What is social mediagraphy?

julianhaber-snapchatPhotography + social media = social mediagraphy

I love making up neologism and one I’ve recently started using to describe my event photography service offering to clients is social mediagraphy. I used to be able to work exclusively as a photographer, documenting an event or covering a conference then delivering the set of edited images to my client for distribution through their communications channels like newsletters, websites and the like. This is no longer sufficient for today’s market which demands a steady and constant flow of snackable content, in real-time, to keep audiences engaged and re-engaged throughout the course of an event.

No large event today is deemed to have happened if it doesn’t have its own # and generate volumes of Tweetable, and re-tweetable content. And as a photographer, I’ve learned to adapt and actually enjoy the connectivity and heightened appreciation for my work that this behaviour brings.

Where I used to be an invisible service provider, working away in a kind of obscurity producing images that would be used long after my work was done, I am now often thrust in the middle of the action, generating and sending out my own socially-media-friendly Tweets, Instagram posts and LinkedIn content as it relates to what I’ve been covering as a photographer during an event. And clients appreciate it, because it helps them with their goals of generating interest and sparking conversations surrounding the content they’ve pulled together to mount their conference, or to satisfy the needs of their membership, boards or communications teams who work hard to show ROI on the big events they develop.

Social mediagraphy, as I would define it from the point of view of a photographer, is the combination of both traditional event coverage with frequent bursts of social media activity. In my case I will use my phone during events, and then later on post edited and refined images from the day’s coverage. Post-event, I’ll usually follow up with a roundup or a few blog posts relating back to the event, or a particular piece of content that resonated with me that I think bears reporting on for my audience.

If a quote happens at a conference and nobody Tweets it, does it matter at all?

Once the content is created and pushed out there, it can, and often is, picked up by event attendees who sometimes add their own commentary to the posts, or simply retweet or repost the content so that it reaches ever-widening circles of influence.

workingAll of this helps increase the impact from an event and enables event organizers to leverage their attendees to extend their reach into their networks, as the people at one event are usually connected to a bigger number of people outside of the event for whom the event also has appeal. Aside from seeding sales and requests for invitations for future events, this also helps validate the relevancy of the event to its target audiences and provides context for people on the outside who may be curious and become interested in learning more simply by coming across one or more of these social tidbits as they float through their ever-refreshed news feed. It’s also fun and a great way to make new friends.

Change is good

Change is at the heart of all technology. Photography is no longer sufficient on its own to meet the demands of clients who find themselves having to publish content in myriad forms to satisfy the needs of their audiences. Gone are the days when you could shoot an event, deliver your work weeks later and charge a premium for the service. Whether your event is a wedding, a corporate gala, AGM, trade show or a conference, photos are now but one layer of social proof needed to help augment and enhance the experience. Of course this requires new skill sets and familiarity with constantly changing tools (I’m still fairly lame at Snapchat but working on it) but that’s part of the fun of photography and working with technology in general. Rapid change is the constant of our times today and the only way to not drown in it is to embrace it.

What makes a photograph work?

 (Julian Haber)

Hint: it’s not the make of your camera

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Though Maya Angelou wasn’t explicitly talking about what makes a good photograph work, she might as well have been.  Context is everything, and in the context of businesses using photography to help create, promote and develop their brands, understanding the secret sauce of what makes a photograph effective can be very useful, and profitable.

Studying the data trail on images across visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest will certainly lead to some actionable insights, but for a quick and simple rule of thumb, thinking about how the image used is intended to make the viewer feel is a big part about getting it right.

Go pro, amateur or UGC? It depends… 

 (Julian Haber)

Recently at an iMedia conference I was covering, I listened in on a panel discussion led by Matthew Langie, CMO at Curalate, a company that helps consumers discover brands, and helps brands leverage their visual content by, among other things, enriching their photography with relevant metadata that connects back to their commerce sites. It also conducts research into things like what makes an image popular on Pinterest, and one of their findings was that sometimes professional images – those shot by a photographer with professional lighting, expensive kit and under artistic direction, did worse (fewer repins and shares) than images shot by amateurs.

I am not surprised by this finding but I think the real reason why some images resonate better than others is not whether they were shot by a professional or not, but whether there is a match up between the feeling of the image and how the viewer feels in response to it.

In my experience working as a photographer, I’ve observed that there are certain types of contexts where people have an inherent distrust of an image that appears too polished, or looks like it went through too many filters (portraits; over-reliance on HDR in real estate shots; fake family vacation photos from all-inclusive resorts, etc). There is something about the rawness of an image captured in the moment, with minimal adjustments applied afterwards that seems to carry greater weight and authenticity. No matter if the moment is manufactured, which many are, the image – the social proof that gets shared – needs to look and feel real to have an impact. Digitally aware people today, (which includes most Millenials, but also older generations who’ve embraced digital tools and toys as they’ve grown), are very sensitive to any attempt to manipulate them, and an overly edited, “perfect” looking image is often interpreted as some kind of attempt at manipulation.

Does your image have resonance?

 (Julian Haber)

A good photograph is one that elicits a strong emotional reaction that is consonant with the imagery shown. It can be taken in a quick moment of inspiration on a phone, or after careful preparation and setup by a pro. The method is immaterial. The photograph is just the medium connecting two synchronized emotional worlds – the viewer’s, and the one shown as felt and experienced by the photographer. When the two match up, there is a connection formed and the image “works”, regardless of who took it, what it was shot with or even what it is about. A poorly taken, blurry image can have more impact than a perfectly shot, tack sharp one of the same subject matter.

I think a lot of product photography fails, for example, because it focuses too much on showing off the product and not enough on creating an emotional resonance with its intended audience. On the other hand, when the product is shown in a context that matters to the intended audience, there is an emotional connection made and the image is successful. Sometimes, the best product photography hardly shows the product at all and still manages to drive people to take action, which in marketing parlance typically means convert and buy.

This is what I would define as emotional resonance: the degree to which an image is synchronized with the emotional reaction it elicits. The greater the synchronicity, the stronger the resonance. The stronger the resonance, the greater the impact and the more likely it is that a viewer will be inspired by the image to take action.

The more overt the attempt to manipulate that response, the more likely it is that the image will fail in the sense that its resonant capacity has been diminished in direct correlation to the amount of effort that appears to have been put into making it provocative in the first place. If it seems too calculating, in other words, it loses emotional impact and will probably not work.

So what makes a photograph work?

 (Julian Haber)

I think the key is actually empathy. As the photographer, professional or not, you need empathy with your subject(s) and/or the audience for whom the image is going to be shown. If you are using the photograph for business purposes – whether as advertising, embedded native content or some other brand promoting use, you need to be even more careful about making sure the image is empathetic with your audience. As more and more images are thrust into the faces of people daily, the level of attention paid to any particular one is scant and growing scanter. What will make someone stop, look and care is not the production value or the level of saturation, or any other trick of the trade. It will be whether or not the image speaks to them personally, feels real and makes them feel something in return. No single image will reach everyone, but concentrating on how your viewer will feel and empathizing with him or her will go a long way toward making them connect with your image, and ultimately your business, brand or art.

