42 Conversations with Practioners, Authors, Editors, and Leaders from the Agency Side of Business


The more things change, the more they stay the same.

My aim at this site continues to be connecting — ideas and people. There is a good reason why the motto in my site’s banner now reads Make Sense. Make  Do. Make it.

As I said in a post a few days ago, the new line is more descriptive of my process. We need ways to make sense of the avalanche of information coming at us, to filter it and save what we find helpful.

For this reason right at the very beginning of the blog, I included conversations with practitioners, authors, editors, and leaders from the agency business.

Admittedly, the posts ended up fitting more in the interview camp rather than fluid or freeform conversations, the sort that happen over coffe when Jerry Seinfeld is conducting them. The jury is out on whether the questions I asked created good examples of the art of the interview.

Audio or video would make a better medium for a more spontaneous format — and I tend to do better in person that through email, which is hardly a conversation tool (it has no accent). Something for me to work on.

That brings me to the point of this post, the joy I experienced early on building community through the process of connecting, helping people learn via stories and answers — even better questions. Surely I am not the only one who asks questions when being interviewed.

Spontaneous format or not, the human side, how we tackle problems with creativity and often the courage to make hard decisions, whether to walk away or stick with something, that is what I want to capture.

Best themes from 42 conversations with practioners, authors, editors, and leaders from the agency side of business

I culled just a few sound bites to give you a taste. Each conversation is rich with useful and likely timeless information, given the themes I typically tackle. So dig in through each link here, or find the full list on this page.

On leadership

“Leadership is a sense-making conversation that in its most distinguished form generates aliveness, newness, collaboration, and effectiveness.” [Leadership as Conversation, Dr. Constance Goodwin]

On blogging

“I’m collecting my thoughts on blogging, it’s only taken a couple of years. Deep down, I suspect they’re not that healthy. I like the original bloggers: Pascal, Voltaire, Schopenhauer, Montaigne and the cryptic aphorisms birthed in India and Asia.” [Conversation on Modern Virtues, Peter Tunjic]

On collaboration

“The kind of people I want to work with are the ones who understand that the true capital of the next few decades will be collaboration. This principle underlies a lot of what we envision for Lighter Footstep: businesses actually working with their customers, readers becoming contributors — and, of course, the sort of transnational collaborations which will be necessary to bring about a sustainable society. Technology is making it easier for collaborators to find and work with each other, even across great distance.”  [Sustainable Living, Chris Baskind]

On entrepreneurship

“The domain of technology creates a specific set of challenges for entrepreneurs. Some quick examples might help. The markets tend to be emerging and rapidly changing. Competition is often hidden and can come from all camps – large and small. Tech entrepreneurs must have a deep reliance on virtual team members and partners.” [What kind of entrepreneur are you? Skip Shuda]

On (brand) storytelling

“Sadly, most run of the mill marketing and advertising thinks it is having a genuine exchange with its consumer, but it’s all send with no receive despite all kinds of “interactive” web stuff going on. The consumer knows when the message and the action of the brand are authentic. Their crap detectors are very sensitive.” [Brand Stories that Work, Gerry Lantz]

On design of exhibit

“In the past interpretive exhibits were seen mostly in museums. But places like Nike Town where they display “artifacts” from famous athletes broke that mold. Good exhibits tell stories –- about who we are and how we live, what’s important and how we find meaning in life.” [Design of Exhibit, Alice Dommert]

On career strategy

“Places that allow folks to “Think strengths, not weaknesses” or to “Make excellent mistakes” or to “Leave an imprint” are places that are going to attract the best talent.” [Dan Pink, Author Johnny Bunko]

On sound design

“Back in 2005 I started to shoot videos and take pictures of my sessions to show what I was doing to clients and artists I was working with. It wasn’t precisely a marketing move, it was a way to better explain how for example “an electric guitar with 8 piano strings across the board, pointed to a huge amp to produce insanely low feedback sounds” was working! : ) Later on I realized that people liked to see these sound design sessions, so I started to document my experiments with longer videos and detailed photos.” [Sound Design and Communication, Diego Stocco]

On non conformity

“I’m interested in being fully alive in my life and work, and I know that a lot of other people seek the same thing.” [The Art of Non Conformity, Chris Guillebeau]

On trust

“Be helpful. I say this all the time. It’s just simply the easiest thing to do repeatedly that delivers value, earns appreciation, and translates into more meaningful relationships.” [Trust Agents, Chris Brogan]

