Forget Kanye! How James Andrews (Key Influencer) & Ogilvy Made Me The Taylor Swift of SXSW Interactive

Think about how legislation like DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) has a title that can be misconstrued. Labels can attract powerful connections. When they are misused confusion can result. Such was the case with the event titled “Blacks In Tech” held the first evening of SXSW Interactive Conference.  It was not only all fluff and offered zero substance, but worse the response showed an utter lack of respect for individuals attending SXSW who would be dismissed as unimportant by the so-called Social Media VIPs. At a conference which is often chided for its lack of diversity, I was surprised to find myself under assault at an event that was hyped as a “safe space” for people like me.

People spend a lot of money and put resources to attend SXSW with limited time in attending events. While there is nothing wrong with a multi-cultural focus had the organizer been more forthcoming about the details of Blacks In Tech it was unlikely to have had a majority African-American female audience in attendance. I went with reservations but observed the event before rendering a final judgment. I waited patiently for nearly 15 minutes to speak during the Q&A session that followed. I addressed the moderator, Jeffrey L. Bowman, a Partner at Ogilvy & Mather’s Consulting Practice directly about my concerns. Specifically, I asked how such an event that had been billed as part of a Blacks In Tech initiative featured a panelist who consistently named-dropped specific male record executives as people to emulate when they had actively promoted music that denigrated black women – to an audience that was a majority of black women.

I also questioned the inclusion of non-blacks on the panel who had not specifically addressed any initiatives that would be of direct benefit to blacks. I asked where was the respect for black people in their body of work or were they more interested in selling an approximation of blackness to white companies? I wanted to know if pushing sneakers was more important than offering tools of empowerment? Clearly when I urged people to be critical thinkers what I’d said hit home for I received a lot of verbal cues (amens and hand claps) during my question/comment.

There had clearly been no standards set for participation by the organizer of this event which was insulting to the audience and a waste of time that could have been better spent elsewhere. If fame and money were the only standards of success listed where would that leave the soul of the community and those individuals without such a limited definition of success? While I doubted we’d agree on all points introduced I thanked the panel and audience for listening. Mr. Bowman recalled me to the microphone to respond. This was when one panelist in particular, James Andrews, Partner at Everywhere took issue with my continued participation, stood up and began yelling at me from the stage where the panel sat. I thought he might leap from the stage to actually hit me! This derailed the entire exchange.

Despite the unpleasantness I received a majority positive feedback from those in attendance and assurances from Mr. Bowman that all was well. Not that anyone else’s opinion about what I’d said mattered to me for I had introduced serious topics into what had been an unstructured and lightweight conversation. I assumed everyone would go their separate ways and move on to the next events at the conference. I was mistaken. The next morning Andrews proceeded to write a blog post attacking me personally and resending it via Twitter every 2 hours for the next two days using his @KeyInfluencer account. All the while he was hosting events for companies like PGi honoring Women In Tech (who were ALL white women) he felt free to attack a black woman’s character for voicing an opinion he didn’t approve of. Mr. Andrews attempted to describe my question as a “Kanye” moment. He was right – but he pulled a Kanye not I. I was Taylor Swift attempting to enjoy my first SXSW and he was the boorish, self-centered narcissist who insisted everyone listen to him.

One might wonder what else I’d said that would garner such a response. Ask Ogilvy – for they also participated in the slander by resending his links and agreeing. The Blacks In Tech event had been recorded and simulcast on UStream. Since they’ve pulled the content no one has actually been able to listen to the the event in its entirety. It further proves the impact of my statement. Others have only heard the deliberate misrepresentation of my statement by disgruntled people with an agenda of obfuscation. I expect a Partner at a major advertising agency to know full well how to manipulate language to evoke certain emotions and imagery.

The expectations for hosting a successful event held during one of the biggest Interactive conferences in the United States would be high. It wasn’t well-thought out or executed, however. This was more than a case of incompetence. It was an example of complete apathy. From the selection of an out-of-the-way venue where attendees were left stranded to the misrepresentation of its purpose the event was designed to encourage participation by blacks so it appeared to be successful to third parties. With the catch phrase of the evening being “keep it sexy” this event had nothing to do with black people or technology and offered little of substance. Instead, it was one long promotion of consumerism (black people like to look fly!) and unrelated segues that keep people misinformed and underutilizes their potential.

The bottom line is the intended suggestion for how such an event could have been useful in discussing current conditions within impacted segments of the black community was never considered. Neither Andrews nor Bowman understand OR respect the audience they are selling to others as being “experts” of. From high unemployment to lack of educational resources, the use of technology and availability of low-cost broadband access can lift groups out of poverty. Children in disenfranchised communities may have vital skill sets that will go undeveloped and unrecognized from lack of exposure and nurturing. Are we going to be pushed further into consumer-based slavery or will we be masters of our own destiny? There are numerous examples of successful corporate campaigns that were mutually beneficial and reciprocated in kind. This event offered no such discussion or evaluation.

It’s ironic how technology that’s supposed to empower others has been used to deny First Amendment rights. Stating that someone is mentally unstable and saying derogatory things about their appearance is not the behavior of a professional. How does someone who claims to be a Social Media expert allow themselves to become so unhinged so easily? Why is Ogilvy hiding the Q&A session? The appalling nature of the behavior of James Andrews and Ogilvy should be self-evident, especially since Andrews has previously shown poor online impulse control when he ridiculed the city of Memphis, TN on the way to giving a training in use of Social Media while under employ at Ketchum New York for client Federal Express via Twitter.

