Articulate May 2018

Creating Life Long Connections Through frank


Written By: Lisa Marinelli

Building relationships helps you reach your goals, whether they’re professional or personal. The purpose of frank, a three-day annual conference, is not to create a bigger professional network, but to foster long-lasting friendships with people who support social change.

Professionals from all over the country attend frank. Their backgrounds are in different fields, but they are all working toward similar goals in the area of public interest communications. The field borrows elements from public relations, journalism and marketing, and is influenced by sociology, psychology, political science and neuroscience. It uses strategic communication campaigns to achieve significant behavioral and social change.

frank is a gathering located only in downtown Gainesville at the intimate Hippodrome Theater. What makes frank special compared with other conferences is illustrated by Ann Christiano, Frank Karel Chair in Public Interest Communications, and Ellen Nodine, Event Director.

With help from 30 leading minds in the field, Christiano and Andy Burness brainstormed the design of the ideal conference. There would be no lecterns, no panels, no tablecloths and no pitchers of water. There would be a sense of celebration and play. One thing that came out of this conversation was anybody who comes to frank will leave having more friends, not just a bigger professional network.

“The work of social change is really hard, and to do it well you need help,” Christiano explained. “The kind of help you need is not going to come from your professional network. It’s going to come from the people who are as invested in your success as you are.”

Nodine came on board to help organize the first frank in 2014 after traveling and working with Matt Sheehan, frank Technical Director, on another conference. Sheehan who was insistent on having frank at The Hippodrome, thought the space aligned perfectly with frank’s mission to make meaningful relationships in a different, exciting and fun way. It would make downtown Gainesville the star of the show, where breakout sessions could be held in bars, restaurants and coffee shops, benefiting local vendors.

“Everybody that comes to frank loves the fact it’s downtown,” exclaimed Nodine.

frank’s egalitarian environment creates an openness to the entire community. There is no VIP section. Everyone is approachable. Nodine described a situation where someone may be viewed as a professional rockstar yet can be found sitting next to a student having coffee and going to the same events. frank is purposefully designed this way to encourage speakers to attend the entire gathering and provide powerful networking opportunities.

“What’s remarkable about frank is that just about everybody who’s there is as extraordinary as any of the speakers,” Christiano said. “There’s this cool dynamic at frank where if a speaker no-showed, you could spin around the room and pick somebody out of their seat and be like, ‘Give a 10 minute talk,’ and it would be the most amazing talk you’ve ever heard, because that’s the caliber of people who are there.”

Past speakers who have been invited to frank include Eli Pariser, author of “The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think,” and Shanelle Matthews, former Director of Communications for the Black Lives Matter Global Network.

“I think Gainesville is a very change-oriented community,” said Christiano. “People have a strong sense of social purpose. So people who have that sense have the opportunity at frank to connect with leading minds from around the world. Leading people from corporations, foundations, government and scholars all come together.”

“The other thing that makes frank special is that attendance is by invitation, and we do it not to exclude people. We do it to actually make sure we have a great balance between people who are from Gainesville and people who aren’t,” continued Christiano.

Nodine said there is a “First-time franksters” Facebook page frank newbies are encouraged to join. Returning franksters are also encouraged to join in order to give advice and recommendations to newcomers. Around 15 to 20 “frank Connectors” are established to be present at every social event and make sure people are meeting one another. As Nodine put it, these lightly choreographed events ensure no one is left out.

About 50 percent of people return to frank, a quarter are completely new to the gathering and the other quarter are a friend or colleague of a past attendee. Nodine said frank is growing by word-of-mouth from people who may not be able to go to the event again, but are sending their friends and colleagues. The total frank community currently consists of about 1,500 people.

As frank continues to grow, Christiano and Nodine are excited to see more hotels going up downtown in the future.

New hotels will bring opportunities for expansion, but the venue capacity of The Hippodrome limits the attendee cap. frank sells out every year with about 300 people. The venue could be addressed, but the current amount of 300 attendees creates a great community, whereas 1,000 people could cause difficulty in making connections.

“People really like the smallness of it. It’s not overwhelming,” Christiano said. “You’re not walking into massive groups of people. So, we struggle with it because we’d love to have more people involved, but, on the other hand, we really love the intimacy of what we have.”

Christiano’s final description of the frank community explained how all attendees are generous with their knowledge, time and openness with one another.

“I was talking with a student today, and she was headed to Washington DC for job interviews. I said, ‘I want to introduce you to this person. She’s part of the frank community. You’re going to love her. She is so kind, generous and welcoming. I know you two will get along.’ And she responded, ‘She’s part of frank, of course she’s like that.’”

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Lisa Marinelli is a third-year advertising major at the University of Florida and is currently interning with the Parisleaf content marketing team. Drawn to unexplored turf, she absorbs her surroundings like a sponge. She finds the perfect background music for every moment of her day.

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