3 more things I loved about Tempe Leadership

The 28th class of Tempe Leadership graduates today. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it’s the best class ever, but I may be biased as a member of Class XXVIII.

Unfamiliar with Tempe Leadership? Every year, 20 Tempeans are selected to develop their leadership skills, explore the inner workings of the city, and complete a community service project. I already posted three things I loved about Tempe Leadership’s first half. Here are three things I loved about the second half:

Tempe Leadership sign

The Threadz 4 Success plaque bears the signatures of my 20 awesome classmates.

Touring the water shed … on a helicopter!

If you have an inquisitive mind, Tempe Leadership is one unique experience after another. In the second half of the program, I toured Tempe’s historic neighborhoods, explored traditional and holistic healthcare at St. Luke’s Hospital and Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, and shadowed Cold Stone Creamery SVP of Marketing Kate Unger during a commercial shoot.

But the highlight was a tour of the Valley’s water shed … aboard SRP’s helicopter! On a two-hour flight, we followed the Verde River  north to Bartlett and Horseshoe lakes then returned south along the Salt River to pass over Roosevelt, Apache, Canyon, and Saguaro lakes. Quite a different vantage point from fishing and playing in the lakes as a kid.

Leading by following.

It’s not easy for me to not be central to things. It’s part of being an Enneagram 8. It’s not that I want to be the star. I just want to be relied upon. Building a marketing plan, running a meeting, and organizing the big picture all play to my strengths. Other things definitely do not.

I had plenty of opportunities to not be central during the final stages of our class project Threadz 4 Success, a retail store for Tempe teens in need of clothing, school supplies, or personal care products. I know nothing about designing a retail store. But I can pick up a paintbrush or haul trash bags full of used clothes from a community drive.

Watching 20 strangers form a team and make a difference.

Speaking of the project, every class must identify a community need, raise funds ($12,000 in our case), and do the actual work … all in nine months and with virtually no instructions. As I said near the beginning, “They told 20 strangers to go build something without providing guidance on what to build or how to build it. So, what are those 20 strangers doing? Building. It’s epic y’all.”

And it was epic! Threadz has already hosted two dozen JAG (Jobs for Arizona Graduates) students who needed clothing for job interviews. Some of these kids live in shelters or bounce from one relative’s couch to another. All found something they could wear in their interviews. And, in the coming years, many more will find the clothing they need to survive high school and contribute to our community.

Now that’s epic, y’all.

Are you interested in joining Tempe Leadership next year? I’m happy to chat about my experience far over coffee. Email me!

Tempe Leadership ribbon cutting

Tempe mayor Mark Mitchell cuts the ribbon at Threadz 4 Success.

I caught my limit aboard the good ship Bulbstorm

“When you go fishing you can catch a lot of fish, or you can catch a big fish. You ever walk into a guy’s den and see a picture of him standing next to 14 trout? No, he’s holding a 3,000-pound marlin.” ~ The Social Network

Bulbman: Saving startups in a single bound.When I joined Bulbstorm in October 2009, I thought it was a short-term gig. I didn’t think I’d be there for over three years. And I certainly didn’t think I’d see the company acquired.

I was wrong on both accounts. Bulbstorm has been acquired by ePrize, itself a recent addition to private equity firm Catterton Partners’ $2.5 billion empire. For me, the fishing trip is over. I think we hauled in a nice catch. I’m ready to sail new waters.

I like to think I played a key leadership role as Bulbstorm grew from six employees to over two dozen and grabbed the attention of MarketingProfs, MarketingSherpa, Mashable, PR Week, Social Media Examiner, and more. (See my resume for a formal overview of my contributions.)

It was a whirlwind. At times, it was hard to keep up. I sat in 10 different desks in three different buildings. Although we weren’t really into titles (the sign on my office door read “social media douchebag”), I did cycle between four different email signatures.

I’m most proud of my contribution to the predictability and scalability of the business side of our company. At our holiday party in 2011, I received the Velcro Award for “leveraging a prickly side and a soft side to hold things together.” I was immensely proud.

I can’t reflect on my time at Bulbstorm without acknowledging my CEO Bart Steiner’s tremendous impact on my professional growth. He’s the most strategic, visionary, and practically brilliant person I’ve ever met. Serving at his side for 3 years was like earning a PHD in business.

For most of the last 3+ years, I’ve bled Bulbstorm orange. I wore it too. I rocked an orange hoodie at the office. I presented in an orange suit and faux alligator shoes. I served beers at BOLO in a cape, rollerblades, and knee-high orange socks.

Alas, it’s time to find a new color. I’m grateful that I bled orange long enough to haul in our catch. Bulbstorm may not have been a 3,000-pound marlin. But it was enough trout to fuel my next voyage.

The bulbstorm team

3 things I’ve loved about Tempe Leadership so far

The holidays marked the halfway point of my nine-month Tempe Leadership program. It’s been an amazing experience!

Unfamiliar with Tempe Leadership? Every year, 20 Tempeans are selected to develop their leadership skills, explore the inner workings of the city, and complete a community service project. As you’ll see in the list below, the experience is quite varied.

Here are three things I’ve loved about Tempe Leadership so far:

Matt Simpson's Tempe Leadership badge1. Watching the team form and perform.

A key component of the program is the class project. Twenty strangers must identify a community need, pitch the board, raise funds ($10,000 in our case), and do the actual work … all in nine months. That means forming, storming, norming, and performing fast.

Every class approaches this challenge differently. We split into four teams (renovations, fundraising, partnerships, and marketing), each of which defines and executes its own deliverables. Teams coordinate with one another through an executive committee. By dividing in this way, we each contribute from an area of strength while minimizing the size of meetings and email threads.

Learn about our class project Threads 4 Success.

