How To Avoid Burnout & Thrive In Marketing with Brendan Shields-Shimizu & Kage Spatz

Marketing Strategy Series by

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Brendan Shields-Shimizu Marketing Expert

We don’t need to be a person of great influence to make positive change.

As a part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with my fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business or career. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Brendan Shields-Shimizu.

Brendan Shields-Shimizu is Managing Director of Observatory, a full-service independent creative agency that operates at the intersection of entertainment and culture, and was recently named to Fast Company’s 2020 list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies. At Observatory, Shields-Shimizu leads the brand teams across many of the company’s clients, including Marriott Bonvoy, Mazda, USAFacts, and others. He started his career as an assistant at the William Morris Agency and then moved to Creative Artists Agency where he went through the famed CAA trainee program before being elevated to an executive at CAA Marketing.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting and what lesson you learned from that?

In this industry, everything moves so quickly. Timelines change frequently, we’re always up against delivery deadlines and, since we’re in a creative-driven field, we’re always making changes up until the final moments.

Pretty early on in my career, I was tasked with the day-to-day management of a large creative campaign. It was our final creative review. The clients had asked for small changes the night before and, of course, our deadline was looming. Long story short, our editor made the changes but sent the wrong link to our producer, who in turn sent it to me. I was in a rush and didn’t take the time to look at it before sending it to our clients. About 10 minutes later, I got a call from our clients who were going nuts because none of their changes were reflected in the link I’d sent them. Of course, we had made all of the changes, but because I didn’t take the time to check the link, I had no idea why they were upset.

It was a small, very fixable mistake, but as the point person on this project, I needed to be responsible for everything that we pushed out. It’s a story I often tell my new team members when I see them being tempted to do the exact same thing, in the exact same kind of time crunch I was in. It’s a good reminder to take a moment and make sure whatever you’re responsible for, you’ve done and checked yourself. You’re the final line of defense.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

Yes, absolutely. The tipping point was when I realized that I was being invited to meetings or into conversations because my colleagues, clients, and bosses wanted me there. They wanted my voice in the rooms and they trusted my advice. Honestly, I just started speaking up more and giving my opinion. If I disagreed with a direction we were going, I’d voice my opinion rather than just going along with the group. Don’t get me wrong, there were just as many times that the group would discuss my concerns and convince me that I was wrong, as there were times that I’d convince the room that my concerns were valid. But, each of those conversations that I’d spur would ultimately make the work and the validation for the work better.

It’s much easier to just sit on the sidelines and trust that everyone else is right, rather than asking the tough questions.

Consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. Where do you see the future of marketing headed?

There are so many ways consumers can avoid advertising these days — ad blockers, DVRs, and just simply switching to another device are some examples. We, as marketers, must create marketing campaigns that consumers actually want to watch and seek out. As I mentioned earlier, we at Observatory create campaigns that attract and engage audiences rather than interrupt. We truly believe this is where the industry is heading. There’s always going to be a need to have hard-hitting informational advertising out there, but everything should be anchored in the core content that is giving consumers something interesting and engaging.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

In the creative agency world, we go from project to project, often working across multiple projects at once. We are crazy busy. Sometimes, the smallest of things make a big difference. At Observatory, we each block out our calendars for an hour of lunch each day. No meetings, video conferences or calls allowed. Everyone knows that during lunch hour, you’re likely not going to get a response from colleagues. It’s a small thing, but simply encouraging everyone to take this break really has helped us. I’ve got colleagues who take the time to read a book, go for a short work-out, or actually eat lunch. Doesn’t matter what you do during the time, as long as it’s not work. By setting the mandatory lunch break, we, as a company, help to normalize the practice of allowing our colleagues to set boundaries.

Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started?

1) Everyone has other things they’re working on, too. Your project may not be the most important thing on someone else’s plate. There are times when I just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting responses from my clients on things that I perceived as super important (i.e. I did a lot of work putting a deck together and wanted feedback or at least an acknowledgment they had even received my email!). Of course, I didn’t realize the client was prepping for a CEO meeting or had been pulled into three other projects by their boss.

2) Just because an idea comes from somewhere else doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many clients who have had other partner agencies too. With some of our clients, we used to discount ideas just because they weren’t “ours.” When working as part of a team, sometimes being a good team player is just as important as pushing through ideas that may have originated within your agency. There’s going to be that time where you need a partner agency to help with “your” idea too. Plus, the partner agency’s idea may be really awesome too!

3) Investment in a colleague’s growth is just as important to your growth. You will be more productive when you’re able to grow your team of capable colleagues because that will eventually lead to a broader team of people who can take more projects off your plate, allowing you to do more with your team.

4) Save everything. I’ve had so many times that I wished I still had a presentation, research, or strategy deck I did from years ago, and couldn’t find it. There’s been times that a client remembered something we put together from earlier in our relationship or times where I’ve been pitching a new client and wanted to use some language from a past presentation. Save everything, you never know when you might want to look at it again!

5) More ideas don’t get made than do. It’s just part of our industry, a lot of really great ideas don’t make it to market for various reasons. Everyone in this industry knows exactly which idea is the “one that got away.” I still talk with some former clients and somehow we always get back to, “man, we wish we could have made that idea, it was so great.”

What books, podcasts, documentaries, or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

I religiously read Ad Age, Adweek, Deadline, Cynopsis, Variety, and The Hollywood Reporter too for industry news — both Advertising and Entertainment. From a podcast standpoint, I listen to Gary Vaynerchuck on the GaryVee Audio Experience. Of course, being part of the entertainment industry, I also watch A LOT of “TV.” Am I up to speed on every program out there? No, impossible. But, I watch a lot of different content, some because I personally like it and others because I think there may be opportunities for my clients. It’s tough to pitch a content creator on why a brand makes sense if you’ve never watched the show! Yes, I have satellite TV, and I subscribe to pretty much every other platform too.

Shoutout to Gary from us both! One more before we go…

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are?

I’d credit a lot of my success to my bosses when I first started working as an assistant at Creative Artists Agency, Sandey Kang and Matt Rotondo. Their working styles and personalities could not have been more different, and I like to think that I took what I thought was great about each of them and incorporated it into who I am today.

One thing they both shared, though, is that they assigned me projects and allowed me ownership over the assignments. They didn’t expect that I’d know exactly how to do everything, and they’d guide me along the way by giving constructive feedback, answering questions, and ultimately helping me accomplish the task. Most importantly, they would make sure the credit for the task always went to me when they would share the work with clients or to seniors within the agency.

Thank you so much for sharing these fantastic insights!

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