Name: Shaun Koiner
Hometown: Prince George’s County, MD
Undergrad: Washington University in St. Louis, Olin School of Business
Majors: Finance, Marketing
Minors: Philosophy, Education
Activities: WUTV show “B-Side”, Black Anthology, KWUR radio, ABS (Association of Black Students), Each One Teach One, Lock and Chain, Intramural football and basketball
1st Job: Marketing Associate, Sports Illustrated On Campus
2nd Job: Manager, Business Development >> Integrated Marketing, SI Digital
3rd Job: Senior Sales Strategist, East Coast & International, Citizen Sports
4th Job: Sales Analyst, Yahoo!
5th Job: Director, Digital Marketing & Chief Creative Officer, Sporting News
6th Job: VP, Marketing & Chief Creative Officer, Sporting News
7th Job: SVP, Product Innovation, Sporting News Media
8th Job: Chief Product Officer, Sporting News Media
9th Job: Chief Product Officer, Perform Media (Perform Group)
Current Job: Chief Product & Content Officer, Perform Media (Perform Group)
Internships: Merrill Lynch, Time Magazine
Shaun Koiner is a product of his organizations, and when your organizations include “The DMV,” DeMatha, Washington University, Sponsors for Educational Opportunities, Time Inc, Sports Illustrated, Sporting News and now Perform Media, that’s something to be proud of. Shaun currently serves as the the Chief Product & Content Officer at Perform Media, the world’s leading digital sports media and content group. At one time, he thought finance would be his path, but stumbled upon media and ended up fulfilling his childhood dream of working in sports. His biggest advice?
- Give as much as you take.
- Cultivate relationships.
- Find a way to do what you think you’re interested in.
In his interview, Shaun shares his journey into the world of media and sports.
Where were you born/grow up?
I grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland. For anybody from that area, we like to claim the entire county outside of the DMV, (D.C., Maryland, Virginia), given that no individual town or city is necessarily big enough on its own, we kind of represent the county. I was there for the formative years of my life.
I went to high school at DeMatha Catholic High School, which I take a tremendous amount of pride in from both a sports perspective, but also academically and musically — all three with which I was involved in a significant way. We like to call DeMatha the best sports school in the country. I like to say that I’m a product of my organizations. That starts with my family, then my schools and the groups that I’ve joined. Going back to my roots in that area and everything that comes with it, it all starts there.
How would you describe your childhood?
I grew up in a middle class, lower middle class family — depending on different time periods in my upbringing. In terms of diversity, PG County is a majority black county, but it’s also one of the most successful counties in the country, which makes it different. I grew up as someone who’s mixed, but also grew up with a lot of minorities who are now extremely successful. It’s something my cohort takes a lot of pride in.
I was a pretty disciplined kid. I have a very supportive family, including a mom and dad who were always making sure I did well in school and getting me involved in things that have proved beneficial. They got me involved in martial arts, sports and music. My parents worked to instill hard work and perseverance in me, and also taught me the importance of not getting too high or too low on things, which has probably guided me through my entire personal life and career.
What did your parents do for work?
My dad was in printing and prepress almost all of his career, in and around Washington, D.C. and Maryland. My stepmom (mom) would do some part-time work. She did a lot of work in helping the elderly, especially in terms of driving them around and getting them services that they couldn’t get on their own. My birth mom, who is still in my life now but has battled through ongoing health problems, held different jobs when she could, but couldn’t always be in my immediate vicinity.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I had the same dream as every kid who is a huge sports fan. I wanted to do something in sports. What I wanted to do usually depended on the season and I would imagine myself playing in whatever sport was playing, whether it was football, basketball, baseball, or even hockey at times.
When it came to thinking about a career, at first I really wanted to be in broadcast journalism. James Brown, who hosts the CBS shows for football, actually went to DeMatha, so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. He played basketball at DeMatha, went to Harvard and was from the area, so he was always someone I looked up to. I ended up talking to him in high school about his career path. I really wanted to be in broadcast journalism and be on TV talking about sports. That’s where I started, and I never really lost that. I kind of do that today, at least being involved in media, and I work in sports. I like being in front of a camera or being in front of people, presenting and engaging with people in that way. At one point, though, I thought I was going to be on Wall Street and become a banker of some type, work at a bank for two years and then get an MBA and do something related for the rest of my life.
