Hello from the other side

Seven things I learned while working at a creative agency.

This post originally appeared on Ueno’s blog.

Friday was my last day at Ueno, and today is my first day at my new job. It’s a bittersweet feeling. Ueno is a great company and I’ll miss my lovely colleagues (who, by the way, are not paying me to say that). When this post will be published, I’ll probably be introducing myself to my new ones.

I joined Ueno two and a half years ago, as the company’s first Director of Marketing. Agency life was a new experience for me, but I did know the company a little, having been Ueno’s client at my previous job at Reuters. So I guess you could say I’ve been on both sides of the table.

During my time at Ueno, the agency more than doubled in size, and as a company we worked on more varied projects with more varied clients than ever. So before I forget, and for anyone who might be in the same shoes I was in once, I thought I’d jot down a few things I learned along the way.

#1 The customer isn’t always right
An agency’s job is not to agree with the client and do what they say, but to open minds and push boundaries. A lot of the value from working with a good agency comes from the different perspectives and ideas that they bring. Your clients will trust and rely on you more if they know you will give an honest, thoughtful response. That’s why they pay you the big bucks! The reason many clients like working with Ueno is that every team member has the confidence to speak up when they think the client is wrong.

#2 Trust is everything
No project will ever go perfectly. As Ueno’s CEO often says, “no one comes to us hoping their project will be a disaster.” We all want to make great things. But to do great work you need trust. Without it, you’ve got problems coming. If an agency and a client aren’t on the same team, the project has failed before anyone has moved a pixel. And how do you build trust? By having a real, human connection. (Yes, clients are people too!)

#3 Life is tough, but so are you
For a lot of agencies, work comes in big chunks, and the schedule can be unpredictable. Plans constantly change, directions shift, and things fly in from out of left field. Clients want lower costs and higher quality. It’s exhilarating and exhausting, and it’s not for everyone. Processes can be difficult to establish because every client and project is different, so sometimes it feels like you’re constantly reinventing the wheel. The most successful people at agencies are those who can adapt quickly, keep an open mind, and find new solutions.

#4 There’s no such thing as ‘a creative’
I have come to hate it when people use ‘creative’ as a noun. It implies that creativity is a gift that only some chosen people have, which is wrong. (Some of the most brilliant creative problem solving I’ve seen involves the production team playing schedule-tetris on the fly to pull together a project team on a moment’s notice, and the People Experience team wrangling 65 employees for a week-long company retreat.) The right to be creative isn’t reserved to the design team. If you acknowledge that a great idea can come from anyone, then great ideas will start coming from everyone.

#5 Culture is the big differentiator
What makes one agency better than the next is not just the individuals who work there, but the overall culture. You can have the most talented individuals, but unless they respect and support each other you won’t get far. Culture is also how you treat people. If an agency’s MO is to work people into the ground, the revolving door will keep flying, and there will be no space or trust for creative ideas to flourish. (When people at Ueno go on vacation they really go on vacation.)

#6 Clients want to be good — sometimes agencies just have to show them how
Why are some clients more fun, productive, and easy to work with? Maybe they’re born like that. Or maybe their agency took the time to teach them what to expect from their partnership, explaining things like how the creative process works, and how to give constructive feedback. Not all clients know how to be good clients. Sometimes you have to help them.

#7 Agencies also want to be good — sometimes clients just have to show them how
Why do some agencies bring more value to the projects they work on? Maybe they were always like that. Or maybe it’s because their clients treat them as equals (not as a mere vendor or a “resource”), take time to get to know them on a personal level, and share as much information as possible about where they’re coming from and the problems they’re trying to solve. Communication is key. The more information you give an agency, the better they will be able to help you, and the more they’ll want to.

Having said all this, my biggest takeaway is that your job is what you make it and who you surround yourself with. Ueno is a special place because the people are so talented, welcoming, and different from each other. The culture that grew from these people makes Ueno unlike any other agency I’ve seen or heard about, in a good way. I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity and made some really good friends in the process. No bullshit!

Catch ya on the flip side!

From Pride Month to Pride Year

How you can make your company a better LGBTQ ally every day of the year.

[A version of this article previously appeared on AdForum.]

Did you notice the rainbow takeover of company logos as you scrolled through your social feeds last month? Pride Month, the celebration of LGBTQ+ equality and those who’ve fought for it, has become something of a “branded holiday,” an opportunity for companies to prove their cultural relevance.

