Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Tag Archives: Career Advice

I Learned A Lot In 2015

Winston Churchill

In so many ways, 2015 was a transformative year for me. There was no denying that “change is the only constant” was alive, well and all so very true. Each year, following the sentimentality that comes from the New Year, I take some time to think back on the past year and outline what I’ve learned. Knowledge is a lifelong quest. To me, that’s always been the beauty of it. 2015, the year I turned 36, was a big one.

  1. For the first time in my career, I found myself leading a team of subject matter experts that were much more the expert than I. Earlier in the year, one of my favorite colleagues and best work friends, left Walgreens to pursue an amazing opportunity. His team was transitioned to me. What an honor. I mean that. What a team he built. Smart, hard working, efficient and definitely subject matter experts. Every year, they could forget more than I could ever learn, about their disciplines. A first for me. A humbling experience. So what did I learn? To start with, how much fun it is to be truly not be the smartest person in the room. Every would be, self-help book, always says, surround yourself with smart people, so that you’re not the smartest person in the room. After living it for the past ~6 months, it’s exhilarating. You listen more. You speak less. When you speak, you ask questions. When you ask those question, there’s a split-second where you wonder, if what you’re asking, is a dumb question (usually, it’s not). I always knew my friend’s team was smart, but had no idea, just how sharp they were, til I spent meaningful time with them.
  2. In leading this new team, it was somewhat comforting to know there were still many things I could bring to the table to help them become better. That’s always the question I have for myself; how can I help my team-members become better. For example, in quickly recognizing that I wouldn’t be able to teach them new tricks/techniques to improve their daily craft, I could play the role of connector and instead bring to the table other subject matter experts, from different companies, that they could exchange ideas with. If I wasn’t going to be the expert, the least I could do is introduce them to other experts.
  3. Time management became a challenge as our new team approached ~40 members. I had to learn how to prioritize better than I’ve ever done before. I also had to re-think how to allocate time to spend with my team. It would be impossible to spend an hour with each person, every week, but were there are decisions I could make to ensure the each person on the team felt connected. This is work in progress. When you have a large team, with staff in different states, countries and continents, who are working on initiatives big and small, it’s a constant juggling act to stay connected.
  4. Early on in my career, I was taught to make sure you understand how dollars flow, how decisions are made and who influences perception of risk. More simply put, make friends with finance, legal and business operations. In a year where we formally finished acquiring a company, changed many of the players in the C-level seats, lost our CMO and announced the acquisition of another company, that advice helped ease the pain of change. Understanding how to navigate a large complex organization, is a skill that can often supersede your subject matter expertise’s value.
  5. We’re still trapped by the usage of old methods to evaluate new opportunities. Learning how to frame up the future in a way that fits into the containers of the past, is a challenge. Organizations, by design, are not wired or motivated to make changes that can’t be substantiated by the models, tools and methodologies that are broadly adopted and historically accepted. For example, a colleague of mine, laments that his paid search budget, while showing a ~7X return in pure .Com performance ($1 a click leading to $7 baskets) would seem like a great thing, the overall spend for paid search in his organization, is not big enough to be measured by their Marketing Mix Analysis (aka MMX) partner. Thus, his spend has been flat every year, for the past 3 years. Old methods for evaluating new media are hindering growth.
  6. On the personal side, my continued investment in snowboarding has been rewarding. Ever since I turned 30, I try learning something new, every year. Last year, was snowboarding. I took lessons. Purchased gear. Visited Jackson Hole and Park City. What a joy! This year, I’m picking up boxing and target shooting.
  7. I finally understood the nervousness, passion and craziness that comes from watching your kids play sports. My daughter, Cora, plays league basketball and this year is playing on the traveling team. What a rollercoaster of emotions. Her league team went to the finals, where they lost. As a parent, theres such a balance to be had, in coaching your kids, but not pushing them too hard…in cheering, but not embarrassing them…in wanting to curse out the ref, but not issuing restraint. I think I almost had a heart attack in every game.
  8. Last year and rolling into the New Year, I realized, I’m going to have to learn how accept that at 8 and 6, these kids are becoming completely independent. Case in point, John decided he wanted to come to Chicago to celebrate New Years and hang out with dad. But, Cora, while appreciating the offer, declined, because she had “plans.” You’re 8! You have plans! But, that’s the new reality. We’re rapidly approaching the inflection point where dad is no longer cool and my kids would rather hang out with their friends!
  9. The hunt can sometimes be more enjoyable than the treasure. In 2015, I hunted down the 5 bourbons/whiskeys I’ve always wanted to own, but could never find. In order of price/rarity: A.H. Hirsch 16, Michter’s 20, Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, Parker’s Heritage: Promise Of Hope, Black Maple Hill Small Batch. The Hirsch and Michter’s, while universally celebrated were just good IMHO. Black Maple Hill’s hype never delivered for me. But, Promise of Hope…WOW! So good, I tracked down 5 additional bottles and grossly overpaid relative to MSRP. But, it was so worth it! That said, on the whole, the hunt was far more fun than the actual prize. I wonder if this is how Tinder users feel?
  10. Things are awesome. They really are. I have a drone (don’t fly it in the house, trust me), a hover-board (haven’t fallen, but once!), shoes, etc. But, it’s a handful of experiences, most of which were fairly inexpensive, that are far more memorable. In 2016, I’ll be investing more in experiences and less in things.

Like I said, 2015 was a big year. Lots learned. Lots to build on!

