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SAS Brand Director Aims To Connect Tech, Emotion Through Film

By Cece Nunn, posted Nov 9, 2018
Susan Ellis, director of brand and corporate social innovation at SAS, speaks during the Connect Conference, part of the 24th annual Cucalorus Festival. (Photo by Cece Nunn)
When a 7.8-magnitude earthquake devastated Nepal in 2015, Cary-based analytics software company SAS worked to connect the International Organization for Migration with the sheet metal roofing the organization needed to help house thousands of displaced residents.

Susan Ellis, the company's director of brand and corporate social innovation, aimed to tell the story through a short film that barely mentions SAS.

The film was an example Ellis, keynote speaker at this year's Connect conference, part of the 24th annual Cucalorus Festival, shared Thursday night in Wilmington as to how she was able to use her filmmaking skills and creativity to build trust, and factor in the emotional aspect of business decisions, in branding SAS.

"We're uniquely positioned as artists to put a human story around technology and actually to sort of make sense of technology in the context of our lives. And that's something that brands like SAS need to help them build that sense of trust and security with an individual who may be thinking about getting into a relationship with us," Ellis said.

Ellis said New Hanover County's Department of Social Services uses SAS technology to help identify children at risk. According to SAS's website, the county enlisted SAS Visual Investigator, integrating data from criminal justice and public health databases into agency data. The system can alert DSS workers to relevant changes to risks affecting a child in their charge.

But that's not the only connection SAS has to New Hanover County. The co-founder and CEO of SAS, Jim Goodnight, is a New Hanover High School graduate and the richest person in North Carolina, along with being one of the richest people in the world, according to Forbes.

Before rejoining the staff at SAS (she had worked there previously for 10 years after she graduated from college), Ellis founded Footpath Pictures with her husband, Ray, and has her own previous tie to the Cucalorus Festival. The Footpath Pictures film Certain Proof, a documentary about the challenges educators face when working to teach kids who have severe disabilities to the point that it's difficult for the children to communicate what they're learning, was screened at Cucalorus in 2011.

Her work on such films and with nonprofit organizations has taught Susan Ellis a lot about emotion, she said, because stories about nonprofits have human emotion at their center, rather than a product, she said.

Also at SAS, Susan Ellis leads the development of a "Data for Good" app called Gather IQ that partners with nonprofit organizations to promote data literacy and social issues. 

At the end of her talk, Ellis said she wanted to suggest to the audience that "there is no separation, there doesn't have to be, between art and business. In fact, they need each other quite a bit in order to be successful."
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