2012 Recap

Checkin this year is brief. The iPad has opened convergence and tablet computing experience for me, Evernote is a tool I live, and I finally found a place where I don’t have to compromise my business smarts or personal professional vision. I’m selling out in a different way, but at age 41 it’s more like “buying in”.

Now all that’s left is to move to the city, repay student loans in full, and I can get on with my life, whatever that will look like then.


One day at a time. Happy New Year.

2011 Check In

Keeping this minimal, but I wanted to at least nod to this last year in review. I feel like I’ve come full circle once again, since this past semester I taught ICM590: Project Planning, as an online core required course at Quinnipiac University as an adjunct professor. Nothing brings fresh perspective like teaching a new course or a new subject… or teaching something within a formal framework to begin with. I liked the experience overall, though I’d change plenty about course structures and expectations and … well, I’d tinker, because I see what worked and what didn’t, and how to use the online medium in better ways for my students and myself alike.

I started 2011 in one full time gig whose pipeline went south by September due to some very questionable business decisions by senior management. The followup gig I landed a week after giving notice at the first. It was an odd fit, but there was promise… so I signed on full time… and then the oddness turned weird and it was a quicksand slow sink from there until December when I excused myself and pointed out the elephant in the room, I was a bad fit for the culture of the company. Loved a lot of the team, but the timing was off.

So I took December off. For two years now I’ve been handling a NYC commute which adds 4-5 hours to my days. It means all I did was work. I don’t recommend it to anyone, but we do what we have to do to make ends meet sometimes.

Truth be told, the ICM still continues to let me lead a charmed existence. True, I bring a lot of my own experience to the table already, the Master’s just helped to finish out everything and tie up the knowledge into a more focused tool set. Street cred doesn’t hurt either.  I think it’s a sign of our times. The economy is struggling because the older mindset (I don’t say the people are necessarily older, just the older business mindset) is still holding the majority rule, although year by year interactive thinking is gaining in numbers. But we’re not yet at the tipping point.

2011 helped me to figure out what I want as a professional. My dream job is to work for a boutique agency or client-side but in a department with a decidedly agency feel to it, even though it’s internal to a larger company. And I think it’s time to move from Project Management to Strategy.

Fingers crossed. I think I can make it happen. I know that I’m tired of chasing everyone else for their deliverables. As a Digital Strategist I can start following market research and applying my ICM knowledge about digital communications theory and history to help turn research into insights, and insights into strategic recommendations of options for the client to choose from. Having years of agency experience as a Project Manager only helps my applications, because I can make recommendations for project deliverables as a Strategist knowing full well what should be involved in making them.

It just feels like the logical next step.


And that’s 2011 in review, and my hopes for 2012. Happy New Year.

2010 Check In

Two years out with the Masters from Quinnipiac now. One thing to keep in mind with all of this is that the ICM program is a living entity – the curriculum has changed to keep apace with improvements and changes in the field. This blog shouldn’t be used any longer as a step-by-step walkthrough for ICM, but a snapshot of what ICM at Quinnipiac has been in the past. These annual check ins will hopefully continue to present snapshots of the field.

Still Working

Perhaps the most impressive part about having this Masters is that amid the latter days of the jobs slump where my friends are either stuck in the job they had when it began in 2008 or else they’re out of work and not getting many opportunities to get employed… my phone and email inbox are still jumping with employment offers and headhunters desperately seeking the skillset that Quinnipiac prepared me for — Interactive.

Measurement by tallying the positive

Not to say that everything has been roses. Over the past year I’ve struggled to find a workplace “home” which didn’t amount to extreme overwork or unreasonable work cultures. One day my memoirs will be filled with amusing “WTF?!?” and vindication stories demonstrating the death throes of the old fashioned agency model including the needed “cleaning house” which is still going on among the upper levels of agency management to bring about the paradigm shift. It’s this constant struggle to between those VPs who insist that digital is simply another marketing channel, and those VPs who know to approach Interactive completely as a new entity with new rules. In that battle between the Dark and the Light sides of the Force, I’ve taken more than my share of lumps in working for folks who sold themselves as Jedi and turned out to be Sith Lords instead.  (If you can’t follow that reference, this is gonna be a tough career field for you socially among your colleagues) I’ve had a hard time finding a place with the right balance to settle down in. In many ways, I’m still dating, looking for a marriage.

Yet I’m still well aware that’s a luxury this field has afforded me. I can afford to be choosy to a certain degree about where I work while others are looking for any job to begin with. I’m not a beggar here by any means, and I’m old enough that I know to be choosy when I can be.

