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14 | Andrea Rosen, 99U: The Art of Curating Creativity

  • September 11, 2019
  • 38:42

Andrea Rosen (Head of 99U, Adobe) shares the history of 99U and how it has evolved over the years. She discusses curating creativity, balancing experience and substance, and some of the best ways to organize to-dos.

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Top Takeaways

1

CURATING CREATIVITY: A critical component of a successful event is credibility. Andrea caught Scott Belsky (co-founder of Behance) at an event and was struck by his ability to deliver his message to a crowd of creative professionals, without having a creative background himself.  This experience taught her that a lack of creative skills as an artist or designer doesn't preclude one from putting together extraordinary events for creative professionals. You can still be a curator of that creative space by organizing ideas, themes, and ultimately creating, “a forum for people.”

2

BALANCING EXPERIENCE AND SUBSTANCE: Andrea has seen a heightening of the event experience happening across the board, blurring the definition of events from professional conference to a social event and even stretching to a vacation. However, it’s important for an event to stay grounded in what brings attendees value. For Andrea this means, understanding "how to balance [experiences] with good content and substance.”

3

STAYING ORGANIZED: Event organizers are constantly juggling multiple tasks and Andrea is fascinated by all the ways people manage their time and stay productive. Andrea follows a more analog paper list for personal to-dos, but uses Google Docs for the 99U conference.

ABOUT Andrea Rosen

Having worked as a marketing director at a company that serves architectural creatives to leading press relations and social media marketing for a music festival, Andrea has a long career of working in marketing roles for creative audiences. She is passionate about curation and has an encyclopedic knowledge of trends, influencers, quotes, and events.

Episode Transcript

BRANDON:

Okay. 99U, it's an Adobe brand that is both an online career resource for creatives and it's also an annual conference. So to set the stage for today's conversation, could you tell us a little bit about 99U and your role there?

ANDREA:

Sure. So if you don't know the history of 99U it was actually founded by Scott Belsky, Matias Corea. Scott Belsky of course is also the founder of be Behance, which was acquired by Adobe, 99U got to come along with that acquisition in 2012. And Scott's idea for this initially had a lot to do with the research he was putting into his book, Making Ideas Happen, which is ... we see the outputs of what people are doing, entrepreneurs and creatives at events all the time and in the world all the time. But what's the process behind that? How do people clear the way for creative blocks? How do people stay productive? How do people ascend into leadership roles and get buy in for those ideas? So 99U really came out of that. There weren't a lot of events at the time that were showing the process and philosophy behind how people work at the time.

So Scott organized the conference first. The conference actually came before the editorial side of things, the website came after and Scott and our founding editor, Jocelyn Glei really brought this idea to life to a lot of enthusiasm. The conference is now going into its 12th year in 2020, a website came just behind that, so going into its 11th year and the original mission stays really pretty much the same. I'd say the big difference from early days is that we're now very much just focused on creative professionals and their careers and for us, that's the group that really needs the most in terms of resources. That's probably the area where things are the foggiest, there's not a lot of management trading for creative roles. If you're an independent creative, there are fewer resources like a Harvard business review where you can go and understand how other people are doing the work that they do. So 99U really tries to fill that.

And a lot of people know this story, we used to be called the 99% from the Thomas Edison quote, genius is 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration and that's really what we try to stay true to as well, focusing on what is the actual work behind what we do and not just inspirational content. The big difference being of course we changed the name because of occupy wall street, so famously we had to change our name. The U is something we get asked about a lot. What does the U stand for? Kind of informally stands for university. There was a point where our tagline was the missing curriculum, so that's always in the back of my mind as well. We're kind of in filling this missing curriculum that comes between people or maybe in university or another kind of formal education to being in the workplace. What are these things that we're missing that we only glean from talking to one another and getting those insights.

BRANDON:

Very cool. As the head of 99U, what does your day to day look like?

