What was it about the opening for Director of Product Marketing that appealed to you?
I’ve always looked at marketing through more of a product lens than a branding lens. I don’t think people use Apple because they think the computer looks nice, or Google because they like their logo. They use them because they like the way those products work. And I’ve always taken that approach to any marketing I’ve done — it’s important to lead with the product and make sure people understand exactly what they’re buying.
Was your initial reaction to Programmatic Direct Mail® from a product standpoint sort of an “Aha!” moment, like “What a great idea”?
To be honest, no, at least not at first. I was a little skeptical. But once I understood the underlying technology, my reaction was more along the lines of, “I can’t believe somebody didn’t think of this before.” I’d worked at an agency in Boston called Advantage Media where we did programmatic display, which was my first experience with reaching people who had shown an intent to purchase online. But I’d never really considered direct mail as a complement to that until I worked for [student loan refinance organization] CommonBond and we actually used Programmatic Direct Mail® there. It became clear that direct mail, especially with a programmatic element, was a channel people were woefully underestimating. So I was excited to join PebblePost because Programmatic Direct Mail® leverages that digital aspect — it allows brands to reach consumers in a way that’s technically innovative, but also respectful. It’s not just stalking them around the internet.
You were a member of the National Political Science Honor Society at Siena. How did you go from that to a career in marketing? That doesn’t seem like the straightest career path.
No, it wasn’t — although I was actually in marketing even before I went to Siena. I took four years off between graduating high school and going to college and went straight into marketing.
Wait — how do you go from high school directly to a job in marketing?
Well, first of all, my plan all along was to go to college. But I graduated a semester early from Colonie Central High in Albany, New York, because I wanted to spend some time in Florida. I moved to Tampa, where Outback Steakhouse was headquartered, so I was able to meet some of the higher-ups. I picked Outback for no other reason than it was my favorite restaurant. Anyway, that led to my becoming a trainer for them. I would go around to new Outbacks and teach the managers basically how to run their restaurant. And a lot of that had a marketing component — working with the public and the press to build buzz about the new Outback coming to town.
OK, so how did you go from Outback trainer in Tampa to poli-sci guy at Siena?
After getting that experience at Outback, I moved back to Albany with the plan of going to college. But then I found a marketing assistant job at an engineering firm. I worked under their director of business development — she was an engineer who had also been in marketing. She just took me under her wing and taught me a lot of stuff that helped me build up my resume. She also reworked my schedule to let me go to school full time while also continuing to work full time, so I didn’t have to pick one over the other. At one point I took a quick detour thinking I wanted to be a lawyer, but I hated the year I spent at law school. It was valuable in one sense, though, because it made me realize how much I liked being in marketing. So I’ve taken a non-traditional route to get here, and I took a little longer than most people to get my degree, but I was lucky enough to meet the right people at the right time throughout my career.
Speaking of meeting the right people: You had a “content management internship” at the White House under Barack Obama. How did that come about?
After I left law school I moved to D.C. My girlfriend at the time was living in Baltimore and working for the Department of Defense. I had a really hard time finding a job in D.C. because it was such a competitive market. But through that search I met Tom Cochran, who at that time was the Director of New Media under Obama and ran the digital strategy for his campaign. I was able to secure an internship on his team. The internship wasn't paid, but Tom was able to help me meet a lot of good people. So I became an intern at 26—which was sort of the opposite of my situation at Outback because most of the other interns were about 19 or 20. It was scary because I wasn’t getting paid, but it really did open doors and give me a chance to meet people and figure out what I wanted to do in DC.
Was Obama one of the people Tom introduced you to?
Well, I did “meet” him, but I didn’t speak. I just stood in the corner.
What is it that appeals to you about Washington?
D.C. taught me a lot about how to navigate big teams and big opinions. Everybody there is trying to one-up everyone else, and I learned how to shuffle through the fray and solve problems with diplomacy. Even when I was with CommonBond, my job before here, part of my job was working with our lobbyists to help research and push through legislation to help with student loan benefits. Just having an understanding of how to navigate that world, all the tricks you need to learn and the hoops you have to jump through — I just found that very exciting. It drives some people nuts, but I liked figuring out how to work my way through all that.
Yes, that’s a highly undervalued “soft skill” at many places, though not at PebblePost. What’s your welcome been like?
The corny answer, which also happens to be true, is that everybody has been very welcoming and friendly. It’s an awesome culture. You know how, no matter where you work, there’s always that one person you can’t stand? I haven’t run into that here. PebblePost has done a really good job of hiring like-minded people who are all very driven toward the goal of making the company successful, but who also understand the balance between work and having fun. That’s what I was looking for, and I was happy to find that that’s exactly what this is.
What’s the best advice you ever got?
That’s easy. It’s from somebody who works here. Our Senior Director of Product Management, Melissa Tanzosh, told me, “Pick your battles.”
Yes — another of those underrated soft skills that people really need in this rapidly evolving business. So where do you see yourself and this industry in 10 years?
I can’t even tell you where I think the industry will be in one year. But that’s what makes this exciting. I know that direct mail has always been a very effective part of a marketer’s toolbox, and I think adding a programmatic element to it just makes it that much better. So as we grow as a company, and as the industry grows, I think more players are probably going to jump into the space and increase the competition pool. But that’s OK, because PebblePost is out there leading the pack. And my goal as Director of Product Marketing is to make sure we stay there.