A second luxury for me is that my salary level has grown slightly from what it was before. This may seem counterintuitive… I mean, you want the Masters to get a leg up and bring you up to the whole ‘next rung’ in salary, to offset the significant investment needed to gain the Master’s in the first place. To stay pretty much on par with previous salaries, or see only modest increases… that doesn’t sound too successful, right?

All I can say to that is to keep things in perspective. I’m in a growth field in a time of little growth. As the economy has slowly and sluggishly improved, the demands for my services have only grown, not abated. While other friends are taking significant percentage pay cuts either to remain in the job they have or else as they are laid off and have to find work elsewhere, I’m holding steady and seeing some gains, and some recognition. The marketing field is showing itself to have incredible need for professionals within the Interactive industry specifically.

Interactive is NOT just another channel

Please note that, my marketing brethren. You can’t just expect the transition from traditional media to the world of Interactive to be a simple process. It’s a whole different FAMILY of media, Interactive is, and the fact that it’s a bit flexible often means that although the names of the steps are very much the same, the way you as a professional MUST approach them is radically different.

Perhaps the easiest way to hammer this home is to say that Interactive media are some of the more subtle and nuanced media to have to market to. It’s not a simple broadcast push, you need to learn how to engage the consumer in ways that traditional marketing has struggled with consistently. The output of Interactive is 100% computer-based, and just like the foundation of the technology they are built for, Interactive media behave in the same maddening way that computers do.  They do exactly what you SAY, instead of what you MEAN. So learn to use language *precisely*, because the folks involved in digital media builds have adopted precise language use and often forget that clients really have not.

This is why you need Account Executives, Producers, and Project Managers who come to the table with a strong digital background. These roles traditionally guard the flow of language among the stakeholders of any project, from client to the technical production team building the final site. A seasoned Account person knows the difference fully between Client-speak and Agency-speak, and if they are successful in their career they will translate between the two. However, there is another whole layer of that when it comes to Interactive-speak, because it involves Technology-speak, User-Experience(UX)-speak, Interactive-speak, AND the same old Agency- and Client-speak too. You’re juggling with a lot more balls in the air at once, and although teams are slowly gaining experience and fluency in one or more of them, they ALL have to come together in a fluid dance or else things will not work out.

The State of the Career

Everyone eyeballing the ICM program should keep in mind that it costs ~$40K, or at least it did when I went through so that number should in theory only go up. For that kind of investment in money alone, especially for a professional Masters degree, you should be asking what the return on your investment expectations should be.  While I can’t speak to the full broad range of careers that Quinnipiac’s ICM program prepares you for potentially (what you make of the Masters is essentially up to you), I can speak to my own little corner of it. This is my ‘state of the Career’ bit, where I summarize the highs and lows of the past year, without violating my NDA contracts or committing libel.

2010 kicked off with me still unemployed, working to get into one of the places I’ve worked before as a traditional/print employee. It was a bit of loyalty, I wanted to return to work with old friends and put my new knowledge and interim experiences to good use getting an historically limping and half-assed interactive department off the ground and fiscally solvent. It’s sort of what I do and relatively easy, you just have to pick one thing that you do well and focus your business on the niche corner of the digital market which does that one thing.

In this case example, the agency involved kept trying to be full service on the digital side. They wanted to bring the same kinds of capabilities to the table that their obscenely-old Agency side could, all at once. They weren’t staffed for it, and they had split their digital staff between two locations remote from each other in the US. There was no agency process in place either, and the only digital producer they had on the job kept everything in their own head or their own records.

Anyway, I went into the interviews with background knowledge of the company and what it was doing, how it was structured, etc., because having worked there previously I had retained a large number of contacts on staff, who always dished with me about workplace dramas. They know I understand having been a veteran of the same shop, and I could give advice or suggestions too (we bitch, and then we brainstorm; it’s how geeks collaborate). And yet, it took 5 months of constant pressure to come back in, temp basis.

Things didn’t work out on that short assignment. I was told that my “portfolio” was judged too boring by the Creative Directors, and that I lacked ‘sexy Manhattan experience’, so I was deemed unworthy (not in those words), and don’t get too comfortable here, and…. direct quote, “Don’t beg for your job.”

