Archive for category Technology

Working Your Ass Off To Get There

“We as humans have the ability to create amazing things, which will never be hindered by automation. It’s a process change that results in more time to think and be creative, which is what advances civilization.”

So begins the response to an interview question on to what degree today’s workforce will be replaced by a bunch of automatons.

Recently Avenue Right’s founder & CEO, Brian Gramer, was interviewed on IdeaMensch and Sure, this post is a shameless mention since I’m also the PR person there. But nonetheless, both interviews are good reads if you’re interested in life at a technology startup and how ideas are turned into products and brought to market.

These interviews are worth mentioning out here for a few more reasons:

1) it’s great to see people writing about Avenue Right,
2) the content is interesting, even if you’re not in the advertising business, and
3) these interviews give a good overview of Avenue Right, where the vision came from, and why we do what we do.

This interview delves into the where our company sits in the “clash between old and new media,” the advancements in technology that allow for automation, and whether these advancements in the long run hinder creativity.


This one covers what’s happening now with Avenue Right and offers an individual profile of the creative processes involved in “bring[ing] ideas to life.”


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Tight Lines: 12 Reasons the MFA is a Solid Degree in the Technology Space

Tonight I had the pleasure of sitting around a table drinking wine and sharing crème brûlée with some friends from graduate school, specifically the MFA program in creative writing at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Pulling up in my minivan I realized it had already been a good 5 years since my last writing workshop around that blessed, beat-up and beloved table in Weld Hall library.

One discussion stood out over the Cabernet and custard, perhaps because of where I’m at academically, professionally, and personally. It was whether an MFA degree had any value in today’s workplace for those not interested in teaching at the college level, and how those skills might be applied in the workforce.

At the table for tonight’s conversation were four MFA graduates and a faculty member. The grads included a software developer, a local magazine editor, a PhD student/professor, and a marketing director. Not a bad as products of the program, I’d say.

This post outlines some key areas where the MFA program directly relates to the creativity, critical thinking, and communication skills that are very much in demand in today’s job market. It’s time to start that dialogue around how those of us in the arts and humanities can create some pretty kick-ass careers for ourselves.

The perspective here is from a fiction writer (as opposed to poetry or nonfiction), and it’s from the marketing point of view (versus a visual art like design or a sales role such as business development).  It deals mostly with applied professional writing—as a “creative” on an in-house team or at an agency, for example. (I’m sure the linguistics or communications theory-laden post will soon follow.)

One more disclaimer is that I have split personalities when it comes to writing about marketing.  I’m a B2B marketer marketing an advertising product to folks who market B2C. But at the end of the day, we’re all fucking human. Write that way and you can sell a product or service or otherwise inform and persuade an audience. That’s all we really need to do.

Here’s that list, from my own experience as an MFA graduate with a pretty sweet career. I may not have been placed on that path because my credentials state this particular degree, but the skills needed to get there tie directly to experience in a creative writing program.


1. Tight Lines. These people have the ability to write tight lines that are both creative and persuasive. In fiction, the writer needs to create believability and truth, or verisimilitude, in the story.

2. Plot Lines. Web copy, for example, needs to drive a visitor along a certain navigational path that results in that person taking an action, whether it be submitting a contact form, calling a business, or even moving on to the next page. Creative writers, too, drive their visitor—their reader—along with intent. The audience is brought on that proverbial journey, as the business writer strives to both pull a prospect through a sales funnel and engage them in interactive content, and a fiction writer so convincingly delivers a narrative that can pull the reader along the story’s path without question of the reality or the characters created—they simply must get to the next part of the story.

3. Buyer Personae. This one is huge, but it’s covered in the Marketing/Sales Cycle section below.

Public Relations

4. Positioning. PR positions the company, setting the scene for the action to take place. It’s important in PR to be completely transparent, to stay away from embellishment, but this is where command of English language comes in handy.

5. Storytelling. These are the folks that tell the company’s story, and they need to do it well. Hire a storyteller. Or become one. Enough said.

Marketing/Sales Cycle

6. Audience. Identifying and understanding a target audience for marketing efforts is akin to developing characters for a work of fiction. You know who they are, what they make a year, their educational level, where they eat and shop.

