbrain. “Not in a bad way. But it’s the best snowboarding video ever produced, and it’s been produced by a brand.” Red Bull’s marketing zeal has also stretched some limits. For instance, in 2009, Red Bull employees went to European bars that sold only Monster, a competing energy drink, and cracked open smuggled Red Bulls to suggest dissatisfaction with the other choice. Bar managers were supposed to panic and order the blue and silver stuff. Instead, the company found itself in legal hot water and a minor PR flap: Posing as a customer in such a setting is illegal in the European Union. Red Bull apologized and attributed the whole idea to “overzealous junior employees,” according to a report in Marketing. Red Bull is still, from time to time, drawn into the debate over whether the enzyme taurine, one of its oft-mentioned ingredients, really enhances body and health performance. Never mind the early rumor that its ingredients included an extract from the testicles of bulls. Another flap occurred in the German market in 2009, when several states banned the beverage after trace


POSTSCRIPT

RED BULL MEDIA HOUSE

amounts of cocaine were allegedly found in the mixture. The company maintains Red Bull is safe to drink, and that its own tests didn’t turn up any cocaine. “They’re not totally insulated from blowback,” says Peter Shankman, chief executive of The Geek Factory, a Manhattan-based social media and marketing strategy firm. Shankman is also a skydiver, and his own website carries photos not so far removed from the Red Bull kind. He suggests that the blowback might be more problematic for company officials and investors, however, than for anyone who loves to watch a race car or tune in to a video featuring Doyle’s freerunning. “The majority of people that like a brand like Red Bull...want to see excitement, they want to see fun, and that kind of story isn’t going to filter down,” Shankman says, addressing the complications that arise from aggressive marketing. “The issue only becomes,” he says, “when they start to believe that the only people that matter are the fans. [Then] they may have to worry about investors and markets, as well.” WHAT’S WAITING IN THE WINGS? Back at Red Bull’s office, the reporter is still waiting. The receptionist has taken his business card, but declined to say with whom the reporter can follow up. The sleek red couches, over near the elevator doors, are a good place to sit and wait for the Media House staff who aren’t coming. A lone office worker peers over a halfcube station wall. A short while later, the woman from the reception desk gestures toward a pod-like vending machine. Its shape suggests the familiar thin, blue and silver cans inside. “Would you like one?” she says. For a lot of people, the answer has been been an energetic, “Yes.”

Two days after this article about Red Bull Media House and its content strategy went up at Mashable, on Dec. 19, 2012, a spokesperson for RBMH e-mailed me in response to the piece. “I’m sorry we have not yet made an introduction,” wrote Maddy Zeringue, a spokesperson with the company’s communications, on Dec. 21. “Let’s just say we feel like we know you after your Mashable story yesterday! The hallways are a-buzz, and we’re honored you took the time to take a look at our media business.” Zeringue offered me a tour of Red Bull Media House’s facilities in Santa Monica, California. She said I could talk to the strategists there. We could approach the inner workings of RBMH with greater access. At present, it’s been left that we might arrange something in the coming months at the New York office of RBMH, in Manhattan, rather than over on the West Coast. I’d still like to know more about the inner workings of Red Bull Media House, and I think that readers want to go further behind the walls, too. Not that this is news to the folks who report and write for a living— sources getting back to you only after deadline or not at all—but the opportunities in the digital space are more varied than they were in the old hardcopy-publishing newsroom. What would an editor/publisher have done, in 1999, if a source said, after the story was published: “All right, now you can interview us.” He or she would probably have said something about hooks and news cycles, and, barring a major new development in the tale, the scenario would end there. In this new digital space, the dialogue continues. It seems that everything is augmentable, stories can be added to with new fluidity, the dynamics surrounding what is a “published work” become ever more malleable. The rules are changing. We’re learning our way through. Stay tuned for Part Two.

ST RATE GY

33


#STORYTELLING


WHY I WANT TO BE CHIPPED BY PE T E R H A

Technology is (or was?) meant to help humanity simplify certain tasks. You know, make us lazier our lives easier. But given our current trajectory, we may end up like the piles of putty in Wall-E that represent the fleshy future of humanity as a sedentary race. That is unless, we all get chipped. So let’s do it.

T

echnology embedded in our bodies is currently the only means of gathering completely accurate health data. Diabetics, for example, have been using embedded sensors like the Dexcom Seven Plus to track glucose levels for years. Sure, it may seem a little too extreme to get chipped for purposes of tracking our heart rates at the gym. The average 5ker doesn’t have the same functional necessity that the diabetic does, but we can certainly benefit from such a technology. Embedded chips will help us actively monitor our own health. We’ll know if we’ve gained a pound, or if our blood sugar is low, or even if we’ve hit a personal best while running. The smartphone will act as

36

STO RYTELLING

our new doctors (or trainers, or moms) that help us translate what our bodies are telling us into cold, hard, readable data. We’re already moving in that direction. Though it might not know it, Nintendo has been the conduit for making healthy consumer tech a sexy and profitable thing with the introduction of the Wii. No longer do we solely depend on tech to make our lives easier, but we depend on it to enhance our lives through things like fitness, exercise, health, and fun. After the Wii, Microsoft and Sony followed suit with their own motion-controlled gaming peripherals and rightfully so. But companies like Nike and Jawbone, who are


moving fitness away from the TV and back into the real an embedded chip in your wrist, for example, that could world, are on the fringe of making this particular scene the relay vitals or body temperature and heart rate straight to next big thing. your iPhone. Wouldn’t that make you more active? Companies like Withings and Fitbit have learned from One startup that’s attempting to bridge that gap beNike, Jawbone, Nintendo, and Microsoft, and are attempttween standard wearable fitness monitoring tools and ing to move the ball forward by way of gamification. Why something a little more potentially, ahem, drastic, is Miselse would you ever share your fits Wearables. Formed last year weight or how fast you ran a mile by the co-founders of Agamathrough social networks? The trix and former Apple CEO John But imagine having an most glaring issue, though, is that Sculley, the company promises a embedded chip in your they’re all so far from being perwearable device that integrates fect that it’s laughable. seamlessly into the user’s life. wrist, for example, that Having religiously worn a The company, named after the could relay vitals or body Nike FuelBand since its launch, late Steve Jobs, says that these temperature and heart I came to the sudden realization devices “shouldn’t compete with rate straight to your while on a SXSW stroll through fashion and [have] to have funcAustin that the data being collecttions outside of sensing.” iPhone. Wouldn’t that ed and presented was inaccuIf that doesn’t sound a bit mad make you more active? rate. Does it take into account my scientist, I don’t know what does. body temperature, the outside The most interesting part is that temperature, or elevation? Of they believe what they’re buildcourse not, it’s little more than a glorified pedometer. ing will be so critical to a user that if it were left at home, For this burgeoning consumer health tech industry to they would have no choice but to go back and get it. really have a long-term positive effect on humanity, it’s imI see this as the first step towards a chipped existence perative that we get a little mad scientist. where we’re so in tune with our bodies (and our phones) The proliferation of smartphones has made it easier to that it’s almost second nature to know personal vitals and monitor data in real-time, but for the majority of the world, health statistics. the smartphone has acted as little more than a means to But until that day comes, I need to go for a run. I’m not occupy idle time throughout the day. But imagine having even close to hitting my Fuel score for the day.