So, You’re Starting A New Job

The New Year. It is upon us. The New Yea is full of “new.” There are new promises. There are new resolutions. Some of us have new rituals, like opening up new notebooks. hitting the gym (after not hitting it since a year prior) or a version of “Spring Cleaning” that we do in January. Yes, there’s a lot of new.

One new that often appears is the start of a new job. It’s not uncommon for people to resign in early December, take the last 2 weeks off and start their new job right at the start of the New Year. It’s a good strategy. I should know, I did it last year!

The Roman philosopher, Seneca, eloquently stated “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” That refrain is as poignant today, as it was circa 50 AD, when it was first stated. The thing about new is that to make way for it, you have to have something “old.” Have a new job? Great, it means you’re leaving previous one.

Closing Time

As someone who has left a few jobs, managed people who have left jobs and hired people who’ve left previous jobs, let me offer 3 pieces of advice to those of you who are starting new jobs.

  1. Resist the urge to trash your former employer, manager, team, colleagues. I know you want to. I know it feels good to leave and to start something new. I know there’s some amount of “see, I’ll show you”, but resist. Why? Because there’s no upside to be gained from it, but there’s nothing but downside. You will look petulant. You will look immature. You will look exactly the way that turns a future employer away from hiring you. Make no mistake, this new job you have, it won’t be the last. Also, especially in marketing, advertising and technology, it’s a small world. You may end up working with the same people you just trashed. That’s the very definition of awkward.
  2. Learn from your last job. You’ll be quick to just put your old job behind you. You’ll want to set your sights squarely on your new job. My advice; take 2 days, just a weekend, to think on the time you spent at your previous job. Think on the good. Think on the bad. Think on the things you wished were different. Think on the experiences you wish you could change. Use them. Use them as knowledge to guide how you handle your new role. The best thing about “new” is that you get to paint a new version of you. You get to reinvent yourself. But, you can only reinvent yourself if you’re willing to recognize how to emphasize the good and learn from bad.
  3. Send written thank you notes. To whom? To everyone. Everyone? Yes, everyone. Send them to your mentors, the interview staff, your previous colleagues, etc. Everyone. First, it’s something you should have probably done earlier. Second, the written word leaves and indelible mark. In today’s world of tweets, texts, snaps and what have you a handwritten note goes a long way.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. Not every one of my beginnings came from an end that I couldn’t have handled better. I’m certainly not perfect and not every situation was handled perfectly. That said, what I do have is a track record of working with people who would work with me again and at places that would welcome my rejoining.

If you’re starting a new job in 2015, congratulations. I wish you the best of luck in that new endeavor. But, be smart, be mature, be an adult and be professional as your new beginning comes at another beginning’s end.

The Only 3 Times You Should Speak In A Meeting

One of my mentors, who I still call on for advice, shared with me her approach to meetings. I was relaying that info to someone today and it dawned on me, I’d never shared this great advice more broadly.

I think many of us take 1 of 2 paths in a meeting. We speak all the time or we say nothing. Those who say nothing, of course, are given the horrible label of “wallflower.” [sarcasm font] Wallflowers of course aren’t leaders [/sarcasm font]. The other end of that spectrum are people who talk all the time; they yearn to hear their voice heard. Well, at least that seems to be the prevailing thought.


So with that said, as I was entering a point in my career where I was routinely finding myself in meetings with the C-suite, my mentor shared with me her philosophy for when to talk in a meeting:

Speak First: If you’re the first to speak in a meeting, you set the tone, frame up the context of the meeting, outline what’s to be discussed and the decisions that need to be made. As the first person to speak, all other commentary will have to pivot off of your opening remarks. This is a great role when you’re the sponsor of an initiative, but not responsible for overall completion of the initiative or the tasks required to complete it.

Speak When You’ll Own: When you’re responsible for key parts of an initiatives, you need to fight for your fair share of the resources, budget, scope, timing, support and more. You need to both pick your spots and speak in a tone and octave that enables you to explain risks clearly and the reasons you need what you need. Also, since you’re responsible for the “task” it’s critical to make sure people understand you have that responsibility. Equally as important is making sure you understand what’s being asked of you and what scope changes are becoming your responsibility.

Speak Last: The last word is undervalued. The recency effect is very powerful in large organizations. As the person who speaks last you can sum up the key points (which are almost always captured flawlessly by scribes), outline the next steps, assign responsibilities, express satisfaction/dissatisfaction and more. The tone you set when you speak last, often sticks and it’s remembered. The “speak last” approach is something reserved for the person who owns the responsibility for the overall initiative.

It should go without saying, but obviously speak when you’re asked a question too.

I didn’t get this advice til a bit later on in my career. It’s something I’ve been working on for the past year and have tried to lean in to since I returned to Walgreens. Try it out.

5 Building Blocks That Never Change

Over the past few months I’ve spoken at several Universities about our journey at Campbell to become one of the most digitally fit organizations in the world. A frequent post presentation topic of conversation from these students has been how they can set themselves up for success in a new organization. Many of them are interning, evaluating internship opportunities or getting ready to join their first professional full-time job.

Looking back, I wish I had been smart enough to ask some of these questions before I took on my first real job. In 1997 Fallon McElligott gave me my first real job as a QA Analyst focused on breaking websites. I’ve had a wide variety of roles in the 16 years between then and my role at Campbell Soup. Some of those roles put me under great managers. Some of those roles put me within amazing teams working on brain stretching projects. And some of those roles have put me in a position to manage and lead people.

