At the beginning of December, Plank turned 20 years old. So while we certainly spent some time over the year thinking about our history, we also turned our thoughts to the future of the company and how we can grow stronger over the next 20 years.
We opened the year digging into the concept of success; what it means, and how we measure it. We realized it depends on everyone being on the same page about our priorities and processes as a team. So we spent some time boiling down our values as an organization and setting goals to work towards together. Communication and collaboration are at the core of everything we do, so we’re being deliberate about how to do both of those things better every day.
Happy Birthday to Us!
We celebrated our 20th Anniversary with an epic shindig at the Cabaret Lion D’Or, which saw alumni travel from far and wide—including Newfoundland and Australia—to party like it’s 1998. Speaking of epic, Warren wrote up the entire history of Plank in a series of journal posts,
so take a stroll down memory lane with him, won’t you? Or for a more visual journey, check out our Instagram feed and #plank20years posts.
The Plank crew maintained an even keel in 2018 with Keron Gonzales and Stéphane Boileau moving on, and Megan McEwan and Dave Kellam joining our ranks.
WE SAID HELLO 🙂
…AND GOODBYE 🙁
We also welcomed two honourary team members; Sasha Endoh, who’s renting a desk for her own digital agency, and Mila, who’s great for morale despite her penchant for chewing on people’s feet.
A big shout-out to our two interns from Vanier College’s Computer Science Technology program. Alexander and Jethro were both great additions to the team, and we hope they enjoyed their time with us. We look forward to Naomi Catwell joining us in January.
For our annual Plank Appreciation Day, we took a break from summer’s unrelenting heat with some lazy canoeing on the Lachine Canal and even lazier drinking at a floating bar, followed by pizza and karaoke madness.
For year-round team fun, we showed our appreciation for melted cheeses with lavish lunch spreads of Poutine, Raclette, and Tacos. We’re dreaming up the next feast…
In between all of the partying, boating, singing, and cheese consumption, we did manage to get some work done.
We launched brand new sites for BRiX, a nearby apartment building; the CFL’s Flag Football league; and foldA, a new festival of live digital art that we were proud to support as a sponsor. We stretched our geographic sphere Westward with a redesigned member’s portal for The Women Donors Network out of San Francisco, and Northward with a mini-site for the Cree Cultural Institute, a trilingual site and our first in the Cree language (launching any day now!). We also launched one of our biggest projects ever, a complete redesign and restructuring of The Canadian Encyclopedia, a bilingual resource of over 20,000 articles.
We kept up with our loyal clients with upgrades and maintenance for Culture Days, evenko, Osheaga, Ile Soniq, Heavy Montreal, MTelus, Autodesk, Concordia, the Student Society of McGill, The Sun, Juno Beach Centre Association, Vimy to Juno, Repercussion Theatre, Rush and, finally, eOne Entertainment with a website transfer for Death From Above 1979. Whew, what a list!
We’ve also got some exciting projects on the horizon. We’ve done strategy sessions with the Community Foundations of Canada to redesign their website to better serve their users, and are embarking on a new Virtual Museum of Canada project with Heritage Toronto to showcase the city’s music history. We’ll improve the website for Canadian TV producers Cineflix, and continue work with our partners at Rebus on branding and design support for their personal reader platform. We’re excited to start a new relationship with the Centaur Theatre in this, their 50th year. And of course, we never know what other projects will come our way. It’s going to be another busy year!
Oh yeah, and we also gave our own website some love, evolving our look, tightening up our technology, and translating a huge chunk of our content into French.
Every year, we carve out some time for pro-bono work. This year we saw the launch of the Manifeste des Femmes en Tech, a project that we helped out with last year that aims to increase the number of female speakers at technology events. We also pitched in to get Les Scientifines back online after some technical issues.
We Went Places
We opted to try a different approach to professional development this year, so instead of attending conferences, the team spent time honing their skills in different ways. But we still got out and about!
