Take a chance on me. Or give me a swift kick in the ass. Either way, I will win.
As I approach — gasp! — the ripe young/old age of 40 (!!!), I’ve been spending all of my free time reflecting on life. A lot of that focus has been on my career. So you can imagine my surprise when I landed on a list with a lot of people in the PR biz that I admire and respect. Truth be told, I’m generally not a fan of lists (they make people cray cray!) but I’m proud of my accomplishments and I’m beyond thrilled that my intense focus on my career has not gone unnoticed. So, thank you lovely folks at Business Insider. I am honored and humbled.
Before you think this is some sort of self-promotional blog post — a thought that wouldn’t cross the minds of those who truly know me — please know that before I got to the point of being honored and humbled, I was more embarrassed than anything. I prefer to be under the radar, a strange concept for someone in the PR biz. But one of the best things about receiving this recognition was that I heard from a lot of people I haven’t talked to in a while and I have a lot of catching up chats scheduled. Something that makes me very happy. And something that made me realize that I should be proud of what I’ve done and, more importantly, that I owe a debt of gratitude to people who have taken a chance on me. And to those who gave me a kick in the ass.At Cutline we tend to hire people who may or may not have the right (read: traditional agency background) mix of experience but who are bright, ambitious, curious, and fun. This has paid off in spades. I could not be more proud to note that some of my fellow Cutliners have gone on to work at some of the top companies in the tech industry (Box, Facebook, Twitter, Ubisoft) and also outside of the tech industry (Gap). I’m even more proud of the team we have today that selflessly give it their all. Every. Single. Day. This isn’t an easy job and Cutline is a little different. But I most definitely would not be where I am today if we hadn’t taken a chance on both our current and former colleagues. And if my previous managers hadn’t done the same for me. My career path has been an interesting one. I graduated from college later than most, but I had a very full (and insanely fun!) life before I finally got serious about a career. I studied communications in school because, well, I don’t care for math. I was lucky enough to land an internship — and subsequently a full time gig — at an agency in Southern California, Nelson Communications Group (which was later acquired by Porter Novelli). I’m forever indebted to the team there for giving me a shot. And I will never forget the advice that one of the partners gave me when I unraveled in his office one day about a problem I was having: never raise a problem to your manager without a solution, even if it isn’t the right solution. Then I moved to the Bay Area. I’ll never forget the first interview I had with a large agency (I’m 99% sure it was Burson). Obviously, I didn’t have tech experience. The hoity-toity PR chic who was interviewing me — for a JUNIOR position! — had my resume. I had only worked on public affairs type stuff at NCG. But she proceeded to ask me who I knew in the tech space. Um, nobody. And then she dropped this bomb: Do you know Walt Mossberg? Um, no. And that was pretty much the end of that interview. I was crushed. Defeated. I cried. I wondered if I should really be looking at PR gigs in the tech industry. But I left that awful interview thinking to myself “I’m going to get to know this Walt guy and I’m going to show this lady who’s boss!” Thanks for the kick in the ass, jerk face. (I’m also childish, yes.) // Sidebar: One of my career highlights was when Walt — yeah, *that* Walt — called me on a Saturday about the Chrome review he was doing in advance of the announcement of the browser. I had also worked with him on some Android stuff so could finally (rightfully) claim to *know* him. We chatted about his questions and he then said something really nice to me about my role as a PR person, working with Google. I’ll never forget that conversation. Ever. Thank you, Mr. Mossberg. // I landed at an agency called UpStart Communications and had the opportunity to work with some serious brains. They totally took a chance on me and pushed me to do things I didn’t think were possible. There were so many senior people at UpStart, who knew so much about everything tech, that there were days when I would be so intimidated and nervous that I would sit and cry. Mature, I know. (I’m a crier.) But not once did they give up on me. In particular, my tech foundation is in large part thanks to Claudia Carasso, Bob Osmond and Tim Beyers. Truly an amazing experience and amazing people. I was even lucky enough to be awarded with a Silver Anvil award and went to NYC with a teammate (Hi, KD!) to bring back the goods. September 11 happened. The company was acquired by Fleishman-Hillard (maybe not in that order; I can’t remember) and I stuck around for a bit — having seen nearly every person in the company move on in one way or another — before realizing I needed a fresh start. Enter A&R Partners. I’ll never forget my experience interviewing at A&R (now Edelman). I met with a few people, took a writing test, was super excited, and thought I nailed it. At the time I only had enterprise tech experience, but I was a consumer of all things tech so I was hoping that would help. My “nailed it” attitude came to an abrupt halt when I met Maria Amundson. If you’re in PR and you haven’t come across Maria, you should make it a point to do so. She’s one of the best. She’s