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  • feedwordpress 16:54:29 on 2020/12/31 Permalink

    A Year of Personal Disruption 

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    On an evening in March (you know, the night), I knew something had changed significantly but, like many others, couldn't see past the fog of shock. At the time, I was watching in real-time as the NBA canceled games, the government canceled flights, and Tom Hanks canceled our collective Covid bubble—and despite what was unfolding before my very eyes, my life looked relatively stable. I had recently celebrated a decade with the same employer, and I was living comfortably with my fiancé—both my boys were living with their mother, we had wedding plans made and were on track for saving for it. After some transitional touch and go post-divorce years, things were settling in. 

    But what is the saying? Ah yes—man plans... God laughs. 

    In the span of just a few months, I transitioned both of my boys out of their mother's house, moved my younger son in with me, moved my fiancé out, back into her old place, assisted with her renovation in the process, canceled wedding plans and found myself unemployed along with many of the Covid-disrupted workforce. And really, these things were the tip of the Iceberg—there were struggles and traumatic experiences that are only appropriate to share with more intimate social circles—but I suspect it's not all that distinct from the stories that make up our collective trauma that is/was 2020. 

    Disruption can be a good thing. I recall reading about the health benefits of being immersed in bone-chilling water (when done appropriately), but the thing about shocks to the system—it is a blurry mix of benefits and detractors. And blur is a great word for 2020 as every day became Blursday, and some of our defense mechanisms kicked in, especially during those early days. I remember learning about the third least known response to a threat. There's flight, fight, but there's also freeze (playing dead). Many days felt like everything was happening in slow motion, time was frozen, and fatigue was just a part of the everyday new normal, no matter how many walks or meditation breaks one took. 

    Despite all the disruption, I still look back with a grateful spirit. Growing up in a blue-collar town has made me sensitive to the plight of the small business owner. While I spent the summer, like so many others grappling with the sights, sounds, and struggles of social justice playing out—I also could not help but think how these small business owners would ever mount a comeback. I sometimes wonder what "the new world" will look like with fewer small business owners and more big corporate entities who benefitted from the disruption. I think a part of me has been mourning this transition and still is. A decade from now, we are going to be living in a world completely dominated by only the biggest and most resourceful global corporations, with the technology players leading in size, influence, and dominance. The great consolidation has been greatly accelerated. 

    I write this thinking about the past and wondering about the future—overlooking snowy rooftops and a frozen Lake Michigan. Chicago, my adopted home, which allowed me to raise a family and prosper, is unlikely to be my home in the not so distant future, and I am still a bit undecided on where, but it will be warmer and smaller, and I'll be skating to where the puck will be in five years or so (or at least this is the hope). 

    Everyone has their own word for 2020. Professionally I advocated for resilience. Personally, I experienced disruption. Disruption, as positioned by the business evangelists, is a positive thing—it's dynamic and innovative. It's also uncomfortable and stressful. But it can definitely foster personal growth if you permit it. 

    Looking forward, after a year of disruption comes the possibility of rebuilding and resetting and recalibrating for a time in my life where age holds a different meaning. The hustle of my 20s and 30s becomes replaced with purpose and intent—I must know why I will be working so hard, and to what end and to what purpose does it serve? 

    So here's to 2021—from personal and professional disruption to something else that isn't likely to be predictable but hopefully is purposeful. 

  • feedwordpress 17:11:59 on 2020/10/06 Permalink

    An Open Letter To My Younger Self 

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    Hi, it's me. 

    You don't know me, but in time you will. I have the benefit of time and experience on my side and wanted to share some thoughts with you if you're willing to listen. If you receive this, please know that it comes from a good place. 

    Let's talk about that time in high school when you ran with the cool kids for a short while before they rejected you. What they rejected was how hard you were trying to be something that you weren't. You'd think this experience would have taught you not to repeat this mistake, but you'll end up making similar mistakes. The good news is that you'll find your own path, make your lifelong friends, and care less about what others think of you. Please Don't be so hard on yourself because we live and learn. You'll get there, but I know if you could read this—you would have gotten there faster. 

    How about one of the best decisions you made in your youth? One evening you came home from work and told your mother that you knew what you wanted to do. You knew that you had a visual talent and felt compelled to see if it could take you somewhere. You didn't feel good enough for a prestigious design school like Pratt, but you got your mother to agree that if you got accepted, you'd work harder there than you ever did in high school, and this would be the foundation you will build your future on. Never second guess this decision, even when you're up all night working like mad to finish a project that you want your talented classmates to respect. 