On earning fans

“As I evaluate companies on a regular basis it seems that they are spending too much time, money, and effort on three ways of generating attention, and not enough on a fourth way, which is to earn attention by publishing great information online that people will find.” [Worldwide Rave, David Meerman Scott]

On social vision

“If you have a vision, then stick to it, slowly, methodically with undying focus. You will get there.” [Now is Gone, Geoff Livingston]

On plagiarism

“Every challenge, every problem and every disaster is an opportunity to do something good, both for yourself and others. In my experience, the quickest and best way to deal with something bad that has happened, no matter what it is, is to try and turn it into something positive.” [Plagiarism Today, Jonathan Bailey]

On building audience

“Go where your audience is, be it in forums or blogs or twitter or just plain old web sites, and then be unselfish and remarkable (worth remarking about).” [Web Analytics 2.0, Avinash Kaushik]

On the buy side

“We were telling companies — and marketers especially — to wake up and recognize that the Net was a place where buyers were at least as important as sellers, and not just as “targets” for “messages.” Most of the opportunities opened by the Net are still overlooked, because nearly everybody in business still thinks only about improving what they’re already doing on the sell side.” [The Cluetrain Manifesto, 10 Years Later, Doc Searls]

On upstarts

“This is a very team-driven generation. They grew up with pee wee soccer, group projects at school, group activities after school, and then they spearheaded the social networking phenomenon so that even when they were alone, they weren’t alone!” [Upstarts, Donna Fenn]

On content strategy

“If you’ve started producing content, step back and ask yourself: how is this content helping our business achieve its goals? Is it? How do we know?” [Content Strategy, Kristina Halvorson]

On love drops

“Everyone of us has a small circle of people around us whom we can directly and strongly impact by our actions. The idea behind all these teams is that we can expend just a very small amount of time and effort in a positive way to make a meaningful difference for those people.” [Love Drops, Nate St. Pierre]

On thinking big

“To think big is a personal thing, and it’s a global thing. Thinking big is about me, you, and so many other people—reaching out, inspiring and being inspired and working together to meet the challenges of our times, to make change, and to create new opportunities.” [Think Big, Michael Port]

On resilience

“As companies enter a post-recession rebuilding phase, they are facing new challenges. Headcount and budgets are flat, and yet management is expected to grow the business. Consumers are part of this equation; they have modified their tastes and behaviors based on the economy. Technology, and its usage, are changing faster than an annual budget can plan for. If this is the case in your organization, you have a choice: Adapt and survive or fear and die.” [How Resilient is Your Business? Sara Holoubek]

On being useful

“The ONLY useful tools… Are the ones we actually will take the time and energy to use. So if you give someone that tiny extra push that gets them to move in the direction they already wanted to go, that’s valuable too.” [Creating Passonate Users, Kathy Sierra]

On human filters

“With Buyosphere, we reminded ourselves not to remain married to the solution, but always keep aligned to the problem we are trying to solve. The problem we are trying to solve is the amount of choice and not enough clear choice in online shopping.” [Conversation on Entrepreneurship, Tara Hunt] (a solid tool, probably ahead of the times)

On the art of storytelling

“This pattern created that tension and release that a great story has. Humans are wired to process contrast. So when you contrast “what is” with “what could be” the status quo is less appealing and the future is more alluring. People can have amazing ideas, but if they don’t communicate them well, the idea won’t become reality.” [The Art of Storytelling, Nancy Duarte]

On online publishing – conversations with editors

The media industry has seen the most change. I am including dates in the still valid quotes, given so many have moved on, sold, or consolidated.

“I think there are a few simple, but not easy, ways to avoid ‘commodity’ status, and these are really common sense “tips”:  Invest in trying to create uniquely helpful content that is high on quality, personality and verve. That’s it.  What makes it difficult is in trying to keep up to that standard over time, and persisting with that formula even if you’re rejiggering the details from time to time, because the easiest thing to do is give up too early.” [The Blog Herald, Tony Hung – 2007]

“Browsing online actually speeds up the person’s heart rate. For example, readers make a mental decision whether or not to stay on a site and read in less than 2 seconds. More advanced and hurried audiences make a decision in well under 1 second.” [The Madison Avenue Journal, Tim McHale – 2007]

“It’s increasingly important that we get our content out to new audiences rather than remaining insular and stuck in a channel mentality. One of the great things about blogs is that, where we’re able to embrace the blogging techniques of sharing content, quoting others, and linking out to become part of the wider conversation, we’re able to get our stuff in front of new audiences.” [The BBC, Robin Hamman – 2007]