Building Blocks

Circumstances can be unique, cultures can be diverse and there are certainly no 2 situations that are identical. Many have been similar, but none, identical. Across these roles and across these different organizations, I’ve learned so much about how to set yourself up for success. While there’s no formula for guaranteeing success, I’m convinced there are a handful of universal building blocks that are important, but for whatever reason seem to be overlooked and forgotten more often than they should…especially by the group of individuals joining the work force in the past 5 years. So with that said, here’s my 5 building blocks…

  1. First One In…Last One Out: I think too many people saw this as work non-stop and around the clock. That’s an easy mistake to make. Embodying a mindset of “first one in…last one out” is about demonstrating and leaning in to a serious work ethic. It means not rolling in at 9, leaving at 4 and then asking for a raise. As preposterous as that seems, I’ve seen it happen. It’s about understanding the context surrounding a situation. For example, the Thanksgiving holiday is an important sales period for us at Campbell. We had people volunteering to be on call should a server get overloaded or a consumer need help with a recipe. There are those who look for stretch projects and those that come in and only do the work assigned to them. One of those 2 groups is not successful, long term.
  2. Believe Nothing You Hear and Half Of What You See:  I’ve written on the subject of gossip before. In my opinion, gossip, unmanaged, can be debilitating for an organization. There are few things more likely to stop your upward growth than being someone who gossips or someone who listens to gossip. This building block, though, goes beyond gossip. You’ll never understand why people do what they do, in a company. Sometimes, leaders do things for reasons you’ll never understand. You’ll never understand it, because you don’t have access to all the other pieces of information they do. Your time is better spent on the initiatives that matter, not on listening to gossip, seeking it out or trying to understand why people make decisions.
  3. Anticipate: There’s nothing that separates great from good, like ones ability to anticipate. I’m serious. Thinking through things and asking yourself a series of “what if” and “what would” and “what should” questions is critical. For example, if you’re working on a presentation, you need to ask yourself, what if it bombs, what if the projector doesn’t work, what would I do if they cut the budget in half, what should I do to demonstrate that we need “X.” Thinking through the scenarios takes time, but it’s time well spent.
  4. Know The History, Know The Culture: It’s amazing how important this is and how often it’s overlooked. Understanding a company’s history, helps you understand why certain decision have been made and are made. Combining that with a great understanding of the culture, will enable you to navigate an organization quicker…which makes you more successful faster. You have to go beyond the Wikipedia page though. You’re laughing, but I’m serious. Most companies have someone or some team that works like an archivist and historian. Find those people and start brain draining ASAP. Talk to organizations like legal, procurement and finance; it’s astonishing how much knowledge and history they have access to.
  5. Plan, Prepare and Participate: This is a bit different, though closely related to #3. Let’s take something simple like attending a meeting. Plan ahead…think about how much time it’ll take to get to the meeting, what assets you’ll need (book, pen, iPad, props, etc.) and what you want to get out of the meeting. Prepare by understanding who’ll be in the meeting and what their interests are. You should also prepare and plan for when you’re going to participate. Sometimes you’re the one leading the meeting, but often you’ll find yourself as a meeting participant. Don’t be the participant who sits in the corner, 5 steps removed from the table and with your face hidden behind a laptop screen. The far opposite of that isn’t good either…the person who feels the need to constantly speak, offer opinion and interrupt. You need to think about what kind of participant you want to be and when to participate. When you go from wallflower to strategic participant, a world of opportunity open up.

I’m still learning how to do all 5 building blocks really well…all the time. I wish I knew about them 16 years ago when I joined Fallon. This isn’t a blueprint or a map to success, but I’ve yet to come across a organization, culture, team or person for whom these building blocks don’t apply.

5 Things I’m Pondering Right Now

Changing Landscape

1 – A Changing Mobile Landscape

Wow. The pace of change in the mobile landscape is staggering. Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s mobile handset business was inevitable. Blackberry being purchased by private equity was less inevitable. I think many though Blackberry might be purchased by someone like Samsung or Apple. The private equity move is a bit of a head-scratcher. That’s some serious change. Add in Apple’s launch of the iPhone 5S and 5C, both with the added security feature of finger print verification. Frankly, this security measure was long overdue and it was only going to be implemented well by Apple. We’re on the cusp of some serious changes, but I’m not sure these changes will end up being great for consumers. Why do I say that? Well, as the mobile world shrinks, will we see a slow down in innovation? Google is being less open with Android. Samsung wants to create their own OS. Microsoft has never really been good with leveraging an asset they purchased (see Skype as an example). There’s just a lot going on. While this might not be good for the consumer from an innovation standpoint, this could be great for the market at large. Less players, less devices, less fragmentation should create better standardization and hopefully start accelerating the road map for mobile marketing and advertising.

2 – Career Advice?

Yesterday, I came across this post titled, “Career Advice to My Daughters.” With a title like that, you knew it was going to get a lot of play. It was shared several times in my Facebook and LinkedIn feeds. Friends, called it “thoughtful”, “poignant”, “important” and a “must read.” I disagree with all of those words, except “must read.” I have a daughter, Cora. She’s 6. I became more and more irritated as I made my way through the author’s post. A great friend of mine, captured my feelings better than even I could. She said, “Wow. So, that guy’s advice is to basically NOT have a career? I’m baffled.” Another friend, this one a guy, said, “This is the same type of garbage that drives me nuts about younger employees. They’re “owed” great jobs. Companies do not owe you a job. They certainly don’t owe you a great job or career. It is a financial transaction. Provide value and be compensated. Be awesome and you’ll get the better jobs. On the plus side, if Cora and his kid were in a pool, Cora finishes in the top 50%.” I couldn’t agree more. While, I don’t need, nor expect my kids (both of them) to become CEOs, I do expect them to have an understanding of how the world works and that those who like ambition, drive and a clear sense of direction, struggle.

