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Tag: Kids Code Mississippi

June 14th, 2017

Interview: Matt Richardson, Executive Director, North America, Raspberry Pi Foundation

Matt Richardson is a creative technologist, maker, author and the Executive Director for North America of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The Foundation provides outreach and education to help people access computing and digital making using low-cost, yet powerful, Raspberry Pi computers. Since the release of their first computer in 2012, more than 11 million Raspberry Pi units have been sold. Products include the Raspberry Pi 3, a small single-board computer with a quad-core CPU that retails for $35; the Pi Zero single-core computer, which is available for $5; and the Pi Zero W, which adds built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functionality for $10.

 

Matt Richardson. Used with permission.
Tell me about your path to becoming the Executive Director of North American for the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

RICHARDSON: I used to work in the television industry in New York City, but I grew up exposed to technology and computers and have had a passion for technology for a long time. As I was working in television, I noticed that people were creating and making things with computers and technology, and it really captured my attention. I thought it was something I wanted to try to do, so I started off as a hobbyist maker. I was creating things and putting them out there, making projects – you know, all the fun and interesting things that I wanted to do for a long time. Because of the maker movement, I was able to do these things that I wasn’t able to do before.

I was involved in the maker community for a long time before the Raspberry Pi came out, and I immediately liked how we could now use computers as a material for making things. And I loved the price of Raspberry Pi. So I quickly became an unofficial evangelist for the platform – I wrote a book called Getting Started with the Raspberry Pi with a good friend of mine, Shawn Wallace. And I would talk a lot about what Raspberry Pi is all about just because I was passionate about what the community was about, what the product was about, and what the Raspberry Pi Foundation was doing.

In late 2014, Eben Upton, one of the founders of the Raspberry Pi Foundation asked me if I wanted to be a part of the team in the United States, and I jumped at the opportunity. I started at the Foundation at the beginning of 2015 as Raspberry Pi’s first U.S. employee.

Raspberry Pi has both a commercial business and a foundation. Can you outline for me how those two organizations work together?

RICHARDSON: We are unique from other charities that are associated with technology in that other major charities are often a technology company first and have a charity, sort of, on the side. We’re different in that we are first and foremost a foundation that happens to own a technology company, and that’s the Raspberry Pi Trading Company.  Raspberry Pi Trading handles the engineering and  product  and all the stuff that goes around that, and that’s owned by Raspberry Pi Foundation, which does all the charitable outreach. All the “mission” work is done by the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

The Foundation got its start in the U.K. What kind of activities does the Foundation support here in the U.S.?

RICHARDSON: The Raspberry Pi Foundation has global ambitions. We started off in the U.K. but we expanded into all of Europe. We want to be making a difference all over the world. We want to be achieving our mission all over the world, and we are doing that in several ways.

One thing we’re doing in the United States is training educators. We piloted Picademy, our professional development program for educators,last year in 2016, and it’s now an ongoing program in the U.S. We also do a lot of work involving direct-to-youth outreach in the United States. For instance, we look at events like Maker Faires and science festivals as opportunities to get young people to try out coding and technology – many of them have never had exposure to it before. So we want to find opportunities where we can get the Raspberry Pi out there and get people we normally wouldn’t reach, getting families and children to sit down at a Raspberry Pi and try to write a line of code and try playing with electronics.

I saw that the Foundation recently joined forces with Code Club and Coder Dojo. How do these mergers fit into the Foundation’s U.S. ambitions?

RICHARDSON: Our mission is to put the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world. When we talk about digital making, we talk about using technology to create and make things. It’s not just about coding. It’s electronics. It’s design thinking. There are a lot of things that encompass digital making. Code Club and Coder Dojo are great examples of organizations that go out there and provide resources for people to do outreach to youth. Code Club and CoderDojo have a positive impact on hundreds of thousands of youth worldwide, and it’s something that they’ve really figured out. So they’re a natural fit for our organization, and we expect that working together, we can expand this impact even further.

It seems like there’s a technology product for everything these days. Why is it important for people to learn how to make their own things?

RICHARDSON: What’s really important to us is the idea that anyone can be empowered to create things with technology, and we’re not all relegated to being consumers. Technology has never been more accessible and affordable for all people. We need to do the work to push that as far as we possibly can. That’s why we make Raspberry Pis as affordable as possible, and it’s why we create resources for anyone to be able to use the technology to do the things that they want to see happen in the world, whether they’re making a project for themselves for fun, learning something new, prototyping a product, solving a problem that matters to them.