    You're going to fall in love young—too young. You won't know any better because you will think "this is as good as it gets", but you were too young to understand how life truly works. On the bright side, this relationship will bear fruit in the form of two boys who you'll love unconditionally and will give you tremendous purpose in life. They will allow you to offer the fatherly guidance you didn't have, and they'll challenge and reward you in ways that force you to grow and mature from a young man into a fully functional adult. And you'll find love again and have the experience and wisdom to know what this word should really mean, as complex and mysterious as it is.

    You're going to take a leap of faith and leave your hometown of NY, where you started your career to land in the midwestern city of Chicago. You'll lose your Long Island accent and get homesick, but you'll grow an appreciation for the more modest and hard-working style of midwesterners. At first, Chicago won't know what to make of your New York ways, but you'll adapt and change your professional and personal style. This adaptation will serve you well in the years to come. 

    As the early days of social media literally change the Web, you will transition from a designer and "creative" to a strategic thinker who knows how to execute. You are going to find yourself in the weird and wonderful position of developing a professional "following," and the attention will make you feel uncomfortable. Don't be. Go with it because it won't last forever, and while you don't know it, you'll actually be positively impacting people's lives as you help yourself. 

    You'll stay working on the "agency side" for too long. You'll take a risk to do something different, and it won't work out—so you'll go back to what feels familiar. However, you will still grow professionally and work with some absolutely top-notch people and clients and you'll learn much in the process as the internet re-shapes the world in some ways you predicted, and in other ways, you didn't.

    You'll experience much in your adult life: from the joys of bringing new lives into the world to the emotional toll that comes with divorce to the appreciation of seeing your parents grow old to the historic moment when the country that your parents immigrated to finds itself grappling with a global pandemic and civil unrest at once. In some ways, the culmination of these experiences, both good and bad will help you stay grounded when the world feels unmoored. You'll be grateful that you've built so many meaningful relationships, so don't ever feel like you aren't "productive" when you're investing in someone else and forging a new connection. 

    As previously stated, you'll make mistakes—some you'll learn from and others less so. Only invest in a business model you understand, only invest in others that respect your time, and only be as hard on yourself as much as it makes you better vs. worse. 

    Don't forget where you came from, what you believe in, know who you are, and find ways to serve others. Time will go fast, so make it count because we only have so much time here. 

    With love and respect
    Older (and wiser) you 

  • feedwordpress 17:57:40 on 2020/09/30 Permalink

    What They Don’t Tell You About Life "In-Between" 

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    It's been just over three months since I've had a place of full-time employment to call home. As I previously mentioned, this has been a first-time experience having gone from one professional opportunity to another without much of a break in between. Like much in life, there always seems to be discrepancies between what you envision vs. how reality plays out. If I am really honest—life in the "in-between," as I like to call it, is a strangely ambiguous mixed bag filled with both blessings and challenges. Here's what I'm learning as I navigate this space, and maybe it could be of help to others who find themselves there now or sometime in the future... 

    Take The Time To Tend To Your Personal Garden
    By "personal garden," I mean your personal life. I don't know if it was fate, coincidence, or divine intervention, but my break came when I had (and still have) many personal challenges that need tending to. With a little bit of time looking into the rearview mirror, I wonder how I could have tended to these critical life challenges with a demanding full-time job at a demanding time in history. While I didn't ask for the break, its come with a silver lining of being able to weed, prune, and save some of the dying plants in my personal garden. I'm grateful that I was able to do this when it was needed most. 

    Reject The Ideals
    Ideals are everywhere—you would think that a pandemic would have the reverse effect. Still, many of us wonder if we're baking enough sourdough bread or learning enough new hobbies or career skills during this time of reduced commutes and remote everything. Imagine being in between jobs as the world exists in a somewhat in-between space—somewhere between normal and abnormal, routine, and chaos. I find myself regularly questioning if I am doing enough of anything—networking, self-improvement, applications, etc. etc. The single most challenging part for me is reminding myself that the ideals out there of how this time should be spent are not custom-tailored for my life. Life in the in-between is a personal experience. There is no right or wrong way and everyone has to find their own path without an instruction manual or tour guide. Rejecting what you perceive is the ideal way to navigate this strange state of being is probably the best gift you can give yourself. 