So Hard To Keep Up

3 – It’s Tough To Stay Digitally Fit…Even For Digital People

Keeping up in digital is challenging. I read. I read more. I try. I try more. I joined Snapchat. I hate Snapchat. I keep trying Snapchat. In a very sobering study from Adobe (PDF), it was revealed that less than half of DIGITAL marketers feel they are highly proficient at digital marketing. On some level, this isn’t surprising. For years, we haven’t invested in making digital important…certainly not important enough to invest in making our digital talent better through formal training-like programs. When we talk about building the digital capability and increasing our level of digital fitness at The Campbell Soup Co., we don’t focus on non-“digital” talent. Everyone needs to get more fit. Even those that are considered the most knowledgeable about digital, can always be smarter, better and more fit. When I read a report like this I feel even better knowing my kids are embracing digital and technology at such a young age.

Real Time

4 – Real Time “Marketing” Fatigue?

I watched, as many marketers did, the “real time marketing” efforts by brands during the Emmy’s. Most brands seemed to sit it out; and I happen to think that’s a good thing that reflects a return back to basic marketing fundamentals. Now, it’s possible, many brands sat out the Emmy’s because the Emmy’s aren’t as big as the Oscar’s. However, I tend to think it’s because marketers are realizing that real time marketing is a fad. Yes, I said a fad. Let me be clear when I say a fad, it’s the idea that an Oreo Super Bowl moment is repeatable every day. What isn’t a fad, isn’t being prepared, actively listening and striking at the right moment with an authentic on brand message that your audience actually wants to hear. What we saw with this most recent Oscar’s, were brands forcing the conversation. They were trying hard to replicate a moment. The problem is, you can’t force a moment. Moments happen, what you need to do is be ready to take advantage of the moment. Now, of course, leaders in the space, took umbrage with people calling them out for forcing a conversation and ultimately delivering off brand and mediocre creative experiences. They would have you believe that “no one” has this figured out and this is part of the evolution of real time marketing and it’s about innovation and test and learn. I’m not buying that. At Campbell, we often talk about how social is 99% preparation and 1% execution. If you spend your time preparing, you’ll almost always be able to take advantage of that 1% moment. If we want social to be better than robo-calls, infomercials and overly aggressive mass market direct mail, we need to focus on the preparation, not on trying to make execution the 99%. Our new soup campaign features a character called called, The Wisest Kid. You won’t find any tweets from him during the Emmy’s. There were certainly some great oppotunities, but we passed on them. Why? Because, we’re staying true to the campaign and our audience…the Emmy’s started after The Wisest Kid’s bed time. To have tweeted during the Emmy’s, with the hopes of catching lightening in the bottle, would have meant we were prioritizing short term gains and the expense of long term growth. Know your brand. Know your audience. Connect with them in a natural way.


5 – Does Your Digital Org Road Map Include Blowing It All Up?

Digital moves quick. Every day it seems like there’s something new to keep up on. When you’re building a digital organization or looking to transform an organization into a more digitally fit one, you have to have a plan. I know that sounds basic. I realize you’re thinking, well gosh Adam, tell me something I don’t know. Ok, now, think for a second; do you have a real 5 year road map for where you’re taking the organization? Does it have vision and strategy? Does it include how you’ll evaluate your progress? For some of you the answer is yes. That’s great. Now, let me ask you, does your plan include and account for blowing up your entire model at some point? I didn’t think so. Why is this important? Part of it is as simple as the old adage, what got you here, won’t get your there. The other part though is that the skills, staffing dynamics, focus, priorities, partners and economic environments change often. While your vision and strategy should be consistent, the road map to get to bright will need to evolve and ultimately, at some point, you’ll need to blow it up if you want to be successful 5 years out from the end of your 5 year road map. We’re 15 months into our journey to be the most digitally fit CPG in the world. It’s a marathon. But, a marathon that we need to run at a sprinter’s pace. The more I think about things though, it might be less marathon and more like a Spartan Challenge style race.  In Spartan Challenges, you need to adapt and adapt quickly and often. You have fire, mud, hills and other obstacles. Those obstacles force you to reassess your path quickly. You need to be nimble, but not sloppy, as you keep your eye on the end goal.

Get On The Campbell Soup Co. Digital Rocket Ship

There are jobs and there are careers. There are reasons you leave your current company and there are reasons you join a new company. I’ve been there. You’ve been there. We’ve all been there. You can leave for money. You can leave for a title. You can leave for fame. You can leave for a lot of reasons.

Even if you’re happy in your current job, keep reading. I promise you, by the time you’re done reading this post, you’ll want to join my team at The Campbell Soup Co.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s Harvard Business School commencement speech, she relayed the story of how some words of wisdom from Eric Schmitt inspired her to join Google despite the fact it didn’t meet her “criteria”:

Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.

Ironically, this same advice is what lead to her choosing to leave Google and join Facebook.

I’m telling you right now, i’ve been at Campbell 12 weeks and 3 days, and if you’re serious about digital, there is no better place to be than The Campbell Soup Co. We are the rocket ship that you should never pass up and I happen to have 6 open seats.

