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Sparksheet is an award-winning blog published by Spafax Content Marketing. With insight about content, marketing and PR, Sparksheet offers fresh thinking and thought leadership from Spafax and from around the world.



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Subscribe to Sparksheet Monthly and receive our free e-newsletter on or near the first Tuesday of every month.

Happy Holidays from Sparksheet


We can hardly believe it, but 2013 is on its way out. This year at Sparksheet we covered a host of international events, explored new topics like healthcare, got familiar with the startup world and took home a few editorial and design awards along the way. We also said goodbye to a key member of the Sparksheet team.

In a word, it’s been an exciting (and busy!) year. And we couldn’t have done it without your engagement and support. On behalf of team Sparksheet – a big thank you to everyone.

We’re taking a break for the holidays but we’ll be back in January with a new lineup of content and a host of new projects. We can’t wait to share them with you.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, sharing and contributing. We wish you the warmest of holiday seasons and we’ll see you in 2014!

Sparksheet Wins Big at Canadian Online Publishing Awards

sparkbeat-logoLast night, the Canadian Online Publishing Awards celebrated the best of Canadian digital media at its fifth annual awards party in downtown Toronto. It was a big night for Sparksheet – after all was said and done we walked away with a total of six awards in the B2B category:

  • Best website design (Gold)
  • Best use of social media (Gold)
  • Best online-only article or series of articles (Silver)
  • Best e-newsletter (Gold)
  • Best mobile-optimized site (Gold)
  • Best infographic (Gold)

McLean’s, Canadian Business, Huffington Post Canada and the CBC also took home multiple awards. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners and a big thank you to the COPA judges. Last but not least, thanks to Dan Levy, former editor of Sparksheet, for leaving behind a winning legacy.

Moving On: Five Lessons From Four and a Half Years of Editing Sparksheet

sparkbeat-logoThis is my last post as editor of Sparksheet. With four and a half years, 561 posts, 31 industry awards (we’re up for 7 more next month!) and 129 contributor relationships under my belt, I’m moving on to join the startup world.

From the very beginning the folks at Spafax understood that the only way Sparksheet would work as an incubator/showcase of the agency’s creativity, innovation and thought leadership was for it to stand on its own as an independent media brand. I’ll always be grateful to them for entrusting me with the resources and autonomy to build Sparksheet from an upstart marketing blog into a truly global multiplatform magazine.

One of the highlights of my tenure was jetsetting (or, is that transuming?) all over the world in search of stories. Flipping through the “Weather” app on my iPhone, I see that I’ve travelled to Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Frankfurt, Sicily, Havana, Seattle, New York, Boston, Austin, Lisbon, Toronto, Los Angeles and Athens (stay tuned for my feature on Greece next month). And that’s not counting vacations.

I always came back from these adventures filled with insights and lessons from media and marketing professionals I’ve met along the way, and so I thought I’d sign off by sharing five key lessons I’ve learned from editing Sparksheet for the better part of five years.

Celebrating Sparksheet's first year.

Celebrating Sparksheet’s first anniversary.

Quality and credibility go hand in hand

When we launched Sparksheet in June 2009, we had a few obstacles to surmount. First, there was no budget for contributors. Second, no one had heard of us (and we didn’t have much content to stand on). And third, we feared that most would dismiss us as yet another corporate blog masquerading as media.

In the very beginning I had to call in some favours, hassling my colleagues and roping in a few thought leader friends for contributions. But pretty soon, I had people telling me they’d be honoured to write for Sparksheet, and I eventually found myself in a position where I was turning away more people than I was approaching.

It’s simply not true that if you build it, they will come. But if you build a platform based on the highest editorial and design standards you will establish your credibility very quickly. People recognize quality, and they want to be a part of it.

I always approached Sparksheet as the independent, award-winning editorial publication it became. That meant maintaining an editorial calendar, setting deadlines (and holding people to them) and engaging with every think piece as if it were my own.

Turns out that if you treat people, their work and their time with respect, they will not only respect you, they will go to bat for you. That’s not just a recipe for good content; it’s the basis of good marketing.

The 2009 iteration of the Sparksheet homepage.

