Urban Camping Adventures

Chronicaling experiences about professionally camping in urban places as a couple of GenXers launch a new interactive business in Atlanta, GA - from the "She Said - ITP" point of view. Also check out "Adventures in Urban Camping" for the "He Said - OTP" version hosted by FK

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Making the Rounds - Free Everywhere You Go

The past few weeks have been a blur – building pitches, concepting ideas for co-promotions and UCing left and right in all kinds of places around the ATL. Yes, FK actually got me to go OTP a few days –what was I thinking??? Although I have the advantage of an opposite commute up 75 at most times of the day, it’s still like a pilgrimage to some foreign country without a passport. I did check out the Caribou on Windy Hill – have to say pretty darn good spot for the passing URBAN CAMPER…although the space is small, it does have a quiet working spot in the back with a big table and lots of plugs within easy reach. I settled in nicely for a couple of hours sipping on my “Kid’s Cocoa” that I snagged thanks to Caribou’s customer appreciation promotion I received in the mail. It’s a bit tight, but the staff is extremely friendly and with ATT wireless access it gets a “3” on my scale of 1-5. Of course, having a coupon for a FREE anything might have influenced my vote…I’d be willing to go back out there if FK ACTUALLY meets me this time :)

Now, the Starbucks at Tech Square in Midtown is a whole other experience. Those people know what it means to market. My client and I met out their AGAIN for some CO URBAN CAMPING a few weeks ago. We were surrounded by many other URBAN CAMPERS heads down working and soaking up the brainwaves. After she left, I kept crunching through work…I was continually hit up by the friendly staff with samples of the tangerine frappucino…then a few minutes later the passion-fruit frappucino (liked the tangerine better)….then a few minutes later with coffee cake (I think it was from the morning, but still decently tasty)….then another round pf the passion fruit frappucino (I’m full – really). I swear you could hang out there all day and easily get 3 full squares of tasty delights from those Starbucks people. Definitely a place to keep on your list when the grocery stockpile at home is low.

No place is truly immune from our URBAN CAMPING prowls – just last week my boss CK and I found ourselves in the food court at Perimeter (okay – he had to have a Chick-Fil-A biscuit) crunching away on final preparations for a pitch we were delivering that morning. Not what you would likely imagine as an ideal URBAN CAMPING spot…but with my Sprint wireless AirCard, decent cell reception and a sturdy table – we had the basics needed to accomplish our task. The pitch was a success and I have a feeling that we will be back giving ole Chick-Fil-A our undivided attention sometime very soon. I just learned that “Cow Appreciation Day” is this Friday, July 14th -
http://www.cowappreciationday.chick-fil-a.com/ with a free combo if you dress up like a cow. Unfortunately, would you believe I don’t have anything to wear??? I do think you should at least get a biscuit if you wear one of the outfits featured in the microsite and definitely free lemonade if you bring in a digital picture of you and a cow. We’ll see what the cows have to say about it.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Who’s Afraid of the KK?

Another killer week in the start-up world – when it rains it absolutely pours. Working remotely as URBAN CAMPERS definitely requires patience to deal with people who repetitively ask “Why don’t you have an office yet”, ingenuity to figure out how to get things through the mothership system “when you don’t have an office yet” and charisma to keep charming your vendors and colleagues at various URBAN CAMPSITES around town as you answer “when you think you’ll yet get an office”.