THE BACKSTORY

QUALCOMM’S CONTENT COMMUNITY Conversation is the heart of storytelling. That’s why Qualcomm launched Spark—a platform to engage tech audiences with cutting-edge dialogue about the digital world. “We believe that brands need to be having meaningful conversations with their audiencesin an authentic, transparent way,” said Spark publisher Liya Sharif. But content marketing is more than just writing—it’s about taking great ideas and making them larger than life. “Invention is at the core of Qualcomm’s DNA, and we created Spark to have a dialogue about creating the next amazing thing,” Sharif said. Brands like Qualcomm are in a position to lead real conversations—but not through superficial push marketing. What Spark has done instead is to foster a community of forward-thinking experts. “In today’s world, consumers are increasingly skeptical of brand messaging and advertising, and the amount of social chatter and noise is deafening,” Sharif said. “Spark is meant to cut through the noise, reach our key audiences with unexpected content and provide a unique perspective from influencers on

how mobile is transforming peoples’ lives around the world. One thing that sets Spark apart is its level of honesty and authenticity. It’s one thing for a brand to commission a piece from a writer like Peter Ha—it’s quite another for them to give up control. “We keep our content authentic,” Sharif said. “In fact, we have chosen to include stories from contributors whose positions don’t always align with the company’s stance in order to product authentic content. When we choose contributors, we are looking for people that can champion conversations and reach our audience of cutting-edge consumers and early adopters who can’t wait to see what’s next.” And Spark also recognizes that in order to tell stories effectively, a brand needs to engage with its audience through all available avenues. “We are experimenting with all types of shareable content, including documentary videos, op-ed articles, blogs, and a curated news feed,” Sharif said. “We look for stories and content that resonate with our readers, and demonstrate and enrich Qualcomm’s connection to its communities.” – Ritika Puri

STORY T EL L IN G

37


GROWNUPS ARE THE NEW GAMERS B Y GIOR DA NO C ON T E S TABIL E It’s time to banish from your mind the image of the socially maladroit couch potato whiling away his life pretending to be a magic ninja dragon as the prototypical “gamer.” The videogame players of today aren’t holed up in their parents’ basement; instead, the gamers of today are standing next to you at the dentist’s office destroying strangely endearing zombies with legions of cuddly mutant plants, and they’re pinging you on Facebook for virtual farm supplies. And if you’ve ever stolen a few minutes at work to line up jewels, pop bubbles, or exult quietly over laying out a seven-letter word over a triple word score when you should have been slogging through spreadsheets, then you’re a gamer, too. The explosive growth of social and mobile gaming has not only changed gaming, it’s changed the faces of the players as well. GAMING ON THE GO The boom in mobile games isn’t especially surprising when you start looking at some numbers. The number of smartphones in use in the third quarter of 2012 was over one billion, a 47 percent increase from just a year earlier. That number is projected to double to two billion by 2015 and while all those people may be sincere about using their shiny new smartphones to help manage their lives they are also increasingly using them for another purpose: having fun. The gaming industry research firm NPD Group has reported that digital game sales (including social

38

STO RYTELLING

games, mobile entertainment apps, and so on) increased by 17 percent in the second quarter of 2012 while retail sales of videogame hardware, software, and accessories has declined for 10 straight months, with a hefty 24 percent drop in September 2012. THE 30 AND OVER CROWD IS GROWING So just who is playing these games? According to a 2012 survey conducted by Information Solutions Group, nearly half of all US and UK adults. According to the study, 44 percent of adults surveyed had played at least one mobile game in the past month. As impressive as that figure is, it pales in comparison to the growth rate: an increase of 29 percent from just the prior year. Some of that growth can be attributed to the rapid adoption of tablet devices. Nearly one in ten of those surveyed had started gaming in the past twelve months by playing on a new tablet. With sales of Kindles, iPads, and other devices continuing to grow, that number will only increase, especially in light of the fact that many of these new players are playing games like Plants vs. Zombies at the same time across multiple devices. This audience is a much more diverse group than ever before. According to the Entertainment Software Association, not only is the average gamer now 30 years old but a full 62 percent of the gaming public is an adult with 37 percent of them being 35 or older. There’s also a good chance


that the assumed “he” is actually a she since 47 percent of the gaming audience is female, with women 18 or older representing a staggering 60 percent of the mobile audience (according to videogame research outfit EEDAR). BRIDGING THE GENERATION GAP Not only has the popularity of online social games like PopCap’s Facebook based Solitaire Blitz, reshaped the gaming audience, it has even reshaped why people play. Another Information Solutions Group study revealed that 80 percent of so-called “family gamers” (those with children/grandchildren under 18 that played casual games in the home) played these games with their children. Among the adult family gamers, a whopping 92 percent said that they felt the games gave them an opportunity to “bond with, or better relate to” their younger family members. Sure, lots of these players are treating themselves to periodic ten minute doses of light entertainment, but the majority of them echo the sentiments of 69 year-old retired teacher Katy Sanders of Swartz Creek, Mich. who says, “My daughter Kathleen and I trade scores back and forth. It’s a great way for us to touch base without me hassling her with ‘why don’t you call me more?’ It lets me know that she’s okay.” The social aspects of mobile games are a huge factor in their appeal for all players. Kerry Ann King, a 44 year-old dancer and fitness instructor living in New York City, is an avid Zuma Blitz, Bejeweled Blitz and Solitaire Blitz player. While Kerry Ann loves the competition, the real rewards of playing come from the interaction with her friends, some of them new or rediscovered. A casual acquaintance from Kerry Ann’s college years has become a close friend thanks to years of Facebook chatting that started as comments on each woman’s Bejeweled Blitz scores. “I’ve learned what an amazing woman/mom/wife she’s grown up to be and I really admire her,” says this mother of four, “And all because she was playing BejeweledBlitz, too.” LEVERAGING GAMES FOR SOCIAL INTERACTION Going forward, mobile and social games seem certain only to grow in popularity thanks to the support of an increasingly diverse audience, one that not only embraces the built-in social aspects of these games but one that finds new ways to make these games help people connect, often in unexpected ways. From the staff of GenCare retirement homes using Bookworm as a way for their elderly residents to connect with each other and to get over their computer-phobia to moms like Nicole Cassidy of Springfield, Pa. who discovered that Plants vs. Zombies helped her autistic son Anthony connect with other seven year-olds to Bend, Ore. teachers Heather Renz and Judy Shasek who have turned some of PopCap’s single-player games into physical, group activities that help educate their 4th graders, the new crop of gamers is driven to use games to interact with the people in their lives. As Katie Rosen, a 44 year-old loan collector and devoted Words With Friends player says, “This game keeps me connected with people I don’t usually get to talk to, it nurtures those friendships. With the explosive growth of smartphones and tablets and a world population that spends more and more of its time online, its time to realign your impressions of what a hardcore gamer is and realize that, in actual fact, the gamers of today and tomorrow basically look like you and me.

