A year ago, I took a bizarre leap. I left a job situation that was near perfect in many ways. I was surrounded by intelligent, principled and talented people, I earned a great salary and benefits, and I got to do what I do best—be creative—outside of the typical “churn and burn” corporate agency environment. So why did I leave HW&H? Twelve months later, I STILL don’t know the answer. Certainly, commuting three hours a day on the 405 freeway didn’t help. But beyond that, I had an itch. Call it a mid-life crisis if you want. This TED talk offers another possible explanation. I just felt like there might be something else out there, possibly not marketing related at all, that would tap into the activities and subjects I’m most passionate about—namely volleyball. So, without knowing what “it” was, but with the support of my wife and daughter, workmates and friends, I leapt.
In 2015, I built websites (I’m not a developer,) designed ads (I’m not an art director,) created photographic artwork (I’m not a retoucher,) ran a 700-person event (I’m not an event manager,) and ran several social media accounts (not my first love either.) I also completed quite a few other projects closer to my wheelhouse including conceptual work and writing ad copy and video scripts. I intended to detail all the work and thank each of my clients for the opportunities they gave me in 2015, but that’s more than I figure most people want to read. Instead, I’ve put together a simple timeline of my year with a brief note on each project and client. I can’t thank these people enough for responding to my leap of faith with a leap of their own. I learned a lot about their brands, goals and dreams—as well as a lot about myself—along the way.
I kicked off the year working with pro beach volleyball star Lauren Fendrick on her promotional website. This may have been the toughest and most rewarding project of the year. Fortunately for me, Lauren is as smart, responsive, courteous and helpful a client as she is dominating as an athlete. I’m super proud of what we produced and even more excited to follow her journey toward Rio this summer.
Shortly after I teamed up with Lauren, I started working with the United States Youth Volleyball League. USYVL Executive Director and co-founder Randy Sapoznik noticed the creative contributions I’d made to other volleyball organizations and was in need of help with social media and print collateral. We started off with a bang. The first 15-second video I produced for USYVL was a runaway hit, garnering over 62,000 views on Facebook. We went on to create several other print and video elements together, culminating in a fundraising video starring three-time Olympic gold medalist, Misty May-Treanor.
Just as the USYVL work was heating up, two-time USA Olympian and television sportscaster Kevin Barnett asked if I could help out with a project for The Net Live, the weekly volleyball podcast he hosts. To drum up sponsorship support for a mobile version of the show, Kevin was in need of photographic mock-ups of the concept—both as a vehicle and as a deployed event activation. So, I dusted off my old copy of Photoshop and put these images together for his presentation deck.
In February, I took full advantage of my flexible schedule and took two amazing trips. The first was to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida. My daughter is a die-hard J.K. Rowling disciple and this was her ultimate experience. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her as excited about anything as she was for each day of this adventure. My parents came down from Virginia and made it a 3-generation family vacation that none of us will soon forget.
My second trip was to Guam to play in an international volleyball tournament. My buddy Sonny works for the airlines, so we got a great deal. And a college friend, whom I hadn’t seen in over 20 years, runs the event so it was a reunion as well. I had a blast playing, exploring the island and partying with players from all over the world. I approached Volleyball Magazine about publishing an article on my experience and they agreed. While writing for magazines isn’t the most lucrative work I’ve ever done, it was nice to see my words in print and contribute in a small way to the growth of the sport.
I knew it would be impossible to make all of my income from volleyball related work; there just aren’t enough brands, athletes and organizations. Plus, the ones that exist aren’t facing a crisis of where to spend their huge marketing budgets. So, when my friend Lance Thaut expressed interest in creating a new website for his display business, I jumped at the opportunity. Latitude-display.com got a makeover as a one-page WordPress site complete with intro video, service offering section, customer testimonials, case studies and more. To update and upgrade the company’s media assets, we commissioned lifestyle photography and videography from Daniel Samson. Now, Latitude Display has a modern, responsive website that provides instant credibility with current and potential customers.
