Greetings from Sunny California!

Now is an ideal moment to take stock of our performance, and reorient ourselves in the direction of peace, renewal, introspection, and togetherness.

However challenging this past year may have been for you or your business, we hope that the net effect has been a positive one, not only to your bottom line, but to your and your colleagues’ personal sense of wellbeing. We work to live, and may we all live to make our world a little better – whether through art, commerce, social service, or whatever pursuit gets you out of bed at the beginning of your day!

As always, our firm’s marker for success is how much we were able to learn and grow, in any given year. 2019 was no exception, though it had some unforeseen moments!

Our recent engagements have taken us into a variety of new markets and fields, for which I am grateful. Whether working with the UN Foundation on their “Girl Up” initiative, restructuring a nationally syndicated radio talk show for the podcast era, or celebrating the opening of a new local business venture. Our company’s focus remains on people, sustainability (environmental and fiscal), and innovation.

 

 

Grand Opening of Los Angeles’ Artesano Tamaleria

 

Attendees at the UN Foundation Girl Up Summit

 

Personal commitments prevented me from spending my usual couple of months with our London and Lisbon teams, but more time in the Los Angeles area allowed for greater participation in some local initiatives.

We continue to enjoy supporting the great work done by the film and TV industry’s Green Production Guide team, and I enjoyed spending a day at the Produced By Conference in early June, roaming the Warner Bros lot, challenging the thousands of industry professionals in attendance to rethink and upgrade their approach to sustainable production. Personal engagement remains the foundation stone upon which fruitful change is built.

 

Leaders of the Producers Guild of America Green Initiative

 

Our firm continues to work with and advise a variety of political and educational initiatives and organizations, including the City of Burbank, where we are based. We are passionate about improving the transportation infrastructures and community health of this beautiful city – no small undertaking in an area so slavishly devoted to the automobile! We were thrilled to participate this year in some milestone events and initiatives, including the groundbreaking ceremonies for a bikeway we’ve been working on for a number of years, the continued development of a regional rapid transit system (BRT), and ongoing improvements to the intersections between our regional and local traffic infrastructures (more access for bicycles, pedestrians, and public transportation!). There has been a lot of success in 2019, but, as with all such projects, the movement is glacial and there remains much to be done!

This was a great year for improving the city’s fiscal and functional health, and it’s been a pleasure to welcome new City Manager Justin Hess, while thanking outgoing City Manager Ron Davis for his service. Each person, though cut from different cloth, brings a standard of excellence and service worthy of appreciation. The inimitable Emily Gabel-Luddy, nearing the close of her term, will shortly be succeeded as the City’s Mayor by our other admirable friend Sharon Springer, and I look forward to a period wherein her infectious enthusiasm, love of community, and intelligence will continue to inspire and uplift not only City Staff, residents, and businesses, but the municipalities around us, as California continues to lead the way in facing the challenges and opportunities of our myriad communities.

 

Burbank City Council and Community Leaders at Los Angeles Bikeway Groundbreaking Ceremony

 

A summer opportunity to travel back to Seattle, Washington allowed me to catch up with a previous client, OneRedmond, and the numerous technology and entertainment companies with whom we collaborated during our most recent project in the area. Some very interesting progress has been made, including the establishment of a very promising Public/Private partnership serving the Greater Seattle Economic Development area. This region includes not only Seattle itself, but also the wonderful cities of Redmond, Kirkland, and Bellevue. We were also able to spend a good amount of time with another cherished client, one of the Northwest’s top event and hospitality firms with whom we are developing a growth strategy, as they expand into more strategic and global ventures relating to their already impressive core capabilities.

The Northwest region remains a favorite one, and I’m excited to see its continued growth as a hub of innovation and workforce development. The area’s renowned commitment to sustainability and community makes it an excellent breeding ground for the next generation of purpose-driven enterprises.

 

Back in Los Angeles, I was recently invited to participate in a long-overdue Mobile World Congress workshop session entitled “Women4Tech”. It was inspiring to see and talk with such a diversity of women leaders in the fields of tech, marketing, engineering, government, and creative production. Some of next year’s most compelling innovations from around the world will be coming from women-led enterprises, and we can only benefit from their contributions, guidance, and insights.

 

Women4Tech Conference at Mobile World Congress USA

At the end of last year, I was invited by Al Gore to become a Climate Reality Leader, helping to inform and inspire communities to become more actively engaged in combating the undeniable climate crisis we all face. In addition to giving presentations to schools, local governments, corporations, and community organizations, it was an honor to be asked to establish and chair one of the newest Chapters of the global Climate Reality Project. This proved a mighty and worthwhile challenge! During the course of this past year, we recruited more than 40 passionate advocates for responsible stewardship, and together we have made a marked impact on local, state, regional, and national policy and action. We look forward to helping the organization further consolidate and maximize the energy, knowledge, and commitment of these leaders.

