TED’s Brand Ambassadors: A Network of Inspiration

In News by Erin L. Cox

Before TED’s Doug Chilcott joins a panel at Publishing Perspectives’ June 13 rights conference (#pprights16), we take a look at the concept of networked interest and inspiration behind the popular series.

By Erin L. Cox | @erinlcox

TED Now Has Offerings in 110 Languages
How did an invitation-only conference in technology, entertainment, and design (TED) become a phenomenon that could launch specialists’ speaking careers and change the way attendees and viewers think about education, healthcare, global business, humanity, and much more? The short answer is by inspiring creativity, inclusion, and the sharing of ideas among people who become its brand ambassadors.

Doug Chilcott

Doug Chilcott

The long answer we’ll get from Doug Chilcott, Creative Director for TED, when he gives us a glimpse inside the TED playbook at our June 13 conference Rights and Content in the Digital Age.

Prior to his work at TED, Chilcott spent more than 25 years in book and magazine publishing, starting out as a copywriter at Holt, Rinehart & Winston and Scholastic, then as copy chief at Wiley. In magazine publishing, he worked in creative services at The New Yorker, creative development at Conde Nast Portfolio, and in marketing at The National Journal.

From books to magazines to live events, the through-line is the expression of ideas and information to a wide audience. With the rise of global publishing, the audience for each medium has expanded beyond our traditional audiences and borders. Chilcott, at this writing traveling in Hong Kong and Beijing, will return to our conference to talk about how TED is a “non-profit with a mission, coupled with old media.” Its programs now comprise some 110 languages.

A Little About TED:

TED logo linedFounded in 1984 by Richard Saul Wurman, TED was created to bring the technology, entertainment, and design industries together in one place, demonstrating their parallels, growing together, inspired by similar trends and playing off each other.

Wurman has said that his goal was to bridge the divide and share ideas that might spark new understanding, creativity, or action, and to satisfy his own curiosity.

When he was programming the conference (he sold TED in 2002), each speaker was someone he, personally, wanted to hear speak.  The first TED conferences had only 1000 people each year.  Now, 30 years later, the conference—along with local TEDx events around the world and TED Talks (which have had a reported billion views)—have inspired millions of people.  If you Google “TED Talks that Changed the World,” you can get a sense for the breadth of the program’s international impact.

For publishers, who are purveyors of stories and ideas, much can be learned from TED:

  • Connection to an audience: TED curator Chris Anderson referred to the program in his own 2002 talk as “your conference,” reflecting the interests and energies of the audience. He promised “No corporate bullshit.  No bandwagoning, just the pursuit of interest across all disciplines.”  Dubbing itself a “global community,” TED encourages all comers to feel included and invested in the content and brand.
  • Understanding and appealing to a new generation:  TED is a nonprofit devoted to freely sharing knowledge.  From research presented at our Designing Books for Tomorrow’s Readers conference in 2015 and in Mockingbird Publishing Founder Ashley Gordon’s presentation at the Book Industry Study Group’s Making Information Pay conference last month, we know that millennials are engaged by authenticity, word-of-mouth curation, and want to be inspired by and contribute to a cause.
  • Inspiring and sharable content: From the moment the first six TED Talks were shared online in 2006, TED Talks have been a way for viewers to quickly and easily share ideas that have personally inspired them with each other, expanding the reach exponentially.
  • Cross-media content for audience expansion: TED began as an annual conference in Northern California and now includes localized events, online talks, prizes, fellowships, a line of books, a radio show on National Public Radio, podcasts, and educational programs.

Or perhaps it’s just learning a little more about tapping into the right audience, however large or small, and letting the ideas take shape organically. In an interview last month with Michael Grothaus at Fast Company, Wurman said, “You don’t have to sell a million books to have an effect, or to make something clear, or to work out clarity in life. Small groups, if they’re the right small groups, and they’re filtered down naturally to people who tell other people, that’s quite enough. Viral communications is really quite interesting.”


Doug Chilcott, Creative Director for TED, is on a panel at Publishing Perspectives’  Rights and Content in the Digital Age conference on June 13, Grand Hall at the NYU Kimmel Center in New York City. The conference hashtag is #pprights16Tickets are available here.

More on the conference:

About the Author

Erin L. Cox

Erin L. Cox is the Business Development Director for Publishing Perspectives and a Senior Associate at Rob Weisbach Creative Management, where she represents writers and handles publicity and advertising clients.