The Campbell Soup Co. Rocket Ship

6 new roles, approved and posted in 12 weeks. Think about how fast that is. Think about what that says about the organization and it’s support of digital. That’s why I feel very comfortable saying, this is a rocket ship you need to get on.

Two weeks ago, I was talking to a potential candidate to gauge their interest. She asked me, why should I leave my current great job and relocate half-way across the country to join Campbell? I said, you shouldn’t leave for the Campbell you think you know. But, you should leave to join me and the Campbell Soup Co., I do know. You won’t find a better situation to join. I mean that. You’ll get creative latitude, an investment in your growth and the opportunity to work at a fantastic company, with wicked smart people. Oh, and you’ll be given every possible opportunity to do amazing work. That’s my promise and it’s my guarantee.

I love to win. I hate to lose. In my tenure here at Campbell, I can say, we want to win…we want to win big.

I’ve been on the record before and will continue to say, The Campbell Soup Co. will become the most digitally fit CPG organization in the world. Our journey towards that vision will be fun, fast, rewarding and memorable. It’s a story you’re going to want to tell. It’s a story you’re going to want on your resume.

remember, when someone offers you a seat on a rocket ship…just get on.

So with that said, I have 6 seats:

Digital Insights Lead
Lots of companies talk about digital insights. Few deliver on something more than spreadsheets and post campaign reports. This isn’t about reports. This isn’t about living in Omniture. This is way cooler. You get to make data interesting, sexy and meaningful. The Digital Insights Specialist role is responsible for the ongoing development and optimization of the digital metrics framework. Framework? Yes, framework. You get to help define what data/metrics matter and which don’t. Then you’ll need to ensure that we’re applying that framework across all digital marketing initiatives. So, who’s hiring a data scientist? We are. Told you this was a rocket ship.

Digital Communications Specialist
I remain ever inspired by the work Scott Monty does at Ford. He has forever redefined what digital communications, at scale, for a large company, look like. You’re going to get the same opportunity. We want to redefine what digital communications for the entire company, look like. You’ll be responsible for enhancing our internal and external communications initiatives. It’s about improving how we connect with our employees, the media, consumers and influencers. Hope you have your Klout score ready…I’m kidding. But, you will need to have a vision. I think the vision is tougher than earning a higher Klout score.

Manager, Mobile And Emerging Media
We know mobile is going to be big. But, rather than wait for the market to fully emerge, we’re betting on where consumer behavior is headed. We can’t stop at mobile though. We need to always be mindful of what’s next. This role is responsible for the ongoing leadership, management and growth of Campbell’s presence across the mobile and emerging media landscape. Gaming? Check! Augmented reality? You bet! Tap-and-pay? [shaking head in agreement] It’s a great role and clearly demonstrates our commitment to innovation.

Social Marketing Specialist X 3
Yes, 3. Not 1. Not 2. But, 3 Social Marketing Specialist. What is a Social Marketing Specialist? It’s not a Community Manager. It’s not a Strategist. It’s not an Analyst. It’s all 3 rolled in 1. That’s right, you get to be the DJ leading social media across an entire line of business. One role will lead social across our Soups and Simple Meals portfolio. Another will make sure our snacks business is second to none in social. And the last will work across our beverage and breakthrough innovation businesses. From driving the strategy, to managing execution and making sense of social data, you’ll be given a true opportunity to lead and make a difference.

3 Interview Rejections I Learned From

Rejection. I don’t know anyone that loves it. Be it, asking your parents for that cute puppy, only to be told not a chance. Be it, asking for that girl’s number and being shut down. Be it, getting that letter from the college you really wanted to attend, and having it say, sorry, no dice.

Rejection, in its many flavors just sucks. It’s disheartening. It leaves you feeling blah. Now, I’ve had my fair share of rejection over the years. From not making the basketball team in high school to having Georgetown tell me: umm…you can come to our school, but you’re not good enough to earn even a $2.00 scholarship.

One spot I’ve definitely faced rejection was in the interview process. The Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota had a class taught by Mike Henle that was all about interview and resume prep. Honestly, one of the best classes I ever took. Whether it was that class or luck or whatever, early on in my career I generally aced interviews. I remember keeping track of my “close rate” – the ratio of offers to interviews. I stopped tracking it years ago, but I do recall at one point being in the 90% area.

Now, this isn’t about the offers. This isn’t about the jobs I took. This isn’t about my successes. This is about the failures. Specifically, I want to tell you about the 3 jobs I interviewed…that I really wanted…that I felt I was very qualified for…BUT didn’t get.

