#WeirdYear: 2016 in Review

I never really know why I write these recap posts. It’s probably some form of personal therapy. I’m not editing this braindump, but you can read if you’d like.

Firstly, it’s been quite a year. Through the good and the bad, I want to remember to stay thankful. As I look back on 2016, I can hardly believe the change. For me, the biggest difference is clearly a new job.

After about four years at Atomicdust, I made the decision to take the next step in my career. And I’m thankful for everyone I’ve had the pleasure of working with and becoming friends with at Atomicdust. Thankful for all of the cool shit I’ve been able to make so far in my career. And thankful for what’s next as I move on to new challenges at Momentum Worldwide as a Senior Copywriter. It’s only been a few days with my new team, but so far, so great.

Looking in the Rearview

At the start of 2016, I had an odd feeling about the year. Things were happening in and out of work that just seemed off to me. But that’s life, every facet has its ups and downs. So I chalked it up to some disturbance in the force and dubbed 2016 #weirdyear.

Little did I know, things were going to continue to get weirder…A lot weirder.

On a personal and professional level, I started to struggle with what I really wanted out of my career. I still don’t quite have the perfect answer, but I recognize that it’s a journey. As the year progressed and I thought more about where I’d like to be when I’m 30, I thought it might be time for a change. I love the people at Atomicdust and am endlessly thankful for the chance to do great work day after day, but I decided to go with my gut. I started opening my world to the torrent of recruiter messages on LinkedIn and put a lot of thought into where I wanted to go next.

Learning a Major Lesson

Looking back at the last Atomicdust ugly Christmas sweater photo, it’s apparent that there’s been a lot of change. And there’s a lesson I had to learn in that. It’s easy to forget – or hell, never learn – that businesses are living organisms. They’re just like you. They have needs, wants, goals, struggles and all the things everyone deals with every day. And to own a business, you have to assume the responsibilities of this living, breathing being that’s much larger than yourself. That’s terrifying and exciting at the same time.

Taking a step back to think about how businesses operate, it’s a little easier to again think of them as living things. When you have growth in customers or projects, you usually add employees or improve efficiencies in the production process to meet the demand. When you have fewer customers, the opposite tends to happen. And it’s important to recognize your role in the health of your workplace.

As an employee of a business, always keep that in mind. It doesn’t matter where you work or what you do, chances are you have some level of impact in the big scheme of things. For me, I’m a copywriter. My job, in its simplest form, is to think of a solution to a client’s problem and express it through words. But I also recognize that in the ad/marketing industry, my job is also to make my clients successful. And in turn, make the company that I work at successful.

So I go to work trying to think of what will work for my clients. What will work to make them money, win them favor in the public eye, get people excited in and outside the company, etc. Yes, I still have to be a copywriter, but that’s simply my avenue for building success around me. Because, after all, if my clients aren’t happy and successful, my company can’t be either. Nobody wants that. Depending on the circumstances, this can be a tough lesson to learn. It definitely was for me. But the show must go on.

Remembering the Victoires

While this year had its ups and downs, I’d rather remember the lessons learned and count the victories. When it comes to work, I’m excited for new opportunities, but I’m also very proud of what I’ve been a part of this year. These are a few of my favorite projects.

Photos and designs from Atomicdust.

Getting Personal

On a personal level, shout out to my girlfriend Chelsy for being there for me throughout this weird-ass year. Working is stressful. Job hunting is stressful. Moving is stressful. But we did it all and managed to do some awesome shit along the way. On top of that, she surprised me with the best gift I’ve ever received: a trip to Seattle and time at DirtFish rally racing school. If you know me at all, you’ll know that I love all things cars, so there’s really no beating DirtFish. The fact that it's in scenic Snoqualmie Falls is just icing on the cake. Thanks again.

Doing Even More

What else? Here’s to Kanye and Chance the Rapper for dropping my two favorite albums in a long time. Going to see both of them live was pretty crazy. Sure it sucked that both 'Ye and Chance skipped St. Louis on their tour, but it gave us a chance to explore Nashville and Atlanta. Both great cities, highlighted by one of the best meals of my life at Butcher & Bee in Nashville. And having a fun reunion meet up with friends – technically a former girlfriend and her husband. Way less awkward than it sounds. Life is weird.

 

Speaking of Atlanta, Atlanta the tv show is great. Alongside Insecure, it’s been a big year for black TV shows. And huge props to Viceland. They’re creating some of the best TV on TV right now – not just in the informative nonfiction category either. Oh, how could I forget Top Gear and The Grand Tour? While the BBC has somehow forgotten that TG isn’t really a car show, the trio of middle-aged friends almost brought a tear to my eye upon their return. More of that please. These, alongside Better Call Saul are what I watch. Someday I’ll get around to Westworld, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, The OA, etc. Someday.

As far as travels go, I cherish them all. Columbia. Springfield. Louisville. Memphis. Milwaukee. Snoqualmie. Phoenix. Denver. Chicago. New Year’s with friends up north. Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The grave of one of my personal heroes, Muhammad Ali. MLK’s birthplace and final resting place. A Ferrari worth $40 million. I’ve seen a lot of stuff this year. And that’s on top of all the great things I’ve done here in St. Louis.

