Edward King: Postcards from Menlo Park
When AWARD School announced Facebook as their major partner and a trip to Facebook HQ in the US as the top prize, I never imagined I would be the one selected – and arriving in San Francisco it still felt like I was living in a dream.
I didn’t sleep a wink on the 16-hour flight.
I arrived on a Sunday morning to meet up at the hotel with the rest of the creative ambassador group led by Facebook’s Liz Harper and Tom Dowuona-Hyde, who went above and beyond to welcome us all.
I first met Liz very briefly at the National AWARD School Graduation night at the Sydney Facebook HQ so it was nice to hear more from her here. Liz is super passionate and knowledgeable about everything in the industry having worked at some of the world’s top creative agencies, prior to her joining Facebook.
I was the last to arrive but I’d already done some LinkedIn stalking. The rest of the group was a mix of accomplished creatives and planners from Melbourne and Sydney who had all kicked some pretty major career goals.
It was slightly daunting at first, because I felt they were way out of my league; but they instantly made me feel like one of the gang. My nerves gave way to excitement and I knew this would be a lot of fun as well as a massive learning experience.
We moved on from the hotel to a brunch at The Brixton, a cool, classic American diner with a San Franciscan twist. Then onto a Giants game at AT&T Park. Baseball is pretty slow moving, which allowed us all to continue chatting while the game was underway. Not going to lie, I didn’t follow a lot of what was going on but I loved the atmosphere and the camaraderie of the group seemed sealed.
I sat next to Max Reed, a creative from TBWA Melbourne and AWARD School Alumni from a few years ago where I learned about his beginnings in account service before moving across after graduating. He mentioned his passions and strengths lie in film and how that helped get him here and as a creative. It was awesome to hear everyone’s background and how they came to be on this trip. There was also Joel Molinari, planner at Clemenger BBDO Melbourne, who has spent time on both client and agency-side, Eva Godeny, the digital creative lead at Monkeys in Sydney and another AWARD School Alumni graduate, and Luke Simkins the CD from M&C Saatchi in Sydney. Despite all being from different agencies, departments and having different roles, we shared a deep eagerness to learn more and were all excited about our visit to Facebook.
With jetlag setting in, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito – a beautiful little town by the water that felt totally removed from SF even though it’s only 20 minutes away. We escaped the morning fog of the city and were greeted at our destination with sunshine and blue skies.
Facebook had organized another packed day of activities starting with a sailing trip around the bay. The previous four months were absolutely non-stop between full-time work and AWARD School, so being out on the water was a wash with calm. We sailed under the Golden Gate, past Alcatraz and along the edge of the city, giving us a new perspective of the enormity of the bay area.
Thankfully Liz tipped me off about the drastic weather changes so I was prepared for the three different seasons we experienced in the one morning.
After sailing for a few hours, we übered back to the city and were collected by a shuttle bus that drove us to Palo Alto in Silicon Valley. We were staying at a modern boutique hotel, the Nobu Epiphany, which was located at the heart of Palo Alto, about 45 minutes south of SF. I didn’t quite know what to expect from Palo Alto – being the centre of the tech world and all – but it seemed normal at surface level. It wasn’t until setting my bags down in the room that I noticed how advanced everything was – the lights, amenities, doors all seemed vaguely futuristic.
Finally we arrived at Facebook Headquarters in Palo Alto. The “campus” is huge, like a suburb. Somehow, even with grand expectations, it still blew me away. We were chaperoned all around the campus, meeting various senior Facebook employees and given insight into their careers as well as cool new ways to use the platform.
What struck me the most was how far advanced they were in their technology. While a social media company at heart, innovation seems at the forefront of everything they showcased and hinted at coming next.
The place is so large, even internally, employees have a hard time keeping up with the work different divisions are creating. Some of the Facebook team seemed just as impressed as we were when their colleagues presented their parts, which gives some idea of the scale of this place. It is massive.
For us, we learned about cool new ways to effectively apply Facebook’s tech in storytelling and communication. There was a particular speaker, Nathan Reuss, a creative strategist for their global accounts that really grabbed my attention. Prior to Facebook he had worked at other tech giants Google and YouTube as a Creative Director and Creative Technologist. The main purpose of his presentation was to share creative and innovative ways of delivering messages through Instagram stories that are generally missed. Of course my mind kept wandering back to the notoriously tough social brief at AWARD School. If this program taught me anything, the options are limitless.
Then came the mysterious ‘Building 8’ where we met Nick Fell, Marketing Director and Larry Corwin, Senior Creative Director. Their projects are all top-secret, so that I can’t actually reveal what they showed us. Jokes. They couldn’t tell us much, but it’s fascinating how even a glimpse of how big and advanced their thinking is, can make you excited for what is yet to be revealed.
Every speaker throughout the day had something different and amazing to share. My brain was overloaded with information, and by the end the group made jokes about me furiously scribbling notes. I just didn't want to miss any detail. There was so much about social and digital I was unaware of. My jaw was on the floor for most of the speaker component, hearing from such inspiring people about their career and journey prior to Facebook. I felt lucky to meet such a fascinating and intelligent group who all seemed like the best of the best in what they do.
Their focus on AR and VR stuck with me the most, and seeing how they plan to enhance the social experience. It seems like the game is going to change once they implement some of the products. And I guess it’s their game to change.
After the speakers, we were given a guided tour of the campus on their organized shuttle network – something necessary for grounds this large. At our destination, we found ourselves walking through a well-kept courtyard surrounded by shops and restaurants with large animated signs to guide the way. Facebook provides everything from restaurants, gyms, hair salons, an arcade and even a woodshop for when you want to disconnect from the world – and all free for employees.
Our massive day came to a close as we returned to the hotel for the night, exhausted.
Somehow, the next few days would be just as exciting.
Keen to enter the AWARD School submission for 2019? Come along to our AWARD School Application Workshops happening in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Register for more.