Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Liberation in Teaching

It was more than ten years ago when I did my first guest lecture at the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto. My friend was an instructor in a course about web strategies and I was the Director of Interactive for a well-known ad agency. Over the years, I have mentored quite a few people in my agency and marketing jobs, but I had no formal training as an educator at all.

And the first guest lecture didn’t go that well. The students looked bored and sullen for most of the hour. I presented some agency case studies and some strategic planning tools that seemed appropriate, but there wasn’t much palpable energy in the room, and I left relieved to be out of there but a little discouraged.

A few years later my friend asked me again, and this time I was working for a large entertainment company, working on large experiential installations in malls and airports. The work was interesting, and the renderings and animations in my presentation were beautiful and impressive. And, since all the screens and applications were remotely controlled and programmed over the Internet, the material was still relevant to the course.

Something clicked this time, the class was fully engaged and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I could tell it was clicking and it felt good, so I started doing it every semester. And when the administration of the school asked me to attend a meeting on the curriculum development and program marketing I showed up and gave them my honest opinions.

So when I got an email last spring asking me to take a meeting about an upcoming course I wasn’t all that surprised. But when the School’s Program Director and Associate Director of Learning Innovation showed up at my media agency’s office, I didn’t really know what to expect.

It was about a new three-course online program at the school, covering brand journalism, content marketing, social media and storytelling. I was asked to join the development team and to be the instructor for the course. It was going to be developed on a new platform…rich with multimedia components and even including gamification features.

During the summer, I met and worked with a team of talented folks from different disciplines as we built the online curriculum. At first I was somewhat hesitant to give direction, but as time progressed and the course started to come alive, I shaped it to mimic the real life experiences, as I knew them, from developing a target persona, to the creative brief and eventual execution of a campaign. No media platform was ruled out: every new technology and social media platform was fair game.

The course started on September 22nd, and I was anxious about meeting the first group of learners enrolled. Over the summer, the School of Continuing Studies media campaign featured the upcoming course and plastered images of myself over buses, streetcars, and posters across Toronto. Who was going to sign up for a course that had never been offered on a platform that was never used at the School before?

As it turned out the people that became my first class triggered something I couldn’t have imagined. I was liberated. It was intensely visceral and incandescent in its power. Those many years of struggle to do good work, the constant embracing of emerging technology to tell stories and create campaigns, the mentoring and coaching, the tears and furtive fears…all that and more had given me the right tools to teach.

The course became a roadmap to examine and explore, with almost nothing out of bounds. The learners in the course were so smart, engaged and talented that it quickly became a learning experience for me also, turning their questions and observations into my own thesis for discovery. I have always been an empathetic person, so I leaned on that…culling out what I suspected each of them might need, and seeking the answers in myself. I was honest and supportive in all ways possible.

Teaching has become one of the most liberating experiences of my life, and now I can’t imagine not doing it. There is such a joy in enabling learning…of being a conduit to another person’s growth. And the most wonderful thing of all is that it gives me the most honest reason to keep learning myself.

Find out more about the course here. And this webinar has me discussing the vision for the course.


From DOOH to IOOH: The Path to Intelligent Out-of-Home

This post was originally written for Blue Bite's blog (

It’s been more than twenty years since the innovation bug bit me. Back in the mid 90’s I was working for Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) in Manhattan, and was intrigued one night watching a local access channel on Time Warner Cable.

I had stumbled onto an interactive cable television show created and produced by NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, which is part of the Tisch School of the Arts. It was called “Yorb: An Interactive Neighborhood” and allowed callers to control navigation around a virtual world by using their phones. It was connected to the ECHO Bulletin Board system. This was before the ascendency of the World Wide Web, and was run on a minimal budget and somewhat sketchy technology.

At the time I was working as a graphic designer for Andersen and uploaded surreal images of friends and family members surrounded by psychedelic fractal imagery to be featured in this virtual world. And I even visited the production studio on the NYU campus a couple of times, watching the skeletal staff rebooting computers when the entire system inevitably crashed at times.

Many of those involved with Yorb and the program at NYU moved on to important roles in the rapidly emerging tech space. For me, it cemented my love of new technology as it impacts our culture. And I moved on as well, working at EURO RSCG and Saatchi & Saatchi, developing interactive properties when it was “all new.”

Flashing forward to 2015, we live in a rewired civilization. Almost every aspect of our daily lives has changed with the many repercussions of the Internet and technological developments. Instead of hunkering down in front of bulky Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) and personal computer towers, we carry around slim and shiny smartphones that contain thousands of times the computing power that put men on the moon in the 60s.

To put it in perspective: Adele can tweet or post an Instagram and the bulk of the civilized world is notified in moments. Images we capture on far-flung adventures are on our Facebook feeds seconds later. The world has dramatically shrunk and sped up geometrically—all at the same time.

These changes bring disruption to our businesses and professional lives, but they cannot be denied. In my classes at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, where I teach Digital/Multimedia Storytelling and Brand Journalism and Content Marketing Strategies, I urge my adult learners to embrace the speed of change: to view it as an unending series of opportunities.

