HUBgrown: Q&A with C.C. Chapman


Yesterday we wrote about how the conversation around B2C in Boston is evolving. These conversations are being led by many influential people in our community who believe Boston has the ingredients to build great consumer companies, not just B2B.

We recently asked C.C. Chapman, co-author of Content Rules and Amazing Things Will Happen, and seasoned marketer who has worked with brands like Nike, HBO and other household names, what he thinks about Boston’s business scene.

Here’s what he had to say.

HB: You’ve spent your career turning passive consumers into engaged activists. Some people would argue that Boston has a “relative indifference” to marketing itself. What’s your take? Is this a good or bad thing?

CC: New Englanders as a whole are definitely not into being marketed to. I grew up in New Hampshire and know how little tolerance there can be for that.

This isn’t just a New England thing though and today thanks to everyone being on the Internet, everyone is a bit more skeptical. We can skip all ads on television and are one click away from any that pop up in our face online. This is a good thing because it forces companies to be more creative, have a heart and find a common ground with the consumers they want to reach rather than just shouting BUY ME at them all the time.

When our book Content Rules hit shelves in 2010, it was one of the first books ever published on content marketing. In it we talk about how companies need to speak human and advised to share or solve, don’t shill. It is a bit sad that five years later I’m still giving this advice to almost every client I talk to. People today are choosing the brands they buy from like they choose their friends. They want to feel a sense of shared values and a connection that goes beyond the purchase.

HB: You travel frequently. Is there another startup-focused city you’ve visited doing something new and interesting that you think Boston could benefit from?

CC: Fargo, North Dakota instantly comes to mind.

What they’ve done is really built a community where the entrepreneurs, artists and city all come together for the common good. There is very little of an Us versus Them mentality and they are thriving because of it.

HB: You spent the last year as an adjunct professor at Bentley University, your alma mater. How do you think local universities like Bentley are preparing students for their careers?

CC: I think many local universities are doing a great job. One thing that Bentley does and why I chose it for my undergrad degree was that every student has to take a group of liberal arts AND business courses no matter what their degree is. This insures that all graduates come out with a well rounded understanding of the business environment they are entering. While I never wanted to be an accountant, having those classes under my belt helped me understand budgets and balance sheets in a way that many other computer majors might not.

What does worry me though is that not enough higher education institutions are updating and evolving to make sure the students are learning the latest and greatest.

At the end of my first semester teaching I had numerous students tell me how much they loved me sharing current event stories with them. Because it was a marketing class, I started each night talking about the campaigns that were making waves and new technologies that companies needed to pay attention to. If Professors are only teaching out of books and not teaching practical applications then students will not be as prepared as they should be.


HB: How can Boston, especially Boston-area universities, prevent the brain drain and figure out how to keep entrepreneurs here post-grad?

CC: I’m not sure we have that problem. While I don’t have any studies to look at, I think we see a lot of students stick around.

Then again, when you have so many colleges and universities and so many students graduating from around the world you are going to have some.

We need to make it as friendly as possible for students to open and start new businesses. We need more spaces where they can afford to start a business. Incubators and shared workspaces are finally starting to arrive and this will help greatly.

HB: In your opinion, what makes Boston’s business scene unique?

CC: Boston hates to lose. We celebrate victories of all sizes. This is what makes it great!

Read C.C.’s blog for more about his approach to marketing, causes he cares about and his travels.

Check back in a few weeks for an interview with an entrepreneur as she gears up for the official launch of her consumer startup.


Edible Campus


I found inspiration in an unexpected place this summer: McGill University in Montreal. Its School of Architecture collaborated with local NGOs to create productive garden growth in a concrete, prominent urban corner of the University’s downtown campus. The result – an edible garden that transformed an existing neglected space into a beautiful, strategic food producer.

Here’s how McGill reinvented a 3287 m2 barren concrete space:

  • Vertical growing: Beans sprawl a wall on the side slope of the entrance to an underground academic building. Another wall with few windows became the support system for squash and tomato vines.
  • Containerized garden: A bare concrete plaza turns into a garden path with containers and arches growing vegetables and herbs.
  • Rooftop garden: An underutilized, unattractive terrace became a bountiful fruit and vegetable garden.

