For four days beginning Monday night, Boston-based MITX (the Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange) will play host to FutureM, a week of events, conferences, parties and discussions that is to Boston what Advertising Week is to New York City, but with a heavier emphasis on media technology and how it is reshaping the future of marketing. On the eve of this year’s event, MediaPost’s MAD Boston edition spoke with MITX President and FutureM impresario Debi Kleiman to get the lowdown on why you should be there, even if you’re not local.
MAD Boston: So FutureM isn’t just an event taking place on a stage somewhere. There are actually a variety of events going on -- including some that don’t take place on a physical stage?
Debi Kleiman: We are trying to bring a variety of things together that will make all of your senses come alive in relation to the future of marketing, media and mobile. You’re going to see things that you haven’t seen elsewhere. You’re going to experience formats differently than before. Certainly, we have typical headline meetings and keynotes featuring thought leaders and executives that are pushing the boundaries on the future of marketing. But unlike a lot of events where you go thinking you’re going to be handed a set of answers, this was not about answers as much as it’s about possibilities and opportunities. You’re going to think about things a little differently. You’re going to be inspired to try something that you might not have otherwise tried. That is the experience we are trying to curate.
MAD/B: This is the third year of FutureM. What’s different about this year’s events vs. the previous ones?
Kleiman: What’s different about our approach this year is that the first two years was really about showcasing Boston as the hub of modern marketing to our community, but we decided that Boston as a hub for modern marketing makes sense nationally too. So we are making FutureM more accessible to a national audience, including some of the changes we’ve made to the structure of it. That’s what we hope the framework becomes for thinking about it -- that Boston is the home of marketing innovation, and we think it makes sense to make it the host for the conversation about the future of marketing.
So we built in a couple of things that I think are really neat. There’s a whole start-up component, including a track where start-ups will be presenting and talking about their vision of the future of marketing. We also have a track called FutureM 20/20, which is new this year, and I don’t think anyone has seen anything like it before. We have twentysomethings talking about the future of marketing for 20 minutes each. We crowd-sourced the sessions and we curated the best, and these twentysomethings are the future of marketing, right? They are digital natives. And their perspective on where things are going is incredibly insightful.
MAD/B: Do you ask them to predict what marketing will look like in the year 2020?
Kleiman: (Laughter) They basically are. If you look at what they are talking about in those sessions, and the breadth of the things they’re talking about. They’re talking about neuromarketing. They’re talking about where content is going. They’re talking about Lady Gaga. There’s just such a fresh perspective coming from them. A lot of times events try to say, “These big thinkers know exactly where it’s going,” but the reality is the people who are closest to it are these twentysomethings, because they are going to be the ones that are shaping the future.
MAD/B: Are they regular citizen twentysomethings, or are they VC-backed start-up founders who happen to be in their twenties?
Kleiman: Not per se. They’re all in the field of marketing. Some of them do have start-ups, but some of them are from ad agencies and some of them are from brands. They all are marketing people. It was an open call. They submitted proposals, and we picked the best ideas. And that was really hard, because we got some very amusing ones.
They each get 20 minutes to present a topic of their own choosing, and answer questions on where they think the future of marketing is going.
MAD/B: So is that phrase, “Boston is the hub for modern marketing,” more or less is your positioning statement?
Kleiman: Well, it’s not a tagline, but it’s the way I think about it. If you look at the companies and organizations that come out of Boston and what they represent, it’s like email marketing was born at Constant Contact, or in-bound marketing born at Hubspot, or the kind of innovation that the agencies are doing at Havas, Mullen, Hill Holliday or Digitas. They’re being very, very innovative, and in a different way than the New York agencies are being innovative, and at least some of that has to do with the fact that they’re in Boston. It has a lot to do with our innovation scene here -- the combination of venture capital, start-ups, academia, and marketing. It’s another thing that makes FutureM a cool concept. Our innovation scene has got this super-sexy nerdiness about it that I don’t think you can find anywhere else.
MAD/B: Well, you literally have the [Microsoft’s] NERD [New England Research & Development] Center, which will actually be the hub for some of the FutureM events.
Kleiman: Exactly. We are totally Geek Central with Microsoft’s NERD, MIT and Harvard all very actively involved in developing marketing innovation. And we have several people from the MIT Media Lab and Harvard Business School presenting. And our start-up scene here is also very unique to Boston, and they’re tackling some very hard problems -- things that are not that easy to solve -- because they think that it’s cool, not because they want to make a quick flip. And I think that’s one of the things that’s different about Boston. You see it in the mobile commerce space here that is very big and growing. During FutureM, we have a whole half-day mobile commerce component. And also Big Data, which has been one of those things that people talk about, but most folks don’t have their arms around it yet and why it matters for media and advertising. And we have some people speaking who really do understand it and can share what the possibilities are for the end-users of the data.
MAD/B: Tell us about the format of FutureM. It’s not one event taking place at one venue, right? It’s spread around town?
Kleiman: This is another thing we changed to make it more accessible nationally. This year, it’s in three locations across the week, but on any given day, it only takes place in two locations. The center of the event is at the Hynes Convention Center, and that’s really going to be the center of gravity for the event. And on different days, we are at the [Microsoft] NERD Center, and on other days we are at Fidelity’s Center for Applied Technology.
MAD/B: Are there any other unusual formats -- like the “20/20” -- taking place?
Kleiman: It’s four days of content, and over 100 sessions, so at any given point in time there could be two or three things going on. On Monday night, we open with Shira Lazar, the host and producer of the Emmy-award winning YouTube show “What’s Trending.” And she’ll kick off this amazing opening, then there will be parties and workshops, conferences, a little mini “un-conference,” where the topics of the session will be generated by the participants and led by rock star conversation leaders. There are a couple of hands-on things where people will actually be able to play with technology to see what’s next. There’s a Shark Tank in which a bunch of angel investors have committed to spending $100,000 that night, on the spot, on start-ups. It could be one start-up that wins it, or it could be multiple start-ups that win little pieces of it.
We have several big brands, like Dunkin' Donuts, PepsiCo and JetBlue, who will be presenting not-the-usual fare. You’re going to hear things that are kind of controversial from these thought leaders at leading brands who are really pushing the edge of digital experiences. Take something like integrated marketing. We’ve been talking about it for so long, but not many people are really doing it all that well, and what we’re going to talk about in the sessions is, how does it become a reality? How do you staff for that? How do you organize for that? How do you plan for it?