- Owner Summit | Charleston, SC | Warren | February 11-13
- SXSW | Austin, TX | Warren | March 9-13
- Canadian Museums Association Conference | Vancouver, BC | Warren | April 9-12
- Museums and the Web | Vancouver, BC | Warren | April 18-21
- Strategy Session: The Sun Magazine | Chapel Hill, NC | Jason, Jenn | April 27
- Hot Docs | Toronto, ON | Warren | April 29-May 2
- Hack Day: Women’s Donor Network | San Francisco, CA | Chloe, Jenn, Warren | May 14
- Festival of Live Digital Art (foldA) | Kingston, ON | Erin | June 19-22
- Hack Day: Heritage Toronto | Toronto, ON | Jason, Warren, Jenn | August 22
- Supercrawl | Hamilton, ON | Warren | September 13-16
- Strategy Session: Community Foundations of Canada | Ottawa, ON | Chloe, Warren, Veronique | September 26
- Digital Marketing Boot Camp for the Arts | NYC, NY | Warren, Erin | October 18-19
- Ontario Museums Conference | Toronto, ON | Warren | October 24-26
- Creative Director Camp | New Orleans, LA | Jenn | December 2-4
We Did Stuff!
We hosted our second Dinner Party, this one in Toronto, with Jenn Sguigna as a special guest talking about the challenges inherent in executing virtual exhibits. We were joined by a group of other museum and heritage professionals for some great conversation. We also hosted the 4th annual Montreal Baseball Hack Day for tech-loving baseball fans!
Steve and Warren took to the airwaves to talk about the business of Plank, on podcasts from Jay Owen and our friends at Fuller Landau.
Outside of Plank, our team got up to some admirable stuff as well. Steve spoke at the 5th anniversary of Creative Mornings Montréal, as co-founder of the chapter. Massimo is a volunteer organizer for CRC Robotics’ Verti-goal challenge for high schools coming up in February. Debbie spoke about Mental Health in our industry at Lesbians Who Tech Summit and PHPQuebec and helped organize Pride Hacks. Chloé launched the Manifesto of Women in Tech, a new podcast, and continued her work on diversity in tech, earning her a nomination for Diversity Champion at the Startup Awards. Courtney ran Montreal’s first MythCon, a welcoming and inclusive weekend of role-playing for over 50 participants. Warren set a personal record of attending 34 baseball games (and got sat on by the Philly Phanatic), Véronique devoured an astonishing 53 books, and Erin planted her first garden which more or less survived the summer.
We’ll admit that silliness is a big part of our company culture. While Mila’s zoomies are always a welcome source of entertainment, she’s not the only one who lightens the mood.
Early in the year, Steve got some of us obsessed with HQ Trivia to the point where we were featured on The National. And Jerome deserves a prize for being quickest on the draw with the GIFs in Slack. But the ultimate foolishness this year came from ZeBigBigBoss himself, when he ordered a kit of 1,200 sticky googly-eyes. No surface is safe, and nothing will be the same again around here.
We hope you had a great year, and we wish you all the best in 2019!
Plank has a long relationship with The Sun, an independent, ad-free, reader-supported magazine based in North Carolina.
Last August, we launched the latest version of their website, which includes 40 years worth of writing and photographs. We appreciate their considered approach to digital, rooted in their respect and reverence for the written word, and their commitment to a distraction-free experience.
We dug into what their digital advances have meant to The Sun and its readers in the following interview with David Mahaffey, The Sun’s Digital-Media Director.
Erin: I read your (both hilarious and touching) account of your journey to becoming Digital-Media Director at The Sun, which included a months-long
snail-mail correspondence with editor and publisher Sy Safransky. Can you tell us a bit about The Sun’s approach to digital, given its unwavering reverence for the printed page?