3., Part Deux. Buyer Personae. The ability to serve up content that’s relevant to the business audience is critical to everything from generating interest to keeping a customer. To do this, marketers need to create what’s called a buyer persona to guide their efforts, to know what makes that target audience tick. This is literally an outline or profile of a character—for me, it’s all those characteristics scribbled on sticky notes across my desk and color-coded to indicate mannerisms or role in the story. But again, working within the framework of buyer personae is where the ability to create and develop characters in a fictional work becomes a skill that transfers nicely.

For these writers, it goes well beyond the numbers that identify age, location, and income— the ability to create and give voice to these buyer personae, understand their pains and how to manage their egos, and bring them along on that storied journey are inherent in those who’ve spent time writing fiction in first person or as a member of the opposite sex, to name just one exercise in character development.

7. Lead Generation and Nurturing. Think like the characters do. Where would you place the ads that would reach you if you were that character? Where would you be located? And engaged in what media? Where and how do you participate online? Think of what content gets the most downloads, and later, analyze what content was downloaded by the most qualified prospective customers and focus your editorial efforts accordingly.

8. Content Strategy. Oversimplified, this is creating, running, managing an editorial calendar.

In addition to providing the right content for your audience, this includes understanding how to work with people in order to elicit guest posts and suggest changes that keep the contribution on par with the quality of other writing on the site while maintaining author’s style. Experience in MFA program workshop dialogue, copyediting, and working with any published or up-and-coming authors are all great ways to develop a foundation for business content strategy and how to execute on it successfully.

9. Engaging. For marketers, this means creating dialogue around a topic or issue, whether in person or online. For MFAers, it’s the ability to deconstruct, put back together, and discuss what we read. “Nice work” is a comment that brings nothing to the table.

10. Case Studies and White Papers. The former is an in-depth profile that tells the story of how a business solved a problem or made more money using your solution. The latter is a paper that also solves a problem, typically research-intensive and from a thought-leadership perspective looking at improvements that can be made overall in an industry (and of course, in the About section in tiny print on the last page, how the corporate author is positioned to solve those problems).  Naturally, these are my favorite pieces to write.

Software Development

11. Stories. Using sticky notes and whiteboards to piece together the story of how functionality or a process will work in a software application is similar to performing this exercise in order to piece together a novel, story, or poem, or even the core argument for an essay (for the creative writer, it’s possible the whiteboard is instead a Moleskine®). This also applies to telling the story from the end-user’s perspective and the actions they take during the software testing/QA process.

12. Complexity. Being able to understanding complex processes and communicate them is useful skill. The correlation? A research paper on something like “Burnt Norton from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets or Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

Other Skills

  • Interviewing for a job (MFA: Engaging conversation and defending position in MFA workshop.)
  • Taking (and applying) feedback and critique of professional work (MFA: Feedback from professors and peers during workshop.)
  • Working independently (MFA: We write alone.)
  • Write simple code for web development, design, and animation (MFA: Knowing how language works.)
  • Research skills (MFA: If it’s out there, we can find it.)

Thus ends my preaching—for now—on the virtues of an MFA degree for those who aren’t ready to or have no plans to teach.

It’s interesting to note it wasn’t until later in the evening that said software developer, local magazine editor, PhD student/professor, and marketing director observed that none of us had actually graduated the MFA program together and were, pretty much, barely classmates. This attests to the community surrounding writing programs such as these and the craft itself.

If you do nothing else in life, perfect your craft. If you have a talent, use it. Get involved with the community around it. As fellow MSUM MFA graduate Kristen Tsetsi writes, “I no longer know the grass of forbidden lawns, because I drive past it.”

Exploring the craft before that forbidden lawn of unbridled creativity becomes unfamiliar is an experience that we’ll draw from inevitably in our careers, whether we realize it or not. We MFA grads had the opportunity to develop a mindset that allows for creative, critical, and analytical thinking–a stage on which to practice freedom in our art, engage in healthy debate and discussion, and advance our writing abilities both technically and creatively, all while participating in good conversation and community.

