What do innovators have in common?

A few weeks ago, I got a call from Susan Lee.

You don’t know Susan?

Well, you should.

Susan is the CMO of The Nederlander Organization, the founder of Camp Broadway, the Executive Producer of The Jimmy Awards, one of the engines behind Audience Rewards (Broadway’s only loyalty program), and more.

In other words, she is a super passionate person who has dedicated herself to expanding and building the audience of tomorrow.

So, she called . . . and duh, I answered.

I was honored when Susan told me she was inviting me to participate in the event held yesterday as part of Advertising Week, called The Innovator’s Forum.  The Forum was a group of about 30 marketing “Thought Leaders” in both the profit and non-profit sectors of our industry.  It was sponsored by The Nederlander Organization and The National Corporate Theatre Fund, led by an innovator himself, Exec. Director, Bruce Whitacre.

What happened during this 7-hour marketing-fest?

We discussed RenGen, and multicultural marketing.  We talked new ways to bring brands to the sponsorship table, when they didn’t even know where the table was the year before (check out Long Wharf‘s tactics for ideas).  We talked metrics, and money, and ways to make the consumer feel more like he or she is at the “center of the universe.”

It was an inspiring day, and I was thrilled to be a part of it.

But the most inspiring part of the day wasn’t the specific action item we all walked away with.  The most inspiring part of the day was seeing the faces of the other folks in that room.

What did they all have in common?

There wasn’t a scowl on one of them.

In the ‘free-speech’ wrap-up at the end of the day, a colleague of mine brought up exactly what I was thinking, which was that everyone . . . everyone . . . in that room was an optimist.  This room knew more about the huge challenges facing our industry than most, yet they all still believed there was a way to make things better, and most importantly, that the fight it would take would be worth it.

This forum could have been the biggest bitch fest our industry has ever seen.  And then, it would have been like so many other sessions I’ve been to.

But it wasn’t . . . and that’s when I realized that the “change agents” of the world have to be optimists, otherwise, they would never be motivated to get out of bed in the morning.

And the real innovators, like Susan and Bruce, are the ones that usually never go to bed in the first place.

How do you see the world in which you work?

They didn’t have these awards when I was in high school!

For those of you on the new social networking site, Four Square (I know, I know…another social networking site), you’ll notice that I checked in to the Marquis Theater last Monday for the second annual National High School Musical Theater Awards.

What are they?  Take the Tonys, shrink ’em, add a little Miss America and a dash of American Idol and you’ve got . . . The Jimmies!

What else do you have?

One thrilling night of incredible entertainment that made every single person in that audience believe in the power of the theater.

Over 50,000 students at almost 1,000 high schools across the country compete for the Jimmies.  Just like the aforementioned beauty pageant, there are regional awards that qualify performers to move on to the finals here in New York City.

And that’s where the real fun stuff happens.

Those 44 finalists spend a week in the city studying with vocal coaches, learning an opening and closing number, and hearing from Broadway professionals about what it’s like working in our biz.

The week ends with a performance . . . on the stage of The Marquis Theater, in front of some of the biggest names on Broadway.  And yes, these are teenagers. It’s like Broadway Fantasy Camp!

The show itself featured a medley of solos by each of the contestants. (Highlights for me were:  Matt Hill’s ‘Great Big Stuff’ from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Andrea Weinzierl’s Mame and Elise Vannerson belting out ‘Nobody’s Side’ from Chess). The judges (including Memphis star Montego Glover, Casting Directors Bernie Telsey and Rachel Hoffman, Exec. Producer of Chicago Alecia Parker, Director Scott Ellis, Nick Scandalios (aka #8), and Kent Gash from my alma mater’s new musical theater program) narrowed the field down to 3 female and 4 male finalists (there was a tie for the guys).

We got to see each finalist perform a complete number, and then the judges chose the winners!

This year’s Jimmies (which were named for the patriarch of the Nederlander family and the patriarch of this program, James M. Nederlander) were awarded to . . . Alexandria Payne from Atlanta and Kyle Selig of California.

In addition to a fine looking trophy and a shot at a 4-year NYU scholarship, the winners were each surprised with a $10,000 check towards their tuition.

Congratulations to the winners, and congratulations to the Nederlander Organization and Van Kaplan’s Pittsburgh CLO (where this idea began) for providing these kids, and all of us, with an opportunity of a lifetime.

They got to see New York City.  We got to see the future.

And it looks awesome.

For more info on The Jimmies, including how you can get involved, click here. For photos from BroadwayStars.com, click here.

And mark my blog, in less than five years, this thing is going to be huge . . . and so is the impact it will have on developing new audiences for the future.

And that’s even more awesome.

(Oh, and yes, it’s true, they certainly didn’t have these awards when I was in high school.  But that’s just fine with me, because this talented crop would have kicked my Billy Crocker-ed butt!)