17 Mar 2015

All posts from 17 Mar 2015


SXSW Interactive Day 4: Being Authentic and Giving Back with SXSW Style

Featured image above of Bethany Mota by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Whether you’re a high-end, international fashion chain, or an independent designer and YouTube star, you can’t ignore the power of giving back to benefit your community, and your brand.

Two standout panels highlighted the ways that brands in fashion and entertainment are working to influence people and organizations for the better at the SXSW Style track of SXSW Interactive on Monday, March 16th.  No longer satisfied with simply making money and giving some of it away for a good cause, the brands, designers, and personalities featured at SXSW Style are in search of deeper, more impactful ways to contribute, and they’re looking both to the power of authenticity, and the future of digital media to do it.

Beyond Charity: Integrating Giving Into a Brand’s DNA

The days of a brand saying “We’ll give 10% of our proceeds to charity” are over, according to Alia Ahmed-Yahia, style correspondent for ELLE, who participated in the “Fashion With a Conscience: Giving Back With Style” panel discussion. Joining Ahmed-Yahia in the panel were Founder and Creative Director of the Ashley Pittman Collection’s Ashley Pittman; Director of Charitable Giving at Neiman Marcus, Kevin Hurst; and Co-Founder and CPO of The Honest Company, Christopher Gavigan.

SXSW Style

The Fashion With a Conscience panel at SXSW Style: Image by Fritz Kessler

Pittman, who served as a volunteer with the Clinton Foundation’s HIV/AIDS initiative in Rwanda, agreed that it’s no longer enough to simply say “let’s take this profit and re-deploy it elsewhere.” Instead, the workshops in Kenya where her jewelry is manufactured are, indeed, treated as workshops and not factories; her artisan workers not just employees, but entrepreneurs learning valuable skills through their work. Through her jewelry line, Pittman seeks an organic mix of non-profit and for-profit values.

SXSW Style Honest Company Alia Ahmed-Yahia

Alia Ahmed-Yahia and Christopher Gavigan at SXSW Style: Image by Fritz Kessler

Gavigan also sees the benefit of incorporating a greater mentality of giving into the DNA of a for-profit enterprise. With Honest Company, and its all non-toxic household products, he even went so far as to have a customer service group that answers all questions pitched to them, from where to find Honest products, to why Honest uses a specific oil in their shampoo – “They’ll answer anything,” he said. In an age where the consumer has increasing power to voice their skepticism and displeasure with a brand, Gavigan aims for little less than pure authenticity when addressing consumer concerns.

Neiman Marcus is also interested in upping their social responsibility commitments – as Hurst said, they’re looking at the “long game.” No longer content with donating lump sums of money to schools, they plan to support students for multiple years at a time. He also recognized the benefit of not only evangelizing giving initiatives for promotional reasons, but to educate customers on philanthropic efforts in a way that lets them know “this is why we’re doing it.”

Above all, the panel remained convinced of the importance of authenticity in all their efforts, philanthropic or otherwise. “It’s really hard to know who’s telling the truth,” Pittman said. “So many brands say they’re doing the right thing, and it’s totally not true.”

Relationships and Influence With the New Stars of YouTube

An enlightening, albeit oddly programmed panel, “The Changing Face of Influence,” featured massive YouTube stars Bethany Mota and Tyler Oakley speaking on authenticity and how they built their personal brands, along with Baron Concords….Chief Digital Officer for Pizza Hut? (More on that at the end).

SXSW Style Bethany Mota Tyler Oakley

The Changing Face of Influence panel at SXSW Style: Image by Fritz Kessler

Mota, a multi-hyphenate fashion designer and media personality at just age 19, is already a major star, with over 8 million followers of her YouTube channel. She’s been on Dancing With the Stars, interviewed President Obama, and designs a fashion line in association with Aeropostale. Oakley, 25, with his own huge YouTube following (6.6 million), has branched into numerous other realms of entertainment and, this year, provided red carpet coverage of the Grammys for CBS.

Moderated by CEO and Founder of Made With Elastic, Moj Mahdara, the panel found Oakley and Mota each attributing their success to a fundamental “be yourself” approach found on their original YouTube content, and communicating constantly with their respective audiences. “My audience – they’re so inspirational, and that’s why I really love what I do,” Mota said.

Bethany Mota SXSW Style

Bethany Mota at SXSW Style: Image by Fritz Kessler

Each also seemed keenly aware of the power of leveraging brands to further their success. Indeed, Oakley even offered the assessment that when it comes to techniques like native advertising on social media platforms, youth audiences don’t feel like it’s brand advertising, but rather, brand discovery. “If you get a brand deal, that’s something to be celebrated, not shunned,” he said.