But for traditional marketers, and the brands they work for, this rate of change and disruption can be daunting. At a meeting this summer, where the demographic target of a proposed media buy for a fashion retailer was a millennial woman, the planners dismissed our digital suggestions and retreated to newspaper inserts and flyers. For a moment I thought I was being pranked… but that was not the case.

The media landscape is fragmenting and changing so fast that the industry itself is having challenges keeping relevant. A close read of the legendary Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report should be mandatory for anyone in marketing and communications, as over the years she has proven to accurately document and also successfully predict the tsunami of change that the Internet has brought to our personal and professional lives.

In the Out-of-Home (OOH) and Digital-Out-of-Home (DOOH) advertising space, some good news is apparent. While newspapers, magazines and cable television viewership is splintering or disappearing all together, we still navigate in the physical world. We still see billboards, and digital signage. We still go to malls, beauty salons, stadiums, concert halls, college campuses and more.

But many of the changes that have occurred in traditional media and marketing need to happen in the OOH space. It is time to build Intelligent-Out-of-Home (IOOH) media.

A large video wall in a mall running a loop of ads has little or no context. It isn’t compelling in 2015 and it shouldn’t be that appealing to brands and marketers. But a video wall in a packed University Student Union, that shows music videos with FM tune able audio, and that counts down to mobile-enabled trivia games every few hours where students can compete with other schools across the country… and be brought to you by Toyota for example, well that’s IOOH.

For the last six months I have been working with Blue Bite and a media company to produce a localized content channel for a few thousand locations. We worked hard to scour the Internet for the best in curated content for a specific type of location and audience. Tying the physical world to the teeming, rich and dynamic content that is Instagram, Medium, Twitter, Yelp, etc… that is IOOH.

Entering a modern supermarket, where over the takeout counter is featured a mango salad and a wild mushroom flatbread special, the retailer’s app allows a one-tap purchase after scanning a QR code, and the Internet of Things (IoT) enabled oven at home that fires up and moves the pizza stone into place before you have left the store, that is IOOH.

Heading to the airport for that dreaded early morning flight, ignoring the huge array of screens overhead, having your mobile phone guide you to the least busy coffee counter, the fastest security line, and the right gate, while pulling in your favorite news and entertainment content sources, with some of them sponsored and containing promotions, that is IOOH.

So, let’s get on with it. It’s time to stop kidding ourselves as marketers and brands. The mobile revolution is upon us. And as sensors fill our world with smart homes, appliances, cars and endless possibilities, we need to increase the intelligence of how we communicate brand messaging. The stacks of dead tree pulp with the pretty pictures in that beauty salon have only a short time left.

It’s time to start building Intelligent Out of Home.

Stephen Ghigliotty

Instructor and Lead Certificate Developer, University of Toronto School of Continuing


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Revelations Instead of Just Presentations

I attended the SEGD Xlab2013 conference in NYC recently. It wasn't my idea, but should have been. My boss thought we should go, and also a vendor/partner was a sponsor. And once I checked out the agenda it was a total no brainer.

It turned out to be a revelation; inspiring, intimidating and yet comforting and revelatory all at the same time.

For almost two full decades now I have been obsessed with the changes that the internet and wired culture have done to advertising and product marketing. It started with a fascination with online culture...but has turned out to be an endless and wonderful trip. And with stints at digital signage startups, software companies and retail agencies who specialized in the industry, my interests are as comprehensive as they can be...

And, at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens this past Thursday, one amazing speaker after another presented projects and concepts that tied architecture and technology together in beautiful and sublime ways; from Lady Gaga's designer's store in Manhattan to swaying illuminated shafts of light in a field at the Athens Olympics.

What does it mean when architecture and digital tech intersect? Exciting stuff...

Monday, September 16, 2013

Digital Signage - the next chapter

And the reason I haven't blogged recently is because of this...

But I will continue on; lots to say still.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Keynote Worth The Moniker

Yesterday morning at the DX3 conference here in Toronto, Benjamin Palmer, the CEO of the Barbarian group in New York City gave a disarming, yet very compelling overview of the current digital marketing landscape in his early morning keynote.

Brands need editorial voices

He described the splintering media landscape that all brand and their agencies are dealing with...and interestingly showed the morning audience what he thought was cool and current, from somebody in Brooklyn playing around with the printed catalog from J. Crew.

Here is the JCREW mash up ---

JCrew Crew episode 5 New Neighbors from Meghan O'Neill on Vimeo.

Benjamin took the crowd through his agencies work with GE, which was the very definition of optimizing blogging. He toured some of GE's far flung operations and video blogged about the facilities and the projects the company was working on.

GE has so many products and services in it's portfolio that the blog turned into an optimized channel to showcase the interesting work and dedicated employees all over the country. It was very successful and jumpstarted his agency.

He moved on to the immediate issue of emerging social media platforms, and the speed of their ascendency and adoption.

"And now we have to deal with Vine!" he exclaimed, as the crowd laughed knowingly.

That's when his keynote got really interesting for me. He sketched the challenging landcape of an agency and brand trying to keep up with customers and consumers as they moved from platform to platform. Do they see my ad on facebook? Are they using Twitter as they watch American Idol? Is my handbag uploaded to Pinterest?

In fact these platforms are emerging faster, and gaining quicker adoption as never before. As smartphone penetration grows larger and their speed and capabilities become more powerful this will only become more entrenched.

He described the Mad Men world as history now; a place where an ad campaign is created and you send it out into the world, waiting for months to hear back how it resonated.

And then he did put up a screen which resonated so profoundly for me. It was a slide with three famous editors on it; Tina Brown, Anna Wintour and a man whose name now escapes me and my google searches.

It was a revelation. His answer to the rapidly evolving digital landscapes was this; brands need editorial voices as a result. They need careful and strategic curation. They need champions who are skilled and knowledgable in this fluid, all connected media space.

And he is absolutely right. But does you typical ad agency have this mindset or talent? Do internal marketing pros think this way today? No...not many.

Welcome to the new normal...

Here is an interview with Benjamin shot right after the keynote;

You can follow Benjamin on Twitter at @bnjmn

Monday, February 4, 2013

Must Follow on Monday

Sure the FollowFriday #FF meme for Twitter has been around for years now, but I'm going to start my own trend today. So as of now, the "Must Follow on Monday" movement is born!

What shall the hash tag be? How about #MFM? Oh no, not a good one. How about #MFoM then...

In any case, the person to follow on Twitter this Monday is Matthew Stasoff (@mattewstasoff), who works at Grip here in Toronto as a Social Content Strategist.

He first came to my attention during the Golden Globes, when he expertly covered the proceedings simultaneously on his Tumblr blog, and on Twitter in real time. His Twitter profile notes that he is "consuming information as fast as my internet connection will allow me", which is something I can surely relate to.

We are in a time where real time media are out pacing the scheduled, produced-two-months-ago programming of the past, and some of us are wired to go forward, while others keep looking back.

I'm sure Grip's clients will be taking advantage of Matthew's keen drive and observations...they are foolish if they don't.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

From the Social Front

Some items from the constantly evolving social media front are blogworthy this morning...

Create A Scene with Vine

Twitter released Vine last Thursday to quite a bit of media attention. To me it complements the micro-blogging phenomenon quite well, letting users create six second videos. The user interface for this iOS only app is streamlined, and even though some users complained about bugs during the first couple of days, it has gathered both a significant amount of media attention and users.

What does this mean for brands and marketers? There is no advertising model in place yet, but that is certainly not out of the question in the future, ala youTube. But already brands such as Gap and Urban Outfitters have started publishing Vines. After all, it is a free app and there sits Twitter as the natural place to push out the content links.

Will Vine be important six months or a year from now? Only time will tell. But with a clean UI and a huge installed base of iphones in the field, it has no place to go but grow at this point.

Want to see how people are using Vine? You can peak into the global stream of "vines" here at Vinepeek. It's completely random, but I think that makes it even more interesting...seeing how users around the world are taking up this new app and platform for sharing.

Twitter has already released two new versions since the launch, fixing bugs, but also dealing with the burgeoning issue of porn content. Tumblr has long been porn friendly, and it doesn't seem possible to stop people from using apps such as these for that sort of content, but time will tell.

Google+ Gains Traction in Usage

I've been a big fan of Google+ since it was released. In fact I did an 80+ page slide deck for the agency I was working for at the time, introducing the staff to the features of this powerful social platform.

Since then it has become somewhat of a punching bag. "Nobody's there." Google's "ghost town..."

And these criticisms are quite understandable. After all, who wants to be the first person to join a social network? Nobody wants to be the first one at the party...waiting for others to show up.

But that seems to be changing now. Take a look at these numbers from a report by GlobalWebIndex.

The report focuses on the decline of "local" social networks, but the big story is the ascendency of Google+ above Twitter and even YouTube.

I've been a steady user since it launched and can concur that more and more people are migrating to Google+. After all it does everything facebook does, and more...better. And now that facebook usage is practically ubiquitous, more and more people are expanding their online social networking to other global platforms.

Google has also been very savvy in making sure that search and gmail users have a quick path to Google+. The now standardized "black bar" navigation element across Google properties feature it prominently.

Initially G+ was embraced by geeks, photographers and journalists. Shutterbugs especially loved the photo friendly interface and the free storage for scads of images.

But now I am convinced that users are happy to engage in the innovative video conferenceing "hangout" feature, the intuitive "circle" system that allows organization of contacts which helps manage the content stream which has practically ruined the facebook interface for many.

And with the launch of brand pages last spring, Google and users can look forward to taking advantage of the huge databases of local businesses it has neatly on hand. Is there a huge exodus from facebook just around the corner? Probably not...but a slow and steady leak? Maybe it is happening right now.