Actually, FK and I both know that deep down they are secretly intensely jealous of our URBAN CAMPING style and are saying to themselves – why aren’t I URBAN CAMPING more? Who wants to be stuck in a dark, stuffy office or god forbid “cubicle” (didn’t the guy who created those just come out and say he regretted it by the way?) when you can be out in the mix, soaking up URBAN CAMPING culture, being inspired by fellow URBAN CAMPERS that you meet on the trail of everyday entrepreneurialism – right here in ATL? Just last week, my client begged me to meet her out –anywhere – other than the office so we could concentrate, be more creative and productive as we rolled up our sleeves to build our a plan for series of sweepstakes/gift with purchase campaigns. And we certainly did! As we sipped our coffees and munched on a shared plain bagel at the Starbucks at Tech Square (Nod to the JACKETS –
www.gatech.edu) we were inspired by the many sets of URBAN CAMPERS all around us to think about the target consumer and brainstorm away the morning. We came away with a half dozen ideas that went straight to the creative team for concepting and a work plan to build the remainder of the program– now that’s a productive morning wouldn’t you agree?

We’ll be meeting out regularly in URBAN CAMPING style from now on. Unfortunately, I can’t get her to venture with me to the Krispy Kreme on Ponce. In fact, I haven’t successfully recruited anyone to meet me there yet. And what’s wrong with a little KK now and then? Any takers? FK back me up on this – don’t disappoint me!

Changing of the Guard

Once again, our team has spent the week working ala carte. That’s okay – it’s all a part of the URBAN CAMPING lifestyle. This time we were spread out across the Eastern seaboard – FK in grand NYC, myself in our nation’s capital and historic Colonial Williamsburg; and CK holding down the fort in ATL. You definitely become adept at working collaboratively using multiple communication channels at your disposal – cell phone, IM, e-mail and the occasional Pony Express (J/K)…UPS (www.ups.com) and FedEx (www.fedex.com) , you know we really love you!

So, it’s been a quiet heads down week focusing on various promotional campaign planning for third and fourth quarter, pitches, etc. blah, blah, blah and then we woke up this morning and discovered that Al Zarqawi was no longer. No longer to leverage the medium and post his blogs among other things. I heard earlier this year that he was a big proponent of the Internet and other new media to communicate and recruit for his organization (see archive clip from NPR
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5229467) . Al Zarqawi was definitely an URBAN CAMPER of the not so-nice species (ala seriouspolis terroristasoris), but he sure was an enterprising soul – using all kinds of distribution channels to get his brand and product into market – with highly effective and efficient means – wonder what kind of ROI he was making?! His example shows that anyone can put together lean and effective campaigns in the online media and achieve great results. He had THOUSANDS people using PayPal to fund his operation for goodness sake! The NPR piece describes how Al Zarqawi’s “Gen Xer” approach to using blogs and other innovative technologies contrasts to the old guard approach of “Baby Boomer” Osama Bin Laden to recruit, train, raise finances and any other objective they want to carry out.

Now, the world waits to see who will take Zarqawi’s place…I’m placing my bets on an upstart Gen Yer…with a wicked MySpace profile sporting links to nasty bio-chemical weapons du jour, Madonna’s latest album and a promotional microsite offering a $10 giftcard to Amazon with each al Qaeda annual membership.

I’ll Take the Cheeseburger, Please

Yesterday was the first time our start-up trio has been together F2F in almost three weeks – I think we’re finally over the various illnesses and afflictions plaguing our ATL team. So, of course we had to UC in a good spot; thus we opted for a little more upscale digs and camped at Murphy’s (http://www.murphysvh.com/) in the Highlands (Virginia Highlands for those not familiar with ATL speak). It was a lovely venue to have a team meeting – great tables, ample lighting and killer food. FK had the juiciest cheeseburger I ever saw – too bad CK and I had already eaten. Additionally, things are a bit slower in the mid-afternoon after the ravenous epicureans have made their noontime appearance – which is fantastic if you’re trying to have a group discussion with minimal distraction. Not sure what their wireless capability is….will definitely make a return visit to check that out (in both the dining room as well as the wine bar – after 5PM of course!)