Coca-Cola’s Ashley Callahan on how “Grownups are the New Gamers” fits into CocaCola’s content strategy: “Grownups are the New Gamers” is hardly typical content for a corporate website. What’s the deal? Ashley: Our site includes business-tech content because people want to read it; tech is an area Coca-Cola is an active leader in. This is just one example of an industry Coke plays a role in that is outside of our more visible beverage products. From global sustainability initiatives, to entrepreneurship to innovative vending machines that are solar powered, accept mobile payments, and our Freestyle machine—we are a global company that values innovation and technology in all forms across our business. What makes this story effective? Ashley: Gaming is a topic that is important to us and creates an enjoyable experience for our audience. This article gave us a chance to talk about gaming and the rise of a new audience. The writer was able to expose PopCap games to our audience, and we were able to package his piece with stories on some of our recently launched games, like Crabs and Penguins and (THRED). This particular opportunity came about around the same time Fanta launched the game, Fanta Fruit Slam. So, this was also effective because we had content working together to cross promote gaming stories and keep readers on the site. What have Coca-Cola’s content efforts taught you about creating branded content? Ashley: I am a journalist by training, so it’s taught me how to run a newsroom inside a corporation. It can be done and it can be done well—but it requires a dedicated team working together every day and a lot of resourcefulness. When you’re operating businesses in more than 200 countries, you have a builtin network of news bureaus—the challenge is training your teams to think like journalists and sniff out the stories that might otherwise seem to them like another day in the office. (Disclosure: Contently writers have contributed articles for Callahan and CocaCola Journey.)

STORYTE L L IN G

39


MAYANK SHARMA: His Illness and Recovery B Y A L EX A NDR A TO W N SE ND

The science behind one man’s total memory loss after a battle with tubercular meningitis. Like most of us, Mayank Sharma’s earliest memories come to him in fragments, like filmstrips missing frames. “I remember crawling up a flight of stairs on all fours, but I don’t remember the effort, or the pain or the sense of achievement I felt,” Sharma says. “Can you really call that a memory?” Sharma might have to. These are some of his earliest recollections—and they’re about two years-old. In 2010, Sharma contracted tubercular meningitis, a nasty cocktail of tuberculosis and cerebral inflammation that attacks the nervous system. While he was recovering in a New Delhi hospital—right now, India accounts for a fifth of all tuberculosis cases reported globally each year— his family realized something strange: he didn’t know them. He didn’t know anyone, not even himself. Sharma’s memory loss was total; all his experiences lost. We first spoke to Sharma while creating a short documentary on his quest to rediscover his personal history with Facebook’s People You May Know feature, reconnecting with friends and family in an attempt to retrieve his past. Sharma may know most of his life stories, but that doesn’t mean he remembers being a part of them. “During

40

STO RYTELLING

my recovery, everyone was standing around me trying to make me remember,” he says. “Doctors say these things I think I remember now are just from these tales. That’s why I can’t picture myself in the scenes. It’s not me remembering from the past, but it’s me remembering what others have been telling me.” Even creating new memories was a struggle at first, which is why it’s so hard for him to identify his now-earliest memory, even if it happened just a few years ago. “I’d say the most vivid is of being presented a wheelchair just before my 27th birthday,” he says. “I was happy because I could now move around more often, but for the first time I noticed the camouflaged emotions of my folks and kid brother. It took me a while to understand that a wheelchair isn’t a parent’s favorite gift to their adult child, and I remember telling myself that I’d been sick long enough and that it was time I got back up on my feet and fast.” Tuberculosis is a bacterial disease passed from person to person through the air, but the majority of people carrying the germs never actually develop the disease. Instead, it lurks, waiting until it’s agitated by a weakened


immune system; some can harbor it more than 30 years before it’s activated, others can stave it off forever. “Most people’s bodies have the ability to control the infection, and that’s as far as it goes,” says Jeff Starke, the director of the Tuberculosis Clinic at Texas Children’s Hospital. “When the immune system is compromised, then it can occur wherever the germs have gone. It can literally hide in your body for years.”

“I remember crawling up a flight of stairs on all fours, but I don’t remember the effort, or the pain or the sense of achievement I felt. Can you really call that a memory?” – MAYANK SHARMA As germs enter the body, they immediately start to spread; an infected person can have tuberculosis bacteria in their lungs, liver, intestinal tract—and brain. Tubercular meningitis, then, is the ultimate form of bacterial meningitis: 20% to 50% of its victims die and survivors are often left with significant neurological defects. Where most forms of meningitis affect the top surface of the brain, tubercular meningitis affects its base, home of the cranial nerves and chambers that control blood circulation, vision and memory. As in Sharma’s case, many victims also develop hydrocephalus when a fluid backup occurs in the base of the brain following the inflammation, a typical complication of tubercular meningitis, Starke says. Though amnesia this extensive and long lasting is extremely rare, complications

are much more the rule than the exception. “There’s no way to predict which way these complications occur,” Starke says. “It really depends what’s going on with the patient when they’re first diagnosed that predicts how likely they are to have severe problems: stroke, hearing loss, vision loss, memory loss, etc. Unfortunately tubercular meningitis is hard to diagnosis and is often delayed in many parts of the world.” In some cases, the memories return. Sharma’s have not, and the doctors are “confused as hell,” Sharma says. “The [brain] damage isn’t that extensive. It shouldn’t be causing this problem.” His doctors are still optimistic that he’ll regain his memory someday, but until then, Sharma will keep crowdsourcing his backstory from family and friends, even the parts of the past he’d rather not know about; a few of the old acquaintances he’s reached out to have come back with less than positive accounts. “When I decided to reach out to people and rediscover my old self, I knew there would be some unpleasantries,” he says. “But I think it’s a small price to pay for almost three decades worth of learning experiences.” Unfortunately, some of the more agonizing aspects of his recovery are still ongoing. Only occasionally will he leave his family’s home alone for short walks and he’s only allowed exercise under supervision, but he has returned to work writing articles for Linux Format, PC Plus and Windows: The Official Magazine. He’s even created his own website, complete with a portfolio of brain scans, inviting anyone interested to peek inside his head. He shares any medical advice received through the website with his neurologist in hopes of finding new pathways to recovery. If he can tap into the collective knowledge of the people he used to know to help restore his memories, why not leave it up to us to help him figure out how he lost them?

LESSONS FROM FACEBOOK STORIES The concept of Facebook Stories is straightforward—a blog that humanizes and individualizes the experiences that are happening on Facebook each day. From the emotion of an election day, to the memory of a loved one, the joy of a wedding Facebook Stories is what happens when millions of human experiences come together on a single platform. “There’s no special sauce to what we do,” said Dan Fletcher, who until recently was Facebook’s Managing Editor. “We use Facebook just as any reporter in the world could.” Despite Facebook’s new media pedigree, Facebook Stories operates much like a traditional newsroom. Editing, reporting, deadlines and editorial calendars keep the content focused and scheduled. “Each month has a different theme, with a video and content that plays on it in different ways,” Fletcher said. Facebook Stories knits disparate topics together by making

sure each piece contains a recognizable human interest angle. If Facebook is fundamentally an engine for human connections, Facebook Stories is the place where those connections are highlighted. Perhaps because of its close ties to the personal lives of its users, Facebook has had amazing success in sourcing content from its community. And Fletcher for one sees that community as the bright future of Facebook Stories’ content. “We ask people to submit stories to the site, but we often find a lot of these stories by searching for groups or looking through local newspaper reports,” he said. “Going forward, I think we want this to be a space for users to tell their own stories. You can see this in videos already—stories that come directly from people who tell their own experiences have been our strongest piece of content.” – Ritika Puri

STORY TE L L IN G

41


FIVE SITES FROM NEW YORK CITY’S SECRET BLOODY PAST YOU CAN STILL VISIT TODAY BY M E G A N G I L BE RT

Did you know a bouncer called Gallus Mag used to bite off patrons’ ears and store them in pickle jars in one of modern-day New York City’s most well-known watering holes? Taking a cue from Copper, the new BBC America show about the violence, corruption, race riots, and class struggle of 1860s New York, here’s a few of the city’s historically gory addresses that you can still visit today—along with where to find them.

