Monday, March 2, 2009

AM Eternal

Q: Introduce us to yourself and your company.
My name is Ann Marie Mathis, but I have many names being that I’m digital n’ all. I’m @amathis on twitter, Emerie May and AnnMarie McCellan in Second Life; my team and friends usually call me ‘a.m.’. I’m primarily a Digital Creative Type, but I tend to take advantage of the blurred lines that exist between creative, strategy, media, PR and production.

I’ve been a Creative Director for Cheil USA for the past 4 years working on the Samsung Account. There I’m known as the resident ‘social media queen’, but I’m really more of a social media student than an evangelist. I’m also a Second Life content creator (owner of the Paris New York sim). My partner, Dan Almariei, and I built the sim and sell virtual goods. It’s a great creative outlet for us.

Q: Interactive Producers come from all walks of life, they are a hybrid of talents, tell us about your background and how you got interested in digital production?
I went to art school in NYC focusing mostly on media arts. I’m afraid I might show my age if I tell you there wasn’t much of a computer department at the time. So I decided to go into...*drum-roll please* Advertising. Well, I didn’t think fine art was going to pay the bills… and I love food way too much to commit myself to the whole ‘starving artist’ thing.

So I launched my career at McCann and later moved to Grey… not really knowing what I was getting into when I followed my (totally awesome) Supervisor into the budding digital department known as back in ‘97. I knew he was onto something, and I was intrigued by the newness of it all. I remember spending lunch hours in his office using his modem to search the web. My first web site design was for Guideposts Magazine. Even by today’s standard’s it was kind of cool because it had a sense of community. The prayer forum was amazing. You could submit a prayer and make it public or private, then someone at Guideposts would bring your prayer to the Chapel, and online users would also read and pray for you. It wasn’t the most glamorous of assignments, but I liked it because I was learning. To this day though, I think I’m going to hell for the grim reaper I hid in the navigation.

Grey (now G2) definitely primed and shaped me for days ahead. My next stop was Zentropy Partners where I worked on Coca-Cola for 2 years (a very cool gig while it lasted). Then the bubble burst and the now 13-person office got sucked up by McCann’s MRM (pretty much right back where I started).

I stuck with McCann for a while as an ACD on Black & Decker, Nikon and Wendy’s. The opportunity with Cheil on Samsung came along, it gave me a chance to help pave the road for the company’s digital offering. I’ve done some great stuff over the years at the big agencies, but I think I’ve done some of my best work at Cheil.

Q: How do you stay on top of emerging technologies and keep your team informed and motivated?
It used to be really easy. You subscribe to a couple of newsletters and trade pubs, checkout stuff your friends emailed to you… that was about it. Now, forget about it. I could stay up 24/7 reading RSS feeds, facebook and twitter posts, attending seminars and conferences and feel like it’s not enough. So a colleague of mine said to me ‘Why don’t you delegate?’ So it gave me an idea. I started a group where I assigned each of my team members an area of expertise (i.e. Mobile, Podcasting, Social Networks), their only requirement being they track their research/findings with an RSS feed. I then aggregated the feeds into a Netvibes environment. So it became a place we could go to see what everyone was finding and writing about. We would meet once a month to show some of the new things we were finding. It was kind of like digital show n’ tell. The net-net of it all is that I now have team members I can go to when I need an expert in a certain area. It’s also a neat tool for our Clients to keep current.

When I’m not delegating, you’ll find me reading blog, RSS and twitter feeds. I do follow some of the trades, but the best info is stuff you find people sharing on networks.

Q: What does your ideal client/project look like?
I’m pretty convinced that the future of the web is focused on the Social. Teens no longer watch TV (at least not on a television). I find that the consumer landscape is changing drastically, but client mind-sets aren’t keeping up. Project based marketing efforts aren’t giving us the opportunity to build on the long-tail effect of having real, ongoing relationships with their consumers. It’s not just Social Media, it’s customer support, outreach, dialogue… CRM. Brands need to learn to listen and how to be approachable.

Q: How do you educate your clients and set realistic expectations for a project?
I try to remember that while I’m doing a presentation, if I use terms or talk about technology or marketing campaigns they might not be familiar with, it’s not going to help sell the work. Bringing examples certainly helps them visualize and understand better. I find that clients will trust you more if you take the time to educate them. Early last year, I visited the different offices for our clients to do a ‘social media 101’ presentation. Just to help them understand different elements and how brands were starting to use it (both good and bad). It was a great way to start a dialogue with the clients and help them feel more comfortable about adapting to it. One of the challenges we face is when it comes to analytics. We set up very detailed benchmarks, but it’s hard to justify 300 video entries as a success. My advice is make sure your client is on board at the outset in terms of what you want to accomplish. Not just in terms of numbers, but in terms of engagement.