What was your first job?
My first job was delivering newspapers in Capitol Hill for my godparents. They had a community newspaper and they named me the distribution manager, so I employed a bunch of my friends from DeMatha to help me deliver papers on an ongoing basis. It wasn’t necessarily a true formal job, but we had to get it done and I had some genuine responsibility.
So how did you get from DeMatha to WashU, and why WashU?
I took the college search process very seriously, as did my dad, who was a partner in the search process. Crazily enough, I ended up visiting 23 schools. Being in Washington, D.C., I knocked out all of the area colleges first. I went to Maryland and Georgetown. My sister lives in Hampton, Virginia, so I saw William and Mary and University of Virginia, etc. During spring break of my junior year, my dad and I basically drove through New England and saw nine schools in six or seven days. We just did a big loop and I saw Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Dartmouth, Babson, Syracuse, Villanova, Swarthmore. Then I got smart about asking schools for trips. Brown put me on a train for free to see their program, and a couple of those schools I just mentioned invited me back for a visit. WashU started sending loads of mail as they did in the late ’90s and early 2000s, which they’re notorious for. Like a lot of people, I didn’t really know anything about WashU, so I looked it up in U.S. News and World Report, found out how well it was ranked, got invited out for the Ervin Scholars exploration weekend and had a tremendous time.
During the visit, I fell in love with the faculty and staff and how I thought it was a bit different of a visit than I had at the other schools. Linda Churchwell, who worked in the admissions office at the time, specifically paid a visit to DeMatha. I told my best friend in high school, Daniel Gould, that we should visit and he, like me, wasn’t really interested in the Midwest. You know, we were East Coast boys. I sent in my application the final day it was due. I got accepted a week or so later and was awarded the John B. Ervin Scholarship. They matched the full ride I got at Maryland, so the financial situation ended up being great. Dan also ended up going, so having my best friend there made the decision easier. But beyond that, whether it was Dean McLeod, Dorothy Elliott, Dean Hochberg — whoever I came into contact with were just phenomenal people.
Like I said, the process was very different with WashU than it was at any of the other schools. I try to describe the Ervin Scholarship as a program and not just a scholarship. It felt like if I was joining WashU, then I was joining this community and place of support. WashU was invested in having me come for whatever reason. I guess I fooled them. They knew I was a big sports fan. When I applied, the Rams had just won the Super Bowl in between that time and I think I had mentioned how I collected newspaper clippings of big events, so Linda sent me the St. Louis Post Dispatch of the Rams winning the Super Bowl. I’m just this kid, like number 480 of all these applicants, but there was someone who paid attention, took a vested interest, thought I would be a great fit for the school and actually picked up on that small talking point that I probably thought was a throwaway thing. In my acceptance packet was the newspaper, which was going above and beyond. That’s something that, with all due respect to other schools, you just don’t see at other places.
“I felt like some of the attitudes at other schools were ‘We’re going to get top students anyway, so you can be one of them or not be one of them,’ while WashU showed me that they wanted me to come.”
I felt like some of the attitudes at other schools were ‘We’re going to get top students anyway, so you can be one of them or not be one of them,’ while WashU showed me that they wanted me to come.
In combination with that kind of treatment was the reputation of the school, my best friend committing to going there and meeting nothing but really cool people who have now become some of my best friends. It all sealed the deal. There was one part that, which it always comes back to, but the sports part was a little bit of a pause for me. I flipped on my Midwest bias, thinking it would be an opportunity to go somewhere I don’t have a lot of exposure to, meet new people and build up a network that I otherwise wouldn’t have . . . but there was the sports part. In retrospect, I probably could have played for the football team, but I wasn’t interested in it at the time.