Gawker’s Megan Gilbert on Copper’s sponsored story:

42

STORYTELLING

Marble Cemetery Behind the Bowery Hotel The Bowery Hotel attracts rock stars, film-types, and those with disposable incomes (and their hangers-on). But what those who stay there may not realize is that just out the rear windows of the hotel sits an almost block-long “park.” Underneath that park lies New York City’s oldest nondenominational burial ground. Opened in 1830, over 2,000 souls are interred there—almost all before 1870. The cemetery became known as “a Place of Interment for Gentlemen” and became the final resting place for luminaries like George Douglass, whose first son Benjamin founded the firm which was succeeded by R.G. Dun & Co., which in turn eventually became Dun & Bradstreet. In more recent years, Bowery junkies were known to leave needles and empty fifths of cheap liquor on the grounds, and at one time there was a cemetery landmark known as “The Underwear Tree” from which transient skivvies hung—a view that must make those $1,200-per-night hotel suites worth every penny.

The Bridge Cafe (formerly The Hole-In-The-Wall) 279 Water Street This “quint [sic] and charming” bar/restaurant is “gr8” and serves “not much” chicken, but is still considered a “fancy lunch time [sic] option” whose “bread basket is worthy of your attention.”* Seems harmless, right? But the Bridge Cafe is in fact the oldest continuous business establishment in NYC, that, since 1794, has counted among its iterations a grocery, porterhouse, a brothel, and, in the mid 19th-century, a saloon called The Hole-In-The-Wall. Well-known criminals Kate Flannery and Gallus Mag worked as bouncers at this notorious underworld hangout, and if you pissed ol’ Mag off just right, she’d bite your ear off and plop it in a pickle jar above the bar for all to see. Seriously. Bar brawls involving waterfront thugs like Slobbery Jim and Patsy the Barber were frequent, and the record for on-premises murders stands at 7 in a 2-month period. Go for the fried oysters, stay for the groaning ghost of Gallus Mag (who’s said to linger in the ladies’ room).

How did this story happen? Megan: BBC America approached us (about placing the post)... and we felt like the concept was really cool—this sort of New York focus with old-timey cops and bloody gangs. We had a mini brainstorm and threw around some ideas and settled on this one. It was great because we could do the research here in-house, and then we could go out and take pictures because we are located in New York. Gawker is famously concerned about content metrics. How did this story do? Megan: It got a lot of page views… First and foremost, it had this sort of intrigue—what are these secret places? The headline helps a lot with that.


Shakespeare Statue Central Park Who would have thought that an innocuous statue of The Bard in the city’s grandest park was built with blood money? That this tribute to Will was erected using funds generated by a November 25, 1864 performance of one of his plays (Julius Caesar) is not particularly surprising, but guess who played Marc Antony? None other than the most famous thespian-turned-presidential-assassin John Wilkes Booth. Less than six months after Booth and his brothers Edwin and Junius starred in the much-hyped “theatrical event” at the Winter Garden Theatre, President Lincoln would be dead, thanks to a bullet from Booth’s pistol—and JWB himself would be fatally shot in the neck after a storied ten-day manhunt. The statue still stands today.

Morris-Jumel Haunted Mansion 65 Jumel Terrace

The “Bloody Angle” Doyers Street between Pell and Bowery

Aaron Burr, Army officer, lawyer, New York State Assemblyman, Attorney General, Senator, Vice President, and widower, began a late-inlife affair (he was a vigorous 77) with Madam Eliza Jumel, a divorcee of substantial means. Shortly after their tryst began, her ex-husband Stephen died a gruesome death after suspiciously falling from a window and landing on a pitchfork. Eliza and Aaron married soon after, but divorced a mere 3 years later (around the time of Aaron’s death). Eliza’s mental health deteriorated drastically. Her behavior became erratic, and she demanded to be followed by an armed garrison on her daily rides about the grounds of her Washington Heights mansion. Since her 1865 death, a ghost in a white dress bearing a striking resemblance to the second Mrs. Burr has been spotted roaming the mansion. Field trip, anyone?

This short, bent Chinatown street lined with hair salons looks tame enough today, but 37 people met their bloody end here at the hands of the gangs that ran the show in the late 19th century. In Gangs of New York, author Herbert Asbury claimed that more murders were committed here that “any other place of like area in the world.” The lack of lighting and the sharp curve in the road proved ideal for a snickersnee ambush, and reportedly there is a secret network of underground tunnels connecting neighboring buildings that made it easy for bloody-handed killers to escape. One of the most famous murders that occurred here was that of comedian (and member of the Tongs gang) Ah Hoon. He liked to make jokes on stage about members of rival gangs—and was found shot through the heart, the victim of an assassin who was lowered to his boardinghouse window on a boatswain’s chair.

And also the imagery: once people were clicking through [they saw] that these photos were actually pictures that were taken [by us] and not BBC. The client loved it because this was exactly what they were envisioning. But it was our job to come up with that idea and that’s part of the Studio@Gawker—coming up with these ideas that are perfectly aligned with the client’s marketing objectives and creative strategies, and having it come across as something really valuable to our readers. [As a result], it was extremely shareable. This got a lot of Facebook likes. It got a lot of page views and we’re really proud of it. We thought it really resonated well with our readers.

How do you mix Gawker’s natural irreverence with brands concern about language and tone? Megan: That’s a great question and, honestly, that’s a crux of a lot of what we do here at the Studio@Gawker. We walk on that fine line. Our sellers have to get a lot of credit. They’re the ones that convince [brands] that this is the way to go: authentic, real, and on-tone for the sites. If it sounds like an ad, at the end of the day, our readership is extremely savvy and will notice. They want something that is authentic and real and good.

STORY T EL L IN G

43


GENOMICS + CANCER: THE SEARCH FOR THE CURE B Y C H A RL E S S WA N TON

Over the past two decades, dramatic progress has been made in many areas of medicine where hope once seemed out of reach. An infectious disease like HIV, considered intractable in the 1990s, is now controllable with anti-retroviral therapy; and the right combination of antibiotics can similarly control many difficult bacterial infections. When it comes to cancer, however, progress in managing solid tumors that have spread beyond their primary site (metastatic disease) has been rather limited. Survival gains from new therapies are often measured in weeks or months, rather than years, and this oncological care comes with a disproportionate rise in costs. Cancer has justifiably been referred to as the “Em-

UNDERSTANDING THE GENETIC COMPLEXITIY OF TUMORS Current genomic sequencing technologies enable us to decipher the genetic code of human cancers at an unprecedented rate: overnight in one laboratory, compared to the several years it took in the late 1990s. Genome sequencing reveals that every tumor is distinct from patient to patient, with limited but important genetic changes shared between patients who have the same pathological tumor type. Large-scale cancer sequencing efforts conducted by organizations like The Cancer Genome Atlas (colorectal cancers) and the Wellcome Trust’s Cancer Genome Project (breast cancer) have already led to breakthroughs in our understanding of human cancers. For example, Dr. Andy

44

STORYTELLING

peror of All Maladies.” And indeed, cures at the metastatic stage of disease—despite some notable exceptions, like testicular cancer—are still rare, with tumors inevitably acquiring resistance to multiple drugs over the course of the disease. But today, the science of genomics is showing great promise for cancer research and treatment. New genomic sequencing technologies, which allow us to look at the genetic makeup of tumors, are shining a bright light on the way cancers grow and spread, helping oncologists to better understand why progress in metastatic disease has been so slow; how tumors manage to evade drugs and develop resistance to therapies so rapidly; and ultimately, how we might best treat them.