General Mills
It was just after the dot.com bust. Or rather, the middle of the bust. I was working in Chicago, but my girlfriend was Minneapolis based. And as many of you know, long distance for a relationship is no fun. Brad Smith was the director of Digital at General Mills and he was looking for a manager of digital. Several of Brad’s colleagues recommended me to him. After a phone screen, I came in for the full day of interviews. Now coming in I felt like I had a lot on my side. First, I knew Brad; it’s a small circle of digital people in Minneapolis. Two, I knew the VP of HR/Talent; she even endorsed me for the job. Three, I had a lot of CPG experience at the time. From Kellogg’s to Nestlé and from Altoids to Coca-Cola, I’d managed a lot of great brands. Four, I had the “buzz” that came from having worked at Fallon, on BMW on BMW Films. The General Mills interview process was standard…meet a lot of cross-functional team members, talk about your background, explain why you want to leave your current role, etc. Well, it was standard to a point. Part of the process involved the Myers Briggs personality test. And apparently, that’s where I failed in legendary fashion. I left the interview thinking I had nailed it. My initial conversations with Brad and HR, post interview, were encouraging and positive. A week went by. Then another. On the 3rd week, I got a call from my HR contact. She explained, I would not be moving on. I was shocked. My heart dropped. I inquired why. She hesitated initially and explained, that while everyone “loved” me and though I’d be great…I had failed the Myers Briggs test. Well, that’s a head scratcher..how do you fail a personality test, I asked. She explained, that I was too extroverted, an apparent no-no in Big G land. The test indicated that I would be the type of person who wouldn’t simply follow the process and approaches that had been used by the company or years…that I would challenge the norm too frequently. Baffled, I called Brad, who confirmed what I had been told and said something I remember to this day, “dude, I’ve never seen anything like this before, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you could fail a personality test.” Well, me neither. It’s safe to say I’ve remained quite extroverted, so I’m not exactly expecting a call from General Mills any time soon. I love many of the products in the General Mills family and have a lot friends who have thrived there. Sometimes, it’s not about talent, it’s about fit. And in this case, I didn’t fit.

Somewhere at the middle point in my career, just before I joined ConAgra Foods, I interviewed with R/GA to run the SC Johnson business. At this point in my career, I felt I was tailor made for this role. In addition to the CPG experience I listed above, I’d also cut my teeth on Similac, M&M and a few others. In short, I knew how to move pallets of product to Wal-Mart, using digital. R/GA at the time was one of the few digital agencies doing it right. Even today, they are one of the best digital shops in the world. I had and have a lot of respect for the agency and it’s commitment to great work. After a lengthy interview process, I was notified that after careful consideration I was not going to be offered the position. My notice came via phone by the head of account management. That’s a classy move and something more companies should do. Anyhow, of course I wanted to know where I didn’t measure up. Imagine my surprise when I was told, “unfortunately, you don’t have enough CPG experience.” Huh? I mean had you said, not enough telecom or retail experience, I’d have agreed. But, not enough CPG experience? Well, that was just obviously BS. Not only was a bummed, I mean R/GA was probably one of the few shops everyone really wanted in at, but I was irked I wasn’t getting the full story. How can you improve if you don’t know where you fell short? Well, shortly thereafter, I took a job working with a great team at ConAgra Foods. We were conducting an agency review for new digital agencies. I wanted R/GA in the pitch. Like I said, they did and do amazing work. I wasn’t harboring any bad feelings and more importantly, you have to set aside personal feelings (when they exist) and make the right business decision. Well, 3 things happened during the pitch that just shows what can happen when you aren’t level with someone…it can always come back to you later on. First, during the first round of the pitch, I got a call from the head of new business, he had with him the head of account management. She wanted to tell me how much she thought of me and was thrilled that while it didn’t work out with me joining R/GA, she’d finally get the chance to work with me as a client. He, wanted to make sure, there weren’t any hard feelings…there weren’t. Second, I relayed the call to my boss and his boss; in doing so I gave them all the context. They were surprised I’d still want to work with them. But, like I said, they did amazing work. Third, R/GA lived up to their reputation and made it to the final presentation. In that meeting, the head of account management explained that R/GA doesn’t have a “B” team, because they only hire the best. At that point, my boss asked…if you only hire the best, how can you explain not hiring Adam, because I happen to think he is one of the best. I was stunned. It’s a hell of a question and not one I was expecting. Initially, they thought he joking, but realized he was serious. I honestly, don’t remember the answer and it had ZERO impact on how we reviewed and rated them. Even today, nearly a decade later, I wish I knew why I wasn’t good enough for R/GA. If you’re reading this R/GA can you let me know why…call me…maybe?

Crispin, Porter + Bogusky
Let me first say, I’ve never had an interview, ever, like my interview at CP+B. You show up. There’s not set agenda. You meet some people for an hour and others for 5 minutes. They want you to meet with as any people as possible. But, here’s the catch…if one of those people, gives you a thumbs down, you fail. It has to be 100% consensus. I learned this all after the fact. On my interview day, I showed up at 8. I sat. I sat some more. And I sat even more. Around 9:30 I met my first interviewer. Between 9:30 am and 6:30 pm I met with no less than 30 people. I met with assistants, receptionists, Jeff Benjamin, the HR team, Winston Binch and more. As I boarded the plane back home, my head was spinning. I had no idea if I’d done well or if I’d bombed. A few days later I received a call from HR. It started out great. She was complimentary of me and my background. But, you just knew…you just knew, a “but” was coming. And, about 5 minutes into the call, it came. She explained their 100% consensus policy and indicated that while the core team I’d be working with and my “boss” thought I’d be a great fit, there was 1 dissenting vote. That one dissenting vote was enough to reject me. I was bummed to say the least. Now here’s the funny part. A few weeks later, after I’d already accepted another role, I received a call from HR. The person who had cast the no vote, had left the company, which paved the way for them to offer me the job. I passed. Good thing I did. Sometimes things happen for a reason, right? A few months later, CP+B lost the account I was going to work on.

You have to learn from your rejections and your failures. As I’ve gotten older any bitterness I had from being rejected by General Mills, RG/A and Crispin subsided. You get more pragmatic and realize that “fit” is really important. You start to evaluate opportunities based on philosophical alignment, culture and fit. You realize that having a company want you as much as you want them is an awesome feeling. I became better from those experiences. I learned from them. And frankly, without them, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.