I did the Leadership, Education and Development Program (LEAD) program at the University of Virginia before my senior year in high school. I liked the idea of combining a top academic school with the athletic fandom that you think about when you’re going to school. It was something that I still wanted. Stanford was my top choice, because it’s sort of the combination of all those things; however, they wanted 45 percent of my family’s income for me to go, which I didn’t think was a good choice, given I had a full ride to one of the top 15 schools in the country. At the same time, I certainly wasn’t going to put my family through the financial burden given the sacrifices they had to make for me to attend DeMatha. At that point I understood that there are great schools, and there may even be better schools, but they’re all good choices overall. I ultimately had a great fit with WashU.
When you were at WashU, aside from class, what did you do?
I played a lot of intramural sports, mostly football and basketball and I took a lot of pride in them. I had a really great football team, even though we only won one championship. Imani Cheers is one of my good friends from school, who attended DeMatha’s sister school, Elizabeth Seton. She started a TV show called B-Side on WUTV for which my friend Dan and I co-hosted on a weekly basis for three years. I was also inducted into Lock and Chain, the sophomore honorary.
I also was a student representative to the board of trustees in a couple different capacities, in which I tried to make sure the trustees got a view from a different kind of student. I acted twice in Black Anthology, which is probably the thing I enjoyed most in school. I was involved in different clubs, like ABS (Association of Black Students), and a lot of other things to stay pretty busy.
When did you start thinking about what you would do after school?
Probably from day one. Like I said, I did the LEAD program at UVA, which is an intro to business and working in the business world. Another reason why I went to WashU is, if you compare it to a place like Virginia, where you had to go for two years before you get into the business school — at that point if you want to change it was maybe a bit too late. I liked the idea that you could start studying what you thought you wanted to do right away.
“I don’t really think it matters what you study in college unless it’s something very direct with a prescribed path.”
I do have a completely different perspective on all of this now, having gone through school. I don’t really think it matters what you study in college unless it’s something very direct with a prescribed path. For example, if you want to be a doctor you need to take a pre-med track. Otherwise, I really think you should study academically subjects you’re interested in and build up skill sets in reading, writing, critical thinking and communicating that you can apply to any career. If you study something you’re interested in, you’ll actually be better at honing those skills. Looking at actual majors or undergraduate degrees doesn’t matter as much to me now, because, you know, Ivy Leagues don’t have business schools and many of those graduates get jobs on Wall Street because they get incredible training.
I’ve always been somebody who’s thinking about the next thing. I had some friends who let me know about different programs and I ended up doing SEO, Sponsors for Educational Opportunities, in New York after my sophomore year. I got an internship doing over-the-counter derivatives with Merrill Lynch. SEO is one of the top internship programs. I did asset management my first year. It was great that I did it after my sophomore year and didn’t wait for my junior year because I was able to do something different my junior year, which led me into media.
When I started the program, I thought I would probably get a job at a bank and do that for a couple years, get my MBA, and then go back and do banking. Getting critical, real experience will start to tell you what you like and don’t like, which is what happened for me.
“SEO is probably responsible for what I’m doing right now.”
How did you find out about/get involved with that program?
A couple of my best friends were older and had participated in or knew someone who had participated in the program. They thought it was something I might be interested in, so I learned about it and applied.
My involvement with SEO is probably responsible for what I’m doing right now. I took part after my sophomore year. It was at a bank, but they had a media program. I wanted to do something completely different because I already knew what banking was like, so I ended up working at Time Magazine, which led to my interview with Sports Illustrated. The dots started connecting to get me to where I am now. SEO opened up New York for me as a destination for work. To be honest, almost all of my career opportunities came from that internship program, more so than WashU. Once the world of media opened up, that’s really what I pursued and that’s where my network was born. It was that internship program that opened up the path to my career.
“I like seeing a product being produced. The only way I was going to know that is from actually doing those jobs.”
What did you learn from that first internship that made you say I want to try something different and try media your junior year?