Futreal, professor of genomic medicine at the University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, together with his colleagues, identified a cancer mutation in a gene called BRAF that has led to one of the most exciting and effective treatments “targeted” against this mutation in melanoma, a disease against which chemotherapy was almost always ineffective. (Mutations of the BRAF gene are often found in melanoma. Approximately 160,000 new cases are diagnosed worldwide each year, and the disease is responsible for 75 percent of all skin cancerrelated deaths.) Genomic sequencing is revealing unexpected complexities in tumor development. Cancer is a clonal disease, meaning that one precursor cell spawns daughter progeny that grow in an uncontrolled manner, and resist


destruction by the body thanks to multiple gene mutations (or other modifications). Sequencing is revealing that these “subclone” cells may, in some cases, dominate the metastatic site of disease, and resist treatment through ways we have yet to understand. Genetic sequencing is also challenging traditional concepts of tumor growth and evolution. We now know that tumors evolve and change over time, and that different subclones of tumor cells, with shared genetic mutations but distinct genetic makeups, may reside in different parts of the same primary tumor. In fact, these distinctions between subclones may result in more differences in cancer DNA sequences than similarities. What’s more, sequencing of single cancer cells is beginning to reveal that no two cancer cells share identical genetic codes. Even a small cancer mass measuring 1 to 2 cubic centimeters may contain billions of cells. The potential for genomic diversity is therefore extraordinary. We don’t yet understand exactly how this diversity affects drug resistance and treatment outcome, but advanced sequencing technologies hold the key to these critical questions. CANCER AS EVOLUTIONARY PROCESS Why is this relevant? From a reductionist standpoint— the approach or belief that the complex mechanisms of life can be understood by simple chemistry—the internationally renowned cancer biologists Peter Nowell, Carlo Maley, and Mel Greaves have proposed that cancer growth follows the laws of evolution and selection. These scientists reference the “I think” branched tree diagram that Charles Darwin drew in 1837, in which the genetic diversity of species is represented by branches that grow off a shared evolutionary trunk. The thinking goes that genetic diversity—with cancer subclones following a branched evolutionary path that creates distinctions between them—helps cancer survive, providing the necessary substrate for its evolutionary fitness. While many cancer subclones will be eliminated during therapy, only a few need to survive to result in the rapid acquisition of drug resistance over weeks or months that oncologists witness in clinical practice. Indeed, genetic diversity within glioblastoma, the most common and insidious malignant brain tumor, has been shown to result in distinct populations of cells in the same tumor, with sensitivities to different drugs. This may begin to reveal why treating solid tumors can be so difficult, and why resistance to treatment in metastatic disease seems so inevitable. In the near term, it may not be possible to cure most advanced metastatic tumors using traditional targeted therapy approaches, because of both the genetic distinctions between patients (intertumor heterogeneity)

and within individual tumors (intratumor heterogeneity). The range of targeted drugs needed to treat the multitude of genetic dependencies in many advanced tumors simply does not exist—and even if it did, combining these

WHY IS THIS RELEVANT? FROM A REDUCTIONIST STANDPOINT—THE APPROACH OR BELIEF THAT THE COMPLEX MECHANISMS OF LIFE CAN BE UNDERSTOOD BY SIMPLE CHEMISTRY—THE INTERNATIONALLY RENOWNED CANCER BIOLOGISTS PETER NOWELL, CARLO MALEY, AND MEL GREAVES HAVE PROPOSED THAT CANCER GROWTH FOLLOWS THE LAWS OF EVOLUTION AND SELECTION. targeted drugs at a safe and effective dose would be extremely challenging. USING EVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLES TO ACHIEVE RESULTS So, new approaches are required. One such approach harnesses the body’s own immune system to recognize tumor diversity, targeting the genetic abnormalities in cancer cells. Tumors appear to dampen the body’s own immune system by “stealth,” preventing the body from recognizing the abnormal protein signals cancer cells display on their surface, and therefore identifying them as rogue cells. New cancer treatments are increasing the sensitivity of the body’s own immune system so it can detect these rogue cells. Such developments are already showing impressive benefits in clinical trials, with tantalizing evidence of long-term disease control, something we rarely see with traditional chemotherapy or targeted drugs. Another logical goal is preventing tumor diversity. One way to achieve this will be by improving traditional modern oncology through early diagnosis, tumor screening, and prompt and aggressive surgery and adjuvant (chemotherapy or radiotherapy) treatments following surgery. The mantra: hit the tumor hard and early before it has grown, spread, and diversified.

STORY TE L L IN G

45


Genome sequencing reveals a scientific basis for why this approach—which has been so beneficial to patients over the last three decades—is resulting in many more cancer cures than ever before. FINDING NEW TARGETS FOR DRUGS By harnessing the laws of evolution—and thinking of tumors like the tree of Darwin’s “I think” diagram, with a shared genetic trunk and differing branches—oncologists

reveals multiple drug resistance mechanisms existing in minor but distinct cancer subclones that emerge during therapy. Clearly, understanding how such diversity develops is critical in order to try to limit its emergence in the first place. Continuing the tree analogy, we must understand processes within the cancer cell that initiate the branching of the tree, and the number of branches the tree bears. Diversity could theoretically be the result of mutations

GENOMIC SEQUENCING CAN GIVE US A MORE INTRICATE UNDERSTANDING OF THE CLONAL ORIGINS OF CANCER CELLS. may be able to develop better drugs for patients with metastatic disease. Genomic sequencing can give us a more intricate understanding of the clonal origins of cancer cells, and help us to define the primary drivers of cancer growth—particularly the core genetic dependencies of cancer cells, and the early genetic events that will be present in every tumor subclone at every site of disease. These shared drivers from the “trunk” may be better drug targets to control disease everywhere. Indeed, from sequencing we may learn that the highly effective drug targets identified over the last decade are targeting early “trunk” events in the tumor, as in the cases of Her2, the targeted gene of herceptin in breast cancer, and the BRAF mutation in melanoma. In this regard, genomics is already being implemented in cancer treatments, through the sequencing of specific mutations in the cancer-signaling proteins of some sarcomas (c-KIT and gastrointestinal stromal tumor), melanoma (BRAF), and lung cancer (epidermal growth factor receptor). In clinical trials, Next-Generation Sequencing technologies are looking at tumors before treatment and after the tumors acquire drug resistance, helping us to understand not only how drugs work, but also why they stop working. Understanding the “branches”—analogous to the differences between cancer cells—will give oncologists a better idea of how cancer drug resistance may occur and how we can prevent it. For example, we already know, in lung cancer and other solid and haematological (blood, and blood-forming tissue) tumors, that drug treatment can select out a resistant subclone that may exist as a small subpopulation of genetically distinct cells in the tumor before therapy. This is akin to pruning the tree branches, leaving one or two branches of the tumor tree left to grow and dominate the disease bulk. What is now emerging through sequencing studies is just how complex this process can be, and how many branches the tumor tree may have. In one tumor, the data

46

STO RYTELLING

that occur every day in normal cells. However, many cancers may generate diversity through elevated gene mutation rates or by failing to accurately separate the genes contained within chromosomes every time a cancer cell divides, termed chromosomal instability. Genomic research is already giving scientists a better understanding of these processes. And once they are clarified, we may be able to exploit and harness the very mechanisms that tumors depend upon for survival—in order to find new targets for drugs to limit tumor evolution, stop them in their tracks, and destroy them.

