It’s not called ‘House of Geniuses’

On March 17, I attended a networking meeting called House of Genius. It was the most fun I’d had in weeks. I spent three hours surrounded by sharp minds, eager to help one another in a productive and non-threatening environment. If you get the chance, take it.

Here’s why.

You’re invited to attend the monthly meet-up along with 18 to 20 others. You arrive, but you’re required to remain anonymous. First names only. No talk about your profession, your education, your background, your expertise. You’re just another person. Yeah, it’s awkward for the first few minutes as the crowd gathers. It’s amazing how much of our identity is wrapped up in our professions.

The group convenes around a table and receives a five-minute presentation by a group member with a business issue he or she would like to solve. The audience asks questions; the presenter responds. Audience members throw out suggestions while a scribe takes it all down for the presenter. Audience members shout out “plus-one” to ideas they endorse. They say “minus-one” to those they don’t—and they explain why.

The process repeats with two more presenters. Our group heard from the executive director of a nonprofit looking to diversify its fundraising; a local school district teacher seeking ways to evaluate a novel high school entrepreneur program; and a startup food product maker looking to make the leap to expand production.

The beauty of the process is in the anonymity. Everyone’s ideas are welcome and equally valid. Nobody self-censors because they think their expertise can’t compete with the person’s across the table. Everyone brings their own perspectives and all of them are valid. House of Genius is a international organization with chapters in 31 cities.

It was fun to joke about being one of the “geniuses” invited to that month’s party. Organizers even gave us “genius” stickers (I gave mine away). But the beauty of the process is that it’s a house of genius—one genius. And the genius is in the collective mind of those assembled that night.

It’s a notion reflected on the main House of Genius website: “The true ‘genius’ is in the collaboration—you’ll be amazed at the power of thinking that is evoked from the structure of the sessions and the synergetic format.” Indeed, I was.

Only at the end of the evening does the “reveal” happen and the attendees properly introduce themselves. Then, there’s beer.

I hope I get invited back sometime. You can potentially get the chance to attend by registering on the St. Louis chapter’s website. You might try hitting them up on Twitter @GeniusSTL.

And a h/t to my friend and colleague Daniela Velázquez for extending the invitation.

6th issue of Out & About is out and about


The second-quarter edition leads with the Spirit of St. Louis Air Show and STEM Expo.

I’ve been fortunate to have a relationship with the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce for going on two years now. That relationship has enabled me to work with the chamber on its quarterly community news magazine, Out & About. The magazine had been published for many years with a partner company the chamber had relied on.

When that relationship ended, I was invited to consult with the chamber to remake the magazine into a quarterly (it had been bimonthly) and to create content that was more singularly focused on the Chesterfield community.

We reviewed a wide variety of publications around the St. Louis area and within Chesterfield to get a notion of what the sweet spot for Out & About would be. I worked with Executive Director Nora Amato and a small team of chamber members who are involved in publishing and marketing to arrive at these conclusions:

  • Chamber’s Mission: The publication would need to reflect the chamber’s mission, which is articulated simply as “Connect, Learn and Grow.” (Read Nora’s column about this in the April 2015 edition.) The chamber exists to help its members do those things. One way the magazine fulfills that mission is through editorial and advertising opportunities to reach residents of the community and through packaging Out & About promotion/advertising with other chamber sponsorship opportunities.
  • Distribution influences content: Given the distribution model (postal delivery to the 63005 and 63017 ZIP codes of Chesterfield), the content would also have to have a general interest focus. In other words, it’s not only business oriented content; it’s for the general Chesterfield resident.
  • Schedule affects content: The chamber did not have the capacity to publish Out & About more often than quarterly. That meant the content had to be feature-oriented, with a long shelf-life. So, for example, rather than running a comprehensive list of events in the magazine, we publish highlights of the biggest community happenings and provide links to online resources that can offer more. We are careful to make sure chamber events are prominently displayed.

I’ve been pleased to have the chance to work with the chamber now on our sixth issue together, the April-June 2016 edition, which will be hitting mailboxes any day now. You can find online versions of all six editions here.

I’d also like to give a shoutout to St. Louis-area designer Anna Keith, who designed the last two editions of the magazine. She’s been a dream to work with.

Why Your Company Should Blog

Great points in this post from Business 2 Community. The writer makes three key points in the call for companies to take blogging seriously. In fact, more than take it seriously: Companies should prioritize it.

  • It reinforces messages from the company to employees, who are doubtless reading the company’s blog.
  • It can support, reinforce and supplement the information your sales team provides to potential clients.
  • It builds “the digital pedigree of emerging brand experts.”

More here.

If You Haven’t Heard the Phrase ‘Brand Newsroom’ Before…

…then listen up. Because it’s probably going to keep coming up. This article from is a neat breakdown of the process that “branded journalism” outlets use (and increasingly, “conventional” news operations must use) to manage the content they create and how they promote and develop it.

This doesn’t have to be heretical. You can create advocacy content, branded content or so called “Big-J” journalism using these techniques.