We want people to understand that digital making isn’t just for people who are interested in technology itself. It’s for anyone who is interested in anything. If you are an artist, you can use technology to create art work. If you’re interested in biology – for example, you want to know what’s going on in a particular stream or river – you can use the technology to your advantage. You don’t need to be a technology enthusiast, a hobbyist or expert, and you certainly don’t need to be an engineer. That’s a big part of what we’re all about, making sure that everybody knows that they can use technology for what they see fit.

What caught my eye, initially, about the Raspberry Pi was that it was a very low price computer. I think $35. How has the affordability factor influenced the Raspberry Pis place in the greater world of technology?

RICHARDSON: Affordability is absolutely critical for us. It goes hand-in-hand with accessibility. When we talk about accessibility of technology, we’re talking about making it easier for people to get started. A common barrier is price. So we have worked really hard to overcome that barrier by making Raspberry Pi as affordable as we possibly can. The affordability factor changes this idea that you shouldn’t touch, hack, play or tinker with technology because you’re afraid you might break something. Driving down the price of this technology means that more people will be able to hack or tinker with impunity, without being worried about breaking anything. It means that more people are going to give it a go. If the computers and the technology are more affordable that means more people can take a chance on it. And then it’s just a numbers game – the more people you have taking a chance on a technology, the more people you have running with it and staying with it.

To answer your question a little more directly, it means that other companies see the success we’ve had and, I think, it has put some downward pressure on the price of technology items, making them more affordable. That’s good for everybody. If we’re influencing other companies to make technology more affordable, we’re achieving our mission.

You lowered the price barrier even more with the Pi Zero. How does that product fit into the Foundation’s mission and, in particular, an idea I heard you mention at the InfoSys Crossroads conference – that a computer can be a material, not just a tool?

RICHARDSON: In the 1980s, there were young kids coding with computers, but the context of computing was a keyboard, monitor and mouse sitting in someone’s room. It was a sort of fixed concept of computing. But some visionaries like Seymour Papert saw a future where technologies were treated more like a material, as opposed to a tool, to create and make things with. So he created the Logo programming language so that young people could use the computer to draw and also guide “turtle robots” that would roll on the ground and draw designs according to your instructions. You could even add sensors and actuators. He was really a visionary. I think that things like the Raspberry Pi Zero have really helped spread the idea that if you create something with a computer that’s affordable enough, that computer can be a material, too.

Even just ten years ago, when the maker movement was just getting rolling, you might have one Arduino [single-board microcontroller] in a project. Then when you were done with your project, you didn’t want to rip the Arduino out of your project to start a new one because you might not be able to afford multiple Arduinos. I would love to see more and more people, with more and more affordable computers, say “I can dedicate a computer to this project. I can dedicate another computer to this project and that project over there, too.” So the computer becomes a material in the project and people can think of it just like, say, they think of a canvas if they’re making art.

Tell me a little more about Picademy and how teachers can take advantage of that professional development opportunity.

RICHARDSON: All over the world, there a lot of really passionate and engaged educators who already “get” what we do and what we’re all about. They were already doing this before us. They understand concepts like project-based learning and computer as a material. For educators like them, we provide a professional development program called Picademy.

We bring educators together for two days, and they learn about digital making and creating with computers using Raspberry Pis. Then they work together and collaborate to create their own projects. The Picademy is meant to provide an introduction for using the Raspberry Pi as a material and thinking about digital making in the classroom. We piloted it last year in the Bay Area; Austin, Texas; and Baltimore, Maryland. This year, we are going to be in Providence, Rhode Island; Irvine, California; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Boise, Idaho. We’ll be training even more educators this year, and we will be giving them the tools to bring digital making into their classrooms.

It’s not just for teachers. We include classroom teachers, librarians, community educators, after-school educators, museum educators – educators of all types. This kind of learning doesn’t just happen in classrooms. It happens in lots of different educational contexts, and we want to support that.

We know that not everyone can take two days out of their life to come see us where we are, although we try to bring Raspberry Pi as far and wide as we can. So we also host an online professional development opportunity through a platform called FutureLearn. We run courses online for educators that take about two hours per week for four weeks. It’s perfect for educators who know that this is the kind of thing for them, but don’t have the time or resources to come see us at Picademy.

