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Ignore this – Environmental Advocacy As Art

Art as advocacy

Innovative art is often described as a 'breath of fresh air.'

Beijing artist, Liang Kegang, has taken this concept to a new level with his latest piece – a sealed jar of clean air. The air collected in Provence, France sold for $860 at a Beijing art auction last month.

When asked about the work, Kegang was quoted saying the commodification of fresh air served, “to question China's foul air and express my dissatisfaction."

Dissatisfaction is an understatement when discussing much of China's air quality. Smog causes the premature death of roughly 350,000 to 500,000 Chinese citizens a year according to China’s former health minister, Chen Zhu. Last year Beijing’s air was on average about 10 times more polluted than levels considered healthy by the World Health Organization.

Kegang is one of a host of Chinese artists who’ve begun drawing international attention to China’s serious air pollution problem. While these particular eco-artists’ focus is on China, their simple yet effective messaging should translate globally.

Environmental art, like grassroots initiatives, illustrates that micro-programs and individual advocacy can be catalysts for lasting change. The concept we’re calling ‘eco-art’ demonstrates environmental innovation and stewardship can take root when they’re connected with an emotion or more personal experience.

We’ll continue to explore this interplay between art and clean tech over the coming month, isolating key messages to help drive public awareness and policy.

As a start, we have a rundown of some recent eco-art programs receiving global attention:

January 2014: Notorious Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei posts a picture of himself in a gas mask on Twitter to express his frustration with abysmal air quality.

February 2014: Twenty Beijing artists sporting gas masks play dead in front of the city’s popular Temple of Heaven Park.

March 2014: Artists in Changsha hold a mock funeral for what they imagined would be the death of the city’s last citizen due to smog.

March 30, 2014: Chengdu-based artist Li Yongzheng is the highest bidder for Liang Kegang’s jar of fresh air. The Chinese entrepreneur pays 5,250 yuan ($860) for the piece.

The intimate nature of these gestures reminds us of what is on the line, and it’s inherently shareable, lending itself nicely to proliferation in the social media sphere.

North American clean technology advocates can take notes from the passion and simplicity demonstrated by these Chinese artists, potentially tapping into their own creative messaging to craft statements that stick.

Produced by: Remi Dalton

*Note: Since publishing this blog, Ai Weiwei has developed a series of new eco-advocacy projects and recently posted a gallery site well-worth visiting at:

Thriving in the Land of Giants

Thriving in the Land of Giants

When it comes to ad industry mergers, the birth of Publicis Omnicom Group (ticker: OMC) is one for the history books.

Aside from the eye-popping $35 billion of projected revenues, it places Publicis CEO Maurice Levy and Omnicom CEO John Wren as co-CEOs of the world’s largest ad company.

While Levy and Wren enjoy the honeymoon glow of their corporate marriage, internal operations teams face months (if not years) of obstacles. The first challenges: resolving client conflicts and getting thousands of former competitive agencies to be one big happy family.

Those adjustments also come with consolidating disparate corporate strategies and potential C-level power struggles, all under intense, global scrutiny.

As WPP Group CEO Sir Martin Sorrell put it bluntly in a recent Bloomberg TV interview:

“There’s going to be considerable uncertainty over the next 30 months as both organizations struggle for control. There is no such thing as a merger of equals… there are only things such as acquisitions…it’s all a question about who’s going to run the company.”

No matter your stance on the big news, this is a watershed moment. Industry shifts will take place gradually, of course, but once the dust settles we’ll be looking at a very different landscape.

Client Conflicts and Frustration
As Sir Martin Sorrell explained on Bloomberg TV, “Clients and people will reassess their plans, reassess their arrangements and it’s a big organic opportunity for WPP.”

It’s not just WPP who stands to benefit, it’s agencies large and small. No matter how many assurances and high-end dinners Publicis Omnicom host, clients are not going to be happy.

Promises of big data, more global access, and better talent give way in the end to the harsh realities of higher rates, intensified bureaucracy and rising account conflicts. Take for instance Pepsi and Coca Cola, who suddenly find themselves under the same umbrella agency overnight. No amount of potential value will keep them from feeling uneasy or downright agitated.

As big-name brands review their options, brand executives may find themselves drawn to smaller shops for fresh ideas and more nimble operations.

Thinking Small
As the powerhouses slug it out for number one, regulators will be watching carefully and have the potential to create serious obstacles for major mergers in the future.

