The Early Years
The personal computer was introduced to E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University the year after I graduated. As a hopeful journalist, I learned my craft “old school,” on an Olivetti Underwood typewriter. It wasn’t until my first “real” job as a copywriter for The Dallas Morning News that I worked full time using a new gadget they called the “personal computer.” It was the cinderblock-sized Macintosh, with 128 Kb of built-in memory and an 8 Mhz processor.
I eventually left The Morning News after five years of intense and often creative writing to join the interactive development team at Sprint, the telecommunications company, to construct the business unit’s first Website. The Internet was new and largely unexplored and the site we eventually built would be laughable by today’s standards. But I loved the work and there was no looking back.
I left Sprint and Dallas, TX for the cozier confines of Austin and a small yet powerful interactive agency called M2K. (Here’s where these guys are today). eCommerce was the buzz word of the day and Internet start-ups the rage. It was a hectic and exciting time to be in the Web development business. We built a lot of creative and technically advanced portals for clients such as i2 Technologies (ERP), Site Stuff (online business procurement), Holiday Time (online Christmas store), and Dell Computers. Professionally, it was a blur. My role changed a few times, eventually landing on “Technical Director” (I never understood what that meant or fully what my role was). I was also young, naive, raw, and inexperienced. But I tried my damnedest to soak it all up.
The new millennium approached and along with it the opportunity of a lifetime. Fittingly, I received an offer that would usher in a new era in my career: the opportunity to build the Web and marketing team for a startup company, Wiredinn, which provided Internet access to the world’s top hotels. As vice president of global e-business, I built a global, multi-lingual Web portal for hotels in Europe and Asia, as well as managed our company’s brand identity, marketing, and public relations efforts. While it was an amazing experience, the company could not land the investors needed to keep the doors open, exacerbated by an event that ground the world to a halt: 9/11. The attacks had a devastating effect on the global economy. (One report states that the attacks cost the world economy $36 billion. Some airlines lost a third of their fleets. People simply stopped traveling. And investors stopped returning phone calls.) Nonetheless, being a part of Wiredinn was an amazing experience that taught me most of what I know today about global Web strategies and worldwide e-business development.
My career after Wiredinn was both hit and miss: working for a nationally recognized interactive agency (VML), striking out on my own as a freelance copywriter, and managing all online and offline communications efforts for an Israeli-based videoconferencing company, I found myself landing a wonderful job as online programs manager at AMD, where I led Web-related activities for the company’s 50×15 initiative, established in 2004 to help provide half the world with Internet access by the year 2015. (That mark was recently achieved, by the way.) My work in the three years at AMD was incredibly interesting, creative, challenging, and rewarding. When the 50×15 program was scaled back in late 2008, I joined GLOBALFOUNDRIES, the manufacturing arm that AMD divested, to build and launch the new venture’s Intranet and external website. In less than 60 days, and without approved branding until the eleventh hour, we launched a CMS-driven, open-sourced, multi-lingual website that was extremely well-received by the press, analysts, investors, and external stakeholders.
After nearly two years working at GLOBALFOUNDRIES, the company announced a move to upstate New York. My boss asked if I would consider moving with the company, but I told him that my kids, and my heart, were in Austin. I re-joined AMD in August 2011 and struggled through the most difficult year-and-a-half of my career. I managed consumer Web strategy and content, which was, in and of itself, busy and somewhat rewarding. Projects included App development, social media contests, Websites, landing pages, and other forms of online communications. The issue I had was with the environment and a small clique of colleagues. It was a far cry from the exciting and collaborative environment I enjoyed during the 50×15 years. The company had seen many changes, most of them bad, and the culture was infected as a result. When AMD included me in the 10 percent of the workforce they laid off prior to the 2011 Christmas season, I was relieved.
Back to the Future
The timing of AMD’s layoff would have been a lot more difficult had I not lined up a new job within two weeks of my last day there. In addition to a small severance from AMD that got me through the Christmas season, I was hired by Bulldog Solutions as a senior copywriter/team lead. The interview process was stressful and long, including a timed writing exercise where I created a small mock campaign for a Bulldog client. (I remember sitting in a back room of the Bulldog offices, praying for inspiration. To me, that test meant the difference between a relaxing Christmas break and a long, painful layoff. Most importantly, I knew I had to land the job for my kids. The pressure was on.) Thankfully, the muse was working that day. I passed the test and negotiated a start date at the first of the new year, which turned that ill-timed layoff into a much-needed holiday vacation. The best news? I was going to continue providing for my kids. And I was back to what I love most: writing. And write, I did! For two years and eight months, I worked diligently, providing B2B copy (emails, infographics, white papers, and other forms of content) for clients such as Sungard, DexOne, Freescale (now NXP), Zebra Technologies, Bazaarvoice, and others. I met some incredible people and created what was up to that point the best stuff in my portfolio. In my last year-and-a-half at Bulldog, I became great friends with my office mate, designer Chad Harlan. We created some really cool and effective campaigns, which happens when you’re locked in a room together for eight hours a day executing for demanding bosses and clients. It’s rare to find someone you riff with creatively like Chad and I did, but what I miss the most is the laughs. We were relentless in our pursuit of comedy and had what I consider the most fun I’ve ever had at work.
