At approximately 5:30 pm on Thursday, July 12th, I wrapped up a performance review with one of my employees and began to shift my focus on the next few items on my long list of to-dos.
What ensued next was unexpected, life-altering and still puts knots in my stomach when I think about it.
The owner of STN Digital walked back into the conference room, HR rep in tow, and sat across the table from me. That exact moment was the first time in 11 years that I felt my job was in jeopardy.
The past four weeks have been the busiest and most fulfilling work of my career. It all started exactly one month ago to the day, on June 15th. It was the Friday before we embarked on a marathon at a sprinters pace.
I’d just gotten back from representing the company at an E3 party hosted by a potential client in Los Angeles (I subbing in for my boss, who was in New York). We were working on wrapping up the final details on our project at the annual NBA Awards, as well as trying to piece together a second project, at the NBA Draft, which was offered to us just a few days prior. Those were two high-profile events that would take place in NY and LA just three days apart.
That was just the tip of the iceberg, though.
Behind the scenes, I had just learned that two members of the three-person Senior Team of which I was apart of, were putting in their resignation notices at STN. I didn’t have much bandwidth to consciously process the impact that would have on me; I just kept plugging away with rose-colored glasses.
Around 6 pm that Friday, I finally got a good point where I could shift my focus from #NBATwitter to another monster of a project: a double-pitch for a major television network. Our job was to screen some episodes and put together a thorough deck for both shows, complete with content calendars, strategies, staffing allocation, budget breakdown, specific content examples, and, true to STN standards, additional services we could offer that were above and beyond the RFP. I left the office at 2 am Saturday morning.
Eleven days later, on June 26th, the day after pulling off what was regarded as two successful events with the NBA and Twitter, I was back in the office grinding away. There was simply too much on my plate to take a day off.
We had a new creative director starting that week and I wanted to properly welcome her, as she would be using the Designer Capacity Model I’d been refining in my spare time over the past few months. I was also working on version 2 of my Profit Margin Projections for the company and helping out with several other pitches. (I’ll spare you the details, but holy spreadsheets!)
Simultaneously, we were also hastily recruiting for two positions on my team, and, unbeknownst to anyone except the owner, I was looking for the perfect candidate to take my position running the accounts team. I’d been told I would be promoted and transitioned to the business development side later this summer.
[Admittedly, the promotion was something I couldn’t get my mind off of. I’m human, it was a shiny object dangling in the future. The title was VP of Strategy, which would touch just about all areas of our business. I was stoked! I love the hunt, the pitching, the ideation, the constructing of the deals. I knew how our company operated on both the account management/client services side as well as the creative side. I knew what we had grown to become capable of and was oozing STN’s offerings out of my ears. It would have been the perfect role.]
Two days later, on Thursday the 28th, I took a walk around the complex with my boss. He could tell I was slipping out of character in the midst of this rollercoaster of changes. He offered I take the rest of the day off, or take the next day off. I declined the offer, telling him I had too much on my plate and that I’d be able to get back in my groove following an extended 4th of July break.
I returned to work July 10th and was let go July 12th.
I say all of this not as a complaint, simply for context.
Outside of our walk around the complex on the 28th, I hadn’t spoken with my boss much over the past month. He’s a busy guy, running a business and all. We didn’t have regular meetings together outside of a once-a-month audit. While I was on my holiday break, I asked if we could go to breakfast the morning I would be returning for work, which he declined.
In the meeting that ended up being my last at STN, I didn’t argue or try to save face. What good would that do? While I wasn’t given any warnings that my job was in danger, I am not angry with David. He made his decision, and, after all, it’s his company. I wish him all the best, honestly.
I’d admittedly focused too much on results during those four weeks, and not enough on people. All I could see was the growth and progression of the company, and not the individuals that made up the company. I expected that everyone could take on as much as I did… and look where that left me.
I want to thank David and (former owner) Brett Regan for recruiting me and providing an opportunity to step outside of the comfort zone I created through 10 years with the Trail Blazers. I also want to thank Mike Donnay from the Detroit Pistons, a man that I’ve never met, but the man that recommended STN reach out to me for the position back in early 2017.
I learned SO much about the agency side after spending the first part of my career in-house. As I’ve said to the many people that have asked about the transition from a team to an agency, the biggest eye-opener was how nimble you can be with your product offerings.
One of the goals I shared when I first arrived at STN was that I wanted to introduce a new revenue stream. At the time, a year or so ago, I had several half-baked ideas that I wanted to flush out. In mid-May, that goal came to fruition as we signed our first client solely for our consultation on digital strategy based on social data. That’s a pretty big notch in the belt of a company that used to be looked at as a Team Infographics alternative.
There are countless memories that I will cherish for a long, long time. From the three NBA projects with Twitter, an E-Gaming event in Brooklyn, several pay-per-view events with the UFC, an entire season with three NFL teams, the college football season with the Big Ten Network and SEC Network, the Big East Tournament, the launch of B/R Live, the pitch and execution for the final season of FX’s The Americans, the three red carpet shows, at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, iHeart Radio Music Awards and Mayweather-McGregor, respectively, and the NBA Social MVP voting campaign.
One of the biggest reasons for the success I had at STN was our partnership with NBC Sports. Through their trust in us, we worked on just about every major sporting event over the past 12 months including the 2018 Olympics and Super Bowl LII. The latest project, an overhaul and rebrand of their social look & feel, is something I’m constantly impressed with each time I see their content in my feed.
To my accounts team of Ben, Taylor, Liz, Theresa and Frerk Daddy, each one of you is extremely talented and work even better as a group. There’s nothing but opportunity in your future; keep grinding and doing your thing!
To the sales/marketing team of Will, Sam, Isabella and Abby, you guys have something really special brewing. Keep following the data and working together to break down barriers.
To the growing creative department of Cammille, Robbie and Dan, you have an amazing opportunity to work with some of the biggest brands in the world. Keep that in mind when things get hectic!
To Vanessa, Cleo and Chelsea — each one of you impressed me on countless occasions. You all work incredibly hard and most of it goes unnoticed by the rest of the company. You’re my shoutout for the Monday morning team meeting :)
And to my Finnish brother from another mother, Antti, tämä on minun viimeinen hyvästit.
To all the past and future employees at STN, I wish you well! The world is your oyster.
To the three individuals I recruited to step into my old job, I encourage you to continue the feeling out process despite my absence. Learn from my mistakes, don’t take on more than you can handle, and bring the company to new heights!
To the clients of STN, I value every exchange we had, every project we collab’d on and the chance to learn and grow together.
I’m optimistic about the next phase in my life and will work my tail off until I find the best fit for me and my family.
If you and I have worked together at any point in the past and you’ve found value in what I bring to the table, we’d be eternally grateful for an introduction to a hiring manager, a LinkedIn reference or simply a note of encouragement. This is unfamiliar territory for my wife and I.
If you want to reach out to me to talk about STN, bash the way things were handled, or probe for more details, please save it. While I’m dedicated to learning from previous experiences, I will not waste any time stewing about things that I cannot control. It’s unhealthy and unproductive. Thank you for understanding.
Tony Robbins once used an analogy that sums up my approach to this transition:
“If you’re the head of an army and you want to overtake an island, the most powerful way to take that island is to burn the boats.
Because if there’s no way to go back, it’s amazing what human beings can accomplish when it’s a ‘must’ instead of a ‘should’”
All eyes are on the future!