David: I think The Sun’s reverence for the printed page is related to our commitment to providing a distraction-free space for readers, writers, and photographers to come together. We dropped advertising from the print magazine in 1990 — a leap of faith that placed our future in the hands of our readers, who have been there for us ever since. Even our first website was reader-supported: in 1998 two subscribers with a web-design business offered to build it for free. The design of the magazine has always been unobtrusive and exceedingly legible, and it took a long time for us to trust that we could offer a comparable reading experience online. I’m pleased that readers today can discover The Sun in print or on screen.
Erin: The most recent redesign of your website includes a full archive of your 40 years of publishing the magazine among numerous other updates. How has it been received by your readers? Any reactions that have surprised you?
David: Most of the readers who have responded with enthusiasm have also been quick to note that they would never part with their printed issues. But they are nonetheless visiting the website more, reading more selections, and sharing more of the work that moves them than they were before the new site launched.
It’s tempting to think of The Sun in terms of the latest issue, but we’ve been publishing since 1974. That’s more than 500 issues of the magazine, featuring more than 6,000 personal essays, interviews, poems, and short stories (not to mention thousands of photographs). Until we built our digital archive, our earliest issues sat unreadable on shelves in a storage facility, but now readers can search the full text or browse by topic or favorite magazine section. And they can share what they find with other readers who might appreciate it too.
When we launched our updated website, we also began publishing a new section of the magazine called “One Nation, Indivisible.” It features excerpts from The Sun’s archives that speak to the current political moment by giving readers perspectives on the past and determination to face the future. In print, we indicate the issue where each excerpt is drawn. Online, we can link directly to the full text of each selection.
It’s also been gratifying to hear from our contributors whose work is now accessible to a digital audience. The week we launched the new website, Cheryl Strayed (author of the memoir Wild) posted a Facebook link to an essay we published in 2002, and the resulting traffic briefly crashed the site. We never know what might strike a chord. Just recently, a fundraising letter from 10 years ago saw a large increase in site visits because someone with an impressive Twitter following shared it as part of a conversation about ethics in journalism.
Erin: One of the things that strikes me about The Sun is the strong sense of community that is evident in your readership. You have some of the nicest Facebook comments I’ve ever seen. You also have a section of your website that puts people in touch with discussion and writing groups formed by Sun readers in their areas. How has The Sun’s relationship with its readers evolved alongside the changes to your digital presence?
David: In some ways, we are following the readers. We first offered a digital edition of the magazine in response to a growing number of subscriber requests for one. The digital archive helps us answer reader questions about half-remembered work they read years ago and would like to find again. More and more of the discussion groups we list have Facebook addresses. If anything, we need to continue our digital evolution so we can keep up with our readers.
Erin: Are there any downsides to the digital advances you’ve made?
David: Converting our archive for the web has been a massive and expensive project for a small nonprofit magazine. So much of the work we’ve done on the new website has been to simply reach the point where we can more fully explore the new opportunities
available to publishers on the modern web. We’d love to produce a podcast, videos of our events, and other digital-only content, but those all require planning, approval, and development. We’re just beginning to figure out what our capacity is for those projects. Until we do, our digital presence feels contemporary but kind of sparse.
Another thing we’ve seen is a tremendous increase in submissions to the magazine. We receive nearly 3,000 per month, about four times as many as we did before we began accepting work online. The submissions overall are about the same quality as before, but that still means we’re reading about four times as many pieces that aren’t a good fit. Not everyone who submits is familiar with The Sun, so some writers don’t understand what kind of work we publish. We still want to read every submission and give it a fair chance, so we’ve hired more manuscript readers to keep pace.
Erin: Will you ever make digital versions of The Sun’s books? Or is that crossing a line?
David: We actually produced a PDF version of Many Alarm Clocks, our latest book. There wasn’t much interest, so we took it offline. We considered producing a version for e-readers like the Kindle, but as an independent publisher we weren’t comfortable working with Amazon because of their controversial position in the publishing world. We even considered an audiobook version, but Amazon dominates that market through Audible. Most digital platforms beyond those owned by conglomerates aren’t
nearly as user-friendly, and it’s important to us that anything we produce in a digital format is very easy to use. This is another area where we will follow our readers: if they let us know we should consider a particular platform, we’ll look into it.