Boost ROI on email marketing campaigns with custom photography

perfume-holiday-bottles

Many creative people have ideas but much fewer have the organizational ability to turn their ideas into reality. Successful entrepreneurs do, and working with one is always a rewarding experience.

I’ve recently begun working with Simon Tooley, the founder of a luxury skincare boutique in Montreal, Etiket, with very niche, high-end fragrances, beauty and specialty hair care products. A former VP for Anne Klein and Michael Kors Canada, Simon has a wealth of knowledge about building successful fashion brands, and he also intuitively gets marketing.

Simon Tooley
Simon Tooley

With product names like Penhaligon’s No. 33 (luxury grooming and skin care product for men) and Mona di Orio perfumes, the experience of being inside the Etiket boutique is one of being comfortably ensconced in a discreetly packaged, elegantly placed, vial of opulence. It is as close to shopping on a London High Street as you can get in Montreal. You are courteously attended to upon arrival, and will leave feeling well-pampered.

But how do you reach the customers who crave your high-end goods but aren’t able to make it in to your street-front store?  You bring the boutique online, of course, which is the other side of Etiket’s thriving business. And as any tech entrepreneur knows, the online experience is brought to life by intuitive design, a focus on user experience and strong visuals.

One of the tactics Etiket uses to connect with and reward its customers is a subscriber based email marketing program, featuring a themed monthly emailer focusing on a few targeted products from the shop.  December is all about the Art of Giving, as you might suspect and customized, product photography is an integral part of both the emailer and website.Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 9.03.58 AM

Generic product photography might not get you wild with excitement, but if you are managing any kind of inventory and competing in a very challenged retail environment, customizing your product photography can give you an edge over your less aesthetically minded competitors.  Consider creating use-case presentations of a few of your top sellers, placing the products not simply against a seamless white background, but in contexts that reflect how and where they will be used by your target customer. Like all marketing, it costs more than doing nothing, but the uplift in sales is measurable and should quickly prove the value of developing your own customized imagery to promote your site, store and brand rather than relying on the product photography given to you by your supplier that will look the same on your site as it does on every other retailer’s carrying the same product line.

In a world where everyone is fighting for a minute share of increasingly fragmented attention spans, any touchpoint you can create between your brand and your customers creates a connection that can help you prove your value and ultimately drive sales.  Though now nearly twenty years old as a concept, a targeted email-subscriber list built by creating thoughtful and useful emails that are relevant and visually appealing is still a highly effective way of reaching your customers. Creative, customized photography can significantly raise the engagement rates you are aiming for with each send.

If you decide that 2016 is the year you improve or launch your email marketing plan, be sure to focus on content that tells your unique story to create that meaningful connection with your customers.  Using a thoughtful combination of design, text and curated, hand-crafted imagery will help you get higher open rates, and ultimately, a lift in sales from your efforts.

Is there really a difference between event photographers?

Mike Harris
Mike Harris

I was shooting an event in Toronto last week of an award dinner / fundraiser at a ritzy hotel with several very high-profile attendees. It was a fairly typical event, the kind I’ve covered hundreds of times before, with a pre-dinner cocktail hour in the lobby area of the reception hall where guest agglomerated over drinks and canapés, chit chatting and catching up with each other as they waited for the main doors to open up. The lighting was subdued, the bars mirrored. The men wore suits and ties, the women elegant evening gowns. 450 guests were there, each having paid a handsome price for the ticket with over 20 fully sponsored tables of ten. It was an important event for the organizer, with an important group of patrons and having covered events for this client in the past in Montreal, I was happy to have been invited to cover this one in Toronto as well. Clearly they liked my work I thought, and realized that having an experienced hand at working these kind of high-society events yields the right kind of images for their purposes.

FI-JACK_COCKWELL 17That’s why I was quite taken aback when I was chatting with one of the client team members (albeit not the one who hired me) when she asked, quite genuinely, “Is there really that much of a difference between event photographers?”. We were standing in the main hall looking out through the doors at the thickening crowd of mostly dark suited men gnoshing on smoked salmon and quaffing glasses of white wine when she asked. “Well, yes, I think so.” I responded, trying not to sound defensive or overly surprised at the query.

And the truth is, I shouldn’t be because though I don’t often hear it, I do experience the effects of that sort of thinking often. When you work, as I do, in a highly competitive field where the barrier to entry is low, and the perceived value of your service, under appreciated, this attitude translates into many behaviours clients and prospective clients exhibit such as:

  • Brief (one or two liner) email queries asking for a price based on loosely defined schedules for upcoming events, usually in the very near or immediate future
  • Requests for detailed quotes based on unspecific requirements
  • Refusals to acknowledge or present a realistic budget
  • Assumptions that your price is always negotiable
  • Discussions focused on price rather than value
  • Focus on detailed shot requirements rather than discussion on what the purpose and end use of the images will be
  • Assumptions that all photographers also provide video coverage at the same time for the same price

Part of this is due to the ubiquity of photography today and the near infinite demand for constant content feeds through a warren of social media networks. This ubiquity is both a blessing and a curse, as it proves that there is a near constant need for photography, but there is also a decreasing respect afforded to professional practitioners and a widespread belief, exemplified by the leading question of this post, that the service is a commodity, photographers by and large undifferentiated from one another and consequently, price takers in the economic relationship between client and provider.

But then, what is the mark of a good professional photographer worth the fee being asked and one who will work for any budget (or none) and claim to offer the same service?

The answer I think comes down to a blend of factors that some clients get instantly, and others will never really get.

FI-JACK_COCKWELL 407

A good photographer covering an event will do so in a manner that does not cause guests to feel uncomfortable or hold awkward smiles or poses for long. The images will be well-lit, attention given to background, colours and flattering angles for all manner of the shapes and sizes that humans come in. He or she will take the time to understand the event, the importance of key attendees, and if working with a brand, the brand values and personality, to ensure not only their images, but also their behaviour is consonant with the client’s. The photos delivered will also be well-organized, easily accessible, rapidly turned around, and the transactional details of the contract conducted professionally and with respect to the client’s needs and internal processes. And the photographer will still be there after the event is over and the bill paid, to respond to any additional needs that may come up and of course, to serve again on future events having now established him or herself as a known quantity which eliminates at least one element of potential concern in the many moving parts that comprise event coordination, planning and execution.

FI-JACK_COCKWELL 394Hiring experienced professionals may appear to cost more than hiring newbies, but is the same value being provided by both? If you think that indeed, there really is no difference, than the cheapest option makes the most sense. More experienced providers who are able to offer premium level service cost more. Many clients may be satisfied with less, and that’s perfectly okay.

