For The Love of the Game

I love what I do. 

After nearly six months into job search after a very unexpected layoff, that is most profound thing I’ve learned.

What started with the familiar feeling of panic, the “Oh My God, I need to find another job as quickly as possible!” has ebbed into an earnest belief: “I love what I do. I can’t wait to do this again. I’ll be so happy when I can.”

I’m a corporate communications professional that is a passionate 
advocate for the power of technology in society, with a proven 
track record for directing world-class campaigns and creative 
programs that deliver an innovative competitive advantage.

Of course, that paragraph is the business-speak that the consultants and numerous job-market experts came up with. At its core, however, what I really do is come up with ways for businesses to successfully leverage the potential of today’s marketing toolkit, as efficiently and effectively as possible, based on the needs, wants, wishes, and desires of their target audience.

In the end, it’s all about making that tangible, human connection. Nobody loves making that connection more than I do. Nobody is more driven by that connection than I am. The consultants would prefer I not use that language because that’s not keyword-friendly enough to get past all the automated resume scanners.

The best days I’ve enjoyed in the past six months have involved meeting people, networking, and most importantly, helping. A few in my community have asked me for advice on how their cause, their non-profit, their fledgling startup business, can best position itself. How can I grow audience? How can I get noticed?

They always have a little trepidation in their voice as they finish asking me their questions. I see them nervously grab that coffee cup in front of them as I begin my answers. They’re expecting me say that the only way they can reach their goals is by spending oodles of money they don’t have.

The time we spend coming up with a game plan that involves a myriad of marketing tactics is the most fun I have.  Creating these strategies is both an art and a science, a blend of content creativity and bottom-line oriented business planning. The lessons learned from storytelling and driving results in television, at Microsoft, at HP, and earning straight A’s in my Master’s degree studies bubble up from my soI Love This Gameul. Before long, we have a framework.

Soon, the coffee cups are empty, but the world is full of possibility. Both of us leave convinced in all of the incredible potential of smart, sustained, modern integrated marketing. I can’t wait to do it again.

The next generation of marketing is going to require smart, disciplined thinkers who see the world of digital, social, and traditional as an orchestra to conduct, not a process to manage. They need to see operating budget as something that can be maximized, not as a limit on what can be done.  It’s a puzzle I love to solve, and a game I love to play.

I’m ready. I can’t wait to do it again.

Joe Gura is a marketing communications expert looking for his next great adventure, and has a Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn, and follow Joe on Twitter and SlideShare.
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A Mad Night In Vegas

Making The Most of a Moment 

Four years ago, I met with my colleague Katie Moussouris, who had led the charge for “bug bounty” programs at Microsoft. For the uninitiated, bug bounties are paid by software vendors to independent security researchers who find and report potential vulnerabilities in their products before they can be exploited.

I was tasked with creating digital marketing collateral that would promote Microsoft’s first major bug bounty contest, a year-long campaign where, at the end, three researchers would win up to six figures for their exploits.

This is an eclectic, intelligent community, one which it would be tough to get the attention of in a genuine way. In my conversation with Katie, who is steeped in this culture, she shared with me a phrase from another colleague, Jonathan Ness, that came to define the campaign: “Mad Loot. Lots of it.” I loved it, and insisted we use it.

The launch of the contest came in Las Vegas at the BlackHat USA security conference in August 2011, and the unique “Mad Loot” collateral was received better than we could’ve dreamed.

A year went by, and now we were at BlackHat again, to give away said “Mad Loot” to the contest winners. My challenge: how do we give away the “Mad Loot”, and get the most out of it, without a mad marketing budget?

I pitched my colleagues at Microsoft the idea of a live, American Idol-style reveal of the BlueHat Prize winner on a big stage  at Las Vegas’ shiniest nightclub. I also promised that we could have video of the event edited and published within 2 hours. I also promised that they only production cost would be travel and expense for a crew of 2 people, including myself. I also suggested that we should expect an uptick in coverage with this unorthodox announcement. 

Here’s how we did it: I proposed we take a 5-minute window of the Microsoft Researcher Appreciation Party, which another part of the company was already paying for and was going to hold regardless, to get us the stage, and the rowdy crowd of 1,000 onlookers. Cost to me: $0.

We shipped a crate full of our production gear, including two cameras and our edit computer, to Las Vegas. Cost: about $1,000 in transit, including buying the crate, which we ended up re-using for years.

We had a crew of two people: David Wheeler, my trusted cameraman/editor extraordinaire, and myself. I handled the writing and producing of the event; David expertly handled all technical odds and ends. Cost to me: David’s usual costs, plus travel.