ANDREA:

It's never the same. It's a lot of organization. I joke a lot that those who can't do, organize. I keep lots and lots of spreadsheets to keep us on track, connect the dots between what we're doing with the editorial and the conference, but make sure that we're listening to what's going on in Adobe. There are so many different departments and products and people there who are listening very, very closely to different disciplines and able to really get that deep dive exposure to what people are doing in photography and graphic design and user experience design.

So I really help us connect those dots with what we do. My big focus is probably on the conference. I work with just a team of two other people full time and we have lots of people who come in and help us who are outside of the 99U team. But for right now the team is just myself, Mark Brooks, our wonderful creative and art director and Chrysanthe Tenentes, our head of editorial content who runs the website day to day. So I really do focus a lot on the conference myself. Make sure that we're charging ahead, things are moving along. I coordinate all the teams that go into that. I have lots of conversations throughout the year with potential speakers and partners and other people who help make it a reality.

BRANDON:

Cool. So you've been with 99U for roughly three years. How did you first land there and what was your journey like to becoming the head of 99U?

ANDREA:

So I've known 99U and the Behance team for a long time. I actually had Scott Belsky speak at an event in Chicago, I want to say 2010 or 2011 it was around when Making Ideas Happen came out and I just was always really won over by how insightful he was, how great he was at articulating his vision to an audience of creatives, not being formally a creative himself. And one of the things that I remember taking away from that was essentially if you are not feeling confident in a space but you're really interested in it, be a curator of that space, being an organizer of that space, put together a newsletter where you gather the best ideas, start a meetup where you can bring these people together and just creating a forum for people to have that kind of conversation to be able to gather together is really powerful.

So that stuck with me. I met my now manager and the current VP of community products, Will Allen at South by Southwest when I was probably 22, really young, when he was then working for TED and he and I stayed in touch. I kept an eye on Will and Scott and what the Behance and 99U brands were doing. I always kind of looked at the conference with envy when I was organizing other events to keep an eye on what they were doing. And as luck would have it, I was looking for a new role coming off of a marketing director position at a magazine based in London, 99U was looking for someone to run the conference and also work with Behance on some of their live experiences, so I reached out to Will and basically strong armed my way into the role and a couple of years later, wound up heading up the entirety of 99U, really just to better streamline the way that we work and the way that we do things.

BRANDON:

I'm really curious to learn what was your entry point into the world of events?

ANDREA:

I've been in marketing for a long time. I sort of fell into it. I graduated into the recession like a lot of people, I'm aging myself, like a lot of people my age did and at the time social media was new and the internet was still kind of in its nascent stages for media companies. Everyone was still figuring out exactly what they would do. So I landed my first full time job for way too little money, no benefits, heading up digital for an alternative weekly based in New York city. It's now dead, it's called the L Magazine. And at the time they were working on developing what they were envisioning as the South by Southwest of Brooklyn. They wanted to create a festival that incorporated music and film and culture and really brought people to one area of the city, which was North Brooklyn. So that comprised Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

At the time it was very different than it is now. There was no Apple store, there was no Whole Foods, so a lot of the businesses really welcomed it. Having that foot traffic and having that presence and tying all those neighborhoods together was a really exciting prospect. So it was called the Northside Festival, it's still going today. It's part of Northside Media is what the company's called now. So that was really my first exposure to what it looked like to work on an event with some scale and some following and some audience. My job, I don't know, it was social media and press relations, which why that was combined at the time was just because social media was so new and we kind of looked at it like being part of PR and yeah, it was a very exciting time. It was fun to be a part of.

It was great to, for me at least, work crazy hours, really be in the weeds with everybody and the satisfaction I think of having this finite entity, having an end point and to being able to evaluate it and these really clear quantitative and qualitative measurements was really satisfying to me. I really enjoyed that aspect of the job. I've worked with a range of different companies, media and technology and the through line has really been enabling creatives, whether its architects and interior designers, creative marketers, musicians and now graphic and UX designers to do what they do well and events have always been a really satisfying way to do that. I think it's very much appreciated when you create that space for people to physically get together and to have an experience and to be able to connect with one another.

