Who am I? Who are you?
It’s an important question from Rishad Tobaccowala, CIO at Publicis Groupe Media (PGM) out of Chicago. He spoke at the University of Michigan earlier this month and had some interesting things to say about both the present and the changes even the near future will bring to the digital world as we know it. Just as a reminder, five years ago, no one had even heard of Facebook.
I remember being in the first 30 or so at Michigan State University to register on Facebook. It didn’t take long before that number grew, and then really grew, but in that early stage it was interesting to see how people were feeling their way around. There was a lot more random connecting, much less fear of being awkward, especially since most of us were freshmen and didn’t know anyone to begin with. In that time, I reconnected with my roommate from orientation, discovered I was pursuing a girl with a boyfriend, and found the kid from my class who I’d become close enough friends with over the next four years to be a groomsman in his wedding last summer. All of this is beside the point, but it’s interesting to me to see the way the landscape has changed in such a short time.
One thing Rishad challenged us, the future of digital media, to do, was to find three things: our story, our niche, and our voice.
So what’s my story? You’ve heard part of it, but my first week on Facebook — that’s just the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg. Everything — from an adoption I don’t remember, to a singing gig in the White House, to being in Ann Arbor to see my beloved Spartan football team crush the Wolverines in their own backyard after an eight year drought — everything I’ve seen and done has shaped me as an individual and changed the way I view the world today. As a 22-year-old senior in my last semester at Michigan State University, I am grateful for every experience, person, and switched major that has come through my life.
As for my niche? When constructing your own niche, think about what you aren’t — it will help you decide what you are. If you had to sell yourself in three words, what would you say? If you were a post on a blog, what would your tags be? Unless you truly know yourself (and have had some practice), it won’t be easy. I put some serious thought into my own niche, and here’s what I came up with — the three words that define the brand, “Nate Erickson”:
- Adventure – I want a little adventure in everything I do. We live in a global society now, and I’m more excited than ever that I can use that as a reason to escape my corner of the world and see things that most people only read about. Adventure can mean anything from simply getting a job in this fearsome economic climate to running with the bulls in Pamplona. If you want it, go and get it. Enjoy the ride.
- Fusion – “Mongrel” is a term I’ve recently started hearing and using for the first time. It’s someone who doesn’t limit themselves. Some people find it strange that I’m the Creative Director of a public relations firm — what do you need creative for when you’re writing press releases? My Answer? Everything. Creativity extends beyond pretty pictures and paintings. I couldn’t sketch to save my life — but when our firm needs a poster or a logo designed, they know they can count on me without outsourcing elsewhere with the fear of unreliability. How about clever or eye-catching writing? There’s a reason they put copywriters in the creative department in advertising agencies. And that’s not all, but you get the idea. I never want to pigeonhole myself, and I stand by that. I think when you can combine the best elements of many areas, you make them work together. When you specialize, you limit yourself, and you lose valuable insight that you could’ve gained by simply viewing what you do from a different perspective. Get a lot of different hats and switch them often.
- Payoff – I feel that results are the ultimate combination of talent and hard work. Talent is useless on its own and hard work without a little inspiration is just labor. To make truly great work, you need both. Set goals. You need to surround yourself with incredible people who believe in what you’re doing, and you need to have results you can measure. Did we succeed? Did we fail? Could we do better? (Hint: We can always do better.) That’s where I live. Set goals, never back down, change the world.
Now, let’s talk about voice. Where am *I* coming from? When you speak to me, or read what I have to say, what am I trying to convey, and how am I doing that? What is my voice?
- Passionate. First and foremost, it’s passionate. One thing Dave Regan, my ADV 486 professor, likes to remind us is to never be a bump on a log, a speck in the wind. Dave reminds us to speak up, always, and don’t be afraid to disagree with someone, even if they “outrank” you — but be prepared to back it up. I try to put passion into everything I do. Passion doesn’t just help you, it motivates the people around you, your team, and helps you create the kind of great work that can solve any problem. My personal motto, one I developed while spending most of my youth on Lake Michigan, is “make waves” — everywhere you go, and in everything you do.
- Optimistic. Second, my voice is optimistic. I’m not sure if the concept of “hope” has been completely bought, chopped up and resold by politicians, but if you don’t have it, how can you ever believe in what you’re doing? And if you can’t believe in what you’re doing — maybe it’s time to reevaluate certain aspects of your life. Always believe, dream, hope, and make an effort to leave the world better than how you found it.
- Unique. Third, my voice is unique. I’ve always tried to find my own way of saying and doing things. It’s part of my “brand”, you could say, as I make an effort to be memorable not just in what I say, but how I say it. I love conversation and I try to make my writing fit that, whether I’m being serious or trying to get a few laughs. Hopefully that comes through in how I write and how I speak. The best part about conversation is about talking back, so don’t be afraid to respond — I’m always listening.