Some, however, realize that talent is worth paying for.

Create your own photospheres

Oh the places you'll go

As Google busily gobbles up the world’s data you may not yet have noticed a change in its Maps program that allows anyone to create immersive 360° images enabled by its Streetview technology. (UPDATE: You can also do this easily now with a Ricoh Theta S camera that shoots in 360º. Check out my post on VR here.)

Here’s one I did for a restaurant in Montreal, The Monkland Tavern, as well as a much larger one for the Gold Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities

Gold Centre Photospheric Virtual Tour
Gold Centre Photospheric Virtual Tour

While professional photographers like me can still work with fish eye lenses, or high-priced spherical cameras (and you can hire me to shoot your venue for you), you can get pretty decent quality photospheres (as Google calls these panoramic images sewn seamlessly together) using just your smartphone and Google’s Streetview App on Android or for your iPhone.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Download the app.
  2. Review the Tips section of the app
  3. Start shooting!

To get good results you’ll need a little bit of practice. Try starting outdoors (once you get the hang of it you can try an indoor space but it’s easier to get it right outdoors on the first try).

Also remember to hold the phone close to your face and shoot vertically

Finally, be sure you shoot a complete set of images rotating in a circle several times to cover a full sphere

Once you’ve created your photosphere you can save it to your camera roll and then decide if you want to publish it directly to Google Maps. The default option is set to private so you don’t have to worry if you don’t like the look of your photosphere or captured any indiscreet imagery you do not want to make public.

If you do want to publish it, just tag it, provide a brief description and hit publish. You can learn more about how to use the app here or within the app itself.

Currently photospheres contributed to Google Maps this way lack the connectivity that professionals in the Trusted Photographer Program can enable using an access restricted photosphere editor. If you want to offer a full virtual tour your site visitors can virtually walk through you’ll still want to work with a professional, but if you are just looking for the free option that provides good value and showcases your interior or exterior spaces in its full 360° splendour, then download the app and give it a whirl.

It’s how you make them feel that matters

tribe 11I’ve attended a lot of digital marketing conferences recently, and noticed that a type of fatigue sets in to the hard core road warriors who fly from city to city, and conference to conference. While the topics change and conference organizers work hard to bring interesting and useful content to their attendees, inevitably an example used in one presentation on brands doing it right (think: Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty) pops up in another, or a deep dive on one topic (It’s all about moment marketing! It’s all about micro-moment marketing!) is unfortunately only a buzzword apart from another session they’ve just attended. Attention sags with heads at tables as the attendee half pays attention to what’s being said while Snapchatting with one hand and answering a deluge of work emails with the other.

Even those paid to attend and be attentive can only stretch their minds so far around another insight into the benefits of programmatic media buying, a topic they’ve heard discussed ad nauseum (particularly if it happens to be an early morning session) even if opinions diverge on how best to deploy it.

tribe 2And yet, I see the same faces from one event to the next, and hear tales of other events people don’t think they’ll ever return to. So what keeps them coming back? What makes an event so memorable and worthwhile it engenders a kind of tribal loyalty that other events fail to elicit, though marketed to the same core group?

In my observation as a photographer and someone professionally required to look at people and intuit their emotional states, I think the “secret sauce” of a conference that wins people’s hearts and minds is how it makes them feel.

While content is still the reigning monarch of the internet and a central theme at gatherings of marketing people discussing it, just getting content right is not going to win over the road weary, besieged brand manager with more money to spend than energy for another vendor’s kick at the can. Buyers, people with budget and the decision making power to pull the trigger on test spends and innovative new technologies, are always going to be high in demand wherever they are.  Winning them over takes more than delivering a slick presentation, and beautiful infographics showing massive growth and uplift achieved on campaigns – even if it comes served with a mimosa.

tribe 3
Don’t try this at home

What keeps people coming and makes them feel a little sad to leave behind, is the feeling they get when they are there. A feeling that you are with your people. You have found your tribe. You will get into conversations that stimulate your mind, and motivate you to do and be more. You’ll stay up too late and experience life illuminated only by outdoor firepits and empty glasses and you won’t be tired. You may even learn to walk on fire if you’re really, ahem, fired up.

Being with like-minded people, who want to talk together, drink together, laugh, joke and create something together around a fire is really about as primal as it gets.tribe 6  And it works. Yes a beautiful resort location helps, and yes, balmy eternal-summer evenings don’t hurt. Yes, the agenda has to be well structured and yes the presenters have to be engaging and smart, but in the end, what keeps people coming long after their biology suggests they should still be on their feet, is that warm feeling inside when you realize you are right where you belong.

Achieve that with your next conference and you’ll soon find you need a bigger venue.

Are you doing enough to market your business?

How many business owners do you know who think they are doing enough marketing?

What if I told you there was a way to market your business using the world’s most powerful search engine that would ensure you have a visible presence online right where your customers will be looking for you? Tie that presence into the free analytics you can get out of Google Analytics and you’ve got your own digital marketing agency at less than your quarterly spend on coffee.

I’m talking about Google Business View, a remarkably poorly understood tool public facing businesses can use to boost their search rankings, attract more customers online and entice in new customers when they are conducting local based searches on their mobile phones.

See Inside – link to a virtual tour of The Monkland Taverne, by Julian Haber Photography 514.757.7657

All marketing today and into the future will be digital. It is already past time when we stop using the term “digital marketing” and simply refer to it as “marketing”. All businesses, whether you are selling pizza or complex financial derivative products, is about information. If no one can remember your phone number, no one orders the pizza. If they can’t understand what you are selling, they won’t buy it.

Having the correct information about your business that is easily accessible across the multiple devices people use hundreds of times every day is entry stakes for any business today.

How do people find your business? They search online, overwhelmingly using Google and the majority through a mobile, hand-held device. Gone are the days when having a website, or a Facebook page was something to proudly state “you were doing online marketing.” If you own a restaurant, a fitness club, a medical clinic, a hair salon or any kind of business that relies on people walking through your front door and you are not fully taking advantage of everything Google Business View now has to offer, you are leaving money on the table. And you may be slowly putting yourself out of business.

Here is an example of a search I just conducted on a business in my neighbourhood. Take a look at the huge amount of screen real estate dedicated to the right sidebar. That entire package of visually engaging information – virtual tour (See Inside), photos, direct link to Google Maps and reviews as well as the correct address and telephone number is what happens to a business that invests in its Google+Business Page.

You’ll see that though the Monkland Taverne company website is the top result, the vast majority of people on this page won’t visit that site.

Conduct the same search on a mobile phone and the results are even more striking. It fills the entire screen in your hand.