T. ROWE PRICE CONNECTIONS: LESSONS IN BUILDING CULTURE THROUGH CONTENT BE BIGGER THAN YOURSELF “At T. Rowe Price, we build knowledge every day about dynamic industries that are posed to have wide-ranging effects,” explains the mission statement on the Connections section of the investment firm’s website. “Connections explores the companies, people, and innovations that are shaping our economy.” Connections is content marketing at its best: showcasing a brand unafraid to step outside of its comfort zone to discuss topics that matter... both to its clients and to the world at large. These include far-reaching, in-depth stories on topics that are only barely related to finance—coffee, robotics, lighting, genomics, and even the African renaissance. These seemingly disparate investigations are tied together by one big idea: that it is individual stories within individual industries that are the lifeblood of the global economy. By exploring the forefront of global innovation, T. Rowe Price is not only producing compelling content, it’s positioning itself as the leader of the discussion.


The Heartwarming Twitter Voice of the Mars Curiosity Rover

@marscuriosity Entering Mars’ atmosphere. 7. Minutes. Of. Terror. Starts. NOW. #MSL

STORYTE L L IN G

47


In 2008, when nerds were the only people using Twitter, NASA’s Veronica McGregor fired up an account on behalf of the Phoenix Mars Lander, where she posted daily updates of the robot’s progress. That summer, Phoenix became the fifth most followed account on Twitter. “It was the perfect audience for our mission,” McGregor recalls. But as Phoenix wound down, she says, “I wanted to get them excited about another mission. So I opened up the Curiosity account.” Launched in November 2011 and landed on the red planet in August 2012, Curiosity, the feisty, 2,000 lb, remote controlled laboratory on wheels, has been sending geological data, breathtaking photos, and hilarious Tweets back to Earth nonstop. Daily updates

from McGregor’s team document a story of real-life space exploration never before told to the public—in real time. “I think it makes the agency more accessible,” says NASA social media manager Stephanie Smith. “We’re having a conversation on a daily basis with the public, and when we share news about Curiosity or any other mission, we find out what people are excited about, what they’re confused by. The Internet is many things, but shy about expressing opinions is not one of them.” Curiosity’s beeping, blurping, occasionally robowhining personality has won the bot a surplus of fans. As of this writing, 1.3 million people follow Curiosity’s antics from Earth. And maybe a few elsewhere do, too.

@marscuriosity I just unlocked the “Newbie” badge on @foursquare for checking in for the first time! http://4sq.com/O8e7iR

@marscuriosity Know what’s RAD? My Radiation Assessment Detector. I monitored this week’s solar flare. (I’m fine, BTW.)

@marscuriosity I’m safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!!

48

STORYTELLING


@marscuriosity #mysuperpowerwouldbe to have a rock-vaporizing laser on my head. Oh, wait! I’ve already got one. http://bitly.com/jqdm5m

@marscuriosity Guess who just got an “attitude adjustment”? My mood’s fine; I needed to reposition my medium-gain antenna for Earth communication

@marscuriosity They don’t give interplanetary speeding tickets, do they? I’m going 73,800 mph (118,700 kph) relative to the sun.

@marscuriosity Everybody, chill. After careful analysis, there are no Martian organics in recent samples.

@marscuriosity To the entire team & fans back on Earth, thank you, thank you. Now the adventure begins. Let’s dare mighty things together!

STORY TE L L IN G

49


NAT

THE ONION 1783 EDITION The Onion’s Matt McDonald on Jameson’s sponsored 1783 newspaper. So... who’s idea was a 1783 newspaper? Matt: It was one of these situations that was a little bit of serendipity. Our editors wanted to do a mercantile Onion for a long time, and they had come up with this idea for the 1780’s edition. One of the things that was most important to them— from an editorial standpoint—was getting a brand involved that was willing to get in on the joke, so to speak. We had and still have a wonderful relationship with Jameson … They loved the idea, and really helped bring it to life. We worked with them quite hard over, I’m guessing, two to three whole months to really perfect what we were looking to do, but also making sure that Jameson was super pleased with how they were presented. Is The Onion a good fit for a brand like Jameson? Matt: I think with The Onion … whether it be integrated episodes, whether it be straight-up branded content, whether it be sponsored posts and things like that, it’s almost universally important for a brand to understand what The Onion sets out to do, in everything we do. Again, Jameson allowed us to do what we do, they coached us as to how their brands would want to be involved with something like this. I think the two sides paid attention to each other and I think that’s when it works. I think when it doesn’t work is when a brand tries to sort of stuff themselves down your throat and take over what makes The Onion special. It needs to be a collaboration, rather than a dictation.

STORY T EL L IN G

51


NEIL GAIMAN’S CALENDAR OF TALES

Last year literary legend Neil Gaiman took a break from penning Sandman screenplays and Dr. Who episodes to interact with fans on Twitter for a storytelling series sponsored by BlackBerry. Each month Gaiman Tweeted a question, then turned his favorite response into a short story. Fans submitted artwork, and BlackBerry is realeasing the resulting collection this April. January’s tale (right), emerged after Gaiman tweeted, “Why is January so dangerous?” Twitter user @zyblonius replied: “Because an aging veteran just retired, to be replaced by a dangerously unqualified youth, no more than a babe in arms.” And a story was born...

52

STO RYTELLING


Whap!

“Is it always like this?” The kid seemed disoriented. He was glancing around the room, unfocused. That would get him killed, if he wasn’t careful. Twelve tapped him on the arm. “Nope. Not always. If there’s any trouble, it’ll come from up there.” He pointed to an attic door, in the ceiling above them. The door was askew, and the darkness waited behind it like an eye. The kid nodded. Then he said, “How long have we got?” “Together? Maybe another ten minutes.” “One thing I kept asking them at Base, they wouldn’t answer. They said I’d see for myself. Who are they?” Twelve didn’t answer. Something had changed, everso-slightly, in the darkness of the attic above them. He touched his finger to his lips, then raised his weapon, and indicated for the kid to do likewise. They came tumbling down from the attic-hole: brickgrey and mould-green, sharp-toothed and fast, so fast. The kid was still fumbling at the trigger when Twelve started shooting, and he took them out, all five of them, before the kid could fire a shot. He glanced to his left. The kid was shaking. “There you go,” he said. “I guess I mean, what are they?” “What or who. Same thing. They’re the enemy. Slipping in at the edges of time. Right now, at handover, they’re going to be coming out in force.” They walked down the stairs together. They were in a small, suburban house. A woman and a man sat in the kitchen, at a table with a bottle of champagne upon it. They did not appear to notice the two men in uniform who walked through the room. The woman was pouring the champagne. The kid’s uniform was crisp and dark blue and looked unworn. His yearglass hung on his belt, full of pale sand. Twelve’s uniform was frayed and faded to a blueish grey, patched up where it had been sliced into, or ripped, or burned. They reached the kitchen door and – Whap! They were outside, in a forest, somewhere very cold indeed. “DOWN!” called Twelve. The sharp thing went over their heads and crashed into a tree behind them. The kid said, “I thought you said it wasn’t always like this.” Twelve shrugged. “Where are they coming from?” “Time,” said Twelve. “They’re hiding behind the seconds, trying to get in.” In the forest close to them something went whumpf, and a tall fir tree began to burn with a flickering coppergreen flame. “Where are they?” “Above us, again. They’re normally above you or beneath you.” They came down like sparks from a sparkler, beautiful and white and possibly slightly dangerous.

