I get asked quite often to sit on advisory boards, however as I consider joining each one, I frankly never know what to expect…
So I’ve started making notes here for new teams (or exhibitions, or investors) that want to get professional video game advisors on their board. I hope it gives you some direction.
- One way to find them is to find people that are already on boards, as they generally are pretty open to the concept. Also focus on key individuals that specifically meet your needs, it’s quite flattering to be asked and if handled well (professionally) should be quite easy. Very commonly they fall like dominoes, so let advisory board members suggest (and approach) other new advisory board members for you. Commonly you will end up with a much higher pedigree of talent this way. (Thankfully the video game industry still remains a very friendly, supportive, connected industry, so this is pretty straightforward.)
- So now you have them, you want to use as little of people’s time as humanly possible. (Anyone good is EXTREMELY busy, you must acknowledge that.)
- You want to get the most out of that time they make available, I’m talking every single minute counts. So expect to be the moderator, don’t let people waffle on, don’t let there be lulls in conversation, keep things going fast and keep it potent. (Have someone taking notes and following through on absolutely everything.) Also be prepared to help the shy ones speak and don’t allow them to be talked over.
- IF you are going to physically meet, meet somewhere that fits the challenge. Somewhere private, quiet, with a wireless internet connection, quality conference speakerphone (as there’s always a member that won’t be able to make it physically.) The room should have writing surfaces (whiteboards) or large pads on easels (so you can take the notes away with you.) There should also be notepads, pens, and some food / drinks. If you go with whiteboards, have someone taking live notes, and take a digital photo of it before wiping it.
- The worst case I’ve seen is when there’s no agenda, a bunch of time is wasted, good ideas are not noted down and there’s zero follow-through, meaning there’s no action. That’s when advisory boards fall apart.
- TRAVEL is your enemy. You should keep it to an absolute minimum. Video conference calls are your friend! It’s cheaper to send a webcam to everyone with instructions to get Microsoft Net-Meeting going than it is to fly anyone anywhere. Also consider the impact on their families, as many developers now have children, you can expect requests “Can I bring my Family along?”
- What can be done on email should be done on email. But as these people are so busy, don’t get depressed when responses are incredibly late. Meaning don’t put any life and death stuff in email, save that for the conference calls.
- I would suggest starting a Wiki (using Mediawiki), so that all notes (and images) are kept live and can be edited by us on our own time. (That’s something most advisory boards have not started doing yet.) We can also be looking at it and discussing things during conference calls. (For example if you had a logo you wanted us all to see, don’t email it, put it in the Wiki so it’s there for good.) If you don’t have the technical knowledge to get a Wiki going, no problem, there’s professional companies running them now, or you could go to someone like Dreamhost. With a web account there, you just click one button for an instant Mediawiki. Also know that many business people use Blackberry’s or other forms of wireless email, so don’t send ANY big images, or weblinks or documents (like PDF’s) as they will likely never get around to it. Pure clean text, those are the emails that will get the best response. If you want them to read something from a website, paste it (as clean text) into the email, so it’s immediately at their fingertips.
- If you insist on the board meeting somewhere, then I would advise you pick up all the costs, including a nice hotel. (Frankly that cost will help you find ways not to do this!) Some boards put us up in an incredible luxury resort with massages, golf etc. That’s what Professional Advisory Board Members get used to, so know that before you pull your checkbook out.
- Make them feel special! Making them something custom that reflects their status is good, and doing the same at the show is also good. The most annoying thing ever is when an advisory board member can’t get access to all areas of a show (or inside your company, or to your products). When some security guard has no way to properly identify them, or when a volunteer won’t let them into a room. That means a special all access pass and some kind of cool “thank you” gift each time they go out of their way for your enterprise.
- Promote them on your website and in your printed materials. These people enjoy giving their time for free to the gamers/developers, but remember they are doing that. The best ones I’ve seen do a press release as members join, there’s an advisory board page on their website, they are mentioned at the beginning and end of the show, and are mentioned in any printed materials. Sometimes they are put on stage together to discuss the vision they have formed and why they chose the direction they did. The key is they generally need to feel appreciated in some way or other.
- If you need your advisory board to read things, try to condense it as much as possible. So for example, if you post a lot of information to a slow website that requires flipping through multiple pages to get to another entry, you will find people dropping out as they get phone calls, have to go to meetings etc. ALWAYS be thinking how can I present this data to the board in the most time efficient way possible?
- Paying them? This generally is not done, but if you want to find a way to reward them, I’m sure they will be all ears.
- Make your advisory board work! Don’t ask them to list problems or opinions, ask them for SOLUTIONS. You will quickly work out which members have the most useful ideas. So just before they attend an event remind them to take notes of things they would like to see improved next time (AND HOW TO DO JUST THAT?!) Make sure to have a wrap up discussion right after the event to extract this information while it’s still hot in their minds.
- Getting them to deliver? Aha, this is the tough one. The best thing I’ve seen is plenty of follow-up, meaning if you ask 8 people for feedback and only three reply. Let that be gently known, “Thanks XXX, you get a Gold Star for being first, thanks also to YYY and ZZZ for getting their ideas in so fast, as for the rest of you, the deadline is AAAAA”. Another way is to give out awards to the advisory members that really over-deliver. Like “Here’s a magnum of champagne for the person that delivered the most ??????”, or :”Here’s the person that’s always first with replies, they get a free Playstation 3″ etc.
So that’s my list of suggestions to keeping your advisory board happy.
If your board is happy, you will find it really easy to get them to spread the word and attract other key advisory board members. Handled well you can very quickly and prerry cheaply have an incredible array of knowledge, contacts and experience at your fingertips. If you get people that deliver hits, you can also have instant credibility with investors and gamers too.
My last piece of advice is don’t panic, don’t just sign up the first 5-10 people you can get your hands on. Advisory Board members are difficult to get rid of (without hurting feelings), so don’t put yourself in a position where you have no room for some big guns that might become available later.
Good luck! – If you have any SPECIFIC questions or comments you think I missed here, feel free to email them to: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to add them to this article.