Derek Thompson

What makes a hit? In the marketplace for people’s attention, why do certain things become popular?

Senior Editor at The Atlantic | Author of Hit Makers

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Derek Thompson | Senior Editor at The Atlantic | Author of Hit Makers
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

As Senior Editor at The Atlantic, Derek Thompson writes on economics and politics, media and money in America today—and always with an expert sense of what’s important. Whether he’s analyzing labor markets, entertainment, or government—or changes in generational spending and voting habits—Thompson offers sophisticated takes that people actually want to read. He’s also the author of Hit Makers: a bestselling exploration of the science of popularity.

“Derek Thompson has long been one of the brightest new voices in American journalism. With Hit Makers, he becomes one of the brightest new voices in the world of non-fiction books.”

— Daniel H. Pink

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic magazine, and the author of its landmark 2015 cover story “A World Without Work”: a wide-ranging exploration of the future of artificial intelligence and employment, and how Americans might cope with a jobless future. He writes the business column for the magazine and contributes to the website on issues ranging from behavioral psychology to the economics of entertainment, demographics to professional sports, elections to blockbuster films. “[Thompson] writes and edits economic news that is readable, informative, and often entertaining,” says The Huffington Post. He also explores the habits of millennials. How does this enormous cohort spend, work, vote, and consume? And how can corporations appeal to, and hire, this often misunderstood demographic? 


Thompson is a weekly contributor to “Here and Now,” the national afternoon news show on NPR, and he appears regularly on CBS, the BBC, and MSNBC. He has appeared on numerous lists, including both Inc magazine’s and Forbes’ “30 Under 30” and Time magazine’s 140 Best Twitter Feeds.


In his debut book Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, Thompson investigates how blockbuster success isn’t a matter of chance, but a fascinating intersection of power, network, science, art, and sheer brilliance—making some ideas disappear, while others explode. In an age of distraction, Thompson reveals, human attention is our most valuable currency. And in this groundbreaking study, Thompson reveals the ways songwriters, advertisers, filmmakers, speech writers, and more have all realized this modern secret of enormous popularity. His keynotes on the subject offer practical ways to re-think what you know about success, renown, and longevity. From his innovative thinking on ‘aha’ moments (the appeal of the familiar surprise, so to speak) to his debunking of overnight virality (it’s all about distribution!) to his explorations of how popularity always trumps quality, Thompson breaks an immensely complex topic down to a science.


Since its release, Hit Makers has been hailed by critics as a “wonderful book … [filled with] solid research, ready wit, and catchy aphorisms” (USA Today) and “a fun, thought-provoking take on the strange turns of cultural fortune” (Publishers Weekly). To bestselling author Adam Alter, it’s “a bible for anyone who’s ever tried to promote practically anything, from products, people, and ideas, to books, songs, films, and TV shows.” Screenwriter Simon Kinberg calls it “required reading for anyone working in the popular arts.”


“Derek was great! Reviews on his presentation were outstanding and he was a pleasure to work with.”

Great American Media Services

Speech Topics

Understanding Blockchain The Ultimate Anti-Trust Technology

Blockchain is the ultimate antitrust technology—a permanent, public, append-only ledger, maintained by a decentralized network of computers, whose transactions are secured by cryptography. It is the perfect invention for an age of declining trust in politics, law, and everything else. But while blockchain is exciting, what can it actually do? How can tomorrow’s companies actually use it to improve or replace their businesses? In this timely, eye-opening keynote, Derek Thompson explains blockchain and its limitations in language clear enough for a novice to understand it but with insights so perceptive that even experts will learn something.

Hit Makers The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction

Why do things become popular? Why do certain songs, apps, games, films, and cultural figures rise to blockbuster-levels of prominence, while others wither in obscurity? If you think the answer’s simple, think again—and start listening. In this absorbing keynote—based on his instant national bestseller Hit Makers—Derek Thompson reveals, for the first time, the complex blend of psychology, marketing, and economics that makes major hits take off. Customizable to your industry—any industry—Thompson shatters myths about quality and taste, reveals crucial insights into networks and audience, and traces popularity from our deepest human needs to the savviest of today’s media manipulators. With great energy and a fine sense of humor, Thompson will offer ideas you can use now to not only make great, lasting products, but products people hear about. You’ll learn:​


why the most popular songs, films, and products were often perilously close to failure, 
how the creator of the vacuum and refrigerator designed much of the 20th century with the ‘MAYA’ rule of product design—“Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable,”
why things don’t just ‘go viral’ the way we’ve been taught—and why distribution matters more than we think,
how popular sites like Buzzfeed and VICE use an advertising playbook from the 1930s, and
what lab mice can tell us about chart-topping hits (and pleasing patters of repetition).