I saw something about Raspberry Jams on your website. What are they, and how can people get involved?

RICHARDSON: Raspberry Jams started with our community. This wasn’t something that we initiated. If you’re familiar with the early heyday of computing when homebrew computer groups were happening, these events started happening organically where members of the community gathered to see each other face-to-face, talk about what they’re doing, and show off their projects. Raspberry Jams started out like that. As more people began to organize these events, we as an organization supported Raspberry Jams by giving the organizers promotional tools and resources they could use. We put a Jam Map on our website where anyone running a Jam could add their event to the map with a link so that people could see it, come by and meet other people working with Raspberry Pis near them.

A month or two ago, we stepped up our game in terms of how we support Raspberry Jams by providing guide books for anyone who wants to start their own Jam. We see Jams that are just three or four people getting together every month, and we see jams that are huge events with a Maker Faire vibe and associated lectures and workshops. The guide book is meant to be, not only for people who want to get together and hold an event and find out what Raspberry Pi has to offer them, but also to communicate what other Jam organizers have to offer in terms of best practices. The guide book covers all the things you want to know, and it gives you tons of ideas and inspiration for activities you can offer. For people who organize Jams and commit to creating ongoing Jams, we support them with collateral materials – stickers, flyers and other graphical assets – so they can give their Jam a nice, professional look.

You started out as a product evangelist for the Raspberry Pi Foundation. What advice do you have for those who want to evangelize the product here in Mississippi? What do we need to do to build awareness and get people excited about computing and digital making with Raspberry Pis?

RICHARDSON: We always like to start looking at where there’s some momentum already happening in a particular region. It could be that, in Mississippi, there’s a classroom educator community that has already tapped into project-based learning and technology. It could be that the librarians are the ones who are already on this path. It could be tech and science museums in the area. Or it could be nonprofits that do after-school work.

We provide free resources to support all those different audiences, no matter what they’re doing. We offer guides for classrooms and after-school clubs. Anyone can register a Code Club and get tons of resources for free and tap into our network of educators. I think the Code Club network is a great way for any type of educator in Mississippi to get involved.

I believe the Raspberry Pi platform has a lot of potential here in Mississippi, not just because of the affordability of the computers, but also our need to encourage greater homegrown innovation to inspire economic development. Are there any other things we could be doing?

RICHARDSON: You’re absolutely right that the affordability of our products is the kind of thing that can help a lot. I’m not really that familiar with your area – is there a good Maker Faire?

I know that Meridian, Mississippi has had some Mini Maker Faires. I think they have been the only one so far.

RICHARDSON: You know, the Maker Faire here in the Bay Area has been going on for about ten years, and it has grown quite large. There are a lot of Mini Maker Faires all over the world that have really come into their own as a big annual event for that whole community. But it really takes an institution to step up and take this Maker Faire idea, tap into their network and keep the conversation and momentum going. Having been involved in things like this, I know it takes a lot of effort to keep events going and to keep people interested.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

RICHARDSON: We’ve talked a lot about education – classrooms, libraries, museums. But there’s a whole group of people who are just hobbyists, and supporting them is important. People pick up a Raspberry Pi and try a thing or two. And what often happens is that they learn and experiment on their own as a hobby, but then that becomes something more. It becomes a product, or the idea turns into a business. We’re big proponents of the hobbyist realm of the maker movement and not just the educational side of making. It can lead to intergenerational learning, with fathers and mothers working with their children and trying things out. It exposes kids to the idea of tinkering with things in the home – that’s something we try to encourage. Our hobbyist community is enormous, and we love to see what these people are doing. It’s also just a huge source of inspiration for what can be done with the technology. Beyond all the wonderful formal education that’s happening, the informal at-home education is critical to us, as well, for getting the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world.

Related posts
Interview: Mitchel Resnick of the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten Group
Interview: Cameron Wilson of Code.org
Interview: Jon Mattingly of Kodable

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June 22nd, 2016

Building the Next Silicon Valley

My friend Joe Stradinger of Edge Theory has often spoken of the idea of a “Silicon Delta.” Tech companies and a knowledge-based workforce in Mississippi. I think we all realize that the way Mississippi can “win the future” is through being highly competitive in the knowledge economy and growing/retaining/attracting more of these leading edge companies. The idea of a “Silicon Delta” is definitely exciting.