BRANDON:

As you mentioned, you've been working in events for quite some time and you've also been working with a lot of organizations that have creatives as the primary audience. Now you've said that that is particularly rewarding. Could you tell us a little bit more about what you like about working with an audience of creatives?

ANDREA:

Yeah. Like I said, I think I would have been a creative in another life if I were born with a talent and the will to do it. I really just love being around creativity. I love being around beautiful work and I love getting insight into the process. It really demystifies it for me. It helps me get a better understanding of the world around me from just sitting with our art director and watching him work in Illustrator to getting to bring people to the stage and have them explain how they built a business like Illustrator, Adam J Kurtz who spoke last year or how they ideate around special projects.

We had the artist Christine Sun Kim speak with us last year as well about the process behind some of her pieces. She's now in the Whitney biennial and to get to go see her pieces at a museum and having heard her speak about her process and her work and how she balances being a parent, being a wife, and being a deaf woman with the work that she does, just brings it to a new level for me and just adds some weight to the way that I experience the world. So it's always very exciting to do.

BRANDON:

That's very cool. Okay, so we've talked about that 99U isn't your typical business event. It's not about product releases and it largely issues sponsorships. So that makes me wonder how does 99U fit into Adobe's larger business goals?

ANDREA:

So luckily Adobe has a really broad mission which is to empower creatives. In that sense it's more than just software. There are a lot of resources and touch points across Adobe that serve that mission beyond just the software that you probably know like Photoshop and InDesign and one of those facets is what's called the community products organization, which we sit under and Will Allen is the VP of and it includes resources like Behance, which is a free platform where creatives can publish their work, get exposure, connect with one another, Adobe Live, which is a live streaming channel that lives on Behance where people can see the process behind that work. And 99U and we probably cover the less fun and exciting and glamorous side of it, which is topics like finances and ascending into leadership roles and how to get buy in for your ideas if you're a creative.

But we're kind of filling out that aspect of it. I mean, you can go to design school and learn to do the work. You can be self-taught on, YouTube or a channel like Adobe Live. But we try to fill in those other aspects that go into a creative career. And in that sense, I think it's such a mitzvah that Adobe does for the community. We don't sell sponsorships, we don't sell advertising. It's pretty plain to say we're not a revenue generator for the company in that sense. But I think we really do help them make good on this mission to empower creatives by serving the content, by serving the conversations that we do. And with the exception of being in person in the conference, which is a ticketed event, everything else we do is absolutely free to engage with including the conference talks that we publish online following the event.

BRANDON:

So we sort of talked about how 99U is fulfilling more of a larger goal of empowering or providing the creative community with resources. And it sounds very much like a community building play there. Once the event is over, how do you evaluate the success of it?

ANDREA:

So success for us is fairly qualitative. We sell out the event every year and there are no plans to grow it. So for us, ticket sales are not an indicator of how well we're doing. In terms of what those metrics look like, we look at feedback for the most part, we look at audience feedback, we do a survey of course, like every other event, but I personally speak with probably hundreds of attendees in the run up to, at the conference, following the conference, some who attend every year. I got a DM from one of them today about our alumni presale, which is on now. So yeah, there are people who we have active conversations with. I mean their feedback means a lot. If they don't come, we don't have an event and if they don't feel there's value, they're not going to come back.

We also look to our speakers and partners for feedback. We want to make sure we're delivering value for everybody who spends their time with us, who offers up their knowledge and insights to our audience. I've taken a lot of speakers out for coffee and lunch after to make sure I understand what was the value for you in being here. Do we make good on that? And if we didn't, what can we be doing better? And we get feedback from people across Adobe as well. Like I said there are people who know some disciplines incredibly well. Photography and graphic design, drawing and painting. And I've conversations with them as well to make sure are we hitting these touchpoints, are we talking about the things that people who are in the market that you serve want to be talking about? And are we having honest, productive conversations about these things?

BRANDON:

99U first launched in 2009, how has it evolved since then?

ANDREA:

Yeah, so when 99U started, it was about half the size it is now, it used to take place at the New York Times Center. Now it takes place at Lincoln Center with their hub being Alice Tully Hall just on Broadway. So we did double in size when we move venues, we went from about 450, 500 people to a thousand, which is the audience size today. Beyond that, we stayed pretty true to our size and mission. There's still a very, very strong focus on the process behind the work that people do. I'd say the biggest shift has probably been that we focus exclusively on creative professionals now, whereas before it might have been a bit broader in range, but that said, we still have folks in the room who aren't classical creatives or people who have marketing roles like mine. People coming from communications backgrounds who might not necessarily place at this conference if you were to look at our marketing collateral, but they're interested in how these things happen.

They're interested in creative work. So we do serve still quite a broad audience. We don't identify as a design event. We really do identify as an event for creatives broadly. There's been a bit of a heightening of experience, as all events have have gone through. We had live music on the stage at Alice Tully Hall for the first time last year, which was an incredible experience. We had Merrill Garbus of Tune Yards do an acoustic set. We've been more thoughtful about the food that we bring in. I guess people are coming to expect that more but it's been a fun way to get to engage with lots of local restaurants and companies.

We also started doing what we call open studios, which is basically a night of open houses for 99U attendees across the city. We had studios like Pentagram and new Shake Shack headquarters, Bound paper company open up their studios and offices to the 99U audience. And there's an amazing shot from last year where we've got a group of attendees, were roaming through the Pentagram office having a conversation with Paula Scher at her desk. So it's a really special way for people to get more access to the city while they're in it. So in that sense we've really heightened the experience a lot for attendees, while still very much focusing on the substance of what we do.

BRANDON:

I'd love to hear your perspective on this trend in events of not only delivering stellar content and great speakers, but providing an overall experience that is part vacation and part business trip, part festival, all in one.

ANDREA:

Yeah, I mean, there's a heightening of experience across the board. I think there are events out there and I would put maybe something like Summit in this camp where there's this blurring of the line. Is it professional, is it social, is it a conference, is it a vacation? And across the board you're just seeing this ever heightening of the food that people are eating, the locales we're bringing people, the social events afterwards and I think great events right now understand how to balance that with good content and substance and some events are all experience right now. And ultimately the people who come to 99U at least, I can only speak for what we're doing, have to go back and justify the time away from their office, the cost for their ticket and their travel if they're coming from out of town, to themselves, to their employer, to their team, if they're a manager, and we really do respect that we're taking people out of their day to day work.

And for a lot of our audience, it's no small thing. These are not junior level employees, these are senior level employees and that time away is substantive and that costs, especially for those coming from abroad is also really substantive. So we take that really seriously. We aim to deliver great substance. It is not necessarily just about the experience, but the experience is very important too.

I think if we had the event at something like the Javits Center, it would feel like a very different experience. We have it at Lincoln Center intentionally. We have our closing party at MoMA every year, very intentionally. Being in these cultural hubs I think inspires people because they're in a creative environment, they're around creative work, they're around creative people, and our direction too, I think really brings that to life. Mark Brooks, our creative and art director is very thoughtful about the identity and the execution each year, nothing feels slapped together, nothing feels unintentional. Every piece that he produces from the badges you wear around the venue, to the program that you receive, to every little piece of paper, collateral feels very intentional and woven together in a way that I think helps heighten that experience for people too.

BRANDON:

So getting to that substance and to content. How do you go about curating talks that are going to be relevant for this large variety of audience members that attend?

ANDREA:

So the way that we work is we start looking really for the next year, about when we finalize the curation for the previous year. There are always these people who I just wish we had room for, but we don't necessarily, but I keep a big, big doc with all the speaker long list throughout the year. We get lots of recommendations from trusted friends, from people within Adobe, from past speakers, from audience members, and we look at those against the theme. We try to evaluate who's going to bring a unique perspective on this topic, how do we balance it with something else? And it's kind of a rolling basis. We do want to make sure we have a diverse array of perspectives.

And by diversity I don't mean necessarily just demographic diversity, but how do we get people coming from independent roles, to people coming from big in house roles with a lot of weight to them. How do we make sure that we're getting a range of career stages as well? And that often translates to age, it doesn't always necessarily translate to age. And how do we show kind of this big tableau for the year? So we look at it in totality. We actually announce all of our speakers at once in January because we do want people to see, this is the full roster and this is how we've thought about what conversations are important to have this year. So it's nice to show a full picture at that point.

BRANDON:

And what does that announcement look like?

ANDREA:

It's a big email of a lot of scrolling.

BRANDON:

Lot of scrolling.

ANDREA:

Lot of scrolling.

BRANDON:

Great. So one of the things you mentioned there was theme and I understand this is part of 99U to direct the conversation each year, the overarching conversation each year. Going into 2020 the theme is going to be around the creative self, the creative identity and what fuels it. Are we allowed to say that?

ANDREA:

Yeah absolutely.

BRANDON:

Okay. We can share it. Okay. What's the process like for you and your team for deciding on a theme?

ANDREA:

Well this year was easy because this theme was in contention for 2019, we went with something else, the creative future, in favor of it. So I knew that we would want to revisit it because there was a lot of excitement around this theme, which is the creative self. So if anything, this just had more time to marinate. We had more time to think about it. I had more time. What I do is I try out the language around a theme with people who I'm thinking about having speak, with friends of 99U, with personal friends and I kind of test out the language and see what's resonating with people, what's connecting with people. Is there something that I say that sparks an idea for people? So what we try to do is articulate what that means. It can be a little broad. Past themes include things like challenge everything and the creative future, as I mentioned.

So we try to get at the nut of what we're talking about when we talk about this theme. In terms of the creative self, what we're going to be looking at are different pillars of creative identity. If you separate yourself from your job description, if you separate yourself from the company you work for, especially if you work for a company like Bizzabo or an Adobe, it can be a lot of your identity. What we want people to do is think about what goes into being a creative person. How does mental health play into that? How does physical wellness play into that? Not wellness in a Goop way, but real physical wellness. Are you well at work? Is your work hurting you? If you're not physically well, are you able to bring your best self to work?

We're also going to look at themes like voice and purpose, which is something that I think so many people are struggling with today, especially when it comes to their work. And we'll be looking at things like creative blocks and biases and productivity and how you keep working at the pace that we all work at today, even when you feel tired, even when you feel uninspired. So it's a real mind and body look at what it means to be a creative person. We toyed with the idea of not even having company names on the name badges. I don't know if I can get away with that, but we really do want people to examine themselves as individuals and the context of next year's conference is something I'm really excited to dive into.

BRANDON:

I love that. I love first off, as somebody who identifies as at least being partially a creative, everything you said just then resonated so much with me.

ANDREA:

Oh great.

BRANDON: 

Second, I really appreciate this continued looking inward and seeing how the event itself can change.

ANDREA:

Yeah, we try to play with format, not too much, not so much it's jarring or feels like a different event or not what people expect, but that's my aim, especially for next year. I think if we're asking people to look at themselves as individuals, we also have to look at the conference and its identity and how we maybe play with that and how we stoke these conversations with people. So we've talked about everything from a group therapy breakout session, to doing something with mindfulness and meditation. So there are lots of ideas rolling around and it remains to be seen, which ones we'll actually go with, probably end up having to put company names on badges. But I think we're at a fun point right now where there are a lot of directions you can go with a professional conference and I think people are very open to the surprise and delight moments. So I'm really excited for next year.

BRANDON:

Got it. So 99U, it's a brand unto itself but it also is closely associated with everything Adobe. What's it like working with the rest of the organization and how do you work with your organization to put on 99U?

ANDREA:

So there's a lot of great collaborators throughout the company. We work, like I said, kind of like a startup within creative cloud because we've got to work so fast and on so much, there's just not a lot of time to ask permission. So they've been really wonderful to us in that sense that there's a lot of trust there to do what we do really well. But we work with a lot of other teams throughout the year. EW design team, the drawing and painting team looks at Adobe fonts, photography, Adobe Live, have all been really wonderful partners for us, when it comes to pulling off the conference at the height, we're able to do it. And they help on everything from speaker ideation, around the verticals that they specialize in, they know them better than anybody.

And they offer more of like the practice aspect of amid all of the career topics we're covering. One example is the Adobe design team brought with them last year, the artist Lisk Feng, who did live drawing at our opening party, which was just hypnotizing. And we did in this big beautiful space called the Caldwell Factory in Chelsea. We had this giant screen up and there were so many people who would just stop and watch Lisk draw, it was unbelievable and so beautiful, but also so exciting to see her process. We got to do that with the new Adobe Fresco app, so it was a bit of an Adobe test where people got to see this live demo of a new product, which was very exciting and only been seen previously at Adobe Max and we got to bring in an artist that we absolutely love, to show people how she does what she does.

BRANDON:

So 99U has a long history of working with an external events agency for the annual conference. Could you tell us a little bit about that production agency and what's your process working with them is like?

ANDREA:

Yeah, they're called Preview Events, created and run by the wonderful Nickey Frankel, our longtime partner, they predate me on the event. They predate a lot of our team. And they're really just a compliment to what we're able to do. So in that sense it's a really symbiotic partnership. We work with them year round and they really compliment our curation and creative direction with a lot of production know how, and they really ground us, I think, when we've got crazy ideas and they also push us too when we feel like something might not be possible or out of reach in terms of budget or staff. And they're really great solution finders. So we often come in with a lot of strange ideas and they're the ones who really, I think, bring us back down to earth and help us figure out how to make things happen.

BRANDON:

Okay. So another thing I'm curious about on this topic is that prior to working at 99U, I understand that you had not so much experience working with an external events team. Stepping into this role and working so closely with this organization that is doing great work, what's something that you found to be a valuable lesson or takeaway in your working relationship?

ANDREA:

Yeah, I worked for a lot of lean organizations, just did not have the resources to bring on an outside team. So I was used to doing a lot of it myself or with a head of events. So to have this team has been both a great privilege in terms of what I'm able to delegate, but also really hard because it's really hard to delegate, but it levels up the quality, like I said, it really allows us to focus on the content and they really focus on the production. So to be able to draw that line is incredibly helpful. I'm super involved with the way that the production comes together, but know that I'm not the expert, Preview really is. And similarly, they'll jump in and say things like, "We got a great response to this aspect of the experience last year, we'd like to figure out a way to bring it back." So they'll come at us with great content and curation ideas as well. So there's a terrific balance there and a lot of trust.

BRANDON:

Great. And in addition to working with this production agency, I understand that 99U also pulls in volunteers to work as well for the event. What was the decision like to bring in volunteers? Has that been with the event since its earliest days? Something that has been added on as the conference has grown and demand to be a part of it has grown?

ANDREA:

Yeah. That's been a part of the conference, I think since year one, it's something that we inherited when I joined the team in 2016. It's an interesting part of the experience, I have not worked with event volunteers before outside of a music festival, but it's a really interesting aspect. We tend to overstaff and we do so very intentionally, one volunteer might just have a couple of shifts because we want them to be able to take part in the event. It's why people volunteer, we understand that and we want to make sure it feels like a valuable experience to them and not just free labor.

But it's also a really wonderful aspect from a standpoint of staffing the event, it's such a different experience for attendees and for us. If you've ever worked with a staffing agency or if you've ever been at an event that's staffed with a staffing agency, you've probably encountered a lot of dour faces, a lot of people who just do not care what the event is, who you are or why we're all there and you don't get the level of enthusiasm you get with people who are really part of the team and want to be on the ground.

So we get this energy boost and we do this big volunteer orientation in the Adobe office down on Fifth Avenue every year, the weekend before the conference. And it is so much fun. At that point, I am so tired, I just want to curl up in a ball, but it's such an energy boost. We have all these amazing people come in, some of them fly in from places as far as Australia and they join us and we do two full days of this. We order bagels in the morning and pizza in the afternoon. We stuff gift bags, we put on music, we talk them through what the event is going to be like and to hear where they're all coming from and why they're interested in being there and what excites them is just such a wonderful, wonderful moment for me in terms of the planning.