Dark Lords of the Sith Indeed

Yes, yes, they really said those things, demonstrating their own complete and utter, abject ignorance. First and foremost, a PM doesn’t have a “portfolio”, and yes, many of the jobs we do certainly are ‘boring’ to some people, but let’s just assume that the hospital websites I’ve put together aren’t exactly marketing to the 20-something urban hipster Creative Director crowd. Secondly, what the hell do Creative Directors know (as a rule) about evaluating the past experience of Digital Producers? Do they know how to craft a great project plan, or understand the work that goes into a budget estimate projected across the end of calendar year to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley? Can they even tell me whether 150% Burn Rate is a good or a bad thing? I never expect non-PMs to be able to fully appreciate some of my career accomplishments.

Personal Best, but not a ‘sexy’ project

One of my most challenging assignments as a Producer to ever pull off, and one of my crowning logistical achievements to date, was a single page landing site hosting an embedded YouTube video. Simple as crap, except for the fact that it was the memorial website for Paul Newman’s passing, launched on the night of his passing. I was PM on Newman’s Own account when Paul was entering his latter convalescence, and it fell to me to organize a project with several agencies to coordinate between and with a launch date to be determined when Paul died. How do you schedule for *THAT*? Well, I did it. And no one’s death is sexy, and nothing about the page itself pushed the boundaries on creative or technology, but logistically it was a nightmare and a half, but far less than Paul Newman and his family and friends had to go through I’m sure.

None of this translates well to folks looking at the website only at the surface/visual level. Not surprising, that assignment didn’t last long or convert to full time work. I lost my car in an accident, and to make ends meet I had to cast a wider net to find agencies who were looking for the skills I had to offer. I had to cast my net all the way to the one place I had resisted my entire career thus far — New York City.  The commute is long, but lemme tell ya, NY is still hopping in the digital media and marketing fields. I put my resume out there and indicated a willingness to work in the City, and my phone began to ring off the hook. Off. The. Hook. (lol, “what’s a phone hook?”)

Life On Madison Avenue

Since then, I’ve had a few agency assignments, getting myself in the door in Manhattan, so to speak. I thought I had found a permanent home helping to build an internal startup for a digital production studio within the general agency structure of a Madison Avenue firm, but like Icarus I’m now getting to the level where if I start to fly much higher I have to guard that my wings don’t get burned off by the brilliance of the sun… Politics at this level shift very quickly and the goals of the department proved to be beyond what the Powers That Be and the culture of the shop would allow, despite half a year of planning and getting their buy in and approvals for the efforts in the first place. That ended that gig for me, and a month or so later that also ended the gig for my old boss, too.

I’m finding myself at the bottom rung of the Executive project teams, meaning that it’s not uncommon for me to now be PM for a team full of Sr. VP’s heading up international efforts. When I work on projects for my clients now, I’m handling major launches and campaign roll outs, and the client contacts for my brands regularly end up featured in articles. I guess this is what was meant by ‘sexy Manhattan experience’. My friends still get a kick out of the fact that I work on literal Madison Avenue, making me their friend “Mad Man” Adam. Guess I’d better watch Mad Men now to catch up.

All in All

All in all, this year has been one of changes. I’m now living without a car, which isn’t a big deal in Manhattan, but still remains quite limiting and challenging in Connecticut. I commute between 4 to 5 hours total each day I go into the office, so life has become nothing more than a cycle of commute, work, commute, sleep, repeat ad nauseam.  And yet I’m in a good place. My skills are increasing with each gig, and I’m still working on finding a permanent home. I’m 39, so this is the time in my life for work to be paramount anyway. I don’t have children, and my husband enjoys the life and lifestyle we’ve built for ourselves. I’d prefer better work-life balance, but on the whole I count myself to be incredibly blessed, and incredibly well-prepared.

Still a Good Investment

I still heartily endorse the Quinnipiac ICM program to everyone considering it. I don’t claim that ICM is the only reason I’ve got the level of external success markers that my career has on paper. Remember that I came to the ICM program with over a decade of agency experience under my belt already on the traditional side. But taking the ICM program helped me take the career field I was already in and open myself to the digital side of things even more.  And now, my generalist background in Agency operations is serving me very well to back up my ICM training.

Also, if you are considering this program, ask yourself whether or not you’re willing to go where the jobs are. If you aren’t living in a region which is supported by high levels of interactive demand, then you’re either going to have to put in a lot of effort to build up some strong interactive cred through past projects and remote collaborations, or else you’re going to be looking at the notion that a ~$40K investment may not pay off quickly, meaning your initial year or two out of grad school may cost you more than you’d like until you can make the degree work for you.