    Put Your Faith In Karma
    Nobody tells you that you're going to look at so many of your professional peers who are in seemingly secure jobs with companies on your wish list and wonder what you did wrong to end up on the sidelines. It doesn't put you in a natural state to want to help others when you are grappling with helping yourself. And this is exactly the moment when you have to put your faith into something bigger than yourself and think of others while resisting the temptation to only think of yourself. So call it Karma, the universe or a higher power, but living life in the professional in-between means you are going to be networking and that gives you the opportunity to help others even if they are already gainfully employed. Do it if you get the chance—it's healthy and it's putting positive energy into this world which will come back to you in some way, even if it's only knowing that you're trying to make a positive impact somewhere. 

    Exercise Your Body + Mind
    I was fortunate enough to order a Peloton while I was still employed full time and it was delivered during the still early-ish days of my in-between—another signal from the universe. It's been a lifesaver as I've found that getting the heart rate up, breaking a good sweat and the bonus of feeling connected to a community is a perfect life hack for staying regulated during a time that feels highly unregulated. The same goes for the mind—I recently penned a thought piece for a well-known tech company that required dusting off some cobwebs and tapping some memory muscle. I was glad to do it, and it made me realize how important it is to keep the mind and body sharp and ready. 

    Be Open To Multiple Possibilities
    In my first few weeks, a number of really perfect potential opportunities manifested only to disappear as quickly as they came. This experience forced me to adjust my mental construct from trying to shape my next move as the perfect role at the perfect time, to be open to a number of possibilities including opportunities that could eventually lead to something else or building my own thing incrementally or moving into different directions or fields that I had not anticipated. Being open to multiple possibilities is freeing in some ways and complex in others—you have to balance where you could make an impact without opening the aperture too broadly and spinning your wheels in the process. But better to be flexible and pliable than rigid. 

    Life in the in-between can so easily be misinterpreted as something you'd envision as the extended vacation or sabbatical you've always dreamed of. I'm sure some have successfully written books and launched new ventures during this time—necessity is after all the mother of all invention. What I am most curious about is how I look back at this experience a year from now. Will I remember it as a moment of reflection, of reinvention, or something else? That's all TBD as the story is still being written but I thought I'd take a moment to pause as I work through this phase of life. 

  • feedwordpress 22:54:05 on 2020/06/03 Permalink  

    My New Normal 

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    Friday will be my last day at the labor of love of a company where I spent nearly eleven years working with some of the brightest minds, world-class clients, and companies this planet has to offer. Like many others, COVID-19 and the economic fallout it causes has come knocking directly on my door, co-mingled with a backdrop of social unrest and palpable frustration that so many of us are feeling. It's the most intense of times.

    Amidst this sudden and difficult news—something caught me off guard, and as I write this I am still grappling with my emotions. I've been bombarded by an outpouring of love, support, help, and genuine well-wishes that is making me feel like I don't deserve it. My inner voice keeps saying:

    "Who is this wonderful person these people are talking about?"

    And so I find myself humbled and conflicted—working to believe I am the man these colleagues and friends of mine are saying I am. I will choose to believe them and silence the inner critic as I process the emotions of a sudden job loss at the worst time. I know I am not alone and I'm thinking of those affected in every shape way and form. I look to the news, and it gives me perspective.

    Yet still. I find myself looking at the open and winding road of this so-called new normal that we all keep hearing so much about. This is an entirely new terrain to me—I've never taken a break between jobs as I have navigated my career. I have been fortunate this way. I love to work hard—with amazing, passionate people and I MAKE things despite being a senior leader who manages too. If it doesn't have output, I don't do it. I suppose my roots as a designer are still present in my methods as a seasoned professional.

    I am hitting pause briefly, but now that I don't have the pressures of a demanding full-time job with deadlines to meet, teams to motivate, clients to solve problems for and complexity to be simplified—I will have time to talk, riff, plan, and dream of how I could put a small dent into this world with willing partners before I depart it.

    My new normal is a stretch of road to be driven and I will be looking for others to share the ride.

