The 12th Annual Signal Summit opens July 12. P&G’s annual conference examines the leaders, companies, and few start-ups at the intersection of innovation and action. The Signal Summit has always attracted some of the more transformative companies and figures to its stage, from Walmart’s CEO Doug McMillon to Instacart’s CEO Fidji Simo. Attendees can expect more of the same whether they’re coming to Cincinnati or tuning in virtually, to hear from Jeremy Gorman, president of advertising with Netflix, Kroger’s CIO Yael Cosset, Accenture’s Chair and CEO Julie Sweet along with other exciting founders, leaders, and brands.
Signal360 Managing editor Lauren Barack caught up with co-founders Stan Joosten and John Battelle to ask them about the stories we can expect to hear on stage, and some insight behind this year’s theme, Reset the Bar.
You can hear more from Battelle and Joosten in the conversation, sign up for additional details about the 12th Annual Signal Summit below, or read our lightly-edited transcript.
Welcome to our Signal360 Conversation for June 2023. I’m Lauren Barack, the managing editor of signal 360. And I’m here with co-founders and co-editors in Chief John Battelle and Stan Joosten. Welcome to you both. Every year, the editorial team comes up with an underlying theme that we develop from the content. We start with you, John, can you tell us about this year’s theme “Reset the Bar?
It’s interesting. We set the theme every year, towards the end of the year before, right after the Signal event the year before. We finalize it early in the year. So it’s been a three or four months. But “Reset the Bar” was something that bubbled up from conversations amongst all of us, as well as with various folks at P&G. There’s a sense that because of everything that’s just happened in the last three years, of course the pandemic, but also just incredible amount of economic turbulence, huge shifts in ways of working, big changes in technology, and in the way businesses are going to market or manufacturing in supply chain, and all the big parts of our focus at Signal that it’s just not enough to “Raise the Bar,” which is a theme we had several years ago. We really have to rethink the benchmarks for how we conduct business. We have to question everything, and reset the bar.” So that was what we drafted up and then sent around, and it got the thumbs up from everybody involved. We’re excited about the theme.
It came with a subtitle. Because we set the bar for superior performance and irresistible innovation. That’s to balance today and tomorrow. We always have a forward looking view at Signal. But a lot of it also applies to today. We don’t want to forget about the superior performance of how to get the best out of what we have today, by bringing in the thought leaders who are trying to navigate very turbulent times, from whom we can all learn a lot.
So that’s interesting. There’s so many different directions you can take this theme into. Over the last few years, we’ve had a focus on four key areas that our editorial coverage also mirrors at Signal360. I’m hoping you guys can break a little bit of that down for us. Those four areas, just to sort go through them, again, is digital acumen, sustainability, supply chain network, and the employee value equation, that future of work. So can you talk a little bit about that?
First of all, it’s very grounded in P&G strategy at this time. That helps make the conference relevant for the company. That’s one of the reasons we do it to bring the outside in, so that people can learn around these areas. But those areas are not just relevant for P&G, they’re relevant much broader. The digital world is still accelerating in many ways. As you can imagine, generative AI will play a prominent role throughout all this. But I have to say there’s more to AI than generative AI. So that we will cover as well. AI has been around for a long time. It’s just now that it starts to become really visible to everybody.
Sustainability, always been on our agenda. But also there, the practicality of how to make this happen versus a nice to have bolt-on, is becoming more urgent. We see that around us. So we all have a role to play in that. Supply chain is probably one of the most sexy, non-sexy topic areas that we’ve had. I think after the last three years, we all know what it takes to get goods from A to B. And there’s more innovation going on in that world than anybody would have imagined. All we would have thought is like we see a truck go by on the expressway, that’s supply chain. No, it’s a whole lot more than that. And then employee value equation, employee experience? My gosh, what a turbulence we’re going through. Last year, everybody was, who applied or scrambling to come up with this. People are still trying to find a balance, the job market is getting a little tighter, the dynamics are changing. But overall, I don’t think anybody disputes that value of providing great employee experiences, to attract and retain the very best people, to help us get ready for the future. So that’s where it’s grounded. It’s just part of the company strategy on our end, and it makes for really interesting topics and conversations.