That second search, on the fly, on a mobile device, is where most people will be searching for your business

Google Business View is a virtual tour of the interior of your business. If you’ve just spent $50k on renovations, you want to be sure that as many potential customers as possible see your space. If you run a state-of-the art medical clinic, you want your potential customers to be able to visualize the environment and see the investment you’ve made in advanced medical devices. If you are a restaurateur, you want the visiting tourists walking down your street to find you on their phones when they feel a rumbling in their tummies and search for “family friendly restaurant – near me”.

The key to all of this is of course, investing the time and effort in understanding what Google Business View can do for your business, and then doing it.

You can start by Googling your own business (and this even includes service professionals and freelancers who may not have a public-facing office space, but still offer a service to the public) and see what comes up.

You’ll notice first that your search results on the right hand side of your desktop screen, or right in full view in your mobile device, point to a Google+ page. As a business owner, this site is yours for free and can be managed and exploited fully by you with just a little attention. Your customers who visit can also rate and review your business here, which provides even more attractive content for search engines to help lift your business higher in search rankings. Providing visually engaging materials here – photos and 360 degree panoramic tours of the interior spaces of your business will also give your business a huge lift and increase traffic to your online presence which will translate into increased traffic through your front door.

If you are a business owner and you think you don’t need to be found online, or that you already have enough customers, then I guess this post isn’t for you. I’d be surprised to find your business doing as well in one year, and in three years, with no change of marketing strategy, I doubt I’d find your business at all because it won’t likely exist, but hey, I could be wrong. Maybe digital marketing is “just a fad.”

But if you are like most business owners who are strapped for time and trying to manage their cash flow as best they possibly can while still putting a little profit into their own pockets at the end of each month, than I strongly encourage you to get your Google+ business page up to date and invest the small amount of time and money it will take to engage a photographer to shoot a virtual tour for you.

Here is a helpful link to get you started: Google My Business:

Leverage conferences for updating new corporate portraits

Conference organizers know that a lot of planning goes into creating a program of interesting and relevant content and attracting a strong roster of speakers, panelists and breakout session leaders. Effort is usually spent creating a detailed shot list for photographers to make sure that nothing on the agenda is missed and the investment in hiring a professional shooter to cover the event pays off with a load of marketable images of attendees and conference activities to help promote next year’s event.

conference-portrait 1Conferences often pull together people from within and across organizations that are otherwise rarely all in one place at the same time, and this creates an opportunity for updated group photos, corporate headshots and bio pictures that is often overlooked by organizers with heads full of conference planning details.

Often the venue itself will provide interesting and useful on site backdrops and your photographer will also have the necessary lighting and equipment to set up a small mobile studio in one of the many spaces occupied by the conference. You’re paying for it already so why not leverage the space to either update your firm’s set of portraits or offer the service to your attendees as an added value for attending your event? conference-portrait 5

Everyone needs a headshot these days – something I’ve written extensively about in posts on personal branding and profile pictures  – but organizing one can be a tedious task often dropped due to other more urgent priorities. If you can offer the service conveniently and quickly to attendees who are already on-site and available, you are providing a useful service and alleviating a pain point preemptively for both your attendees and perhaps the marketing team within your own organization.

While candid photos are always good to have, there is still a need for planned, posed and conventional headshots. I am often approached by conference attendees – people not paying me directly for my work – who say things like, “I need a new LinkedIn photo” or “My headshot is ten years old, can you do a new one for me?”.  Aside from essentially asking a working professional for a freebie, these kinds of requests would take time away from what I am hired to be doing and are rarely accommodated for.  They reveal the demand though, which could be better met by including an on-site portrait option within the general conference coverage contract.

Wconference-portraithy not leverage the inherent social nature of conferences to turn a portrait session into a networking opportunity in its own right? You could promote the on-site photo booth as a place to meet other attendees, leverage its presence by offering another component a sponsor could brand, or embed it inside a collaboration or meeting lounge space that conference attendees can pop into when they have a spare five minutes.

When planning the shooting schedule and generating a shot list for your conference photographer, consider asking about including a mobile photobooth for corporate and group portraits. You’ll save time and provide yet another added value to your attendees.

Why you want a social photographer to cover your event

Most conference, summit and corporate event planners these days try to cast a virtual net by linking their event to a centralizing set of social media hashtags – mainly for easy findability and shareability on Instagram and Twitter. Making sure your event photographer is aware of these unifying communication tools and using them appropriately can help you get maximum value from your conference or event photographer.

Photographers are all seeking to cultivate their own realm of influence in social media. One mutually beneficial way to reach into different networks is to provide bits of snackable content generated by events as they happen.

Personally I’ve grown to enjoy using Twitter and Instagram to jot down insightful things I pick up while observing conferences or to help my client broaden their event footprint by creating and quickly sharing images guests and attendees will want to reshare.

It’s not always a perfect fit – while covering the Governor General Performing Arts Awards press conference (#ggpaa) in Montreal this month I actually tweeted out the name of a recipient BEFORE the official announcement (deleted 2 minutes later after a politely urgent message from Ottawa) but when it works, it helps spread the excitement and generate buzz about the event.

Not all photographers are going to want to multi-task for you, but it doesn’t hurt to ask for their social handles and add them into your network, while sharing with them the hashtags and IG names they should reference when getting social with your event images.

And sometimes, sharing is also really funny. Like this old SNL clip of Fr Guido Sarducci’s 5 Minute University that I saw at a recent conference on autism I immediately had to go find and watch. Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 3.25.37 PM

Have you claimed your local business address on Google+?

This is a puzzling stat and there are many more if you search #OnTheMap on Google. I don’t really understand why more businesses aren’t all over this easy and free way to promote their businesses. According to Google’s research (which I’m going to bet is pretty robust given the petabytes of data on virtually everything digital in the world today) customers are also 38% more likely to visit businesses with complete listings. Here’s that stat again in a more snackable/Pinnable/Instagrammable/Tweetable/LinkedInable format:

Google is really pushing this initiative and offers oodles of free advice and tools on how to list your business and easily add content to your business Google+ page like photos, blog posts, panoramic tours, etc. Here’s a link:

By updating your business info on Google Search and #OnTheMap, you make it easier for customers to find what they’re looking ––> you! Use this tool to make sure your Google listing is complete: http://goo.gl/vW52mC

I work as a freelance photographer, out of my home. Notwithstanding, I’ve created my Google+ Business Page (listed here as JulianHaberPhotographyMontreal) and so far am seeing a few nice things happen online that are favourable towards my business.

