That time I saw Gary Vaynerchuk and didn't say hi

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When I heard that Gary Vaynerchuk was coming to the Internet Summit in 2013 as the keynote speaker, I went to our VP of Marketing right away and told him that I had to be there. Fortunately he agreed and signed us up to go. 

Gary gave a great keynote, and after his talk, he stood off to the side of the stage, talking and taking photos with attendees. I was tempted to walk over and say hello, but I chickened out. Instead, I tweeted at him and he responded.

Who the hell is Gary Vaynerchuk?

If you don't know who Gary Vaynerchuk is and you're into business, marketing, self-awareness, and a lot of cussing, you need to check him out right away. (His 2011 Inc 500 keynote, below, is a great place to start.) His energy, mindset and marketing prowess are second to none.

Check him out on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram.

Recap: Internet Summit 2015

Pre-conference Workshop

UX Strategies: Lean & Mean

This was my first time attending the pre-conference workshops at the Internet Summit, and it was 100% worth it! The workshop I chose was called "UX Strategies: Lean & Mean."

This 4-hour workshop led us through a UX process for a hypothetical new library, and we worked together to complete the following statements:

  1. This site is for...

  2. Who need...

  3. Unlike...

  4. We are...

  5. We provide...

"This site is for..." helps identify the target customer. 

"Who needs a..." is to identify features of the library.

"Unlike..." helps to identify the competition. What are the target customer's alternative options? 

"We are a..." helps to define the business. 

"We provide..." helps to define the heart of the business. What are the emotional benefits? In the case of our library, the answers included "connection," "learning," "imagination" and "inspiration." These make great selling points and also help to define the brand.

At the end of the workshop, this is how we defined the library: "."

We also received a nifty certificate of completion.

The rest of the Internet Summit

From General to Hawk-Eye: Expanding my skillset

After I left the Kmart account behind in Chicago I went back to Detroit, my husband and I moved to a new place, and – during an impromptu vacation in Florida – I received a call to interview with a local marketing communications firm. I landed the job and was assigned to the General Motors Product Training Library project as a graphic designer.

Not only was this a great team of people to work with, but there was an excellent structure in place of expectations, roles and responsibilities, and documentation to help learn processes and standards. Because of this, I always came to work knowing exactly what needed to be done and when.

I learned about the print production process and what to look for when signing off on proofs. I learned about building extra time into our schedules to account for unexpected edits in order to still meet project deadlines. I learned about AP Style guidelines for content and how a client's style guide can override AP Style.

One day I overheard senior team members discussing the need for a new proofreader. With everything I had learned – combined with my natural obsession with consistency – I felt I could do the job and wanted to challenge myself even further. I approached the Creative Director to see if he would give me a shot. He agreed to giving me a proposal to proofread and, once I was finished, he evaluated my work and said "I'm going to call you hawk-eye." My role expanded from that point forward.

I continued my graphic design duties while also proofreading nearly every project: brochures, publications, training guides, window clings, banners, proposals, letters, cover art, invitations and more. 

My husband and I were eventually ready for a big change: a cross-country move to Raleigh, North Carolina. I left the marketing firm, but didn't say good-bye. I remained a copy editor for three-and-a-half more years, working remotely on a freelance basis. I loved doing work that fed into my natural instincts and skills. But what I loved most was the opportunity to continue working with one of the best teams on the freaking planet. 

I loved working with Nikki! Her positive attitude, creativity and organization are second to none. Luckily, I had the pleasure of working with her as both a graphic designer and a copy editor. She met every deadline with ease, accuracy and efficiency. Her attention to detail is unparalleled!
— Angie S., Art Director

How I Became "the General"

It was my first job out of college. I landed a gig as a graphic artist at an ad agency whose biggest client was Kmart Corporation. (I'll never forget my very first interview when I showed my design portfolio full of college projects, which included a newspaper layout with a story about how Kmart had filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy... The hiring manager noticed the story in my portfolio and said, "Kmart. They're our client." Talk about embarrassing. Yet they hired me anyway.)

