Week 3: A Conversation with Guest Speakers Dan Portnoy and Babette Pepaj

Ron Del Rio

Ron Del Rio

By UCLA X425 Student Ron Del Rio

Both Pepaj and Portnoy had diverse backgrounds before getting into social media. Pepaj was a reality TV director and producer, and Portnoy’s first job was “black hat guy” who worked for a company where he had to lay off employees. Both have worked continually in the media, with Pepaj building an online food community through BakeSpace and Portnoy assisting non-profits in telling their stories through short films and other creative content.

Can Portnoy

Can Portno

Portnoy discussed his latest movie; a friend sent him a link to a radio contest for which he created a 30-second horror film spoofing the after school special. It was only after Portnoy submitted his movie for the contest that the friend informed him that he sent the link only as an example of  of “transmedia.” Recent client-related projects have included shorts for Arclight Theaters and the United Way – two projects he feels made a human connection to help tell a story.

uclax425 The first movie Pepaj helped promote with BakeSpace was “Because I Said So” via an online recipe exchange. The film was not necessarily a natural fit for swapping recipes given that the main character was a psychologist with three daughters, but the target audience was just right for BakeSpace’s membership, so Babette found a way to relate the film’s story line to recipes. This campaign helped her land her next movie promotion for a small film titled “Waitress.” Pepaj was able to use her growing online community to create a name-your-own-pie contest. This was a hit with users as they named all kinds of pies, both real and fictional. From there, Pepaj continued promoting movies until she was able to work on her ideal show for this platform, and that was “Desperate Housewives.” It was with “Desperate Housewives” that Pepaj was able to bring to life her idea of developing recipes integrated with the story line.

uclax425aNow, both Pepaj and Portnoy have built successful campaign portfolios. Portnoy explains that when writing shorts for non-profits he creates the classic three-act story structure. An example that Portnoy used was the campaign he developed for the non-profit Dig Deep. He created a short film that challenges viewers to take the 4 liter challenge, using only 4 liters of water a week for all their water needs. This allowed him to not only shine a spotlight on what people in other parts of the world have to deal with in terms of very limited access to water, but to also create an online dialogue by giving viewers a call to action and helping them share their experiences online.

Babette Pepaj

Babette Pepaj

Pepaj is using such platforms as Google+ Hangouts to create a weekly live video chat that she calls #KitchenParty. She explained how many brands are starting to work with Google+ to create video content that reaches audience directly and in real time. She went on to describe how she also uses branded content for more traditional promotional tools such as newsletters, giveaways and mainstream publicity.

And these two entrepreneurs are not done just yet. Pepaj’s downloadable, user-created cookbooks and weekly online shows continue to help her find and build an audience for BakeSpace. Portnoy continues to demonstrate that brevity in storytelling in today’s Vine and Instagram world is an effective way to reach and build an audience for whatever cause you’re promoting.


In an effort to do something a bit different than just words… I created the following comic strip to describe the guest speaking appearance by Pepaj and Portnoy.

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