What Crispin Porter & Bogusky can teach news industry

By Steve Outing

I spent Monday and Tuesday this week participating in the “Upgrade to Digital” workshop at the brand spanking new Boulder Digital Works at CU facility in downtown Boulder, a bleeding-edge training program to teach advanced creative, tech, and business digital-media skills. (Disclaimer: I attended on a free pass since I’m working on building a digital-media initiative for CU’s Journalism & Mass Communication School.)

What was especially great about the experience was that the workshop was run by Scott Prindle and Joe Corr, VP/director of technology and senior technical lead, respectively, of Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the white-hot ad agency with offices here in Boulder and in Miami. Other CPB personnel also floated in and out (plus other special guest presenters), so attendees were treated to being taught, and critiqued, by ad agency rock stars.

Since I’m focused on the news industry and its transformation, I had a different perspective than most of the other workshop participants; I was thinking of how what we were seeing and learning could be adapted and/or applied to news (from digital techniques, to business models, to technology). In this and perhaps more blog entries, I’ll share a few take-aways from the last two days, as viewed through my news-colored glasses.

1. It’s the utility, stupid! Those companies savvy enough to be on the digital forefront (enough so that they’re spending money with CPB) are experimenting with smart-phone apps and web applications that emphasize utility for the customer, not just trying to get a brand message across. A phone example is Nike’s Nike+ running shoe with an embedded chip that communicates data with Nike+ on an iPhone (or iPod). There’s a website and social training community built around the product and its personal data from you, so that you can do stuff like time yourself time on a specific route, then compare it to a friend who runs the same route at a different time — a virtual competition. The phone and online components are meant to sell Nike+, certainly, but they provide the Nike+ customer with a great training log and social tool. It’s not just about selling, but improving the shoe buyer’s life. Utility.

Apply this to news: When developing mobile apps, think utility, not just presenting news. An app that keeps track of local road construction projects and finds re-routes around them could be handy for local commuters, for example. It might be introduced one time to accompany a big story about all the local road projects under way due to the federal stimulus money coming into the community — but it could be used by commuters and residents long term, and re-marketed each time there’s another road-construction and traffic-delays story.

On the web, CPB presenters showed us their NCAA Final Four Bracket-o-matic Flash project created for Coca-Cola Zero. (Link is to video.) The idea was to make the NCAA basketball championship grid easy to fill out; instead of picking teams and inputing them into the grid based on who you think will win, there’s a series of sliders along the top that fills out the grid based on 8 variables that you adjust.

What struck me about this was the thin line between a soda company doing this vs. a news company producing the same sort of thing and selling advertising around it. The Bracket-o-matic would feel OK as an editorial online feature. Again, it provides utility as well as fun. Why did an advertiser do it and not a media company? Coca-Cola had the money to pay CPB to create it; most news companies don’t have the technical chops to pull something like this off.

More take-aways later. … Off to a meeting now…

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!