In the wake of regulatory pressure, smaller firms may gain ground. Free from archaic processes, layers of management and, let’s not forget Lotus Notes, boutique agencies have an opportunity to deliver larger projects more efficiently.

Thanks to a potential influx of quality talent looking to move, mid-sized firms can also boost their credibility and gain attention from larger clients previously out of reach.

Rifts and Talent Migration
Like tourists to lifeboats, skilled technical directors, creatives and higher-level leadership will be looking to jump ship. And, they’ll have their pick of places to land.

Competitors such as WPP and Havas will provide shiny lures to bring big-name talent into their camps. While smaller firms will serve up tantalizing opportunities for unfettered creativity, leadership and better work-life balance.

Amid these suitors, we’re bound to see a rise in spinoffs and small shops, as disenchanted VPs take business into their own hands. It’s been done before – take the leadership rift at Leo Burnett in 2012 – and executives may find the appeal of forging their own agencies too tempting to resist.

Whatever’s being offered, talent will be in high demand and amid the chaos many will find, or make, new homes.

What’s next?
It’s only been a week since the big announcement and so far no big moves have been made. One thing remains clear, however: we’re entering a new age. Complex. Disparate. Hyper-competitive.

We’ll be facing a host of new players – like Google and Facebook – jostling for power, and global clients hunting for new opportunities in their race to the top.

It’s survival of the fittest and the nimblest agencies may finally have the upper hand…

Published by: Gretchen Fitzgibbons

How to save the world in 5 minutes: pitching cleantech

How to save the world in 5 minutes: pitching cleantech

You’ve got 5 minutes to convince me you can save the planet. Oh, and save lots of money. All while mastering powerpoint. Now, go.

Ten startups gave it their best shot on Thursday at the Chicago Clean Energy Alliance’s cleantech pitch competition. Presenting to a panel of veteran investors and entrepreneurs, they entered the race to become a Global Cleantech Cluster Association-endorsed prospect.

What did we learn? Well, for starters, the wait could almost be over for seawater that desalinates itself (using wave technology). And stand by for the world’s usable gas reserves to leap 30%, thanks to a high-temperature combustion engine that could run on H2S. While you’re at it, throw a water canister in your trunk because you might soon be able to mix it with diesel for cleaner transportation.

The thinking was as grand as it was varied. But therein lies the challenge. How do you pitch such a big idea in such a short time? Speaking with audience members afterwards, this is what some of the presenters could have done better.

Start strong

Hit your audience between the eyes with the big benefit straight away and backfill the details later. Context is vitally important but don’t start with it. Find your hook and dangle it immediately to keep people wanting more. And keep it punchy; the phrase “elevator pitch” was invented before we could build half mile-high buildings. If you need to change the font size to fit your headline on a slide, that’s a bad sign.

Get your frames of reference right

Science units and business units are very different. Convert your hard metrics into language that VCs understand. More often than not, that’s $/foot, $/kW and $/day. If you don’t have all the financials together, then at least use layman measurements or analogy. That will also help when explaining your magic to journalists.

Be unremarkable

Yes, you need to be innovative and hold a patent but that’s about all. Other than that, it’s better if your technology doesn’t sound like it’s off the pages of a sci fi novel. Earth-shattering breakthroughs are really, really hard work and most people just don’t have the stomach for a paradigm shift. So yes, be enthused and by all means talk up the applications but understate the science if you can.

Keep it real

Admit what you don’t know. Investors are misled for a living. Only your spouse will be better at picking when you’re glossing over something. Better to concede any oversights in your plan and retain the audience’s trust for another day. Besides which, fallibility is human and the ability to admit it, endearingly so. It will make you likeable.

What’s the angle?

The technology’s cool and all, but where does it fit in today’s economy? Who are you selling it to and why will they break with the status quo to use it? It’s important to stay focused here. Even if there are dozens of applications, pick one and blow it out. Your selection criteria for that one application is simple—go for the lowest hanging fruit, where there are least barriers to implementation. This tells investors how close they are to their first revenues.

Let it slide

Slides don’t give presentations, people do. Dense slides compete for attention. An audience that’s frantically trying to make sense of your slide won’t be listening to you. Clean slides with fewer characters and bigger fonts will make the whole experience clearer and less fatiguing for the people you’re pitching.

What to learn more? Follow us twitter @yelloblu.

Posted by: Eammon Conaghan

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