 

 

The Southern Poverty Law Center has been a favorite organization, ever since I was a student at Duke University, helping to set up a chapter of the Center’s then-new “Teaching Tolerance” initiative. I’ve long enjoyed supporting the great work done by this laudable organization, and this year we were offered a marvelous opportunity to spend some time with co-founder Joe Levin, as we reviewed the extraordinary efforts undertaken by the SPLC, on behalf of the disenfranchised, marginalized, and oppressed members of our nation’s family. I remain in awe of their passionate zeal and commitment.

 

With SPLC Co-founder, Joe Levin

 

While 2019 provided a diversity of opportunities and discoveries, it also unhappily took away important treasures. I was greatly saddened this year to participate in memorial and funeral services for some great people, including my friend, Blake Byrne; an important mentor, David Picker; a previous boss, Michael Lynne; and former colleague and icon, Cokie Roberts. It would be pitiful to attempt here any sort of In Memoriam for such admirable people, so we will instead commit ourselves anew to conducting our professional business in a manner reflecting their integrity, passion, and service. We are sure that each of our friends, colleagues, and clients has experienced the pain of loss this year, in their own unique but equally important way, and we offer each our sympathy. Life is indeed a fleeting gift, the value of which we seem to fail to take full measure, until we find ourselves being ushered toward the exit. To borrow the latest aphorism: KonMari the year ahead, and share the joy you keep!

 

 

The future must always be seen with optimism. We are looking forward to continuing our work with our newest client: an exciting tech & creative startup venture focused on increasing access for the visually impaired to content otherwise out of reach. We’re eager to see what other opportunities and innovations present themselves next year, in markets and industries that will assuredly teach us new lessons and show us new wonders!

My thanks go not only to my colleagues, but to clients and friends alike who have welcomed us this year into their offices and labs, as well as onto the many studio lots and sets! The opportunity to learn from and watch you invent inspires me on a regular basis!

 

 

Wishing you the peace, renewal, and togetherness to which I alluded at the beginning of my post, I close, grateful for a year where the positives outweighed the negatives, and in the hope that this trend continues robustly in the year to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nicholas de Wolff

 

News media has been working hard these past few years to find ways to engage with, and secure the loyal readership of, content consumers and citizens. The results have been mixed, and the experiment continues. One metric that I believe should not be compromised, though, is the actual quality of content. No matter how many bells, whistles, sound loops, or infographics you integrate into an article, there has to also be substance to the subject matter under study. Perhaps I’m wrong, though.

Consider the article from yesterday’s New York Times, “Are You Rich?”: As an interactive resource tool, it is effectively useless fluff. As a way to write a short article, and more intimately and meaningfully contextualize the message of the article, it could have been very compelling, but the authors (it took 3 of them!) of the article went for fluff and aggregation of 3rd party pithy data points over substance, when they could have written something truly resonant. Whether surprisingly or not, it was the comments that increased the value of the article.

“Every pathway has pros and cons, and editors and owners alike are, I sincerely hope, giving serious consideration to the promises and perils inherent in each possibility.”

Are You Rich? This Income-Rank Quiz Might Change How You See Yourself

 

Will journalism be well-thought, well-researched, investigative, and editorial in form, or will short-form clickbait designed to secure eyeballs win out? Will content be published to inform, educate, and empower, or will it be designed to incite swiftly targeted emotional reaction and engagement? Every pathway has pros and cons, and editors and owners alike are, I sincerely hope, giving serious consideration to the promises and perils inherent in each possibility. We, the readership, will be the richer for it, if provided a balanced diet of healthy and well-sourced information. Everyone knows that sugar, caffeine, and clickbait – however addictive – provide no value.

With thanks to Roger Ebert for directing me to this great resource, I found a lovely “low-tech” use of YouTube today, that I wanted to share with you.

Over 500 classic poems, each read aloud by the same man, as a simple slideshow presents the poet’s headshot, followed by the text of the poem, and concluding with a subtly evocative image relating to the poem just read:

Click here to visit the Spoken Verse Channel on YouTube

I’m afraid I am finding the channel somewhat addictive…rediscovering old favorites, and unearthing new delights.

I originally posted the “official video” for this song a couple of months ago. Following some legal wranglings with their label, EMI (which recently removed the embed functionality from all the band’s videos on YouTube), OK GO  went and got an independent sponsor to support a wholly autonomous remake of the video, over which EMI had no authority! Here it is:

(Updated content post-unveil, at bottom)

Just a few hours before the Big Unveil, and I wonder whether Steve Jobs may not be revealing 2 big deals: The iSlate (as I think it should be called) is certainly newsworthy, although I don’t think (or – at least – I don’t hope) it will be the Kindle-killer so many are predicting. It’s probably going to be as different from the Kindle as a Victorinox SwissChamp is from a finely crafted Henckel. It’ll do a lot more, but what the Kindle does, it does so well…That said, I think that the probability of an iTunes store for e-books and e-Mags, with a plethora of already forged publishing house and media organization deals struck, would be a massive piece of news indeed!

