Saturday, April 27 2013: I spent the day at BCNIPhilly (#bcni13). It was held at my graduate school alma mater, Temple University (see the photos above in my stream on Flickr and tag yourself and friends at the PurpleCar FB page… give it a Like while you’re there? kthx).
One of my most favorite days of the year and the culmination of Philly Tech Week, BCNIPhilly provides me with the best opportunities to connect with and learn from journalists, media makers, online gurus and more. This year, Content Camp Philly along with the News Hackathon happened in combination with BCNIPhilly.
This year was a bit different for me than previous years, and not just because I ditched handing out business cards in favor of temporary arm tattoos of QR codes of my websites. This year at BCNI was anomalous because I didn’t meet as many new faces as I normally do at this conference. Many of my long-time (and rarely seen) friends were in attendance, including (but not limited to) Lynette Young, Whitney Hoffman, Don Lafferty, Heather Chin, Jim MacMillan and of course the organizers Christopher Wink, Brian James Kirk and Sean Blanda of Technically Media. Other troublemakers were there, like Ken Grant, Daniel Victor, Melody Kramer and members of Lynette’s Faucet Group John Langan and Chuck Hall. I saw Sondra Willhite from LadyHacks across the crowd, but we both missed each other. All day I recognized previous attendees but didn’t stop in between sessions to shake hands. I see Albert Sun every year; we say hello but that’s the extent of our chats. (My blond hair this year may have thrown him off.)
I’m forgetting some folks! There was a very big crowd there this year. So big, in fact, lunch in the main room of the Annenberg Building was chaotic. Greg Linch took it upon himself to start a new serving line on the other side of the lunch table just to expedite things. I just slipped out to the 7-11 on campus for some gluten-free options (which I have to do every year. The conference is pretty “accessible” ticket-price-wise and is funded by sponsors, so I never expect a GF meal). I arrived back in time to hear a friend that I made at a past BCNI, Emily McManus of TED, give a talk about the outreach initiatives and a cool new search function at the non-profit’s site: Emotional graph search. Got 20 minutes and want to feel inspired? You’ll be able to click a button & the site will deliver you a quick media meal worth savoring!
After the crowd dispersed a bit, I did get to meet a new local face, Karl Stark, who is the Health & Science Editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Like any smart editor, I think Karl was a bit suspicious and half-waiting for me to hand him my “please hire me as a stringer” portfolio. Instead, I gave him some story ideas for his work. (You guys know how I love to spout out ideas to people). Karl seemed to appreciate it, and took down some notes. I teased him about sending out one of his many journo minions after the stories. A minute later while we were perusing the board’s offerings for the next hour, I had the honor to introduce Karl to Jim MacMillan, my seasoned-newsman friend who worked at the Daily News forever and ever. Karl and Jim are in the same inner circles but had never met in person. As they talked, I felt a little heavy backstory there about their common work history, but I think any tension I was sensing was just typical “I used to work for the same company” stuff that would be immediately dispersed with a shared beer. So I hope they got to do that later at the Draught Horse.
At the after party at Draught Horse on Cecil B. Moore Ave, Emily and Heather, along with newcomer and fellow WITSphl13 attendee Rachael Hubbard (whose new Twitter bio pic was taken by me at the end of the day because I can’t have her be an egg!), asked me which session held the day’s highlight for me. I have to say 2 sessions were kickass. They didn’t shine because I learned something new; I didn’t learn anything new. Fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve gotten to a professional point in my writing-slash-creative strategy career where an unconference session probably won’t pop out any mind-blowing surprises. That kind of magical discovery stage has long, long past for me. The excitement for me in the sessions I mention was in the fact that someone else was standing up in the front of the room teaching the very strategies I use and the exact trends I see myself. It felt great not to feel crazy and too “out there.”
The first session of the day was given by my fellow township resident and marketer extraordinaire Michael Leis. He talked about the process through which his agency generates community for brands: They rely on building a voice via a character or a Shakespearean archetype. I’ve been cribbing this trick from the good ad agencies for years, but I add personality types from Psychology in the mix when I do consulting. It was so refreshing to see someone from a traditional agency setting talking about the tried-and-true Madison Ave secrets applied via Twitter and Facebook. As a fiction writer, I understand the construction of character and voice more than most people. Then I add my Psychology background as well as decades working and living in the tech world. So when Michael was even just touching on Shakespeare and archetypes and Twitter, I felt like I was at church listening to a choir sing my favorite spiritual. Michael’s slides and stories sang to me. I was so elated that I even asked him afterwards via a Twitter direct message to please look over my LinkedIn profile, as I explain in it the same concepts he discussed. If I were job-searching, I’d want to work in a house that gets it.
A sidenote-slash-related session was a roundtable called “Digital Strategist?” where we had a great conversation about how to use voice and build community online. Aram Zucker-Scharff (another BCNI regular) and I had a lot to say, especially in spewing advice toward the lovely and sharp Melissa Sachs. Another highlight of this session: meeting Penn employee Kurtis Sensenig. Kurtis produces video for the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania and I’m hooking Kurtis up to advise my husband (a dean and lecturer at UPenn) on a remote course he’ll be teaching this summer. Kurtis reports that he’s been looking for a test case for his own theories on video for distance learning, so this serendipity is sure to result in some great collaboration. LOVE when that happens, don’t you? Finding my own work or consulting jobs at conferences is cool, but helping others to be more than the sum of their parts by connecting them together is one of life’s great joys. It’s why I’m such a “super connector” online and off.
The next session that held another “allelujah” moment for me was David Dylan Thomas‘s talk on the sharing economy. Ownership is over. Millennials and the future dwellers of the world who will live mostly in cities don’t want to buy your book, even if it is just in digital form. They want to borrow your book, and they want to borrow your car, your couch, your music, your camera, or anything else they just need for tiny bits of occasional time. Yes, yes and more yes. David put a crapton of future-view into a quick look bunch o’ slides, and said it better than I ever could. Again, I left feeling encouraged that the knowledge exists a lot more outside of my own sci-fi writing brain than I expect. It’s nice to feel you have “peeps” that see the world and the world upcoming like you do. (I’m not bragging here. Most days I feel barely sane, with all the things I see coming and no-one to tell them to. This is why I – and probably many others – write fiction… it eases the tension.)
There’s more I could write but let’s just cap it off here. The day was more of a trip down memory lane for me than other years but it was nice to see some of my “crazy” thoughts make the “mainstream.” Bouncing ideas around with like-minds at the after-party rocked too. Many of the attendees straddle the journalism, tech and online-behavior worlds like I do. For this lone creative worker, there’s not much better than a whole day surrounded by my rarified, mashedup-unique-talent, futurist people. That’s BCNI. Come see me there next year.
More recaps from other attendees: