Matt Singley Leadership, Marketing & Being a good human


Without Distribution, Talent is Just a Hobby

It’s new-music Friday, so I’m listening to some new releases that are highlighted. So far, nothing is really that great. I personally know some hometown musicians that make these new-release artists sound like amateurs; like chumps. So why is that my talented musician friends can’t pay their bills, but these questionably-talented musicians are played every 20th song on SiriusXMs “top hits” channel? Because without an audience, their talent is just a hobby. This goes for everybody, not just musicians.

I know a lot of really talented coders, designers, artists, actors, photographers, video editors, accountants and other amazingly skilled, passionate people that can never seem to get out of the starting blocks. Why is that? It’s because the world isn’t fair. If the world was fair, then talented, good-hearted people would be making a lot of money doing what they love. But they’re not. They’re holding on and hoping, but hope isn’t always good enough.

Hope is important to keep your spirits high and to keep you moving, but it alone isn’t enough to help you pay your bills.

I work for some really big brands. I’ve put together full advertising campaigns for some of the largest companies in the world (so far, 6 in the top 50 on this list of The World’s Biggest Public Companies) and I’m sure I’ll keep adding to it.  Can I do this work because I’m talented? Honestly, yes.  But…are there people that are insanely more talented than me that could do this work? Yes. Are they doing it? No.

Why is that?

It’s because I put in the time to meet the right people and they didn’t. It’s because I took the time to work for another company that was already doing work with really big brands so that I could learn how big brands operate and they didn’t. It’s because I looked for ways to augment my talent with skills that would help me help others do their jobs better, and you guessed it…they didn’t.

I’m not saying that I’m more talented than everybody (I’m not) and I’m not saying I’m better than anybody else (I’m definitely not)…but I am saying that I’m not “lucky” to be doing what I’m doing. I worked hard for it, and sometimes (often times) that meant doing work that I didn’t want to do so that I could learn my craft and meet more people. It also meant spending a lot of time…years, in fact…learning from others so that I could be successful.  You see, you can be the most talented person on the planet with a particular skill, but if nobody knows about it, nobody will ever pay you for it.  Maybe you don’t want to be paid, maybe you want to do your art/skill for the sake of simply doing it. If that is the case, I applaud you, but it really is just a hobby.  If you want to take what you know and love, and what you are good at, and make a career out of it, you need to find a distribution channel.  Work for somebody else, go to networking events (nobody else who attends them likes them either, so at least you’ll be in good company) and write posts for your blog even though you may only have a couple of readers (hi mom).

Success doesn’t come overnight, and rarely is luck involved.

If you’re good at something and think you can make a living by doing it, then start thinking of what success looks like in 5 or 6 years, then work backwards to today. Reverse-engineer your distribution network until it’s to it is something that you can start doing right now…then do it. Build your network, build your distribution. You aren’t going to experience success this year, and probably not next year. Maybe the year after that you’ll see some movement, and the year after that you’ll be feeling good about things. Think about the long game, but start today. Otherwise, you’ve just got yourself a nice hobby.


Vintage Cycling

4 Unusual Interview Questions That Reveal A Lot

Not too long ago, I received a LinkedIn message from somebody that I know on Twitter but haven’t met face-to-face.  It was short and to the point, and asked me simply, “if you were interviewing an account executive, what’s the most important question you’d ask?” This person was planning on relocating, and was doing some research about what to expect in interviews by asking different sources. I was honored that I was asked, and I took some time to reflect on the many, many interviews I have done over the years.

There are plenty of questions that should be asked of an interviewee regarding work history and capabilities, but some of my favorite topics have helped me to understand their personality and character nuances better than boilerplate questions.  Below are the four questions I shared with him, and a short explanation of why I ask them. I hope you find this useful in your next interview, no matter which side of the desk you are sitting on.

  1. “What kind of music do you listen to?” –  Seems like a strange question, right? I’m less concerned with the type they reply with, and more interested that that can nail down an answer. I find wishy-washy people to get uncomfortable with this question. I think they get in their own head too much and wonder what I’ll say if they reply with a type that I don’t like. If this is the case, they try to tell me that they like all kinds, but will never nail down a genre or artist. In my experience, people who answer this way will never give me honest feedback when we are brainstorming idea or creative…they are too concerned with having an unpopular opinion. Although I don’t want to work with contrarians, I do want to work with people that can thoughtfully express honest opinions, even if they aren’t the most popular. I think we all know that everybody loves music, and they usually have pretty strong opinions about it. Those that can quickly tell me a genre or artist they like are usually good in group meetings and strategic plannings.
  2. “What do you do for fun on the weekends?” – If they tell me something work related, this is a big red flag for me. Really, you like to work on the weekends for fun? I don’t, and I don’t want you blowing up my phone all weekend long while I’m trying to decompress a little.
  3. “How do you deal with unresponsive clients?” – This is a big one. There isn’t really a right or wrong answer, but it helps me to understand their temperament. Are they hot heads? Are they too relaxed? Do they get frustrated easily? I want to have them ask me questions in return like “how long have they been unresponsive?” “does the client prefer email, text or phone conversations?” This shows that they are thinking about how to communicate in a way the client prefers, not trying to force the client to communicate in a way they prefer. One of our best clients actually communicates with me via Twitter DM, so that’s how I reach out to them as well.
  4. “What is your biggest pet peeve in the workplace?” – Another one with no right or wrong answer, but it helps me to understand their temperament for coworkers. If it’s something small like “people chewing gum too loudly” then I’m guessing this person is going to be a real pain in the ass to work with. This questions stumps a lot of people. I think they think I’m asking more than I really am. They don’t want to appear neurotic, but also when you ask people about their annoyances, they cannot help but talk about them. It’s a good reflection of character and maturity.

When interviewing potential candidates, I prefer an even mix of questions that help reveal work ability as well as personality.  Working with somebody that is good at their job is very important, but working with somebody that is a good cultural and personality fit is even more important.  You shouldn’t have to compromise one for the other, but in my experience, a person can be trained to make up for skills they lack, but a bad personality cannot be changed…at least not by their employer or coworkers.

* Image Credit: I’m not sure who owns this photo, but it can be found at various download sites.  Although it doesn’t directly have anything to do with interviewing, it gives the sense of adventure and taking a risk, something that you should feel when applying for a new job. I love this picture.


There Is No Such Thing as Digital Privacy Anymore

Sony just announced that they will not release the move “The Interview” on Christmas day.  This is a direct response to terrorist threats that have unfolded as the hack into the Sony network is revealed to be worse than originally thought.  Of the many problems with the hack, one of the most significant was the release of emails that were thought to be private.

Hackers have published private emails from Sony employees.

Hackers have published private, nude pictures of celebrities from iCloud.

Hackers have published private snaps from Snapchat, a service that is built around the very idea that everything is private and disappears.

Hackers have stolen credit card information from Home Depot and many, many other retail establishments.

Do you finally understand? Can you finally come to terms with the fact that digital privacy is a false premise? Here is the thing: if you type it, share it, pic it, private message it, snap it or record it on or send it to any device anywhere in the world that has an internet connection, you are potentially at risk for having that information seen and shared by somebody.

Plenty of security analysts will fight on both sides of this (“There is no safe place!” “Our software is perfectly safe!”) but the fact remains that we are seeing more and more compromises of data.  I don’t want you to live in fear, but I do want you to live in awareness.  Know what apps do with your data by reading the terms of service and privacy policies (yes, they are boring, but read them anyway). Understand how your email is protected on your server and by your host (call them or email them if you don’t know how to research this) and for all that is good, do not, ever, take nude pictures with your phone, put them in Dropbox, Snap them or store them in any way that is internet connected unless you don’t care if somebody (or a lot of somebodies) sees them at some point.

Companies cannot always prevent the unforeseen data breaches, but we can take small steps to make sure that they don’t personally compromise us when they do happen.  Sony isn’t going to be the last story we read about hacking; in fact I think these scenarios are picking up steam. I can only hope that for every hack or intrusion, bigger and better security is conceived and put into place. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know what it doesn’t…digital privacy. Those days, my friends, are behind us.

A footnote: I don’t know what Sony should have done about this particular threat. Many are saying that by not showing the movie, the terrorists have won. Just one day after the horrible attack in Peshawar however, I’m not sure they made the wrong choice. I just don’t know. Sometimes things aren’t so black and white.

Photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy under use of Creative Commons.

How Twitter Replies Work

Twitter is a fantastic medium for communicating one-on-one or en masse, but how that communication works (or doesn’t) is sometimes confusing. I think the thing that trips people up more than anything else is the reply function; when you @username somebody. When people want to reply directly to just one person, they often share the tweet with everybody who follows them.  Conversely, when they want to mention another user on Twitter but share it with everybody, they often only send their message to that person. So how are you supposed to understand this syntax? How do Twitter replies work?

It all comes down to this: if your tweet starts with a username (e.g. @mattsingley) then it will only be seen by that person and anybody who follows both you and them. If your tweets starts with any character or symbol other than the @ symbol, it will be potentially* seen by everybody that follows you, whether or not they also follow the person mentioned.

This can be confusing, so let me show you a couple of examples.

Example 1: Direct Reply

In the tweet above, you’ll see that I started with @ and Adam’s username. Since there is nothing else before the @ symbol, only Adam and those who follow me AND Adam will see this in their timeline. Note that they can still go directly to my Twitter page, look through my history of tweets and see this. Starting a tweet with @ doesn’t block this tweet from public viewing (that is what Direct Messages are for), but it won’t be included in timelines as people look at their feed on their desktop or mobile. This method is my favorite aspect of Twitter; the conversation. You can tweet back and forth with a person (or several people) without overwhelming every person that follows you with your personal conversation. 

Examaple 2: Username Mention

This tweet is different from the first tweet in that it has a period before the @ symbol in the tweet.  This means that everybody that follows me will potentially see this, whether or not they also follow Adam.  Don’t get hung up on the period, I only use that because it’s subtle and doesn’t visually take away from the sentence. It could be a quotation mark, a comma or even a full word. The point that you need to understand is that something has to come before the @ symbol in the tweet. A lot of people like to start with a word so it feels like it is part of the comment.  For example, when griping about a brand online, people love to start with “Hey”. They’ll tweet “Hey @gianttelco, just wanted to let you know your customer service is terrible…”.  A note here: just mentioning a user later in your Tweet doesn’t mean you have to put a “.” at the start of your tweet. It’s not necessary as long as your tweet starts with anything other than a @username.

Summary: if you want to have a conversation with just one person, start your tweet with their username, making sure that the @ symbol in their name is the very first character you use.  If you want to mention another Twitter user, but be sure that those that follow you see it, put any symbol (like a period) at the beginning of the tweet before their user name.

*”Potentially seen by everybody that follows you” means that it isn’t guaranteed to be seen by everybody.  In fact, the very nature of Twitter insures that most people that follow you won’t see your tweet unless they happen to be logged in when you post your tweet.  Remember that Twitter is chronological (for now, that will change soon) and unlike Facebook, doesn’t sort tweet with an algorithm. If you have an important tweet that really should be seen my a lot of people, post it a few times throughout the course of the day, or spend money on a promoted campaign


Interruption Machines

While watching a group of young parents at dinner the other night, I was amazed at how often they jumped out of conversations with their friends and children because their phone dinged or buzzed. It was very clear that no matter what was happening, their phone was first in line for attention.

Before you think that I was watching them with a holier-than-thou attitude, I can assure you that I was not. In fact, it made me wonder about my own mobile phone use.  Let’s call it what it really is: addiction. I have a problem with it, and I’m guessing you do too. There is a good chance you are reading this on your phone right now.

Mobile phones, in and of themselves, are not bad.  They revolutionized communication in many ways, and I think that generally speaking, many parts of our lives are better for them.  However, there is a part of our lives that has also become exponentially worse, and I think it will continue to decay until we start talking about it, naming it, admitting it.

When did it become okay for kids to go to their brother’s or sister’s soccer game, but instead of watching the match or playing with friends, to play Bejeweled or Angry Birds in solitude? Why is it commonplace to walk into a restaurant and see couples looking at their phones (for quite a while) instead of talking with each other? Who else is bothered by their own behavior when they realize instead of taking in a beautiful view after a hike or bike ride, they instinctively reach for their phone so they can share the experience with Instagram or SnapChat friends (most of whom probably don’t want to see yet another picture of a landscape)?

Recently, my wife sent me an article that talks about the most common regrets at the end of life, according to a nurse who is with many when they die. It’s a good article (you can read it here), and I have read stories like this before.  This caused me to think about my own behavior, and my generation’s behavior when it comes to mobile phones.  We really are the first to raise children who will never know a world without smart phones.  I looked down the road, and came up with this prediction:

It’s a sad thought. In my final moments, will I be playing a more technological version of “Cat’s In The Cradle” in my head? I can bet Vegas odds that too many in my generation will.

Much of our behavior is shaped by perception and subtle nuance. Packaging matters, as does messaging (take the word of an ad man). It’s no wonder that we flock so quickly to something called a “smart phone”.  The genesis of this name comes from the ability of the phone itself, in comparison to the passive or “dumb” behavior of mobile phones before it.  With practically limitless entertainment and information at our fingertips, what more could we want? Given that nuance can and does change our behavior, I’m trying something new. Instead of referring to my phone as “my mobile” or even “my phone”, I am calling it “The Interruption Machine”.

Do you see that subtle difference? Instead of viewing my phone as something that connects me to experience, I see it for what it has become…something that interrupts actual experiences.  What is more important, posting a picture of my son riding his bike with me, or being completely present for my son while we ride bikes together? I know how he would answer that question.

This isn’t about the psychology of compulsively checking our social networks (that is a subject that many people who study it far more than I do have written many, many articles about already); it’s more cut and dried.  Sometimes people talk about the need to check their phones because of FOMO (fear of missing out), when the sad irony is that by checking their phones they are missing out on the reality of what is happening around them and to them at that moment.

I hope to avoid a future where “spent too much time on my phone” is a deathbed regret of an entire generation, but given the strength of our attraction to these devices (wearables, anyone?) I believe it’s somewhat inevitable. The best thing I can do is acknowledge this and try to change my own behavior. I don’t want to miss moments with my children, my wife or my friends. That’s why I’m considering getting a good old fashioned flip phone…but that is another post for another day.



Facebook’s Race To 0% Organic Reach (And Why We Should Embrace It)

Facebook’s organic reach for pages is plummeting, and I for one cannot wait for it to be 0%.

For the last couple of years, I’ve read a lot of long stories and short tweets about Facebook’s organic reach for Pages dropping. There was early speculation that posts by a Page “didn’t reach everybody”, which of course was true. Not too long after that, brand managers were upset because their content was suddenly being seen by less than 50% of their total fans. Late in 2013, several reports showed that organic reach had dipped to under 20%, and as of last week we are seeing studies and hearing rumors that it will drop to 1-3%.

I will say it again: I am quite anxious for the total organic reach to bottom out at 0%.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’ve enjoyed the free ride as much as anybody. For years, Singley + Mackie has been able to create rich content for our clients that we syndicated on Facebook and other channels. When we would post something on behalf of the brands we work for, quite a few fans of the page would be able to see it, and hopefully would engage or share in some meaningful way. But times have changed, you need to accept that the free ride is over, and rightfully so.

Let me ask you a string of rhetorical questions. How many television ads are free to the company that wants to air them? How about radio spots? Magazine and newspaper ads? Billboards? The fact is, marketing your brand costs money. If you want to be seen or heard, you need to pay for it. Why then are people complaining about this regarding Facebook? Is it because it used to be free?

Facebook is now a publicly traded company. With that comes the reality that they have to make money, and even when they have made a lot of it, they have to make more. That’s how public companies work.  It should come as no surprise then that organic reach has dropped, and I now view the 1-3% organic reach as a bonus. If I bought a block of television advertising and the channel gave me 3% bonus airtime for free, I would be thrilled. This is my new attitude regarding Facebook pages; I am happy with any organic reach at all, because it really is just a bonus.

notificationsIf we can all accept this new reality of Facebook marketing, then we can quit holding out for free, magical, viral things to happen; because they are not going to happen.  The new rule of Facebook marketing is that brands will have to put some budget behind their efforts if they want them to be seen. Consumers still have the option to get notifications (they can scroll down on the Like button and check this feature so they don’t miss a single post), but as a brand manager you cannot rely on that happening.

My advice to brand managers and agencies is this: start having the budget talks now, so when it is time to allocate for paid and earned media, all of the time and effort you have put into Facebook marketing to date is not lost.  A good rule of thumb is to make sure that your Facebook paid media budget is at least 1x your budget for content creation or application development budgets. Facebook would recommend that the paid media budget is at least 4x and often times big brands will allocate budgets of 10x or more.

Let’s quit complaining about how Facebook used to be, and start accepting how it actually is. Facebook is now a paid channel, just like everything else in marketing.

A parting thought: Twitter went public late last year. I wonder what conversation we’ll be having about its organic reach at this time next year…

Moving Commercial Props Around the Office Moving Commercial Props Around the Office

Anatomy of a Successful Day

I’m not going to hit you with inspirational quotes about productivity, I’m sure you have seen them all. While a clever, Instagrammed saying about getting things done is easy enough to post to Facebook with an emphatic “Truth!” as your only comment, what really will help you get ahead is managing your time well, perhaps even creating a time budget. (BTW, that’s not me in the picture at the top…it’s the amazing @BrandonHeidt moving giant MONOPOLY prop pieces around the office).

I decided to share with you what a successful day looks like for me. Although I tend to follow patterns, each day does differ a little, but this is what an ideal day is for me.

5:30am – Alarm goes off. I throw on a robe and go downstairs to make breakfast (3 egg whites, 1 egg yolk, 1 piece of dry whole-wheat toast, 1 Sugar Free Rockstar, 1 piece of fruit)

5:45am – Review banking and stocks.  Anything that needs to change by the opening bell? Set up the order if so.  1st look at email, and reply to anything that is time-sensitive (note: while some people choose to sleep with their phones by their bed, I think this is destructive to natural rest patterns. I don’t check email at night, and wait until I am out of my room and downstairs to start in the morning).

6:30am – Go on morning bike ride. Distance will vary depending on morning schedule, but usually 20 to 40 miles.  It might be tough to get going, but after the fact, I have never regretted starting my day with exercise. Sometimes I listen to music, but usually I don’t and prefer to be with my thoughts while biking around the Santa Monica Mountains.@RideCannondale

9:00 am – Sitting at desk, review reports from client accounts that were created overnight. Anything that I need to take action on right away? If so, execute or assign the task.  I also open up my to-do list that I created in Word from the prior day, and prioritize as necessary. Review personal social networks (usually Facebook, Twitter and Strava) and post anything I feel is necessary, then close them. (I think that leaving personal social networks open is like sleeping with your phone next to your bed…it creates an artificial sense of urgency and anticipation that is destructive to normal work flow).

9:00am to 12:30pm – Morning work. I don’t allow my email to pop-up or chime, which breaks up creative flow, but I do check it at regular intervals.

12:30pm to 1:00pm – Usually I take a short lunch, and will eat at my desk or take a walk outside. I use this time to call my wife and say hello, or catch up on personal business. If we have a client or staff lunch planned, obviously I take more time.

1:00pm to 5:30pm – Check email and social networks again upon returning from lunch. Review and execute client requests. Check in with Singley + Mackie employees, answer questions, help with strategy or execution of campaigns. I get a lot of work done in the afternoon, and this is typically when most requests come in.

5:30pm to 8:30pm – Family time. With four kids, every night is different, but it usually involves helping with homework, doing something with soccer and eating dinner with everybody at the table. Our entire family sits down for dinner together at least 5x per week, but usually we manage all 7 nights. It’s important that I focus on my family during this time, so I usually will not have my mobile phones or tablets with me unless a mission-critical project is being launched.

8:30pm to 8:45pm – Final check on email. If something needs attention I do it, otherwise, it’s time to shut the computer off.

9:00pm – Time for bed! Read a book (fiction, not business) to settle my mind, and get a good night of sleep. I always try to get enough shut-eye at night, the alternative can be very bad.

I cannot tell you that every day happens like this. In fact, the ability to be nimble and change depending on business or family needs is something that I strive for. If a client needs something important and it’s not in my “normal” work schedule, they will get it. If one of my kids calls me in the middle of the day because they are sick and need to be picked up from school, I will stop what I am doing and go get them. If my wife wants to have a spontaneous lunch date, I jump at the opportunity.

However, the bottom-line is this: a schedule can drastically increase productivity by cutting out distractions. Stay in the moment of what you are doing and who you are with instead of being anxious about what is next. Regular exercise and plenty of sleep will prepare you for the crazy and the unexpected, and will certainly keep you sharp for the everyday and the ordinary.

The Best Time To Start Is Today

That thing that you have been meaning to do, but haven’t started? I want to let you know that the best time to start it is today.

The business plan you want to write up? A daily exercise routine? A new app idea? A blog about your passion? Every day you will convince yourself that there are dozens of reasons that you cannot start today. It’s too overwhelming. It’s too hot (or cold) outside. It’s too hard to explain. You’re too busy. You review your mental list of why you have to put it off until tomorrow or next week, then move on with your day.  The thing is, you have been intending to do it “tomorrow” for the last several months…or even the last several years.

Don’t let that mental list of reasons of why you can’t get in your way. Figure out what the very first step is and do it. You don’t need to complete it today, you don’t even have to get very far with it today. But you should start it today.

Now, close Twitter and Facebook and take the first step. Today is the best time to start.

The first tweet I sent that contained a reply and a link. Everything changed after that. The first tweet I sent that contained a reply and a link. Everything changed after that.

The Return of Blogging

With the exception of a couple of videos that I liked, I haven’t posted anything of substance on this blog since February 28, 2011…almost 2.5 years ago. As somebody who has consistently blogged since 2000, a lot of people asked me why I tapered off and then stopped altogether.  The answer is fairly simply, really: there were other outlets that proved to be a better use of my time, and in which I saw greater reward.

To me, marketing has always been about finding opportunities to stand out from the other person or company. It’s about being found among too many choices. It’s about getting somebody’s attention so that you can (hopefully) deliver something of value to them. Several years ago, blogging had become such an over-saturated way of conveying messages that people stopped paying attention as much.  More so than anything, Twitter changed communication for me. Five years ago, I found communication through Twitter to be far more effective, and delivering my message (or those of clients) was best done there. The picture at the top of this post is the first tweet I ever sent out that contained a username and a link to content…and I’ve hardly looked back since.

Now, halfway through 2013, Twitter has a lot of noise. Not just Twitter, but also Facebook and the other popular social networks. Brands have moved in and spent insane amounts of money to put ads on your sidebars and into your timelines (I know this because I have helped many of them to do so).  I still love Twitter, but social media has become one hell of an echo chamber, and I don’t feel it is the most effective way to stand out with a message.

I believe in cyclical behavior. Although technology will continue to expand and amaze us, I think that human behavior behaves more like a pendulum than a growth-chart that always goes up and to the right.  I think the pendulum is swinging back, and though I don’t think Facebook and Twitter are going anyway but up, I think that blogging will make a nice resurgence over the next 18 months as a truly viable way to grow, engage and convert audiences to your message/product/cause.  Because of all of this, I believe that blogging is swinging back to being a good use of my time, and that I will start to see a greater reward from it than a few years ago.

As a CEO, I get to experience a lot…both successes and failure. I’m excited to share the things I have learned, and continue to learn, with you.

And so we shall see if this prediction of a blogging resurgence comes true.  It’s not a risky position for me to take, nor a wild prognostication to bet on, as blogging has never really gone away, it’s just adapted to the market.  No, something crazy would be predicting the use of direct-mail pieces as an effective way to reach your audience. Guess what? I actually do believe that is starting to have some truth in it, but that is another post for another time.

Don Draper Presents Facebook Timeline Mad Men Style (Video)

I absolutely love this. As a professional ad man myself, I’m fascinated with Mad Men and the dialogue, particularly between agency and client. With the very recent announcements of new Facebook timeline features, social media is buzzing with what the implications may be. In the circles I run in, a lot of people wonder how the changes affect brand advertising and engagement. If you are one of the 800 million people that use Facebook (and I’m guessing you are) do yourself a favor and watch this short video, it’s only a few minutes long.

Big props to Eric Leist for putting this together. Brilliant! If you want to watch this on Vidler, here is the original video. I love the description:

Who knew that Facebook’s newest feature was originally conceived by the Mad Men of the 1960s? In all seriousness the most compelling elements of Facebook’s Timeline are the ones that made Kodak’s Carousel popular. Reminiscing is a social activity. It always has been and now Facebook is bringing that activity online.