As it turns out, the next Silicon Valley may very well grow from, well, another valley: Water Valley, Mississippi.

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Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit the Base Camp Coding Academy in Water Valley, Mississippi. The town of Water Valley is quite a story in and of itself. A partnership of private development and city support has lead to a real renaissance in the rural city’s downtown area which has received a fair amount of national publicity. As amazing as the revival has been, I want to talk about a totally new development that really can be a sea change for rural Mississippi and a model for future workforce development.

I walked up the stairs into a rehabbed, row-style brick building in the center of Water Valley’s downtown area. It was built in the 1860s, and the floors are wonderful old hardwood. The character of the space is something that we can no longer duplicate – it comes only with the cycle of vibrancy, decline, and rebirth. Inside this building is a large classroom with what have to be 20-foot tall ceilings. A ping-pong table, large flat screen monitors, and whiteboards pay testament to the fact that this old building is a place for new tech.

Fourteen students with 14 laptops sit listening to an instructor giving a working lesson on the Python programming language. This in and of itself is not that remarkable. This same scene is being repeated – albeit in classrooms with less atmosphere – across the country. What is remarkable are three aspects:

  1. These students are fresh out of high school. Two of them are actually 17-years-old.
  2. This program is non-profit in a small relatively rural Mississippi town, not associated with a major university or job training center.
  3. These students will have the skills to be fully employable as highly-compensated software developers at the end of 12 months. Before most of them are old enough to sample the craft beer from the Yalobusha Brewery just down the street, they will likely be commanding starting salaries higher than the median Mississippi income.



Basecamp is the only program of its kind in Mississippi… and it is damn exciting. When we talk about changing the trajectory of this state, breaking community-based cyclic economic challenges, and putting our state ahead of the trending employment curve, it is programs like Base Camp that can play a – if not THE – pivotal role in making that happen. To put it another way, we are looking at a model that will be disruptive, exponentially positive, and a game changer.

 

Building the Pipeline

The story of how this academy came about is really one that would make Thomas Edison proud. The 1% “inspiration” factor was certainly necessary, but also obvious. The software/tech companies that call Mississippi home – such as C Spire and FNC and others – have a workforce problem. And this problem isn’t unique to Mississippi, either. The U.S. Department of Labor forecasts that by the year 2020 (that’s less than 4 years, folks) the U.S. economy will have the need for 1.4 million “computer science” type jobs. Currently, only about 400,000 students are enrolled in programs or courses of study that would qualify them for these jobs. That’s a one-million job gap.

Why can’t and why shouldn’t Mississippi play a big role is filling this gap? We can certainly help with the dreadful diversity numbers that have plagued Silicon Valley for sometime now. Somewhere around 3% of the workforce are people of color or female. That’s a huge under-representation of the population. And it’s not because Silicon Valley has been exclusionary. Far from it. They WANT diversity in their companies. But they are also not in the workforce development business. That’s where a program like Basecamp comes in. And the 99% perspiration that several dedicated individuals and sponsoring organizations continue to put into making it a reality. They, in all likelihood, are creating a new pipeline to “Silicon Valley” jobs.

Understand that when I talk about “Silicon Valley,” I’m referring to the tech industry, not the place. I’ve been yelling about the “brain drain” in Mississippi for years now. No, it doesn’t do the state any good to develop human capital in the form of highly educated workers, only to have them leave the state. That’s the biggest challenge here, and where we run into the most resistance. To this, I’ll make the following rebuttal:

  • You have to accept the fact that you will inevitably lose some of the people that you educate. But it’s a numbers game. The more people you can expose to skills that command high wages, the more you will also KEEP in state. But…
  • We still have to do our part to make sure we are keeping as many as possible. Mississippi tech companies are ready, willing, and able to hire developers. It saves them time, money, and ultimately increases profits. But we have to make sure that a pipeline is established between industry and programs that can serve as a conduit for our Mississippi knowledge workers.



It really is a perfect combination of demand-side and supply-side economic theory. In-state companies have the need RIGHT NOW for new developers. The more these companies are able to grow based on their talent pool capacity, the more spin-offs, start-ups, and related tech companies will want to call Mississippi home. And they will be much more apt to do so because we are building the capacity to have the SUPPLY of knowledge workers necessary to make these enterprises successful.

