Burson Cohn & Wolfe (BCW) served as the media partner for the 2018 Collision conference in New Orleans earlier this month. Dubbed “North America’s fastest growing tech conference” by Forbes, Collision attracted 25,000 attendees, including 3,750+ CEOs and 5,600+ companies from more than 120 countries. Attendees included some of our key clients including Accenture, Microsoft, and Oracle.

The BCW team, led by Chris Foster, consisted of colleagues from the corporate, technology and public affairs practices who helped make the conference a success by coordinating the media village, on-site briefings and ad-hoc requests. Chris also moderated a discussion on the corporate philanthropy Pledge 1%, an initiative for businesses to “pledge one percent” of their revenue or manpower to charitable causes.

We were all given the opportunity to attend various sessions and wanted to share some of our key learnings and insights from a few of our favorites.

Our top three sessions:

  • Facebook’s Existential Threat: Technology ethicist and whistle-blower Tristan Harris moderated a discussion alongside Common Sense Media founder Jim Steyer on the implications of Facebook’s recent controversy with Cambridge Analytica. Both speakers acknowledged that the company’s access to personal information is akin to that of a lawyer, doctor, or therapist. However, because Facebook has no legal obligation to act in the best interest of their users (e.g. fiduciary duty or attorney-client privilege), their business model has the potential for third-parties to take advantage of that access.
  • “Pepper” the Robot: This was a broad introduction to “Pepper” the Robot. While robots are taking China by storm, they are slowly breaking into the American market. The session looked at the research and insights that informs “Pepper’s” hardware. From a technology perspective, “Pepper” is the single embodiment of what our team works with every day – peak hardware design, consumer tech sensibilities, enterprise tech ROI and data analytics.
  • #MeToo & Actionable Data: The actress and activist Sophia Bush took to the stage for a powerful discussion on the #MeToo movement and how data analytics can help identify problematic workplaces. Start-ups like Callisto have recently expanded beyond college campuses to empower businesses to identify departments and individuals that are considered unsafe, putting new pressures on today’s corporate leaders to act.

Our key learnings and insights:

  • The term “technology” is broad and meaningless: Nothing at Collision was necessarily branded as “technology,” reaffirming the idea (from a communications standpoint) that the term is too broad and all-encompassing to refer to one industry. Even the sections of the show floor were divided into more application-specific terminology like “TalkRobot” or “SaaS Monster.” Once billed as a start-up conference, Collision has shed that identity to take on a larger role as the home for innovative ideas across any industry, beyond just technology.
  • You will be asked about privacy: Facebook was the elephant in the room at every session around data privacy. Whether a business specifically sells user data or not, media were curious about what type of information was being logged and where. For instance, the “Pepper” robot team was quick to assert the device wasn’t recording video or collecting and selling user data.
  • CSR has never been more relevant: A common thread among speakers was a focus on “good will” – not just how a company is innovating but how those innovations are affecting the people around them. In addition, most start-ups were focused on CSR-like efforts, such as promoting domestic agriculture or ending homelessness. Even Al Gore did his thing.

By Jamie Dowling, Associate, Technology, on behalf of the Collision team.