The kid was getting the hang of it. This time the two of them fired together. “Did they brief you?” asked Twelve. As they landed, the sparks looked less beautiful and much more dangerous. “Not really. They just told me that it was only for a year.” Twelve barely paused to reload. He was grizzled and scarred. The kid looked barely old enough to pick up a weapon. “Did they tell you that a year would be a lifetime?” The kid shook his head. Twelve remembered when he was a kid like this, his uniform clean and unburned. Had he ever been so fresh-faced? So innocent? He dealt with five of the spark-demons. The kid took care of the remaining three. “So it’s a year of fighting,” said the kid. “Second by second,” said Twelve. Whap! The waves crashed on the beach. It was hot here, a Southern hemisphere January. It was still night, though. Above them fireworks hung in the sky, unmoving. Twelve checked his yearglass: there were only a couple of grains left. He was almost done. He scanned the beach, the waves, the rocks. “I don’t see it,” he said. “I do,” said the kid. It rose from the sea as he pointed, something huge beyond the mind’s holding, all bulk and malevolent vastness, all tentacles and claws, and it roared as it rose. Twelve had the rocket launcher off his back and over his shoulder. He fired it, and watched as flame blossomed on the creature’s body. “Biggest I’ve seen yet,” he said. “Maybe they save the best for last.” “Hey,” said the kid, “I’m only at the beginning.” It came for them then, crab-claws flailing and snapping, tentacles lashing, maw opening and vainly closing. They sprinted up the sandy ridge. The kid was faster than Twelve: he was young, but sometimes that’s an advantage. Twelve’s knee ached, and he stumbled. His final grain of sand was falling through the yearglass when something – a tentacle, he figured – wrapped itself around his leg, and he fell. He looked up. The kid was standing on the ridge, feet planted like they teach you in boot camp, holding a rocket launcher of unfamiliar design, something after Twelve’s time, he assumed. He began mentally to say his goodbyes as he was hauled down the beach, sand scraping his face, and then a dull bang and the tentacle was whipped from his leg as the creature was blown backwards, into the sea. He was tumbling through the air as the final grain fell and Midnight took him. Twelve opened his eyes in the place the old years go. Fourteen helped him down from the dais. “How’d it go?” asked Nineteen Fourteen. She wore a floor-length white skirt and long, white gloves. “They’re getting more dangerous every year,” said Twenty Twelve. “The seconds, and the things behind them. But I like the new kid. I think he’s going to do fine.” STORYTE L L IN G

53


DESTINATION UNDISCLOSED AFAR Media sent writer Nick Fauchald and photographer William Hereford on a two-day road trip in a Jaguar XFR without prior information about their destination. Their assignment: to find those unexpected moments that make us feel alive.

I

am a planner, a guidebook collector, a maker of itineraries and to-do lists. For travelers like me, an impromptu trip is totally unnerving. Normally, I can’t let go for a moment. Running from one meeting to the next, I find myself fantasizing that I’ll lose my phone or I’ll fall asleep on the train and end up somewhere I’ve never been before. If only I could be a little irresponsible, unaccountable, just for a day. When I got invited to take an unplanned road trip in a Jaguar, I couldn’t pass it up, in large part because my father is the biggest Jaguar fan I know. He lives 1,000 miles away, otherwise I’d be picking him up for the ride. So I find myself fleeing Brooklyn with my friend William Hereford in the passenger seat one sticky summer morning. We open our glovebox to find the assignment envelope revealing our destination: Boston. We have 48 hours to get there. We’re running away from

home, with no schedule and no route? only a luxurious car and a full tank of gas. I am anxious and eager at the same time. As the giant rubber band that is New York City finally snaps into woodsy Westchester County, I’m glad I’ve brought Will along for the ride. As a professional photographer, he’s disposed to the kind of spontaneity that yields amazing images; as a frequent travel buddy, this same quality has helped me get out of my comfort zone and break free of my over planning tendencies. You could say that Will helps bring out the brave in me. “Hot dogs!” Will cries with the same urgency a passenger might use to warn the driver of a runaway baby stroller. He’s referring to Walter’s, a copper-topped pagoda in Mamaroneck, New York, that’s been around since the Wilson administration. Road food. We hop out to order a couple of split-and-grilled franks and milk shakes,


then hurry back to eat our $8 meal inside an $80,000 Jaguar. The contrast is so striking that we’re laughing like 16-year-olds on a joyride. And people are noticing. I’m not used to the attention our Jag attracts; it takes a few honks before I realize they are meant for us. Will’s camera lens is his compass; my stomach is mine, so we stop for a second lunch at the Mario Batali?owned Tarry Lodge in nearby Port Chester. At the table, I tell Will about my many childhood weekends spent hunting down and test- driving vintage Jaguars my father would find in the classifieds. I remember the smell of the leather bucket seats and the glossy wooden dashboards. I can hear the gurgling sound of WILL’S CAMERA the V12 engines and LENS IS HIS the way Dad would COMPASS; quietly ruminate when MY STOMACH it was time to make IS MINE an offer or go home empty-handed. He didn’t say why he never bought one, but I think that it was probably because it would mean he’d have to stop looking. As we drive through forested central Connecticut, Will has taken the wheel, and we make a wrong turn. I’m sure we’re lost now, but Will just grins. He makes a sharp turn down a gravel road. My companion’s observant eye has caught a small, still lake populated only by a teetering dock and a swimming platform some 100 yards out. He stops the car. “You first,” he says. I balk at the thought; this is certainly some private property. We’ll get arrested. The car will be impounded and we’ll have to spend the night in county jail while some junkyard dog has his way with our Jaguar. We’re lost, but I actually feel fantastic. The lake is beautiful, it’s 90 degrees outside, and what’s wrong with a quick dip in the name of travel journalism? I swim out to the platform, the cool water steaming up around me toward the hot afternoon sun. I remember the days when I didn’t worry so much about where or when I swam, only

that water felt good and I needed to be in it as much as possible. As we near the Rhode Island border, I’m so relaxed after the swim that I don’t flinch when Will suggests, “Let’s go shoot some guns.” We end up at Addieville East Farm, where we wrangle a private lesson on the facility’s sporting clay course. Will grew up shooting clay pigeons in Virginia; I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve held a gun. But our instructor shows me how to handle a 12-gauge and I’m plucking orange disks out of the sky in no time. “Just relax and let your hands lead you to the target,” he says. I think about how his advice applies to our adventure behind the wheel today. We make it to Providence, Rhode Island, in time for a quick dinner at Farmstead, my favorite restaurant in the city. There, chef Matt Jennings draws from the adjacent cheese shop for his cheese- and charcuterie-forward menu, while his wife and pastry chef, Kate, makes the best biscuits Will and I have ever tried. I envy their slow pace of life, and you can taste their commitment to it in the food. As the sun reaches the Providence skyline, we head to the center of town to witness WaterFire, an annual feat of public art that involves 100 pyres of wood set ablaze at the intersection of three rivers. Will hands me one of his cameras and lets me play photographer for a few moments, and suddenly I’m no longer a participant. The wood is set on fire by torch-bearing boats, releasing fluttering ashes and a sense of awe over the crowd. I’m capturing their many expressions. The moment is mine. Soon after we’re back in the car, we’re blasting the Dropkick Murphys’ rowdy “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” as we make a beeline for our destination before midnight, and I try to recall the last time I had the music up that loud. We find one of the city’s few late-night menus at Gaslight Brasserie, where we celebrate our on-time arrival to the big city with a platter of oysters before checking into our hotel, the regal XV Beacon. Will does it up by turning on both the air-conditioner and the in-room fireplace, and I hit the pillow with an empty mind, no internal chatter, for