In 5 months, the total harvest reached nearly 400 pounds. The food is donated to individuals around Montreal with mobility impairments. The edible campus demonstrates how productive planting can transform underutilized urban spaces.

Start planning during the long, winter months. A small garden can have a big impact.



Photo Credit: McGill University

Congratulations Graduate! Also, 9 Reasons Why I Will Never Hire You

Colleges and universities have by now had commencement and released their graduates into the real world. For grads, this means it’s time for career pursuit. For employers, it’s time to remember that not all grads are created equal. Read this list of tips for job hunters authored by HB’s Mark O’Toole and find out why dubbed it ‘bitingly hilarious.’ Better yet – check out all the reactions at the end of the post – and add you own.  

Most colleges and universities have by now had commencement and released their graduates into the real world. For you grads, this means it’s time for career pursuit. For us employers, it’s time to remember that not all grads are created equal.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve been in hiring roles and have received thousands of resumes from new college graduates just like you. I’ve interviewed many and done my share of informational interviews – these are the interviews we do when you happen to be the child of a friend, colleague or customer who asks on your behalf.  Sometimes I’ve hired people like you into entry-level positions. More often though, I haven’t.

Read more at BostInno

Could Facebook Replace College Fairs?

University recruitment through Facebook

This guest post is contributed by Katheryn Rivas, who writes at online university.  She welcomes your comments at

Traditionally, recruiters utilize college fairs to persuade stellar high school seniors that their college is the absolute best. It happens once, at most twice, a year. But with recent budget cuts, some colleges are turning to a more affordable, interactive, and most importantly faster way to increase enrollment: Facebook.  In fact, 98% of colleges use Facebook to recruit and communicate with college-bound students, according to data collected from a 2011 survey.

While using the popular social networking site is a hip, fresh, and “youthful” approach, is it really a reliable way to recruit?

Faster Response Rate

Through a Facebook college liaison, students have access to a real person at all times. Even if the student doesn’t know who to address when writing on the college’s timeline or sending a personal message, someone on the other side monitors the account and responds. Younger generations also tend to respond quicker to Facebook messages than traditional email – so if an admissions officer or recruiter has something important to say, students are more likely to respond to the message faster. Fast communication, both outbound and inbound, can do a lot to cement a new relationship. [Read more…]

If you're happy and you know it…

Growing up, my mother cooked dinner while watching the daily news. I would say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a news channel that only showed happy news?”

An engineering student at Northwestern University created a Happiness Club. The group spreads joy around campus, helping students smile and laugh during stressful times. From blowing bubbles to handing out temporary tattoos during exam week, the club lifts student spirit on campus. Through the help of Happiness Club, Northwestern builds comaradie, rapport and a successful environment.

In the workplace, laughter and smiling increases effectiveness and reduces stress. At HB, we listen to Pandora (we decided today it was time for Christmas tunes), enjoy fresh baked cookies, have a beer, throw a football and laugh when someone busts a move. These simple tactics alter the collective mood and develop a creative, team-based environment with increased project discussion and team feedback.

So… Smile. Laugh. Giggle. Dance.

Getting inside the problem

Knee MRI

Sometimes you need to go deeper.

This week I had knee surgery. Originally I was diagnosed as needing ACL reconstruction. However, an MRI revealed that the ACL was intact. My surgeon wasn’t sure how things would turn out. He advised that he should wait to make a judgment call once he was inside the knee and could really see what was happening. I agreed.

It’s ironic how closely this matches the work we do on a regular basis. Prospective clients come to us with a problem or a challenge and ask for our help. Too often they ask us to diagnose the problem and prescribe a fix in the form of a proposal… before we truly understand the real problem.

Our point of view is that we must get inside the problem and deeply understand the challenge prior to prescribing a solution. We propose a strategy/planning session, one where we can peel away the layers of business goals, audience, messaging and competition in a well-defined process that reveals the gaps and overlaps and informs recommendations. Getting inside the problem results in better knowledge, deeper understanding and more positive results.

Campus Technology – Non-Traditional Learning Galore

I joined Account Director Perrin McCormick at the Campus Technology Conference this week for a meeting with an editor and a look at what’s new in educational technology. A vast number of exhibits focused on non-traditional learning: technology to enable online courses, tracking, grading, audio/video, archiving and search.

