I went to get my MBA right after completing my undergraduate degree in advertising and graphic design. After learning the fundamentals of graphic art and drawing, or how ‘to see’ as I also like to remind myself that is the goal of being an artist, I still felt inadequate in business concepts. I had entrepreneurial ideas and dreams, liked solving interesting problems, and thought business might be a part of my future. Ultimately, my career plan was that I would go into the advertising industry and would focus on that for a while. In 2005, when I had this plan I knew I wanted to create value for businesses, using my training and skill as a visual-thinker. I certainly did not know how this would play out over time, but I assumed I would climb the advertising corporate ladder. When I was young, to stay in one industry and one company throughout your career was quite normal, reputable, admirable, and ultimately safe.
My First Agency Job in Print Production
I landed my first agency job as a graphic production artist in the summer of 2008 and was enjoying the work. I was pretty satisfied there at the time, riding the dart downtown to work some days and taking a book for during my lunch breaks. Work was fun and interesting. I shared an apartment with my brother and I pictured enjoying that agency role and moving up over time. Then in early October, less than 6 months after I joined the company, I was laid off. I was the last one hired before a series of three rounds of layoffs by the company. And it hurt. I never imagined this would happen, much less after being in Dallas for only 6 months. The world was officially ‘flat’ as the effects of 2001’s trade center plane crash finally really started to take impact on our economy. I had lunch with another seasoned veteran in advertising that was let go with me and I remember her recommending that I go be a doctor or something to that extent. I remember significantly doubting if the path and education I had chosen was the right one at all. It was frustrating to say the least.
Advertising Job for Hearth Stove Manufacturer
After licking my wounds a bit, I determined that the Lord had given me 6 months of great training in graphic design production and that I was going to try and make the best of it. I had been trained with a good money mindset as I had money in the bank having saved a good portion of what I made so I had some reserve to find a second job. I found one within a couple of months as a Marketing Specialist for a hearth stove manufacturer where I would support the National Sales Manager with sales operations management and distributor processing and also do a rebrand of their company and do all the graphic design for their print materials. In a small company, I also found myself pitching in to help the product support line when they were backed up during busy season. After rebranding and helping the company try and shift their business model from distributing their product to mom and pop specialty stores, I helped create a new retail brand that focused on placement in bigger box chains like Home Depot and Lowe’s. Less than a year after I got hired, I was let go. I found out a few months later they sold the business.
Marketing Specialist Job with Time Warner Cable Media
After losing the second job, I was more frustrated but still resilient that God can turn a bad situation into a better one and that I should look at it as another opportunity after almost a full year of paid training in advertising and in this business model. It was during this time that I sensed a need to keep learning and growing and determined that I would treat myself to a regular splurge, a Barnes and Noble membership and a non-fiction business book every now and then. This was a real luxury for me as I rarely ate out or spent money. But it helped me start to think through business and marketing and redefining my expectations for how I might manage the volatile job cycles I was encountering. After a 4 month work hiatus, I was able to get a Marketing Specialist job at Time Warner Cable Media, an arm of Time Warner Cable Media that focused on selling commercial advertising spots for local tv stations. The position was a new initiative to support the sales executives in creating their decks and other presentation help as well as designing their promotional offerings. This started out interesting and slowly became a bad situation for me. Though the concept was good to support the sales team, the reality of the situation is that my contribution was insignificant and in most cases, the sales force was against any real help and I think considered it an inconvenience and unnecessary. Truly, the sales cycle seemed to me more based on the season tickets that were awarded to clients instead of the true value provided to their businesses.
During this time, I started running as exercise for the first time. It pretty much numbed my senses so that I could calm my mind and not go crazy. My mind moves constantly and quite frankly, the position sucked life out of me. I felt better when I ran and wore my body out so I could turn my brain off. It also has a great effect of teaching patience and persistence. Running is a mental game in a lot of ways and it was a great distraction for me in which I could try and zone out. Time Warner Cable Media’s work environment was not my favorite. I admit I was young and they had strict expectations, one for example, was an 8:00 a.m. team meeting every Monday morning. Lateness was not prohibited. I also noticed that when I was late I was chastised but when others were late it seemed to have no repercussions. I believe I did start out very well making my immediate managers look good and quickly lost the respect of some of my direct reports. My work started to suffer as I felt the situation was hopeless to change their minds about me. I did not know how to handle the seemingly catty work environment where no one ever said what they thought to your face, they simply played the game.
