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My Advice to Kids Thinking About Media Careers

December 7, 2010

My friend Dougie’s sister is in college majoring in advertising. For class, she had to “choose a profession in the mass media field and interview someone who is in that profession about their job.”

Doug’s idea: Interview me as someone who started in media, and moved to something else. So naturally, I offered my $.02 like any jerk giving “this is how the world is” type of advice. It turned into a mini essay about my generation, the place for writing in the modern workplace and how to get along with your bosses. Her questions are in bold. My answers, slightly edited to make me sound better, below…

1.  What do you do and how did you get into your profession?

I currently work as a Marketing Manager at Socialtext, a venture backed software company that builds social networking technologies for companies to use internally for employee collaboration and communication. I got involved with this market by covering it as a journalist for CIO magazine, a trade journal that focuses on business and technology.

At Socialtext, I help with our messaging, positioning and customer marketing. I manage our media and analyst relations, and perform the bulk of our customer research that gets turned into case studies. I also run our corporate blog, and work with another marketing colleague to manage our external social media marketing efforts on places like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others.

I also do a lot of other stuff.

2.  How did you get your current position?

When working at CIO out of their San Francisco office, my main beat areas revolved around Google, Facebook and Twitter. I also covered a plethora of start-ups in Silicon Valley, including Socialtext (where I work now). During my time as a reporter, I developed a good rapport with Ross Mayfield, the co-founder, president and chairman of Socialtext. He was a great source for many stories, but after some time we realized that we shared similar philosophies on technology, business and media. We also became friends (this happens with sources, and people in media who tell you it doesn’t for reasons of “objectivity” are liars). In late summer of 2009, I began discussions with Ross and Eugene about a possible role in marketing at Socialtext. I wanted a new challenge and the time was right for both of us, so I “hopped the fence” as they say.

3. What training/ experience do you need to get into that
profession?

I have a BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in Boston, where I graduated in 2006. I participated in Northeastern’s famous “co-op program,” which allows students to take a semester(s) off to intern at a company that relates to their major or profession of choice. Halfway through my time there, I decided that I really needed to focus on something within journalism.

As I looked at the dwindling and massively disrupted media market, I realized being a GA (general assignment) reporter would neither pay well or offer much in the way of job security. I considered politics, sports, technology and business. Probably in that order. I decided, however, that I didn’t have the stomach to cover politics (I’d get too angry, especially with Bush being in power at the time), and figured it’d be bad for my overall stress/health levels. The problem with sports was that I wasn’t willing to put in the time. Covering high school or college sports for years to proverbially “pay your dues” sounded just dreadful. So I picked business and technology. Both were still growth areas for media, and I also figured it would teach me about two disciplines that I hadn’t focused as much on in school.

In 2005, I took a co-op at CIO, where I was the equivalent to an editorial assistant. I fact-checked and was assigned short, “front-of-the-book” stories. As I proved myself, I was allowed to begin writing a long feature on the declining newspaper industry that would be published sometime later. They hired me in May of 2006 upon graduating as an editorial assistant. And I was promoted to a writer less than a year later.

At the time, I was based out of CIO’s Boston-area offices. But soon, I realized that I needed a specialty within the specialty of biz tech. At the time, Facebook was heating up and Twitter was just getting off the ground. Meanwhile, I was very interested in all things Google, so moving to San Francisco made sense (also did for family reasons). Over time, I became an unofficial “expert” in social technologies (I put that in quotes because journalists aren’t actually experts or gurus, since they never had the formal education for it, but I have a whole rant on journalism and media education in that regard. Media people are experts in media and content, a very important skill that society doesn’t appreciate enough.).

4. What skills do you need to do well in that profession?

Writing skills have propelled me both in my work as a journalist and as a marketing professional at a technology company. The ability to express yourself — or speak for your company, colleagues and its executives — in a clear and cogent way is a very important skill. I already sound like old man river (I’m 27) in saying this: I’m consistently appalled with the writing skills of people old and young in the working world. I think the latter camp, which grew up “bathed in bits” to use a Don Tapscott term, will have huge communication challenges moving forward. Tech nerds will call a statement like that a war on new technology or fear-mongering, but deep down, they know it’s true.

5.  What are 3 tips you would recommend to help be
successful in your field?

I’m giving four, which will be ironic given what I delve into here.

1. Read — People don’t read anymore. And if you don’t read, you’re also probably a poor listener. The ability to read information and listen to people around you — whether they be colleagues, peers or customers — is critical. My ability to listen is directly proportional to how much I’m reading.

2. Talk to people outside your field or concentration. One of greatest sins we commit is becoming so dedicated to our specific role or specialty that we miss out on great ideas from people that we don’t functionally work with everyday. I work in marketing, but I just got back from a lunch with someone in sales and another person in product that turned into my favorite “meeting” so far this week. Quite often, these types of informal meetings lead to more “aha!” ideas than ones I have with my immediate group. In journalism and media organizations, the separation between editorial and sales, once religious, is now bat shit stupid and actually explains a lot of their problems. Editorial people who say they shouldn’t have conversations with sales (and vice versa) are flat wrong.

3. Be humble (even if you are smarter than the old folks). It’s great to have confidence, but our generation (or your generation, as I’m on the fringes of it) has a reputation for being cocky, entitled and self-involved. Heck, look at the novel I’m writing here about myself and my “wisdom” and you’ll see what I mean. This is boosted by the emergence of social technologies (look at your “look at me” Facebook feed). If you work in media — a naturally self-involved profession — this problem will be even further exacerbated. From a generational aspect, this is not entirely our fault; most parents are guilty of telling us we’re all winners (think to those sports games where everyone gets a trophy). In reality, the world needs losers. Otherwise, there’s no value in winning. So my advice is to be confident about your ideas, but be humble in how you present them; it will endear you to other people you work with — especially your bosses.

4. Know when to press. I think being good in media (and now in marketing and technology) is a lot like being in congress; you should know when to press, compromise, or back off. In my line of work now, I have to be judicious about how I work with customers in this way. Secondly, this factors into to how effective you are at asserting your opinion when it counts. With my bosses, I will let some things pass that I have moderate differences of opinion about without any fuss. This way, when they’re about to do something I really disagree with, they listen and strongly consider my view.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Adriaan Bloem permalink
    April 25, 2011 7:52 pm

    This made me smile: “Journalists aren’t actually experts or gurus, since they never had the formal education for it.” I wonder how many of the self-proclaimed “[insert something, most likely social media] gurus” on Twitter had a formal education for it 😉

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