Financial concepts were something my dad tried to instill in me, especially surrounding some of the mistakes that he made in his life. He would drill, drill, drill those things into me. But actually doing finance professionally, I remember how long it took for my day to reach 11 o’clock. It wasn’t even lunch, but the day just crawled by, and I didn’t get out of work until after 7 p.m. I’m naturally good at finance, numbers, discounted cash flows — all that stuff comes very natural to me, but I wasn’t passionate about it. So while I could do finance, I just didn’t really find that much excitement seeing a three become a five because interest has accrued. Had I done sales and trading, in retrospect I think I might have enjoyed it. It’s a little more exciting to me, but I don’t think I would have liked the regimented hours. When I was doing it, I didn’t dislike it, I just wasn’t getting any sort of thrill out of working there.
It wasn’t really until I did the media job that I realized I liked it more. At Time Magazine I was working on a project to get more college students to read Time, and they had a couple of initiatives for it. As a college student, it’s a good project to get because you’re just talking to yourself. I happened to be a reader of Time Magazine for my own personal interests. But there was something different about having a tangible product in media and entertainment that I enjoyed more, given that it’s print-based. I like getting the magazine. I like to seeing what the output of that was more so than seeing this number change to that number. I know that’s an oversimplification of what it is like working in finance, but I like seeing a product being produced. Seeing something physical, and now digital, was a bigger thrill. The only way I was going to know that is from actually doing those jobs.
On the flip side, I enjoyed studying finance more than marketing. You could say I enjoyed finance more because I was relatively good at it. You like doing stuff that you’re good at because you do well in the classes. I did well in marketing too, but it was not as fun to do a case study on some marketing campaign than to actually do the marketing campaign. So some of those things were inverted, but I think the overall talking point there is that by getting some real life experience, doing those jobs and working in those environments, I found out that I liked media more. I also found that I liked being in a media organization a lot more than being in a finance organization. There are a lot of different people and it differs in terms of things you’re talking about and thinking about on a daily basis. I just enjoyed that environment a lot more.
What was it like going from that media internship to your job search?
The finance job cycle is much more predictable than the media job cycle. Analysts become associates. Associates become managing directors, and so on. It’s usually after a two-year cycle and it’s much more regimented. They know if these people are promoting up or out that they need to backfill those positions. A lot of those job interviews happen in in the early fall and are filled by November. The people who take those jobs are having a great second semester of senior year in that they know what their future holds.
In media, the job cycle is much, much more unpredictable. Jobs are available when…jobs are available. That’s even tougher now because of shrinking budgets and less headcount overall. But at the time, people were still hiring in droves, you just couldn’t predict when you might have one of those opportunities. It was when someone left or a team got bigger.
“In retrospect, had I joined that REIT group, I would not have had a job three years later when the market crashed.”
Luckily, because I did my internship at Time Magazine which was owned by Time Inc, they had a program where they were doing an initiative to bring in younger and more diverse people, and one of those jobs happened to be at Sports Illustrated (SI). However, I had interviewed with Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan and one other bank that I can’t recall. I had an offer from JP Morgan to join their Real Estate Investment Trust group, but I had to make a decision on that job in November even though my interview with Sports Illustrated wasn’t until December. On one hand, the finance job was a lot more money and it was a job I could take now, versus maybe not even getting the SI job the next month. So there were no guarantees. In retrospect, had I joined that REIT group, I would not have had a job three years later when the market crashed.
I knew there were two openings at Time that they brought to me. One was at Fortune, which is combining media and finance, and that could be interesting, and then the other was at SI, which was a perfect fit for me. Part of my internship at Time Magazine involved me going and talking to some of the people who were working at Sports Illustrated and they had just started an initiative called “SI on Campus.” I hoped that because I was working on the “Time on Campus” would give me a leg up. I was immediately being considered for the job at SI, so I took the leap that I could get the job. I didn’t even finish out my Merrill interviews, even though I had somebody advocating for me there. I preferred to work in media, and at that time I really wanted to work at SI because I knew it would be a good fit for me.
I interviewed in December and January and eventually got the job offer from SI. The person I interviewed with became a mentor and friend of mine and a friend and she said yeah, you’re a slam dunk. I had a little bit of relief that I made the right decision in terms of being able to still get a job, because otherwise it would have been March, April, May or beyond of my senior year and I would have been jobless.