  • I’m popping up at or near the top of the first page of Google search results on phrases clients would use to find me
  • My posts feature a little picture of me next to them and show up as independent results (maybe this is just an ego-stroke, but it’s kind of cool seeing your posts accompanied by your headshot)
  • I’m finding more and more interesting ways to leverage Google+ to create an interconnected web of links referring back to my main blog (this one right here) and my portfolio site at Julian Haber Photography
  • I now have a convenient way to gather reviews – the new currency of the digital world – without relying on Yelp’s sometimes inordinately choosy algorithm that seems to arbitrarily quarantine reviews it deems “not recommended” primarily because their authors have little or no previous activity on Yelp

For these reasons alone I will continue to explore, experiment and develop my digital real estate with Google, but if I also had a physical, real-world, public facing business I would be even more heavily invested than I already am. The virtual tours alone are worth the time it takes to build up your business page (think Streetview but INSIDE your business). Here’s an example of a 360 panoramic tour of the inside of a place I’ve seen the inside fairly often: Brutopia pub in Montreal:  How cool is that really?  Almost as good as having a pint at the bar itself=)

So, if you are one of the 63% of business in Canada who still hasn’t claimed your local business address on Google+, what are waiting for?  Click here and get started.

How to get found online

Wherever your canvas, you need to find a way to stand out
Wherever your canvas, you need to find a way to stand out

Whether you are a small business owner, brand manager, entrepreneur or artist, you face a common challenge: how to get noticed online. How do you connect with the people you ultimately hope will become your clients (and pay you in money/love/attention) if they don’t know who you are? It’s a huge challenge but as a photographer who works a lot with businesses trying to do just that, I’ll try to share what I’ve learned in this (and future posts) on the theme of helping your business stand out and be found.

To begin, let’s understand that there are three main ways your business can be found online: paid media, owned media and earned media. In the following brief post I’ll explain what each term means, ending with a call to action to create great content.

Continue reading “How to get found online”

Yes, people judge you based on how your profile pic looks

Professional headshot

It’s not fair. It’s not even nice, but it seems that people really do make decisions about who you are based on their gut reactions to how you look in your profile picture. As a headshot photographer, I’ve always thought that it was my job to make people feel good and look good when I take their picture (it’s hard to have the latter without the former anyway), but I never gave much thought to why. Then I read this article, “Modeling first impressions from highly variable facial images” – or more accurately, stumbled across it while exploring Pinterest pages on headshots and realized that my work can have a tangible and direct impact on whether someone gets a job, finds a match on a dating site, or gets Friended, Retweeted or LinkedIn. It’s kind of sad, but the truth is, appearances really do matter so you might as well just accept it and try to get the best – and most appropriate – profile photo you can. What works on Facebook (and no, it’s not a good idea to use a photo of your kid as your profile picture there either) doesn’t work on LinkedIn and vice-versa. I’ve written about this before in my post on how to prepare for a photoshoot, and in my post on how your online photo is your avatar, but here are a few thoughts and tips to keep in mind when you realize that it’s time to take your online image as seriously as you do your real world one and update your set of profile photos:

  1. Your online photo is a marketing tool. Perhaps the most important one you’ve got as a shockingly high number of people may not even bother to scroll past your photo if they don’t like what they see.
  2. You can optimize the way you look online. While excessive and heavy-handed use of Photoshop doesn’t really look good (plastic fantastic may work for Barbie but is not recommended for your portrait), that doesn’t mean you can’t have your photo professionally taken, with flattering lighting and lightly retouched to take away distracting elements that take away from your natural good looks.
  3. Choose wisely. Before uploading any photo of yourself, whether it’s for a profile or not, ask yourself if you would feel comfortable with this being on the front page of the New York Times. If not, don’t do it.
  4. Be appropriate: Different online identities call for different looks. While it’s all “you” in the aggregate, a picture you put on Facebook for your friends and family is not necessarily (probably isn’t) appropriate for LinkedIn. Your image should reflect your personal brand in a professional setting, and your personality on more social networks. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but a cropped photo of you from your vacation in Italy is not a good image to lead in with at the head of your LinkedIn profile page.
  5. Don’t do it yourself: while I am a fan of the Maker Movement and respect entrepreneurs and DIYers in general, a good photograph of yourself is harder to get than it looks. I’ve been a professional photographer for over a decade and I wouldn’t take my own photo. In fact, I probably take the worst selfies on the planet. Whether you hire a pro (recommended, of course) or get a friend who knows what they are doing, try to get the best quality image you can get. If you think of your headshot like an online ad for yourself, the cost of paying a professional to take it is negligible compared to the amount of space and views it will garner as you push it out through your various online personae.

As cutting as it sounds, we are quick to judge people on how they look and long to remember our facile first impressions. Make yours count.

Essential shotlist for conference & tradeshow photography

One of the most important things to keep in mind when hiring a shooter to provide conference or trade show photography is to think about the value the photos create and how you will get the best use out of the images.

There are multiple audiences for good conference and trade show coverage. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Past and present attendees
  • Prospective and future attendees
  • Speakers & presenters
  • Corporate communications teams
  • Marketing and sales teams
  • Event planners and event management companies
  • Experiential marketers
  • Venue owners

What is the value of these types of images?
Depending on who the end client/user/viewer of the images is intended for, the value can be:

  • Showcase a successful event – large filled rooms, happy smiling people looking engaged, looking like they are having a good time, connecting with each other, doing business
  • Highlight successful positioning of branded signage and collateral
  • Highlight the breadth and scope of an event to attract future attendees
  • Show off quality of speakers and content
  • Boost employee morale and drive engagement
  • Sell tickets / drive attendance rates for future events
  • Builds content for your social media channels and web properties

So which types of shots are the most useful and critical to get right?

le Windsor room set up
le Windsor room set up

1. Set-up and room décor
Ideally rooms should be shot from multiple angles, but preferably with a wide enough lens to capture the breadth and feel of the space. The best time to capture the room set up is just before it will be opened up to the public, when the lighting is set up and the room is like a present waiting to be opened up.

2. People networking
This is an easy one to get done but requires attention and fast reflexes. You must anticipate handshakes, smiles and friendly greetings and capture the exchanges without interfering. Every conference has built in networking sessions even if they don’t call them that. More festive social events will also leverage the socially enlivening effects of alcohol. Depending on the industry, the drinks and bars themselves will have branded sponsors. Embedding into this environment requires a special blend of sociability and detachment so you know when to step back and capture images of people as they begin to loosen up.

We mix business with pleasure
We mix business with pleasure
Size matters
Size matters

3. Speakers on stage – front and side views
Getting good images of people on stage is trickier than it looks as the stage lighting can often cast unwanted colours or distortions on your subject. As well, not all speakers are to the podium born and some spend more than ninety percent of the time looking down at their notes. The best shots will come from both telephoto and shorter lenses, shot from the front of house and close to the sides. I usually aim to capture a few images of speakers with fun or illustrative slides behind them if they are in the midst of a slide show, but also make sure to get a few clean and clear ones just them, eyes open, faces smiling and mouths preferably not mid-word. It can be a bit of trial and error but the end goal is really just to get a handful of great shots of each speaker.

4. Views of room from speakers p.o.v
This is really a hybrid categories as it touches on both speakers and rooms, but it is worth having a few of these shots usually angled from the side or sometimes above the speaker, showing both the speaker on stage and the audience to whom he or she is speaking. This is a fun photo for the speaker themselves to have later one and helps promote a sense of attending an interesting, worthwhile event.