    Find me if you want to talk. In a little while :-)


  • feedwordpress 15:32:15 on 2020/04/06 Permalink
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    An Open Letter To American Corporations: It’s Good Business (and Smart Marketing) To Support Quality Journalism 

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    Brands and journalism need each other.

    “Outbreaks have sparked riots and propelled public-health innovations, prefigured revolutions and redrawn maps.” The New Yorker, April 2020

    “Nothing will be the same.” 

    That’s the overwhelming takeaway I’ve heard from dozens of conversations I’ve had with C-suite leaders, physicians, policy experts and media professionals these past few weeks. 

    When it comes to the business practices of large corporations, there’s no time to debate whether or when things might return to normal. If corporations truly stand for something – and nearly all of them claim to nowadays –  the time to prove it is right now, as the crisis deepens and consumers look to corporations to step up and lead. Companies that wait this crisis out will learn – quickly – that once loyal customers will readily turn to competitors who made it a priority to be in service during this extraordinary moment.

    Communicating that message of service means marketing. With that in mind, here’s a list of fundamental truths given today’s media landscape:

    • Context matters more than ever. Every customer is consumed with understanding the threat and implications of the pandemic. High quality, trusted information is critical.
    • Given this new context, marketing messaging can and must shift toward communicating how a company is adding value to society and its customers. Companies must recognize the severity of our times – brand messaging becomes serious and information dense. 
    • The majority of global marketers have frozen or cancelled their marketing plans, and all are struggling to identify and roll out relevant new messaging.  
    • When those messages are ready, marketers will find that traditional vehicles for messaging have shrunk or disappeared, or seem frivolous and out of context. No NBA or MLB, no Olympics, no live entertainment, and most advertising-driven television production has been suspended. 
    • Stuck inside and online, consumers are glued to news outlets, and have retreated to streaming video for escape – and the lion’s share of those services are ad free. Those with advertising models (Pluto, Roku, etc) have previously been viewed as nascent and unproven. This will change, but at present the connected TV sector lacks the inventory to satisfy the marketing needs of the world’s biggest brands.
    • Pushing context-driven marketing messaging on audience-driven services like Instagram or Facebook Newsfeed will come across as tone deaf. Again, context is now king. Where can serious, service-driven marketing messaging find the right context?   

    Turns out, there is a massive media channel that lives in a serious and information-dense context every minute of every day. This channel has nearly unlimited inventory, deep and consistent consumer engagement, and is eager for partnership with brand marketers.

    This channel is called news. And if marketers are smart, they’ll realize that running their messaging in high quality news channels isn’t just good business, it’s good for society as well.

    For decades, marketers have been eschewing journalism as a serious marketing channel, claiming that brands can’t be built adjacent to coverage of plane crashes, natural disasters, politics, or other staples of the news business. This misguided philosophy has led marketing agencies to create massive blacklists of terms like “Trump,” “guns,” and now, “COVID.” These lists direct tens of billions in programmatic advertising away from local and national news outlets, and toward “safer” channels like live sports on television and Facebook or YouTube online.  

    But it’s time for that to change. Perhaps the most important element of society’s response to the global pandemic lies in the curation and communication of high quality information, and calling that truth to those in power. Who but journalists will hold the governor of Georgia to account for mistruths, or the President of the United States? This has always been the role of journalism – and despite decades of declining revenues, most news outlets are rising to the challenge. Traffic and engagement to news channels has skyrocketed since the COVID outbreak – at The Recount*, we’ve seen spikes of up to 10-20 times our normal viewership. 

    It’s time for brands to rethink news as a marketing channel. This doesn’t mean brands should abandon their metrics of success – but forward thinking leaders in the industry have already proven that news channels can offer more engaged and receptive audiences. A friend and industry leading marketer (who prefers to not be named) has led the way in this regard, investing at least one in three of his media dollars in news channels last year. He tells me that not only are news audiences influential and affluent, they are five times more likely to recall advertising than general audiences, and six times more likely to engage with ads when they recall them.

    Right now, we need more leaders like him to step up and support the news business. And it’s not just good business: journalists are keeping people informed at one of the most important and perilous times of our history. As our finest corporations bend to the work of finding ways to be in service to their customers, they can and should partner with the one media channel that has been committed to serve the public since its inception: Journalism. 


    *Yes, this post can be seen as self serving, and I’m fine with that. I’m convinced that the thesis is sound regardless of my position at Recount Media.



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