Oh Snap! The Game Has Arrived.

Introducing Totally Safe For Work, the game that helps you engage with your team members, clients and industry peers. TSFW provides lively brainstorming, team-building and networking opportunities. We’re so excited about TSFW, we even made a video about it!

Share your funniest combinations and card suggestions with us on Twitter @hb_agency using #TSFW.


Hypnotized by the Black Keys

Beneath your feet the stands start rumbling. The stadium is hazily illuminated by hundreds of smart phone lights. Shouts are deafening and your throat is already hoarse, but you keep cheering for them to come back out.

And then it happens.

Lights burst back on as guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney walk across the stage. The crowd erupts even louder than when the pair began playing some of their most anticipated songs.

The backdrop rises to reveal the spinning hypnotic graphic of the band’s latest album, Turn Blue (Nonesuch). It’s hard to look away as Dan sings “Weight of Love,” the first song on the album.

The Black Keys’ entire performance Sunday night at the TD Garden was a mesmerizing, visual experience. At any given time the crowd witnessed up to 20 screens featuring different angles of Auerbach and Carney. Each shot was stylized with a psychedelic filter and synchronized with the crescendos and diminuendos of every song. Some screens would fade out as another would seemingly pop out of no where, giving an animated effect. As a visual communicator, I appreciate the marriage of visual and auditory performance. I did not expect it from the Black Keys despite their obvious appreciation of art (check out the album cover of Attack & Release).


The closing song of the evening, “Black Submarine” really drove home how incredible the pairing is. Just after Dan utters “a broken heart is blind,” the stage explodes again with a medley of lights in sync with his guitar solo. I could sense awe and appreciation flooding the crowd.

The stadium (fit for over 17,000 people) had an energy akin to an intimate show, made possible by adoring fans belting out lyrics in unison and the gratitude exuded by the musicians. Dan does not talk much on stage, and even admits that he is “certainly not your typical front-man material.” He paused a few times, only to thank the Boston audience. It’s inspiring, rare and refreshing to see artists who continue to push the envelope and remain humble after so much fame and success.


What’s Your Story?

Why is online video a great medium for storytelling? I have list of reasons, but I would rather tell you a story of why I think it’s wonderful.

Last Christmas, I gave my wife a hard cover book filled with images from the first years of our children’s lives. She was very happy, smiling as she turned the pages, remembering events that brought us good times. The kids were interested too, clawing at the book for a glimpse of photos they might be in. Fast forward 15 minutes to when my wife unwrapped an empty DVD case. She asked, “What is this?” and I replied, “Watch.” Our television played a video I created from short clips of our daughter’s lives. Our living room was silent for the next five minutes and 10 seconds. At the end of the video, my wife cried and said thank you. My daughters asked to watch it again.

Video and animation are not the perfect medium for all marketing materials, but I feel they can make a greater impact when telling your story. Business and consumer audiences increasingly turn to video to find stories about products and services that make their lives better. This is why over 1.2 billion online videos are watched every day in the United States alone. See 14 other stats you should know about online video on Digiday by @GAbramovich.

Whether discussing financial planning with high net worth individuals, showing the first few years of your children’s lives or explaining an energy-saving device to homeowners, video engages attention as it teaches, explains and convinces. The right video will also entertain, create “aha” moments and wow your audiences with creativity and imagination.

From script writing to storyboarding, animation to voice-overs, HB creates video stories that engage audiences and help grow our clients’ businesses.

7 Tips for Successful Social Videos (and Online Apologies)

Journalist Lucy Morgan with video camera and phone, circa 1985

Journalist Lucy Morgan with video camera and phone, circa 1985

The last week saw some major steps in video’s maturity as a social medium. We all know that YouTube is the second biggest search engine and plays a major role in music discovery.

But over the last week not only did Facebook escalate its social battle with Twitter by coming out with short video on Instagram, but old-school celebrity Paula Deen skipped out on an old-school Today Show interview to take her video message straight to her own audience. Though, she did it rather poorly–I love Slate’s comment that her first video “bears a striking resemblance to a hostage video,” and someone needs to teach her people how to override the default thumbnail picture to avoid the deer-in-the-headlights look. 

The first question that came to mind was whether Paula Deen could’ve used either of these platforms to apologize or rally support. The answer is, probably, no. Even if she had put the time in to build a community on either of these platforms before the crisis hit, 15 seconds isn’t really enough time to cover the first three A’s of Crisis Communications, let alone all nine.

Now that we got that out of the way, y’all, we can turn turn some things you can do with social video.