“The space is so dynamic that we need to build, essentially, a learning machine where we’re constantly trying out different ideas and learning how to make things that work for the way the constantly changing media landscape is shifting,” says Buzzfeed’s Jonah Peretti.

And this telling excerpt from Contently: “You need the right combination of people and technology to quickly and efficiently accomplish each task within each step. That means a team of great storytellers to create fantastic content, and the software to manage all of them.”

That, often, is the rub: Who is managing and analyzing the data? In my experience, too few “conventional” newsrooms have the tools or expertise to analyze the data they get from their digital platforms, and make adjustments to how they identify stories and promote them.

I fear that is one of the reasons (only one) that upstart publishers (and branded publishers) are grabbing so much attention and readership.

The Art of Curation as a Valid Content Generation Tool


I came across this question, posed on a forum on LinkedIn that I follow.

I’ve seen on several sites lately repurposed or re-shared content from other sites, usually with a disclaimer at the top of the new piece that it has been adapted from the original article, with a link to the original.  What is the process for this?

I offer my answer below. I bring up the topic because people, businesses, nonprofits all need content to drive interest in their product or cause. Curation is a way to satisfy that need, but more than that, it’s a way of solidifying one’s expertise and of providing a service to readers.

If you’re a subject-area expert, you are steeped in the kind of information that readers might want. And if you’re sifting though that information and sharing the best nuggets with readers, you’re helping them keep track of information in their busy lives (hence the tortured metaphor of the sieve above, courtesy of Wikimedia).

Here’s another excerpt from the original question; my answer follows. What do you think? 

Is it assumed that the internet is a free-for-all and any content can be repurposed and re-shared with proper attribution? (What is that attribution?) 

My reply:

It sounds like you’re talking about curation. When it’s done well, and correctly, it’s a valid means of producing content for a site. Example: curated content from the New Yorker in this article

The writer has gone to the trouble of mining the New Yorker’s archives and applying his editorial judgment to what he considered the best religion articles. Then, he provided commentary and excerpted the articles, but also linked prominently to them.

To me, the keys to effective (and fair) curation are: 
* Adding value to the content you’re curating. That could be additional links to related content; your own commentary; new content that you produce; context around the curated content from other sources or your own previous work; photos.

* Giving readers good reasons to click through to the original source; said another way, you might be careful about how much you curate.

* Making sure the links to the original source are easy to find.

No, I don’t think there’s a reason to establish a connection between the two parties, under the conditions I’m describing.

What do you think?

Less cheese, more vats: A reminder that everyone’s a journalist


For years as a “professional journalist,” I toiled away in newsrooms with my colleagues, first in front VDTs, then computers and laptops, endeavoring to tell readers what we thought they wanted or needed to know.

For the last 10 or 12 of those years, I’ve spent a lot of my time reminding my colleagues that it just doesn’t work that way any more. Yes, there’s a critical role for journalists who are trained to seek out and report news, to hold institutions accountable, to investigate. Basically, we need them to do the hard work no one else wants to do.

But the world of conventional journalism has long since been disaggregated (as has the business model; as this Nieman Lab report notes, “Politico is only about politics; is only about cars). For newsrooms, that disaggregation is about content. There’s numerous places online to find restaurant information (thanks, Yelp, and its massive audience of contributors) and recipes (too many sites to name) and movie information (RottenTomatoes, anyone?).

All this is part of my way of introducing the direction this blog will be taking going forward. We’ll be looking at the way journalism — or at least, new forms of it — are leaving the conventional newsroom and moving into new newsrooms of a sort. These newsrooms are within the walls of corporations and brands that sell products and services to you.

They’re newsrooms that, when done well, provide sound, useful, unbiased and often entertaining information — with the hope that the consumer of the information associates the brand with reliable content.

Sometimes, the posts will be about my own observations. Often, I’ll be curating content myself on the subject of "brands as publishers” or, as it’s sometimes called, “content marketing.” What it really should be called, however, is just information.

But it goes beyond the kind of information like the recipes you’ll find on a site operated by Kraft and dedicated to its boxed macaroni and cheese product. See, the trick is, the information needs to be good. It has to be informative. It has to at least be entertaining.

It’s as simple as that.

As Contently’s James O’Brien put it in a column on Mashable, “Red Bull is a publishing empire that also happens to sell a beverage.” And they publish things like “10 Iconic Lallapalooza Moments: A walk through Lollapalooza’s past with Kanye, Pearl Jam, Lady Gaga, Pavement, The Ramones, more.”

Closer to home, consider St. Louis-based niche product marketer The company markets “curiously awesome products” such as a half-gallon margarita glass, magnetic putty and beard stocking caps. Every product comes with an entertaining video. Most of them make me laugh.

Lousy content doesn’t work. Content that looks like advertising doesn’t work. I’d be curious to know whether Kraft’s site works. It’s got recipes, sure. But everyone knows the point is to get readers to buy more Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

That’s what we’ll be looking at going forward. Fewer tubs of cheese. More vats of yummy content.