From being able to take my dad to a baseball game with seats practically on the field, to just sitting on the couch at home, to seeing Beyoncé slay in concert, 2016 has had its great moments. St. Louis is a great city with amazing people and I’m happy to be here. Thinking about it, that’s why I like to take the time to reflect. Because it’s all too easy to forget – so I focus on the positives. But yes, I’ve had struggles this year. Plenty of them. Family struggles. Friend struggles. Money struggles. Relationship. Political. Car. Racial. Work. Emotional. Mental. Physical. They’ve all had a starring role at some point, making this year a little worse. But that’s life. And seeing as we all have a finite blip on this planet, we might as well remember the good times.

I think I’ll end with that. And not in a “positive vibes and peace signs” kind of way. A few years ago, my reflection post centered on making choices to be happier in life. That’s kind of just been my lifelong goal ever since. So here’s to a great 2017. We’ll just go ahead and dial up a new hashtag: #epicyear. And if you need to change things in your life to make it epic, go for it. I’ll round it out with more Chance and some photos of my favorite memories of 2016.

Your friend,

Ken


 

 

What's in a Name?

Lately, it seems like a lot of brands are changing names. But what's in a name? As it turns out, a lot. With the recent Tribune rebrand to Tronc – and the internet's response – I can't help but think about what goes into every branding and naming process.

Doing anything completely new is supposed to be scary. That’s the glory of the unknown. In the business world, that often times means launching or relaunching a new company, product or idea. In the startup era of today, thousands of companies launch without too many people batting an eye, but when it comes to large, established brands, there’s always a little extra danger.

Changing an existing brand that is well known by the public means having to perform in front of millions of judges. The crown jewel of challenges is fully rebranding – new name, new look, new you. For most companies it’s an important step in staying relevant as the market and people’s tastes change. Because of that, I try my best to (publicly) stay positive about rebrands. On the other end of that new name and logo is a team of people making tough decisions.

Diana Budds covered the topic of criticism for FastCo in "The Precarious State of Logo Design." And her words stretch beyond logo design:

Designers and clients are understandably spooked. In private, some designers speak of clients who refuse daring work. In public, they gently rue the armchair critiques that undermine months, sometimes years, of work.

But as the public, we only see the finished results. And it makes us all critics. Knowing how much time, money and energy went into the decision leads us all to ask the same question:

If this is what they picked, what did they pass on?  

That’s an important question to ask all the way through the rebranding process. At a certain point along the way, it’s natural to spin your collective wheels a bit. And that’s fine. But you can’t get stuck. If decisions are made to simply finish the time-consuming process of changing your brand, you'll never get the best results. Even if you as a creative, marketing manager or CMO may not be focused on worrying about what other people will think, no one wants to be mocked. And public shame is one of Twitter’s specialties.

How will people make fun of this – and for how long?

If your brand is big enough, you can't avoid a little resistance to change. So expect people to make fun of your new name or logo – it’s going to happen. You might as well make it difficult for them. A small percentage of every rebranding process should be trying to make fun of what you're working on. If you don't spend time thinking through this unconventional question, you'll spend time wondering "Why didn't I think of that?" later. Or you might even be forced answer news articles like Is ‘Tronc’ The Worst Corporate Brand Name Name Ever? Take the time to think of the jokes your 12-year-old self would make. If they hold true for your new name, it's an opportunity to make changes.

What is SEO?

This post originally published for the Atomicdust blog.

Our clients often ask us about our approach to SEO, or search engine optimization. It’s an understandable question considering Google and others constantly update their algorithms. Sure, there are general best practices about title tags, meta data length and more – but those are just the basics. Since we’re not specifically an SEO agency, what is SEO at Atomicdust? It’s actually pretty simple. And it doesn’t involve any tricks or gimmicks.

Instead of trying to beat Google, Bing or any other search engine at their own game, we like to take a step back and think about how search engines work and how people interact with them.

When you open up Google, you’re looking for something – and chances are you’ll probably ask a question. In general, search engines work to serve up the websites that best answer those questions. Being the most trusted, most visited or best source for information is how you win at SEO.

That’s where our strategy begins. Anytime we think about SEO, we take a three-step approach:coding best practices, initial content creation and continuous publishing.

Coding Best Practices

For us, SEO starts by optimizing the entire website for performance. We want to give every visitor a great experience by building a functional, beautiful website – something people want to visit. From there, we tackle all elements of backend functionality that help search engines digest your web pages and pull the best information for search engine results.

Initial Content Creation

We’ve stressed how important content is in the past, but when it comes to SEO, quality content is undeniably king. We take time to research all of our clients before we write anything, including website copy. After we have a deep understanding of the industry and the brand, we build content to inform and inspire the audience.

What that means for SEO is taking into account the most relevant, industry-specific search terms and using them to guide our keyword use. It’s another step in giving people what they’re looking for when searching. We hone in on those long-tail keywords in a natural way, while featuring them in the key areas where search engines look.

Continuous Publishing

We often say that your website will never be finished, and that also applies to your search engine optimization. For long-term SEO success, you have to keep visitors coming back to your site. That means continuing to publish content that people are looking for and want to read. It’s a continual process of seeing what visitors respond to and refining what your website offers.

For every website we build at Atomicdust, this three-step approach is our strategy behind SEO. After years of seeing how search has evolved, we take this tried and true method built on an understanding of how search engines work. That way, even after the next search engine update, your website will always perform at its best.