SignupIn a world of “sign-ups”, it’s easy to disregard things we’ve already committed to. We rationalize why we had good intentions, but how life is crazy and things come up that keep us from fulfilling our obligations. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “making the reservation is the easy part. Anyone can make a reservation. Now, keeping the reservation…that’s the important part.” Seriously though, I feel this act of justified thinking is what’s tearing apart the fabric of social altruism.

And then there’s the difference between “showing up” and SHOWING UP. There’s a big disparity between physically present and actually being present. Some of us think we’re pretty good at faking this, but we aren’t really fooling anyone. It’s the polarity of selfish and selfless action that either contributes to the status quo or to change.

Time is precious. And that’s not a cliche’. It’s just the truth. So when it comes to committing to something, I’m hesitant to say yes. I think most of us are like this. We are all so busy doing our daily grind that we just can’t fit anything else in. But what if the talents and skills that we have and do so well could be put to better use? Say, the selfless concern for the well being of others.

The irony here is that getting involved in this way would actually bring purpose to my life. A real reason to why I’ve worked so hard to achieve success. To be able to help someone, something, some anything! Looking back, I think I’ve missed way to many opportunities like this. Life has a way of making us all selfish. There’s just not enough time to help everybody so I help no one…except myself.

Enter Designathon, 2010. A brainchild of Ian Rhet, founder of and Jessica Murray, founder of Nashville Social Media Club.

Designathon 2010

Their idea was to bring together creative professionals (geeks) for a common good for the city of Nashville. A way to give back to the city we love by volunteering our talents during a twenty four hour event for one needy non-profit. All they asked – sign up and show up. Physically. Mentally. Heartfully.

They asked me to join them as the Creative Director for the event. It was good timing too. I had just left my last job as the CD of a Nashville ad agency, and I was rethinking my whole career. After fifteen years in advertising I was already burned out and desperately needing creative inspiration. I had no idea what I was walking into. Honestly, I don’t think any of us did.

I’ve been involved in many crowd-sourcing events before. Mostly driven by egos, recognition and an attempt at attracting “real” clients post the event. Being physically, mentally and heartfully present wasn’t a requirement. Just follow the process, get the work done and go home.

Calling all

We recruited over thirty volunteers ranging from copywriters, graphic designers, web developers, marketing strategists, social media geeks and PR folk. The non-profit was a start-up to help stop generational incarceration. No name, no brand, no nothing but the passion of an ex convict who personally saw a need and wanted to desperately do something about it. Twenty four hours later a brand was born – Youth Turns. Complete with an estimated $80k worth of marketing deliverables. They had all they needed to start getting awareness, communicate with others about their mission, recruit volunteers, and get funding. The best part was they now had over thirty brand ambassadors to boot. People who signed up , showed up and by the end of twenty four hours, became a coalition of volunteers who found purpose in their lives. Helping others.

We realized we had created something special so we did it again in 2011 for Safe Haven, a refuge for homeless families in Nashville trying to get off the street and reestablished in society. Again, we achieved the same result. A different group of volunteers but the same result. Happy non-profit, happy volunteer hearts.

So when Ian asked me if I was up for it again in April, 2013, I didn’t hesitate. This time it was for a bigger challenge – helping the Tennessee Literacy Coalition (TLC), a state wide organization located in Nashville, trying to change the course of illiteracy for the entire state. July 13-14 was the date held for the third annual Designathon and again, the same result.

TN working 4

TN working 1TN working 2I’m still amazed at the amount of work that is accomplished in that twenty four hours. For TLC: A much needed updated website including SEO capabilities, the ablitiy to measure analytics, share content and most importantly, how to cultivate volunteers, donors and help learners find providers; PSA’s for tv, radio and outdoor ads; four testimonial videos; a blog site with enough sharable content for a month; marketing strategy; social media campaign, strategy and training; corporate giving collateral; press releases; news coverage; and once more, over thirty new brand ambassadors – geeks for good. Here are just a few examples of the work we did for TLC. To see the entire list, see here.