Life's a stage
Life’s a stage

5. Big and wide shots of filled rooms
All event planners, conference organizers and companies hosting events want to see their event as a success – and nothing says success better than showing a room full of people. There will be different kinds of such rooms: some will be general sessions with people sitting in their seats, others will show the room in states of transition before or after an event. Sometimes the big room is where an opening night reception is being held. Other times it’s just a general overview shot to show the look and feel of the full space. These images should be taken with big, wide angles, but can also be augmented with candid portraits drawn from the crowd shot on telephoto lenses so the subjects are truly at ease and may not even realize they are in the photos.

I'm paying close attention
I’m paying close attention

6. Engaged audiences in sessions
Diving a little deeper into the idea of showing full rooms, these shots pertain primarily to smaller breakout sessions common at many conferences. Here the rooms are smaller, the speakers usually just standing at a the front of the room, sometimes with but often without podiums, and the aim, as always is to capture images of people paying attention, eyes forward, smiling and asking questions. Depending on the nature of the conference and industry, it may be helpful to have a few shots of people taking notes or texting on their phones, but the majority of images should show people doing what they are supposed to be doing in the room – learning something.

7. People smiling, having fun and making connections
The social side of business confabs is in some industries the most important part of the event. In businesses where making connections and doing deals is important (and when isn’t it) conferences can provide ideal locations for meeting a large number of high quality prospects/partners/future employers. This is the value to the people attending. The value to the people organizing these events is showing that their event is where business gets done and connections are formed. I love these kinds of events and have a lot of fun weaving in and out of the crowd soliciting, eliciting and noticing great photo ops. Selfies, photobombs, generic groupings of twosomes and foursomes (or more) will all happen in here so working with a short and flexible lens is key, but I also carry around a long lens to take sniper type shots of people across the room, trying to avoid detection so that I can capture real emotional exchanges and genuine reactions.

Deal!
Deal!
Seeing the forest for the trees
Seeing the forest for the trees

8. Interesting details, close ups of on-site marketing collateral, giveaways, promos
Finally, throughout the conference you’ll want to make sure you have images showing any promotional item provided by a sponsor, as well as just a set of fun, creative, interesting, artistic even, shots of details that emerge as salient to the event. Judgement and skill is required here but over time it becomes clear what these elements are. No-brainers include shots of program covers, branded spaces, signage, banners and products (in the case of trade shows).

9. People interacting with displays/products
This one pertains mainly to trade shows but can be relevant to conferences that host vendors in common areas as well. The main goal here is to showcase the brand, the product or service on offer, and lots of images of people engaging with the display or items. Interaction, engagement and as always, smiling faces are key here. Closeups on pertinent details and any interesting visual elements available should also be captured.

The laser pointers were a hit
The laser pointers were a hit

What good are you doing?

Looking good while doing good
Looking good while doing good
Looking good while doing good

It’s a tough question for any day, let alone a Friday, but I think it is one worth asking yourself regularly.

Many working people struggle to find meaning and relevancy in their lives. Not every company provides a wholesome, satisfying place to spend the majority of your waking hours, and while it may provide sufficient money to compensate you for your time and effort, most people want more from their lives than just to survive it.

I am in the happy and fortunate position of being in attendance at many different kinds of events, working for many, varied companies and organizations. Some of my favourite work is for charitable organizations because the people involved in charities are passionate people. They are committed to something bigger and better than themselves. They are motivated every day to do more. To try a little harder. To raise more money next year than they did in this one. Many have a personal inspiration – someone they love, a child, a wife, a brother – who has suffered through cancer or some kind of health related trauma, through struggles that they alone cannot help with. Some find it in themselves to reach beyond themselves, reaching for help at first, and support, and then becoming part of something that gives help and support back to others.

Last night I was covering a cocktail celebrating the more than 250 event organizers and fundraising groups that raise money every year to support the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation. In 2014 they raise $7.5 million dollars which went directly into the purchase of equipment to help the children who need it the most. (You can view the pictures on my website JulianHaberPhotography)

Everyone in the room has a day job, bills to pay and to-do lists to strike through that have nothing to do with their cause. But everyone in that room carried inside of themselves something that gave the event an energy that was palpable.

Marie-Josée Gariépy, President of the Montreal Children's Foundation
Marie-Josée Gariépy, President of the Montreal Children’s Foundation

Presided over by Marie-Josée Gariépy, President of the Montreal Children’s Foundation, the evening was designed to showcase and thank the myriad volunteers whose contributions support the Montreal Children’s Hospital’s many needs.

The head of the Ophthalmology Division, Dr. Robert Koenekoop, highlighted just one of the many projects the funds raised for the MCHF contribute towards. In his research into the causes of childhood blindness he shared results from his work that led directly to restoring the sight of children suffering certain degenerative diseases of the retina – all thanks to the money his research team was given through donations.

Dr.Koenekoop
Dr.Koenekoop
Blind eyes
Blind eyes

The highlight of the evening for me was a presentation given by Robert Sears and Carl Mainguy about their organization, Kurling for Kids.

Carl Mainguy & Robert Sears of Kurling for Kids, Yehonatan Naidich (center)
Carl Mainguy & Robert Sears of Kurling for Kids, Yehonatan Naidich (center)

As is often the case, at the heart of this organization is the story of two babies, Robert Sears and Sylvie Sanschagrin’s daughter Jessica who was diagnosed with Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) at the age of 2, and Carl Mainguy and Josée Beliveau’s son, Jéremie who contracted meningitis when he was 1 week old. Their initial modest goal of raising $500 in its first year was quickly surpassed when the tally from the end of the night of curling was close to $7,000. The next year, the goal was doubled and surpassed. Last year the organization raised over $350,000 and Jessica, now 20 is healthy and doing well while Jéremie is out of immediate danger and is on the path to recovery. Every year the charity identifies a clear and specific need that the Montreal Children’s Hospital has and then raises the money to help them meet it. The organization has inspired several supporting chapters around Montreal, and expanded its activities from curling to including participation in the annual St Patrick’s Day parade, poker tournaments and other fun events that raise awareness and money for their goals. Some of their takeaway messages for fundraising effectiveness:

  • Have a clear tangible goal
  • Get the word out as much as possible
  • Make the event itself fun
Antoine Natal, Marie Guy, Guylaine Belot, Marie-Josee Gariepy
Antoine Natal, Marie Guy, Guylaine Belot, Marie-Josee Gariepy

Another organization, Pedal for Kids, was celebrated at the event, for their contribution of $450,000 raised in 2014, bringing the total raised by people pedalling for kids to over $10M.

Yehonatan Naidich, spokesperson for Pedal for Kids, is a cancer survivor whose namesake Pedal for Kids team has raised over $56,000 to date. He gave a moving speech bringing home the message that these fundraising activities and contributions have a real, lasting and direct impact on the lives of children.