STORYT EL L IN G

55


the first time in a long time. The next morning, we find our car parked outside of the hotel’s Beaux Arts entrance. Window-dressing, I suppose. When I press the start button, the car roars to life like a big cat waking from a long nap. We’ve fulfilled our assignment; the road home is ours, and we are going to take our time. We decide to take a more southerly route home, along the Rhode Island coastline and through Newport before heading down the Connecticut shore. On the way to Newport, we stop for lunch at Evelyn’s Nanaquaket Drive-In, a pond-side clam shack in Tiverton that serves a proper, unadorned lobster roll, a dozen clam preparations, and a curious, custardy regional dessert called Grape-Nut pudding. As we eat our meal at a picnic table, we notice a sharply dressed, venerable-looking man gazing at the water with an expression that couldn’t have been calmer. Will reaches for his camera and asks the man if he can take his portrait. It turns out he’s a legendary Madison Avenue art director. He’s charming and chatty, and revels in the opportunity to share his favorite nearby spots for escaping the summer crowds. He’s excited for us, and I wonder if he sees in us the spirit of his own youth. On trips like this, there’s no better guidebook than a friendly local. We pass through downtown Newport and follow the Ten Mile Drive, a scenic ocean-side route past behemoth 19thcentury mansions and the city’s rocky shoreline. We roll

down the windows and inhale the salty Rhode Island air. Will parks the car at the southernmost tip to take some pictures of the racing yachts sagging across the water, and I walk down to the beach. What happens next will eclipse the entire trip for me: I look down at the stones beneath my feet and flash back to 1985. I’ve been here before. My family rented a house here one summer when I was six years old. The water was too treacherous for swimming, so I spent my afternoons skipping stones out into the ocean. At the time, I couldn’t get over how many perfectly flat rocks filled the beach; I thought I’d stumbled upon some secret natural treasure. My personal record was eight skips. I tasted my first oyster that summer. I pick up a stone and wind up. Seven. We leave Newport and surrender to the highway, looking forward to one last stop before the New York tractor beam pulls us in. I exit the highway in Guilford, Connecticut, and we pull into what looks like a giant backyard cookout. A maze of red picnic tables surrounds a giant fire pit, with pink lobsters and bluefish in foil packets sizzling over the flames. This actually started as a casual clambake in the 1940s and has since become an open-air restaurant called The Place. I am giddy to have found the spot, and I get that late Sunday afternoon feeling when you’ve successfully achieved a way to prolong the weekend. I order plates of grilled corn and barbecue chicken. I think back to my father’s ongoing quest for the perfect Jaguar. For him, as for us, it wasn’t the destination that mattered. It was the journey. I vow to find more time to honor small moments. If the first day of our road trip felt like running away from home, the second feels like reluctantly shuffling back. We take our time eating dinner, knowing that the next stretch of highway will be our last.

Post-Road Trip Chat

with AFAR founder Joe Diaz and East Coast sales director Katherine Kneier:. What was the story behind this feature? Katherine: In every issue of Afar, we literally spin the globe and we send a writer to a place where they don’t know where they’re going. It’s all about the journey. We decided to come up with a program that gave a writer and a photographer the keys to a Jaguar. They had 48 hours, and they didn’t know where they were going to be going. What kind of response did you see to the piece, both on your platform and then through social media, from readers? Joe: The one thing I just kept hearing was people were like: I know it said sponsored by Jaguar, but are you sure that was an ad? Even though it was, they really didn’t care because of just the way we were able to write the story and produce it. They

56

STORYTELLING

were like, ‘whatever, it’s an ad, but it was a really good story,’ and it came with some really great video content as well. So you managed to make advertiser content that people actually cared about. Joe: I think it just goes back to the core of our philosophy, which is always put the reader first. We know who are readers are—well-traveled, affluent, intelligent people that love seeing the world and appreciate seeing the world as it really is, stripping away the gloss … [So] we had to let go and Jaguar had to let go. There wasn’t a script of what was going to happen with the content. Two guys had the vehicle for 48 hours, and we had to see what happens. It was supercourageous on their part.


Our 21 Favorite #STORYTELLING Quotes of All Time → STORY TE L L IN G

57


100,000 years of evolutionary reliance on story has built into the human genetic code instructions to wire the brain to think in story terms by birth.6 Having a story today is what really separates companies. People don’t just wear our shoes, they tell our story.7 Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of having defined it.9 Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.3 Facts don’t persuade, feelings do. And stories are the best way to get at those feelings. A brand is a story: an engaging, authentic story that everyone in a company lives and tells.4 There is a certain embarrassment about being a storyteller in these times when stories are considered not quite as satisfying as statements and statements not quite as satisfying as statistics; but in the long run, a people is known, not by its statements or its statistics, but by the stories it tells.1 I believe in anything that will engage the audience and make the story more effective.5 While markets are conversations, marketing is a story.8

58

STO RYTELLING


STORYT EL L IN G

59


If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.11

Everything is more compelling when you talk like a human being, when you talk like yourself.16

Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.17 Stories are powerful because they transport us into other people’s worlds. But in doing that, they change the way our brains work, and potentially change our brain chemistry. That’s what it means to be a social creature, is to connect to others, to care about others, even complete strangers—and it’s so interesting that dramatic stories cause us to do this…. We feel uplifted, we feel motivated, we feel connected to others around us.15

I don’t do companies that don’t have a story, because if they don’t have a story, they don’t have a business.13

The face-to-face telling of the right story in the right room at the right time and in the right way can galvanize listeners to action.14

The act of sharing a story also takes courage…. It’s when you feel the connection, made through the act of listening generously and listening closely, that you’re walking on sacred ground.12

1. Flannery O’Connor 2. Edward R. Murrow 3. Robert McKee 4. Tom Asacker 5. J.J. Abrams 6. Steven Pinkner 7. Blake Mycoskie 8. Seth Godin 9. Hannah Arendt 10. Philip Pullman 11. Rudyard Kipling 12. David Isay 13. Lisa Resnick 14. Peter Guber 15. Paul Zak 16. Ira Glass 17. Salman Rushdie 18. African Proverb 60

STORYTELLING


STORY T EL L IN G

61


GET MORE CONTENT STRATEGY AND #STORYTELLING AT WWW.CONTENTLY.COM/BLOG

THE CONTENT

STRATEGIST



STRATEGIST MAGAZINE Issue 1.02