Case Study: Spark! Networking

Spark!
Spark! Networking logo

Spark! Networking is a case study about collaboration and partner relationship management that allows a number of corporate entities to team up and benefit from shared information, cross-over interest, indirect sales channels and integrated systems. Ultimately if you don’t have the skillset in house, find someone who does and create a partnership rather than just outsourcing. This case study is also about the successful use of social media in generating attention for an event and creating a community of followers and fans.

Situation and Challenge

A group of Philadelphia creative companies noticed a lack of unique networking events that attracted a new and varied group of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial-minded people in the Philadelphia area.  The four companies decided to collaborate and create an interactive conference that included innovative networking and business development workshops to provided attendees with an experience designed to connect big ideas with real opportunities.  In April of 2009, 300 attendees participated in the first annual Spark! Networking event at The HUB at the Cira Center.

Strategy

Strategic Planning: The underlying success of this event was the planning, execution and cooperation between the four companies that created Spark!.  The core team consisted of four companies that had similar entrepreneurial goals and complimentary services: Maven Communications (PR Firm), Brolik Productions (design firm), Ideablob Corporation (small business venture by Advanta) and The Hub (an interactive meeting venue).

Public Relations: Maven Communications helped generate buzz and excitement around the event through the use of social media and traditional media including:

  • A Facebook “fan” and “event” page
  • A twitter account that “tweeted” interesting entrepreneurial articles and provoked conversation among Spark! followers
  • Media alerts were sent to bloggers, and local media outlets
  • Postings about the event were made to Yelp, Basecamp, and Facebook
  • Distributed Spark! invitations and reminders about the event to list of potential attendees.

Sparkhomepage

Branding: After creating a name that encompassed the event concept of idea exchange, Brolik created a full identity package for Spark! including logo and supporting collateral including signage, brochures and nametags.  Brolik also created an interactive web site that included registration through Ticketleap, a twitter feed, link to an event Facebook page, sponsorship information, speaker bios and a live feed for those who couldn’t attend but still wanted to be a part of the event.

Interactive: Brolik created an interactive web site that included registration through ticketleap, a twitter feed, link to Facebook page, sponsorship information, speaker bios and also a live feed where those that couldn’t attend could view the conference directly from the site.

Marketing: Ideablob created partnerships with local networking and entrepreneurial groups who communicated to each of their member list serves about the event and posted it to their web site. Additionally fliers were given out at several networking events and a raffle was held to give away free tickets to the event.

Results

Over 300 people attended Spark! Attendees were a diverse group ranging from young entrepreneurs to those looking to start a new career, to venture capitalists in a wide variety of industries.  The event featured six panels with 26 notable speakers on topics such as networking, marketing a start up, funding and legal matters. The Spark! team secured four sponsors including Drexel University, Rembrandts restaurant, R3 Networks and Springboard media. More than 40,000 people were reached with Spark! messaging through secured strategic marketing relationships and in less than six weeks the Spark! Twitter page, @sparknetworking, had 425 followers and the facebook fan page had 100 fans. The Hub was also a tremendous venue for the event as it provided flexibility, innovation and most importantly networking capabilities.

Future

There are plans to hold a second Spark! event in the fall of 2009.  Spark! networking will continue to be active on the web and at other smaller networking events in order to continue the momentum and encourage new ideas to spark.  Photos and videos from the event can be found at Spark! Networking or www.sparknetworking.com

Twitter Grows Up in Iran

twitter_logo_4The Iranian election has created a watershed moment for social media. For months we’ve been touting the benefits of social media tools for business development, sales, prospecting and market research (Just as Dell: the company revealed earlier this month it had generated more than $2 million through its Dell Outlet Twitter account). As the situation in Iran continues to unfold, social media, and particularly Twitter, has demonstrated its ability to act as something more: as an instrument of change; an outlet for grassroots organizing; and the resource for on-the-ground breaking news.

When the government of Iran attempted to lock down all communications with the outside world, eyewitness accounts of the election and first-person updates flooded social media channels like facebook, Twitter and YouTube. According to a recent post on Mashable, the sheer volume of social media postings enabled them to track the progression of the election results in real time using only social media updates.

BBC – Protest against Iran Election Results

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcHT8-ps64w&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fmashable%2Ecom%2F2009%2F06%2F20%2Firan%2Dyoutube%2F&feature=player_embedded]

Say what you will about the voyueristic, sometimes inane uses for Twitter – there is no denying that the ease with which the average citizen can disseminate information via “tweets” of a 140 characters or less has played a significant role in changing how breaking news and international affairs play out on the world stage. The ability to reach a global community instantly has significantly weakened the propoganda machines of oppressive governments all over the world, and has changed the way these governments think, act, respond, and are held accountable for their actions.