My colleagues from Microsoft were recruited to join us on the stage. Dustin Childs helped me in the cramped backstage with the contestants. Emily Anderson assisted with an on-stage presence, and, as you see, Mike Reavey served as our host, for the most part reading off a script I’d prepared for him. Cost to me: I had to buy coffee for a few people.

The result spoke for itself. Despite the 10pm Pacific time announcement, media in the Asia-Pacific region latched on immediately, and security trade press stayed up to report it.

Much of the coverage of the BlueHat Prize featured either direct video embedding, or borrowing of screen captures from our video, as seen in this example.

Much of the coverage of the BlueHat Prize featured either direct video embedding, or borrowing of screen captures from our video, as seen in this example.

Almost all accounts referenced the mood and tone of the reveal, calling it splashy, shimmering, and electric. Certainly not adjectives typically used to describe hacking contests.

If they didn’t embed their own video they shot on their mobile phones, many other reporters embedded our video, which posted by midnight. It was a true win as “owned content” became “earned content”, and Microsoft’s voice was literally carrying the night and the following days.

Here are the little-known backstories to this “Mad” reveal:

One of the cameras was unmanned. We only used two cameras for this shoot. David manned one camera for stage close-ups to focus on our host and the contestants. A second camera was kept locked-down, alone, on a wide shot on a tripod in the middle of the crowd. At any moment, a random person in the crowd could have stolen the camera, sabotaged it, or even just shut it off, which would’ve lost us a critical “cutaway” camera angle, and the project quality would’ve suffered. A calculated risk. 

“Blow the roof off this place.” The moment where the stage became engulfed in confetti, and strobe lights flashed furiously, was cooked up by myself and the technical guy at the nightclub. In going over the rundown of the show earlier that night, I took him through the lighting cues I wanted at certain times.

The intensity of the confetti and lights surprised everyone.

The intensity of the confetti and lights surprised everyone.

  • Me: “At this point, the reveal of the ultimate winner, just hit every button on this console. Seriously.”
  • Technical guy: “We haven’t really… um, we don’t really do that.”
  • Me: “Then do it tonight. I’m serious. Blow the roof off this place. Let’s see what happens.”

I almost bludgeoned at least six people with a 30-pound tripod:
A way we saved money on this production was to complete the editing and post-production in a hotel room, and not rent a separate workspace. The only downside: we were staying at Caesars Palace. The event was inside the Marquee nightclub at The Cosmopolitan, a 30-minute walk away. David and I covered that ground in 15 minutes. Running. In Las Vegas. Down the strip, in front of the Bellagio fountains. Dodging tourists. While each of us carried 50 pounds of gear on our backs. In 100-degree desert heat. I admit I had a few close calls, while shouting constantly like a maniac, “Coming through! Coming through!”

Speaking of near-disasters: I had mentioned Dustin Childs, helping me backstage, and Emily Anderson, helping us on-stage with the presentation. Just as the key moment arrived, as the winner was about to be named, Dustin blew past me, rushing onto the stage. I grabbed Dustin by the arm to stop him and pull him back behind the stage. I didn’t hear what he said, but I saw the urgency on his face. Emily was standing directly in front of an enormous confetti cannon that was seconds from going off. When I saw that, it was my eyes that went wide, and I let him go. Emily got the message, and casually moved aside right before bedlam broke out.

Despite months of meticulous planning, these events are never fully predictable. With the right people, the right partners, and the right set of circumstances, anything is possible. It’s not about the budget, it’s about the desire and professionalism of those involved; the willingness to see it through.

When reflecting on that “mad night” in Las Vegas in 2012, the professional, marketing side of me feels vindicated as the “owned content” of the ceremony and the quick-turn video did exactly what I promised it would- it garnered enormous attention for The BlueHat Prize and became “earned content” in it’s own right, embedded in media publications around the world. Three years ago, there were many who doubted if the content would be leveraged in news reports and blogs. 

On a personal level, however, it was so very rewarding to work with tremendous people. Shortly after we published, still on an adrenaline rush, and thirsty, I headed down to a private party where the winner of the “mad loot”, Vasilas Pappas, was crowded around an iPhone with his friends. They were watching, and re-watching, that confetti moment, on the video I just published, and invited me over to enjoy it with them. Although I had seen that clip about 17 times by that point, I couldn’t resist their invitation to join them, and watch it an 18th time.

