Embrace Disruption! What I learned on the #RonRroadtrip

So what made me drive 782.4 miles on the first leg of the #RonRroadtrip (Return on Relationship Road Trip)? Easy. Disruption. I clearly see traditional advertising & PR fading out like my old Pantone Markers. Everything is returning back to basics, 1-to-1 relationships with technology allowing us to scale it. So when one of the organizers, John Andrews invited me, I wanted to be a part of it!

As I was driving down to meet John and his friend Erik, I had time to reflect on all the disruptions aka “changes” in my career…

Disruption 1 & 2

I remember plain as day the first time I experienced disruption. I’m talking about business & life disruption. Let me rewind back to 1993, my second year at The Ohio State University. My future wife told me I was going to be a father! So at 21 the fire was lit. I was an advertising major, but this particular area of study was in the school of journalism. It was interesting, but I could feel myself coasting. My cousin was also a student at OSU, and lived next door. One morning I saw him messing around on his Apple Macintosh Classic. I believe it was MacPaint or something. Anyway he was drawing on a computer… BOOM, it happened again. In a matter a 6 months I experienced life & career disruption. I immediately put all my efforts into the field of graphic design. My wife and I needed help from family, so we moved back home and we transferred to the University of Akron.

In a matter a 6 months I experienced life & career disruption.

Disruption #3 — Work, Life, Balance

At the University of Akron my wife went into the Nursing program and I switched majors from advertising to graphic design. I remember it being such a crazy time. Theresa and I working and going to school raising our daughter Jessica. The graphic design industry was caught in a HUGE transition as well. The traditional paste-ups, illustration boards, Prismacolor markers, french curves, gouache paint, etc. were being replaced by Macs. Our new canvas became Adobe Software Apps like Photoshop (before you could do layers) Adobe Illustrator… but I preferred Macromedia Freehand (which is another story), and Quark etc. The professors were still old school and trying like hell to catch up to the students learning this new digital world. There was such great collaboration between students and professors as we both learned from each other in regards to technology and design principles. My senior year I was selected by committee into the prestigious designxnine studio. It’s a real working design studio that extended my training beyond the traditional classroom. I believe this experience ignited the entrepreneur in me!

Disruption #4 —Design Templates

After graduating I worked for a few local advertising & marketing companies which all emphasized websites, along with traditional marketing collateral materials. As a graphic designer you’ve been taught that “form follows function” and the web back then was pretty archaic. A lot of standards you had to conform to, but it was exciting. A lot of money was being thrown toward internet companies, so in 2000 I started my own company. Things were great until 2003 when website templates hit the market and disrupted everything. 20k budgets were reduced to 3k & 3k websites were reduced to $250. All disruptions in my life up to this point were positive, this one was different. It made me re-evaluate my profession, and totally changed how I would approach business moving forward forever. If you don’t adapt, or embrace change you will lose big time (ask Blockbuster). As an entrepreneur it will break your spirit, your drive if you sit back and feel sorry for yourself.

If you don’t adapt, or embrace change you will lose big time!

The great thing about graphic designers that a lot of business people don’t understand is we are problem solvers. We are constantly thinking how things should communicate visually. In doing so, a lot of research goes into projects understanding what the USP (unique selling point) is. For me, I transitioned multimedia work to Macromedia Flash. Flash provided graphic designers with less limitations and delivered a richer marketing experience for our clients. I believed Flash and TV would merge into a new form of media. Again these were exciting times!