Mota agreed, but also offered that the brand-talent relationship has to be a partnership built on authenticity and trust. “It’s about knowing what works [for her audience], and I think brands have to trust that,” she said, further explaining that her relationship Aeropostale would never have been successful if the company hadn’t given her the freedom to control her content, and also feature other brands on her YouTube channel. “What I’ve built up over the years is authenticity, and I wouldn’t risk that for one brand deal,” she said.

Tyler Oakley

Tyler Oakley at SXSW Style: Image by Fritz Kessler

It’s hard to argue with the results of their labors, as Oakley and Mota are each dedicated to using their considerable influence for good. Oakley recently raised over $500,000 dollars for LGTBQ suicide prevention organization The Trevor Project, and Mota openly addresses her experiences with cyber-bullying on her YouTube channel.

With all the goodwill and star-power of Oakley and Mota in the 50-person conference room (and throngs of ready-to-scream teenage girls waiting for both outside), Concors’ contributions on pizza-ordering apps got a little lost in the conversation. He did, however, offer a helpful reminder of the power of one’s online following that even relationship masters like Mota and Oakley should remember. When it comes to managing audience expectations: “Whenever you think you are in charge, you’re probably in big trouble.”

Check back for more of the latest from SXSW Interactive in Austin!


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SXSW Interactive Day 4: Being Authentic and Giving Back with SXSW Style

SXSW Interactive: Rand Paul Courts Controversy With Net Neutrality Stance

South by Southwest Interactive is the last place you’d expect to see Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Paul identifies as a Tea Partier, constitutional conservative and libertarian conservative. He is also “100% pro-life,” opposes net neutrality, and is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment.

What on earth, then, is Paul doing speaking at a technology conference where the audience is primarily young, likely to vote Democratic, and otherwise likely to oppose Paul on just about every social issue?

Well, apparently, Rand Paul is all about contradictions.

Although he has yet to officially announce his plan to run for the presidency in 2016, he seems to be setting himself up to win votes from a young, tech-savvy crowd. In his conversation with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith at SXSW on Sunday, March 15, Paul said he was the only candidate who wanted to put a stop to the bulk collection of phone records led by the National Security Administration. He was also quick to take stabs at President Obama on the issue, who he claimed “could stop bulk collection of records right now if he wanted to.”

Rand Paul SXSW Interactive

Rand Paul at SXSW Interactive: Image by Fritz Kessler

Maintaining that his candidacy was still hypothetical, he added that “many young people have fled this president [because of his support of the NSA program], and I think many people would be open to coming to a candidate who protects privacy.”

Paul emphasized how tech-savvy his hypothetical campaign would be, and recognizes that he must be in the social media sphere in order to win young votes. He’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and perhaps most surprisingly, Snapchat (username: SenatorRandPaul). He was the first Senator to give an official interview via the platform in January.

He also has 1.8 million fans on his Facebook page, which is one of the largest followings of any U.S. senator on the site. “You have to find people where they are,” Paul said. “I have three boys, and they keep with up with news through [social media].”

Aside from running a potentially social media savvy campaign, Paul also said he would focus on tackling the decriminalization of non-violent drug-related offenses. He said that having a felony record — and to a larger extent, “the war on drugs” — is the “biggest thing that disenfranchises people” and prevents them from voting (a topic that came up after questioning by Smith of Paul’s complex feelings on the Voting Rights Act).

The conversation touched on the hot button political scandal of the moment as well. On the topic of Hillary Clinton using a personal email address to conduct State Department affairs, Paul said he is “not concerned that she used a private email address,” but is concerned that in doing do, she may have jeopardized national security. “[She said] she didn’t want two phones for convenience’s sake. Well, convenience should not trump national security,” he said.

On the issue of net neutrality, Paul stood firmly with the Republican party. He is against the net neutrality rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission, which says all internet traffic should be treated equally. That’s not to say he supported any kind of internet monopoly. Rather, he believes that not regulating the marketplace of internet providers would actually allow more space for smaller companies to enter the field and compete with large service providers. “We [government] shouldn’t interfere with the marketplace,” he said. “ The internet is unregulated, and we have to keep it that way.”

Paul also mentioned the opening of his Austin, Tex. office on Monday, March 16. The office is in the Capital Factory, which is an incubator, accelerator and networking hub for tech startups in downtown Austin. The move has been seen by some as a way to further appeal to tech-savvy youth voters.

Check back soon for more coverage from SXSW Interactive in Austin!


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SXSW Interactive: Rand Paul Courts Controversy With Net Neutrality Stance