Perrin at the Campus Technology Conference 2011

While there were some extraordinary displays of technology for the online world, the most memorable for me was a fairly simple concept from Sony, which could be used in the office or classroom. The positioning statement (or question, as in this case) says it all: “What turns any wall anywhere into an interactive whiteboard?” To make it happen, Sony combines a laptop, a projector and an eBeam Edge to create an interactive whiteboard as large as 5’x9′.

How often have you wanted to add notes to your PowerPoint presentation in the moment and visible to all? Now, without touching the computer, you can tap a projected icon, start writing or drawing and your annotations appear right in the presentation — and are saved as well. The next addition to the HB strategy room? Check it out.

Interpreting a "crisis" in higher education

Today my wife heads to Northern Essex Community College for an assessment of her ASL (American Sign Language). An interest of hers for years, she has taken many courses and attended retreats on the art of signing. She has finally decided she’d like to go back to school to become an interpreter.

As we figure out how to pay for her schooling, and how we might monetize her degree, I stumbled across an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the “Crisis of Confidence” in higher education. It seems that more than a third of college presidents think the industry they lead is heading in the wrong direction.

The article states: Without a change in course, presidents fear, American higher education’s standing around the globe could erode. Although seven in 10 college chief executives rated the American system today as the best or one of the best in the world, barely half predicted that a decade from now the United States would be among the top globally.

Recent research noted in another post indicates many believe the value of a degree isn’t there. Yet, despite the “crisis of confidence,” enrollment at colleges is at record levels.

The article concludes with an interesting and compelling comment from John Immerwahr, a professor of philosophy at Villanova University and a senior research fellow at Public Agenda. Mr. Immerwahr points to a cautionary tale from another well-established American industry, one that was the best in the world, until it wasn’t—auto manufacturing. “We don’t want to be Detroit,” he says.

Do the education leaders who lack confidence have the power to make necessary changes? Did Detroit?

As she departed for her ASL assessment, my wife was nervous that she wouldn’t be placed correctly. I assured her that she’d be fine. I hope the leaders in higher education, as well as those who control part of the picture with funding and legislation, believe the same. Indeed, we don’t want higher ed to be another Detroit.

Doubt and Debt for College Education?

Me and Jane four years before she's off to college.

My 14 year-old daughter (the oldest) was working on a school project to identify a college and prepare a financial plan to pay for it. Since she’s not too fond of me these days, all I could do was listen-in to Jane and my wife discuss dollar amounts per year for education and room & board. Gulp.

I have four children and 12 continuous years of college to help fund (including 4 years with two in college). And on a quarterly basis, Merrill Lynch sees fit to remind me how far behind I am. This got me thinking about the weight of debt that college students and families (me) must bare upon graduation, and the value or return on investment they can expect.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one thinking about this challenge. A recent report issued by the Pew Research Center indicates that Americans are increasingly doubtful about the value of a college education (See the Report). US News and World Report quoted Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center and the director of the Pew Social & Demographic Trends project: “There is real concern—growing concern—about affordability and value measured against cost, but a very solid registration of satisfaction [among college graduates] that, ‘This was a good thing I did in my life, and there’s a real payoff to it.'”  However, the Pew report indicated that 57 percent of the 2,142 Americans surveyed claimed that the nation’s higher education system does not offer adequate value in return for increasingly high costs, and 75 percent feel it is unaffordable for the average citizen.

I too am concerned about the cost and the value of education. I read stories about students with amazing credentials that are flipping burgers because they can’t find work and they can’t afford not to work. I am optimistic that something will shift us back on course and College will offer hope and opportunity over doubt and debt. Hopefully this shift happens within the next four years before my decade+ journey into debt begins. Until then I’ll just keep listening in.

Race to the Top Funding

When it was announced that Massachusetts was one of the 12 states awarded federal funds for education reform, HB began to partner with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on a brochure detailing the state’s Race to the Top plan.

The brochure provides information about the program, goals, strategy and how the funds will be allocated. Governor Deval Patrick describes the Race to the Top plan as, “the next chapter of education reform in Massachusetts.”

The design incorporates messages of transformation, innovation and reform of the school system through vivid, tactile imagery and illustrations.