2. Learning how other leaders lead.

Although I’m on the marketing team, I get to attend other teams’ meetings. It’s a great learning experience in two ways. First, as a fly on the wall, I quietly observe others’ personal styles for contributing, interacting, and leading. Those styles are as varied as our occupations, which range from entrepreneurs to engineers to police lieutenants.

Second, I’ve been exposed to new skills. For example, our fundraiser (a holiday gift auction) was a huge undertaking. We raised over $7,000 in one night! I know little to nothing about putting on an event, so it was great to watch the fundraising team lock down all the details.

Oh, and don’t get me started on observing and interacting with civic leaders like city manager Charlie Meyer, interim fire chief Greg Ruiz, and more. That’d be a whole other blog post!

3. Going hands-on with emergency responders.

What about the fun stuff? Tempe Leadership gives you a taste of some of the city’s coolest jobs. I rode shotgun with a police officer on a busy Friday night, threw on firefighter gear and “rushed” up 60+ feet of stairs, and got behind-the-scenes tours of ASU, city government, and arts facilities.

I even let a 100-pound German shepherd take a bite out of crime by chomping down on my arm. It was a scary sight even with a protective sleeve on. I sprained two ribs and landed in physical therapy for two months, but it was totally worth it!

Don’t forget to check out 3 things I loved about Tempe Leadership’s second half. Wanna join Tempe Leadership? Let’s chat over coffee. Email me!

The benefits of a dedicated digital R&D budget

When it comes to digital marketing, there are huge benefits to being an early adopter.

First, there are cost efficiencies in new platforms due to lack of competition. Second, to borrow a real estate analogy from Tom Martin, those who move into a neighborhood before it’s popular benefit most from any future popularity.

Digital marketing is full of shiny objects. Of course, a preference toward early adoption can give way to shiny object syndrome. It can distract time and budget away from programs that are already proven.

That’s why a dedicated digital R&D budget is so useful. By sequestering a portion of the overall digital budget for experimentation, the brand and agency are empowered to balance new initiatives with proven programs.

And it’s as simple as documenting that, in the coming quarter or year, we will spend this amount on R&D. No more. No less.

Why does it matter? Here are three specific cases for a dedicated digital R&D budget.

1. Aggressive digital managers: Keep ‘em blocking and tackling too.

Here, the digital function is managed by an early adopter or tech enthusiast. She reads industry publications, attends conferences, and plays with all the new toys. With these folks, budgeting permits some playtime with shiny objects while protecting the rest of the budget for proven digital tactics.

2. Conservative digital managers: Keep ‘em out of their shells.

Here, we have a ‘traditional’ marketer managing the digital function (and perhaps several other functions). He relies on his agency to invest resources in research and pitch new ideas. A dedicated R&D budget lets him safely invest in innovation so opportunities aren’t missed out of fear.

3. All managers in a recession: Keep ‘em confident at the water cooler.

And finally, we have the resource-strapped manager with aversion to risk. The recession has left him and his peers under pressure to defend programs. Of course, ROI is hard to come by early in the R&D process. A budget protects him from sticking his neck out or going up the flagpole on every project.

By creating a dedicated budget for digital R&D, we can benefit equally from new technologies and proven programs regardless of our personality type. How do you create the freedom to experiment in your organization?

7 Tips for Landing Your First Social Media Job

Bulbstorm says Help Wanted in Social Media

Bulbstorm seeks smart guys and gals to work in social media. If you've followed these seven tips, drop us a line!

So you wanna work in social media? You’re not alone. Bulbstorm is hiring for multiple positions right now and it ain’t easy.

A lot of decent, smart people want to work in social media. But few can prove in a resume or interview that they can actually do it. It’s one thing to play with the tools. It’s quite another to apply them in a business setting.

Even employers are still trying to get it right. Last summer, Best Buy was ridiculed for requiring Sr. Manager of Emerging Media Marketing candidates to possess one year active blogging experience, 250 followers on Twitter, and an MBA.

So, how do you force your way into an industry that hardly existed five years ago and continues to evolve? Here are a few tips:

  1. Create an online brand. What’s your personal passion? Maybe it’s concert photography or fantasy artwork or ASU football. Build a brand around that topic – or around yourself – and market it like an actual business.
  2. Start your own blog. You have to go deeper than 140 characters. Prove that you can think critically and organize and articulate thoughts in posts unfiltered (and unedited) by your boss. Your blog doesn’t have to be about social media, but it has to be your own.
  3. Start your own blog (Pt. II). Get intimate with your blog’s backend. (Oy!) Play with different WordPress themes and plug-ins. Ditch the wysiwyg and write posts in html. Install Google Analytics and get familiar with the tool’s features. It’ll all pay off.
  4. Drive traffic. Use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to drive eyeballs to your content. Don’t forget social bookmarking and niche communities. Familiarize yourself with SEO and/or PPC. Then use your Google Analytics to assess what’s working and what’s not.
  5. Go viral, or at least try. No budget? No problem. There are plenty of free tools out there. Customize a Facebook gifting app. Create a Twitter hashtag. Edit your own Downfall parody or Photoshop something silly.
  6. Keep learning. Your college degree is not enough. Neither is your current job. Read white papers and case studies and attend webinars and live events. You’ll need to dive deeper than 200-word blog posts to keep pace in a constantly changing industry.
  7. And finally, get real. Do not – repeat do not – apply for a social media job without social media experience. And please note that I didn’t say paid experience. Don’t ignore your professional experience. Just supplement it with your personal work in social media.

If you followed the steps above, you should have enough for a few bullets on a resume and a few talking points in an interview. Maybe you can join our team at Bulbstorm. Good luck!

So, what should hiring managers expect from a social media applicant? Two-hundred Twitter followers? An MBA? Let me know in the comments!