It’s Monday, October 26, bright and sunny but cold. I arrived in New York last Thursday but between conference calls and mails, I haven’t been able to get any sleep. Jetlag is slowly gnawing at my brain plus I’m nursing a terrible cold I caught on the way to a shoot in Delhi on Tuesday morning. Faint paranoia has me wondering if I’ll become a swine flu suspect at a US airport. After all, Obama declared it a national emergency. I spent the weekend in DC (where I saw Michelle Obama, but that’s another story) with cousins and flew back into Newark Airport at 7am so am even more fatigued.
So here I am on Day 1 of the Boards Summit at the Grand Hyatt in mid-town Manhattan.The hotel, where I’m staying for the sake of convenience is absolutely gigantic and feels more like an airport. The lady at the reception wants to know all about the movies we make at Bang Bang Films. When I tell her we make commercials she is still warm and even upgrades me. There’s no mini-bar in the room and given the price I find that rather odd. Not that I’m a big mini-bar consumer but still…
Dumping my bags in my upgraded room with a view of fire escapes (to be fair I catch a sliver of Grand Central Station), I proceed to register on the Ballroom floor, meet a few people chatting outside the sessions’ ballrooms.
This is probably a good segue to interject with some gyan on Boards (http://www.boardssummit.com). It’s basically a conference for the commercials production ecosystem. No clients though, mostly producers (production company and agency), directors, creatives, post people, consultants and other service providers to the commercials production industry. It’s primarily North America focussed and a large portion of participants is from the US or Canada (Brunico, the owner of boards, is a Canadian company).
The official blurb on the site says:
The Boards Summit is the largest conference in the world focused on the international business of commercial production. Taking place annually over two days in New York City, the Boards Summit brings together some of the biggest thinkers and most respected creatives in the business of commercial production to deliver perspectives that shape and impact the industry through deep exploration, and insight into the leading edge of design and creativity.
So what am I doing here at Boards 2009? Given Bang Bang’s internationally focussed strategy, it’s important for us to increase brand awareness in North America among other important regions. In fact, we’re co-sponsoring the Closing Cocktails at the end of Day 2. I’ve carried a big suitcase and an LG split unit AC carton full of Bang Bang branded giveaways (see pic below). Imagine my conversation with US Customs. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.
Bruce Wellington of BBH New York opens the summit as Chairperson with a cursory opening address followed by Stefan Sagmeister with day one’s keynote. Sagmeister is a highly respected designer who advises the audience to retire five years later than one would and use that extra time to pepper one’s career with periodic one year sabbaticals. Benefits include creative rejuvenation, continually loving what you do, etc. Great advice for some, doesn’t work for entrepreneurs building a business, unfortunately.
Stepping out into the foyer for coffee, I bump into my friend, Jonbi Gudmundsson, formerly of Saga Films (Iceland). He’s now joined Milk and Honey Films in Prague to set up a new company for them called atSwim. Completely coincidentally, atSwim is co-sponsoring the Closing Cocktails with Bang Bang.
Next up is Duane Bray of IDEO who talks about breaking down and discarding the inhibitions acquired in the path to adulthood and beyond to allow for freer thinking and doing to unleash latent creativity. He makes us draw the person next to us and share the result with them, which is kind of embarrassing and funny; he makes us fire these foam-rubber catapault-like projectiles on a target at one end of the ballroom and he makes us create what comes to mind from little cardboard boxes provided. Impressive results from the audience.Someone made a beautiful sea creature of some sort, another created a shockingly elaborate construction crane. I made a clumsy robot with “Kick Me” written on the butt. I wonder what kind of results he would have got had he been addressing a gathering of accountants or insurance salesmen.
The next session posed a tough decision… conventional wisdom would have me go with Rei Inamoto – CCO of AKQA but in the next ballroom, there was this other guy called Jordan Kretchmer, whom I’d never heard of, talking about “Destroying Conversation Barriers (and other social media annoyances)”, a topic that lured me away from Inamoto. Good call, Roopak Saluja! Jordan was brilliant - great content, even better delivery, the latter often being a more important factor than the former. With twitter, facebook, blogs and more, he covered the gamut of social media and how to leverage each one most efficiently individually and together. Some great cases including Jet Blue’s “All you can Jet”. (Yes, the same guys who sued apnaa Jet for trademark infringement and even lobbied against them with allegations of Al Qaeda links when 9W was trying to enter the US a couple of years ago.) Anyway, thank you, Jordan. Sorry, Rei. Next time.
Had a quick lunch with David Hensher, formerly of Shots and now handling International Business Development for Boards out of London. He’s also the guy who set up our sponsorship deal. Rae Ann Fera (Editor) and Laas Turnbull (EVP) were also on our table for a bit. What I gleaned from the quick chat & swallow is that they have a clear strategy laid out for taking their brand global. Their next event in fact is Boards Europe some time in March in Amsterdam. A quick KPK and off to the luggage deposit a few blocks away to pick up my bags that I couldn’t deposit at the Hyatt over the weekend as they don’t accept overnight deposits (weird, again). The bags in question contain important cargo- the Bang Bang merchandise mentioned above.
Post-lunch: Mattias Hansson, CEO of Hyper Island, THE school for new media, based in Sweden. Semi-interesting content (somewhat of a sales pitch for the company), monotonous delivery. Made for a below average presentation. Perhaps he was jetlagged like me. Let me see, how does it go? Boring speaker + bored audience = boring presentation.Yes, that’s it.
Next up was a workshop I had signed up for on “Training the Next Generation of Producers in a Digital World” by two producers from Draft FCB Chicago. Honestly, not all that useful. Too focused on agency politics and organizational structures, too American too. Should have gone to hear Droga5 ECD, Ted Royer instead, whose main message in his talk entitled “The Lazy Ask” apparently was that if you want to start a movement, lower the sign up costs (as in time, effort and of course money).
Final presentation of the day: Joshua Green of MIT Media Lab about disruption in the media value chain posed by the involvement of consumers in various stages of the game thanks to new media. Advertising and marketing, according to him, are not about business but about culture, and we can’t control culture. ‘Produsers’ was an interesting term I hadn’t heard before, coined by Axel Bruns in his book Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage…media consumers are now users as well as producers.
Notice how practically every talk today was about digital or new media? Just goes to show how strongly central it has become in the US. In fact the industry body, Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP) has launched something called AICP Digital. Its members weren’t impressed. I caught a lot of murmurs and whispers of “Really? So what isn’t digital?”
Cocktails in the foyer. A few really strong vodkas and club soda (the “club” part is really important if you want to avoid the bartender’s choice of soda, which could range from coke to raspberry crush) and LIME! Yes LIME! I am excited. There’s no lime in Cannes. Cannes parties only have lemon, which provides for a devitalized vodka experience. Fellow vodka drinkers know what I’m talking about (Anant is obviously not one of them!). Met a lot of interesting people, mostly North American, some European and even one Indian- Puneet Sabharwal, formerly of TBWA India, who has just moved to the US. Post-cocktails, I dash out to grab a burrito from the Mexican place around the corner so I can get back to my room and eat while replying to a dozen odd pending mails before I head out to the Wiredrive party in the East Village. Fate has something else in store. Jetlag whacks me on the head with a baseball bat and a quick lie down ends the night for me at 8pm….tomorrow’s another day at Boards, so stay tuned!
Follow Roopak's tweets on the two-day Board Summit from New York here.