Crowdsourcing. All you have to do is utter the word around creative people and you’ll watch a room quickly divide into proponents and naysayers.

Critics love to point at examples like Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s Brammo logo project, in which hundreds of designers slaved for a mere $1000. Some designers will tell you that it devalues their thinking; all you have to do is search for the #nospec tag on Twitter to see hundreds of comments opposed to crowdsourcing and specifically to the Brammo contest. (It goes without saying that Bogusky got far more than a thousand bucks worth of buzz out of the competition.)

Another hotbed for discussion of the crowdsourcing movement has been Edward Boches’ blog, where you’ll find more than a few of my comments on the subject as well.

But let’s put aside the debate over crowdsourcing as a source of cheap labor. Let me offer you a better example. One that I think is more pure, more joyful — and in my opinion more promising, as a place where the crowdsourcing movement can lead.

One of my favorite musicians in the world is a singer songwriter out of Austin, Texas named Darden Smith. Check him out. To me, the songs he writes feel like Austin: smart, simple, contemporary, yet firmly rooted in the Texas tradition.

But as much as he enjoys recording CDs and touring the US and UK, Darden gets his greatest joy these days out of something else. It’s a program he created in 2003, called Be An Artist. Professional musicians go into the schools, work with the kids, and before the end of the day, the kids have written a song together. And to hear Darden tell it, sometimes they’re pretty darn good.

But what’s important isn’t the song that results. (Although if you want to check out a few of the songs from Darden Smith’s Be An Artist project, click here.) Is a class full of 2nd graders going to write a better song than a perennial Grammy-winning songwriter team? Um, not every time. And probably, not as often.

But that isn’t the point.

To quote Darden: “Everyone is an artist at something. Everyone is creative. Art surrounds us, from the clothes we wear, the car we ride in, to the music we listen to and the buildings we live in. There’s no escaping it! The Big Three: attention, intention, & the love of doing something. If you have those ingredients, you’re making art.”

Smith isn’t crowdsourcing songs in search of a chartbusting hit. He writes pretty damn fine songs already, thank you.

His motivation lies not in the song that results that afternoon, but in what they’re really creating: a generation of kids more interested in the arts, and more confident in themselves as creative people.

It’s all about the engagement.

District Addys

Creative projects from Lewis Communications received four Gold and three Silver ADDY awards at the recent District 7 ADDY Awards Competition, which includes Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. Lewis won for Vanderbilt Sports Medicine, Brannon’s Restaurant, Scribbler Stationery, Aquila Game Preserve, Upstate University Health System — and Best of Show in the Broadcast Television category for Alfa Insurance. Gold award winners from the district competition automatically advance to the National ADDY Award competition next month.

The passion of volunteering
The passion of volunteering

I have volunteered all my life – not sure if it started with Brownies (a younger version of the Girl Scouts) or whether it was following my Mom around “helping” her with countless charitable organizations she worked with during her life. So I guess it’s in my blood or, “The way I was brought up” as many say.

But as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that I get so much more out of volunteering than I could ever give, and it’s just something you do, because it feels good. So I guess it’s not surprising, that the civic organization I’m most passionate about right now was started by my Mom. She helped start McKemie Place, the only overnight shelter for single women within a three county area based in Mobile, Alabama. She started McKemie Place with such passion because she didn’t want these ladies to sleep on the streets one more night. Was every single detail in place? Absolutely not. But she was determined to figure out a way, sooner rather than later, and made it happen. She could pretty much do that with anything she set her mind to do.

Not long after the shelter opened, my Mom was diagnosed with cancer and she lived only a few short months after her diagnosis. The bad part was that McKemie Place didn’t yet have an operational fund structure set up – so for the next several months it was struggling to make the monthly operational fund budget. When I began working closely with their director to help, there were possibilities on numerous occasions that we may have to close for random nights because we couldn’t make payroll. I think that’s where the passion truly kicked in for me. These ladies were not going to be left on the streets – I knew the data and research and I knew what could happen to them. We had to find a way to keep the shelter open every night.

Before I knew it, I was co-chair of the charter advisory board. It has been a long but inspiring six months since then. Many a night I wake up and wonder…what in the world am I doing? How can I do this as a single, working Mom? I don’t know if I can do it… Even though I’ve been on numerous boards, I’ve never started one! What was I thinking?

I was thinking about passion and the passion that I had gained from the experience of not only working with the ladies as guests at McKemie Place, but the countless other volunteers, foundations, government entities, etc, who had stepped up to the plate to help us pay the bills each month. Not to mention the way that the team at Lewis jumped in and took hold of the reins.

I believe it all started with my Mom. She had passion like there’s no tomorrow. She taught not only me, but countless others so many things. Do I think you can teach passion? I don’t think so, but you sure can show folks what it looks like. When you see it, you want a part of it and it’s contagious.


A print campaign for The Scribbler was named Best of Show in the 7th District ADDY Awards in New Orleans (the 7th District encompasses most of the southeastern United States and includes Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Lousiana). The campaign of small space ads for a Birmingham-area stationery boutique was created by ACD Roy Burns, designer Holly Cook and senior copywriter Kathy Oldham. The accolade also marks the second consecutive Best of Show District win for Lewis Communications.

