What’s Keeping Tech Leaders up at Night: Takeaways From the WSJ Future of Everything Festival

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The Walker Sands public relations team is an eclectic group of techsperts, former journalists, media mavens and creatives. One value that brings us together is curiosity, whether we’re scoping out a new innovation or attending a gathering of industry thought leaders. So naturally, when we secured a speaking slot for a client at a can’t-miss, breakthrough event – especially one hosted by a coveted media outlet – we jumped at the chance to participate.

Walker Sands Account Supervisor Hailey Melamut attended The Wall Street Journal Future of Everything Festival with our client, Affectiva. We caught up with her to get a download on what she heard, the trends we should be watching, and what companies should keep in mind to ensure an “in” at similar events.

Q: What were you (and our client) up to at the Future of Everything Festival?

Affectiva’s CEO and co-founder, Dr. Rana el Kaliouby, spoke on a panel about our changing relationship with technology. This is top-of-mind for Affectiva and others as our relationship with technology – and especially AI — becomes more personal and prevalent in our daily lives.

Specifically, as AI takes on roles that we’ve typically entrusted to other people – at home, in the workplace, in our cars, schools and doctors’ offices – there are a lot of benefits, but also potential for the technology to be misused. Rana, along with her co-panelist Carol Reiley (co-founder and advisor of and WSJ reporter Daniela Hernandez, dug into issues of privacy, bias and diversity to outline actionable steps for ethical AI.

Q: What were some of the biggest trends you heard that are top-of-mind for tech leaders?

Discussions of ethics and privacy underscored the vast majority of conversations on the future of tech, beyond just Affectiva’s panel. As we increasingly live our lives online, there’s a changing perception of safety and privacy, and there was wide agreement amongst speakers and attendees that we need new policies, technologies and discussions to address this shift.

For example, Mandy Ginsberg, the CEO of Match Group (which owns dating apps like Tinder, OKCupid and Plenty of Fish) talked about how the stigma of online dating is dissipating; but there are new issues with security and safety that are – in part – up to tech companies to navigate. In another session, Daniel Yanisse, the co-founder and CEO of Checkr, talked about how his company provides background checks in the gig economy (think for your Uber driver). It’s crucial for safety but also runs the risk of bias, if the app denies someone a job based on a one-size-fits-all set of criteria. We don’t have all the answers yet, but it was interesting to hear how companies are addressing ethics and privacy in our new online reality.

Another big topic of conversation was the changing face of work. Again, as we live more of our lives online, the lines are blurring between when we’re “on” and “off” – we’re virtually always accessible. But even execs from companies that are enabling that always-on reality are considering ways to set boundaries. Cal Henderson, the co-founder and CTO of Slack, talked about how the company is simultaneously finding ways to help people be more productive at work, while also giving us settings to unplug when we need to find balance.

Q: Do you have any advice for other companies looking to get involved with thought leadership events like the Future of Everything Festival?

The first is the importance of relationships – both with publications and industry thought leaders. We secured this speaking slot for Affectiva after cultivating a relationship with WSJ’s editorial team over time. Even when you’re not working on a quick-win story opp, there’s value in having ongoing conversations with media. Another “in” is through industry thought leaders who frequent the event circuit. When we were working with WSJ to prep for Rana’s panel, we had the opportunity to suggest other speakers from her network, so you never know when someone might be able to make a connection for you (and when they do, be sure to return the favor!).

The other key to success is developing a thought leadership position on an industry trend and broadening that beyond what your company does. While you want to stick to your area of expertise, people want to hear about larger issues than just your next product release. Don’t forget to step back and take stock of the larger impact that your technology has on consumers, the industry and social issues. Those are the topics that will get you noticed (and remembered) by event organizers, influencers and attendees.

Thinking about thought leadership? Reach out to Walker Sands for help getting your story out through industry events or content, PR and social.


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