We’d like to thank David for sharing his thoughts with us and, of course, we invite you to get to know The Sun for yourself at thesunmagazine.org.
Want more? Check out our recent report on digital strategy for publishers.
Please turn on your cell-phones.
Is there such a thing as polite use of cell-phones at a live performance? We hope so, because we want you to turn on your phone when you’re at Shakespeare in the Park this summer in Montreal.
That’s because we’ve been working with Repercussion Theatre since last year to bring the words of the Bard to francophone audiences, by providing a live translation that can be followed on phones and tablets while watching the show.
About the app
Last year, we held a Hack Day – a free day of work from our team – to help solve a digital problem for a cultural organization. Repercussion came to us with a challenge to help them better serve their francophone audiences with an alternative to traditional surtitling.
The prototype we came up is a web app containing the full French text of the show. It allows the backstage team at Repercussion to push a notification at regular intervals to people following along to alert them to the most recently updated position in the text. Designed with an outdoor setting in mind, it uses very little data, and muted background colours to minimize the impact on other audience members.
This year, we added a synopsis to the beginning of each scene, so that viewers could get the gist of the action without having to follow the text line by line. We hope to keep developing the prototype to allow a production to upload their own texts, and offer multiple languages to choose from.
About the show
Repercussion Theatre’s production of Much Ado About Nothing (Beaucoup de Bruit pour rien) runs from July 13 – August 15th in parks in and around Montreal.
Much Ado About Nothing examines deception and gender inequality through a confluence of plot lines. Claudio, a young soldier returned from war, asks Don Pedro to woo the beautiful Hero on his behalf but once won, Claudio’s affections quickly vanish when he is falsely led to believe that Hero has cheated on him. Meanwhile Beatrice and Benedick, committed bachelors, humorously illuminate the downside of traditional gender roles through an ongoing and rigorous battle of wits.
Director Amanda Kellock elaborates on the play’s themes. “This play involves good people making bad choices, hurting those they care about and their actions are so extreme it’s hard to imagine any form of reconciliation. But in order to do this play we have to ask ourselves: ‘How do we truly atone for our mistakes? How does forgiveness work? How do we keep moving towards each other, even when it feels impossibly hard?’”
See you in the park!
Read more about the app and give us your feedback.
A shout-out to those behind the scenes
There’s something really special about a festival, isn’t there?
Academics call it a “time out of time,” where social norms are subject to interpretation. You’re free to be a little louder, stay out a little later, dress a little
wilder, kick up your heels, and enjoy life. Festivals act as pressure valves for society, providing a little release from day-to-day obligations.
Applause, please, for those behind the scenes
Festival-goers obviously love festivals, but the organizers? They really gotta love ’em.
It’s no small feat to pull together myriad puzzle pieces – infrastructure, talent, promotion, ticketing, public safety, port-a-potties – into one seamless and concentrated experience.
Plank has worked on the digital side of festivals for a long time. Our work with the Fantasia Film Festival, Culture Days,
evenko, Osheaga, Île Soniq, and Heavy Montréal has enabled festival organizers to provide fans with up-to-the-minute information, and to keep track of the many elements and events that make a festival fantastic.
A labour of love
I personally caught the festival bug early. The buzz, the crowds, that “time out of time” feeling that this is not just another day in the life.
Through the years, I’ve been behind the scenes of quite a few festivals in my native Newfoundland. I cut my teeth as a teenager with the scrappy (and now sadly defunct) Peace-a-Chord music and social justice festival. Later, working as a venue/box office manager, I ushered countless festivals through the doors of the LSPU Hall. Big and small – like the Magnetic North Theatre Festival, the weird and wacky International Sound Symposium, high school drama festivals and film festivals galore.
I love the excitement of opening nights and closing parties, of diving into an onslaught of performances, workshops, exhibitions, you name it. My latest festival experience was with the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, where I spent two years running an outdoor music festival in Canada’s windiest, wettest city of St. John’s.