  1. Promote. Let’s get this out of the way: you definitely can use social video to promote your product or service. Vine’s looping capabilities were very cleverly taken advantage of for this Trident Gum video:


  2. Educate. Have a difficult product or process to explain? Say, the U.S. Elections? Use video to explain it. YouTube lets you go long, but keep the videos short.
  3. Introduce. Have something new to share? Video is a great way to introduce it. Here’s how Burberry introduced their new line using Instagram:

    Embed Yours At InstaEmbed.com

  4. Entertain. The ABCs don’t always work in social. If you’re always selling, or always asking, your community may be turned off. Here’s how Lululemon used the new Instagram:
  5. Collaborate. You don’t have to go this far, but there are many opportunities to engage with, and even collaborate with, your community using video.
  6. Respond. When in Rome, right? While it wasn’t exactly an apology, when some (soon to be former) employees posted a gross video of their shenanigans, Domino’s President Patrick Doyle took to YouTube to respond. A very appropriate channel:
  7. Mobilize. While Kony 2012 raised a good deal of controversy and brought “slactivism” into common usage again online, it was (for a short time) the fastest-growing viral video in history.

Whether you agree that last week represented a turning point for embracing of online video, it certainly wasn’t a turning point for online apologies, despite a really good apology from Kickstarter. We’ll keep hoping…

Finding True Clout

Austin’s skyline and some Counselors Academy folks on a sunset cruise.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of speaking at PRSA’s Counselors Academy event in Austin. Besides having a great time with other industry folks (including a sunset cruise on the last night to see Austin’s famous bats), this is one event that I try to make every year. It’s proven valuable in helping run Fresh Ground and getting a sense for where the PR industry is headed.

This year I also had a chance to speak, and I focused on understanding influence. The presentation below gives a sense of how we look at influencer relations. Also below is a short video in which I’m interviewed by Mike Bako about, among other things, videos. I should note that the videos we’re discussing in the interview are not the Vine and Instagram videos that many are talking about now, but the longer videos that populate YouTube and Vimeo.

What happened to my big-screen TV?

BIg screen television

The big-screen, flat-panel television: an in-home entertainment game changer. More pixels and high-definition signals created amazing, high-quality images for television shows and movies. These TVs became commonplace in many homes where bigger is better. Larger dimensions create a better experience when watching a sporting event, concert, or movie. Size matters.

So what happened to all that real estate?

Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, news and sports stations have added scrolling tickers to their broadcast. At the time, this seemed strange – but now it’s expected. On that terrible day in American history, we were able to follow multiple stories at the same time: the live broadcast and updates from those at ground zero.

In the 10+ years that followed, users have received their news less from broadcast television and more from web sites and social tools – the so-called “second screen.” Someone watching television will simultaneously access their phone or tablet for additional information. These changes led to the biggest shift in high-def TV.

Information, not size

Television broadcasts are shifting away from “the most pixels make the best picture.” Instead, televisions are using that extra space for more information. What was once a beautiful 42″ display has now been reduced to 2/3 of its size because of graphics, charts, and information.

Take the third presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The broadcast cared less about showing as much of the candidates as possible and more of the “pulse of the nation” – something typically found on Twitter and other social tools. Less face time, more information.


In a world of second screens, does it make sense for television broadcasts to fill precious pixels with information found elsewhere? The television industry is already considered to be behind the rest of the technological world (why are cable boxes and their interfaces terribly designed?).

For the smart networks, they’re relying on mobile web sites or apps to deliver secondary information to the user. A perfect example: Conan on TBS. Their iPad “sync” app does precisely that – during a broadcast, you can sync your iPad in order to follow along with the show, in real time, with secondary information. In this example, TBS can use as many pixels as possible towards their comedy bits and beautiful celebrities while their audience still shares in the experience of additional data and information.

The lesson: use the tools as they were intended. Keep it simple and rely on compatible strategies to deliver additional information to the user or viewer. It makes for a better experience – and a better use for your television!

Where Unique Lives

This year, HOW Design selected Boston for its annual HOW Live Conference, bringing  together designers, freelancers, creative team managers, and other creative professionals. Christine and I were the lucky HB members to attend.

Over the four days, we listened to brilliant speakers, interacted with the latest paper samples and print techniques, sharpened our design and technical skills, and connected with other designers.

Conferences and industry events help the HB team learn new ways to solve challenges and re-energize our creative juices. We look forward to the next event!

Print Lives and Other Content Marketing Trends

Companies are realizing the power of creating and sharing “unedited” messages through channels that more directly reach their consumers, the need to infuse a strategy to support these branded content opportunities. We’re in a content marketing renaissance; HB suggests paying attention to the following trends:

  • Integrated marketing is back with a vengeance (and PR is part of it): Companies are choosing to work with firms that embrace and incorporate video, design, content marketing, search (SEO and SEM) and other creative tactics, coupling those efforts with public relations programs.
  • Video spreads like… a virus? Video is compelling, and websites and social networks now show and share video seamlessly. Companies are creating video at record levels, but not all video is good or accomplishes its intended goals. Successful videos tell good stories and move audiences to specific thoughts or behaviors.
  • Curation is not just for museums: Content curation is old school for the social media vanguard, but it is a new focal point for companies looking to develop independent “content centers” on their websites. These news and information centers can drive search, serve as educational portals and fill in the gaps between earned media (media coverage) and paid media (advertising).
  • Corporate journalists are in demand: Even the best executive blog posts can’t match the stories that trained journalists create. Larger companies have already started hiring journalists to frame their marketplace, share their information and define their industries through regular, in-depth reporting. This trend will continue as companies see the value in the independent and/or marketing content that staff journalists deliver.
  • TV is, well, TV: Broadcast outlets, television and radio, still aren’t capturing meaningful audience share to their websites. Master content creators for TV and radio continue to share redundant information through their websites, social media and branded content, ignoring the web’s major differences and opportunities.
  • Content marketing is seeing resurgence in college curricula: There is more hand-on classroom learning and internship opportunity for the next generation of content marketers. We hear about through our great interns and see it reflected in the online presence and savvy of new grads.
  • Content marketing budgets are increasing: According to a survey by MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute, 60 percent of companies are increasing content marketing budgets this year.
  • White papers are evolving: Moving beyond static, lengthy and dry pages, white papers feature more digestible content, parsed out in smaller nuggets, supplemented and shared using social media. Video is emerging as a slicker, content-rich way to disseminate white paper findings and knowledge.
  • Print lives: Despite the troubles within the U.S. Postal Service and the dominance of digital, print marketing has reemerged as a tactile, creative and multidimensional way of sharing stories.
  • Trutho-Meters are getting better: Socially networked audiences waste no time in sharing both good and bad content. Fact-checking, sentiment-creation, good and bad experiences race across mobile channels at unprecedented speeds. This keeps content creators up at night, and rightly so. With audiences so networked and willing to communicate, successful organizations must maintain uncompromising standards of truth and integrity in their communication, all the while keeping their audience interaction rapid and genuine – sometimes a difficult balance.

Interested in reading more about these trends? Please visit the Global Business Hub blog on Boston.com for Mark O’Toole’s extended post.

Renting vs. owning: A shift in content consumption

A recent Google+ post from Jeremiah Owyang read:

“You for rent: I can rent your HOUSE with AirBnB. I can rent your CAR with GetAround. I can rent your TIME and EXPERTISE with taskrabbit, crowdflower. What else can we rent in the future? What’s left?”

Owyang focuses on a shift in user behavior over the past couple of years: people no longer require ownership of their content – just access to it.

That’s a long cry from Steve Jobs’s discussion surrounding the iTunes Music Store in 2007:

“People want to own their music.”

Only six years later, Apple now offers iTunes Match which allows users to stream their music from any device, assuming it’s purchased through iTunes or resides on a home machine. Similarly, Spotify offers a seemingly-endless supply of music to its customers for a monthly subscription fee.

On the tube

RentLikewise, the television and movie models are shifting their business model from ownership to rental. Companies like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon provide content consumption without taking up precious space on your hard drive.

Even production companies are joining the fun. Without “ownership” of a cable box, folks can watch many of their favorite shows via a web site or app. The episodes no longer reside on a machine; rather, users stream content over the internet with relatively little setup.

On the horizon

Back to Owyang. What’s next? Magazines have slowly joined the movement, offering digital subscriptions – but mainly when the customer already receives a print version of the publication.

Instead of content, it’s commodities and services that are sure to see an uptick in “rentals.” Could there be a subscription-fee model for airfare? Or how about automobile maintenance? Will the book industry move to this model to service the millions of Kindles, Nooks, and iPads across the globe?

What do you think will come next in this world of renting?

Social media is mainstream media

During the recent AFC Championship game (go Pats!), Dr. Pepper ran an ad for its “I’m a…” campaign. At the end of the commercial, the logo was accompanied not by a tag line or web site, but by a Twitter hashtag (#ImA).

In a few short years, Twitter (and other social media outlets) drastically shifted strategy in the world of advertising. Ads, both print and digital, now push consumers to Facebook profiles, Twitter handles, Google+ pages… or even Twitter hashtags! Dr. Pepper wants users to contribute to a discussion that may or may not have anything to do with their brand… but more importantly, continues the story.

Shifting directly to consumers

Dr. Pepper kicked off their campaign with a major investment in a 60-second commercial. However, their consumers will help them build the rest of the campaign through their own words. If they’re smart, the beverage company will:

  • keep a constant eye on the #ImA hashtag in the coming weeks and highlight specific tweets on their other social media outlets,
  • engage with these select tweets and re-introduce their products as free giveaways, and
  • let their customers do the heavy lifting.

In short, that’s content marketing – repurposing content for additional opportunities to engage with consumers.

Social capital

In the end, Dr. Pepper’s advertising/social media/content marketing experiment results in true consumer research. The company learns of their customers’ creativity, drive, and buying potential.

Consumer research goes mainstream.