Ian’s Last Post @ EAT

Here’s the short version:

Next week, I will be joining Razorfish.

Britta will be taking over EAT and bringing it back to its roots: Content strategy, content development and strategic consultation.

Here’s the longer version:

Nine years ago, Britta and I launched EAT as a content agency.

At the time, we were New York expats living in South Florida, a little beat up by the dot com bust but driven to carve out our own path. And we did. We bought a pink 1920s fixer-upper a block from the water. We spent the days tearing down ceilings, walls and floors, and the evenings building a business on our laptops.

That’s not a metaphor. I mean that literally.

EAT beginnings

As advertising/publishing/tech people, there wasn’t a ton of work for us down in swampland. But we’re a resourceful team and before we knew it, had two big named clients with big content and strategy needs. We hadn’t ever heard of a content agency, but that’s what we were starting. It wasn’t long before a baby came, and then our first office, and then our first employees. Our little agency was cranking out tens of thousands of words of high quality branded content each month and the strategic “how” requests about content kept rolling in. Those were the golden days of content, before Demand Media became a thing.

Soon clients started to ask us to run their web projects from start to finish. And there we were happily in the UX/CX business delivering the entire experience: strategy, IA, design, code and content. That’s when we brought out the big guns, the tomahawks and the jeweler’s screwdrivers in a quest to deliver content-first experiences — from content audits to wireframes to designing and building the full-blown kit and kaboodle. The Sunshine State was smiling on us but one fateful day, while on a bizarro vacation (leaving Florida to vacation in Cape Cod) we realized the Northeast was really home. Ten days later we packed up whatever would fit in a Uhaul and moved back to New York — just before our second child was born. Then last year we had two more children (at the same time). Suffice to say we like change. We trust that knowing and intuiting are fine paths to follow separately or together, in life and in work.

So, while I’ve led the charge speaking and blogging about CS/UX and other topics (hip hop, ahem) over the past few years, Britta is the content strategy superstar and she’s back from the land of spit up and strollers. Clients love her advertising background, strategic mind, and love of bringing law and order to content. She’s going to carry on the torch that went from NY > FL > NY and now resides in Dobbs Ferry, aka the town that built Zuckerberg.

I’ve had the great fortune to work with universities, Fortune 500 companies, non-profits and startups. I’ve hit some projects out of the park, struggled and learned lessons from other ones. Some clients have become great friends and others trusted advisors. My peers in the CS/UX/Design/Code/agency community have been unbelievably influential and generous.

Along the way, I’ve seen content strategy go from something clients asked us to remove from the proposal (“just dump the dollars into design”) to something clients seek out. I’ve watched UX go from a nice to have to a must have. And I’m currently enjoying the championing of change management as it relates to digital.

I will miss our team, our sweet office overlooking the Hudson and the challenges of a running a small biz.  But I’m excited to see Britta’s passion and talent take the driver seat — hire EAT here. Excited to work with peers @ Razorfish whose work I’ve admired for years.  Excited to immerse myself in service design, product strategy and UX over at Razorfish. Excited for the challenge of change itself and the opportunity to exceed expectations.

I’ve been more than lucky to work with great people over the last 10 years including:  @brittaalexander, @ninamaxdaly, @dougrushkoff, @heatherfield, @jonathanmaziarz, @wendybiddlecombe, @johnmiller, @kristinejubek, @briandurkin. With an especially huge thanks to @brianhughes. And a best partner in the world huge thanks to @johnfakorede.

Stay tuned. Stay relevant and be good.

Thanks for everything,

Ian

P.S. I’ll be continuing to blog @ UXtopian.com and opining on Twitter @IanAlexanderNY

EAT’S Greatest Hits of 2012

Every year, EAT writes a list of our five biggest mistakes—always the most popular post of the year. But 2012 has been a great cycle for us, full of growth and movement, and we thought that warranted a best-of, too. Our greatest misses are still to come. In the meantime, enjoy these greatest hits.

1.) We Watched Two Great Clients Get Even Better.

Our good friends and clients Kindling and Jingle Punks straight up owned this year. These companies are perfect examples of flexibly organized, agile businesses—when opportunity knocks, they’ve had the speed and quickness to take full advantage. Change-readiness is the core and the goal of all UX strategy—these guys make it look easy.

2.) We Opened a New Office and Rebooted the Old One.

