Mass High Tech: Tech heads tackle stress, build leadership on the rugby field

One of our very own founding partners, AJ Gerritson, was featured in the most recent issue of Mass High Tech. Journalist Lynette F. Cornell compiled a piece that focuses on how some of the important skill sets that are honed by playing the game of rugby–leadership, team work, mental toughness and dedication–are easily transferable to the corporate boardroom. Take a look at the piece below, and read about how AJ and others have overcome some of their business challenges by channeling their rugby-playing past (and present).

Tech heads tackle stress, build leadership on the rugby field

By Lynette F. Cornell

Special to Mass High Tech

When AJ Gerritson shows up to Monday’s board meeting with a shiner, don’t assume he got whacked in a weekend bar fight. He was just letting off steam with some fellow executives, all of them pounding each other in a fierce game of rugby.

Gerritson, a founding partner at 451 Marketing in Boston, is just one of many C-level people whose nights and weekends involve props, locks and hookers — the strange yet standard terms for various positions in rugby.

“It takes a certain person to play rugby,” said Gerritson.

That person, he said, is team oriented, a necessary quality for the game and one that carries over into being a successful company leader. Networking with other business leaders, he frequently met other current and former rugby players. The connection was always instantaneous and one he has never experienced with any other sport, he said.

Looking to unite other executives passionate about rugby, he recently created the Massachusetts Rugby Executives, a co-ed group of rugby players in various leadership positions.

The manager of the group, Steven Drew, has been playing rugby since he was a freshman at Babson College. He has also played hockey and soccer but says that there is something completely unique about rugby.

“I’ve never seen anything like the camaraderie and true team spirit as I’ve seen in rugby,” said Drew.

Now in his mid-forties, Drew doesn’t play rugby as much as he’d like. Yet, the 26 years he spent playing still influence his skills as a leader, he said. As the managing director of Hollister Inc., a Boston-based staffing agency, he is responsible for leading a team of employees. The importance of teamwork in rugby, he said, has helped him become a better team member.

For Linda Bourque, owner of B&B Realty Inc. in Watertown, rugby influences every aspect of her life, including her career. She said her 14 years of rugby playing have helped make her a better listener, a skill she greatly used while holding various leadership positions at Norwalk, Conn.-based Xerox Corp. The sport also shaped her thinking, she said.

“It gives you a different mental attitude, that ‘you can do,’” she said.

When she began playing rugby, few Americans even knew what it was. People who pursued the sport didn’t do it for the notoriety, said Bourque. Rugby demands a high level of commitment to training and personal fitness, a dedication that Bourque said requires self-motivated, self-starting people who are secure in what they do.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” she said.

Those unfamiliar to the sport can expect to see more of it soon. In March 2010 the US Rugby League will launch. Boston is one of six major cities where franchises have been set. Gerritson said he is not worried about the mainstreaming of rugby affecting the special bond he shares with other players.

“At the end of the day a rugby player will always have a special set of qualities that you don’t find in other sports,” said Gerritson. “Because of this fact the bond will always be there whether rugby is mainstream or not.”

How exactly should we be using Twitter?

mm_twitter1Quite often we receive this question from individuals that possess varied amounts of online savvy. Some have a solid grasp of how to utilize sites like Facebook and LinkedIn for personal and professional purposes, but they struggle to understand the benefits (and the “point”) of Twitter. Others are just confused about everything that is going on in the world of new media and find Twitter to be the most perplexing.

The fact of the matter is that there is no easy answer to the question. As an individual, you can do whatever you want to do with Twitter. You can follow your favorite celebrities, follow your favorite news site for real-time news updates, or you could just follow a few of your friends in order to communicate with them all within one channel.

But there are plenty of ways to get more out of the time and energy that you devote to Twitter. For the job seeker desperately looking for employment opportunities in a recession, there are hosts of individuals, recruiters and businesses available to follow and add to your network. If you are gainfully employed, you should follow those individuals and organizations that can provide insights that are relevant to you and your industry–journalists, competitors, trade groups, thought leaders, etc.

The key to running a Twitter account for your business differs a bit. As a brand on Twitter, it is important to be even more engaging with users, and also mindful of all of your brand mentions. Every Twitter user out there should be considered as either a customer or a prospect. The opportunities to respond to customer complaints (brand management) or prospect inquiries (lead generation) on Twitter are extraordinary. But bear in mind the importance of maintaining a human feel to the Twitter account. No one on the social web wants to interact with corporate robots so make sure that you develop a personlity for your brand. Focus on posting quality information rather than massive quantities of untargetted SPAM. PC World provides a more extensive examination of how businesses should be using Twitter here.

Are you doing anything differently for yourself or your company on Twitter? Let us hear it.

Boston Globe: Increasingly, marketing isn't just one-way street

The Boston Globe’s Scott Kirsner ran a terrific piece in Sunday’s paper about the emergence of the “new” approach to marketing that we continue to embrace– non-interruption based, inbound marketing. The piece specifically mentions how Boston-based companies (and individuals) have pioneered this shift, and will continue to foster it’s progression.