My next project was also a website build, but with a much more ambitious scope. Pro beach volleyball legend Sinjin Smith runs a series of camps and clinics up and down the Southern California coast and needed a website that could bring several different brands and businesses under one umbrella. The result was a new, one-stop-shop at sinjinvolleyball.com.
In March, I began working with an Arizona agency called Nomadic. Actually, they have three names, but that’s a story for another time. My old colleague from Ignited, Tim Washburn, is a managing partner and Creative Director there and made the introduction. By year’s end, I’d completed eight different projects for them including various pitch work and client campaigns. I can’t share any of that work since it’s under NDA and most of it was concept work that may or may not have ever been produced, but I really enjoy this relationship and hope it continues in 2016. It’s been a pleasure working with these folks as they’re always well prepared, open to all sorts of ideas and, well, pay promptly. Working from home is a huge advantage as well. I gain 3 hours a day compared to my standard L.A. commute.
In May, I started working with Molten, a leading volleyball manufacturer. I generated a list of creative concepts to invigorate their social media messaging. They liked many of the ideas and I found their Marketing Manager, Jenny Snaza, to be especially nice and helpful. Unfortunately, a small social budget and conservative corporate culture conspired against us and only a few of the ideas were ever produced. In addition to the work we did together, I got to attend two very cool events with the Molten crew. The first was the NCAA men’s volleyball championship at Stanford University—one of the most incredible finals in the history of the sport—and the other was the USA Beach Volleyball Youth High Performance Championships in Hermosa Beach. I really appreciate the opportunities I had with Molten to attend those events and contribute in a small way to marketing their brand.
June was a blur. Along with my partner from USA Volleyball, Lauren Schoenherr, I hosted the 4th Vol-B-Que event for the USA Men’s National Volleyball Team. It was a huge success with nearly 700 people playing and partying all day and night to support Team USA. And it worked. We smashed Team Russia in straight sets and raised a few thousand dollars for the USA Volleyball Foundation. To learn more about what a Vol-B-Que is, check out this blog post.
No sooner had we picked up the last pieces of litter from the Pyramid lawn than it was time to board a plane for Jamaica. My cousin won a national contest from Brides magazine to have her wedding hosted and filmed on the Caribbean Island, so we were off to Montego Bay. It was a blast—the perfect mix of post-VBQ beach relaxation and picturesque wedding party.
On the way home, I took a detour to St. Petersburg, Florida for the AVP/FIVB World Tour Grand Slam. Working for the Asics WSOBV, along with my Canadian colleague Everett Delorme from Volleyball Source Magazine, I got to interview a handful of the best beach volleyball players in the world, including the USA’s John Hyden and Tri Bourne, the Salgado sisters of Brazil, Holtwick/Semmler of Germany and Pedro, Emmanuel, Juliana and Larissa of Brazil. It was oppressively hot and humid at the event, but it was thrilling to watch Americans Casey Patterson and Jake Gibb (pictured) win on our home soil.
In July, I teamed up with top beach volleyball pros Billy Allen and Lauren Fendrick to make a video for fun. Well, it wasn’t for fun at first. Sports Imports, the maker of poles and net systems for the NCAA, AVCA and USA Volleyball, was initially interested in sponsoring the project but eventually passed. So, we did it for fun anyway. A takeoff on the famous Zach Galifianakis series “Between Two Ferns,” “Between Two Poles” provided me a way to interview elite volleyball athletes without the usual canned questions and rehearsed answers. The video garnered 22,000 views but, alas, did not spawn a series as I’d hoped. Perhaps we’ll make another episode in 2016. I had such a good time working with Billy & Lauren but it’s hard to pull off without sponsorship support.
I began working with the ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball back in March, but June and July was when things really heated up for the event. Former AVP head Leonard Armato and his company MPE are the forces behind the WSOBV and they were hoping I could fuse my passion for the sport with my expertise in marketing and social media to benefit their brand. And that I did. I took over the WSOBV Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, planning and executing content before and during the World Tour Grand Slam. The marketing and event components were hugely successful and it was an eye-opening life experience to see it all come together from the inside.