While not making the cut for the top 3, special mentions for Best Buy, Edelman and Carmichael
Lynch are well deserved.

Things To Think About As You Look Forward In Your Career

I’m an addict when it comes to career coaching. Personally, I think it’s a lost art. I remember when I started at Fallon, the only way to break in to Fallon in account management was to be an intern and pass the intern test. Following your hire, for the first few years you had an annual project to complete…part of completing that annual project was leveraging your assigned mentor. That program was shuttled post Publicis acquisition.

At different stops after Fallon, it was clear that other organizations (DRAFT, Leo Burnett, Colle+McVoy, etc.) just didn’t value career coaching and mentorship. But, a consistent aspect of people I admired, was they took ownership over their own career development by finding there own mentors. They didn’t wait for the organization to serve up mentors or invest in their career growth. Nope, they took on the responsibility to further their own careers.

Well, I learned from the mentors I had at Fallon. I learned from the people I observed. Truthfully, early on in my career, I didn’t leverage all the career coaching I had at my finger tips. Looking back on those decisions, it was a clear mistake. After about 10 years in, I really started to take more ownership of my career and sought out a few specific sounding boards who could keep me honest, forward my thinking and make sure I was focused on the right things to further my own career aspirations.

In March, I met with several of members of my mentorship team and also added in a few new mentors.  Here’s a summary, of the advice they shared with me. It might be applicable to your own career.

  1. Invest in real networking. Translation; accepting a request on LinkedIn is not networking. You need to give thoughtful consideration to who you need in your network and who you don’t. Old fashioned networking, much like old fashioned career coaching is a lost art.
  2. Be loyal to people, not companies. I was a bit surprised by this. It doesn’t mean, don’t be loyal to your company. It means that there are people who can help you, shape you, support you, etc. and you need to identify who those people are and make sure you’re always working with them. Have you ever heard the phrase, “we’re getting the band back together.” In marketing and advertising it usually applies to the scenario where person X leaves company Y and then hires all the people he/she trusts. I’ve done it. I’ve worked with Reed Roussel at 3 different companies. He would always be my first hire at any agency I worked at. I think he’d say the same about me.  That’s loyalty. Companies merge, sell out, implode, etc. But, people, generally are, who they are…forever.
  3. Understand what you want to do. Seems simple. But, how many of us just simply want to run from our current job or climb the next rung on the title ladder.
  4. There’s no shame in wanting to be properly compensated. We all have a shelf life and a window for being considered valuable. There’s nothing wrong with trying to make as much money as you can during that window.
  5. That said, money shouldn’t be your only focus. Consider other variables like will you be challenged, will you be motivation, will you be able to earn recognition for your efforts, etc.
  6. Few of us really get our dream job…as a full package. But, you should have a good idea as to what your dream job looks like. The dream job is the anchor that should keep you focused and be a litmus test for evaluating jobs.
  7. Understand the waves, ride them early, because there’s nothing like being able to say, “I was there when it happened” and have people remember you being there.  I was fortunate to bet on digital in 1997.  I think I made the right choice in betting on social in 2010. When I see my colleagues, many of them, my friends, who still haven’t embraced digital and still believe it’s all about commercials; I weep.
  8. If you want job X, put yourself in the position of the person managing that person…what are the 3 or 4 things you want person X to have?  This was a nice reminder for me. Too often we say, “I want person X’s job” and we model ourselves after that person. Just because person X has that job right now, doesn’t mean they’re what the organization needs from that person/role in 5 years. You’re better off betting on what the org is looking for long term in the role than what the current role holder has for a background.
  9. There was universal belief that platforms (google, Facebook, foursquare, Square, etc.) are the next big wave. Seems funny to say, since Google has been around for 10+ years, but think about it. The power often flowed from the client (eg Pepsi), because they had the money.  Then it trickled into their agency (eg Fallon) who often determined how to spend that money.  Eventually, the money made its way to the publisher (eg Yahoo!).  We’re seeing a reverse of this situation happening and a squeeze out.  Companies still have the money, but the power is being wielded by companies, like Facebook, that they don’t quite understand how to manage. When Facebook says jump, many of us say, “how high.” The role of the agency is being augmented. They are becoming middle-men, scared to leave their TV or media planning roots, who no longer have the premium talent. That premium talent is migrating to clients (eg Shiv Singh) or platforms (Torrence Boon). This doesn’t mean agencies are going away or that they don’t have value. It does mean that their value is changing. Those who can pivot appropriate will sustain.
  10. Keeping with the mindset of pivoting; there’s great desire to constantly be reinventing yourself. Reinvention makes sense, so long as what your reinventing and why, are aligned to where you want to go and NOT just the trend du jour. In reinventing yourself, don’t lose sight of who you are.

Career coaching isn’t set it and forget it. I check in with different mentors throughout the year and I rely on some more frequently than others.  The above, was lots of good advice…and it was relatively consistent. I’ve already started applying a lot of it. Hope it was beneficial to you as well.

Damaged Goods

I was working for a dot com startup in Chicago in 2001, the first time I heard the phrase, “damaged goods.” Like many companies in that era we had gone from 1 person to 100 to 400 to 150 to 600 and eventually we locked the doors to the office so we could mail people their last paychecks. Ahh the good old days, right?  Well, we had just undergone a massive layoff that I was sorta part of (long story) and I was having a beer with Anthony Isla.  I was senior to Anthony, but he was definitely more experienced.  He said to me, well at least in this business climate we won’t be considered damaged goods.  I was confused, asked him to explain and he did.  In short, there’s only so many times that you can get laid off before future employers start wondering if it’s not the situations, but you who are the problem.

