Passion is Personal



What a year it’s been.

Last June I started doing some soul searching into what was next for me, redefining who I was professionally and personally. I was fortunate to have worked through the digital turbulence of 2009- 2012 when agencies and brands focused on defining and honing their “digital” acumen and capability.

I call it the GDP (Great Digital Pivot).

I defined the last agency role I held based on a market demand—Digital Strategy & Innovation. I am grateful that my old agency offered me that opportunity. It was a great experience in true innovation. Building something out of nothing. Peaks and valleys, trial & error, triumphs & tribulations you name it, I had front row seats to it all.  Some people jumped in head first, others floated behind expecting you to take the lead…completely expected when you’re establishing a new capability within an organization and industry that didn’t have it before.

It felt great to be in demand, be needed, be seen and highlighted as the “expert” in all things digital and technology focused. I mumbled paid, owned, earned, user experience, cloud, native, API, wireframes, UI, media, social, mobile in my sleep- what?!

  • Did I define a product MVPs, prototype and build technology platforms? Yes.
  • Did I evaluate the strength and utility of emerging technology platforms? Yes.
  • Did I establish the strategy & marketing for a startup and launch a product on Indiegogo and manage media relations? Yes.
  • Did I wireframe mobile and social experiences? Yes.
  • Did I write POVs on top level domain names structures? Yes.
  • Did i pitch every digital RFP that landed on my desk? Yes.
  • Did I develop a social engagement & content strategies for brands? Yes.
  • Did I identify digital trends and opportunities for clients? Yes.

It was sometimes difficult to explain my role with brevity- which I tried to do here and failed miserably. It was different everyday.

In one sentence:  If traditional account planners had a void of digital insights, digital strategists used a behavioral and technographic lens and applied a very thick layer to activate the brand strategy. I get it now, it was the GDP!

But I never lost sight of the core strategic process. Insights that defined why we should do something.

That was always my focus and MAIN INTEREST (even during my years in client services- ask my friend Claire about the messaging strategy I led for a brand in 2009). Establishing a strategic positioning, branding and marketing comm plans for a brand? Yes? LOVE it- it’s the most motivating, stimulating and satisfying.

I thank my friend and colleague Julie for sharing her brilliance, framework and thought process. She taught me how to apply rigor, methodology and clarity to the entire range of strategic planning: problem definition to analysis, recommendation and the development of implementation and creative execution plans. How to use the right research to identify common themes, not to boil the ocean. I LOVE working through those exercises.

After 4 years in a digital strategy & innovation role, I worked with my professional coach to set goals to figure out how I could focus in on 1-2 things and be great at them (vs. being accountable and responsible to be everything to everyone, a side effect of the last role I held). If you’ve ever seen a raci model– every box was checked for me on every project—sometimes a lose-lose situation. GDP! But I learned A LOT.

12 months later; post-personal SWOTs & sunrise sweat sessions

Having my own consultancy  for the last 12 months has been one of the best learning opportunities I’ve ever had. I learned how to run a business. I’ve had exposure to new and diverse companies, people and experiences. I’ve run multiple research initiatives that resulted in meaningful & actionable brand, corporate and product development strategies and I enjoyed the work immensely. BUT, having your own consultancy is worlds away from agency life or a normal “corporate” environment.

Top 8 lessons I learned this past year:

  1. I do not like working alone.
  2. I perform best on 8hrs of sleep a night, & work smarter to allow myself rest!
  3. The *right* research will uncover insights to help define a strategy. That is what Ienjoy the most.
  4. Startups are exciting, exhausting, frustrating and the best learning environment. An experience that everyone should take part in (even if it’s an intrapreneurial opportunity).
  5. There are myriad tips and efficiencies any company can learn from the lean business model and start-up approach
  6. Flexibility is nice, but discipline is 10x harder without structure & stability.
  7. Nothing tops collaborating with GREAT, genuine people.
  8. Passion is personal.

During SXSW this past year, my friend Larry gave me good advice “focus on 1 thing, 1 industry and be great at it.” I took that to heart.

So I’m focusing on strategy b/c I’m great at it and I enjoy that the most. I like so many industries it’s hard to pick one and I don’t think I need to. Strategy is strategy- you’re trying to solve a problem- period. The approach doesn’t change, just the context. It’s always been important to me to keep it fresh and interesting to work across multiple industries, which is what I’ve done over the least 3 years (technology, hardware, CPG, beauty, design services, corporate, healthtech and healthcare).

Chapter 7

Today I start my next professional chapter and role as Chief Strategy Officer with MWW and I’m beyond excited. I’ll have oversite of the strategic planning function, research, insights and analytics and oversee marketing communication strategies and programs across all practices and locations within MWW.  I’ll also partner with creative leadership to turn insights and strategy into meaningful marketing experiences and execution.

They are a forward thinking organization, with strong leadership, fantabulous people/talent, impressive accolades and a diverse client base. Their tagline is “Matter More”. They believe in relevance over everything else. Could that be more strategic in nature?

I will never lose my curiosity and acumen for all things techxy and digilicious- but they’re now in a supporting role. (Small caveat: I still believe in side projects and 100% sanction this POV from Spotify’s head of design on that topic.)

That’s my (professional) passion. And it’s personal.

Whatever you are passionate about, professionally or personally- I encourage you to follow it. Take a ride; sometimes the detours have the best view.

Reprinted with permission

Photo Credit: CC by Feggy Art

About the author: Jess Seilheimer

Jess Seilheimer is the Chief Strategy Officer at MWW. She has 14+ years experience in advertising/marketing across brand strategy, product marketing; both in traditional & digital media.

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