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Reid Carr and I share something in common: We are part of a generation of people who understand and remember what it was like before the internet became a major feature of our lives. Yet we were both immature enough when it happened that we could also grow up with it.
Carr has turned that experience into a prosperous business, Red Door Interactive, which is based in San Diego and now has offices in Carlsbad and Denver. Petco, Rubio’s, SignOnSanDiego and dozens of other companies have turned to Carr’s company for help — not just with marketing, but also with thinking differently about how digital tools can transform their companies.
He’s been successful enough to begin to take a seat at all kinds of local tables where San Diego’s future is being discussed. Last summer, he accepted an invitation to join our board of directors.
Carr is our first board member actively engaged with Twitter. So you can get his attention directly @icowboy.
I’ve started doing these Q&As with our new board members so that the people who care about voiceofsandiego.org have an opportunity to see how the board thinks. Nearly two years ago, when venture capitalist Bill Stensrud joined our board of directors, I did a Q&A with him.
So, to be clear, Carr and Stensrud are my bosses.
Our board is charged with helping us think about what we don’t know — building a strategy for the future and analyzing feedback about the past. And each one of our board members has been crucial to our success as they draw on their own experience in technology, business, media and management.
It was Carr’s idea, for example, to do the Best of the Week email we send out every Sunday.
Our board doesn’t get to decide what stories we do. But they do make sure we’re pursuing our mission. They set our budget and make sure that editor Andrew Donohue and I are making good decisions. What’s better, though, is that they help us come up with ideas to build this operation into an institution and to gather the resources we need to make it strong.
Here’s our conversation.
When you look at the most interesting advertising innovations right now, the stuff that makes you go wow, what do you see?
The best stuff right now engages multiple platforms. They are spots that people choose to not zip through on the DVR when they see them come up and they choose to connect with it on the web or share it with someone. One of the best examples was “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” from Old Spice. They really started dialoguing with the people who became fans and then those fans passed that stuff along.
What do you mean dialoguing?
Well, when people started spoofing “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” on YouTube, the brand came back and, with their agency, started doing special YouTube videos to respond to all of those people and it was very witty — very in the moment and people were totally taken aback by what the brand was doing with it.
That seems to be more common lately: When a company actually steps aside and responds to the community or to somebody in particular, it’s a big deal to that person.
It is. The thing that’s interesting about it is that I think it will come to the point where it’s expected. Right now people are surprised. But pretty soon it will be expected and after that we’ll see where it goes.
The key right now is the heart of the company — beyond the brand. The brand can feel like some kind of superficial layer. The company in and of itself needs to develop a lot of humanist qualities: heart, brain, soul and reach. For example, people probably identified BP as the villain of corporations in a very human sort of way. It was as if this evil company did something like a bad person would.
Now, clearly, not everyone at BP is evil. But people allow the company to adopt those human characteristics itself. Companies have to be deliberate and we, as their partners, have to get deeper in the organization and identify that heart and soul and then help them reveal it. That’s their philanthropic efforts, their culture and the way they treat their people and the outward appearance of all of it.
Are the things they do for their image done authentically or is it done as a façade? Not that long ago, it was done as a façade. It was done in board-room-style meetings where they decide what voice they wanted and who should they partner with to make it look like we are this way as opposed to actually being that way.
That segues really well to Voice — what you guys are doing. Because the heart and soul is there and that’s what was most motivating to me to be part of this: It is authentic. You guys do care and it’s pretty well all exposed. It’s not like there’s a curtain you’re going to find something different behind.
You’re out there on Twitter. The raw emotions are seen when things are going one way or another and that’s the way it should be. You need to know now where people are coming from to make a better judgment about who you’re willing to support and believe because it’s hard. Anyone can be a journalist now. It’s as easy as starting a WordPress blog. So it’s difficult to recognize who you are going to believe and whose facts you’re going to trust and Voice came in right at the right time. You’ve been influenced by the old media that adhered to a certain code of ethics. But you’ve also got that connection to the new media to collaborate, connect and disseminate information.