Ever since grad school, I had taken freelance jobs on occasion and was always interested in doing my own work and helping any clients that I could. I received my first warning at Time Warner Cable and found myself plotting how I could take my freelance work to another level and started to learn web design. I thought that I might not be cut out for traditional advertising at this point. At this point, the job was a paycheck and I was half-heartedly trying to improve my situation while dreaming about how I could do other things.
Then I royally slipped up and was 30 minutes late to a team building meeting in which my boss and her boss flew in to try and help build comraderie with the Dallas sales office, something that was greatly lacking. I remember to this day looking at my calendar multiple times the day before the important meeting as I knew I was already on thin ice. I planned to be there 30 minutes early and turns out I showed up 30 minutes late. I remember thinking the office was really quiet when I walked in. Sure enough, when I hurriedly sat down at my desk to double check the meeting time and realized I was already late, my heart sank. I was in trouble and I knew it. I tried my best to shrug off the problems that I knew were to ensue after the event and went forward. The team building event actually ended up being a fun day of skeet shooting which I thoroughly enjoyed. But I remember the feeling of walking into the meeting late and all eyes on me. Then my immediate boss talked to me for a few minutes after skeet shooting and I could sense her dissatisfaction. Sure enough, a few days later I received a call from human resources with my second warning. One more and I would be fired. I replayed checking my calendar multiple times the day before the team meeting, certain I was going to be really early. I mentally must have been so disinterested and I felt as nothing could fix this problem except for me to resign. After mulling it over for some time and was sure that was the route I wanted to take, I called my boss and put in my 2 week notice. I remember getting a call from a different department supervisor shortly after to stop by his desk to discuss something. Immediately after entering his office he started chewing me out for something I did not care about and I quietly responded that I had just resigned. His face changed and he immediately relented. ‘Oh’ he said. I was 5 days away from my 1 year anniversary when I left Time Warner Cable Media Sales. At first it was hard to admit defeat but my countenance was much better once I just threw in the towel and prepared for my departure.
Learnings from Time Warner Cable Media
I wish I had done some things different in that position. I did not know how to handle the type of corporate politics that I encountered and was not mature enough to get to the bottom of some of the problems with the team structure, much less my own disinterest in getting in line with their corporate culture and policies. So, I tried to help in small ways and shied away from the confrontations that might build bridges to better relationships with my team and supervisors. I would hope that as an older individual with almost 10 more years of experience I could have handled myself better in that position. But, even now, thinking about that job gives me anxiety. It was a serious turning point for me. I was at rock bottom from my career standpoint. I left work defeated and frustrated pretty much every day. My lifeline was a solid guy’s bible study group I had been in and that was practically the only thing I cared about at the time other than performing in my band on an occasional weekend. I had decided that I would like to try something different, maybe move away from advertising if I could. It was at this point that I started to confront the idea that I might not be the model employee or even have the right attitude about work. I certainly thought that I deserved a little more respect, after all, I had an MBA. But clearly, my experience proved otherwise.
Temporary Contract Job at American Airlines and Pursuing Web Design
I decided to seriously pursue web design. I had already tried to start learning some but had not focused on it as much as I had wanted to. I had been getting small graphic design projects here and there on the side over the years and continued to have people send me a project from time to time, but it was rarely a good paying opportunity. I hoped learning web design would put me into a different category. Meanwhile, I applied for jobs. This time I thought I might apply for something in an industry that seemed interesting or fun as a way to take a break from my current trajectory. I found a 6-month temporary clerical job at American Airlines and applied. Turns out I got a call and a job filing papers for the baggage claim department at AA. I remember the hiring manager saying that as a temporary employee we had access to all internal job postings and that 99% of those that stayed for the full 6 month contract would get on at the company. Taking this position was a big blow to my ego, though I hoped I could join the marketing department if I played my cards right. The clerical job was not lucrative by any means and the company’s late policy was a bit over the top. So, I would have to prove that I was a model employee, something I had not done at my last job when it comes to being prompt.