TN infographicTN Bus bench

I could go on and on about the benefits of this event and how I’ve personally witnessed the result of people selflessly giving up their time and talents to help others. I truly believe that the desire in our hearts to extend a helping hand to those in need was planted by our creator. And It’s my faith and trust in God and his call to us to help those in need that should be the only rationalization I need to sign-up and show-up.

My only wish is that Designathon could somehow be duplicated, multiplied and extended to the rest of the world. I guess that’s the basis of writing this blog. To hopefully inspire others to a new understanding of why we should be present for the things we should prioritize in our lives. Helping others.

Here are just a few of the heroes that were brave enough to take that leap of faith and signed-up to be part of something bigger than themselves. I’m proud to say that I know these folks – all twenty fours hours of them.


I find it fascinating how many people who call themselves “creatives” spend a lot of effort defending their ownership of creativity and subsequently, their value within it. After spending two decades of creative education and professional experience from a BFA in Graphic Design to Designer, Art Director, Creative Director and Creative Educator, I’ve realized the approach of defending the subjectivity of the creative process and who has the rights to it is futile.

It seems that the evolution of creative ideation and collaboration has some running scared. The concept of joining forces with the consumer, client and the “suits” of an agency to develop strategies and medias designed to communicate in new ways is arguably the sign of the creative apocalypse. It also appears that the ability to conceive ideas and execute and evoke engaging conversations with consumers to uncover honest brands with believable products are only left for a gifted few.

Now, before I get shunned from the creative community, let me clarify. I’m not talking about the creative capabilities of talented artists trained and educated to execute and produce these ideas with the latest technologic tools of the trade – that can be victoriously argued. I’m simply suggesting that today it is time to evolve the belief that creativity, the use of imagination, isn’t for everyone. Creativity can be birthed from anywhere by anyone. I’m not saying that it will be, but that it CAN be – the idea that opportunities presented are possible.

To prove this is a global issue, about a month ago an article, who’s author will remain anonymous, was posted on an online creative professional community called Linkedin titled, “Should we have Creative Departments in the 21st century? Our Creative Director, would kill me if he read this, but surely the whole agency (including client and consumer) is creative now?” Started by a CEO of a London based ad agency. It’s also important to note that the Creative Director mentioned here is quite possibly the alter ego of the CEO and author of this article. After 203 comments, it was enough to warrant me writing this new post.

I think it’s worth sharing a few of those comments, who’s authors will also be anonymous, to frame the calamity that presents us. The conversations between these Creative Directors, CEOs, Writers, Designers, Account Execs and at times clients epitomizes the idea that ownership of creativity and it’s process is in fact coveted. First, a few who are really defensive:

“Asking a questions like that in this forum is really only going to start an argument in my opinion. Most creatives do so much more than generate just ‘ideas’ – the same ideas that you go on to take the plaudits for in meetings and in the end sell to clients to create revenue. Have a little more respect for others trades and skills and they might have a little more for yours.” –Anonymous Creative Director

Who says Client and Consumer are creative, the Client and Consumer? If Client and Consumer are creative why stop at the creative department lets just close the doors and all walk away! Advertising need not exist, your talking about an entirely new industry which basically sounds a bit like a dictatorship to me. Client “Lets make that logo even bigger now that we’ve increase the headline and body copy it’s getting a bit lost.” Mac Operator “Oh what a brilliant idea, how creative you are, lets not worry about your USP the logos much more important.” I’ve got a better idea, lets loose all the suits.” –Anonymous Creative Director

“The idea that “everyone is a creative” is just a further devaluation of what creatives do. There is a lot of that going on. Acct execs who are creative are a blessing. Acct execs who think they’re CREATIVES are not. I have respect for any and all co-workers who do their job, let me do mine and understand that we’re all pulling oars on the same galley.” Anonymous Art Director/Writer