Obviously I’m a huge fan of social media and we’re trying to use it as much as possible. You see restaurants like Urban Solace use it well. And that makes sense. But then you see an ad for Clorox inviting you to visit its Facebook page. I have to ask, what’s the point? What is Clorox going to do that is engaging on social media?
They all have to build trust. Sometimes people assumed there was a trust in the brand, and with social media they’ve realized that it wasn’t always true. This doesn’t have to be about perpetuating the brand but it could be about supporting other people or systems. Imagine, for instance, if there was ever a recall at Clorox. What kind of damage control can they do? How about communicating to investors who want to know the direction of the brand?
Interesting: Social media as an emergency preparation system?
The hardest time to build it is when you’re in trouble.
Is it fair to say your company is something in the middle of a website developer and a traditional PR or advertising agency?
Yeah, well, what we’re hoping to be is something even deeper than that, which is to get in and help businesses become better businesses as a result of using web capabilities.
But you’re not just on the web. You actually focus on locations and geography. You have offices downtown, in Carlsbad and Denver. What’s the importance of geography in a global effort?
We feel we need that connection to senior management. That’s how you effect change. We talk about leadership. Leadership is the core of any great change. We feel like if we’re in close proximity to senior management we can affect a company’s direction.
The office is here for social purposes — interaction and collaboration. The work gets done in a box. It can be done anywhere. A work place is anywhere but we need a gathering place. And that’s why we’ve located our offices in unique locations.
So, what do you think of voiceofsandiego.org?
It’s one of the more exciting experiments. Somehow I hate to classify it as that but I think it still has those roots, which is cool. If you maintain your connection to experiments, it allows you to try new things and see if it explodes or fizzes over. Your mission and values of the organization are there to make an impact and make a difference and effect change. It will always polarize and that’s the point. Media is there and has historically been there to help us in that respect. There’s example of it being abused but we’re unique. We’re leaving it completely exposed and transparent — revealing the personalities behind it so the community can protect the mission of the media that’s protecting us in the community.
What could we do better?
Engagement is the right step, while I say “direct access.” The more we can get educated people involved, the better. We’ve got to engage more people.
You can also innovate in terms of getting funds to create this model. It’s amazing what you guys are doing to support other nonprofits. But how are we going to keep it afloat without turning to the old models? It will be hard to stay true to the roots but it’s so worth it. Tap into the emotion but you can do a better job.
How about San Diego, what is San Diego not doing so well?
We fall back on what’s easy, how great a climate this is. It is what it is. We fall back on it without talking up the cultural aspect of the city. We have proximity to L.A. But what’s unique about us? Well, one thing we have is a close connection to Mexico but we don’t portray our culture very well to people outside the area in a way that can inspire others. The climate is here and it’s permanent and like this year round but from a creative standpoint that’s not necessarily a good thing. What we’ve got here is this consistent sameness and it’s not as naturally inspiring. We need to dial it up and recognize what our roots are, what’s unique. Sometimes it’s hard to recruit people here and they say “Where is the culture?”
You were on the mayor’s legacy committee. You’re the token young guy at some of these things, aren’t you?
Yeah it’s funny. I have been in that right place. I was one of the first people to graduate college with four years of web experience. I remember doing searches on the web and not finding answers to my questions.
I’ve had the opportunity to participate at a very high level because I was the guy who could make himself look very smart because I knew how to do a PowerPoint and use a search bar.
You talked about bringing a soccer team to San Diego. Is that real?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve talked to people. I know there are a lot of parties here interested. Imagine if we could bring a branded team from Mexico to be a franchise here and play in the MLS? If we could bring them here it would give us a boost. It would help us tap into people south of the border, who would be excited to come up and then would grow accustomed to getting around town. That might mean a 10-15 percent boost for the Chargers and Padres too, after they gained familiarity with how to visit these kinds of events in San Diego. It’s an overwhelming challenge getting a team here but it’s fun.
You can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!): twitter.com/vosdscott. You can also find Reid Carr on Twitter or Red Door Interactive.