How did you prepare for that SI job interview?
Because I had that previous experience at Time, I went back over some of the things that I had done there and bringing that to light. It’s a little bit different than preparing for an interview in finance. It depends on where you go but you get these tests on your ability to handle equations or a pitch book or something like that. If you’re coming from a liberal arts school, they’re more testing you on your critical thinking skills. For SI, it was just going back over some of the things that I had done at Time. I was already a SI reader. I brushed up on the SI On Campus program and what that initiative looked like. I wasn’t as familiar with it, but I was familiar with the overall product. I was trying to understand more about the media business as a whole, or the publishing business, I should say, and learned as much about that as I could. Having worked at Time Inc. the previous year and learning what I could from that, I knew I would bring some of that there. That and, obviously, being my usual charming self, ha — I was confident that I would be a good asset to the team.
“I should have asked who I was going to meet with and what specific teams I would be talking to.”
Was there any preparation that you did not do that you wish you would have done for that first interview?
I remember more of my finance interviews, where I didn’t ask enough questions. I should have asked who I was going to meet with and what specific teams I would be talking to. In those interviews, you did a rotation and talked with different people and groups. I think if I had done a little bit more fact-finding I could have been more prepared overall. Of course I’m not going to know everything, but I could have been a little bit more prepared and had something to pull down.
I was hoping that my everyday preparation in terms of being up-to-date on the market, reading the Wall Street Journal, and things like that would help me. If I had asked and they didn’t want to tell me which teams or people I would meet, they could always say no. A lot of times, I was scratching and clawing a little bit more than I probably should have but asking good questions is a good indicator of general interest and acuity.
What kind of follow-up did you do after your interviews?
Having gone through the SEO program, which basically is boot camp for how to network, how to operate on Wall Street and how to interact in all of those different settings — I knew how to follow up. We were kind of taken through the wringer on how to interact and be appropriate and the right things to do in interviews. I took business cards from each person and wrote appropriate notes on the back, trying to glean something that I may have learned from them or a point of connection. Following up, I did all emails in this case because it would have been a lot of handwritten notes and I didn’t necessarily know where to send them. So I took the time to email each person I had connected with, mentioning something that would have come up in the discussion that I think might have differentiated me from another candidate or conversation. I made sure to tell them that I appreciated their time, because you do get a significant amount of their time. As you get older you realize how much that 30 minutes or hour interview — and doing five or six of those — can impact your day, week, and output.
As a part of the actual job process, in most cases we were given the instructions about who to go through. But outside of that, reaching out to people and thanking them for their time and following up on things to show that you were engaged was critical.
What kind of preparation did you do for your next round of interviews?
A lot of the things were probably directly related to the stuff that you feel like you may not have handled as well as you could have. In the finance interviews, I was probably trying to get as intelligent about those factors as possible, zeroing in on things that I would be working on. For the SI one, they were all knocked out in the same day. It was one shot. In that case, I was already put through as a finalist, having gone through their internship program.
“I should have mentioned that I could take a job in finance that would pay me $13,000 more and tried to negotiate”
When you got the offer from SI, did you attempt to negotiate it or just accept it?
I accepted it. Looking back, that was actually a default of coming from finance, where we all knew what salary to expect in that first role. At the time, all of the analyst jobs were paying a similar amount, etc. Over time, there was a little bit more negotiation based on where you were and what you were doing. On the Time Inc. offer, because I was accepted through the Don Logan program, a hiring initiative at the time, my salary the first year was paid for by the centralized HR group. That actually meant I made more and I got a signing bonus to help move to New York that I wouldn’t have gotten had I just interviewed through traditional means. So even though I didn’t negotiate, I know now that it would not have gone up. I should have mentioned that I could take a job in finance that would pay me $13,000 more and tried to negotiate, but you learn that from experience. At that point, I was excited about getting the job, in an industry and with a brand in which I was interested, so I just said yes.
Do you recommend that students negotiate when they get their first job offer out of school?
