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Plugged In

Trend spotter Marian Salzman, Stamford resident and CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America

It’s Sunday before 9 a.m., and Marian Salzman is visibly pensive, sitting at the table with a cup of coffee in one hand and a BlackBerry in the other. The rest of her Stamford household is asleep, but she’s already walked the dogs, and breakfast food—bagels, cream cheese, muffins and “panini stuff”—is spread out on the kitchen countertop, waiting for everyone to wake up.

It’s important to know about this reflective moment in Salzman’s fast-paced life because what she may be pondering informs what she does for a living—trend spotting—and it is very likely to affect you. Simply put, Salzman’s job as CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America, is to help clients be front and center of the latest chatter. She does this by poring over all the data she can get her hands on to take the collective pulse of what’s going on. Her influence lies in her ability to rifle through the information and disseminate the prescient ideas and trends that illustrate what will come next. This gives her irrefutable reach and authority and is often what sets her apart as a leading trend spotter.

If you need an example, Salzman was one of the first to see that the real estate market was about to implode, and that the financial meltdown would (and did) result in a cultural shift toward less consumption, nesting and family values. Salzman also popularized the terms metrosexual and millenials, and recently declared that local is the new global and sleep is the new sex. She is also spreading the word that fifty is the new thirty. “I don’t have a crystal ball, but if I’m lucky, I have a measuring cup,” says Salzman, PRWeek’s 2011 PR Professional of the Year. “I’m more of a trend spreader with a sophisticated sense of what I’m interpreting from data, or hearing in focus groups, or learning from pattern-recognition work. Trend spreading is really what matters. It’s figuring out what patterns are bound to hit the mainstream. That’s what makes news and helps clients stay in the media.”

Salzman, a brilliant professional who looks like you and me, tirelessly spreads her forecasts through a series of blogs (including one for The Huffington Post), columns, TV appearances and books, among them Buzz: Harness the Power of Influence and Create Demand and Next Now: Trends for the Future. But she is the first to admit that she’s not very trendy, even though she’s one of Connecticut’s top five Twitter personalities. “It is unlikely that I will ever come up with brilliant, provocative [banter]. But I will see, by scanning all the cultures out there, what ideas are going to stick, and I can steer marketers in these directions.”

It is her brand of “dead normalness” that allows her to act as the trustworthy translator of trends. Raised in New Jersey, she put herself through Brown by working as a maid and waitress and selling apparel at Macy’s. But by the time she was thirty, she had cofounded Cyberdialogue, the world’s first online market research company, with Jay Chiat of Chiat/Day. “My only addiction is hot and sour soup, and the world kind of likes that kind of normalcy,” she says. As she’s talking, her boyfriend, Jim Diamond, a criminal defense attorney and chairman of Stamford’s Democratic Party, enters. The two have been together more than two years, and their blended family—he has four children, from fifteen to twenty-one—has been living under one roof for more than a year in their backcountry Stamford cottage.

“I’m trendier than your stay-at-home mom in the suburbs, but I’m really pretty conventional,” Salzman continues. “I like to joke that the most serious rule I ever broke was that I got a speeding ticket on the Taconic Parkway. “My lack of respect for convention really lies in the way I see the world, that all the institutions and all the givens can be turned upside down. When I look at my kitchen faucets, I don’t totally understand why there’s only hot and cold water coming out. I’m not sure why there’s not a third spigot for miso soup, since that’s the third most common liquid we drink here.” This is Salzman’s way of explaining how she interprets all the information she absorbs. Some have called it a unique ability to spot what others don’t, a keen skill that helps her see the bigger picture before anyone else does. “I always see the aberration, the point of change,” she says. “I’ll start to see it and ideas will start to resonate in my head. I’ll get a sense of something and then start to follow it to a logical point of view.”