Yehonatan Naidich, Spokesperson for Pedal for Kids
Yehonatan Naidich, Spokesperson for Pedal for Kids

The best places to work understand that people want to believe that what they are doing is making a positive difference in the lives of others. Humans are social creatures, and have been long before the word took on its current online connotation. We are, quite literally, meant to be together. Wanting to belong to a team/tribe/group does not mean we want to be one of the herd. We are all individuals with our own personal dreams, aspirations and goals in life. But a common thread in happy and successful human lives – the kind of life all of us desire for ourselves and loved ones – is giving to others. Doing something good for others improves the quality of your life and the people you are helping. It is truly a win-win relationship.

What can your brand do to help?

Check out the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation on Facebook here.

Capturing company culture in a corporate portrait

One of the aims (and challenges) of portraiture is to tell a person’s story in just one image. Those that do it well, like Yousef Karsh‘s image of Churchill, are memorable because you see more than a representation of what someone looks like – you see something of who they are.

I was once on a portrait assignment in Old Montreal and asked to capture in a few portraits the main executives of a company with a long and interesting history.

The client, a family operation, has an extensive shipping network and is one of the leading shipping companies in Montreal. The current CEO is following in the footsteps of his father, and his father before him. The corporate portrait needed to capture a sense of the current CEO’s personality and show a continuity and link to the company’s important and valuable heritage.

Next in line
Next in line

I set up this shot in the board room, using two soft-boxes and positioning the CEO and VP beside earlier portraits of their father and former CEO. My intention was to give the impression of people who are in charge but know their place in history.

I took the next few portraits with the company’s business in mind. I wanted to include a view of the St. Lawrence Seaway visible down below, while highlighting the person in the portrait. Lighting a subject in front of a window is a bit tricky, but  with the help of an assistant holding up a baffle to block unwanted glare, and a willing subject, we were able to capture an image that highlights both the main subject and allows in elements of the background that I felt were important, if subtle, accents to the portrait itself.

A man with an Empire
A man with an Empire

Taking good corporate portraits often involves thinking not just about the subject and the technical requirements of the shoot, but also about your client’s business. I believe a good corporate portrait shows a subject in the context of the actual business. While in many cases, a client only needs or wants a straight portrait shot against a seamless grey or white background, in those cases where more can be done, a good way of capturing a corporate portrait is to situate the subject within a framework of visual elements that speak to the culture and brand of the company itself.

Celebrate your winners with a photo book

Full length portrait shot on white seamless backdrop of Lloyd Cooper, a top-performer with Cushman & Wakefield
Shine the spotlight on your top employees

Organizations that celebrate the achievements of their top-performing employees are the kinds of companies people like to work for. One of my regular corporate clients in Montreal celebrates their winners with an annual publication of a photo book showcasing their people who really shone and stood out in the past year. A full double page spread is used to highlight this year’s heroes, usually shot against a simple white backdrop to make a group composite image that brings together in one image, employees from offices across Canada.

Why bother with extra recognition? Aren’t employees rewarded enough with pay and or proportionate commissions on their sales?

According to the HR Council, employee recognition is important because:

  • Lets employees know that their work is valued and appreciated
  • Gives employees a sense of ownership and belonging in their place of work
  • Improves morale
  • Enhances loyalty
  • Helps build a supportive work environment
  • Increases employee motivation
  • Improves employee retention

There are many ways to do it and it doesn’t have to cost a lot. Giving your employees a brand new profile photo or featuring them in an article on your website is an inexpensive way to share their success and help them boost their own personal brands. A lot of companies talk about how important their people are, but how many really walk the walk?

Have you got hidden gems in your organization that deserve better recognition and some praise? Are you doing enough to make your team feel appreciated? Recognition can be as simple as a friendly hello in the morning but shouldn’t stop there. While money and material things will add to an employee’s short-term happiness, in the long run, people who are truly happy and satisfied with their employers are those who feel recognized, appreciated and that their contributions are a part of the company’s overall success.

If you haven’t done it yet, make 2015 the year you prove to your employees that they really are key to your company’s success. Let them know how proud you are of them, and they’ll show you their appreciation by staying with you.

The marketing genius of letting people photograph your art

My sun and the Chihuly Sun sculpture
My sun and the Chihuly Sun sculpture

Driving home today listening the Home Run on CBC, I was happy to hear the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is going to be the permanent owner of the Chihuly Sun, thanks to a generous donation by Montreal philanthropist, Van Berkom. I was one of the 270,000 visitors to the exhibition last year on a day I played hookey with my daughter. As she is a budding artist I wanted to expose her to seeing beautiful things, and Chihuly’s glass sculptures fit the bill perfectly. I was thrilled as well, that photographing the art was not only allowed, but encouraged. I realized, while doing it, that this was genius marketing – both by the artist and the museum as it gave visitors the chance to not only experience the gorgeous opulence of Chihuly’s work, but gave them something to share with their friends and across their social networks, spreading both the fame of the artist and perhaps contributing to the record-breaking attendance levels the museum experienced.

I’ve worked for artists before, and photographed events and magazine features in the National Art Gallery of Canada, and I’ve always had restrictions on what I could and could not include in my shot, even if the subjects (people) were simply in the museum and the art was a colourful backdrop. I understand there are copyright issues, but at the same time, as an artist, wouldn’t you want your work to be seen as widely as possible, especially if, as in these cases, the works have already been purchased and are hanging on museum walls?

Chihuly, aside from making stunning works of art, completely understands that while not everyone can afford to take home a $6,000 bowl (on the extreme low-end of his offerings), everyone can still take something away from the exhibit with the photos. And these photos not only allow viewers to have a deeper, more intimate connection to his work, but will also serve as ambassadors for his fame and enhance the cachet for those lucky few who can afford to own his works. Everybody wins.

Here are a few of the shots from that day I spent in the sun, with my little girl. Feel free to share;)

 

 

 

 

Doing good is good for your brand – Jack Hoffman’s story

The story of the Jack Hoffman Star Rookie trading card by The Upper Deck Trading Company

I first heard about Jack Hoffman at an iMedia conference earlier this year, when Chris Carlin, Senior Marketing and Social Media Manager at the Upper Deck Company, a sports trading card company got up on stage and played this video:

3P5A4721
Think Different (ly?)

Chris is a big man with a heart as wide as his smile and a knack for cracking clever jokes, sometimes about Canadians. He is also the originator of the Jack Hoffman trading card idea, the first of a series of collectible Star Rookie trading cards featuring children struggling with paediatric brain tumours.

According to the about page on the Team Jack Foundation site, Jack was “no different than any other little boy growing up in the great state of Nebraska–he loves to play sports, ride bike, fish, hunt, and watch Cornhusker football”. No different except that he had a tumour the size of a golf ball on left temporal lobe of his brain at the age of six. When Chris Carlin heard about Jack, he felt moved as a human being first, and secondly a marketer, to do something big and powerful that would help Jack. As Chris put it, I wanted to show that we can “use brands to make the world a better place.”