“Funny how people always admire to be creative, I don’t blame them we are lucky! I would hate it if I was a suit man, and I would hate it more if I don’t create. After all what’s in and idea if it is not executed and polished by the creative people. Would you let anybody operate on you other than a professional Surgeon? Enough said, let’s all work together and be happy. Amen.”–Anonymous Creative Director

And now a few post from those who are trying to suggest a new perspective:

“Only if all other departments involving passion, study, and intensity continue to exist, then, for the sake of fairness if for no other, of course we should(get rid of the creative dept.). That’s the cool part! And everyone is certainly creative. That’s the coolest part!” Anonymous Designer/Illustrator

“The ability to work as a team and respect everyones ability to contribute within their area of expertise is the key answer to this question. At all levels, in all departments. Yes, lord knows even accountants can be “creative”. See it for what it is and let it breathe.”–Anonymous Creative Director

“Why do these barriers and pigeonholes exist? I’m CEO of our agency but i’ve always seen my role as listening out for the germ of an idea in everyday conversation, perhaps in a brainstorm, that can form the basis of a great campaign. Because these throwaway comments come from real people, if they’re used as the basis for a creative campaign, they’re much more likely to mean something to the people they’re aimed at, precisely because they’re from real experience and not an advertising cliche or formula thought up and developed in a room where an art director faces a copywriter. Ideas can come from anywhere and now can be spread by almost anything. We’re all creative and my advice is: use your ears. The answer you’re looking for is being spoken somewhere right now”–Anonymous CEO of ad agency and author of the original post

On a final note, I would like to include this comment:

“PS Crowd-sourcing is the lazy man’s/woman’s answer to creative development. As Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked Americans what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” – Anonymous President of an ad agency

This last statement I think is the most fearful of all. It also has some validity in claiming that fear. Crowdsourcing is a new term on an old idea…brainstorming. The only difference is that the later is more believably trustworthy. Why? Because it is consistently controlled more effectively based on years of an experienced process. The wrongful thinking that crowdsourcing can save time and money is also why it is a threat to creatives everywhere. On the contrary, this process can actually be done successfully. The trick is the answer to this entire blog post’s debate.

I agree that everyone has the potential to be creative. AND we should always allow for that creativity, especially when it comes to engagement and communication strategies with mobile, guerilla and social initiatives. However, not everyone that has a creative idea can make great decisions on what to do with them. Creative leaders bridge planning and strategy into creative executions with their teams. Experience pays off in this area.

What assets do designers and creative writers have that can benefit the agency? Adhering to the science of a creative process, understanding composition and design is a learned skill. Not to mention the countless hours of time spent using the tools of a creative artist/designer. If you aren’t confident with your value within the creative process, it might mean you need to focus on some personal growth and change that perspective.

It’s the idea that everyone has the “potential to be creative” is what we have to be open to. You never know where a great idea will be birthed. Claiming ownership to “creativity” in that sense is a missed opportunity. I admit, this takes a special environment free of egos and respect to the talents of everyone to do their specific jobs aligned with their skill-sets.

Today’s conversations about brands are bigger than ads and scripts. Embracing today’s social technology and the evolving contributing personalities that will develop and collaborate with trained creative professionals is the key to new generations of consumers who will embrace brands that are transparent and honest about their products and services. Am I suggesting an advertising and marketing utopia? Not really, it’s the way we should have been doing it all along. Is this kind of change to much to ask? Will our creative ownership continue to be threatened by change and new ideals and the need to control outcomes that were never meant to be controlled by anyone in the first place? Yes. This isn’t a new argument, but hopefully it is a new perspective.