As a gay person, I applaud everyone who shows support. We need it. But sometimes these gestures seem to be more about showing than supporting. Are there real actions behind all these rainbow-colored logos? Are all these companies serious about supporting the LGBTQ+ community throughout the year, or is this just about jumping on the Pride bandwagon? The next time you’re invited to a meeting about what your company should do for Pride Month, here are some things to think about and bring up, that may be more important than that rainbow-colored logo.

  • Do we ask and listen? Does our company provide a safe platform for employees to give feedback and share their stories? Do we have discussions with LGBTQ+ employees about how to provide meaningful support, both within the company and outside of it?
  • Do we stamp out toxicity? Do we equip the entire company with the training and skills to identify, address, and avoid toxic culture? Does our company promote respect for identity preferences, and encourage us to call out discrimination when we see it? Are there consequences for toxic behavior?
  • Do we do the research? Does our company work with or for organizations that have blatantly anti-LGBTQ+ policies? If our company supports an LGBTQ+ cause, do we do the research on how our donation will be used, and share its impact with employees?
  • Do we take diversity and inclusion seriously? Does we follow best practices for diversity and inclusion in our hiring process, and are our hiring managers trained to avoid bias? Do we see marginalized people represented in our company, at our events, and in our work?
  • Are we making an impact? Are we showing that we support LGBTQ+ causes in theory, or are we actually doing something? Do we look for ways to support and get involved with the LGBTQ+ community in a way that relates directly to your business or industry?

By investing in equality for all employees and the communities in which we work, companies can take an authentic stance when showing their support during Pride month and throughout the year — and really make a difference.

Why marketers should care about design (and how to set up a design project for success)


Written & illustrated by Seth Roberts and Brian Hawes

In just a few short months working at Ueno, I’ve learned so much about design and why it is one of the most important pieces of the marketing puzzle.

Prior to joining Ueno, I fell into the trap that many marketers do —I assumed design generally came after my work as a marketer was mostly complete. “Now,” I thought, “I have everything ready… I just need designers to make it pretty!”  (Designers everywhere roll their eyes.)

Now I see this thought process underestimates design’s real potential value. Design is a core part of the solution to any challenge marketers need to solve. Good design does so much more than look good; it communicates your brand, raises visibility, and drives conversions.

With a few projects under my belt and this new way of thinking, I uncovered some takeaways marketers can apply to set up any design-related project for success. Here they are:

  • At the beginning of the project, marketers and designers should define “What is the key problem we’re trying to solve?” As the process moves forward, keep returning to this question and answer to stay on track.
  • Trust is essential to a successful marketer/designer relationship. Work with people you respect and trust. If you don’t know each other well, spend time together and work side-by-side in person as much as possible.
  • For a project to be successful, all stakeholders should be involved from the beginning. If everyone agrees on the challenge and proposed solution from day 1, there will be fewer roadblocks later.
  • Most importantly, recognize that design is a collaborative process. Especially for big projects like a marketing website, it’s not enough for a marketer to say “Here’s what I need, come back with your design in a few weeks!” Design teams work with you, not for you, so your input at every step along the way is crucial to success.

I’m learning more every day, so I’ll share updates in a few months. In the meantime, what advice do you have for marketers on approaching design & working with design teams? Please share in the comments!

Thanks for reading. 🙂  


-Posted by Elizabeth Donovan-

On the job hunt: Should you pay attention to what former employees say?

job-hu1I am freshly back in the USA after taking some time off to travel through Europe and Asia. (For more on that, visit my Instagram: @Donovans_TakeTheWorld.) As I start my job search, one of the important factors I’m considering is company reputation and whether employees are happy. There are multiple tools to research employee sentiment, including GlassDoor.com. Former employees’ personal blogs and other forms of outreach are also becoming more common. But should you trust what a former employee says?

Major tech companies like Uber and Amazon have received negative press based on blogs published by or statements made by former employees.  When individuals speak out against their former employer, I usually take it with a grain of salt. Some former employees are disgruntled and have their own agendas. However, the company’s response is far more telling and provides insight into the values of its leadership team.

For example, after former Uber employee Susan Fowler wrote a negative post about the company’s allegedly sexist culture, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick took it seriously. Shortly after the post was published, Kalanick met with 100 female engineers internally and committed to addressing the issue head-on. A head engineer was also fired in the aftermath. While these actions don’t immediately solve the problem, they do prove that Uber’s leadership team acknowledges and cares about improving employee welfare.