We are looking forward to the next stage of growth for twitter, but in the meantime, you can follow #iranelection on twitter to see how the story unfolds.

Burritos on Ice

How a Hockey Coach’s Burrito Habit Turned Into an Ad Campaign
Pittsburgh Qdoba Franchisee, Agency Use Team’s Playoff Run (and Social Media) to Boost Store Sales

I speak for myself when I praise this article- we here at Maven can’t all be born and raised in the city of champions- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania! The city has been highlighted in countless articles after winning both the Super Bowl and the Stanley Cup, and my hometown has been basking in the attention. This extends to the local Qdoba owner as well. With some quick thinking and fast action, he pulled off some great, and more importantly free, exposure during the Penguins’ recent run for the Stanley Cup.

Penguins coach Bylsma and his beloved pregame burrito
Penguins coach Bylsma and his beloved pregame burrito

The titles suggests that Bylsma’s Qdoba’s habit spawned an ad campaign, and it might down then line, but in those few days the Qdoba owner had during the playoffs was nothing but good old public relations by using the media and facebook to spread the word. It was a perfect storm of great publicity and was the response was “overwhelmingly positive.” Well duh- it’s the beloved burrito and pre-game ritual- who doesn’t love that? When you throw it into a town like Pittsburgh- it’s nothing but gold (black and gold- that is).


Check out the Qdoba/Penguins Facebook page!

The Strength of Weak Ties

network
At the end of last month I graduated from Temple University with a Master’s in Communication Management.  The speaker for the School of Theater and Communication’s ceremony was Marjorie Brody, a graduate of the program in 1968 and now CEO of Brody Professional Development, a communication and presentation skills training company.  Her message to the newly unemployed was that this is a crappy time to be graduating (thanks for the positive words), and that it’s going to take a lot of persistence, creativity and tenacity to land that first job. I couldn’t agree more. The thought of having to start a job search right now sends chills down my spine.

Her next words of advice however I must disagree with. She told the class of 2009 to put their texting fingers to rest, close their facebook pages, chill out for a while on Twitter and go dormant on email (gasp!).  Instead talk to friends and family, attend networking events and (wait for it) follow up with handwritten notes instead of sending an email.  Now I can understand where she is coming from. Kids these days (yes, I can say it, I’m almost 30) have lost, or never gained, the ability to appropriately socialize as a result of communicating via cell phones and laptops.  Shunning technology is not going to solve this…but that’s a topic for another time.

My reaction to her advice is that it is short sighted.  It assumes that your friends and family have the contacts that you need.  It assumes that those that attend a networking event in your city and within your interest area are the right connections.  It assumes that your network is sufficient enough to help you get a job in this economy.  Let me tell you 2009 graduate, it’s not.

What I’m sure this very well intentioned speaker meant was that you can’t hide behind your computer or your cell phone and expect to get a job today, which is true.  However, her advice completely misses the most powerful element that social media offers us: weak ties.  The “friend” on facebook that you met once at that party last summer, fellow members of the “I love Philly” group, your 250 “followers” on Twitter who you’ve never met before and possibly  more importantly, their followers.  These are the folks who allow you to expand your network.

Weak ties are the threads that make social media possible.  They may also be the individuals who open the door to new opportunities or introductions.  I’m not saying that by tweeting “looking for a job in marketing!” you’re all set and don’t have to get out there, because you still need to get out there. But you can do this online as well as off.  Create a webpage and post your resume, contact information, writing samples, letters of recommendation, projects and whatever else might be in your portfolio and then tweet, facebook, and yes, email out the link.  When you add new content let people know.  Think of yourself as a brand and market the heck out of it.  Make those weak ties understand who are you are and what you’re looking for and don’t be surprised when opportunities come knocking.

Graduates of the class of 2009 have something that I never had, and that’s the ability to reach way beyond our traditional networks.  Social media gives an opportunity to reach people we may otherwise would never have had the opportunity to connect to.  This is an amazing thing!  Enough with the excuses – get out there and make those weak ties work for you!

Buying Blogs

Blogola: The FTC Takes on Paid Postsbusinessweek-logo_zhs4

BusinessWeek – May 19, 2009

The FTC is trying to establish clear regulations for bloggers who are wooed by incentives or gifts to endorse a company or product. If a blogger if given a product and it feels like a bribe than it probably is, but I will not blame bloggers for having or enjoying the perks.