In the end, over time, at this job, I was reminded that work is a good thing, in and of itself. I needed to do a good job for works sake because this is where God had me and not that I deserved a more-significant position due to my education. I still was pursuing different ideas and freelance graphics and web design on the side. I had recently completed a guitar curriculum that I was teaching at multiple churches in Dallas and that provided a level of satisfaction and enjoyment for me. I loved to play the guitar and I loved to teach, so it was a great outlet for me, and one that paid me really well by the hour. I also worked on a charity event concert idea with a friend, and even was able to use some American Airlines points to fly a friend and I to Nashville to see if we could get Mumford and Sons to come play at an event. That did not happen, but I was trying things all the time that seemed interesting.
After 6 months at American Airlines, my temp contract came to an end without a full time offer. There had been a few close calls and I thought that I would get in. I applied for a great marketing position that I was told that I was not ‘energetic’ enough for. I think the hiring manager was hoping I would bounce off the walls or jump up and down in the interview but if you know me, you know I am more calm and collected with my excitement. I also applied for a low level claims position and when I did not get the position, the hiring manager, whom I talked with on an almost daily basis, did not have the courtesy to tell me that I did not get it. One of my peers told me instead. When I confronted him about it, he acted confused and just stared at me. I told him something to the effect of, ‘dude, you could have just told me’. The hiring manager told me before I left in my exit interview that she was shocked that I did not get an offer.
Starbucks, Quitting Corporate Marketing, and Turning Points
Needless to say, I was ready to quit pursuing marketing altogether. So, I decided I would go work at Starbucks and try to pursue web design now that I had established some basic skills in HTML and CSS. I was trying to learn to be a full-stack developer through reading and practicing but I could not quite crack the code to connect MySQL and PHP with the front end designs I was creating. I had a few contracts but they were not well paying and did not pan out. At Starbucks I had hoped to work the early shift and have time for freelance projects during the day. I looked and worked toward a position and finally landed one at the Knox/Henderson location. And, then, to my disadvantage, there was manager turnover and I was told I could eventually work the early shift but I needed to start with the day shift during their busy season to learn the ropes. So, I started in the winter, and hardly ever saw the early shift and worked around 30 hours a week at at one of the highest grossing Starbucks in the DFW area. Meaning, it was chaos. I never liked retail and over time I came to not like the craziness of this job working during the week and weekends, with no time to decompress much less pursue freelance during the day. The hiring manager told me that when it slowed down after the new year then we could adjust my schedule and back off on the hours.
A lot of good things happened during the American Airlines and Starbucks work phase. I joined a new church, The Village, and soon met my wife. I also had been talking with a former professor of mine from Pensacola who had taken a position at Dallas Baptist and we had reconnected. He had asked me to come work as an adjunct professor in the advertising department and that I could teach HTML and CSS. I was thrilled with the idea. It took a few years to actually happen. But in December, after working at Starbucks for 3 months, I got the position as an adjunct professor to start the following semester. And with that, I immediately left Starbucks knowing that I would make more in a month teaching a class one night a week than I would working 30 hours a week at Starbucks and hating it.
Around this time and after I met my future wife, things began to look up for me. I met a few people through my father in law, who had worked at Richards Group and I was very inspired by. One in particular, was a guy that I met at Richards Group when I had applied before, and then I met again at a casual interview when he had his own agency on the recommendation of my soon to be father-in-law. He wanted to hire me but he had to convince his partners and I don’t think they saw the need. At that point, I was re-engaged in the idea of working in advertising and that I might just need to work with the right people. As I left the meeting, I thought it would be incredible to work with a group like that and with Mat. Although I did not get an offer, I would see him again and work with him in the future.
