An Interview with Adweek Digital Editor Brian Morrissey

October 13, 2008

360i reached out to Adweek’s Brian Morrissey, one of our favorite journalists and Twitter celebs, to find out about the biggest story he’s ever covered, what he likes to write about and how he became famous on Twitter.

1. What kind of stories are the most fun for you to cover?

I always describe what I do as looking for innovative, effective ways companies are reaching consumers through digital channels. The stories I enjoy most are where companies are not so much using digital media as a new place to find people and target them with ads, but as a way to learn about their customers and improve what the company does. In many ways, this isn’t advertising, but I think companies need to look at how their brands are built in a wider view.

2. What stories have you covered lately that you think will still be important for advertisers six months or a year from now?

There are a few that stand out for different reasons. The story about agencies objecting to Google’s deal with Yahoo is important because it represents a fundamental unease with the power of Google. This has been building for a long time, and it’s finally coming to a head. Another was the new definition of creativity. I believe we’re seeing the idea of advertising creative redefined, not just in who gets credit for ideas but what constitutes an idea. In a world where brands are built from many micro-interactions, the definition of creativity will need to change. Third, I wrote about new ways Web 2.0 companies like Etsy, Threadless and Zappos are building their brands in ways that don’t rely much on advertising. As ads are put more places, there will be more powerful brands built by opting out of the system.

3. How did you get into Twitter, and with over 2,000 followers and over 5,000 posts, how did you become a Twitter celebrity?

Well, I tell my mom I’m Internet famous. She asks me, “What does that mean?” I got into Twitter a year or so ago out of curiosity. I had a girlfriend who lived far away, and we initially used it as an easy way to keep in touch sporadically during the day. It just built into something different. I certainly never planned to have so many people following my random thoughts and complaints. I appreciate it. It’s helped my job in many ways. Beyond just driving traffic to stories, it’s allowed me to explore new ways of spreading information while also building relationships little by little. It’s a lot like what I said about how brands are increasingly built on micro-interactions. It’s the same way with people.

4. What’s the biggest story you’ve covered in the last 12 months? How about 5 years?

As far as the last year or so, I’d go back to the stories I referenced in the ones with the most resonance. The most fun story I’ve ever written was in my first journalism job. I wrote for The Silicon Alley Reporter, a magazine covering soon-to-be-doomed dot-coms in New York. I was only there at the end of the bubble, but it was clear to me that things were going horribly awry. But there’s always that hangover where the people in it don’t realize it. I wrote a profile of the collapse of a company called that was very instructive. One of the well-meaning guys who founded the site as a place for people to vent their frustrations had a perfectly Web 2.0 rationale for its demise. He said. “Step one was build an audience. Step two was the business plan. We never got to step two.”

5. Adweek calls itself “the best advertising resource for advertisers,” but many big stories these days such as the rise of social media marketing and iPhone applications on their surface have little to do with advertising per se. How do you decide what counts as advertising?

What I do, and Adweek does, is broader than maybe the marketing copy reads. We want to cover great ideas that produce business results. Much of what I write about has nothing to do with creating or placing ads. Colleen DeCourcy, the chief digital officer at TBWA, summed up what’s going on very succinctly. She said, “Advertising has been all about objects. Now it’s about systems.” That’s so true. Those systems involved ads, yes, but they involve so many other things, including customer service and useful applications, that inform how companies connect with their customers. So I define “advertising” quite broadly to include lots of stuff that is decidedly not advertising in the strict sense. But since we’re not weekly anymore, maybe we shouldn’t drop the advertising part as well.