The Intersection: May 2016

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Best Practices from SXSW

After a quick scan of the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive schedule, you may feel overwhelmed with the range of topics, from “Dirt, Drones and Data: The Future of Farming,” to “Social Activism: How to Ignite a Movement,” to “The Emerging Millennial Consensus on Tech Policy.” But, the VOX team had a plan, and we spread out across Austin to attend everything from in-the-weeds policy wonk sessions and virtual reality to corporate activism.  We have compiled some of the key best practices we discovered in the sessions.

Stop, collaborate and listen

Start-ups, big business, universities and government need to partner for real change. Cross collaboration is critical, according to former AOL CEO Steve Case. We heard about the federal government bringing startups into their offices to help them  solve problems with fresh thinking and police stations working with kids to learn how to code. When your company or organization is thinking about tackling a big issue, look beyond your usual partners. Bring the best academic minds, government leaders and innovators together through public-private partnerships to be revolutionary.

You’re losing everyone with jargon – Say it with authenticity

Before you double down and ideate about how to leverage your strategic initiative, take a moment to pause and think about the words you use. Jon Favreau, former director of speechwriting for President Obama, emphasized that people will stop believing you when your content is full of jargon. And though it can be risky to shake up the typical corporate speak, you have to take risks and change the dynamic in order to communicate in a way that truly connects. If you wouldn’t say it in that way to a friend at a bar, don’t say it.

Consider virtual reality to tell your story – But it needs to enhance the 2D experience

Virtual reality was everywhere in Austin. IBM set up bicycles and let attendees take a VR ride through mountains and curves; NASA offered a virtual ride to the top of the 300-foot tall Space Launch System rocket, and AT&T provided a safe environment to experience the dangers of distracted driving first-hand. We also heard from brands like TOMS who use virtual reality to transport its customers to Peru, letting them feel like they’re right there with the TOMS team delivering shoes to a local community on a giving trip. Bringing an aspect of your brand or company to life in an immersive experience is a growing opportunity to tell your story, particularly your CSR story. However, there was resounding feedback from participants that VR is most powerful when it tells your story better than a standard 2D video.

Take whimsy seriously

Brands and major companies are always looking for ways to connect with consumers and the general public. However, they often forget that members of the public are just people. People form connections with others based on shared experience, humor and even whimsy. Brands need to do a better job of showing their personalities (hey – brands are made of people, too!). Even serious issues can be conveyed with a little levity if the messaging is right.

It’s not just about millennials – seniors are using tech to improve their lives

Sometimes the senior audience can be overlooked when we talk about technology. Everyone from Washington, D.C. mayor, Muriel Bowser, to the founders of on-demand apps like Favor (which delivers anything you need for $5 in less than an hour) and Alfred (a personal concierge service) discussed how the boom in this type of technology offers seniors tools to enable them to age in place. They predict as the user interface continues to improve, we’ll see more seniors jump into the shared economy.

Experiences are made to last

Think about all the many, many PowerPoint decks you’ve sat through in trainings and then think about the time you did a competitive cooking class or participated in a public speaking coaching session. Which one do you actually remember and think back to months later? Pretty sure your memory of slides is collecting cobwebs. As we think about keeping employees engaged and how to build and retain the best team possible, look to experiences that help build the muscle memory that will shape their skills. 


LeeAnn Martin

Senior Vice President

202-772-5021 \ [email protected]