Scott McClellan, Echo Conference
After graduating from Dallas Baptist University with a degree in history and a communications minor, Scott McClellan had no real career aspirations. “I graduated having no idea what I wanted to do or really who I was.” He started with Dallas-based Igniter Media, a church and ministry media company, when he was 23, doing basic customer-service and fulfillment tasks. “Maybe after six months, I went to my bosses, and I told them I’m ready for a little bit more. That led to some writing opportunities—writing copy, packaging copy, newsletter emails.” He continued to work his way up at the company, before starting Collide magazine (now EchoHub.com, an online news hub) for creative church professionals. “What I found out later was those fields of study [in college] had prepared me to express ideas. They laid a nice groundwork for me to later discover that I can write a little, I can express ideas and I help other people express ideas, too.” Now, McClellan is the director of Echo conference, which recently took place for the fourth time. It’s described as an event for artists, geeks and storytellers to come together, learn about the latest technologies and trends, and take those creative ideas back to their churches and ministries for which they’re working. McClellan is the creative capital behind the conference.
Describe your job.
Let me qualify this a little bit. I’m not a designer in the visual sense. Photoshop should be taken away from me. But I see myself as a designer in that I try to create things for people. I am not an artist in a workshop, welding pieces of scrap metal together to see what happens, but I think the contrast to that is the designer who very intentionally makes something for an audience. My job, or our event that we do every summer, is one expression of that. I spend a good part of my year making things for our audience, and some things that aren’t necessarily at our live event.
What are your main responsibilities?
My main responsibility is content. What that means is that there’s very little content that appears on our website or in our social media channel or at our event that I haven’t at least touched in some way. That’s not to say that I write everything, but everything comes through me. I’ll interact with our contributors, or I’ll go back and forth with them. On the event side, I work with our speakers and teachers on our sessions, extending invitations and evaluating session proposals.
What does your team look like?
On the planning side, we have my two bosses who are our president and vice president. We work together on vision, content, speaker ideas and some fun activity ideas, as well as on the marketing side in terms of message, structure and schedule. On the logistical side, I work with Jenny Wright, and she’s so on top of things I could never keep straight. She manages and coordinates all the details and logistics, and works with vendors and venues and coordinates our staff internally. Then we have a design and development team that includes really about five different people. We’re part of a company that’s doing a lot of other things in terms of design and development.
How has the industry changed since you’ve been working in it?
Social media is a great example of how mediums and platforms change even though communication principles haven’t changed a lot in terms of what makes effective communication. This industry in some ways is still very new. There are a lot of organizations and strong voices that were established when we started that have shifted a lot, pivoted, or gone away or come back as something else. It’s kind of a constant—not challenge but just constant—activity to pay attention to who are the emerging voices, and who is the organization making a difference for. Who’s serving our audience and serving our church? Jon Acuff, for example. He’s someone we take a little bit of pride in having had him in 2010. Now he’s such a great speaker and so successful, but he’s a great example of someone we didn’t know about five years ago. These new voices are constantly emerging and doing great work in our industry.
How do you do stay in front of the trends and find emerging talent?
I think it helped when I was the editor of Collide. One thing editors have in common is they are hungry for content. I was always listening and searching for something to write about or someone to write for us. I always wanted to know what’s the next story and what’s the next idea because we had blank pages to fill. My Google Reader was loaded up, and I was following as many people on Twitter as I could. From a practical side, it helps to be ahead of the curve on some voices. Someone like Seth Goden or Malcolm Gladwell—I love them so much but I could never afford to bring them in. So we need to find someone who has that same creative spark and creative genius. We can’t wait for super established people. We have to go out and dig and find people and surprise our audience with new speakers.
How do you think you’re influencing the faith-based industry?
The people who come to Echo are communicators. We know we have the potential to influence people or to share ideas, inspiration and messages with them. They come to Dallas from various parts of the country, Canada and overseas. They come and spend 40 hours with us, then go back with the potential to echo what they have learned and what we have curated and put forth. That’s one of the reasons we love this audience. They are so committed to what they do and they influence their communities. It’s really our honor to host them and challenge them and, hopefully, help them.
What’s the best part of your job?
It’s the opportunity to put your money where your mouth is. I’m as guilty as anyone, but it’s really easy to criticize and say you wish things were different or you wish the church would talk about this or that. But the opportunity to plan and host an event is an opportunity to actually make something. Once you put a date on the calendar, it’s real. When we started planning this year’s event, we had some ideas that carried over from last year, but for the most part, we had a blank page and nobody else was going to fill it. I love that. I love the opportunity not to be just a consumer, spectator and critic, but to be an active creator and a participant.
And the worst part of your job?
I don’t like turning over control. That’s one of the hardest things about an event. This year, we’re going to have four keynotes, a worship band and 30 breakout sessions, and I’m only teaching one of them. I’ve got to let go and trust those other 29 people to prepare and put their hearts into it. There’s no way you can do a conference by yourself, so you’ve got to let go.
When you’re not at work, what do you like to do?
My wife Annie and I have two little girls, Elise (4) and Maggie (1). As you can imagine, we have our hands full. We love to play and build things and create. We want to foster that in our kids. We’re also involved in a ministry with foster and adoptive families at our church that’s near and dear to our hearts. And I also enjoy writing in my free time. I’ve got a personal project I’m working on: a book, tentatively titled “Tell Me a Story: Finding God in Ourselves through Narrative.” It’s about trying to look at life and faith through the lens of storytelling and seeing what that can teach us about God and ourselves. It’s due out in 2013.
Dream Speaker: Malcolm Gladwell. He’s such a fantastic storyteller, and I’d love to pepper him with annoying questions.
Last Place You Vacationed: San Antonio, Texas
Worst Industry Buzzword: Viral. It’s not an adjective to describe a kind of content; it’s an adjective to describe how some content spreads. In other words, you can’t make a viral video. You can only make a video with the potential to “go viral.”
Professional Pet Peeve: Working with printers—the deadlines, the proofs, the file types, the ever-changing account reps…
First Job: Academic advisor for a local university
Twitter/blog: @scottmcclellan, echohub.com
The McClellan Profile: iPhone | Carry-on | Aisle seat. My 6-foot-6-inch frame requires it. | Coffee | Neither suit me too well, but I have to say skinny jeans. | Twitter, no question!