By Jennifer Putnam, Chief Creative Officer, Allen & Gerritsen
There were wide-eyed optimists and dreamers. There were uninhibited hellos and invitations to play. Strangers, young and old, male and female of every ethnicity and background conversing with one another as if life-long friends. There was dancing, singing, laughing and celebration. You’d think I was describing a playground – and in so many ways that’s exactly what it was. This was an event concepted by President Obama that invited artists, innovators, intellects and changemakers to come together for a day of inspiration and action. Personally honored to be invited, and proud to represent A&G — this was South by South Lawn: A White House Festival of Ideas, Art, and Action — and it was glorious.
The hot October sun was only amplified by the conversation and innovations accessible to all. From The Mill’s and The Guardian’s virtual reality experience on solitary confinement to hearing our President speak on the critical importance of climate change and how we can and must help — the atmosphere was charged with the kind of energy that only happens when the most creative, humble, and open minds come together for good by harnessing technology. Panel discussions addressed innovations in food sustainability, to enhancing lives through Biotech to the importance of diversity in the workplace. Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and CEO of Slack reinforced what I live by (and tweeted), “Diverse teams produce better business results. You have to look in more places.” That was as evident as ever as I looked around at the incredible variety of people in attendance, sharing their views, their passions and their myriad ideas on tackling some of the toughest issues in America today.
Who would have thought tech giants, venture capitalists, philanthropists, students and teachers, to name a few, could check their egos in a shared desire to make positive change. Believe me when I say, this trend is not one that will be short-lived. Chris Redlitz, managing partner of Transmedia Capital and Founder of The Last Mile, echoed that sentiment saying, "There is a social consciousness in the valley that is shaping vision and purpose." Venture capitalism and philanthropy finding paths forward together with technology enabling and expediting that transformation. This event reinforced our collective desire to ask more of ourselves and to seek out creative partnerships to achieve that.
Perhaps the most perfect picture of this magical day was its culmination. Invitees, presenters and the tireless event creators all gathered around the innovation stage as the sun began to set. The Lumineers brought the crowd together in song, with the lyrics to Stubborn Love and Ho Hey. Our collective voices carrying over the south lawn with joy and optimism. Then, an inspired conversation between President Obama, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe and Leonardo DiCaprio over probably our biggest issue of all – that of saving our planet and truly understanding the implications of climate change. The facts are staggering. And the the proof is in our weather patterns, shrinking glaciers and altered habitats. As Dr. Hayhoe said, before we can hope to address all of the critical issues of our time — poverty, hunger, inequality, disease — we have a planet to save. Everyone in attendance got that message loud and clear as we lay under the stars on the White House lawn to watch the domestic premiere of DiCaprio’s climate documentary, Before the Flood. As the final credits rolled, the deafening silence conveyed how we all felt — sobered and motivated…to do better.
Be a part of something bigger than yourself – that was the overarching message of the day and what will drive me in all the days to come. Craft, intellect, hope and heart applied to ideas, solutions, innovations and partnerships. It’s also what makes me so proud of the marketer and maker culture of A&G. Day in and day out, we are fueled by the desire to think bigger – push for impact and value exchange. It’s who we are on our best day and how we want to help our clients and brands emulate the same.
As marketers, we’re lucky. We have the platform to shape these stories and incent action. We can use our powers, our resources and our talents for good. Never has that message been more clear than it was at this first-ever, SXSL event.
So, let’s get to work.