And to have them on the ground is always just such a pleasure as well. So we truly cannot do the event that we do without them. So I do also want to make it worth their while by making sure they get to enjoy as much of the conference as possible and they really get to enjoy it at the after party, no volunteers on duty there, so it's just a really fun dance party for all these volunteers who have become friends over this week long period.

BRANDON:

I love that and it's very cool to hear how the people who are making the event happen, how you're able to enfold them into the experience and to really find working with them itself to be pretty gratifying and rewarding. Okay. So earlier in 2019 99U launched the first annual creative future report where you surveyed more than 3,600 members of your global creative community. One of the insights from that report is that most of your respondents believe that in person will be the preferred method of communication in the next five to 10 years. Given the means of communication available, we're talking email, video conferencing, phone, et cetera, why do you think in person is thought of so highly?

ANDREA:

Just less noise, I think, it is really hard to focus now. It's very hard to focus on everything that's coming in, I don't know about you but this time of year I am so behind on emails, I'm behind on Slack messages, I'm behind on everything and I think it's because the volume of noise just makes it really, really hard to stay engaged and to stay tuned in. In person feels very essential these days and I think it's a reason why people are not turning away from professional conferences and events. They seem to be attending more of them, more keep springing up. There is an appetite to be with other people in person.

I think smaller events are also becoming a trend. A lot of people I know and myself included are opting out of these giant conventions to go to more intimate events and gatherings. So I think that those person to person connections are becoming ever more valuable and it's hard to get in a space as noisy as Twitter and it's especially hard to get in a space as noisy as a giant convention. So small intimate events seem to be, I think, where a lot of the attention is going. I don't know if it means we'll shrink 99U at any point or try to do more offshoots of it, but that's a space I'm watching now and I'm really interested in.

BRANDON:

Okay. Another big takeaway from the survey is that 72% of respondents said that social impact will play an even bigger role in their work over the next five to 10 years. So how does the 99U conference currently address the conversation around social impact and are there any new initiatives that you were considering for 2020?

ANDREA:

Yeah, in terms of social impact, it feels urgent for obvious reasons, it feels important to talk about and it feels really foolish to overlook, but at the same time it's really challenging. I think it's a really personal thing. Which social causes you choose to support. And I think especially for companies, especially public companies, which social causes they support is also very politically charged. It's really driven by perception. So I think our aim in 2020 is not to focus on specific causes because we couldn't possibly cover everything that's important to 1000 people in the room, coming from six continents. We probably couldn't even cover everything that's important to our team.

But I think what's interesting is examining how people can make an impact in the work that they do, especially how creatives can have an impact in the work that they do. And looking at people who've made that happen. Is there somebody from within a large organization who's driven substantive change, is there someone who works independently, who's been able to successfully partner with a social cause and feel that they've had an impact and been effective in the work that they do. So we'll be examining a lot of those stories and I hope that no matter what social cause people feel is important to them, that they'll take some of those lessons with them and be able to apply it.

BRANDON:

Got it. I'd love to take a page out of the creative future report and pose a question to you. Budget, too many projects, not enough downtime, too much admin work, which presents the greatest challenge to your creativity and how do you navigate it?

ANDREA:

Probably admin work. There's a lot of it. We're a small team so we operate really lean. I am my own admin as is everybody else on our team. And yeah, it becomes a real slog and I think it does make it feel tough to get to the fun part of the job. But I get inspiration by getting out of the office. I attend as many other events as I'm able to. I'll be at XOXO Festival in Portland next week. I'll be at TED Women in December. I'm also hosting a meetup right now for other creative producers and events and in cultural spaces, so to get to hear from them is always really exciting and really invigorating. We don't often get to talk to one another. I had to schedule lots of coffees and lunches with people who I think are doing interesting work, who I want to have speak, who are great advisors to 99U and that's really what I think helps get me out of my head, especially when it comes to everything that goes into actually making the event happen, which is just a lot of spreadsheet updating.

