>> Thursday, April 22, 2010

The 140 Character Conference—the "largest worldwide gathering of people interested in the effects of the real-time internet"—took place April 20 and 21 here in New York. Unlike many other conferences, the #140conf (as it's tagged) is built around our short attention spans and the pithy, "bite-sized" nature of Twitter, limiting speakers to about 15 minutes on stage and jamming more than 70 sessions in over two days.

While a day full of meetings prevented me from attending live until Tuesday afternoon, I was able to follow the buzz on Twitter, follow live via Ustream, and watch archived video of any of the presenters (a few of my favorites were Ann Curry, Gary Vaynerchuk, and MC Hammer). The sessions that I did catch left me with a few interesting thoughts to consider, especially as I think about our clients and how social media can help transform our idea of wellness.

One in particular is an idea called "Co-opetition"—that businesses which normally compete with each other can find ways to cooperate that are mutually beneficial. This was brought to life by Alf LaMont, who is responsible for marketing and development at The Comedy Store, on the Sunset Strip in LA. Like most local businesses, The Comedy Store competes with other local venues (The Roxy, The Viper Room, etc...), for their share of foot traffic and discretionary dollars that are spent in the neighborhood (do I go have a beer while watching a comedy show? or while listening to live music?).

Then in the mid-to-late 2000's things changed ("the regulars" got older, rents increased, people went elsewhere, and worst of all, the economy took a nose dive) and everyone found themselves fighting a new enemy: an overall decline in revenue and sales that was forcing their neighbors to close their doors and applying pressure on all of them to survive. Rather than look internally at ways they could independently weather this storm, venues like The Comedy Store looked externally, found common ground with their competitors, and took action so that they would all benefit.

Realizing that a healthy block was good for everyone (as they say, a rising tide lifts all boats), the venues on The Strip saw that by raising the overall value of the neighborhood, it would become a much more desirable and fun place to come to in the first place. Through joint efforts on social platforms like Twitter, they promoted each other (not just themselves), leveraged each other's followers, and were able to organize local events (a "Tweet-crawl" through everyone's location, a music festival). Life returned to the neighborhood and the businesses are still around to talk about it. In Art's words it's "the ascent of a community-based model and the descent of a corporate model."

This, of course, got me thinking about our clients and if there was an opportunity to replicate something like this. Could, say, competitive brands from different pharmaceutical companies work together to create something like a compliance and persistency program? Wouldn't it be better for them to pool their resources to create comprehensive diet/lifestyle/wellness content that they could all take advantage of (and therefore invest the savings in other areas), than for them all to bear the cost of creating practically the exact same thing? Programs like the Partnership for Prescription Assistance get close to this, but it seems like there is an opportunity for more (as counter-intuitive as it may sound).

Whatever the outcome may be, we can all benefit by looking outside our own four walls to find potential solutions. What happened in LA is the perfect example—they built a community that is stronger through co-opetition than it ever could have been if it was done by one of them alone.


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