Attention is our most valuable commodity—so don’t pass up Thompson’s indispensable take on what we like, why we like it, and how culture actually happens.

U.S. Politics
Politics as Entertainment How American Politics Became a Surreal Reality Show

In his prescient, national bestselling book Hit Makers, Derek Thomson predicted that the future of politics would be entertainment. Now with Donald Trump in the Oval Office, U.S. politics has never more resembled a reality show. With an understanding of politics, policy, and the interplay between a media-obsessed Trump and a Trump-obsessed media, Thompson explains what’s going on in politics today—and what the future of the Trump presidency holds for businesses and voters.

Corporate Culture
How Millennials Will Change the World

In the near future, the Millennial generation will became the heart of the workforce and the most important segment of U.S. consumers. But there is still so much about this group—born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s—that perplexes businesses, marketers, and office managers. Thompson has been reporting on the rise of Millennials for a decade with The Atlantic magazine, even calling them “the cheapest generation.” Now, he explains how the social habits, shopping preferences, and political opinions of this group of Americans will shape the next 20 years of U.S. politics, media, and economics.

Is There an App for That? Consumer Habits of the Millennial Generation

What’s the deal with people under 35? This age group, known as the Millennial generation, is taking longer than ever to finish school, get out of debt, and start their careers. And, because of that, sales of houses and cars have declined. Enter Derek Thompson, Millennial expert. Thompson explores the consumer habits of this generation, shedding light on what kinds of ads they pay attention to, what manner of media they consume, and the sort of messages they accept and reject. His keynote reveals the behaviors that drive this demographic, including: the decline of the suburb and the rise of urban centers; the “sharing economy” of apartment rentals and car sharing; Gen Y’s dependence on their new status symbol, the smartphone; new ways of communicating such as Twitter and SnapChat; and how our global economy has made essentials such as food and clothes more affordable than ever before. What should corporations and retailers be doing to target this slippery demographic? Thompson’s keynotes present audiences with the facts they need to get in front of the technology-driven, informed, and connected Millennials.

The Future of Paid Media Cable TV, Mobile Ads, and Why ESPN Makes the Biggest Bucks

Why are we still paying for hundreds of channels we don’t watch? Why do Google’s mobile ads only earn half the amount of desktop ads? And why is ESPN the most valuable single media property in America? Derek Thompson’s provocative talk on the future of paid media addresses these compelling questions. Drawing on the research and interviews conducted for his business column in The Atlantic, Thompson speaks candidly about the importance of audiences and monetizing their attention. He lays down what most people don’t understand about the business of cable TV and how it’s still cheaper—and more popular—than services like Netflix, HBO GO, and Hulu. He describes the current limitations of mobile ads—lack of user-tracking technology, poor design, difficulty measuring conversion rates—and looks to the future of place-based advertising and interactive ads for mobile. Thompson brings it all together in a case study of ESPN, which relies on the simple formula of two-thirds TV subscription fees plus one-third advertising to bring in more than $10 billion in revenue in 2013. How does the future of paid media look for advertisers, consumers, and media conglomerates? Thompson’s keynotes provide audiences with a comprehensive and relevant outlook on this developing issue.

School’s In Why Going To College is Still Essential
Why are we all of a sudden bombarded with the message that going to college is a bad idea? The media is reporting that rising student debt is a dangerous bubble that will pop and destroy us; that college is broken as a vehicle for helping people get into the middle class; and that real innovators skip college and go straight to Silicon Valley or Union Square. 

Derek Thompson couldn’t disagree more. In this talk, he makes a case for the value of college and refutes these trendy (and potentially harmful) messages. Thompson argues that there really is no student debt “bubble.” Yes, there are a handful of colleges that cost way too much and essentially operate as drop-out factories, and yes, the cost of college has increased relative to incomes in the last 30 years. But college, by and large, still “works.” College grads make more money than non-college grads. They are significantly more likely to be employed. They are significantly more likely to be happy in their jobs. And to the extent that college is a magnet for smart ambitious people, they are more likely to make smart and connected friends and marry smart and hard-working people. This optimistic talk delivers good news to college students: all the evidence is on their side. When young people make a big investment in their human capital by going to college, Thompson says, it’s going to pay off.