Old School Meets New School at Techweek Chicago

by Blagica Bottigliero

Last week, the Merchandise Mart was aflutter with Techweek activity. Sponsored by Motorola Mobility, Techweek Chicago took over the 8th floor of the Mart. Everything you’d expect from a typical conference was there: table displays, giveaways, demos, start-up evangelism, panel sessions, VIP lounge, beer tasting, etc.

I’m not going to go table by table and provide a breakdown of the next up and coming startup or the technology I didn’t fully understand. This post is about the welcomed trend that continues to be on the rise in Chicago – old school digital meeting new school startups.

I first noticed this trend when I came back to the entrepreneurial side of things.  As soon as my time ended with Motorola, my phone began to ring and my email began to blow up with companies looking for deep digital talent. I thought it was a corporate thing as the bulk of the job leads, project inquiries and talent questions came from the Big Agencies and the Large Corporations.  That soon changed.

Soon, the inquiries came in from startups and their investors. Many of them are either aware or becoming aware of the deeper, strategic digital marketing prowess needed to take an idea to a profitable level.

Take BrightTag, for example. Founded by some ‘old school’ digital folks including Eric Lunt and Mike Sands, BrightTag is an established member of the Chicago startup scene, but is operating with a deep, experienced bench. They recently brought on Tony Bombacino to head up marketing. Tony is another old school digital person.

As Centro’s Shawn Riegsecker described, the senior marketing talent in the city is dwindling. I agree with him to an extent – I think many members of the Old School Digital Talent Pool are either a) not as familiar with the startup/new company opportunities b) accustom to working for large agencies or big brands c) don’t want to take a chance on smaller companies.

The good news here is that companies big and small are in need of seasoned people who understand the way to market online. A specific niche that is need of talent to come out of the woodwork? eCommerce. I met with a few execs in the last few weeks who are desperate for people who understand the eCommerce space – both digital marketing and social media.  

Which brings me to a surprising addition to Techweek’s startup roster. Jenny McCarthy joined the crew at Snip.ps. Snip.ps is a technology that is reminiscent of my early ad serving days – with a social twist.  Consumers can use the technology to shorten a URL, but the twist here is that an interstitial ad appears before the content. The interstitial is independent of the “snipped” website– the ad is merely a precursor to the content. Users who use the Snip.ps technology as a URL shortener get paid when the ad serves an impression.

Does the action sound familiar? It did to me. It reminded me of the endless amounts of Orbitz popunders I served. The gray area here is whether or not the snipper needs to disclose the paid ad component with every snip. The user isn’t promoting a brand or service, but clicking the URL triggers the ad, which pays the user.  Similar ideas exist in the marketplace, like CentUp, but I haven’t seen something this interstitial model.  

Jenny McCarthy liked the idea so much, she decided to join the Snip.ps crew and help promote the technology. Jenny uses the shortener for her own content appearing the Sun-Times' Splash blog. She’s also a fan of bloggers and other content providers getting a piece of the click action with a potential to receive revenue. I had a chance to chat with Jenny, get her POV on tech and discuss a few future projects (stay tuned for updates.)

Between seeing techies from yesteryear mentoring the new crop of startups to ‘Singled Out’ host Jenny McCarthy joining the tech scene, my main takeaway from Techweek was this: mixing old and new is the new black.