We opened a new office in SoHo this summer. But while we were busy rolling primer and rescuing the Poland Springs guy from a stuck elevator, our Hastings office was far from empty. Our co-founder Britta Alexander launched her new business, Year of the Book, while our advisor and resident Mets apologist Doug Rushkoff finished his upcoming book Present Shock. They’ve remade the space into a community workspace for everyone from journalists and ad-men to yoga instructors with literary aspirations. If you’re passing through Westchester, drop in and find a desk.

3.) Evolved and Transcended.

“Rebranding” is a bit of a misnomer. Brand is just another word for the impression users take away from their experience. The substance of what we do is User Experience and Flow. When we swapped domains and restated the mission, we wanted to take that concept of movement and progress and redouble focus onto our own users’ experience. We take our clients from their immediate, solvable needs into a state of agility, versatility and change-readiness—transcending and evolved.

4.) Went Looking for Trouble

The most useful question of 2012: What problem are you trying to solve? Because what you want isn’t always the solution to your problems. A request for a video series might reveal the higher-level need for a searchable knowledge base. A client asking for a slideshow might really need a “Get Back in the Box” integrity consult. For once, when you hear the question “What’s your problem?” it’s a compliment—it means we believe in the fundamental fitness of your enterprise.

5.) Pumped a lot of Aesop Rock and Young Widows.

…and Dez-era Flag when we were feeling nostalgic. Because a few things are perfect just the way they are.

Evolve And Transcend: EAT Agency

As Manhattan emerges from the flooded downtown streets and tunnels, EAT has been in the final stages of our own reemergence. It began with the decision to open a new SoHo office, to reaffirm our mission and philosophy, and to express that new clarity in our transmissions to the world. In the middle of the storm, when the forces of nature bent my thinking to the magical, I wondered if it all might be synchronicity.

If I can stretch the metaphor: The difference between a content-first-strategy agency and a one-stop web/copy/design studio is the difference between sand bags and higher ground. The first is a barricade, grains of pixels and ink that keeps the outside out and the inside in. The other is structural, environmental—safe even in exposure to the elements—strategic.

EAT has always worked on that structural-environmental principle. And we want the world to know it. We aren’t a Media company. We wouldn’t vend for a lifetime pass to all the halal carts in midtown. We want your problems first, and then let’s talk projects. Sometimes that means pure strategy; other times it’s sleeves-up code and serifs.

That’s why we changed our name. We are EAT Agency.

We provide media if it’s necessary (and it usually is), but what we really do is place companies on higher ground. We give them new eyes to see all 360 degrees of their operations. We provide technical know-how and theoretical support as organizations re-become who they are. We do for them what we have done for ourselves: Evolve And Transcend.

EAT opens office in NYC/SOHO

Today is great day for our team. It marks the opening of our NYC office in SOHO and ushers in a new phase of  Eat Media.

Announcing Eat Media v3.0

1 – Our new HQ. We have moved 30 miles down the Hudson River to Wooster Street in SOHO. The current office in Hastings-on-Hudson office is being taken over by Britta’s new venture  — Year Of the Book.

2 – Our name. Eat Media, is migrating to the shortened “EAT”.  The “For the Content Hungry” is being dropped and our new focus is revealed in the EAT letters — “Evolve and Transcend”.

3 – Our focus. For the past 7+ years we have been content-first (design,development and creative) and over the course of hundreds of projects, some large, some medium and some small  — we’ve hit our stride and are ready to specialize.  Over the coming weeks rebranding will begin and a concentration around service design and project sustainability will be unveiled. Helping clients address and solve operational, systemic issues is unique challenge that our team enjoys solving. Design, code and content strategy is now coupled with a more fertile environment for future creative.  This methodology makes for better projects and more healthy companies. We invite you to level up with us in this new environment that requires organizations to be both nimble and creative.

Thanks to everyone that helped us get here.

 

—Ian

Mentoring: This is What It’s All About

It’s the kind of letter you always hope to get–some evidence of making a positive impact on a young employee’s career.

In this case, he was fresh out of college and I hired him to be an editorial assistant for a regional magazine group. He was probably there less than a month when I was up against a deadline for our annual food issue–with no cover story. I took a chance and assigned it to him, and he nailed it. I’ve never seen a story about french fries tackled with such sophistication.

