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How Sundance Helped Me ...

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Based on back-of-the-envelope math, I figure I’ve worked with more than 1,000 client contacts over my career. That’s a lot of people, especially when you factor in that I’m a closet introvert (“solitude, where can I find a slice of solitude?”).

Yet, I don’t need a calculator to tell me that Wendy Zajack lands in the top-five list of best clients. Smart, a will to win and a sense of humor make for a good combination in communications. Add teamwork and listening skills that would make Yoda proud, and you’ve got an Agency team ready to bulldoze obstacles.

Today, students benefit from Wendy’s gifts. She’s faculty director and assistant professor at Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies with a focus on integrated marketing and design management (in communications). When I saw tweets from Wendy emanating from the Sundance Film Festival, I asked her to share her perspectives from a communications frame. You can find her on Twitter at @wendyzajack.

 


 

 

 

 

 

By Wendy Zajack

Faculty Director and Assistant Professor

Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies

 

Before I became a professor just a little over a year ago, I had a long career as a communicator and marketer. As I like to say now — my creative super power is being a word person. I spent the bulk of my career in business-to-business communications trying to explain extremely complex technology in simple, easy-to-understand ways. Not always the easiest thing to do when you are talking about Dense Wave Division Multiplexing. 🙂

When I went to the Sundance Film Festival this year in the usually sleepy town of Park City, Utah, I was just going for fun. I wanted to see some great films, enjoy the scene and have a good meal or two. I have no ties to the film industry and had no expectations or agenda.

 

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Since the entertainment industry was so seemingly unlike the world I lived in professionally, I wasn’t expecting to feel such a kinship with the directors, actors and producers, but I did.

After some of the films at Sundance they hold informal Q&As. It became clear that a director’s job is in part balancing the pressure from studios, funders, expectations of the cast and crew with a desire to deliver a powerful, clear message to audiences. This sounded eerily similar to the role many communicators balance year after year. Suddenly everywhere I went and looked I was seeing parallels, synergies and lessons that could be learned.

Since I am assuming that many of you were unable to go to Sundance (although I would highly recommend adding it to your bucket list), I will share my top three things that are ruminating around my head as I grudgingly make my way back to normal life:

1) The convergence of creativity is happening everywhere. Sundance was not only a film festival, it was also a mash-up of technology, film, music and brands. I went to an amazing showcase of three virtual reality short films. In a panel afterwards the directors and cinematographers talked about the promise and challenges of filming in this new format and drew parallels to the change in film from silent to sound. This is an art form just starting, and it too will depend on pioneers willing to take the leap.

2) We must explore new messaging formats and techniques. The marketing and communications industry we are a part of is undergoing a massive transformation — blurring the lines and the boundaries. We need to embrace this change, experiment and push beyond. As communicators we can expand our storytelling to different formats, to new channels and collaborate with our more classically artistic brethren to create. We cannot be afraid to try and fail. Instead of hunkering down in our safe industry spaces, we need to reach beyond, to learn, explore and to experiment. We can look to other places to show us how.

3) Communicators are artists too. I am not going to compare my professional body of work with some of the films I saw at Sundance, but I realized at its core the connection with an audience is absolutely the same. Filmmakers provoke, assure, entertain and use the entire spectrum of creativity — visuals, words, music — to bring about an emotion. Sound familiar?

 


 

I want to zero in on one of Wendy’s points — the need to experiment.

As a profession, we don’t experiment enough. It’s easy to blame the conservative nature of business for why we choose to play it safe. But I also think it’s up to us as communicators to show more guts.

Too often, we take on the characteristics of the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz”:

 

Cowardly Lion: All right, I’ll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I’ll tear them apart. I may not come out alive, but I’m going in there. There’s only one thing I want you fellows to do.

Tin Man and Scarecrow: What’s that?

Cowardly Lion: Talk me out of it!

 

In short, we should be pushing beyond the status quo.

That’s what artists do.


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