But for those with the ability and the mobility, QUICM still gets a full two thumbs up from me.  Especially since once you’re in the program on the lists, you’ll see all the jobs that alumni in the field hear about. I know as a Digital Producer/PM I’m constantly looking for new talent in all interactive fields, for whomever my client is at the moment, for whatever project I’m working on.  Networking advantages may also apply.

That’s it for this year. Hope to see everyone for next year’s post, and I hope it’s at least as positive as this year. Peace.

One Year check in

I graduated with the MS in Interactive Communications in January 2009. (Well, the program was finished in 12/08, but the degree awarded officially in January 09, the ceremony in May 09). It’s been roughly one year since I received it, and I thought it would be good to post a check in.

This year has been rather interesting. Two days before actually completing the program, I lost my full time job as an Interactive Producer. This was unexpected, and part of the purge at this time last year, when the economy was the darkest I’ve yet seen in my life. I had issues with unemployment being “overpaid” from the last go round, and it took me until April to start my first job with the Masters.

The job was horrible. The employers set up the PM department to fail, and to fail spectacularly. It was under the guise of the “bad economy”, but it was just abusive. Unintentionally so, I do believe. But heavy enough that after 7 months of not seeing my spouse, I quit without having a job to go to.

That’s right. I quit.

Nuts you say?

The jury is definitely still out on this one. I’m between jobs at the moment, been interviewing, got some irons in the fire, but nothing has come to fruition. It’s a little scary, but at the same time it’s a source of pride for me. I’m not going to accept less than the best from my employers, just as they expect nothing less than the best from me. It’s this reciprocity which was missing from my 2009 job as a Project Manager/Account Manager.

Yet, on the whole, I feel rather positive. It literally got to the point in my old job where there just weren’t enough hours in the day, and the PM department was putting in crazy mad hours while the Tech department played company-sanctioned video games “during their lunch hour”. Funny how “lunch” sometimes turned into spending half an hour organizing who was going to order from where so that everyone could spend that lunch “hour” on the game. And then the food would arrive and everyone would eat “real quick” before jumping into the game. Come 5pm, unless you had something absolutely dire in the works, the tech crew usually went home. A late night to them was working until 6pm. A late night to the PMs was working until 2am. And it happened regularly.

With the overloaded work docket, it got to the point where I was taking the hit in credibility as the Account Manager/Project Manager 2-in-1 job role. There was no redundancy on accounts… it was just me and my 20 clients with no one who could just jump in and help without requiring more effort than just doing it anyway. No one to delegate to, no management structure above me to rely on, the kiss of death to any sort of schedule was having things escalate until they got to the point where Sr. Management had to step in, because then you had to not only handle the mess, you had to handle the internal process of investigating the mess, and justifying why it got that way, and all of the associated baggage.

First time fired from a client account

I’m not proud of it, but when one of my clients asked to have a different PM assigned to their account due to the fact that I couldn’t get to all of their requests as quickly as either one of us would have liked, I was actually relieved. Having spoken with management, followed proper procedure, documented my work balance issues, and then finally generating a spreadsheet with charts demonstrating how 2 quarters worth of workload was falling unfairly on the PM department, meeting with the CEO and HR and doing everything you could possibly want done… it became very clear that working for my employer was actually beginning to hurt my own professional reputation. Something had to give.

That something was me being employed there. I had asked for their suggestions on how to balance things. None of their suggestions worked because the simple fact was that the volume was just too intense for each of us to handle. The rest of the PMs were equally stressed. There would literally pass days where we wouldn’t say 2 words to each other because of how stressed we all were. And when I would look over and see the new girl playing Farmville and with an entire extra monitor full of IM messages… well, let’s just say that I was unimpressed with that “Senior” PM’s work ethic.

From what I understand after I left they hired on three people. I’d like to say it was to replace me, but they were just responding to my concerns finally. A day late and a dollar short. Well, actually, $10K short. I took a pay cut to land that job. Yes, that’s right, I made more working my “waiting tables” job during school. Immediately upon actually getting the MS I took a pay cut.

More effects of the Masters so far

While that may seem horrible, let me put it in perspective. I was still making more than I had as a senior level graphic designer and art director, although the contributions I was making to the team and the pay scale were inversely proportionate. Too many people thinking that an Interactive PM and a print-based PM should be billed at the same level. No. There’s much more specialized, technical, and communications knowledge required to do the Interactive PM/Producer job the right way. Few people are comfortable with the process, so it requires an educator and a communicator on top of a Producer/Project Manager.