Personal and dating relationships are no different.  Those of us who are divorced start off with a major disadvantage in the dating game because there’s an inherent perception that we are damaged goods.  After all if we were poor at being married the first time, why would it be different the second time.  I have scene this up close and personal.  It’s shocking how quickly your confidence is destroyed after you get the “look.” Trust me, when you get the look, you never forget.  It stings.  Of course, the look pales in comparison to the things people say.  Believe me, they aren’t shy about it.

Professionally, I’ve never felt like damaged goods.  I survived two layoffs and became stronger after each of them.  I remember a conversation I had with Cheryl, after the second one. In pretty plain language she made it clear it was their loss, I was amazing and I had still had much more to give.  Well, she was right. After both layoffs it took me less than 3 weeks to get new positions. I wasn’t damaged goods. I simply had a poor partner who didn’t realize my potential.  These days, I interview a lot of folks.  The ones who have bounced around wear the face of someone who believes they are damaged goods.  It’s a horrible feeling and I always try to make it clear that I’m concerned with what they can do for my team, our agency and our clients.  I do my best to not see them as damaged goods.

Personally, it’s been tougher.  The other day I was drifting into damaged goods land.  In a conversation with a new friend, I stated, “well, it’s tough, because I’m damaged goods.”. Like a good friend, she said “you are not damaged goods” and then offered to “explain” that with words and actions to whomever had made me feel that way.  Talk about a hell of a friend.  It’s ironic that it took someone I barely knew to set me straight.  But, I guess there are simply people out there with good hearts who can see past out battle scars.  Her Facebook page has these two great quotes:

1. “Don’t cry because its over smile because it happened”
2. “A Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no ones definition of your life; define yourself….”

Smart stuff. It applies to what we do professionally and personally.  Take each experience, even the negative ones, and look for the good.  There’s no sense in lying to yourself and completely bad mouthing your former company, boss or boyfriend.  It makes you seem petty, immature and unable to see the big picture.  At the same time, don’t let someone else make you feel less than who you really are.  I know this sounds Tony Robbins like, but it’s a really important concept.  Don’t be defined by being laid off, fired, divorced, dumped, etc.  Those situations, even when cumulated, are still small slivers that only tell a small part of the story of YOU!

I am not damaged goods. Neither are you.

Credit Card Relationships

I broke into the agency business young…crazy young. Fallon (at the time Fallon McElligott) took a flyer on me without an internship (unheard of back then) and basically let me grow at my own speed. I was a young and getting enormous opportunities that were well above my experience level and pay grade. While I was succeeding at those opportunities, I still had much to learn about the business, our clients, our heritage and how to be successful long term.

To say that I was getting a little full of myself might have been an understatement.  Well you can imagine the size of my head when my boss (Paul Schield) invited me to lunch with our CMO (Mark Goldstein), our CFO (Irv Fish) and CEO (Pat Fallon).   If the grinch’s heart grew 3 sizes, my head grew 10 sizes.  We went to an old school steak house called Murray’s.  This was literally your classic 3 martini place that I had read about when studying the history of agencies.  Most of that studying was done on my own, since most business schools just don’t offer you any real education on how to succeed at an agency.  The lunch was tasty, the drinks stiff and the conversation light-hearted.  I couldn’t believe the situation I was in…20 years old, riding a rocket to the top and having lunch with the senior leaders.

When the check came, I completely expected Irv to grab it. After all, he was the finance guy, right? Imagine my surprise when the check was passed from Pat, to Paul to ME. My brow started to sweat, my hands got clammy and a nervous sensation overtook my entire body. I had one credit card to my name…and it was in MY name. It wasn’t a corporate card and I certainly didn’t have an expense account. With trepidation I opened up the folio holding the check and gulped when I saw a nearly $350.00 bill. That was basically 3/4 of my rent…and we ate it. But, then a great wave of calm overtook me. It dawned on me that I could just expense this lunch as a business expense. Paul would sign off on it and I’d get reimbursed. Sweet!

While all of this was going on in my head, the other 3 simply carried on their conversation as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I placed my credit card into the folio and signaled for the waiter to come over. A few minutes later he was back. I added the tip, signed the check and then said, “shall we.” I thought I was with it. Oyve. On the short walk back from Murray’s to the office I was starting to doubt myself. Would Paul really sign my expense report? Should I have ordered the Filet Mignon? Side note, since this experience, I have NEVER ordered a Filet Mignon at a restaurant. As I was in deep thought, Mark Goldstein pulled me aside and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “you know, you can’t expense this lunch.” My worst fear had been realized. That sinking feeling swept back into my gut. Ugh.

We walked a few more steps and then Pat gave me a lesson that to this day I hold near and dear to my heart. He said to me, “You realize, all you bought was lunch. You didn’t buy our friendship, our respect or our trust. You bought us a meal. This business, as is life, is built upon relationships. Relationships require an investment in time, effort, listening, learning and discovery. Real relationships last. You can’t manage relationships through a credit card. Too many people in our industry think they can build a relationship with clients through buying fancy dinners or taking them to amazing events. Those relationships are hollow and will never stand the test of time.”

I put quotes around Pat’s advice, because that’s how I remember it. I’m sure a few words are incorrect.