Somehow I get the credit for organizing the @NLFolkFestival but Erin to my right is actually the brains. pic.twitter.com/DXZMZhxts2
— John Drover (@JohnDrover)
August 11, 2014
Shiny happy (and tired) festival organizers.
There’s nothing quite like the rush of shutting down an outdoor concert because of torrential wind and rain, moving the show into a last-minute alternate venue in a tiny downtown bar, dealing with the disappointed ticket-holders who couldn’t fit into
that venue, dancing all night anyway, and getting up three hours later to do it all again.
Ok, that’s a pretty specific example, but I’m guessing other festival organizers can relate, and offer up their own crazy tales.
All this to say – I’m thrilled on a personal level that we’re able to offer a helping hand to what I know to be a pretty special breed of people.
Festival organizers, we salute you! And we’re here to help.
The view from our corner of a historic locale
Plank has been calling the Belgo Building home since 2000. Located at Ste. Catherine and Bleury, it’s in the heart of downtown Montreal. It’s easy to miss amongst the hustle and bustle, but we think it’s worth a closer look. The Belgo is a curious building with a long and storied history. We know there’s a lot more to uncover – that’s part of its charm – but here is a little glimpse.
The Belgo Building was originally constructed to house W.H. Scroggie’s department store, which opened on November 25, 1913. Scroggie ambitiously touted its new location as a “Store of Wonders,” promising myriad benefits to shoppers and employees alike. We’re still investigating whether the animal show featuring a real lion ever actually materialized, but it was the largest department store in Montreal at the time. Scroggie’s ambitions may have been too high, however, and sold their operations to Almy’s, an American department store,
a short two years later. Almy’s lasted until 1922.
The Belgo also housed the Traymore Cafe and Windsor Bowling and Billiards, and became one of the central buildings for the needle trade in Montreal. Several other buildings in the neighbourhood – the Jacobs, Blumenthal, and Kellert buildings – were an important hub of the fur and garment industry. The Belgo is the only one of those buildings to survive, the others were demolished to make room for Place Des Arts in the early 1960s.
In the 1980s, artists began occupying the run-down Belgo Building, staging temporary exhibitions and establishing studios and galleries. Today, the building still houses many independent galleries, and is well known as a hotspot for art-lovers.
For a sketch of the Belgo’s history, check out this comic by Jack Ruttan.
These days, the Belgo is a mixed bag of galleries and art studios, dance companies, therapists, and agencies. On our floor alone, we share the creaky floorboards with hip-hop dancers, yogis, kung-fu students, and even a garment manufacturer. There’s a gorgeous Breather space right next door to our office, if you ever feel like being our neighbour for a day.
If you’re interested in checking out the galleries at the Belgo, The Belgo Report is the best scene report on what is going on in the building and provides a comprehensive listing of news and reviews relating to all of the various exhibitions taking place in the space. We’re lucky to be in such a creative building and share this location with esteemed galleries and artisans. Montreal’s annual Nuit Blanche is always a big party here in the Belgo, with lots of open doors to explore.
Over the years we’ve been here, we’ve noticed lots of little things that make working in this iconic building even more “interesting”.
- Located just behind several important government offices, as well as the American Embassy, we have a perfect view of virtually any march, protest, or demonstration in
- With Musique Plus (now noovo) right across the street, we’ve seen lots of visits from Boy Bands. This also means lots of teenage girls and lots of shrill screaming and crying! Plankers sometimes get
caught in the action.
- Just a block from Place des Arts / Place des Festivals, there is always something to check out on the street, whether it’s food trucks, interactive art,
or outdoor entertainment.
But if you’re not looking, maybe you’ll find it…
If you’ve never visited the Belgo Building, do make a point to come and explore next time you’re kicking around downtown. We promise you will see the unique charm that makes this place so special.
This post was written with files from Plank alumni, Sarah Bagnall and Tanya McGinnity.