Related Article: Coding Bootcamps Boom in North America

 

The Snowball

The issue has always been that a large swath of Mississippians who are place-bound – either by choice or situation – haven’t had many options for upwardly mobility. The “remote” economy has turned that paradigm on its head. A 20-year-old in Clarksdale can write code of the same quality as someone in Cupertino. The compensation our Clarksdale coder makes will go a lot farther here than in the Bay Area, as well. So there’s incentive to stay. As that person stays and adds to the local economy, additional revenue flows in which can in turn be used to fund infrastructure, education, and other projects necessary to produce an environment that attracts additional commerce.

With this strategy, we may have hit on the secret sauce that snowballs our way out of the economic doldrums.

A project my agency helped to found – Kids Code Mississippi – has partnered with the non-profit Springboard To Opportunities organization to launch a summer-long coding academy for kids living in federally subsidized multifamily housing units across Mississippi. Concurrent with this Cyber Summer program, we recently held “two gen” workshops at two apartment complex locations in Jackson, Mississippi. One was for mothers/daughters, the other for fathers/sons. At each of these events, we had a guest speaker address the young people who were participating. Sheena Allen, founder of Sheena Allen Apps, spoke to the girls’ group. Terence Williams – the only Mississippi-based app developer to be invited by Apple to the 2016 World Wide Developer’s Conference – spoke to the guys.

These are two young Mississippians who are successful and building their businesses in Mississippi, whom I personally admire. The are literally the picture of how Mississippi can become a hotbed in the 21st century knowledge economy. It is an inspiration for our kids to see that people CAN do it, and can do it here. The snowball gets a little larger…

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The “Hack2Gen” workshop attendees we recently held for Kids Code Mississippi.

 

The Big Mo

The Base Camp Coding Academy is incredible. It is a life-changing opportunity, and potentially a model for Mississippi leapfrogging other regions in the knowledge economy. Programs like Kids Code Mississippi continue to generate awareness of the opportunity that exists for all Mississippians, and especially among communities who need opportunity the most. To its credit, the Mississippi Department of Education has been aggressive in implementing its CS4MS pilot program to get computer science incorporated into public school curriculum sooner rather than later. It feels like we have a lot of momentum. It feels as if Mississippi isn’t behind the curve, but maybe in some ways actually leading it. Let’s keep it going.

My plea to fellow Mississippians – let the kids who are interested in digital skills know how important what they are doing is for all of us. It is tough for an 18-year-old to grasp the concept that they hold the key to changing the fate of an entire population. We send kids of the same age to foreign lands to protect our freedom. Let’s not diminish the contributions of those who are taking steps to create an economic environment that is growing and vibrant. We’re all in this together, and we’re only as strong as our weakest link. Tired and cliched, but ever so true.

#Create4Good #Create4MS #Code4MS

March 15th, 2016

Bytes & Bites… but Why?

Shot from Kids Code Event

 

Monday, 3/14 (yes, Pi Day), MWB partners Randy Lynn and myself hosted a session to brief lawmakers and leaders on the future of computer science education and related workforce opportunities in Mississippi. The event was held in partnership with the Fast Forward Mississippi and Kids Code Mississippi initiatives and co-sponsor, C Spire.

Speakers included Governor Phil Bryant, Deuce McAllister, Senator Brice Wiggins and representatives from Code.org, C Spire, the Mississippi Department of Education, and the Mississippi Children’s Museum.

You may be wondering why an ad agency is working pro bono to promote computer science education. There are three reasons:

First, we love Mississippi and want to see our state succeed in every way possible. Workforce development and, in particular, strong education outcomes are critical to a brighter future for our state and its residents.

Second, we believe that technology will only become more important to our state’s economy in the future. At a time when other states and many foreign countries are increasingly requiring that students learn coding, the language of technology, we can’t afford to look the other way. We can, however, take steps to jump ahead of the curve.

Finally, we recognize that children are, very literally, our state’s future. It is well documented that students who are never exposed to computer-science concepts are less likely to pursue and succeed in technology-based career paths. They’re less likely to qualify for higher-wage jobs in the future. They’re less likely to start up innovation-based companies. They’re less likely to become technology makers, not just technology users.