The 2009 iteration of the Sparksheet homepage.

Relationships are everything

Sparksheet has always been about people. Our very first post, written by my coastal colleague Al St. Germain, was all about navigating the client-agency relationship.

Since then, we’ve covered how airlines and other brands are using social media to engage with customers as human beings, how face-to-face events are making the digital world a more intimate place, and how consumers in emerging markets are changing the culture of marketing.

As editor, I’ve always relied on personal relationships to power Sparksheet with content and conversations. Some of these relationships were forged over Twitter or email, some at conferences or in meetings with colleagues around the world.

But in each case, friendliness led to friendship, which led to collaboration, great content and, eventually, the sort of influence and advocacy that brands dream about.

At APEX Expo 2013, we turned people, like Spafax's own Al St. Germain, into content, and built lasting relationships as a result.

At APEX Expo 2013, we turned people, like Spafax’s own Al St. Germain, into content.

Don’t be afraid to fail

“Fail fast” has become a mantra in the startup world but you don’t hear it enough in media circles, where successes are trumpeted and setbacks are quickly buried.

We’re tried a lot of different things over the years at Sparksheet, including e-books, podcasts, live video, custom content for events, weekly link roundups, a cartoon series and other short-lived projects I’m forgetting about.

Some things we just didn’t have the resources or energy to sustain, others just flat out didn’t work. Maybe some will take off after I’m gone.

Innovation is Sparksheet’s raison d’etre. If we weren’t constantly evolving and experimenting with new platforms, channels and content we might as well have packed it in years ago. But as proud as I am of what worked, I’m also proud of what didn’t – and that we weren’t too proud to let some things go.

The cartoon Sparksauce was limited to one edition. We still thought it was pretty funny.

The cartoon Sparksauce was limited to one edition. We still thought it was pretty funny.

Journalism and entrepreneurship are converging

I started editing Sparksheet fresh out of journalism school, after a short stint in Washington covering the 2008 U.S. election and financial crisis. I had my reservations about taking a job outside of the traditional journalism world, about working for a content agency instead of a news agency.

But I soon discovered what became part of our editorial mission – that “we are living in a world where media outlets are becoming more like brands and brands are becoming more like media.” I thought that was pretty clever when I wrote it, but it already sounds quaint.

Many of the so-called traditional media types I’ve interviewed over the years have since gone on to join startups or reinvent themselves as brand consultants. One of our most popular posts was my Q&A with Blake Eskin, who in 2010 was the web editor of The New Yorker.

He went on to help launch 29th Street Publishing, a startup that creates magazines for tablets (the iPad was only a month old when our Q&A was published). Meanwhile, Matt Gibbs, who was Playboy’s social media director when I interviewed  him in 2011, is now the co-founder of video crowdsourcing engine SparkReel (and a Sparksheet contributor!).

As our friend – and another entrepreneurial journalist – Craig Silverman wrote in May, journalists and content marketers have a lot to learn from each other. And I’m not even sure what the difference is between “brands” and “media” anymore, are you?

Sparksheet's first feature focused on the business of brands in Cuba.

Sparksheet’s first feature explored branded entertainment in Cuba.

Content marketing has gotten complicated

Seamus, Sparksheet's dog-in-residence, keeping watch over the Sparksheet banner.

Seamus, Sparksheet’s dog-in-residence, keeping watch over the Sparksheet banner.

In the past few months I’ve spoken to three of the most disruptive players in the content marketing space – Shane Smith, co-founder of freelancer network Contently (stay tuned for our Q&A in the coming weeks), Shafqat Islam, CEO of content syndication service NewsCred, and Jon Steinberg, the president of new media juggernaut BuzzFeed.

The first two companies didn’t even exist in their current incarnations when Sparksheet was launched, while BuzzFeed has evolved from the poster child for “listicles” about cats to the standard bearer for what people are now calling “native advertising.”

In just four and a half years we’ve seen content marketing go from being a B2B niche with a handful of aspiring thought leaders to the apparent saviour of media, marketing and the planet.

What this means is that the content ecosystem is no longer just about clients and agencies but about the complex, symbiotic relationship between brands, agencies, startups, publishers, freelancers, consultants and, of course, the people formerly known as the audience. Once again, things have gotten complicated.