The way we program is we keep each of those four, we call them pillars, programming or editorial pillars for the day we’re putting together at Signal which I’d say is about 98% baked. And I don’t know, Stan it feels like we had a whole program together a little earlier than we did for the last few years and the tumult of the pandemic. Not only that, almost everyone, if not everyone, is going to be on stage in person, which creates a really unique energy that even if you’re watching it on the platform from wherever you happen to be in the world, you can feel that energy and sense that energy. I’m excited about that. But every single speaker that’s on that stage, ladders to one of those, if not all of those, editorial pillars that Stan just talked about.
Let’s jump into those speakers. Let’s hear a little bit about the topics and the actual people we’re going to hear from at the event. Are there any topics or speakers that you guys are particularly excited about? I know you don’t want to have favorites, because everyone’s going to be fantastic. But maybe a couple that you are sort of looking forward to in particular.
I’m actually excited about having Kroger on stage and not in the least because that’s where I do most of my shopping. That’s my experience with digital commerce, which happens to be my personal focus area these days. They’re very progressive. Yael Cosset, who is the CIO will attend. He actually started a company before called at 84.51, a data company that’s attached to Kroger. Now he runs digital and is the CIO for Kroger. So there’s a real revolution going on in the retail industry in the grocery industry, that Kroger is going to represent there.
The other one is, we do speaker prep calls. This week, we had one with Julie Sweet from Accenture. That was almost the interview as I would have liked it on stage. It was just fascinating. It was hard to leave after 30 minutes, that call actually lasted close to 45. There was a lot in that call also, because she sees across and her organization sees across, so many industries, that she can really help pinpoint where the things are changing, where the opportunities are, and the challenges. She spoke a lot about, surprisingly to me at least, employee experiences and transformation that’s tied to change. So that will be a very, very interesting session.
I would have picked Julie as well, Stan, because I thought that was a great pre-call. I’m glad we’re giving people who are watching a little bit of insight into how much work we put into making sure the stuff on stage that they see is good because we really do sweat it. But beyond that, there are a couple that I’m excited about. First of all, while we have our focus on really interesting things like the impact of AI, or the digitization of the supply chain, we started as as an event that focused on the go-to market piece, the communications piece, the marketing piece. We have so many speakers in that swim lane.
One that I’m really excited about is Jeremi Gorman, from Netflix, president of advertising there. This is a new thing. Netflix did not have an advertising business last year. So to hear about that, and the state of streaming generally is going to be exciting. But there’s also a startup I wanted to highlight, that is called Gather. I think they’re gonna blow people’s minds. They’re working in the field of both artificial intelligence, generative AI, as well as personal data. So the idea of being able to have a personal AI agent, or agents that work only for you, that live on your device, your phone and or your machine, maybe even soon enough, your gaming console, that look at everything you’re doing, and are very smart about taking data from what you’re doing, and answering interesting questions and creating interesting opportunities for you in a very safe environment. I think the model that they’re going to talk about of how this changes the consumer behaviors will be really interesting to people at P&G.
So Lauren, you’ve seen the list. Any ideas which you might want to see?
I’m really excited to hear from Candice Matthews Brackeen, and Lightship Foundation, because of her focus, which is on marginalized groups that have statistically been left out of venture. She’s already raising her second round. So I’m really excited to hear how that’s going, and also how she is seeing that work she’s doing, how she’s finding innovative founders, and how she’s changing the way they’re getting funded, but not just funded, but how they’re being found. Because I think that’s been a big focus for her. So I’m really excited to hear her session.