I received this thank you note last week after writing recommendation letters for his MFA applications.

It not only made my day week month, but it inspired me to reach out to some of the managers who made a big impact on my career.

Because when it comes to being an editor/manager/employer, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Eat Media: Top 5 Mistakes I made in 2010


MISTAKE #1

Not listening to that inner voice that says, “The time is now!” Despite ever-sophisticated analytics, tell-tale advisors and detailed market reports, I often find the most accurate predictor of what to do, when, is intuition. Unfortunately intuition only works when you respond to its alarm bell. Case in point: we had plans to build four Eat Media tools/products this year for our newly created Lab section. Two of the ideas I sketched out almost 3 years ago. At the beginning of the year, intuition kicked me in the ass, saying, “Time to get started on those projects, Ian,” but my “urgent” list of projects (vs. my “important” list) kept me from completing them.

Here are the results of that waiting:

Project 1 #fail – Three days after buying the URL Slangr.com, the awesome Muledesign launched Unsuck-it.com.

Project 2 #fail – 3 weeks prior to launching Calcium (our vetted conference calendar), Lanyrd.com was launched.

Lesson learned: Ideas are worth very little without prompt and proper execution.


MISTAKE #2

Not bringing up pricing early enough in the conversation(s) Historically we have had 4-5 exchanges (including email and meetings) prior to discussing pricing with clients. Any time a prospective client brought a project/problem to the table I got giddy and immediately started thinking of ways to make things better and then double better. Often this entailed a boatload of research, tests, comps and even sample content. We had more than one occasion in 2010, where I rocked all-nighters and tasked staff with work that I filed under the line item of “research” which really should have been under the line item of  “after we cash the deposit.” On one hand, I think we are going to land every client and love finding the solution(s). On the other hand, a solution that doesn’t fit the client’s budget doesn’t solve the client’s problem.

For 2011 we are testing Sliderocket for proposals as well as Proposable. Addtionally, we now discuss price at 2nd, or at the latest, 3rd contact with the client.

Lesson learned: Not providing pricing as early as possible is unfair to us and the prospective client.


MISTAKE #3

Not being able to reel in the best talent For the past 4 years I have art directed most of visual design and/or comps for our clients, but we reached a point at the beginning of 2010 where in order for the agency to grow we needed (still need) to hire people with more talent so that Britta and I can focus on other parts of the business. We entirely underestimated how scarce great (available) talent is in NYC; especially in the web design and front-end development world. To make things exponentially more difficult, we were/are looking for a FT, in-house web design/developer combo which the esteemed UX/CS Karen McGrane told me was like “hunting for unicorns.” We saw this need coming a year prior and should have started putting out feelers in 2009. The days of placing an ad and getting hundreds of applicants has gone the way of the animated .gif.

We are now offering hiring bonuses, referral bonuses and developing a GEO location campaign to lure talent to our agency.

Lesson learned: Craigslist is a waste of time to capture real talent. All our talented friends were snapped up 3-4 years ago.


MISTAKE #4

We should have expanded beyond content strategy/development two years ago Very early on in our business, Britta and I realized that we would, at some point, need to become a full-fledged agency. Since that is a tough sell out of gate, we decided to start with content development/strategy, build up our portfolio and then expand. Some amazing clients kept us very busy with content development/strategy early on but the desire to provide [content-first] design, development and ideation services was driving us. Why didn’t we move faster? Things were good, our staff at the time probably wasn’t as ready for that shift as we were, and frankly I think we were afraid to rock the boat. In retrospect, we should have bellied up to the table sooner and built the business we wanted. Our clients would have been better for it and we would be closer to becoming the agency we envisioned more than 5 years ago.

Lesson learned: Be flexible but follow your original vision. Sacrifice is more than a bad Elton John tune.


MISTAKE #5

The (client/agency) love is gone Half-way through 2010, we let one of our biggest clients go. It was both a very difficult decision and an absolutely necessary one. Unfortunately it was a business decision we should have made at the end of 2009. After more than 3 years working with this client, we hit a massive change management wall and became little more than executors. Two month projects were dragged out over the course of six months. Conference calls had become bloated and unproductive and our strategy and creative services were lost in the mire of middle management approvals and proposal re-dos. We stayed on mostly due to an amazing relationship with our lead contact, but at some point it was clear that we had both lost the love. It happens, we were a small agency in a huge company that regularly burns through small agencies. We had a good ride. Problem was we had so many projects with them it was very difficult to untangle our operations, project management and culture from them. In the end we parted gracefully(ish) and the breathing room helped us finally expand our business (see Mistake #4).