So thank you for your readership and contributions throughout the years. Special thanks to my bosses, Raymond Girard and Arjun Basu, for their support and trust, to my editorial assistant, Sophie Woodrooffe, for her hard work and dedication, and to our design guru, Charles Lim, for his responsive eye and breakfast-for-lunch companionship.

Keep the good ideas coming,

–Dan Levy, Editor

Turning People into Content at APEX 2013

Image by Kristina Velan.

Image by Kristina Velan.

Last week we travelled to Anaheim, California for the Airline Passenger Experience Expo – one of the most important events of the year for the inflight entertainment industry. It’s a conference we never miss; attending returns us to our editorial roots in travel and aviation.

The APEX trade show floor. Image by Kristina Velan.

The APEX trade show floor. Image by Kristina Velan.

Over the past few years, the dominant trends at APEX have predominantly been about the web: developing technologies to access the web inflight, figuring out how to deal with the digital devices passengers bring on board, and learning how to keep flyers interested in an airline’s brand throughout the journey cycle.

These trends aren’t going away anytime soon, but paradoxically, the obsession with connectivity brings into focus just how powerful human interactions can be.

This year at APEX, we teamed up with our publisher, Spafax, to turn people into content as a way of embracing this contradiction (and of showing off our storytelling chops). We interviewed dozens of conference attendees at our Table of Content and with the help of illustrators Amy and Jennifer Hood, turned those live Q&As into personal infographics.

You can see the full catalogue of visual Q&As as well as photos from the trade show floor on our Facebook page.

Reinventing You: Google+ Hangout with Dorie Clark


Image via Harvard Business Review's Facebook Page.

Image via Harvard Business Review’s Facebook Page.

Dorie Clark has literally written the book on personal brand reinvention, and she knows what she’s talking about. In a past life she was a presidential campaign spokeswoman. Before that she wrote for an independent newspaper in Austin. That was after she’d earned an MA in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School.

Now Clark puts her experience to use for brands like Google, The World Bank and Yale University as CEO of Clark Strategic Communications. Her book, Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, comes just as people and businesses are learning, sometimes the hard way, how disruptive the web can be.

In this Google+ Hangout we speak with Clark about what brand reinvention means for both people and companies.

Follow the Hangout live via the embed below, or check it out on our Google+ page or our YouTube channel. We’ll be live tweeting the Hangout, too, so make sure to send us questions or feedback from whichever channel you use.

Live Feed: International Startup Festival 2013

Sparksheet is proud to be the official content partner of this year’s International Startup Festival, which takes place in Montreal from July 10-13.

More than 50 speakers will be presenting on everything from marketing to funding to Big Data and we’ll be there to capture their Startup Stories. This is our notebook of inspiring and insightful tweets, Vines, Instagram photos and other #Startupfest buzz from around the social web.

Startupfest 2013

startupfest 2013, international startup festival, startupfest, #startupfest, @startupfest

View “Startupfest 2013” on Spundge

Things Have Gotten Complicated

One of the first things (maybe THE first thing) I ever wrote for Sparksheet was a dissection of Robert Scoble’s Social Media Starfish, a diagram of the social media landscape in 2009:



Now, Brian Solis has come out with his fourth iteration of The Conversation Prism. Look how far we’ve come:



If nothing else, this shows that the digital content ecosystem has become a lot more complicated. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Everything Brands Need to Know About Google Glass

Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin wearing Google Glass. Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr.

Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin wearing Google Glass. Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr.

Just over one year ago, the video “Google Glass: One Day” went viral, with more than 21 million viewers ogling the prospect of a new wearable computer.

Well, “one day” is quickly approaching and even though Google has yet to reveal the release date, the new gadget is getting a lot of attention.

The majority of people who have gotten their hands on Google Glass already – including a number of influencers, Google employees and the winners of the Twitter #ifIhadGlass contest – have liked it.

Google Glass is activated by voice and touch commands and the display appears in your field of vision just above your direct line of sight. Essentially it’s the next generation Smartphone, for your face.