Having the Masters might have resulted in me taking a pay cut for my first job with the credentials, but it also meant that during the worst economy I’ve seen, I found a job and got hired for an April 09 start. Last time it felt like this was just after 9/11 when no one was hiring designers, and I managed to get a long term contract position to ride out the tough times.

On the team at my last job, I discovered just how valuable the ICM program prep really was. There wasn’t a member of the team I didn’t understand at least the basic fundamentals of how they worked. I was frequently pulled into planning sessions for new business pitches which required knowledge of mobile media, or Facebook builds, or whatnot. I realized just how valuable my new skill set really was. And I also realized how it’s going to take a little while before people realize just how much value a good Interactive Producer brings to the table. I know that eventually I’ll move over from the Producer’s role to the Strategist role, or IA role, but it’s all just choosing how to focus within the professional toolbox I’ve assembled from grad school and my life’s experience in ad agencies.

Was it worth the price of admission?

Yes. I may not have a job at this moment, but what I do have are credentials and prospects. That’s golden. Absolutely golden. I’m in a bit of a weird holding pattern right now, hoping a dream job position I’ve done three rounds of interviews spanning 4 months for will present an offer. Praying. It’s the job I really want, now that I know what I’m looking for, and it’s a place which needs the kinds of skills that I can provide in spades. I’ve got a good relationship with many key management players and other stakeholders for the job. I think I can make a positive impact in noticeable ways for the interactive department considering me.

Now I just need that chance. Seems like the pain of every new grad school graduate is that of finding a job. Luckily for me, I’ve got history and experience adjacent to the interactive field, and that sets me apart. I don’t think it’s enough any more to just settle for a job. I’d like to believe that with the Masters I’m now at the level of my career where I can start focusing on finding the plum jobs which are perfect for me at this point and time. I don’t want to climb the corporate ladder necessarily, but to do the kinds of work I’d eventually like to do means that I’ll be climbing it anyway. Strange to think that the ladder is a side effect of the work, but I believe that’s the way it really should be, not the ladder for the sake of the job ladder.

Yes. The ICM program was definitely worth the price of admission for me. I was in the right point in my career and knowledge seeking to be ready to kick my game up that final notch.

See you next year for the next check in.

The Adventure Continues

Sorry for taking so long to post the update here. I thought I had gotten to it but I realized just now that I haven’t.

My new home on the blogosphere is at Internet Kerfluffle. Originally designed to showcase what was new and exciting on the Net, right now it’s more just a personal blog with vaguely ICM-topics. It’s sort of the ‘Happily Ever After… Later’ kind of approach. Now that I’ve got the ICM Masters (you may address me as ‘Master’ now if you wish, I shan’t stop you though I may decide to blush and pretend it wasn’t my idea) the new blog shows how it translated for me into my career… and beyond.

As much as possible. See you on the flip side.

Troll Women Who Run With the Turkeys

Just some fun screenshots which make no sense unless you a) play Warcraft and b) use [Critter Bites] to turn harmless little critters into your minions.turkey2turkey1

Wrapping it up

This blog was started to accompany my journey through Quinnipiac University’s Interactive Communications Master’s program. It was assigned in ICM501 by Alex Halavais, and I kept it around for the rest of the time at QU. Of course, later professors would try and make it so that blogging was required on a -separate- blog, naturally, but this remained my main squeeze.

On Saturday of last week, I finished up my coursework at QU for the degree. Anything beyond it is gravy in the form of an Alumnus Audit. I’ll probably make use of one or two of them. Maybe.There’s a lot to keep up with in this field, and a lot we didn’t cover in the curriculum while I was at QU. And lots of positive-sounding changes coming in with new professors and curriculum realignments.

But now, it’s time to go.

When I get settled elsewhere in the blogosphere, I’ll post the link here. But I think it’s time to head into different pursuits for a little while. Let my brain recover from the rush of new knowledge injected and processed over the past 18 months. Let the theory get applied to the business world and see what survives, what becomes more subtle, and what isn’t ready to flower yet.

Thank you for reading along with this journey. I’ve learned a lot, and more importantly, I’ve recalled how to learn and how to do thesis-type involved projects on my own. There’s lots of knowledge out there to be explored and expanded upon, and I do fully intend on continuing the quest forward as a thinking person.

Thanks once again, and I wish everyone luck in their own endeavors of growth and exploration. Peace.