Acting Locally
It’s only recently that Salzman began to settle into her neighborhood, which has given her a chance to testher “local is the new global” meme: Because technology gives us instant access to the world, leaving little room for discovery of anything new to us, our focus on environmental issues, networking, growth, activism, politics, even foodie culture, has shifted to its local markets. Being president of the Fairfield County Public Relations Association helps Salzman take Stamford’s pulse. “This is an interesting way to learn about the businesses that are headquartered here. One of my good friends is in private equity in Silicon Valley, and I hear the kind of life she has in terms of networking—she has a cup of coffee, she hears about a deal, she does volunteer work, she’s in the thick of everything in the new-media world. When I see a group like FCPRA, it’s an opportunity to do this in my own industry.” Salzman sees Connecticut as one of America’s bellwethers—as it goes, so goes the nation, and what plays here spreads. “The state’s economy has been terribly hurt the past couple of years. We’re an outward-looking state where young people don’t want to come back to live.

Someone called it a doughnut with some wealth and everybody else going through the center. That’s kind of where the country is headed.” After the Occupy Wall Street movement gained traction last fall and changed the tone of the financial conversation, Salzman adds: “The truth is that the truly wealthy have become more isolated from everyone else, and that there is a great discomfort among the middle class, who once had liquidity from their home equity to fund college tuitions, and assistance for their elderly parents. Today we are all cash-strapped and puzzled by how the subprime crisis took down an entire generation, saddling today’s students with extraordinary college debt. The anger is real and valid.” In the meantime Salzman is convinced that the right marketing campaign can turn things around for Connecticut. “It presents a lot of opportunities. At one point Stamford represented one of the great corporate capitals of America. The questions will be: Does it hang onto that stature and actually propose a very interesting alternative to New York, or does it lose its luster and revert to being a small town? I’m not totally convinced that right now it’s marketing itself with a very competitive offer. I think the old Stamford did. When it attracted all these financial services businesses, it was a much more compelling alternative than it is today.” While the relocations of Starwood and NBC Sports, and the impending opening of Chelsea Piers bode well for Stamford, “I also wonder whether the momentum of incentives is generating the right interest from creative businesses that thrive at hope’s edge and bring empowered young people, new tools and an enthusiasm for change to a city that seems to be wallowing it what it used to be. The past is over, and Stamford’s challenge is writing its vision for 2020.” Salzman points to Utah, which she visited in August to keynote the Outdoor Industry Association, and which has successfully remade itself. “The trend is, you can take a place—the natural resources and human capital it has to offer—and package it [to] make it much more exciting to people,” she says. Living in Stamford has made Salzman a vested member of the commuter culture. If you live it, you’ll recognize it. “As commuters, we jet off in the morning sleepy, and return in the evening tired. We are part of the community, and connected via social and traditional media and through genuine social ties, but [we are] missing in action from the daily movements of a city that has quirky characters, subplots and a way of working that seem alien to a New Yorker. “Commuters are really hybrids—we have a foot in two worlds, and lots of our knowledge of community events is via a game of telephone of heard-it-on-the-platform. The world could be collapsing but the second biggest issue of the day will be parking at the station. We know people by sight, not name, and often have the same scripted chat, before we revert to our BlackBerries and iPads. The newspaper or Kindle starts to define who is who—a Wall Street Journal reader, a Post reader or an Advocate reader.”

Just Like Us
As we begin to enjoy breakfast, Salzman makes a confession. Though she’s more plugged in than the Internet and has an uncanny knack for calling things as she sees them, she can’t so much as program her own DVR. “I can’t change the tire on my car, either,” she laughs. “I’m not that interested in the technological innovations that are coming. I really care about the moment it flips from technology to connectivity. I don’t care about innovation, but I become completely consumed by it as soon as it makes human life more exciting, more interesting, more social, more connected.”Salzman, who calls herself a student of change, never planned to be a trend spreader. But when opportunities were offered—to go to South Africa after apartheid, to move to Europe after a merger, to be in charge of new media when the Internet came along, to serve as Wyclef Jean’s spokesperson during his ill-fated run for president of Haiti, his homeland—she said yes without hesitation. I didn’t want to be president of the United States. I didn’t want to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. I didn’t want to be a rock star. I wanted to be really good at something and have a really interesting life.”                                                                             

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