Q: What was the best project you have ever worked on?

For a project to be really killer a number of things need to fall into place. You need to know exactly who you’re targeting, and you have to know the target audience inside and out. Know what their day is like from start to finish and how they feel and respond to your product and brand. A lot of agencies skip right through a discovery phase, not to mention the strategy phase. If you can get through all that and feel like you’re onto something, the next challenge your teammates. If you come up with an idea, and your account, project managers and strategists aren’t behind it, you’re finished. If you manage to get to this point and have the enthusiasm and a sense of ownership from the team for the idea, the last hurdle is having a client who sees the vision, stands behind it and gives it the green light. I’ve actually had this happen twice for me at Cheil. The most recent was for the launch of Samsung’s line of Washer/Dryers. I know it doesn’t sound very exciting, but when you look at the results for this campaign, they include an authentic dialogue with the consumer. I think a lot of brands could learn from this example.

In our research, we enlisted ‘Samsung Moms’ who we followed for a year after outfitting them with a set of new washer/dryers. We also found that our target audience, primarily Moms, spend a lot of time online, researching products, reading reviews, looking to friends and family for advice. They’re also very social on the web - writing or following blogs, posting photos and videos of their family. We decided if we wanted to appeal to our Moms, we have to do it in a very authentic way… give them something they get value from. Not just a bunch of product info they could get on a retailer’s website. So the Moms Like Us network was born: a small community of Moms who talk about ‘life, laundry, and the pursuit of cleanliness’. The production itself wasn’t huge, since we developed it on the Ning platform. But a lot of care went into the content.

Our Moms from the research helped us launch with videos that talk about their experiences and giving advice to other readers. The Pioneerwoman, who was our guest blogger provided relevant, entertaining stories and insights. Members could post their own photos and videos, write product reviews, post questions, start groups, there was even a ‘laundry-pedia’ where users could read/write/edit laundry tips. We gave away 2 sets of Washers/Dryers to members of the Moms Like Us community and featured winners. There aren’t any benchmarks for this kind of thing… though I think almost 30,000 members and plethora of user comments and content make it a success. Not just because it’s high level of engagement, but because it’s authentic. After 7 months, users continue to share stories, network with other moms and reach out to the brand with questions and comments. This is a piece of work the whole team can be really proud of.

Q: How many projects are you comfortable producing at one given time?

I think my record is in the thirties! But that isn’t exactly what I’d call ‘comfortable’. I like working on one or two really big projects. One that you can fully immerse yourself in. The kind where you wake up at 3am (if you aren’t already still awake) and leave yourself a voicemail because you have a really great idea and don’t want to forget it in the morning. I wish I could do one or two of these where I’m working like crazy, being totally excited about the project, and then take like a month off once it launches =) and then do it again.

Q: What does your dream production team look like?

Give me a team of talented people who love what they do and working together. It’s hard to do great work when there isn’t team chemistry. I’m surrounded by a really talented team of multi-disciplinary thinkers and doers. When there’s one in the group who’s ego outweighs the rest, it really does take all the fun out of it.

Q: How do you ensure that your client's best interests are met?

Partially by being a student of the trade. As time goes on, and the rules change (and wow have they changed), what you thought was true 2 years ago, doesn’t necessarily apply anymore. Before I argue a point with the client, I like to make sure I know what I’m talking about (besides that, I’m a terrible liar). I’m a strong believer fighting for what’s right, but it has to be a solid strategic argument. If I can’t guide a client to do the right thing, I feel a tremendous sense of personal failure.

Q: What is your vision of what the next phase of our industry is going to look like?
TVs now come with Ethernet enabled RSS feeds. Social Networks and Virtual Worlds allow us watch content together live in real time. Widgets and iphone apps give us instant access to whatever content we want, when we want it… and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible. So what’s Web 3.0? I think it will start with total convergence. No more TVs. Laptops with high def touch screen monitors. Pizza delivery by pushing F11. Digital experiences will be all inclusive. Think 1-click shopping for everything we do. It’s gonna be awesome. =)

Q: Please share a snippet of wisdom that you would like to impart on our readers.
Just friend me. If I have ANY wisdom to share, it’ll be in there somewhere. And don’t tell me I need to get out more. I may miss something!

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