From the Co-Creator of PalinAsPresident.com
Forrest Bolelyn – a VCU Brandcenter alum and TBWA Youngblood writer, flew to Richmond today to chat about how & why he built a site that garnered over 12 million hits that literally made him famous overnight.
I. On the abuse of the word “viral”
Sure, PalinAsPresident.com has lost momentum since the election is over, but Forrest served us some timely points for anyone else that is ready-to-roundhouse-kick the next person that says “Let’s make a viral video.”
(yes, there are still clients, even creative directors that say things like ” let’s just make a viral video- kids love that shit.”)
I mention making a “viral video,” because Forrest pointed out you can’t make viral, it’s something that (might) happen. He said: “Just make something. Only if it’s good, will it go viral. And it’s only going to be good if you’re passionate about it.” That passion HAS TO be understood by the viewer for them to want to spread the link for you.
II. Who Are You Outside Of Your Job?
PalinAsPresident.com was something he did on his own time. It’s wasn’t a Pencil, a Lion or a Clio that made him famous.
To that point, Forrest attributed a quote from a Brandcenter professor that stuck with him after graduating:
“Don’t rely on advertising to get your creative knocks off.”
– Professor Charles Hall
So to anyone that got hired at an agency not because of their book-O-ads, but because they made a crazy little film, an exhibit, or created something out of passion rather than an assignment- cheers to you.
PalinAsPresident started as a conversation between him and Steve Yee (now at David & Goliath). They were discussing the Matt Damon Rips Sarah Palin interview:
They knew they Had To Do Something to get people talking about the fact that a hockey mom could very likely be the one to run our country.
They weren’t trying to get famous, or monetize anything. They just wanted to show what they believed in.
And look what happened… They were covered by CNN, Washington Post, the site was viewed in over 100 countries, it blew up in the blogosphere, and the night after it went live, they had half a million hits in about 12 hours.
III. If you really believe, push through failure.
Initially, they designed a poster of PalinAsPresident, and sent it to their friends + family thinking it would take off. It didn’t.
Undeterred by an initial flop, they believed in their idea. They called on Sean Olenkamp to help them turn the idea into something interactive but still simple. Hence PalinAsPresident.com
Forrest quoted The Mark Fenske “A website should be simple, simple, simple. You click on something and something happens. You click on another thing, and something different happens.” Simple. Simple. Simple.” So Forrest, Steve, and Sean rejected any flashy website tricks to keep the focus on the core idea. There’s another lesson: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
IV. If you really believe, you’re ok with the fact that the payoff comes later
Someone asked if they considered monetizing the site. Much like everyone is trying oh so hard to monetize Facebook & Twitter etc.
Of course Forrest and the guys talked about it- but money didn’t drive them to put their idea out into the world. A friend calculated that even if they would have placed just one ad on the site- it would have garnered at least $25,000.
But any ad would have taken attention away from their idea. Instead, the “reward” came later in the form of promotions, raises, offers, the attention and appreciation of the public.
They made a name for themselves instead of making money.
V. YoungBloods, Young Guns, Future Gold, Future Lions… The Future is Us. Now.
I love the success stories where the idea-originator is in their early 20s. The idea of people not waiting until “they’re established,” with promotions under their belt or being that “Someone YOU’VE GOTTA Meet” at a cocktail party, to hold them back from belting out a good idea when they feel it.
People always say “Good Ideas Come from Anywhere,” but I feel like we tend to overlook that that includes “Good Ideas can come from any Age.”
Ignacio was a junior when he founded I Have An Idea.org
Forrest is about 26.
And Francisco Hui, 24, started the Peer Scholarship that Brendan Watson recently profiled here http://www.ihaveanidea.org/blogs/academia/2126/Ad+school+grad+finances+new+scholarship.html
Francisco’s story & idea is brilliant. He recently got his job in advertising in NY, and knows it’s not easy getting money to fund your ambitions. He donated $500 of his own cash in the form of a scholarship for undergraduates. He’s in the process of opening it up to other young people “that don’t have a lot to give,” but when you combine 20 people you know pitching in $5, that’s a $100 opportunity tagged with the realization that someone doesn’t have to know you to still believe in what you can do.
We’re all in this together; juniors, seniors, artists & number-crunchers. There’s a lot of work to be done to reorganize the aftermath of “broken models,” discarded 1.0, 2.0, 2.2 versions, convergence and other such buzz-phrases. It’s great to know that hungry juniors are successfully doing their part to clean up some of the chaos. I’ve got some catching up and contributing to do 😉