Disruption #6 — Digital Printing & iPhone

Business was solid up until 2007. The print industry was going through a major disruption in regards to digital printing. I was involved with a commercial printer that didn’t really embrace the transition and their business revenue went from 20mm down to like 5mm in a year. Every Friday afternoon you would hear the Microsoft Entourage chimes announcing “so and so isn’t with the company anymore” very depressing. This disruption wasn’t as hard for graphic designers because we could adapt to the new style of presses. Everything was pretty stable until June 29, 2007. That is when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. I was like holy shit is this awesome! The internet in your pocket!! I bought the 1st generation iPhone and quickly checked out my clients websites on it… BLANK! WTF?? Yup, another disruption that could have been crippling for my business. I knew I had at least 6 months before my clients started asking questions about why their site doesn’t work on the iPhone. So I started researching mobile-friendly CMS (content management system) for websites. I did work with a few internet companies and they had their own custom CMS. I didn’t want that. I wanted an open sourced framework that was fluid for expansion. At this point in my career, I’m done trying to master html, actionscript, java, etc. when everything is becoming widgetized. That’s when I found WordPress. Their web software was more blog based back then, but I bet it was going to be huge. So I moved all my clients over to the WordPress platform and have enjoyed every minute of it up until this day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting a WordPress tattoo and go to war with them LOL… Until the next big thing presents itself, I’m good!

Disruption #7 — Blogging & Social Media

My daughter, Jessica was in middle school right around the time myspace was in full effect, so I joined to monitor her. Funny thing was a short time later, a few clients asked me to design their myspace page. Layout wise myspace was a nightmare, shit was everywhere… No wonder Facebook kn0cked them out with a clean, easy social interface. Fortunately I convinced Jessica to switch over to Facebook — which seemed more private and secure. When they launched the FB business page and WordPress had FB plugins I knew another disruption was coming. This time I was in front of it. The WordPress framework fully supported social, and my clients loved the fact that they could manage their website and social account in a streamlined way. Now, the marketing side of social opened my eyes. Around this time, my wife and I started a side company called MuttPuppet (which is a whole other story) I think we sold about 10,000 toys from our basement, mainly from our website. We also started selling through an online market place called OpenSky, which is how I started following marketing guru, and the other #RonRroadtrip organizer Ted Rubin. Long story short we should have not gotten into the wholesale market with stores and just stayed online. It is so costly for a small business. We ended selling out our inventory and put that business on hold. MuttPuppet really forced me to wear another hat though. Instead of looking at the advertising side of things, it made me budget for ad spend, profit margin, copywriting, working with PR, import from China etc… It really taught me how things sell. It was content… the story, and how we kept sharing our story to thousands of people online, not polished PR messaging with little magazine blurbs, or quick ads.

Disruption #8 — Social Media & Influencer Marketing

Okay back to the #RonRroadtrip. People in business that say social media is a waste of time are simply not doing it correctly. Usually when they say this to me, the first thing I do is look at their social profiles. The best way to describe their social is like walking by someone with a megaphone broadcasting their propaganda. They aren’t listening, engaging, responding, and definitely not building authentic relationships. You see… Everyone I met on this #RonRroadtrip started out as a digital/social relationship. This road trip would not have been possible without technology like my MacbookPro, iPhone, AT&T, and especially Belkin International products like their Road Rockstar: 4-Port Passenger Car Charger. For part of trip John rode in my car charging his gear, and working on his laptop via AT&T LTE network. In between our conversations he was emailing and speaking with influencers #GSD!

Everyone in my car was able to charge their devices… Thanks Belkin!

I’m not here to fully go into Influencer Marketing, (that link should cover it) but I can say it is the next big disruption hitting the advertising, PR, marketing world. Pop-up ads suck and ruin the mobile viewing experience. Browsers allow you to block, at home I DVR & skip over commercials. The consumer is in control of the content he or she consumes. Companies that align themselves with influencers in their market simply can attract better customers. -It’s a viral word-of-mouth if you will… and word-of-mouth marketing is still the best because it’s authentic.

In Louisville, Kentucky we met up with Chris Strub, The first person to live-stream and SnapChat in all 50 states promoting social good! His story is amazing, literally living out of his car for 100 days he traveled the United States volunteering with youth-related organizations. Amazingly, he accomplished his goal without sponsor funding.

#RonRroadtrip Louisville, Kentucky
I caught up with the #RonRroadtrip at Hillbilly Hotdogs in Lesage, WV

So my goal in 2016 and beyond is to get out there… You know #StartDoing! -and this road trip was a great start!