Web Marketing Manager – A Stepping Stone
In March of the same year I got married and then shortly after, in May of 2012, I got an offer for a Web Marketing Manager position at an MRO direct sales company, Partsmaster. This was 5 months after I had left Starbucks and started teaching adjunct at DBU. Being unemployed, I was just happy to get a decent offer in a position that had some degree of online marketing. I helped them establish a small online presence with my HTML and CSS skills, and learned the basics of Google AdWords to bring them some leads for a specific product that helped them upgrade their salesman status to a service provider. We did some good while I was there thanks to the marketing director’s mentorship of me and how to handle political corporate environments. Ultimately, the business model had major flaws in transitioning the model to an online sales business with variable pricing for all products based on the sales reps ability to sell. After several challenging years there trying to bring their business model into a new era of price comparison and endless choice brought on by the internet, I realized that the company would not be able to reposition themselves.
Digital Marketing Manager – A Growth Opportunity
I got back in touch with Mat who had joined a digital marketing agency in Dallas and long story short is, I was brought on to be a client services manager and it evolved into a digital marketing manager. I never thought I would be an account manager because I am more introverted and I had not always done well managing expectations. But, this position grew me and stretched me in ways, basically, getting the opportunity to come under Mat’s wing and learn his ways. Mat had a tremendous background in account management and with his guidance and the digital marketing agency’s digital training programs, I got serious education into digital tracking, reporting, managing a content team and the content production and planning process, search engine optimization, and paid media for Google AdWords, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. I developed my skills in excel and got certifications in Google AdWords, Google Analytics, and Dynamic Creative, getting to use my design background in a digital design production format. It was truly an opportunity of a lifetime. With this and teaching my adjunct front end design class at DBU, I had really re-invented myself and a career path that so far, had not fallen off the tracks. Having kept a position at Partsmaster for 2.5 years, I had felt like I finally learned at least a little more resolve, enough to truly learn the business and give my best effort before moving to another opportunity. And after having now worked 2 years and 10 months at the digital agency as a Digital Marketing Manager enough to earn a promotion to Sr Digital Marketing Manager, I am glad to say I have stuck another opportunity out, enough to become proficient in the skills important in digital media programs and ad buying and even been promoted to Senior Digital Marketing Manager! I am still working to confront fear in my career and continue to try and grow as a contributor to my company.
Career Adaptability and Overcoming Fear with Action
In this trajectory, I have still constantly questioned my direction and the outcome. I am in a constant state of adapting to the situation and juggling different ideas that could turn into opportunities considering how fast the digital media world evolves and changes. I am familiar with a constant state of volatility and change and know that the best attack is a constant growth mindset and skillset. I continue to read books constantly and try to glean everything I can so that tomorrow I am ready for the next and new challenge. And I know that the Lord is going to take care of me and he is the reason I don’t have to fear tomorrow.
For a period of time in my career, I had been forced into being adaptable based on the circumstances I had faced. Now I expect to be adaptable as a part of my career path and it is second nature to me and something I proactively plan for. I know that if I am stagnant too long in an industry constantly evolving that something is wrong and it may be time to review my goals and consider alternatives. This does not necessarily mean that I leave a job, but that there may be an angle I need to explore that can contribute to my value or prepare me for where the industry is headed.
Confronting fear and insecurities and considering circumstances as new opportunities to be found faithful are what this journey is all about. I pray that adaptability will continue with me, and I know that as I remain flexible and pliable that I will continue to grow in ways that I never could have imagined and so God can only receive the ultimate credit.
A few final key concepts that I have been reminded in my career progression:
- Trust [Seek] God with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Prov 3:5)
- Marketing/advertising/the arts as a career field are competitive
- Creative and publication tools are affordable and available to everyone whether learning a craft or a pro artist
- Everyone is an artist, very few are a master.
- Never stop learning
- Be flexible, hold everything with an open hand
- Your success in business is not just about adding value or doing a good job, it’s about making your immediate boss look good (make their life easier).
In conclusion, I recommend you read the 8 books that helped re-educate me about marketing and business.