With Google Glass you have access to maps, weather, texts through voice conversion, camera features with a tap or a wink, web searches through simple voice commands, translations that speak directly into your ear, facial recognition that can be linked to reminders, and of course video recording and video calling, which allow others to see life through your eyes.

Brands on Google Glass

With 10 percent of Americans already interested in buying a pair of the high-tech glasses, according to mobile application specialist BiTE interactive, Google Glass is poised to be yet another platform for brands to engage with users – and vice versa.

Google has said that it wants Google Glass to be free from clutter and intrusive advertising but playgroundlabs, a mobile software company, has created a video that shows how brands might be able to leverage the platform effectively.

Of course, brands will have to change the way they create and design content to fill Google Glass’s field of vision, just as they had to learn (and are still learning) how to craft Facebook status updates or mobile-friendly content.  Soon 140 character tweets will be reduced to headlines and photos since that’s all Glass wearers can see at first glance.

Elle, Evernote, CNN, Facebook, The New York Times, Tumblr and Twitter are among the first wave of third-party brands working with Google to create apps – known as Glasswear – for the device.

Google Glass on brands

Google Glass is also set to disrupt the way brands interact with customers face-to-face, particularly in the healthcare, retail and hospitality industries. Healthcare workers are excited about the possibility of Google Glass becoming a regular feature in hospitals and see the device’s potential to reduce medical errors.

Doctors can use Glass to access chart information, surgeons could live stream operations for students and residents and ambulance workers could use the device’s web browser as a diagnostic reference.

In the hospital and retail sectors, Google Glass would help brands monitor customer relationships through the eyes of their employees in the field. Facial recognition can be used to identify customers in order to access their history, preferences and offer promotions. Google Glass can also be used to quickly scan and take stock of inventory.

Overcoming the creepy factor

Of course, many of Google Glass’s functions make people uneasy.

Privacy concerns are at the root of many critics’ resistance toward the device, especially because it’s difficult to tell when the device is filming or taking a picture. Google Glass would undoubtedly be banned in movie theatres and performance venues. Even though Google Glass hasn’t hit the market yet, a bar in Seattle has already instituted a “No Google Glass” policy.

Others are concerned about the social implications of Google Glass. Putting aside the issue that the glasses make people look they’re on the set of some low-budget sci-fi movie, some fear that Google Glass will make people even more disconnected from their physical environment, despite Google senior developer Timothy Jordan’s assertion that “by bringing technology closer, we could get it further away.”

C2-MTL 2013 Live Feed

From May 21-23, Sparksheet will be reporting live from C2-MTL, an unconventional business conference in Montreal that’s all about the intersection of commerce and creativity.

With a speaker roster that includes Richard Branson, Philippe Starck and Diane von Furstenberg, and an elite group of c-suite attendees (tickets cost upwards of $3,600), the event is sure to generate plenty of online buzz.

This is our notebook of interesting and inspiring blogs, tweets, Instagram photos and other C2-related content from around the web, powered by our friends at Spundge.


The Sparksheet team curates the most interesting and insightful content around C2-MTL 2013.

c2-mtl, #c2mtl, c2mtl, @sparksheet

View “C2-MTL” on Spundge

CTRL ALT Delete: Google+ Hangout with Mitch Joel

ctrl-alt-deleteIt gets harder every year to think of an industry that hasn’t been disrupted by the internet. Brands big and small are finding themselves sandwiched between a dead (or dying) business model and an uncertain future.

Blogger, podcaster and Twist Image president Mitch Joel calls this state “purgatory” and in his new book, CTRL ALT Delete, he argues that it’s time for businesses and individuals to “reboot.”

Mitch has been a friend of Sparksheet since the beginning and he joined us for a Google+ Hangout to talk about his thoughtful and thought-provoking book, which comes out on May 21.

Our conversation covers everything from screen shifting and mobile marketing, to how to have “safe sex with data” and why the world should be a little more “squiggly.”

What does that mean? Watch the Hangout below:

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Spark Quotes

Learning happens whether we like it or not. But the medium isn’t the problem; the content is.

Original Sparksheet content is licensed under a Creative Commons License permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution. Please include a link to the original article. © 2018 Spafax, a tenthavenue company

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