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Signal 2022 is almost here, our annual conference where we highlight the brands, leaders and startups that are transforming the innovative landscape. While speakers and sessions are still being developed, Managing Editor Lauren Barack asked Signal co-founders Stan Joosten and John Battelle to share some clues on what people could expect from the event and its theme, “Learn. Lead. Build.” One hint? A new hybrid model will launch, with a virtual morning session, a high-touch in-person event, and an Asia edition for the evening.

One thing is certain: the speakers and sessions will revolve around the four key topics that underscore Signal360, our online magazine. These include the State of Digital, which looks at the intersection of advertising and e-commerce to new consumer behavior. We’re also going to be building programming around Sustainability, from environmental practices to packaging, as well as Supply Chain innovations and looking at the new Employee Experience.

“This is a high-concept design,” says Joosten. “If we are the innovation conference, we might as well start with ourselves.”


Lauren Barack
Hi, everyone. Welcome to our Signal Conversation for May 2022. I’m Lauren Barack, the managing editor of Signal360. And I’m here with co-founders and co-editors in chief John Battelle and Stan Joosten. Welcome to you both.

Stan Joosten
Welcome, Lauren. And welcome on board as the new Signal360 Managing Editor. I know we have a whole plan of new and exciting stories for the next few months. So thank you already for getting out of the gate.

Well, I’m excited to get started. So I think we’re going to talk a little bit right now about the 11th annual Signal Conference, which has been announced. It’s been scheduled as a hybrid event in July in Cincinnati. And we have a theme, “Learn. Lead and Build.” I wanted to talk to both of you and see what does that mean for the conference this year? And how has the conference evolved over the last few years?

John Battelle
I’ll start. The process of coming up with a theme is something we start almost immediately after the conference ends. We started thinking about what would the theme be for the next year, but we can’t really set it until early the year of the conference. But this year, we did make something of a tone shift, if you will. Last year’s conference theme, for example, was ‘Always Learning, Always Leading.” And we went more direct and more imperative, if you will, by changing the form of the words, “Learn. Lead. Build.” The build part is obviously the most important and differentiating between this year and last year. It’s an attempt to inspire people to go do things with what they learn, and to be leaders and to go build things, which is a big theme for P&G this year.

To build on that, pun intended, we are going back to our roots a little bit because when we started the Signal Conference, it was intended to accelerate our journey into digital marketing at the time. We’re looking back to 2012. So this was a very focused conference at that point in time where we really deliberately wanted to light some fires and go do something. After a fantastic 10th anniversary, which we always say is like we did 15 hours of live TV programming, basically, right? With all kinds of great moments in there. We wanted to do what I had called a little bit, and I date myself, with a Signal Unplugged, which is like MTV. Eric Clapton is my idol there. But a little bit more, even more Signal than what we usually have, very deliberately on key focus areas. The focus is not on creating per se, that was the other nuance that we wanted to bring in creating means to do from scratch. But the other thing that many people inside of P&G realize is, we already know a lot. We already see some of the things and do some of the things that we want to push on. So were billed as even a double underlined, go do the things that we already know how to do, to a certain extent, and learn more about that. We don’t necessarily have to create new things from the very beginning.

How is this new hybrid structure going to work? And how are you going to program the event differently, because now we’re able to kind of go from all virtual to this flow between the two?

In some ways, organizing the Signal Conference has been a little bit of a microcosm. Everybody has been swimming in the last two year. We had to step on the brakes with all our preparation when COVID hit in March 2020 and say we’re not going to do it as in-person. It’s like, ‘Now what, right?’ And it took us a little while to discover that. People think now that we know how to do in-person, how do we do virtual and it is all easy to bring that all together. But it’s a whole new puzzle to solve, right? And every year there’s a little bit more of a puzzle, as in this one, what does hybrid really mean? We gained a lot of audience over the last two years to go back into an auditorium where the capacity is 400. We would be leaving lots of people behind, which we do not want to do right now. But we do want to create an impression from this because what we missed more than many of the other people are the connections that were made, little sparks outside of a conference center. We usually had the speaker dinner, and some interesting discussions took place there. So we want to bring some of that back, but not leave the audience behind in depth and adventure as well. We kind of split the bill here with an interesting connection point in the middle. 

The morning session is going to be fully virtual. And we’ll bring in all the audiences from where they were. We brought them in the afternoon, where we’re going to be in person. We’re going to be very deliberate about that, that’s going to be the high touch part of the conference. And then at night, we are going to repeat what we started two years ago in the Asia edition. There are many people in Asia who are looking forward to seeing and hearing Signal. It’s not easy for people to travel that far and not in the numbers that we’ve seen. So we want to definitely do that. And what we make the centerpiece is a physical place in the Geo, which is outside of the auditorium called the Rotunda, where we really want to make an event space where the virtual and the physical come together. That’s the high concept design. Now we’ll see whether it works, which is always a bit of a gamble, when you try something new. But if we are at the innovation conference, we might as well start with ourselves.