Lesson learned: Once you are no longer getting paid for your ideas, strategy and creative, the clock starts ticking. Loudly.


These are my confessions of a growing agency. What were your 2010 mistakes?

—Ian

@eatmedia

Like this article? Check out the Top 5 Mistakes I made in 2009, one of which should be the orange headers.)

Eat Media now a [content-first] Design | Development | Ideation agency

Since 2006, our belief has remained steadfast—content and content strategy should help shape user experience, and all experiences (digital and print) should dutifully serve business objectives.

Now, after 4+ years of providing content solutions to clients, it feels natural (almost obligatory) to put our money where our mouth is and provide a comprehensive solution that includes a broader scope of services.

We believe companies have grown tired of working with multiple practices/agencies who don’t know how communicate with one another.

Which is why we’ve spent the last 6 months expanding our services and rebranding Eat Media as a [content-first] Design | Development | Ideation agency.

In addition to our content strategy, content development and content management services, we are now providing [content-first] solutions in the following areas:

  • Web Design/Development
  • iPad/iPhone Development
  • Print-to-Web Integration
  • Application Development/Product Strategy
  • Consulting/Tailored Workshops

Bring us your problems.

You’ll love our solutions.

—Ian

@eatmedia

Lies, Damned Lies and Compelling Content

Is it ever OK to lie with your content?

Quick answer: Yes, but only if you are very good. More on what “good” means in a second.

Back in July, spy photos and brief video surfaced on several automobile enthusiast websites. Depicted was a prototype Porsche station wagon, known in automotive parlance as a shooting brake.

The photos and video caused a sensation and spread throughout the enthusiast community, driving loads of comments on blogs and rampant speculation as to when the boys from Zuffenhausen were going to release the official car to the public. The Frankfurt Auto Show? Tokyo? People wanted to know.

The questions continued to pour in. Did this mean Porsche was abandoning it’s oft-maligned SUV, the Cayenne? Was this new shooting brake, clearly based on the entry-level Cayman, going to be Porsche’s only venture into the world of station wagons? Was Porsche going Volvo on the world, and completing its sellout?

The company had nothing to say. And if the voices clamoring in the blogosphere had calmed down for just a minute, they might have heard the faint sound of snickering.

As it turned out, Porsche’s shooting brake was a fake. The whole thing was dreamed up by the then soon-to-be-unemployed staff of Top Gear America as a parting gift to the show’s many fans.

Most people hate being duped, but in this case, there was no backlash against the show. Accumulate enough goodwill in a community and you will be forgiven the occasional whoopee cushion on the chair.

If you were inspired by the Top Gear crew’s antics and are determined to set the world afire with your own tall tale, here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to be good and do it right..

1. Execute. The only way you have even half a chance is to come up with something clever and then make it sing. It ain’t going to work if people don’t believe it.

2. Don’t mess with people’s emotions in a negative way. I think we can all agree that the Balloon Boy fiasco—originally dreamed up as a publicity stunt—managed to generate only the wrong kind of attention once the truth came out. Nothing that ends with a criminal investigation is worth it.

3. Enhance your cool. Some people don’t react well to being pranked. There isn’t much you can do about this, but you are required to have a sense of humor when dealing with those who don’t.

4. Don’t forget your audience. The Top Gear stunt worked well because the automobile enthusiast community is used to manufacturers trying to hide new models (often in plain sight) and used to manufacturers building show cars that never make it to production. Plus, these are enthusiasts; they love to talk about cars, the good, the bad and the ugly.

5. Be prepared for blowback. Some people, bless their gullible hearts, won’t understand the joke and may begin acting on some of the falsehoods you’ve laid out. Years ago, I wrote a newspaper column, published on April 1, which stated that the legislature had just passed a law changing Daylight Savings Time to mean a two-hour forward leap instead of the customary one. Despite naming my fictitious governor’s press secretary Jacques Strap and despite reminding readers to look carefully at the dateline of the newspaper, we were deluged with calls wondering when this was taking place. Exercise your power judiciously.

—Jonathan
(@bentpiton)