In another famous example, The New York Times published an article in August 2015 about Amazon’s workplace that was critical of how it treats employees.  Several current and former employees were interviewed, offering varying degrees of negative comments. Despite the excellent reputation of the NYT, I’m not convinced the article presented the entire story. If you pick any company and interview its employees anonymously, or talk to its former employees, negative aspects of the company will come to light. How many of your friends need a night of venting about work every now and then, even if they love their job?

Interestingly, Amazon shot back with a scathing response to the NYT article. Amazon’s Senior Vice President for Global Corporate Affairs at Amazon, Jay Carney, published a blog on Medium claiming the NYT didn’t provide all the facts. He also claimed that one of the former employees who was quoted in the NYT article left the company “after an investigation revealed he had attempted to defraud vendors and conceal it by falsifying business records.” Carney provided other specifics providing background on the comments made by other disgruntled employees. What he didn’t do, and maybe should have, was make a public statement about Amazon’s commitment to employee welfare.

These examples demonstrate the obvious cliché that there are two sides to every story. While it’s important to research the reputation of a company you want to work for, don’t dismiss a company outright based on a few instances of negative press. I rely more heavily on first-hand information from trusted friends and colleagues, as well as my own impressions throughout the interview process.

Wish me luck in my job search!

-Posted by Elizabeth Pace

Hiatus – Traveling the World

There haven’t been any posts on AspiringCMO in a while, but I promise there’s a good reason! I’ve been traveling since June 1st 2016 with my spouse, fulfilling a lifelong dream to see the world.

So far we’ve visited Portugal, Spain, France, England, Wales, Scotland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany and now we’re in Vietnam. We’re planning to travel for a few more months, returning to the US in February 2017. Still on our list: Thailand, Cambodia, Italy and Croatia.

If you’d like to follow along on my adventure, check out Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/donovans_taketheworld/

It’s been an amazing adventure so far, but I haven forgotten my passion for digital marketing. I look forward to coming back full-swing early next year.

Thanks for reading!

What does “social-first” content really mean?

downloadContent distribution across platforms like Facebook and Twitter has become an absolute necessity for publishers. Instead of focusing on driving clicks to their own websites, publishers are now vying for their audience’s attention on native platforms where the competition is stiff.

Jason Abbruzzese, Business & Media Reporter at Mashable, says it best: “Social is now flooded with content, and the platforms are no longer content to just be traffic hoses. Social will still be a huge part of distribution, but it’s far more competitive and cut-throat than it has been.” (Pulled from this great selection of social wisdom from NewsWhip)

There are hundreds of articles and blog posts published each week about how to create social content that engages and stands out from the crowd. But what are the key factors that make content truly “social-first?”

Here’s a list of what you should keep in mind when creating content for social platforms:

  • Video, video, and more video:
    Audiences are hungry for video and becoming accustomed to seeing it in their feeds, particularly with the introduction of auto-play. Video posts average 62% more engagement than photos (source). 75% of Facebook video views occur on mobile devices (source), so video content needs to work on small screens. Test length, subject matter, captions, branding and other variables to find the sweet spot for your audience.
  • Leverage Facebook Instant Articles:
    While Facebook made a big to-do about Instant Articles being about a better experience for users, and not about taking power from publishers, the fact is it does indeed provide a better experience. No one likes scrolling down his or her feed, clicking on a post only to wait while it loads—if at all. Publishers say it’s getting easier to make money from Instant Articles, so why not give it a try? It’s now open to all publishers.
  • Social-first is mobile-first:
    Chances are your Facebook and Twitter audience is viewing your content on mobile, so focus on content that can be digested easily and on-the-go. Incorporate snack-able, eye-catching content such as video clips, GIFs, and infographics. Naturally, users will gravitate towards native content published in their feeds, so ask yourself which is more important–clicks or eyeballs? The right balance might be a combination of both.
  • Keep experimenting:
    It’s a phrase said and heard too frequently, but the only way to know what will work for you is to give it a try, while remaining true to your brand. There’s simply no one-sized-fits-all guidebook to producing engaging content. Some brands have shared their best practices, so articles like this one from Buffer Social are a good place to start.
  • Capitalize on trending topics:
    Explore social listening tools to learn what people are talking about and when relevant topics, or your brand, are mentioned. Publishing platforms like Social Flow will even optimize your posts and Tweets to ensure they go out at the best time for your audience: when they are active and when the topic is trending.

Further reading:

-Posted by Elizabeth Pace