A 100%. It’s a challenge that is really interesting to take on. Even when you’re programming elements that are entirely virtual, you want to imagine how a in-person crowd might respond to that. And vice versa. If you’re doing something in-person, you want to think about how it plays and is received by people who are online, half a world away. So I think we’ve done all of this in pieces, but we’re all pulling it together. I think the program that Stan laid out, which you really have to give a lot of credit to our partner, Stacey for imagining is going to be a great day. It’s going to be a very long and full day, starting early in the morning, late ending late at night. But one full day of a hybrid programming environment. I’m really excited about it. And I can’t tell you how excited I am to be on premise with speakers there with an audience there. And that wonderful Rotunda kind of lit up as the central discussion and engagement hub for the whole thing.

Is there any insight we can hear about? A hint of like some of the topics or the content areas, we’re going to be talking about conference?

We certainly have our four key pillars, if you will, the topic areas that we’re focused on, which are the exact same topic areas that we’re focused on for Signal 360, for the publication that you run, Lauren. We’re in the very middle of identifying and recruiting all the speakers who will speak to those key topics. So I think what we can certainly do is tell you what those topics are. I’ll take a couple of stand, you can take a couple. The first is what Stan referred to. We began as a digital conference, we’ve always discussed the near present, and any innovations in digital that might be here now unevenly distributed. So the state of digital is one of our key pillars, and that crosses a lot of different subtopics, including where are we in advertising marketing, where are we in e-commerce? What are the implications of new consumer behaviors that are emerging in digital? What are really interesting companies in this space that might have a significant impact on on our business going forward? So that’s the state of digital. 

Another really important key pillar, and this really broke through last year in the conference, is sustainability and environmental sustainability. And how does a large company innovate in packaging in supply chain? How it works with its vendors to eliminate waste to reduce water use, and try to hit some pretty big goals in terms of the shift in how we all do business? So, state of digital and sustainability first two pillars, and I’ll let you take it from here.

By the way, all these elements collide in very interesting ways, like environmental sustainability and supply chain reinvention. So I think we’re still in the midst of learning how we have assumed that things in supply chain work, right. And when they don’t, they don’t. We are now in the midst of reinventing how we can make them more robust, resilient. It’s really dramatic change that is shaping the world and it meets digital in many ways it meets environmental concerns. It meets geopolitical concerns. So never has supply chain been so at the center of innovation in my lifetime at least. It deserves the focus that we will give it at the conference. It is not an area where we can just assume it works anymore. So the best companies that will move forward will lead in reinventing supply chain, it will also lead to dramatic re-adventures of consumer experiences. Last mile has always been a prominent topic. 

The last one, but certainly not the least, is in this day and age where we’ve just recently done an article about ‘The Great Resignation,’ as it was dubbed, how can a company be attractive to people to work there? What we would call a superior employee experiences. And what it turns out, it is so much more than just compensation. Actually, I’m proud to say that we play a little role at P&G with Signal in that as well, because very few companies can pull off what we do with Signal in a way that people can learn collectively and have these discussions with so many parties in the outside. So we provide even some value in that. But what else is there that attracts and retains the talent that a company needs the caliber of P&G and many others. But let me turn the tables a little bit what what topics are you most excited about that we can bring to the fore especially you’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to the editorial planning for Signal360? What would you like to see spill over from those plans into the signal conference?

I think besides the Metaverse, Web3, I think I really do want to hear quite a bit more about supply chain and the link between that and environmental sustainability. I think those are going to be two important areas for us at Signal360 coming up for the year. Also, I just thin altruistically, those are important focuses for us, as you know, as on the Earth. So I’m going to be excited to hear about some innovation on those fronts. The last, I know we just did that piece on The Great Resignation. But I don’t think we’re anywhere, outside of hearing about that for probably at least a year or two, about employees, what their wants are, really transforming the workplace and transforming companies. And that’s definitely a big shift in how companies have to respond to that. I’m kind of excited to hear about all that. I mean, I’m literally excited to hear about everything. So I think those areas in particular will be great for people who are attending the conference. But they’re going to be particularly fascinating for us, at Signal360, for us to be talking about that and sharing that with everybody as well.

I think you’ll get a lot of really good ideas from the speakers. And the folks that we have confirmed, many of them are going to speak directly to those topics. I would say almost all of them, as Stan pointed out earlier, are going to cross three or four of the pillars and be able to speak to the employee experience, to state of digital, to sustainability and to the supply chain. So all four topics are very connected.

Well I’m definitely excited to hear about how this is all going to come together and to see the program when we finally get a chance to see it. I just want to hear some last details I think everybody listening is going to want to actually know how can they register? And can people still submit speaker or topic suggestions if they’d like?

Sure let me start with the registration part and John can fill in the speaker and topic side so registration will officially start June the first and all subscribers of Signal360 will automatically be included in the invites for the virtual portion of the program. The in-person program is focused on P&G employees who are based in Cincinnati some others can fly in of course as well. And yeah the virtual session at night also is open to everybody to visit Signal360 Subscribe to follow.

And then we are absolutely open to as many ideas as people care to give us there’s going to be a point at which we have to close the program and get it all ready for pre-production and then production. But please send us as many ideas as you can.

Well, thanks for filling us in on the conference. if you haven’t yet signed up for our newsletter at Signal360 and take a look at we’re going to have some great stories coming out at our next issue. So thanks, everyone. Thank you.

Great. See you all on July 13.