The Harvest Summit

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Our Lisa Comrie Gibson and Wendy Steele have produced many Loma projects together and independently, including a national broadcast series for EA SPORTS and multiple initiatives for brands ranging from Google to DIRECTV. Lisa took time out to query Wendy about her rather amazing “field trip.” 

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LISA: My last field trip was to the zoo in 6th grade. This sounds a bit more upscale, yes?

Wendy Steele (right) with Harvest Summit co-founder Jessica Kilcullen

WENDY: Only if you consider an invitation-only, all-day event in with world-class food and wines, mediation and yoga, and one-on-one insights from the some of the most innovative minds working today “upscale.”

LISA: Lucky you. You get any work done, among the fun?

WENDY: That’s the best part! The unique vibe instantly broke down walls, so everyone connected quickly and surprisingly easily. The Summit was held at a beautiful property in Sonoma County, where I grew up, but my commute was a bit longer–about 3,000 miles from my home near Baltimore.

LISA: How did the Harvest Summit come about?

WENDY: John and Jessica Kilcullen, longtime friends of mine, have had this vision for years, so it was exciting to see it come to fruition.  They’ve both been very successful individually, so I knew this ‘team effort’ would be something special.

To quote Jessica, “We really feel that people have to come together from different perspectives to learn from each other and to spark ideas, and deals, and push things forward.”

As a former Bay Area PR executive and corporate visionary, Jess turned her creative talents and amazing work ethic to bringing together outstanding leaders in the food and wine, media/entertainment, agriculture, technology, and public policy sectors to spark ideas and push innovation forward.

And husband John is no dummy! I say that because he’s the guy who created the iconic “For Dummies” books…we’ve all seen those yellow books with the little character on the front, guiding us through the intricacies of Excel, football and pretty much everything in between.  After he sold the brand he had even more success with other publishing ventures. John linked up with Mark Burnett and Roma Downing years ago, and they’ve been inseparable ever since.

LISA: Give us an idea of who all was there.

WENDY:  There were great breakout sessions; I certainly couldn’t make all of them. I wish I was triplets.

I loved the “Moon Shots” session with some big time innovators… Hans Peter Brondmo, formerly with Google(x), now with Robotics, X and Marcus Shingles, CEO of XPrize. The session was on the architecture of exponential thinking, tinkering and teamwork to create things our universe has never seen before.

The “Storytelling” session was interesting with Chip Bowers, CMO of the Golden State Warriors, and John Canning of NBC Interactive.  It was all about thinking outside the box on how to sell your brand and create experiences beyond normal mediums.

One of my favorite people I met at the Summit was Komal Ahmad, CEO of Copia.  This is a great startup, I call it “Uber with a cause.”  Copia coordinates delivery of leftover and unused catering and event food to homeless shelters and places in-need.   Harvest Summit leftovers were delivered that night, personally by Komal, to a shelter in San Francisco.  They had great signage around the Summit.

I only caught the tail-end of the Millennials session, but wish I could’ve captured the whole thing…there was some amazing insight by Kevin Weil from Instagram…I am a HUGE fan!

A good friend of mine, Rob Angel, led a panel discussion on Design…he invented Pictionary, and it was fascinating to hear his story about the shape of the game board.  At the time, games only had the square folded into fourths.  He decided to “switch it up” by folding the board long ways…which meant the box was a shape and size that really “stood out” on shelves.  We all know the success around that game back in the day…an invention that changed pop-culture and generated decades of family fun.

LISA: You mentioned Mark Burnett. I imagine everyone knows him as the man behind Survivor

WENDY: Yup. And Shark Tank, and The Voice, and so many other shows, huge hits, all. Mark Burnett is no ‘one hit wonder.’  And that fact is pretty central to the points he made–all relevant to the world of production, but are also true across every industry and venture. And I always prefer to listen to someone who’s hit the bulls-eye repeatedly, makes me feel pretty confident they have something to say.

LISA: What was your top takeaway?

WENDY: Mark said it’s not how great your product is–it’s all about the storytelling.  That certainly resonates in our line of work, but it’s universal. In fact, he’s a great believer in spending significant time and treasure on marketing the product or concept… putting your money where your mouth is, so to speak.

He also talked about going against the grain, pushing your limits. The Voice is a great story. When he pitched it, the networks were like, “Huh? Yet another music competition?” Not quite. He gave it a different look, and, most importantly, a different vibe–it was all positive, no Screaming Simon. And now, The Voice is last man standing.

LISA: Tell us about the coffee.


LISA: C’mon.

WENDY: There was a stylish attendee in a lovely white dress. There was me with a cup of coffee. And then there was me with a cup, and the coffee all over the white dress. She, um, reacted in Russian.

LISA: That’s one way to meet people.

WENDY: I apologized in English. Next year, I stick to wine!

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