When Emma Cookson, the Chairman of the New York branch of Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), an award-winning ad agency, and her team concocted an innovative marketing program called Homeless Hotspots, they genuinely had no sense of the furor that they’d be facing when the project launched.
The Homeless Hotspots program was meant to serve the needs of the super digerati who attend the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas. Inspired by the established model of homeless people earning money by selling homelessness-focused newspapers, BBH’s idea was for homeless people, wearing T-shirts printed with their names and identifying themselves as 4G hotspots, to sell connectivity (an issue for conference attendees) by means of small handheld Wi-Fi routers.
Bad early-March weather kept the program mostly invisible until the third day of SXSW, when appalled commentary began to roil the Twitterverse. Cookson found herself in the unexpected position of having to react to a media tsunami — fast.
I sat down with her to explore what she learned from the experience, which she was able to distill into five lessons:
# 1. Comment Precedes Knowledge
As Cookson was putting her kids to bed the evening of Sunday, March 11 in her Brooklyn home, her Tweetdeck started “blinking very loudly,” with her team on the ground in Austin alerting her that something alarming was going on. Individuals had begun negative tweets about Hotspots that cascaded into a cycle of news stories (See articles from ReadWriteWeb, The New York Times and Wired) and what started out as a small brush fire suddenly scaled up to a full-blown firestorm. The speed at which it all happened was unprecedented, given that it was generated by the tech community gathered at SXSW, and not some other big gathering.
With the event now solidly in her rearview mirror, what does Cookson understand about the situation that she didn’t [Read more...]