CK, FK and I continue to push forward with our start-up venture – lots of great momentum building with former colleagues, clients and industry peers. We’re keeping watch on the online video developments and happenings through eMarketer (check out Who's Not Watching Online Video?:
http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?1003987) and other trade e-zines. There is great potential to leverage the medium further to drive trial and acquisition of new emerging products within the Media/Entertainment as well as other highly consumer-driven industries. One of our recent favorites is “Life Comes At You Fast, by Nationwide Insurance (http://www.lifecomesatyoufast.com/main.htm) – guys, how about incorporating some 15 sec video?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Follow the Madison Avenue Road to 57th

Well, I just couldn’t resist staying over an extra day in Manhattan. The sales guy, Lance, twisted my arm to spend more time at the Mothership (although not hard) after he pulled me onto a new business pitch for a very cool media and entertainment client based in DC. So after pulling a few strings with AirTran (www.airtranairways.com) (sorry Delta), I rebooked my commuter airbus and opted for another “homey” night at the Hotel Pennsylvania (www.hotelpenn.com) to hang with my new team compadres. Actually, there was a unique opportunity for us to scope out the potential client’s target market right here in the Big Apple that I didn’t want to pass up.

Fast forward to 8:42AM on a bright and sunny Manhattan morning as I’m flip-flopping my way down Madison Avenue (I had to purchase something to wear since I camped over – Old Navy rocks with the turquoise flip-flops I got for $3.50 - www.oldnavy.com) and make a left onto 57th to meet up with Lance and two other adventurers from my team. What could draw us out in the middle of Midtown on a Thursday morning…how about a “fan walk” with two notorious “shock-jocks” from one studio to another? Our client’s brand and the promise of what we could do to optimize and grow it online inspired us to band together (minus Toto) towards the metaphoric Emerald City.

Would you believe that a pretty hefty group of Americans actually take time at the beginning of their day to join three middle-aged white males who think they’re hilarious on a mile urban broadcast? Well, they really do. We spoke to several to get their insights on both the fascination with the jocks as well as our client’s brand and product. While, nothing we heard was a major a-ha moment – I came away impressed with the community aspect that was quickly created by walking the streets, spot interviewing with local color and drawing your fan base – this should be replicated online. That is what the INTERNET and MOBILE LIFESTYLE represent – no reason our client shouldn’t fully capitalize on it. Although, I personally did not get the so-called “humor” that was imposed on the folks in the “Pick a Bagel” at 9:26AM…kind of like when relatives you really don’t want to see, much less show up, stay and visit at your home. I hate to say, but I think the PAB crowd there would be in agreement with me. Hmm, maybe these dudes missed their morning expresso. Next time, I’ll hit Starbucks and bring them a shot.

The Lure of the Apple

Sitting here on the not so plush hotel bed, it’s hard to believe that this was a Monday…probably because I got to fly in the middle of the morning and didn’t have any pre-committed meetings. Nothing like showing up to the mothership offices and heading out for an impromptu lunch with my boss and new team members on a glorious Manhattan day. Now that’s an URBAN CAMPER’s dream! Unfortunately, FK didn’t make it with me. Poor guy called me at 8AM before I headed to the airport sick as a dog. Normally, I would give him a rash of shit because he was probably avoiding the Atlanta airport on a Monday morning (and who could blame him with those ridiculously long security lines?), but given the unusually hectic pace of our UC efforts – I knew he wasn’t faking it. So, let’s all pray he gets better fast and that the plague of illness that has infected our ATL team the past month is no more!

Okay, so let me tell you about the mothership. Its located in Midtown Manhattan, on a pretty high floor. Why does this matter? Well, the incredibly cool Systems Engineer (Heath) wasn’t kidding when he said they had the sweetest office setup around. I actually got a personal tour from Heath of the infamous wrap-around balcony on the 22nd floor – pretty darn sweet 411 for hosting the habitual cocktail gathering every other Friday (which are open invitation by the way to clients and vendors alike). Now, our current situation in the ATL can’t boast a skyscraper balcony…yet…definitely something to shoot for. Hmm..if the weather is good, I think we’ll just have to host the account team status meeting there tomorrow – UC style! You gotta love that Sprint Wireless Aircard…not matter the locale you’re connected and productive, baby.