“We’ve always had site contributors in the form of columnists, and now we still have them, but we have also added another layer by including Expert bloggers on a range of business topics of interest to our readers — innovation, technology, leadership, change management, careers, design, social responsibility, and work/life. These are very pointed and niche focuses for us to provide our readers with what they’re looking for.” [Fast Company, Lynne Johnson]

“the coolest part of the web is how it completely changes the essential journalistic experience. Traditional journalism is a lecture. It’s a bright and thoughtful person translating the world for you, much like a teacher does in a classroom. Online journalism is a conversation and a dialogue.” [BusinessWeek, John Byrne]

“My definition of success is handing a reader a useful tidbit that saves time or makes life easier in a small way.” [Lifehacker, Gina Trapani]

“Sounds corny, but my favorite metric of success is when a reader lets us know something we’ve published has made a difference in their life. That also lets me know we’ve been relevant.” [Vida Verde Media/LighterFootstep, Chris Baskind]

“My editorial focus at MarketingProfs is to shine a beacon of light for our readers—leading the way through the clutter. How? By finding the top people in our audience who are experts in their respective fields or areas of expertise. Those are the people who produce all of our great content.” [MarketingProfs, Ann Handley]

“The growth of The Economist in recent years suggests that there’s a big and expanding universe of people who fit this profile (educated, internationally minded, smart and curious about the world), and the internet offers a fantastic chance to reach them and introduce them to our content – to spread the word, literally. Second (and crucially), online the audience itself can become part of the conversation, contributing views and ideas. We think our readers are particularly interesting and therefore have a lot to contribute.” [The Economist, Andreas Kluth and Danie Franklin]

On the agency side of business

Some changes here as well.

“The direction we’ve evolved into is a result of a structure that allows for expertise to continually evolve and change according to client needs, technology and market trends.” [TopRank, Lee Odden]

“Media’s not going away. There is a risk that a lot of the established media properties will be eroded as consumers continue to gravitate to properties that are more about conversations than content. Yet that line is blurring too.” [360i, David Berkowitz – now CMO at MRY]

“When Twist Image really started shifting and introducing the concept of “multimarketing,” the idea was that we could do everything – from brand identity and advertising to online marketing and commercial videos.” [Twist Image, Mitch Joel]

“We created Fanscape as a company that musicians could hire to keep track of their fans and ultimately communicate with them. Thus, this was not really an advertising-minded business, it was a database management and customer service focused business.” [FanScape, Larry Weintraub]

“What’s interesting is that on the advertising front, we’re seeing that social media being the perfect complement to all the traditional forms of advertising. It doesn’t replace advertising as we know it but extends it enabling companies to form much deeper, longer term emotionally driven and more balanced relationships with consumers.” [Razorfish, Shiv Singh – now Head of Brand Transformation at Visa]

 “PR people are more nimble with message points and strategic discussions but they don’t have the confidence that advertising people have (or maybe PR people have sounder judgment); it’s a juggle, and the future will belong to those who can be bold and ethical and transparent about what works and doesn’t and about how they are living their missions and work.” [Porter Novelli, Marian Salzman – now Chairman, Global Collective and CEO, North America, Havas PR at Havas Worldwide]

“We are no longer simply in the business of telling great brand stories; we’re in the business of inspiring customers and communities to tell them for us.” [Mullen, Edward Boches – now Professor of Advertising, Boston University]

“I see a better future in PR because with the advent of transparency, open communication and the integration of social media into everything that we do, our industry can’t help but weed out the good from the bad. This started slowly when blogs become popular – journalists, for example, started “outing” bad PR. And, as much as we all hold our breath every time one of those lists is published, I believe it’s a great thing for our industry.” [Perkett PR, Christine Perkett]

““Hybrid PR agency” simply speaks to our belief that Public Relations and Social Media are merging, inter-related disciplines. Whereas many firms (whether PR, advertising, or interactive) will “bolt on” a specialist Social Media group to a traditional team – and often charge extra for it – all of our account staff, at all levels, must be equally well versed in both traditional media and Social Media relationship building.” [SHIFT Communications, Todd Defren]


The process of creating this post has been massively inspiring for me; an incentive to restart the series. I hope it will be valuable for you to have all this advice in one place.


Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.

Conversation Agent – Valeria Maltoni