Yes. I think it’s a good skill to work on. I think it’s a lot easier when you have a leg to stand on and you have some other leverage, like a competing offer or if you’ve done the research on what other similar organizations are paying. Knowing the worth of that job, and your market value, is important. A lot of times people in entry level positions will take what is offered. As a budget holder, I know that they’ll take as much liberty in driving down costs as possible while also giving more room for that hire’s growth. Beyond just saying “I want more money,” which I don’t think is a good way to do it, you need to argue with some evidence to support that, whether it’s the cost of living in that city, other offers that are similar, etc. I think if you can do it from that perspective it’s productive. Ultimately though, I would not expect the parameters to change, however, it’s a good exercise to go through because it’s going to be something that you’re going to want to do later in your life.
Was there any specific preparation that you did for starting at SI?
I had a couple of months before, so I stayed in contact with the entire team that I was working with and let them know that I was more than willing to get up-to-date on things I could get started on early. I didn’t want to spend the entirety of my first two weeks or month learning everything. I asked if there was anything they could pass along that I could study or be more mindful of. I did not want to come in day one and have to be in catch-up mode. Also, given that my first day was in July and knowing that I was working on a campus product where the start of school is important, I knew that ramp up was going to be very fast, so I was trying to get out ahead of that.
Is there anything that you wish somebody would have told you during your job search?
From the finance perspective, I literally felt like I knew everything I could know given the SEO program and preparation for that. I knew how the process worked, how the interviews worked, what you need to do, what the hiring cycle is, all of those things. It just does a tremendous job of preparing you for what will happen next, and I found that it was accurate. I do think it would have been good to know those things that I have more of understanding about now: how media works, how media hires, how those positions become available — those things that aren’t as regimented in the media/entertainment/publishing world. It would actually be good to know that information going into your senior year.
If you are applying for a job in finance or applying to go to med school, you do that at the beginning of the year and you know your path. If you’re going to be a PhD student or a lawyer, you know what that looks like if you’re moving immediately into it. For jobs that have more a more fluid cycle, learn how that works and how far ahead people are hiring, which is typically a much tighter window. I think it’s a good thing for students to know that it’s not the same for all industries. It’s harder for certain companies and industries to know what opportunities they will have a year from now. Even in my current position, I wouldn’t know the future opportunities for my own team as it stands today. So being more educated about the industry and understanding how that hiring process works would have been good.
Again, I was lucky to have gone through a program, so it was a little bit more predictive, but had that not been there I might have been floundering a little bit just doing a dogged search about how to get a job in media. Had that program not been there, I probably would have ended up working in finance, because it would have been a bird in the hand.
“If you can’t get experience through a job or internship, create it on your own and show people that you really want to do it. One of our former video hosts wanted to be in video, so she started cutting clips and making tapes as if she were doing it as a job. That’s how she ended up getting the breakthrough that led to multiple career opportunities.”
Do you think there are any specific projects students should do to help figure out what they want to do or to differentiate themselves?
I think you should actually go do the jobs you think you might be interested in to the extent that you can. Try to see what people do day-to-day in that job. I think that’s paramount, because what you learn in the classroom and the actual execution of it are entirely different things. Seeing a job in action and actually doing it will tell you how much you enjoy it. If you know you want to be a doctor, you have to learn biology and all these things in the textbook, but that’s not actually being a doctor. So whether it’s getting an internship or shadowing, and not just for a day — I think you have to see it over a course of time to get an idea of what that looks like — I think that’s the critical piece of it. Those little morsels of experience will connect with someone that you’re interviewing with versus them simply investing in you because they think you’re smart and they think you have talent, which is critical, but that can differentiate you from another candidate.
For those who want to be a journalist, or a writer, or an editor, literally write, produce. Let’s say you can’t get an internship at a Sporting News, or an SI, or an ESPN, you can still write and you can put yourself on a schedule that would mimic what you would do in a real-life job. You can do it on your own WordPress blog; just do it. Show potential employers that you have the disposition and work ethic for it. If you have been unable to carve out the actual experience, there is a way you can show your output and your disposition to by producing samples. It’s a little bit nuanced based on whatever job you’re doing, but my point is to get the real life experience. If you can’t get the real life experience, try to do things that mimic it.