Why I left Bulldog was a combination of events and timing. An associate creative director position within Bulldog popped up that I was interested in. At the time I thought I was a pretty good candidate: I was intimate with the business, I knew our clients, and I had spent two-and-a-half years delivering blood, sweat, and tears on paper (e.g., five infographics on cloud computing). It seemed like a logical next step in my career. I felt slighted and ignored when the creative leadership at Bulldog never gave me the chance. I must admit that in hindsight, they were right. I was not a good fit for the role back then, but I still think they should’ve given me the chance to at least discuss it because to not do so gave me the clear signal that I was stuck in my current role without the prospect of progress. (My sister-in-law has a saying, “Bloom where you’re planted.” But it’s impossible to continue blooming when the soil never gets watered). Also, Chad had experienced the same treatment and he was seriously thinking about leaving. And the thought of having to force the kind of relationship that Chad and I had with a new office mate was difficult to envision. At the same time, a former colleague at Bulldog had called me about a position at the Austin American-Statesman. He was leading a newly formed in-house agency that needed a creative writer to join the team. It would provide the chance for me to continue writing but to branch out into B2C writing and to once again be part of a small yet growing creative team (It felt very similar to my job at The Dallas Morning News, which was a very positive experience). All in all, it seemed time to move on. Despite it all, leaving Bulldog was a difficult decision. It was everything I needed at the time: A steady, well-paying job, plus the opportunity to work with some amazing creative minds. But I know this about me: I need to be continually challenged. So, I took the offer and joined the Statesman team on August 4, 2014.
I’m writing this on November 22, 2017. To say that my time here has been a whirlwind is the grandest understatement of my career. I started as a writer on the team with the title, “Manager of Visual Communications,” then asked to co-lead the client solutions teams when the guy who hired me was let go, became Interim Director of the newly named “Statesman Studio” in-house agency when my co-leader left the company, and eventually earned a promotion to Director, Statesman Studio in December, 2015. Along the way, I helped build exceptional creative, video, and research teams. Since being promoted to Director, Studio has grown our client list from a single Agency of Record (AOR) account to six. Our revenue has more than doubled. We worked our way from being virtually unknown at Cox Media Group to a highly respected and sought-after team of creative colleagues, branching out from doing local work to projects in Atlanta, Ohio, and Florida. Our video team restructured to handle five- and even six-figure productions. We won a coveted Telly Award for video production in 2015, then five more Tellys in 2017. Our creative team continually out-performed for clients, earning more assignments, bigger projects, and most importantly, achieving outstanding results, with ROIs we had to explain we’re not fabricated. In fact, we’ve so much success since the inception of Statesman Studio that in March 2017, we merged with our sister CMG agency, Ideabar, officially making the announcement in April and immediately doubling our agency size and skill set. The merger with Ideabar lead to the largest AOR in our history with Brookfield Residential. My team has been “in it to win it,” collaborating with our colleagues in West Palm Beach, flying out to video shoots together, leading CMG-wide agency summits, and generally excited about our future as an agency backed by one of the best media companies in the world.
Building and managing an ad agency is a dream come true, and the experience of a lifetime. I’ve never been more involved in the creative process, and have learned everything I know about video, media, and research while in this position. I’ve had my hands in the development of our P&L, capital budgets, expense management and reporting, partner development, and the list goes on. Every day is a new lesson in management and strategy. I’ve never been more client-facing and have probably made 500 pitches about Studio. I’m more comfortable as a leader and public speaker and a salesperson. The days are long, and it’s stressful, but also extremely rewarding.
In this business, you must be able to welcome change. For reasons far too complicated to explain here, my team learned that we were to remain with the Austin American-Statesman, which was put up for sale by Cox Media Group. As such, we were no longer part of Ideabar, which is “powered by Cox Media Group,” which meant going back to Statesman Studio, being part of the Statesman’s advertising team, and focusing on more local (and typically, smaller) accounts.
My team and I made the adjustment quickly and without too much angst. Our work continues to grow and our creative remains strong. One of the most important skills in the business of advertising is the ability to pivot.
Update. In 2018, Gatehouse purchased the Austin American-Statesman and other former Cox Media Group newspapers. It was a year of transition. For the most part, the transition went smoothly. I was a bit surprised, sitting here on December 23, 2019, that zero new clients arose from it. We had a lot of bites, a few hooks, but we were unable to land a new client. We did manage to produce two video projects for a sister agency out of Oklahoma City. However, potentially good news. A month ago Gatehouse merged with Gannett, forming one of the top media companies in the U.S., if not the largest. Already Gannett seems on top of things. Top brass was quick to visit Austin, and Studio pitched a few of them. I’m certain that Studio provides something unique for Gannett, and that we’ll be around, even if our structure somewhat changes over time. I’m really looking forward to working in new markets and finally taking our little agency to another level.