The headlines may fade, the news cycle may move on, and the next campaign always beckons. However, the smiles from my friends and colleagues on that “mad” night in Las Vegas are what I will always remember.JG Initial Mark

Joe Gura is a marketing communications strategist, and has a Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn or follow Joe on Twitter: @joegura
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Be Quick, But Don’t Hurry

The Principles of Planning That Help You Produce Better Collateral Faster

Last week, I attended a PRSA-Puget Sound chapter meeting at the nature-tastic flagship store of REI in Seattle. Alex Thompson, VP of Communications and Public Affairs for REI, gave a great talk that made me appreciate the journey the customer and the business take together, and how each compliments the other.

During the Q&A, someone asked how long it took Thompson’s team to come up with a very well put together, excellent infographic , and the room was wowed when Alex replied, “4 days.” I nodded knowingly.

The best kept secret in marketing today is that top-notch creative collateral and plans can be produced quickly, cheaply, and efficiently. You can make an infographic in four days. Heck, you can even knock out a video in 4 hours if you really want to; I’ve done it myself.

What it takes is a clear picture beforehand of what you really want to accomplish with theFILE_Modernizing collateral/event, what you need to accomplish it, and  people that are laser-focused on getting there. Fittingly, these are the same principles of planning that a hardcore outdoor enthusiast must bear in mind before stocking up at REI for that next epic hike.

Three years ago, I directed a low-budget, high-quality, maximum-result project in Las Vegas. What could’ve been a press release or blog post about a security contest became a prime-time event that drew a thousand attendees, and delivered a video within two hours that grabbed headlines around the world.

…and we produced this collateral with a full-time crew of two people, including myself. On a four-figure budget, including travel. Later this week, I’ll share the details of how we leveraged existing resources, stretched our capabilities, and most importantly, planned everything meticulously to ensure the most impactful result.

It wasn’t easy, but with the right attitude, anything is possible. JG Initial Mark_15x15

Joe Gura is a marketing communications strategist, and has a Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn or follow Joe on Twitter: @joegura

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Communicating The Complex

Marketers Should Embrace, Not Fear, The Complicated

 Every so often, typically at the end of a long travel day or client dinner, after hours of exchanging war stories which include tales of covering presidential elections and staying on the air as the production truck catches fire, I’ll get the question.

“Why do you do this, when you could be doing that?”

This often refers to the field I work in at that moment. Why do I do legal communications? Why do I craft communications around patent reform? International Trade? Anti-corruption campaigns? How come I work with computer security? Privacy rights and regulations? Technology research? 

The answer is simple, just three words: “Because it’s hard.”

In producing news and sports, getting the audience to not just follow but identify with the content is intrinsically easy. Most producers are almost guaranteed success. Humankind has been captivated by athletic competition, leadership politics, the weather, and fire since time immemorial. If you flip over to your nearest news website, you’d likely find those four topics above the fold right now.

I love this challenge. I love marketing and communicating topics like intellectual property, geopolitics, business, security, technology, finance. I love it because it’s hard. It makes me think, pushes me to be a sharper storyteller.

I believe communications should not be complicated, even if the topic is.

Here is my four-part approach to dissecting and then building a dynamic, effective campaign for a complex subject:

Embrace It
Wrap yourself up in the subject. Constantly ask: “Why is this cool? Why should someone care?” If you can’t come up with an answer to this question, you haven’t looked hard enough.

Humanize It
Take the most subject to it’s most human level. How do people interact with this? How can we make this a positive interaction? 

Make It Real
The second, more important phase of humanizing. Find ways to make the subject matter tangible, clear, and obvious to the audience.

Make It Matter
Finally, in the last phase, now that the audience can almost literally hold the topic in their hand, create a sense of urgency around it. Make them care about it. Get that audience to take the next step, to make the commitment to care. 

One of the best in the business at this is a comedian. HBO’s John Oliver, who takes complex topics apart every week, informs, delights, and motivates audiences. To see these principles in action, take a look at some of his works, and find where each step comes alive for the viewer. JG Initial Mark_15x15

Joe Gura is a marketing communications strategist, and has a Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn or follow Joe on Twitter: @joegura

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A Pioneer Mindset

Staring Down Resistance In Business

The mascot of California State University, East Bay, my undergrad alma mater, was “Pioneers”. Not exactly what you’d expect to call the sports teams of a college which sits smack in the middle of a massive, sprawling Bay Area landscape, festooned by freeways.

All the same, pioneers aren’t just men and women in a covered wagon, heading West through sheer grit and determination. A pioneer is an explorer, is someone who leans headstrong against the tide, and advocates for the unthinkable, pushing boundaries. Someone who might be comfortable, but knows that something better is out there if they just push a little harder.

