History of SFBIG

 

It was nearing the end of a dismal 2003 in the San Francisco digital advertising business.  The traditional boom-and-bust nature of the Bay Area is legendary and acceptable to the risk-takers who live here, but the added pressures of developing, understanding and then championing an oft-misunderstood and emerging technology into a more traditional advertising world had taken a toll.  The toll was equally felt by marketers, agencies, and digital publishing professionals who were beginning to look to other cities or other markets for better opportunities.  

 

Coffee house and dinner table discussions had begun in small groups about how to revive the energy and enthusiasm in what was not-very-arguably the birthplace of this brave new “interactive” world.  Leading professionals of the early digital movement worried that San Francisco was losing talent to other markets.  People who had avoided the pink slip parties and who still had jobs were actually doing the work of two or three or four people just to stay employed.  Creative juices were not flowing as freely as the carefree mixing and mingling of ideas – so emblematic of earlier times – had slowed to a crawl.

 

New York had begun to address similar issues in Silicon Alley with a new group called 212, and the Bay Area professionals who watched that group unfold realized they were onto something.  Gathering a group of like-minded stakeholders in the emerging digital world – for education, for networking, for idea-sharing – was necessary to shake the doldrums that remained once the dust settled on the great digital “crash” of the early 2000’s.

 

Around a breakfast table in the San Francisco Flower Mart, the disparate groups came together one morning to begin the process of identifying the leadership, the mission, the structure and the financing of what would soon become one of the fastest-growing groups of its kind in the country.  It was no small feat to select the first Board, which was led by an executive team of John Durham (President), Scot McLernon (First Vice President), Brian Monahan (Second Vice President), Lynn Ingham (Secretary) and Doug Schirle (Treasurer).  

 

That early team made two important decisions that helped to quickly solidify a strong working group.  One decision was that an all-volunteer Board and an all-volunteer group needed to be strongly funded for a year’s work so as not to be distracted by the constant fundraising that had undermined earlier similar groups.  They identified six strong Bay Area companies and fashioned sponsorships that held dominant year-long value, which helped SFBIG to launch with an impressive roster of early year supporters:  Google, Yahoo!, MSN, ValueClick, Fathom Online and 24/7 RealMedia. Each year, SFBIG pledged to host six Signature events, one for each major sponsor, which would include both networking and educational opportunities, as well as an additional monthly roster of purely-social meet-and-greets to re-energize the community.

 

Significant first-year planning (crafting by-laws and mission statement, developing website, identifying logo and branding, selecting full board and committees) led up to the first nail-biting event.  After all the work done by busy professionals who donated time, energy, ideas, meeting rooms, support staff, food and supplies to support the launch, a date was set for the SFBIG debut.

 

It was October of 2004 when the launch event at a unique San Francisco dance club called Mezzanine took place.  Because the Board lacked an RSVP system, there was an element of surprise attached to the eventual outcome.  Success for the first event was tagged at 300 attendees who would hopefully represent all three important digital communities:  brands, agencies, publishers.  Hours before the event, the outcome was still unclear.

 

Those who recall that first SFBIG event will remember long lines of people outside the door as the nearly-overwhelmed staff of volunteers started checking people in and handing out name tags.  To the first Board’s amazement, the year of planning, talking, hoping, coordinating, and “herding the cats” finally culminated in an unforgettable first evening of more than 600 attendees.  SFBIG was a hit from the start, filling an important need in a creative, diverse community of pioneering digital professionals with a long-lasting legacy.  

 

(Anyone with photos from that first evening -- please let us know!)