My annual family vacation to North Carolina happened to take place two weeks prior to the WSOBV event. While I spent the first week being a good dad and working on sand sculptures, the second week involved a lot of event preparation. Despite the scheduling overlap, the WSOBV continues to be my favorite week of the year. I ran myself absolutely ragged, changing hats from social media manager to event participant to event organizer to country mascot every day for a week—and fell very ill a few days after as a result. But looking back, I wouldn’t do it any differently. Okay, I would’ve drunk more water.
I said June was a blur but really the whole summer was a blur. I played in Smackfest prior to the WSOBV and then took some photos at the Special Olympics World Games for Molten. I even snagged a photo of myself with USA Olympic beach volleyball gold medalists Phil Dalhausser and Dain Blanton. VolleyballUSA magazine published an article about super fans and featured me at the top of their list. And, of course, I played some beach every chance I got. In May and June, I produced some short videos for social media use to promote the USA v. Iran and USA v. Russia World League matches here in Southern California. And finally, in September, I produced a print ad for the USA Volleyball Foundation’s fundraising campaign. Somewhere in there, I squeezed in my friends’ wedding in Carpinteria.
Just as summer was ending and I was contemplating how out of whack the work-to-pay ratio is in volleyball, I caught a big break. Or so I thought. Haggen supermarkets, a trusted grocery store chain in the Northwest for over 70 years, began a huge expansion in California. They’d hired and fired an ad agency already and were in desperate need of writing help…a lot of it. A consultant came across my website and asked if I’d be interested. In what seemed like no time at all, I’d interviewed at their Irvine offices and received a handful of writing assignments as a trial run. I aced the test and we were off and running. It was perfect: good rate, work from home situation, all writing work, responsive and appreciative client. Driving home from a presentation one afternoon I said aloud to myself, “this is too good to be true.” And it was. The full story is here, but suffice it to say their expansion was an epic debacle. I won’t discuss the money aspect because things are still pending; you can use your imagination there. Hopefully, everything will get resolved some time soon. But it was a huge bummer on a number of levels.
October and November were pretty quiet months. I worked on short-term projects for Nomadic and USA Volleyball, but most of my creativity went into my daughter’s Halloween costume (her idea.) About this time, a few guys from the California Beach Volleyball Association got in touch about videos they needed for their annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony. There wasn’t any money for this job but I was slow and the CBVA Hall of Fame is one of my favorite events of the year. Imagine going to Cooperstown and instead of looking at bronze busts of the greatest players, you can hang out, buy them a beer and talk about the sport’s heyday. So, I offered to help them out and edit the videos. It turned out to be a pretty huge effort but I—and they—were very happy with the result. I’m a little worried about this event next year because I doubt I’ll have that kind of free time again.
And finally, just as I was beginning to pack it up for the year and declare an end to my freelance-in-volleyball experiment, I connected with an old employer for a small project. I had worked at Ignited from 2005-2010, so I was familiar with the owner and the few folks left from my time there. But they’d recently changed buildings and the clients were all new to me. (In a weird twist of fate, I met the Cheif Creative Officer on my first day and he was let go that afternoon.) I did well enough on my first assignment there that I earned another. And, if everything continues on its current trajectory, I imagine I’ll be a go-to guy on their freelance creative roster.
So that’s it. You’re a saint if you made it this far. I’m excited for 2016. Given what I learned this year, I think it’ll be a lot more agency work and a lot less volleyball going forward. But I’m happy to announce that I’ve done deals that’ll keep me busy with Ignited for at least the first 3 months of the year and with the ASICS WSOBV until September. So I’m off to a good start already and maybe I’ll find a better balance between passion and paycheck this time around. THANK YOU to all those who took chances on me in 2015. It was a crazy leap and I couldn’t have pulled it off without a lot of really great people I met along the way.
Happy New Year,