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.
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.