We don’t expect our support of computer science education to have an immediate payoff for our agency – we’re taking the long view here. MWB has been in business in Mississippi for more than 45 years. We want to help make sure the next 45 years are even better for all Mississippians.

Click to see photos from the Bites and Bytes event on MWB’s Facebook.

March 10th, 2016

Bytes and Bites: Interactive Code Education Briefing for Legislators

We want to ensure that Mississippi kids become technology creators, not just technology consumers.

– Randy Lynn, MWB/Kids Code Mississippi

The US Department of Labor forecasts that there will be the need for an additional 1 million jobs in coding and computer science by the year 2020. We believe that Mississippi can play a pivotal role in leading the developing innovation economy.

To promote awareness of the opportunities that exist for Mississippians, MWB’s Fast Forward Mississippi initiative is powering a special Kids Code Mississippi event – an interactive briefing specifically for legislators. The event – powered by leading Mississippi technology company C Spire – will be held Monday 3/14 at 9 a.m. at the Mississippi Children’s Museum.

Deemed the Bytes & Bites event (we’ll explain in a bit), the event will pair logistics with Mississippi students to step through brief coding tutorials on various open source platforms. Following this exercise, participants will hear remarks on the opportunities in computer science from Governor Phil Bryant, C Spire senior Vice President Eric Graham, Mike Mulvihill from the Mississippi Department of Education, sports star/education advocate Deuce McAllister, Senator Brice Wiggins, Emily Hoff of the Mississippi Children’s Museum, and special guest Alexandra Vlachakis from Code.org.

Since this event is happening on 3/14 (Pi Day), we’ll also be celebrating careers in STEM by serving – you guessed it – Mississippi-baked pies!

 

January 19th, 2016

Cards4Code

Like I’m sure so many Americans have done by now, this weekend witnessed the final usage of one of the Christmas gift cards I received. Ok actually it was an Amazon gift card I received as a thank-you from FNC for being the kickoff speaker for their Forge hackathon event in December. So with purchases complete, we had $1.05 remaining on the card. I wondered what could make a good donation for $1.05? Nothing. But how many gift cards are floating around out there unused with just a c0uple of bucks left on them? Why not bundle them together and put toward something that does good – say the Fast Forward Mississippi project, Kids Code Mississippi?

That is precisely what we’re launching. The <cards4code> project. Send your gift cards with their unused portions to Kids Code Mississippi and we will use to purchase hardware/software for underserved Mississippi students participating in extracurricular computer science/coding education activities. Any gift cards from retailers who carry electronics or computer software are acceptable. We’ll keep you updated as to what the project is able to purchase.

Gift cards may be sent to:

Fast Forward Mississippi – Kids Code Mississippi Project
18 Northtown Drive
Jackson, MS 39211

And thanks to FNC for being the unknowing but initial contributor to <cards4code>!

Learn more about the Fast Forward Mississippi initiative.

Learn more about Kids Code Mississippi.

August 24th, 2015

MWB CreativeFire Podcast featuring HOPE Policy Institute

Host Tim Mask talks with Dr. Corey Wiggins about the work of the HOPE Policy Institute (formerly Mississippi Economic Policy Center). Discussion ranges from education to public health to workforce development.

Tim also talks about the newest Kids Code Mississippi project with the Springboard to Opportunities organization.

May 12th, 2015

MWB Creative Fire Podcast w/ Kids Code, MWBeer30, and Camgian CEO Dr. Gary Butler

This edition of the MWB Creative Fire podcast originally posted 5/7/15. It’s the first of our revamped podcast recorded in the brand MWB Creative Fire Studios. Enjoy!

May 5th, 2015

DEV4MS

Our agency is the founding entity of the Fast Forward Mississippi initiative, which is dedicated to reversing the loss of Mississippi’s intellectual capital (brain-drain), and helping to develop a knowledge-based workforce for the 21st century. One of the signature projects of initiative is Kids Code Mississippi. As you can probably guess, Kids Code MS focuses on digital literacy awareness and promoting digital skills (coding) among Mississippi youth.

On May 2nd, through Fast Forward and Kids Code MS, we helped to organize and produce the first full-day “hackathon” for high school students, at Terry High School. You can read about the event at the links below.

