BL Ochman: Hello, and welcome to the first Beyond Social Media Show of 2021. We finally made it! The Beyond Social Media Show is the podcast for marketing, advertising, public relations and digital communicators.
Beyond Social Media Show Interview Series
BL Ochman: This is Episode 333. And we are changing up our format a little bit this time around; we are going to add two interviews a month with a prominent marketing person who can share advice with us.
But we're also going to do our regular format twice a month. We're going to do an interview every other week.
We're going to kick this off by interviewing each other. So today I have the honor of interviewing my longtime co-host and dear friend, David Erickson.
David and I have been doing this show since 2013. We have never met in person in real life. But we see each other every week on Zoom. So welcome, Dave, I'm really happy to have this chance to interview you. And I think that it's about time we learn a little bit about how we got here.
David Erickson: Okay. I'm delighted to be on your podcast, BL!
What Was Your First Job?
B.L. Ochman: So, okay, let's kick this off. First of all, what was the first job you've ever had in your life?
David Erickson: My first job...well, I guess I could say delivering newspapers. And for those who don't understand, there was a time when newspapers came on actual print. And they had little kids to deliver the newspapers door-to-door to people who subscribe to the news. Newspapers, that was my first actual job.
The second job I had that was more of a real job was I worked at a manufacturing plant that made tofu. So yeah, they made tofu. And my job was to take the tofu out of this ice cold water and put it in a container and put it on a conveyor belt--
B.L. Ochman: Oh, that's so funny.
David Erickson: --to seal the container. And it was absolutely the worst job I've ever had in my life.
B.L. Ochman: Oh my God, that reminds me of the I Love Lucy episode where they worked in a chocolate factory. What did you study in college?
What Did You Study In College?
David Erickson: I studied English. I actually came into college thinking I would be a music major. And I didn't--I've never learned how to read music. That was it. I quickly came to the realization that this would be way too hard for me starting from ground zero as a music major.
So I switched to art. And I essentially got what--without officially getting it--I got what would amount to an art minor. And then I switched to English and became an English major and graduated with a BA in English.
What Was Your First Communications Job?
B.L. Ochman: What was your first job in communications? And how did you get it?
David Erickson: Let's see. So while I was in college, I managed a restaurant and handled the advertising for that restaurant. So that could be considered a communications, an aspect of communications. I also worked for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Shortly, immediately out of college and for a marketing firm called Epley Communications. We did surveys...we did open-ended and close question surveys for companies. Those were my two jobs right out of college.
Which Jobs Most Contributed To Your Success?
B.L. Ochman: So which of your jobs contributed the most to your success in communications? after that?
David Erickson: Yeah, so I went from there to...I mean, I learned what surveys were like from the from Epley. I learned about the news business from the from working at the newspaper. I learned about ad sales from the newspaper.
I moved to Minnesota after working there and worked at Dayton Hudson Corporation--which is now Target--in their corporate corporate headquarters in a weird little department called TRAXS, where it was kind of a combination of HR and government relations.
But I was basically a phone operator. I was interviewing people on the phone to find out whether they would qualify the company for tax credit. Essentially new hires. I talked to them to ask a bunch of questions to find out whether they would qualify for tax credit for hiring them. It was a government program to encourage low income people getting jobs, essentially.
And that actually was very good training for learning how to use your voice to draw information out of people. So it was basically, you know, it contributed to what we do right now.
How Did You Get Started In Strategic Communications?
B.L. Ochman: Certainly must have. Yeah. So, um, so you've been an independent contractor for quite a while, but how did you start in the agency business?
David Erickson: Yeah, so I am.
In that job that I just talked about I became fascinated with the Internet in 1994.
So I taught myself HTML; like, this is something I wanted to learn about. So I learned how to code HTML and started building websites. And from that, about a year later, I started doing freelance website design. And about a year later, I started a consultancy.
I started out pretty much as an independent contractor; did my consultancy for about 10 years, then joined a couple of PR shops, and now I'm an independent consultant again. So it was good to have that experience beforehand. So I can use it now.
What Kind Of Clients Do You Work With?
B.L. Ochman: What kind of clients do you work with these days?
David Erickson: It runs the gamut. Got an eCommerce client, a coffee shop. I worked Ag, got health care. I mean, it's it kind of runs the gamut depending upon what what is needed.
What Kind Of Services Are Most Likely To Be Needed These Days?