In thinking about how I market myself, it occurred to me that much of my career highlights are indicative of a pioneer mindset. Not the “sleep on the ground and eat dinner at the campfire while fending off bears” pioneer, mind you; my idea of roughing it is the Howard Johnson’s.

So, when I say Digital Media Pioneer in my portfolio, it comes from a place where I’ve sat in dozens of meetings, pitching well-researched ideas that cause most of the room to squirm, but paid off huge for my clients. Things like:

Visit to see my portfolio.

Visit to see my portfolio.

  • Expanding my TV station’s digital reach into social media in 2006, even though the  platform was owned by a competitor, because the goal is to build community and connect our audience with our brand. 

In all of those cases, and in many others, there was stiff resistance. “We can’t do that! That’s not the way it always was! There’s risk! What if something goes wrong?” 

In days of old, as in modern times, pioneers mitigate the risk, overcome the resistance, and get the results. JG Initial Mark_15x15

Joe Gura is a marketing communications strategist, and has a Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn or follow Joe on Twitter: @joegura
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The Digital Video Revolution Is Here

Do you want to dabble in the conversation, or do you want to drive it?

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is a question I hear often lately.

After giving my well-rehearsed, perfunctory answer, I later bring up a question to the company I’m talking to: “Where do you see this company in two years?”

“In less than three years, 70% of all consumer Internet traffic will be video,” I point out (The Guardian, 2014). “Does your company want to dabble in the conversation, or do you want to drive the conversation? Because I’m the one who can develop, install and launch the marketing program today that will make you win tomorrow.”

By 2017, 70% of consumer internet traffic will be digital video.

By 2017, 70% of consumer internet traffic will be digital video.

While the greater adoption of video does represent a seismic shift as to how brands communicate on the Internet, many of the current fundamentals will still be in play, or possibly modified to be more effective in this platform. The content itself will need to be advertised through digital advertising platforms in addition to social media promotion. Digital content development will need to focus on the first 10 seconds as the “golden moments”, that will make or break the viewer’s desire to stick with the content, and consequently, stick to your brand.

However, the most important part: Content is king. Plus, in an online environment with limitless channels for consumers to ‘flip’ to, there had better be a lot of your content to choose from, vibrant content that tells your brand’s story in an engaging, educational, and effective fashion, which is fundamental in this new era for digital marketing.

There is an obvious need, but the next question is, “how does a brand do this?”

  • First, think digital at the start of every campaign. Digital not just needs a seat at the table; they need a say in crafting the agenda for the first meeting.
  • Second, take your digital team as close to in-house as possible to save on endless per-project cost.
  • Third, work to remove the endless barriers to quick, effective publishing, whether it is obstructionist stakeholders, all-too-careful legal team reviewers, or other micro-management.

The marketing teams that think this way and implement these sorts of strategies will be best-equipped to deal with an online environment where video will be the most prevalent form of digital communication. The question brands have to ask themselves is, “How much of this 70% do we want to be?”

The possibilities as consumer technology and storytelling technology evolve and become ever cheaper are immense. 

How much of that consumer video internet traffic do I want for my clients? All of it.

And I’m not going to stop until I get it. JG Initial Mark_15x15

Joe Gura is a marketing communications strategist, and has a Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn or follow Joe on Twitter: @joegura

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Web Design: A Two Way Street

When thinking about websites, I always try to look at priorities from both sides of the screen.

First, the customer. What are their priorities? After all, the web is a utility. If I visit a restaurant’s website, I expect to be able to quickly find information about its location, their menu, and contact/reservation information.

If I can’t find that information, I might get annoyed and go look at another restaurant.

Consequently, now look at things from the point of view of the restaurant. They need to ensure that a customer can find the information that they are looking for and find it quickly. However, they also have a story to tell. They want to position their brand in the best way possible, one that’s true to their core values and the story they want to share.FILE_Web_Design

The restaurant would want to have rich, detailed photography of their most popular dishes. Maybe they’d also want to link to favorable reviews, either by local newspapers or customers on Yelp. While the customer is coming to the website expecting this content, the brand is responsible for delivering the experience that meets and then exceeds those expectations.

Beyond this very simple content vs. functionality debate, there are numerous technical areas that must be closely considered. For example, compatibility with browsers and especially mobile platforms must be accounted for. When thinking of user interface (or UI), different types of websites might need different types of layouts to best fit their customer’s expectations. Even after deployment, heat maps are an excellent tool to collect data on the effectiveness of your site, and will help you plan for version 2.0 of your home page. JG Initial Mark_15x15

Joe Gura is a marketing communications strategist, and has a Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn or follow Joe on Twitter: @joegura

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