We would just like say “thank you” to the valuable partners what helped make the event possible: SchoolStatus, C Spire, and JAWAD (Jackson Area Website and App Developers). And a special thanks to Ms. Mehreen Butt, a passionate Teach for American Mississippi Corps. member who see the unbridled potential in our kids. Stay tuned for more in the #DEV4MS series.

Read about the DEV4MS:Terry event on Kids Code Mississippi

Learn about the Fast Forward Mississippi initiative.

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January 6th, 2015

Big wheel keep on turning

Yes it’s that time for the ubiquitous “look ahead” to what’s expected in 2015. Actually, I read a great article from Fast Company Create that was a list of prognostications from brand managers and creative types. Letting author Jeff Beer do the heavy lifting, we’ll comment on excerpts from his well-done piece. Read the full article on Co.Create.

What are the things (technological, societal, media-related, economic, or otherwise) that will most impact the work you’ll be doing next year?

Tor Myhren, worldwide chief creative officer, Grey: Our industry’s obsession with celebrities became massive this year, and I see this as an even bigger trend next year. Leader brands are using them to flex their dominance, challenger brands are using them as a shortcut to quick buzz, and everyone is using their social media tentacles as a cheaper media channel. I have never seen our industry lean more on celebrity, both as “the idea” and as a media outlet, than we did in 2014. Of course this simply mimics what’s happening in society as a whole. We are and forever will be a culture that cannot take our eyes off the stars. Micro-celebrities (like YouTube celebs) will continue to grow and become a more central part of media and partnership strategies.

I couldn’t agree with Tor more. Especially in regard to the “YouTube celebrity” phenomenon. Back in late 2013 MWB ran with a series of faux YouTube celeb shows as part of our youth tobacco prevention campaign (check out the exploits of Trip and Trey, Coach D-Blast, and Masterdaters here.) I actually believe you’ll see more marketing campaigns creating their own faux celebs on YouTube and other social media channels. It is an uphill battle to push product or even brand attributes via social media simply because it consists of platforms built for personal interaction, not passive messaging. Personifying messages solves that. It’s the evolution of the “spokesperson.” Used to celebrities were hired to be spokespeople because of their celebrity. Today, being a spokesperson actually generates the celebrity. This is a trend on the upswing.

Ben Priest, founding partner and executive creative director, adam&eveDDB London: The only real challenge facing us every year is finding great people. That never changes. 2015 will be no different. Great talent is a rare thing but when you find it your business hits fast forward.

I SWEAR there was no collusion between us and Mr. Priest on this quote. The “Fast Forward Mississippi” initiative is designed to address this very challenge for Mississippi on a statewide level. This is certainly true for creative firms such as ours – we want to find the best, most innovative folks we can and retain them. It’s also true for most other industries in an age in which we are moving into a full fledged global knowledge economy. Sorry for the tangent, but this issue is something in which Maris, West & Baker is deeply involved and I found it interesting that it came up in this article.

Adrian Belina, partner and creative director, Jam3: As people’s interest in Facebook continues to fade we will see fewer requests from brands to do campaigns and apps that reside within Facebook. In the last year, we’ve definitely seen a return to the microsite format, especially for digital campaigns, and I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of it as brands continue to use Facebook as a conversation tool rather than as their main platform.

I totally agree with Ms. Belina. I never believed that Facebook should be an anchor platform. It’s a great conversation tool, buzz generator, and can be useful for PR, but not as the “home” of a brand. There are actually other social media platforms that are better suited for such if that’s the route you take, particularly tumblr. I’m not sure I’m on board with the idea of microsite, though. At least not in the traditional sense. They can be really cool, but you risk having a dilutive effect (depending on the product/service). Not to mention being a management headache. To accomplish the effect of a microsite, I’d recommend a technology overlay such as Get Smart Content. (I’ve also learned that “dilutive” is apparently not currently a word…. so now I own it Dilutive™.) We actually penned an article about this very topic here way back in February of 2013 titled “Clearing the Digital Kudzu.”

Jon Jackson, global creative director, Huge: People don’t have as much room for b*llsh*t in their lives anymore. With social and political issues top-of-mind for so many right now, we’ll need to employ a greater sense of empathy and understanding in everything we do. Companies that are honest with people and really trying to make their users’ lives a bit better are the ones that will do best. The work we execute next year will be focused on braver ideas, honesty, and empowering people with a little more control over their lives.