BRANDON:

And what's the name of the meetup?

ANDREA:

It's called the creative producers breakfast. I'm not normally a morning person, but my two core organizers both have very young children, so a breakfast was what we decided on. So it's good, it pushes me to get up early every other month and make sure I'm able to be on at nine in the morning.

BRANDON:

I'd love to speak a little bit more about your perspectives on your career and leadership. Who's someone you look up to in events, marketing or business in general?

ANDREA:

There are a lot of peers who I look up to and there are people operating within the space that we're in who I'm just so interested in watching. And I put people like Tina Roth Eisenberg, she's the founder of Creative Mornings, in addition to lots of other creative businesses. I would put Amy McMillan and Andy Baio in that mix from XOXO, Charlie Melcher from Future of Storytelling, Audrey Gelman from The Wing, they're great at driving community and they're great at establishing this brand and experience that extends to everything that they do. So it's mostly people who are operating right now and doing exciting things right now who I probably watch the most, just because the space is changing so quickly.

BRANDON:

Great. And whether you're working with volunteers or you're working with members of the 99U team or working with your production agency, what have you, how would you describe the way that you manage your teams?

ANDREA:

It's really more of a partnership. I think everyone is an expert in what they do. Everyone is so good at what they do and so high functioning when it comes to that and so productive when it comes to that, the best thing I can do is just organize and then get out of everybody's way. So I bring everybody together. I make sure that we are all in tune with one another. But otherwise I just try to clear the brush as much as I can. I'm kind of a downer because I have to tell people we don't have enough budget for something really, really cool. For the most part, I see what I do as trying to find resources for the great ideas that come out of our team.

BRANDON:

Okay. And organization, it's a big part of what you do and your day to day. How do you manage your to do's?

ANDREA:

I did an article on this for 99U as well. I talked to some awesome people like the comedian Josh Gondelman, Stephanie Pereira, who runs the New Inc incubator at at the new museum. That was really enlightening. I'm fascinated by how people stay productive and manage to do lists, everybody does it differently. The funny thing about that is I feel like every woman I talked to was like, "Oh, I have a paper list." And every guy I talked to had an app that they were just trying out for that.

BRANDON:

Interesting.

ANDREA:

I'm a paper list person as well. For my personal to do's, I've got a grid pad that I have and basically I'll log my to do's for a certain day, if things roll over, I will be very aware of that, so it helps me make sure there's nothing that just keeps falling off the list, down and down. For the conference, overall, we've got a giant Google sheet. It's probably got, by the time of the conference rolls around, 75 different tabs for all the different aspects of the conference. I obsessively download backups of it just in case because it is our Bible. That's how we all stay on top of what's going on and make sure that we are doing things we need to do, we're all in tune, so Google Docs, please partner with us. We couldn't do it without you.

BRANDON:

Great. And you've had a long career in events, you've had a long career working in industries that cater to creative audiences. If you could go back earlier on and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be and why?

ANDREA:

I did a lot early in my career but I would say more side projects, save for not being able to sleep, are never a bad idea. I started an events collective with a couple of friends, in my early 20s we did lots of fun cultural events like an internet themed Halloween party called Hallow meme that went on for six years. In 2013 we did an art and design show in partnership with the I-Beam gallery, all around emoji and I would say I learned more from doing that than from any full time job I've had.

ANDREA:

I think having creative side projects gives you space where you can screw up, it gives you space where you can learn and it gives you a really wide reach too, being able to do as much as I did on those events gave me opportunity to learn different sides of the business in a way that I might not have in a full time role with a specific job description. So I would say my only regret is not taking on even more at that time when I had the energy and I had lots of friends who were willing to go out on weeknights more than they are now. So yeah, that's the best thing you can do, I think there's no better way to learn than to start your own projects and see where the self-initiated projects go.

BRANDON:

Excellent. Well thanks so much for chatting, Andrea. I really appreciate it.

ANDREA:

Thank you.