loved and respected by all. She’s smart as can be and is a genuinely nice person. And she’s also as no-nonsense as they come. I’ll admit to being scared of her from time to time. But that fear manifested itself in a way that made me want to be the best person and do the best work. And I’m forever grateful for being able to work on Maria’s team. I’m also equally grateful that she took a chance on me, even though in hindsight I might not have been ready for that job. After giving the agency world a whirl, I decided to go in-house. I interviewed at a bunch of places and wasn’t really excited about any of them until I met with the team at a Silicon Valley gadget company (you’ve undoubtedly used their products, both at home and at work and in the car). I. Was. Stoked. I had, oh I don’t know, nine interviews? I didn’t care. I loved the team and was really excited about the opportunity. Then I had to meet with the SVP of the product group I would be supporting. At the end of a grueling interview, that started at 7:30 am, he decided I didn’t have enough consumer technology experience. It was also the worst interview I’ve ever had. (But I didn’t cry.) And although it ended up being a not-so-awesome experience, it was indeed the second hardest kick in my ass in my career to date. Just like with the agency person I interviewed with, who shoo’d me away because I didn’t know Walt Mossberg personally, I made it my goal to learn everything I could about consumer technology. So, thanks ass kicker dude. // Sidebar: I so wish I could share with you the look on the SVP’s face when I ran into him a couple of years ago and told him that I had co-founded a consumer tech PR agency and that, among many other awesome clients, we work with Google. Oh, the irony. And being the brat I am I thanked him for putting me through the ringer and for the kick in the ass. Yes, in those words. // My agency career took a short detour when I went in-house and became the first PR manager for CafePress. That was a great experience in that I met a lot of awesome people and I was able to see things from the client’s perspective. That’s something that, in hindsight, is invaluable to an agency person. While at CafePress, I became pals with the head of legal, Candice Carr. She’s been my champion from day one and even on my worst days she inspires me to do better. There have been times when I wasn’t sure if I was making the right career choices — like the days when we had to deal with Hezbollah, an odd rabbit situation, a politically-charged bomb threat, or a few questionable t-shirts! — but during those times she would tell me there’s no other job I could do as well as I do PR. It took me a while to believe her but it’s truly a business I love. And even though she left me here on the West Coast while she moved to the Big Apple, she continues to be an inspiration and one of my closest friends. I wasn’t at CafePress for long when I met Megan Lamb. She was introduced to me by a former UpStart colleague and I went into the meeting not sure about the idea of getting back into the agency side of the biz. I totally fell in love with the Lamb at our first meeting. She was (and is!) so smart, so funny, so easy to talk to, and “an all around awesome human being.” I knew the minute I walked out of the office that I wanted to work with her. And so I did. We worked together on a couple of other things, which admittedly didn’t go well (on my end), so you can imagine my surprise when Megan called me to ask if I wanted to help her start Cutline. At the time I had no grand plans of doing my own thing, running a company, or leading a team. But how else could I possibly answer that besides, “um, yeah?” This was, hands down, the biggest chance anyone has ever taken on me. In. My. Life. And here we are, almost seven years later. I lost my dad a few months before we started Cutline. I lost my brother a few months after. I lost my closest friend the following year. A bumpy start to say the least. So I threw myself into work and worked like a maniac, available around the clock. It was probably my subconscious doing most of the directing back then. I’m a thinker and if I’m left to just think, and I’m not busy, my mind explodes. So I worked. A lot. Then I had some pretty serious health scares. Every minute of every day — even when she was in the hospital giving birth (literally!) to her first child — Megan has been my strongest supporter. Earlier this week when the list was published she texted me to say she was “incredibly proud.” Yeah. Tears. She has always let me run with things and has given me the flexibility I needed any time I needed a break. She pushed me, but never too much. She inspired me. And she is one of the reasons I am the person I am today. For her guidance, support and friendship… I am eternally grateful. There have been so many other people in my professional life that have also been a source of inspiration. Too many to name to be honest. The PR industry is tough. We have hard jobs, despite what many might think. But it’s a career I wouldn’t trade for the world. And as I reflect on my own personal growth over the last too-many-to-count years, I’m left with this: when you give people a chance you also give them something to believe in. And when people truly believe in something, they can accomplish things. And when people accomplish great things, they can help others do the same. I’ve also learned that you should be careful whose ass you kick.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to all the chance-givers and ass-kickers who have made a profound impact on my life. I owe you one.