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Startup Tour Stops in Fargo to Talk Advertising, Entrepreneurship

Here’s another post that originally appeared on Avenue Right’s blog, Nue Media Mix. I’m sharing it here for two reasons: 1) this was the coolest thing our company has been involved in from a PR perspective, and 2) it’s the first corporate blog post in which I said “ass.” How liberating. Watch for the TV series mentioned below to air in January.

Yesterday afternoon technology author and blogger Bob Cringely, his family, and a television crew visited Avenue Right on the Cringely’s (NOT in Silicon Valley) Startup Tour.

We were delighted to see the not-so-subtle black RV pull into the parking lot, here with a camera crew to talk to our CEO. The Tour will result in a 13-part television series profiling 24 startups across the country. More on that here .

The spirit of the project is to show the importance of American startup companies, wherever they’re located—how they contribute to the U.S. economy, serve to develop new markets and job opportunities, help us discover new technologies no matter our industry, and keep our country competitive in a global market.

Representing the media and advertising space, Avenue Right was selected for the Tour from among the nearly 400 startup companies nominated. Brian Gramer, founder & CEO, described his vision for the interview:

“My vision is to automate the process of media buying by providing a transparent media exchange that brings buyers and sellers together, helping small to mid-size ad agencies and the businesses they serve. The process of buying and selling local media—any medium—should be automated, transparent, and easy.”

So far, Avenue Right has built a database of over 49,000 media outlets; automated the RFP process for any local advertising medium; and above all, provided a place where media buyers can plan, negotiate, buy, and report on all their campaigns and clients, from one central location. And this company is just getting started.

With some big things coming over the next few months, we look forward to sharing that story as part of this television series that’s all about innovation, scheduled to air on a currently undisclosed cable station in January.

A big thank-you to those who nominated, voted, or commented in favor of Avenue Right.

Seeing that RV in our parking lot, it was an honor to know that we kick enough ass to bring thisTour all the way to Fargo, North Dakota, on a day so humid that we all wore the air like a second skin. Of course, a few of us still went outside for a picture. For now, it’ll have to do.


A few members of the Avenue Right team in front of the bitchin' Startup Tour RV.



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The Geek in Me. And You.

Last week brought a quick (30-hour) trip to New York when Avenue Right was invited to demo our product at the Speed Geeking session of ReadWriteWeb’s Real-Time Web Summit.

Below is an excerpt from a company blog post that resulted from the event (and link to the full post). I mention it out here because I think it is interesting how real-time technology and user experience are being used in different industries, how we’re starting to see the same technologies used in our social lives being integrated into core business applications. And because it’s hard to find time to post to two blogs. Especially in the summer.

Why Real-Time Matters to Media Buyers

Among the most time-consuming tasks in media buying is gathering, organizing, and analyzing information, making sense of the piles of spreadsheets, PDFs, Word docs and other formats to get a clear picture of the advertising marketplace before finalizing the media plan.

Let’s say a media buyer has decided that it’s a mix of local radio, TV, online, and few print pubs that will best reach the target demographic. That was the easy part.

Now it’s a matter of finding the latest information on the advertising opportunities in that local market, and having the tools available to act on that information throughout the planning and execution of a simple or complex media buy.

Meanwhile, the media buyer is accustomed to engaging in social media in her personal and professional life, savvy enough to include those outlets in the advertising plan.

No matter what industry we’re in, we’re used to getting information the instant it becomes available, and being able to act on that info with the proverbial “few clicks” and to share it with a hashtag or two. We like to see what our “friends” are up to without having to ask them. We watch trending topics to gain insight about the world around us, as it happens.

It’s this same real-time technology that powers Avenue Right’s media buying platform, providing not only more accurate and up-to-date market information, but also increased efficiencies by automating manual tasks.

Power of the Platform
Avenue Right incorporates all media channels—online and offline—into a single platform without interfering with inventory supply and demand or negotiations, biasing information with a commission structure, or remaining static in a digital world grown accustomed to real-time information.

Powered by its user community, Avenue Right is not an ad network or an ad exchange, but rather a resource that brings offline and online local media planning and buying together, staying out of the commission chain in order to provide a non-biased exchange of information between buyers and sellers.

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