In a strange twist of fate their actions offer the perfect example of the problems that were highlighted.

15 Replies to “Forget Kanye! How James Andrews (Key Influencer) & Ogilvy Made Me The Taylor Swift of SXSW Interactive”

  1. It would be unfair to discount the importance of even having the panel in the first place.So a "thank you" is in order for that piece of this puzzle to the panel host

    At this point, the SXSW event is water under the bridge. There's plenty to be done for improving the event such that there is a real, useful dialogue about blacks in technology.

    Maybe that's something a group of us should work on for next year

    The other part to this picture is that there will need to be new media outlets tasked with or having a affinity to specifically reporting on new tech ventures founded by and/or employing POC's especially blacks and latinos (for me that's important as I am from California, increasingly, as our brown brothers and sisters go, so goes the state).

    In the mean time I recommend folks monitor Venture Beat and Tech Crunch and Valley Wag. That's what I do to see what's going on..

    Vaya con dios

    1. Actually the Blacks In Tech is the sole initiative of Jeffrey L Bowman of Ogilvy that had nothing to do with SXSW. Apparently there's been minimal movement in New York for meetings of some sort but he doesn't maintain a regular presence of engagement with people in the tech/social communities except for a last minute scramble effort before a headline grabbing moment. There is nothing stopping anyone else from putting together an event with or without his participation. I'd like to see others take the initiative to do so. No one group needs to have a monopoly of events ready for our participation. It was my understanding the Latino-based tech event did not have the participation of non-Latino blacks or African-Americans so that is something to consider as well. The host of the event did nothing to earn a thank you as I've clearly highlighted had a plan of subterfuge amd misdirection and will not be receiving one from me. Now that you've been updated you may act accordingly.

      1. No, no one group should monopolize. On the other-hand, having access to events like SXSWi is laudable, that's as far as my thank you goes.Squandering the opportunity as was done is not…

        My question for you is weather or not you are interested in being part of the solution for a better "forum" ?

        Either way, I'll see you at BwB, modulo work getting out of hand

  2. I wasn't at SXSWi but followed the aftermath on tweeter. It's hard to tell whether how you interjected your opinions was appropriate or not. Your recount of the events, as is to be expected, are quite different from what dude droned on and on about on twitter, and to be honest, the fact that he droned on and on about it was kind of pathetic.

    Sounds like if the panel had been on point you wouldn't have had the issues you had…

    But that's not why I am writing…

    I too found the panel discussion (given that the topic/content was reported on twitter somewhat) curious beings that I am in hi-tech, work in Silicon valley as a chip designer/verification engineer and can count on two hands and one foot the number of black and/or brown (black and/or latino brothers and sisters) folk in technology I have personally worked with and I don't mean marketing. Hmm, where were the POC's from Facebook, Google, Foursquare Gowalla etc………

    So when I see these panels and there is nary a soul from the valley and/or the product development ranks I start to wonder.

    Where were the the product developers on this panel. did they not know any. It's a shame because devs would be as equally qualified to comment on "blacks in technology", at least as well as the suits who seem to always want to do so.

    Maybe a REAL working session on "Blacks In Technology" with developers and marketeers alike is in order. I dunno if you are going to attend the BwB (Brown While Blogging) conference in June but if so, we could talk there in person as I plan on attending

    FWIW,my current hot button is the lack of color in the VC (Venture Capital) community…It's a long complex conversation and it's not all "their" fault/conspiracy. Nonetheless, we ain't part of that club in a large way…

    I look forward to further discussion with you and others..

    1. Paul --

      Thank you for your reply. There were in fact numerous people in the audience who had the background you just discussed who could have offered something of substance to that pathetic event. What I've actually found even more interesting are the highly regarded professionals who chose to not attend in the first place and I'd love to ask them if they knew beforehand what a waste it was going to be. While I've chosen to respond to the outlandish and unacceptable behavior of the host and panelist that was the core issue I was originally addressing when I was there. Had this Partner at a major ad agency been seriously interested in providing an engaging program he would have. So as I've stated it is either his incompetance or his apathy that he allowed to take over by insulting those of us who could have been elsewhere but took the time to support Blacks In Tech. It should have been called Mishmash of Mediocrity instead. I will be attending Blogging While Brown and will gladly speak with you further in person.

  3. Oh wow, Faith

    I'm really sorry to hear that happened. You are asking all the right questions, and thank you for doing so.

    1. Thanks Anna -- Still dealing with the trolls who are coming here pretending to offer sympathy while trying to deposit their vomit as you see…..

  4. I love it. Thanks so much for standing up again the misrepresentation of blacks and in particular black women. The facilitators of the event remind me of the phrase, "I've made up my mind. Don't confuse me with the facts."

    1. Thanks Penny -- Yes the know it alls apparently know it all so how dare I point out the glaringly obvious flaws. But then I'm just some little blogger so I'm not supposed to notice the Emperors Have No Clothes…

    1. Yes P the DBRs really ARE everywhere and they cannot contain their dysfunction even for one evening!

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