Here is the link to the article and the text is below:

/2009/04/26/increasingly_marketing_isnt_just_one_way_street/?page=1

Increasingly, marketing isn’t just one-way street

April 26, 2009

The Boston Globe

By Scott Kirsner

Is advertising dying – and Madison Avenue just hasn’t realized it yet?

Some influential writers, ex-agency executives, and consultants in Boston are making the case that a major change in the way companies sell things is taking place – and that most businesses and their marketing partners aren’t yet aware of it. Instead of interrupting you in order to get your attention – this column is brought to you by Dunkin’ Donuts’ New Ultra-Caffeinated Turbo Roast Coffee – their strategy is to let you stumble across their products online. The essence of the new strategy is to spread useful information about a given topic (like how to brew the perfect cup of joe) through blogs, social networks, Twitter, and video sites like YouTube.

“Before, you had to buy access to the consumer in some way, like purchasing a direct mail list or buying an ad in the Yellow Pages,” says David Meerman Scott, a Lexington author and speaker best known for his book “The New Rules of Marketing and PR.”

“Now, companies can talk directly to their customers.”

Scott is one of the organizers of a thrice-yearly conference called the Inbound Marketing Summit, which got its start in Boston in 2008; the next one takes place this week in San Francisco. Boston is also home to several companies that aim to profit from the advertising revolu tion by selling software or services to help companies communicate with customers in new ways, such as BzzAgent Inc., Brand Networks Inc., and HubSpot Inc. And the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council is convening a summit Thursday to explore how companies can measure the returns generated by this new approach to marketing.

Lots of different terminology is being tossed around to try to describe the shift, from social media to content marketing to social marketing to inbound marketing. The word “social” implies that the personal connections between individuals who can help spread your message to others are increasingly important. “Content marketing” alludes to creating content that people choose to spend time with, whether it’s a list of tips for maintaining a beautiful lawn or a funny video, like the “Will It Blend?” series created by the Utah blender maker Blendtec. “Inbound marketing,” coined by the Cambridge-based software company HubSpot, implies that a company has a prominent presence online and is delivering value to customers so they’ll come find it, rather than simply broadcasting “outbound” messages and hoping for the best.

A recent survey by Cambridge’s Forrester Research found that 53 percent of social media marketers expect to increase their spending, even amid the recession, and 42 percent expect it to stay about the same. One reason is that it is perceived as less expensive and more efficient than traditional marketing.

The new kind of campaigns can seem logical – or a bit abstruse. Helaine Smith, a Boston dentist, has posted YouTube videos demonstrating her purportedly pain-free approach to anesthetizing patients; she also offers a free, downloadable e-book on the connections between good oral health and one’s sex life. (Sex always sells on the Internet.) For the career site Monster.com, Boston-based Brand Networks created a free application that Facebook users can install, which delivers a constant feed of relevant job openings. More than 80,000 people have chosen to add the application to their profile pages, according to Jamie Tedford, BrandNetworks’ founder and a former executive at Arnold Worldwide, a Boston-based ad agency.

To promote a tech-oriented home makeover show on Verizon’s FiOS TV network, the Marlborough agency Advance Guard devised a somewhat bizarre idea: One of the hosts of the show altered a robotic Teddy Ruxpin doll so it would utter messages sent to it via Twitter. For a time, the Twittering Teddy could be viewed live on a Web video stream.

“At first, the client was like, ‘What?’ But when they saw the response to it, they were wowed,” says Advance Guard founder C.C. Chapman. The teddy – and the show – got lots of free exposure on well-trafficked blogs like BoingBoing Gadgets.

“I’m not classically trained in marketing, but most people in this space are not classically trained,” says Chapman. “It’s about street smarts as opposed to book smarts.”

This new wave of advertising can be traced back to pivotal books like Seth Godin’s “Permission Marketing,” published in 1999, and “The Cluetrain Manifesto,” published in 2000, which urged marketers to think about carrying on a conversation with customers, rather than a monologue.

What’s interesting is that very few of the thought leaders of this emerging field hail from the biggest marketing, advertising, and public relations agencies. “When you see a paradigm shift come along, the people who dominated the previous age don’t necessarily do well in the new ones,” theorizes Paul Gillin, the Framingham-based author of “The New Influencers.”

“Ad agencies are in some ways crippled by their own incentives and culture,” says Mike Troiano, an entrepreneur who earlier in his career worked at ad agencies Ogilvy & Mather and McCann-Erickson. “The guys at the top of the food chain are the guys who do television ads, and below them are print, and then direct marketing, and then you have interactive. I think you’re seeing a lot of those sophisticated digital media people moving out of agencies and into their own shops.”

Most of the new shops are still small. BzzAgent, which operates a network of “agents” who sample new products and services and then “buzz” about them online, has 90 employees. HubSpot, which sells a suite of software to help companies manage blogs and their position on various search engines, has about 85. And those are two of the largest. But even the smaller firms and sole proprietors command very loud megaphones. Chris Brogan, president of New Marketing Labs, the organizer of this week’s Inbound Marketing Summit, has more than 60,000 followers on Twitter, for instance.