One of our former video hosts wanted to be in video, so she started cutting clips and making tapes as if she were doing it as a job. Continually and on a self-created schedule so it both showed a diligence and ability to get it done. That’s how she ended up getting the breakthrough that led to multiple career opportunities. If you can’t get experience through a job or internship, create it on your own and show people that you really want to do it.
“I can write an essay debating David Hume vs Immanuel Kant, then making an argument to Anheuser-Busch as to why they should advertise with us becomes a lot easier.”
What did you do at WashU that you found to be most valuable from a career perspective?
Curveball – probably my philosophy or education minors. I said earlier that I don’t know if it actually matters what “you major in,” but if I can write an essay debating David Hume vs Immanuel Kant, then making an argument to Anheuser-Busch as to why they should advertise with us becomes a lot easier. It’s about being able to clearly communicate, break things down for the appropriate audience, and be persuasive. Anything that aids you working on communicating well, whether written or verbal, and thinking critically will help you in the long-term.
If you’re interested in philosophy or education, you’ll naturally want to read and write more about it. You’re just working on the mind muscles that will make you better at it. I would also say acting, extracurricular activities, working in front of the camera, all of the things I had to do with public speaking, presentations, talking to people and being able to influence folks, were all beneficial. Those are things you have to do every day, whether it’s with people you work with, clients or external partners. How you communicate, what you say and being comfortable in those positions is critical. Having to do it on stage, where you only got one shot at it, or being on a live TV show, where you have to be good at it and if something goes awry you have to improvise and keep your cool, that all prepares you for the future.
I remember the very first time that Dan and I hosted B-Side at WashU, there was a problem with the recorded segment that we were going to. We just had somebody in the background rotating their fingers to say “Keep going.” It was supposed to be a 30 to 60 second into bit and we ended up having to basically improvise for over four minutes. When you think about how long four minutes is on TV, it is entirely too long, but we had to do it. The two of us know each other really well and we ended up making fun of our friends who had performed at W.I.L.D. in a very lighthearted but funny way. It might have ended up being the best four minutes of any show we did, and it happened to be our very first shot. Having to improvise like that is not really different than being caught up in a pitch with someone, getting asked something you don’t have an answer for and coming up with an intelligent answer that’s grounded in something worthwhile.
Is there anything that I didn’t ask that I should have asked, or is there any other wisdom you would love to share with current students?
Dean McLeod would always say that we’re social beings, no one goes at it alone. I’ve often said that I am a product of my organizations, starting with my family and my high school, WashU, SEO, my best friends, the organizations that I’ve worked with. I think the building of quality relationships is absolutely critical.
Finding mentors and finding people who will invest time in explaining things to you is important. When you have a ridiculous idea, you need that person to tell you why it’s a ridiculous idea, or help you understand how that can be nuanced and improved. You always need to be cognizant of building up and cultivating those relationships. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort and you need to be a giver as much as you are a taker. If you’re someone who only shows up when you need a favor but you’re not doing any good in return, no one will want to help you.
One of my mentors, Jeff Price, who I worked with while he was the CMO at SI, and later while he was President at Sporting News, graciously suggested that when we worked together, he would learn as much from me, being a digital consumer fresh out of college, as I did from him. Honestly doubtful, BUT, I offered him the perspective of someone who was consuming media in a way that people in their 20s are, which is what we were trying to drive as a business. He respected my voice and deferred to my opinion when it was better for the organization, while offering me continued career, organization, and life counsel.
So the next time I’m thinking about a decision, he can provide insight and it’s not always me just asking him for help. We have a life currency exchange – beyond being friends of course – to one another that is valuable both ways. Just because that person is older and more experienced doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to offer that can be of value to them. Network and get to know people, not just so you get something out of it, but so that you’re contributing to an overall productive ecosystem. Be a part of all ships rising. That will help you rise because you’re helping all those within those organizations rise as well.