It’s amazing to think how much our world has changed over the past couple of months. One area that I’ve spent a lot of my time researching and examining is the death of a loved one. The mourning process has been a relatively consistent pattern for generations. However, with social distancing and other restrictions, people find themselves trying to navigate a new landscape when it comes to dealing with the death of a friend or family member.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Justin Schroepfer.
He is a talented and innovative marketing executive with a proven track record of creating strategies for a wide variety of B2B companies. He is the Senior Director of Marketing at Deseret Digital Media where he is responsible for creating the marketing strategies for more than 14 brands ranging from KSL.com, KSL Classifieds, Utah’s largest and most used classified site and app, Utah.com, Utah’s #1 site for travel, the Deseret News, Utah’s largest daily newspaper as well as KSL Cars and theMemories.
Prior to joining Deseret Digital Media, Schroepfer was the Senior Director of Marketing at Footnote.com where his marketing strategy played a pivotal role in the company being acquired by Ancestry.com. Over the course of his career, he’s provided marketing strategy and expertise for some of the largest and most recognizable brands in the world, including Ancestry.com, Rubbermade, Ret Hat, Ask.com and Franklin Covey Company.
Schroepfer graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Marketing and a Masters, Business Administration from the University of Utah. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his family and fly fishing.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Some kids grew up wanting to be like their favorite sports hero or something aspirational like becoming a doctor that saves lives. Apparently, I was a little different. I grew up watching reruns of popular 60s shows like Giligan’s Island, the Andy Griffith show and Bewitched. And for some reason I was really drawn to what Darrin Stephens, the husband on Bewitched, did for a career. He was an ad executive; someone who came up with creative ad campaigns. As a young 10 year old I thought, “Now that’s what I would like to be when I grow up!” Plus having a wife that was a witch where comedy would ensue on a weekly basis was the obvious choice for my future life. That initial interest in marketing and advertising continued to build within me where I ended up obtaining a marketing degree at the University of Utah. Shortly after my graduation I joined one of the first interactive agencies, (another way of saying digital marketing agencies back in the day) DSW, in the late 1990s. Over the past 20+ years,
my career path has included both the agency side and the client side where I was able to build marketing strategies and campaigns for businesses that span everything from selling label makers to helping you find your ancestors online. Now I find myself as the head of marketing for Deseret Digital Media where we own and operate websites that include KSL.com (NBC Affiliate in Utah), Utah.com, theMemories.com and SeniorLeaf.com. And although I didn’t marry a witch (I found a lovely woman whom I’ve been married to for the past 24 years), I am fulfilling my dream as a modern day Darrin Stephens.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
For me, my career has not been about climbing the corporate ladder to see how much money I can make or how many people I can boss around. My goal has always been about being engaged with businesses that are involved in helping people accomplish something that is inherently good. At Footnote.com (now fold3.com), I was involved with a special team that helped launch the first “Virtual Vietnam War Memorial”. Our team took over 3,000 digital photos of the memorial in Washington DC, stitched them together, and made it searchable. Anyone could come to the site, search for a name on the wall, and have the result zoom into the actual place where that name exists on the wall. Additionally, we constructed the virtual wall to be interactive where people could add their comments, photos and stories to the names. This initiative had a special place in my heart because my dad is a Vietnam War hero. I was actually able to include him in my marketing campaign where he described his experience using this virtual monument to find his long lost friend. To see the emotion that it stirred within my dad and other veterans as they used the site, still gives me a sense of gratitude that I was able to be involved in such a worthy cause.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
The key to avoiding burnout is balance. And I don’t mean balance between different projects so you can get more work done at your job. I’m talking about balance between work and other things in your life that you are passionate about. For me, that passion is family. I’ve gone down that road where I was working long hours and was away from home more than I would like. This resulted in strained relationships within my family and
made me despise my job. The more disciplined I became in controlling the amount of time I spent at my job, really turning off work when I was at home and dedicating time to the things that matter most, the more balanced I became. With that balance, my family life was stronger and I found more passion for my work.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Culture is a big focus at Deseret Digital Media and is something we work on continually. However, developing a strong culture is more than just providing snacks in the break room, having a ping pong table in the lobby or taking the company out to watch the newest Star Wars movie (we have done all of that). What I’ve seen work in developing a strong culture is showing that you genuinely care about those you work with. Take time to express interest in them personally and show them that you care by providing acts of kindness. A helping hand will do more to strengthen culture than placing free candy bars at the receptionist’s desk.
I have helped load couches and beds into a truck when someone on my team has moved into a new home. I’ve sat down with them and had tearful discussions about their struggles with depression. I brought one colleague flowers when their pet cat passed away. I’ve done these types of things not to get a pat on the back or be known as a really nice guy at the office. I’ve done this because I truly care about them and their well being. Your employees will not just see that you care, but feel that you care, and that creates an environment where a culture of creativity, cooperation and collaboration can thrive.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious just from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
It’s amazing to think how much our world has changed over the past couple of months. One area that I’ve spent a lot of my time researching and examining is the death of a
loved one. The mourning process has been a relatively consistent pattern for generations. However, with social distancing and other restrictions, people find themselves trying to navigate a new landscape when it comes to dealing with the death of a friend or family member. Since one of our properties, theMemories.com, is a platform that helps people memorialize their loved ones, I had a specific interest in how these new circumstances were impacting our audience. I started to look for articles that addressed this specific issue and was alarmed at how significantly the pandemic had disrupted the mourning process. Here are just a few examples of what families are facing now:
● Some veterans cemeteries in the U.S. have stopped holding memorial services altogether, after first telling older veterans to stay away.
