Back in 2010, I found myself divorced, with two young children—ages 4 and 18 months—and in a city far away from my family and closest friends. In my former life, I was an ambitious urbanite (both London and New York). Now, I was a stay-at-home mom in comparative suburbia, who had to get her (bad)ass back to work and, with no child support or alimony to boot, it couldn’t be for peanuts. The problem? I hadn’t worked a full-time gig in years. The demand for creatives like me wasn’t really there in my new hometown, and my confidence? Well, needless to say, that was in shreds.
The challenges have been nothing short of enormous. The initial hit? When my first, post-divorce client moved their small copy team up to New York to be with the full creative department. The second? When my subsequent employer let me go, two weeks after my six-month performance review, on which I “met or exceeded expectations” across the board. And since? There have been many more professional setbacks, too.
The other challenges have been personal, juggling the responsibilities of work with being a single mother have not been easy. No extended family is around to pick up the kids or drop off a forgotten lunchbox if I can’t. Nannies have come and gone but I want to be around to attend school plays, honor roll announcements, cook dinner every night, and tuck my kids into bed. There’s no beating around the bush: It’s f*&%ing tough.
So, in the attempt to resolve these challenges/problems, call them what you will, I founded Wink Communications, a marketing communications agency, that offers 360-degree solutions for our clients. We’re a one-stop shop, with a stellar team, offering any and all marketing communication solutions, from branding to website, and from social media to PR. The thinking behind this being, why go to one separate agency for each of these channels and risk having your voice diluted? Instead, authorize one body to oversee it all. The irony is that, although we’ve worked successfully with some pretty incredible clients over the years (Tommy Hilfiger, Chico’s, Soma Intimates, Celebrity Cruises, just to name just a few), we’ve struggled to grow as quickly, or become as large, as we desire. (US, a marketing communications agency!) And so now, we’re looking for more differentiators, more things to set us apart, because the holistic agency concept might just be too futuristic (more about that later).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind a little.
My career began in editorial and, at 23, I confidently pitched a custom publication concept to an Internet dating company. The hook? What makes people still come to the site once they’ve met someone? The VCs bought it and Profile magazine was born (a year or two before any other dating website developed anything similar). Thanks to Profile, our investors began to really see the importance of value-added content. Now, thanks to Facebook, et al, it is an even greater vital marketing component, promoting virality of a brand via the shareability of their unique content. My futuristic thinking led to the creation of a breakaway company, eMagMaker. Companies on a budget could essentially tap into our enormous database of content and images, fueled by our bank of talented writers, photographers, and illustrators, and essentially drag and click their selections into a chosen template to create their own custom publication on a relative shoestring. We were so ahead of our time. But we had a fun along the way.
So, I went from this savvy, go-getter, with a strong sense of self, to not really knowing who I was. And, to be honest, I still struggle with it. When I speak to my old friends and family as well as former colleagues and mentors, I catch glimpses of that old Hannah. And I want to get her back. Permanently. And stat.
With this in mind, I embarked on Marie Forleo’s B-School course and it has proven to be an amazing exploratory process indeed. One of the first exercises is the very daunting task of reaching out to at least 25 people that you know and ask them what they consider to be your three greatest strengths. (It was this very task that had me throw in the towel my first time around the B-School block). But it has been the most incredibly revealing task to date. I was overwhelmed by the beautiful traits people saw in me, found it very telling that so many words and phrases were repeated, and it truly got me back on the Hannah train. When you’re not surrounded by the people who know and love you best, it’s so easy to lose your sense of self. Combine that with becoming a mother, and, well, I know I’m not the only one asking herself, “who the heck am I?!” This simple exercise reminded me of exactly who I am and I wrote every single response that I received down so that if I’m ever having a period of self-doubt I open my notebook and read that list aloud. But even more importantly, perhaps, the task also got me thinking, how I can implement these incredible qualities that are unique to me, to help me differentiate Wink. I’m still working on it but the seed has been sown.
The next step of this task was to do the Gallup Strengths Finder Test. (Best $16 ever spent and I recommend it to everyone). The reason why it was such a fantastic exercise was that it not only identified strengths in line with those I know—and my family and friends, told me—I have, but it identified something new, and that I’d never really thought of before: my tendency to be futuristic. Remember that eMagMaker and Profile magazine story? Remember how I opened this article already two steps ahead of myself? And remember how I think my holistic marcomm agency concept may require educating potential clients because it’s unconventional? Beginning to see the trend?
Before doing this test, I’d always told the Profile/eMagMaker story in a self-deprecating, “what were we thinking,” kind-of way. But ever since, I’ve found myself using it to demonstrate one of my innate, core strengths, and am marketing it in a whole new way. I may not always be conventional but my thinking lies ahead of the curve and in today’s tech savvy, constantly changing world, that’s a pretty damned great strength to have. My new focus is injecting all of these incredible strengths, which are my core differentiators, into my business and how I market myself. I don’t have all the answers yet but I’m working on it. And that’s progress.
Actually, that’s pretty damned badass.