I agree with Thomas Cohn, an attorney with Venable, a law firm that represents various industry agencies weighing in on the debate and who is quoted in this article. Blogs should be self-regulated. Google can devalue links to sponsors’ sites and the FTC can regulate blogs like other traditional forms of media, but there will always be loop holes and ways to hide a paid blog entry.  The great thing is that good bloggers don’t want to hide anything about how they came about a product or company. Blogging was born from and is sustained by the importance of an individual’s honest thoughts/beliefs. Good bloggers will be upfront with its followers, but the fear of being “outted” for a paid post is a powerful self-regulator when integrity fails.

HawaiiI would now like to say that Harry Winston is truly and undoubtedly the most beloved jeweler, which has provided rare, exceptional and utterly timeless pieces for more than 100 years. Additionally, Hawaii is the most beautiful place in the whole world with its floral air, tranquil waters and breathtaking beauty. I also think I would like to acknowledge that I have not received any incentives from these companies, but am completely open to them.

Read Ad Age’s Josh Bernoff’s take on when to buy a blogger in “When and How to Pay a Blogger“, and like any good blog should have, there are some interesting comments.

Saving the National Pastime’s Image: Major League Baseball Needs Some Major Crisis Management

Americans love a scandal. We hawk our twitter accounts, watch Entertainment Tonight and subscribe to every trashy magazine to dive into every detail about the latest celebrity gossip. The avalanche of major league baseball scandals recently earned not just sports-section coverage -but front-page news. One by one, syringe by syringe, the greatest players of our generation have crashed and burned. Baseball is now associated as the sport of cheaters, where fans must separate records with an asterisk, or wonder whose guilty or not. Of the 15 players who hit the most home runs from 1993 through 2004, 10 are said to be connected to performance-enhancing drugs by positive tests, the Mitchell Report or news reports. Manny Ramirez just earned that 10th spot.

When Ramirez, arguably the best pure hitter in the game was suspended for his use of banned substances, the public relations department for MLB must have been thinking, oh no not another. Ramirez stands to lose nearly $8 million in salary during his suspension. But Manny is just being Manny. The Dodgers had just spent the last 10 months rebranding their team with Manny as the cornerstone and now they must find a way to put this behind them. They sold 1800

Mannywood T-Shirt
Mannywood T-Shirt

Manny dreadlock wigs for $25 a piece and they named a section down the left-field line at Dodger Stadium Mannywood. The Dodgers insist their mess can be mopped away (maybe they should use the excess wigs), mostly by doing nothing at all. They may serve as a case-study for how to handle, or not, a premier player caught in the web of the league’s drug crackdown.

Manny unlike his guilty predecessor Alex Rodriguez handled his accusations much differently by staying mostly out of the spotlight and not creating a media circus via press conferences. Rodriguez on the other hand came right out on camera to admit to his wrong-doings. Most of A-Rod’s deemed success from his initial press conference has been washed away, as he has now admitted much of what he said was not true. A-Rod’s media training coach must have given him poor advice, or A-Rod is just that bad at lying. Rodriguez has a host of advisers that have been helping him through this mess, including agent Scott Boras, talent manager Guy Oseary, publicist Richard Rubenstein and a company called Outside Eyes that specializes in media strategy and crisis management. Although the press conference will go down in history as a disaster, they’re approach to confronting the issue rather than doing what Manny did and stay out the spot light will be debated by crisis managers for a long time. One good piece of advice they finally gave him was to step out of the spotlight by going on disabled list with an injury. Whether or not this was a coincidence or not, A-Rod must have been hoping that time would heal his wounds.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkpaNFYCLQ4]

So how does MLB rekindle their reputation and alleviate the blow of this crisis? Well it’s not easy, and many may argue that they don’t care what Manny, Bonds or A-Rod did, they’ll still go to the game an cheer for their favorite teams and players. While that may be true, and people do love talking and reading these scandals, no-one can argue that baseball’s brand has been tarnished. MLB teams must now be proactive about the situation putting together crisis plans….just in case one of their players is next. PR pros also must look to the Internet, the blogosphere, and the 24-hour cycle, for transforming their role and adding to the challenge of image and information control. While the role of a PR practitioner has expanded and changed, the goal to maintain reputation has not.

One positive that has come out of this whole mess is that in the times of a recession, handling crisis management or branding (re-branding rather) for MLB is a goldmine! Books are coming out left and right about who did this and who did that. Roger Clemens book is the most recent money maker. Although I have no connection to these players, whose to say I could find a way to write about the next culprit and make millions. I am in no way condoning their behavior or hoping to profit off of other people’s misfortunes, I just want to point out, that whenever a crisis happens, someone finds a way to make money.