Growth comes from sharing

November 11, 2010

Twice in one year I’ve camped out at Cadillac Ranch in downtown Nashville for two session presentations at PodCamp and BarCamp. These conferences are held in cities all over the nation and are coordinated and presented by locals covering trends in marketing and technology. Pod Camp was held back in July and more recently, BarCamp in October. You may remember an earlier post on crowdsourcing and how I was asked to be the Creative Director for 30 talented folks helping out a non-profit called YouthTurns. Well, Ian Rhett, from Civic Actions, presented the case study for the event at this year’s BarCamp and asked if I would join him in discussing our success.

It was a good turnout and as expected there were some questions as to how to successfully execute a crowdsourcing event, especially one lasting only 30 hours. Guests included a few of the 30 people who helped execute the function and in typical Ian Rhett fashion, he involved them in the conversation.

The best news came after the 30 minute session was over. Andy Dixon, the founder of YouthTurns, was approached by a representative for TED and asked if he would be interested in speaking at one of their conferences. I think that just put the icing on our case study.

You can read more about the crowdsourcing event in the Creative Director’s section of this website. It gives a complete breakdown of the hours and what the deliverables were – pretty powerful.

Oh, I have to note the brands that sponsored the BarCamp event, at least one of them anyway. Sprint did a good job engaging the attendees with a location van outside the event with product demos and giveaways. Here’s one such giveaway that I thought was pretty cool. A usb wristband – 1G even.

to those who need it desperately.

Networking with creative people is the best. How else would I have been able to connect with folks like those I met during the Southern Fried Designathon, self titled by the famous @JessicaRMurray? Three organizations: The Collaboratory; Geek for Good; and The Social Media Club joined forces and asked their members to spend 24 hours utilizing their talents for a worthy nonprofit, Youthturns, an organization that serves the families of prisoners to help mentor and educate youth so that they don’t take the same path to prison as their parents.

Having some success with these kinds of events (CreateAthon), I was asked to be the Creative Director for the shindig and I gladly accepted – staying up all night with a bunch of creative people doing branding…hell yeah!

After some pre-planning meetings the CoLab of Nashville graciously donated their space and off we went.

At 11am on a Saturday, we began with a compelling story by Andy Dixon, the founder of Youthturns. His journey and dedication to helping America’s youth break the cycle of generational incarceration is really why we organized this whole event. This allowed everyone who just showed up with their sleeping bags to get caught up with whom they were about to feverishly work so hard and understand their mission.

With teams of writers, marketers, videographers, photographers, designers, web developers and PR folks – over 30 people in all, we were a force to be reckoned with. Led by three coordinators: leaders of the Collaboratory; Geek for Good; The Social Media Club and myself, we marched through the night with a plan. Helped by team leads and plenty of donated caffeine, we accomplished executing a tremendous branding campaign that was delivered to the founders of Youthturns by 11am the following morning. Including a new logo, brochure, letterhead and business cards, marketing strategy, 5-minute Ignite presentation, video package, a handbook for prison families, social media connections and a new Website.

We even had a visit from the Nashville Fire Dept. and Police after a fire Alarm went off at 5am! It definitely woke us up and got us fired up to complete the event. –Pun intended.

Taking advantage of social media, we made sure we used all our existing twitter accounts and streamed the entire event live via ustream so that others could follow us. Not to mention that our promo video received over 72,000 views within the first 20 minutes on our website – all because of our dedication to using social connections online. You can visit our facebook page or our twitter account and or hash-tag – #designathon to catch all the antics that transpired through the night.

We were able to pull some media exposure from 3 different local news networks, These links will show the news video captured at the event. WTVF, WKRN, WSMV.

The cool thing is that we could do it again. With lessons learned, evolving leadership and creative recruiting, the power behind planned, focused crowdsourcing done within a short time frame can be very effective. After doing this kind of event three times now, choosing one non-profit is definitely the way to go. I’ve worked on 16 brands in one night before – you can’t give brands everything they need in that situation.

This experience was amazing. Helping people who can’t afford marketing and desperately need it to get funding to start their worthy cause makes you realize that maybe your talents are meant for something other than accolades. Creativity is meant to be shared – sometimes in a big way.