Social Media as Conversation
Social Media as Conversation

While people spend countless hours each day checking social media sites, their reasons for doing so aren’t always as “cutting edge” as those of us in the marketing world would like to believe. A recent study published by Pew Research Center found that 91% of people active on social media sites say that simply staying in touch with friends is their motivation to use.

Too many marketers refuse to acknowledge that the way those of us in the communication industry use social media isn’t typical, as compared to the average consumer. If companies and brands using social media are really looking to drive ROI through these channels, they need to start offering information as valuable as a post from a friend.

Early in October, I received a call asking me to handle the marketing for an event at The University of Alabama. Seven UA departments were collaborating to bring Soledad O’Brien to campus, and if you haven’t guessed already, the first issue brought up was how social media needed to be the main component in our marketing strategy.

The primary social media channels being used were UA Ferguson Center’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, which had significant followings of more than 3,000 students. My challenge was to figure out how to engage students with the Ferg to drive the desired result: a packed house for the night of Soledad’s speech. I did a little research and found that most students were looking to feel like they got some sort of one-on-one time with Soledad during her visit.

After this discovery, I made two very simple additions to the marketing strategy that drove positive results on both social media accounts—not to mention a standing room only crowd on the night of the event:

I. We asked students to submit questions for the Q&A session held after her speech via Facebook and wound up with hundreds of submissions.

II. We set up and promoted a Twitter hash tag so students who weren’t able to attend could still participate. We had over 50 students tweeting on our live chat the night of the event.

These simple tweaks were not only effective in engaging students for the Soledad event, but have served to revitalize the Ferg’s social media presence. Tweets per day are at their highest level ever, Facebook comments and unique page-views are higher than they have been in months and we even had students solicit our team via Twitter asking to write a post on the Ferg Blog, which rarely sees any activity outside of UA employees.

Why not take this example to heart and show your online community that your focus is on what they want rather than what you’d like to tell them? Try sharing information they see value in rather than the self-serving, one-way marketing updates we are all guilty of sending out far too often.

Headed to Haiti
Headed to Haiti

A few months ago a professional colleague and a friend told me about a project he was working on in Haiti. When I first heard the idea, I knew I had to find a way to help. And now, I’m leaving within the next 24 hours to spend five days in Haiti with a video and still photo crew.

My friend Jim Bryson is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met working in the advertising business. His research company, 20/20 Research, has been our partner with countless clients as we work to uncover powerful consumer insights that will help build our clients’ brands and grow their business. Jim was also a state senator in Tennessee for several years and when he sees a problem, he is really good at finding a solution and doesn’t rest until things get better.

Which is why when Jim visited Haiti last year on a mission trip after the earthquake, he uncovered some pretty powerful insights of his own and developed an idea on how things can be improved for future generations. His insight after visiting Haitian orphanages was that the common practice of providing formal education to orphans only until the 5th grade and more or less turning them loose on Haiti’s unpaved streets was only perpetuating a cycle of joblessness, poverty and hopelessness. If, instead, proper schools could be built within or attached to orphanages that provided an education for kids from the 6th grade on, a new generation of educated, service-minded Haitian’s could become future leaders and begin to solve some of Haiti’s ongoing social problems.

Jim has already begun the fundraising process and is now headed to Port-au-Prince to purchase land where the first Joseph School can be built. Several of my Lewis colleagues (Sarah Cooper, Ben Fine, Jeff Williams and Steve Moe) and I are tagging along with Jim in order to shoot stills and video of teachers, parents, and children. By telling the stories of the Haitians we’ll meet, we hope to create a powerful way for people in the US and around the world to know about and support The Joseph School. For some people, they will be compelled to donate much-needed funds to build schools. But for many others, supporting Jim’s work and the work of so many others in Haiti can also be accomplished by spreading the message through Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media.

Please check out when you get a chance. Once back from Haiti, we’ll be updating the site with a new design with images and video from our trip.


The new Edelman Trust Barometer Study is out and causing quite a stir among marketing people. The buzz surrounding the report is primarily because it shows a significant one-year decline in the perceived value of “friends” as a trusted source re: brand trial and preference.

Many pundits are gleefully quoting this single datapoint as evidence that the social influence “fad” is starting to fade.

I think this is a big mistake.

For starters, words matter and the term “friends” has been severely cheapened and confused due to the social media lexicon. Real friends will forever remain a source of trust and confidence for Americans. We are greatly influenced by people we know and admire, and as media fragmentation continues, our reliance on these sources will increase.

Secondly, it is important to remember that brand “conversations,” as we define them here, have never been limited to or framed by the social influence movement. We don’t endorse a cannibalizing view of social media and we openly reject the “advertising is dead” mantra.

Instead, our position is that “we do work worth talking about,” no matter what the media. This is not a new position for our firm, nor is it an attempt to promote ourselves with a social media spin.

We are marketing communications experts who are passionate and gifted at stimulating, measuring and sustaining brand conversations — which is vital in an era of “always on, always accessible” media.

Therefore, while the term “conversations” may become a casualty of the social media debate, what should not be lost is a singular focus on helping customers better connect with and through a client’s brand.

This has always been the strength of great agencies and it will never lose its value.

See the good.