I’m also really interested in hearing about NaviLens, it’s going to be Javier Pita. I want to hear a lot about that technology, which is focused on supporting the visually impaired and they’re working with consumer packaging companies and in transportation fields, I think subways they’re partnering with and airports. But I’m curious to see how that technology might be kind of working its way into supporting other groups as well, and how they’re going to be expanding the technology. So those two sessions, I’ve already starred for myself.
So we’re going into our 12th year, that’s a long time, really successful, for an annual event. I’m curious to hear from the both of you how you go about keeping these conferences fresh every year, because it’s not the same thing. It’s not cookie cutter. So what kind of tactics and strategies are you employing to make the feel of it different, exciting, fresh and new?
I always tell people organizing events is a bit of a masochistic exercise. But there’s great fun attached to that. So I want to start with that. Without that, nothing happens and it is short lifespan. The other one is just relevance. If you bring people useful and interesting topics that they can do something with, they will show up. And the context always changes. Yet what we keep constant is how to bring out the information for people in a way that is engaging. We keep the formats to either interviews or short presentations in a high pace. There’s always something for everybody. You might not like all the speakers, they it might not always be relevant, but there will at least be a handful out of the 20 that you say I’ll remember those. That I think is the secret ingredient. I think it starts with just all of the team, the editorial side, for sure, has endless curiosity. So we dig into the topics that we think are going to be relevant. For me, that is what keeps me going. And there might even be a 13th edition next year.
I think we already have dates, Stan.
We also keep some things constant, like the approach to the programming, short, impactful sessions. But we have been changing a lot over the years. We added the Signal360 and you Lauren, which allows us to keep the drumbeat of focus on this story all year long, which just makes the event itself better, because it means we’re thinking about this editorially all year long. Also we added a robust platform in 2020, three years ago, when the pandemic hit that brought this event to 10,000 people. That changes how you think about programming, where programming comes from. When we started this the first few years, I don’t think we were paying attention to what percentage of speakers were from outside the United States. Now it’s I think, above 40% of speakers are from somewhere else besides the US. We are really focused on diversity. We always make sure we are at least at gender parity, and that we have diverse voices from not only all over the world, but also from all walks of life. So that keeps it fresh as well, because you do have to do the work to find those unique voices, and those unique voices make the program fresh.
So now we’ve got to get the most important question, how can people attend? And what do you both hope people are going to walk away with from the experience? Either one of you.
Let me talk about the registration process, and John can talk about what the hopes we hope that people walk away with. So registration is relatively simple for P&G people. There’s a company-wide email that went out in a couple of reminders. I always declare myself around this time of year to spam king at P&G, it has my name on it. So there’s a link in there and all the information. Externally, the people who’ve previously attended will get a similar email. For people who are new to this, we would welcome that. But we do ask that you, we have some room, that you fill in a little form that will go with this article, this video. I will put it in some other things as well, and wave your hand with interest. Hopefully we can send you a ticket to access if you’re not in the P&G partner ecosystem. But you’re still welcome to join, we just have one extra step that we want to get you back on the way you want to attend. For P&G partners, there’s all kinds of communication channels that they will hear how they can log into the Hopin platform virtually. It’s relatively simple. If any questions, send me an email.
To the second part of the question. First of all, I would defer to Jon Moeller, who will be our first on-stage interview. I’m going to ask that very question of him on stage. But from past experience, I know that the most important thing from these events, beyond information, or inspiration, what Stan calls activation, which is, both getting the permission to go do new things, and the inspiration to figure out what those might be. We really are thinking every single minute of the day, how is this going to spark some fresh thinking and fresh action on the part of those of you who are in the audience, whether in the room or on the platform. That’s really the goal, to take it past ‘Wow, I listened to some really smart people and had some really interesting topics,’ to ‘How does this apply to what I do every day?’ So that’s the goal, to activate.
Well, thank you, Stan and John, for the sneak peek on what we can expect on July 12, at the 12th annual Signal Summit. And to everyone watching, we hope we will see you guys in Cincinnati too or at least, virtually on the Signal stage. So thanks for joining us.