If there is a clubhouse for these new marketing mavens, it may be the Kendall Square offices of HubSpot. Every Friday at 4 p.m., the company hosts a live Web video show that chews over some of the new dynamics of the company-customer relationship. Beer is served, and the live studio audience usually numbers 50 or so. Guests have included Gillin, Scott, Chapman, Twitter cofounder Biz Stone, and rap star/entrepreneur MC Hammer. Internet viewers can communicate with the two hosts via Twitter messages.

“Madison Avenue was the center of the world for the old style of outbound marketing,” says HubSpot chief executive Brian Halligan. “If inbound marketing is what’s happening next, then we think Boston has a chance to be the next Madison Avenue.”

Non-profits: How Are You Using Social Media to Tell Your Story?

section_image_nonprofit2Bloggers, including the crew here at 451 Heat, have discussed at length how and why companies should be utilizing social media tools and social networking sites to their advantage. But it is important to also note that non-profits—charities, community service organizations, preservationists, and causes of all kinds—can also stand to benefit immensely from the tools available on the social web. Non-profits will find that there are a host of tools available that can enable them to express their mission by telling a story and establishing a dialogue with supporters, benefactors, and current and potential donors.

A blog, for instance, is an excellent venue to post testimonials of individuals and organizations that have received support from the non-profit. Blog content can be peppered with photos, interactive videos, background information, additional links, director bios, and other features to enhance the story and keep the conversation dynamic.

And obviously, there are plenty of other ways that non-profits should be using the social web to raise awareness for their cause and story. Idealist.org, one of the most popular online destinations for non-profits, recently ran their thoughts on the importance of managing multiple on-line communities to effectively build an online presence. The crux of their observations revolved around the importance of interacting directly with users to build a following and a conversation, while also making sure to tailor voices for each different social media tool. The site  echoes the importance of making sure that the overall approach is integrative (a blog with event listings, Flickr photos, and YouTube videos for instance).

Simple Google searches will demonstrate how specific non-profits have certainly been quick to recognize the benefits of social media. But there are certainly examples out there that merit more visibility. The Jenzabar Foundation, an organization that supports the service and humanitarian endeavors of students around the globe, is now offering a $3,000 grant specifically for a non-profit that can demonstrate how they have effectively utilized social media strategies and tactics to raise awareness and/or funding for their cause.

So, in light of this post, head over to the blog and submit your campaign for a nomination.

Not actively involved with a non-profit but have an idea for a campaign that could tear the roof off for one? Let them hear that too. Those ideas are also eligible for the grant.

An Online Dilemma, and an Opportunity, for the News

An article in today’s New York Times examines the “free-versus paid online content” debate that is currently on the minds of all members of the newspaper and magazine publishing industry. Amidst a decline in their subscriber-base, many publications embraced the internet as a channel to help build their audience and increase revenues. But the recession has forced advertisers to tighten their spending across the board, leaving newspaper executives to grapple with new ways to turn a dollar newspaper1from their online content.

The biggest issue here, is, as the article points out, “How do you get consumers to pay for something they have grown used to getting free?” The reporters draw a parallel between the industry’s current situation and that of the recording industry. Music fans spent years downloading songs illegally for free from sites like Napster and Kazaa, but today, many of these same individuals have reverted back to paying for their music through iTunes. The difference is, of course, these individuals switched their habits because of the nascent fear of the possibility of legal action against them.

None of those fears exist here. With a few exceptions, internet users have come to expect to read their papers for free on-line with no questions asked. It won’t be easy to change those habits. As the article states, “Getting customers to pay is easier if the product is somehow better — or perceived as being better — than what they had received free.”

So what can publications do to make their content worth an investment from their readers? To paraphrase what Mark Mulligan, vice president of Forrester Research, says in the piece, it may be all about “chasing niches.” Finding what certain readers need on a daily basis, targeting them separately, and charging them for it.

It sounds a bit like the industry could use some more help from an inbound marketing campaign and other new media tools. Newspapers and magazines need to better capture their reader’s information; what they are reading, what sections they check most frequently, what journalists they read religiously. As some publications already do, requiring the readers to input their contact information into a free online form before reading certain content is a good way to start (it may be necessary to make sure this content is downloadable for tracking purposes). The reader won’t be forced to pay a fee, but will give up his/her e-mail address, providing the publication with a better sense of the content that they find necessary to have access to. Over time the publication will have a network of data on all of their most frequent visitors and will be able to engage certain individuals with exclusive, relevant and targeted offerings (podcasts, reporter chats, blogs, invitations to roundtables)—for a fee.

There is more to it here that should be considered. RSS feeds, text alerts, and other features can be tailored, or utilize existing content, and offered exclusively to certainly readers. Think of a way to aggregate all content for someone’s favorite sports reporter (their articles, blogs, Twitter feeds, etc) and package that offering to your “premium” subscribers. The key is for the industry to leverage the web to capture a better understanding of their audience to discover what exactly it is that they won’t be able to live without.