How Did We Get Here, Again?

Okay, officially hit the 31 day mark – time for a systems check. Left Big 5 Corporate Job to Get a Life CHECK…then left small boutique interactive agency to Have a Life CHECK…took entrepreneurial opportunity to build a digital communications company in the South to Actually Live the Life We Dreamed MAJOR CHECK! Actually, the way and FK and I got together is extremely indicative of how incestuous and incredibly fulfilling our industry is. We both met, but did not work directly together at the small boutique interactive agency. We both left at separate intervals for different reasons. FK actually worked with our now current boss at a previous agency and I met him last year when I first started looking for a senior-level account role in the agency realm. Needless to say, it was URBAN CAMPING destiny that brought the three of us together and we couldn’t be more thankful. There is something amazingly thrilling and vibrant about getting to work with peers you highly respect to build a business, whether they are agency-side or client-side. It’s a rough business world and at some point you might as well elect to work with the people you would only take with you into battle – PERIOD. By the way, for those of you starting to follow our Adventures in Urban Camping Blog – FK is married to a lovely lady, with an adorable 2-year-old “piglet” named Caroline and is a South Carolinian-big honkin truck-drivin, burb livin all around gentleman and PM extraordinaire. I (MB) am still waiting on my Prince, have the smartest beta fish named Auggie in the world and a committed convertible-cruisin, soon to be Vespa flying Midtown loft urbanite with a passion for interactive marketing big ideas and their execution. Quite a business pair we make!

We’ve been URBAN CAMPING separately the past week and a half due to various illnesses and life happenings, but we’ll be co-UCing along with our boss next week in one of the original URBAN CAMPING meccas – New York City – as we visit the digital communications “mothership”. So stay tuned for highlights from our first real road trip :)

Its As Good A Starting Point As Any

If someone had told me that in less than a year I would transform from corporate road-warrior “schlogger” to be one of the Starbucks day-crowd elite, I would have told them to keep inhaling their tall double skinny latte and asked how much they had tied up in Enron. Seriously, does one just wake up one day from having to commute to a staid and predictable corporate campus or the less than delectable weekly air-travel de jour…and become a deliberate patron of the urban mobile workforce? Well, it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind back during those earnest college years when like most people I knew it was all about following the PLAN and working one’s way slowly to the top just like my parents. But then something called the INTERNET happened to my generation (X by the way for those of you paying attention) and all bets were out the window. “Mobility” and “work-from-home” quickly became the norm and I was swimming against the tide. My peers and I soon realized it wasn’t just about working hard; it was more about taking risks and working smart. It took a while to let go of all I thought career life was supposed to be…but after nine months I finally got it – I was meant to be an URBAN CAMPER.

Shortly after coming to this conclusion, I realized how truly liberating this highly misunderstood professional species is and decided it was time to set the record straight. Just who are these people that you see at Starbucks, Caribou Coffee or any other public lounge spot at 10:16AM on an average Wednesday anyway? They couldn’t possibly be there on purpose, daily, actually conducting business, could they? They must be on some fanciful work hiatus, or dare say slacking off? Well, this blog is to give you the real back story on the 21st century URBAN CAMPER – everyday people who are carving out the American dream in a truly exciting and brand new way. Many of us are creating entirely new businesses and my colleague and I of course are no exception.I recently accepted an opportunity to help launch a new digital marketing company right here in Atlanta, GA – sans cube, sans supply room and most everything else you come to expect and depend on from a job- until now. Together, my urban camping cohort and I will chronicle our experiences in building an exciting business in one of the best areas of the U.S. – the SOUTH. Through both of our blogs, we’ll provide a real-world "He Said/She Said" view and a few practical tips along the way…so pick up your ergonomically correct laptop backpack, grab your Espresso Macchiato and welcome to “Urban Camping Adventures”!