I was thrilled to receive the job offer yet nervous to start. I joined the offshore account on a team of 14: a creative director, art director, production manager, traffic coordinator, editor, two account executives and seven graphic artists (including myself). I learned the processes and workflow of an agency setting and thrived in its fast-paced environment. We had ads due every week for four offshore markets: Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

We'd receive our job bag at the start of a project, complete with assigned pages and hand-drawn mockups. We would build the pages based on the mockups and client-provided content. We would hang the pages in a conference room and do what we called "Walk the Wall" – a chance for the entire team to look at every page and mark up mistakes. We would update pages and they would go through an editing process and a few rounds of client reviews. Once pages were approved, they would be sent to print (or in the case of the Puerto Rico ads, they would be translated to Spanish before going to print).

I observed other roles on the team and learned how to look for mistakes ahead of time to reduce markups from the editor. I learned what needed to be perfect versus what needed to be let go in order to meet a deadline. I gathered a good understanding of everyone's role on the team even though I did not perform those functions myself – and it came in handy.

Little by little, team members were laid off. Our team got smaller and smaller until we were just a team of three. Three graphic artists. No more creative director, art director, production manager, traffic coordinator, editor or account executives. Just three graphic artists. Yet somehow those missing roles still had to be filled.

The three of us would often rotate some of these functions, each week taking on different responsibilities: sketching page layouts, assigning pages, assembling job bags. We continued to do our Walk the Walls with the help of creative directors from other teams in the agency. Then even more people were let go.

I eventually found myself doing a lot of this work on my own, as well as communicating directly with the translator and sometimes even the client. I began sitting in on meetings with directors and managers to give updates on the offshore account. I wanted our projects to be just as successful as when we had a team of 14, and to continue to meet deadlines without skipping a beat. I became known as the point of contact for the team, and was eventually dubbed "the General" by one of the agency's senior copywriters and it stuck.

At Meridian she became the point person on our Offshore Account in a relatively short time span. Versed in both writing and design, Nikki quickly established herself on the account as one of the best and was looked to as the primary contact.
— Robert P.

The day then came where those of us who were left were called to a meeting where we were told that the agency would be closing and that – unless we were able to move to Chicago – we would be losing our jobs. Kmart would be merging with Sears, moving to Chicago where Sears was headquartered, and our work would move to Sears' agency, Ambrosi Advertising. I was devastated, but I kept pounding until my very last day.

New employees were hired to take over the account at Ambrosi and were brought in to cross-train with those of us who were left – and by that time, I was the last [wo]man standing on the offshore team. I trained three graphic artists (and even the new production manager!) for six weeks, traveling to Chicago for part of that time during the transition. 

I was a newlywed at the time and relocating to Chicago was not an option for me. Plus, I decided it would be in my best interest to go someplace new and develop new skills.

And that is how I became known as the General.

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So long, Chicago

This photo was taken as I left Ambrosi Advertising on my very last day with the Kmart account.

Promoting Eco-Friendly Products for Earth Day and Arbor Day

With Earth Day and Arbor Day just two days apart from one another, we planned a campaign around Rosenberry Rooms' collection of earth-friendly, organic products. This included organic furniture, bedding, mattresses, gifts and clothing. 

The items chosen to be featured in the email were selected to create a beautiful color palette, complementary to the Rosenberry Rooms brand, and each linked directly to its related category on the website.

 
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Complementary social media posts were created using the same copy and main image.

 
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My role in this campaign included copywriting, art direction, HTML email creation, and social media.

Featured on Rustic Wedding Chic

Back in October, Faith Teasley (of Faith Teasley Photography) reached out and asked if I'd like to design some invitations and be part of a wedding photo shoot along with her and some other local vendors.

The theme was a cotton-inspired wedding, and I knew I wanted to create invitations with sweet words and a neutral color palette. I designed an elegant tree, and above the tree it read: "Join us as our new life together takes root."

It was such a fun project, and it just got even better: our collective work was featured on Rustic Wedding Chic!