As far as the tablet itself, I think the folks at Doghouse Diaries have a pretty good handle on things:

UPDATE (11:00am, Wednesday, January 27):

OK, so I was right, and I was wrong. He’s calling it the iPad (which sounds like a women’s personal health product to me). No big surprises as of yet, but the anticipatory coverage of this product was so intense that it was nigh impossible to present a piece of information that had not been discussed exhaustively by one camp or another. This is certainly an impressive product, however.

I suggest that, instead of being an e-reader killer, it is a Netbook killer. Netbooks have always been essentially little more than shrunken laptops, with reduced functionality to boot! Here’s something that does all that and more. The battery life is impressive (10 hours), but nowhere near the weeks of battery life offered by the Kindle. The functionality blows the Kindle out of the water, but then why buy the Henckel knife in the first place, when you are looking for a multifunction Victorinox?

As I predicted, the introduction of the iBooks store is compelling, and THAT’S where the fire is being lit under the Kindle a***. Bookshelves, categories, ePub, oh my!

I don’t think the “page turning” experience was terribly innovative. I agree with Bezos’ assertion that it is a cop-out to try and replicate the “real book” experience on an e-reader. It is simply a different way of navigating the content, but the essential immersive reading experience is the same (if not better) on a successful e-reading device.

the iWork demo confirms that this device may truly replace laptops for some people, but I don’t think it will be a “laptop killer”. Apple has positioned it well in the “larger than we might have imagined” gap between the mobile phone and laptop.

For $700-900 (including tax and 3G coverage), this is going to appeal to a diversified cross-section of consumers, but none of them are going to be schoolkids and college students in lower income households (a $300 Kindle DX, with ebooks at less than half the price of “real” books, is a much more viable financial proposition, but still a challenge. Will Amazon move on this, or will they fumble?). This is not the device for people who are looking for an alternative to books. This is the device for people who are looking to own and experience the evolution of the mobile technological consumer gaming/communication/application device, to hold and cherish the love child of the laptop and smart mobile device (although, with no telephonic capability of note, it’s not truly the confluence point between laptops and smartphones, and that may be a good thing).

The Apple iPad is an impressive (though not as miraculous or magical as some might have wished) advance in computing and mobile technology. It is a thrilling “next step”, but not quite a “leap”. Unless Amazon mishandles this stage of their Kindle development and market penetration, this should certainly not pose a substantial threat to their goals.

That said, Amazon has goofed up a few times already: first with the “1984” mess, then with the “let’s insult existing Kindle customers by offering them for free to people who have expressed zero interest in them” fiasco, and of course we must not forget all the complaints about the Amazon cover and customer service failures. Amazon has an opening to become the next “Apple”, oddly enough. They have a devoted (but recently abused) fan base. They introduced a new concept in content experience. The Kindle has been birthed at a moment in history when social media and crowdsourcing are growing exponentially. With strong marketing leadership ( I do NOT mean conventional product marketing, but rather cross-functional product/strategic/brand marketing that SHOULD be the purview of all senior marketing leaders), Amazon could retain and enhance its innovator position, all the while recognizing and addressing the fact that it’s no longer enough to appeal to a small tribe of early adopters…

I believe that Amazon and Apple are both sitting in their own respective sweet spots of opportunity, and it remains to be seen which, if either, will successfully manipulate and manage the next few months…

For the 3 people in North Dakota (no offence intended…ND residents, please substitute SD!) who have not yet heard of Mashups, this latest work is a great example of the now not-so-new practice of music blending:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNzrwh2Z2hQ]

Artists and songs featured include:

The Black Eyed Peas – BOOM BOOM POW
Lady Gaga – POKER FACE
Lady Gaga Featuring Colby O’Donis – JUST DANCE
The Black Eyed Peas – I GOTTA FEELING
Taylor Swift – LOVE STORY
Flo Rida – RIGHT ROUND
Jason Mraz – I’M YOURS
Beyonce – SINGLE LADIES (PUT A RING ON IT)
Kanye West – HEARTLESS
The All-American Rejects – GIVES YOU HELL
Taylor Swift – YOU BELONG WITH ME
T.I. Featuring Justin Timberlake – DEAD AND GONE
The Fray – YOU FOUND ME
Kings Of Leon – USE SOMEBODY
Keri Hilson Featuring Kanye West & Ne-Yo – KNOCK YOU DOWN
Jamie Foxx Featuring T-Pain – BLAME IT
Pitbull – I KNOW YOU WANT ME (CALLE OCHO)
T.I. Featuring Rihanna – LIVE YOUR LIFE
Soulja Boy Tell ’em Featuring Sammie – KISS ME THRU THE PHONE
Jay Sean Featuring Lil Wayne – DOWN
Miley Cyrus – THE CLIMB
Drake – BEST I EVER HAD
Kelly Clarkson – MY LIFE WOULD SUCK WITHOUT YOU
Beyonce – HALO
Katy Perry – HOT N COLD

(With thanks to A. Lightman for the link)