So, in 2013, Chris convinced his team at Upper Deck to create a “Star Rookie” trading card for Jack Hoffman, who had recently fulfilled a childhood dream of running a touchdown in for Nebraska during their spring game. All proceeds from the sale of this card ($50,000 and counting – go buy one now!) have gone towards defraying some of Jack’s medical bills and funding the Team Jack Foundation for paediatric brain cancer research.

Jack Hoffman Star Rookie Trading Card by the Upper Deck Company
Jack Hoffman Star Rookie Trading Card by the Upper Deck Company

The Jack Hoffman card and later the Star Rookie series has not only been an incredibly positive force in the life of Jack Hoffman, for whom it was intended, but, unsurprisingly has greatly enhanced the reputation of the Upper Deck company, proving that doing good can be good for the brand. While never the intention, the positive associations are well-deserved and unavoidable.

These same positive associations help bring Chris Carling into contact with Denis Murphy, father of Jaclyn Murphy, leading to the development of a new “Heroic Inspirations” trading card for Jaclyn Murphy who is the founder of the Friends of Jaclyn charity and herself the survivor of childhood brain cancer.

Learn more about the Friends of Jaclyn foundation here.

Important links
Visit www.TeamJackFoundation.org to learn about how you can help #pediatricbraincancer kids be kids #Fighting4AVictory
Jack Hoffman Foundation Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TeamJackFoundation

Jack Hoffman Foundation website: http://www.teamjackfoundation.org/

About Jack Hoffman: http://www.teamjackfoundation.org/about-jack-hoffman

It’s Not Impossible to make the world a better place – commit and figure it out

Want to make the world a better place? Read on.

Mick Ebeling, CEO & Founder, Not Imossible
Mick Ebeling, CEO & Founder, Not Impossible

Every now and then, while covering an event I get exposed to someone who is so inspiring I am compelled to share what I’ve learned with as many people as I can. iMedia Summits are intoxicating, both literally and intellectually. As an event photographer I am a fly on the wall on all the workshops, roundtables, keynote sessions and more and I have the wonderful opportunity to listen to smart people describe what is happening on the bleeding edge of digital marketing. That said, the most moving and inspirational experience of the entire summit was witnessing the keynote address by Mick Ebeling from NotImpossibleNow.com. If you haven’t heard of Mick Ebeling and his extraordinary achievements and world changing organization (which, given his exposure across virtually every media platform in existence seems highly unlikely) then open a new tab in your browser and go check him out right now. Here’s the link again. Having just returned from the 2014 iMedia Brand Summit in Coronado (California) I can’t stop talking about Mick Ebeling’s keynote presentation because I believe what he is doing is probably the best example of making the world a better place I have heard of and I want everyone I know to be inspired by him as I was.

Mick’s story (because, as we learned at this event, it is all and always about STORY – without a narrative people just won’t care) was riveting right off the bat. He steps onto stage, tall, a bit lanky, bald and looking like he may well have just climbed out from under your car, or stepped off a longboard covered in stickers and graffiti. This is not just business casual – this is casual casual. But as soon as his story begins you stop seeing Mick and you start hearing such a powerful message you may not even remember what he looks like anymore.

What's your story?
What’s your story?

He begins with an account of how he and a motley gathering of hackers, makers, coders, artists and more than a few geniuses, cobble together an inexpensive solution to the mind numbing torture of an artist trapped in a shut-down body, ravaged by ALS. With all the ice bucket challenges going around ALS is high on people’s awareness radars but it is hard to convey in words just what a devastating and cruel disease it really is. Mick’s story personalized it for us all and made it real in a way no bucket of ice water has done for me at least.

Mick took us on a journey through LA to meet his friend, Tempt, a well known local graffiti artist. About 7 years ago, Tempt was diagnosed with ALS. Flash forward to the recent past and Tempt is trapped in a body that can do little independently but blink. He and his brother communicate using a printed sheet of letters, spelling out each word in order to talk to each other. It is painstaking, slow and so sad to watch. Enter Mick with his mantra – a phrase that should be emblazoned on the porticos of every educational facility in the world: “Commit, then figure it out.” He decides he is going to do something about helping Tempt communicate. And after pulling together his team of like-minded builders, the solution emerges as a cheap pair of glasses with some nifty software and visual recognition systems baked in that allow Tempt to “speak” and draw again freely by blinking. (Check it out here – really, go check it out).

Tempt’s first piece of independent communication in 7 years?

After 7 years, I took a breath
After 7 years, I took a breath

Not a dry eye in the house, and Mick is only halfway through his presentation. I’m bobbing up and down taking so many pictures my camera can’t keep up, I’m so supercharged by him. I’m wondering where does he go from here? How can he possibly top giving back the gift of self-expression to an artist that’s spent the past seven years of his life locked into a body that can’t move? Oh, how about printing prosthetic arms for a 14 year old war victim in Sudan who had his arms blown up? That’s not a typo. Printed. Arms.

 

Project Daniel
Project Daniel

Project Daniel, as it’s called in honour of the boy whose life Mick forever transformed, is another example of Mick’s commit-and-figure-it-out solutions. Using a 3D printer, an intense humanitarian passion and love for others and I can only think, a true visionary’s ability to see a simple solution to the kind of intractable problem most of us in the world just ignore because we think (convince ourselves) we can’t do anything about it, he restores a boy’s sense of self and actually gives him arms. And then, as if that single act of human goodness were not sufficient unto itself for Mick to be considered a living Buddha, he and his team teach the boy how to teach others to do the same thing. The image he shows at the end of his presentation of Daniel with his friend, each with a new set of arms is enough to stop your heart, make you hold your breath and realize that everything you’ve ever done in your life up until this moment has not been worth a damn.

I could go on and on but I think it’s best you visit NotImpossibleNow.com and discover for yourself what true commitment can achieve and how much better we can make this whole broken world if we refuse to let ourselves off the hook and commit, then figure it out. And none of this would have ever come to my attention were it not for the really great people at iMedia Communications who put Mick out there in front of some of the world’s most forward thinking brands and digital marketers and strategists who gave Mick the standing ovation he deserved. I can hardly imagine how much influence and how much can get done tackling any one of the world’s most serious problems – climate change, war in the Middle East, Ebola, pick your poison – now that the people in that room representing billions of dollars of market cap turn their minds towards taking action, making a commitment and getting it done.

So if you are in the midst of reflecting on your career path, maybe looking for a new job or thinking about what to do with your life, think about what Mick Ebeling is doing and has done and go find your cause that you will commit to. Then go figure out how to do it. (And if you want a chance to see Mick give this powerful presentation check out the upcoming iMedia Breakthrough Summit and get on board)