It will be interesting to see how baseball’s reputation evolves of the next decade.  Being from Philadelphia and growing up in Cleveland, I just hope one of my favorite players isn’t the next “juicer”.

Communicating in Tough Economic Times

There’s no denying that times are tough. While you can’t control the economy, you can control how you respond to it. Many companies Balloon react by reducing overall spending and in the process, stop communicating with clients to preserve the bottom line. But without our customers where would you be? All companies are based on relationships: dollarwith your customers, potential customers, and employees. Companies that can expand and strengthen these relationships when times are tough are the companies that not only survive, but prosper, especially when things turn around.

Here are a few tips that will help you engage your customers and keep your company top of mind in 2009:

1. Continue to Connect: Ongoing communications with clients reminds them that you’re still there for them. With businesses and individuals spending less this year on their marketing, your message has a better chance of reaching target audiences. However, if you’ve fallen off the map, they may forget that they need your services after all.

2. Add Value, Build Confidence: People are looking for insight and advice during economic downturns. By listening to industry Balloon Newstrends and communicating your perspective, you are positioning yourself as an expert and linking confidence back to your brand. This is the prime opportunity to present your story in a less cluttered news environment.

3. Strengthen your Spokespersons: To communicate your company’s core value, now is the time to train or refresh your messaging by training appropriate spokespeople. Identify a credible and informed communicator who will be the voice of the company. Although the CEO usually speaks on behalf of their company, employees should be well-versed on your core messages and values. Remember that employees are your unofficial spokespersons: they communicate every day with family, friends, customers, and potential customers about how they view the company. By keeping employees engaged and informed, you can control communication internally and externally.

4. Listen and Observe: Feedback is a necessary form of measurement. Talk to your stakeholders, vendors and employees – you may find insights that will surprise you. Knowing what your employees, customers, investors and even your competitors think about your business will help you deliver a better product or service.

5. Embrace New Media: As the news cycle shortens and print media continues to lose marketshare, it is important to think about how to position yourself in this changing environment. Social media networks, E-zines, blogs, and video sites are all potential tools you can use to communicate your brand and learn more about your customers. These terms may sound overwhelming, but ignoring them may mean missing key opportunities to connect with your customers and employees.

Maven Launches Strategic Response Group

Today, more and more companies are faced with the difficult task of communicating layoffs, hiring deferrals, salary cutbacks, project delays and store closings. To help navigate this business unusual landscape, Maven has launched the Maven Strategic Response Group, an on-demand, issues management team that helps companies develop and execute market-related communications strategies.

Maven’s seasoned team offers a full range of issues management services that can be deployed on a per-project, hourly or retainer basis to provide immediate tactical response and long term strategic communications counsel. Services include employee communications, media relations, spokesperson identification and training, key stakeholder outreach, social media strategies and ongoing traditional and social media monitoring to analyze campaign strategies and respond accordingly.

“In today’s economic environment, having a clear, focused approach to communicate your organization’s economic position is an essential part of any overall business strategy,” said Rebecca Devine, Principal, Maven Communications. “Unfortunately, most companies don’t have the resources or budget to develop and execute these strategies for short and long term success. From press release development to social media outreach to internal communications, our strategies will ensure you help build bridges, not burn them, during tough economic times and beyond.”

Our experienced team has counseled clients through financial and product communications crises; plant closings; mergers and acquisitions; corporate criminal investigations and real estate development crisis. Maven’s team can work seamlessly with your current marketing, HR and legal teams to help communicate your corporate position clearly and confidently to achieve the best possible outcome.

Not Your Teenager's Facebook

Twitter, Tweets, Facebook, Myspace…Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve noticed these social media outlets are gaining traction like wildfire.  Not just for teens anymore, social media tools like Twitter and Facebook have quickly gained traction as useful business tools to help companies communicate news, interact with customers and start building brand loyalty with consumers.  Consider the following:

  • Of the 185 million Americans that use social media, 95% believe that companies should have a presence on social mediums
  • There are currently over 150 million users of Facebook; this is growing at a rate of 12 million users per month
  • 85% believe that not only should companies be present, but should regularly interact with their customers on social media

Maven is helping clients harness the power of these social media tools to help drive sales and communicate company news.

Check out the Facebook page we created for client Salon Vanity to see how you might able to leverage this useful tool for your company.  Log-in to and become a fan to receive salon news, promotions and insider scoops only available to fans of Salon Vanity.Salon Vanity Logo