Mr. Jackson, I hope you are correct. I do believe there is movement in corporate America toward more of a Tom’s Shoes-esque model. Time will tell how genuine these efforts are, and how genuine consumers perceive them to be. I can foresee a rise in the prominence of “Benefit Corporations” in the global business landscape. The big question will be, if everyone and their brother starts making this empathy aspect part of their brand DNA, how special will it really be? Brands spent the better part of a century convincing everyone that “the customer is king.” A shift to “the greater good” may be the right thing to do, but those who do such at the expense of their consumer experience will likely become non-profit companies (and not in a good way). On a related note:

John Patroulis, chief creative officer, BBH NY: How a company behaves in the world is becoming increasingly important, which is a wonderful thing. Wonderful for the kinds of ideas we can create and the kinds of behavior we can inspire. In a world of perfect information, the activities, values, and stances you take really matter, and affect the health of your business whether you like it or not. A nice side benefit just happens to be happier, more inspired employees, customers, and planet. Using our strategic and creative muscle to help a company find its soul, its authentic space of good, ­and creatively express that in actions as well as communications (or, when done right, actions that are themselves communications) will be an important focus, along with everything else we do with them.

That’s a great point about happier employees, Mr. Patroulis. Many times the “customer is king” model was at the expense of the employees. Remember, that’s how Brad Hamilton (Judd Reinhold) got fired in Fast Times? Dennis Taylor was a total jerk.

Linda Boff, global executive director of brand marketing, General Electric: Virtual reality! We’re fascinated by the limitlessness of it and began creating content for Oculus Rift this year. It’s a great storytelling platform, particularly for GE, because it gives us another incredible way to show how our big machines perform in extreme conditions. We can take someone on a journey to the sea floor or into the human brain.

We’re also paying a lot of attention to connected TVs and thinking about how brands can play with original content. We love that media is becoming more ephemeral through platforms like SnapChat, Yo and Yik Yak, and at the same time, more long form with platforms like Medium.

Data is also going to have an impact on what we do next year. With data, you enable things, and there’s an opportunity for GE to tell stories with smart light bulbs or thermostats as media.

 

Not sure how compelling stories via light bulbs and thermostats will be, but the potential for wearables such as Oculus Rift is exciting. This from a guy who had his first experience with Google Glass late last year, and totally geeked out over it. The issue will be how well these items integrate into our everyday lives. They may never become as ubiquitous as some prognosticators claim, but then again after growing up watching Zack Morris talk on a brick, who would have thought I’d turn around and go back home just because I left my iPhone!

Those interviewed in Mr. Beer’s article go on to talk about how they are increasingly thinking through branding and consumer touch points at the holistic level. I think this is always the way we need to approach marketing. In an age when message delivery systems are literally customizable down to a person, we tend to let the media platform do the heavy lifting. We have to keep in mind that the media channel is an end to a means. It is FedEx. What is really important is what is in the package when it arrives. Content is and always will be, king.

Full credit of all content in quote blocks above to Jeff Beer and Fast Company creative. I encourage you to read the entire article.

stonehengeAs for Tim Mask predictions of what tactical marketing trends we’ll see congeal in 2015 – I think we’ll begin to see more executions created specifically for aerial  drones. Marketing messages for people looking down from above isn’t new. Messages have been painted on the rooftops of barns and big buildings for years. According to Erich von Daniken and Paranoid Rob Lowe, mankind has actually been messaging to flying audiences for centuries. Arial photography and video have traditionally been rare and purpose-specific. As we see camera-ready drones become more affordable and content taken from the air becomes more ubiquitous, it won’t be long before advertisers see the opportunity for product placement. It won’t surprise me a bit if we see a handful of novel ad campaigns this year that are only discoverable from the air. Remember, when it happens, you heard it here.

I suspect 2015 will also see a profusion of viral social-media based “challenges.” The Ice Bucket Challenge was brilliant. There have already been numerous copycats and I suspect more are on the way. Nothing wrong with that. It will be interesting to see what news twists can be incorporated into the concept, though. We may even do a little something for Kids Code Mississippi (… that was a teaser if you didn’t notice… stay tuned).

So we ask the millions of readers of the MWB blog, what are your predictions for 2015?

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