● Hugs. Crying in someone’s arms. Having loved ones all in the same place. The things that can make funerals cathartic aren’t possible when large gatherings are banned and people have to stay six feet apart.
● In one instance, daughters of a retired police officer didn’t dare get on a plane to fly to his funeral out of fear they could be separated from their children for weeks if they were placed under quarantine.
● In another example, an elderly woman said she feels the impact since her 92-year-old father passed away this month. “It’s tough, my heart is broken. My family is hurting. I’m hurting,” she said. “Our family is 200 strong easily.” Now her dad will be laid to rest without most of his family getting to say goodbye.
These examples broke my heart, but then I thought about how theMemories and other technologies not only could help with these types of situations, but also enhance the experience. Restrictions on how we can physically interact with each other doesn’t mean we can’t connect with each other or properly say goodbye to those we have cherished. Here are some suggestions on how to use technology, including theMemories, to find peace during the difficult time when we lose someone we love, or are supporting someone who is going through that experience:
● Sharing memories — In a traditional funeral setting, you will find people exchanging stories and memories about the good times. It’s wonderful how a simple story about Grandpa telling the same joke at every family gathering can lift the spirit and bring a smile to someone’s face. Even if you are unable to physically attend a funeral service, it’s important to share these memories, which can have a strong, positive impact for those that are mourning. On theMemories,
people can add as many stories and photos as they can come up with. As these treasured experiences are documented and shared, it typically sparks additional memories. Before you know it, you have a portrait of a life story that was full of rich experiences. Unlike a conversation at a funeral, technology enables these experiences to be shared and preserved so they can live long after the funeral service has ended.
● Offering condolences online (or as I like saying it, giving a virtual hug) — The power of someone offering their condolences cannot be overstated in these types of situations. Just letting someone know you are thinking of them can be a source of needed strength. Now it’s easier than ever to make this type of connection, and it doesn’t matter if the distance that separates us is six feet or hundreds of miles. On theMemories there is a guest book where people can add their words of condolences. The culmination of these expressions can let people know they are not alone and have the support they desperately need.
● Never forget — The mourning process is not completed at the end of the funeral service. It takes time to come to terms with this type of loss. Platforms like theMemories, allows people to come back time and time again to revisit the contributions from family and friends. It also allows for additional thoughts and memories to be added to a memorial. As an online resource, this is accessible at any time and in any place. Just because this chapter in life has ended does not mean the story is finished. Remembering lost loved ones can have a positive, long lasting impact on those who must continue pushing forward in their own lives.
● Don’t be a nomad — Losing a loved one is stressful and can cause tremendous sadness and even depression. Don’t try and tackle the bereavement process by yourself. Include family and close friends. In the process. Talk to them and share your feelings. Often there is no greater way to come to terms with your grief and sadness than by talking about and allowing people to help you. I’ve found that people naturally want to help and provide, love, support and an outlet to help. Let them help, It’s good for you and it’s good for them. When somebody dies it’s easy to seclude yourself and withdraw from normal activities and social functions.
● Serve others — Finding ways to serve others provides a number of scientifically proven benefits, including, relieving stress, lowers blood pressure, gives us a sense of purpose and helps you live longer In my experience serving others is
cathartic and simply makes you feel better while providing a sense of purpose and satisfaction that comes when in the service of others.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
In my experience, the best resources are being around family, friends and others that have your best interests and happiness at heart. For me personally, I like to engage in hobbies and other activities that bring me happiness. For example, I exercise on a regular basis. The physical exertion helps clear my mind and bring clarity to anxiety and stress. In addition, I’m an avid fly fisherman and being out a river casting is the greatest therapy for me.
I always recommend to friends and family to take time for yourself. Don’t neglect yourself. Find what you enjoy and make time for those things. Additionally get the right sleep and eat regularly. All of these things will help alleviate stress and help you deal with the challenges that always come up.
There are resources out there and people that genuinely care and want to help. Take advantage of these resources.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Affliction is the good man’s shining time,” English poet Edward Young.
Everybody struggles in life. That’s part of life. How we handle these inevitable struggles says a lot about us. From a professional standpoint, I’ve faced a number of challenges. I’ve always approached them from a perspective that this is time for me to learn, grow and excel. In one memorable instance a few years ago, I was leading a team that was responsible for a major campaign. The company had invested a significant amount of resources into the campaign and it had to succeed. I felt a tremendous amount of pressure and stress. I decided that this was my time to shine. I implemented a sound strategy and led a team that executed flawlessly on the strategy. The campaign exceeded all expectations and was a catalyst to the company being acquired. It was a
good time for me to shine and helped elevate my career to places I had only dreamed of going.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My movement would involve sharing memories and histories. I believe there is so much to be learned from history and those that came before us. People want to know how their ancestors did what they did and how they overcame afflictions and trials to pave the way for generations to come. I believe there is great power that comes from knowing your lineage. I’ve done a fair amount of genealogy and it always provides me with great hope and courage for tackling the issues I’m dealing with. I believe everybody can take courage from knowing and understanding the past.
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