B.L. Ochman: And what kind of services do you provide to your clients? I know you have a million of them. But I mean, what are the things that are most likely to be needed by by clients these days?
David Erickson: Well, I mean--So, my career kind of paralleled the rise of the Internet. As I said, I started website design back when you actually hand-coded websites. From there, I learned email. So I started doing email marketing, learning about email. And social media came up, and I learned how to do social media marketing, video, now, audio, podcasting, etc, etc. So along the way, I've kind of learned to master each basic communications channel.
These days, some of my more corporate clients, there's a lot of research and strategy. They've got in-house people that do the execution and stuff, or they're hiring a different agency to do the execution. But yeah, a lot of kind of strategy upfront, or landscape communications, competitor communication, research, I mean. Or reviewing things after the fact to see what what went right, what went wrong. Insights from that. That goes for the more corporate, bigger clients.
And then there's advertising; social advertising, search advertising, website design. I'm producing some podcasts. So you know, just sort of, depending on what comes through the door.
A Continually Changing Industry
B.L. Ochman: Yeah. So you basically have been self taught all along the way, which is, you know, there is no school to go to for most of this stuff.
David Erickson: That's right. But I mean, that's what I love about what we do. It's always changing. There's always a fascinating new thing; if it's a new client and a new industry that I don't know about, there's a huge learning opportunity there that I get to learn about something I didn't know before. There's new technology that I need to tackle and stuff. That's another...I mean, that's what drives me is learning new stuff all the time.
Most Challenging Client Situation
B.L. Ochman: So what's the most challenging client situation you have ever worked on?
David Erickson: Well, I mean, all of them are challenging in their own way. You know, whether it's--I mean, sometimes you have difficult clients. I won't lie; it happens. And so that's just the, you know, client relations.
One of the things that I tell young people coming into communications, into advertising or public relations and strategic communications, or whatever is: Congratulations! Now, 99% of your best ideas will not get implemented. All these brilliant, creative ideas that you know will work and pitch them and they'll clients will say, Oh, that's great. That's great. That's great. And then it never just never happens.
Example Of An Exciting Project
B.L. Ochman: That? Oh no, we can't do that. No. I don't think so. But tell me a time when one of your exciting ideas, you know, happened when you were able to do one of the exciting things you wanted to do?
David Erickson: Yeah, one was a client who had basically online criticism. This was early on before, you know, when social media was new. And so we looked at it as a opportunity rather than, you know, freaking out about it.
So we responded by, rather than trying to deal with the criticism directly, turning a policy around, and changing the policy and inviting those critics to engage with us. And it was basically content development. It was a contest, a content contest, that turned a bunch of critics into people who were raving about the company.
Because they changed their policy. They listen to their customers, and they ended up with all these great creative visual assets, photography and stuff that they could use in their own marketing. So that was that was, you kind of knew that that would happen. But you don't know until you try it. And it worked out the way you thought it would. That's really satisfying.
B.L. Ochman: That is satisfying. And you brought that kind of concept along into work that you've done along the way. And didn't you have a political aspect of your career at some point? What was that about?
David Erickson: Yeah, that's actually how I got interested in this line of work. In 1994, Minnesota had a gubernatorial contest. And the candidates--I'd read in the newspaper, in the Star Tribune--the candidates were going to be holding in a debate via email. So the first-ever political debate held via email. And I--that just for some reason, I was like oh, my God. I was following politics, I was getting into politics at the time. I was kind of engaged in local party politics, and--
B.L. Ochman: Your social media. Yeah,
David Erickson: --And so I'm like, I need to learn this. So I did and from there, then a couple of years later, I started a website: mnpolitics.com. I still have the domain. Nothing's there, though. We basically started covering Minnesota politics on there.
So that was the first online outlet that covered Minnesota politics; it was more opinion than reporting but we did break some stories. But 1998 was the year that Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota as an independent; huge national press. A couple of years later, Senator Wellstone was killed in a plane crash while he was campaigning towards the end of the campaign, and that, again, was national press.
And from there, you know, people were calling and like MSNBC, and stuff I was on on TV commenting about politics and everything. So that's great.
How Do You Keep Up With Marketing Trends
B.L. Ochman: That's really great. So how do you keep up with trends in marketing? What is it that that you do to make sure that you're ahead of the curve?
David Erickson: I think it's really tough these days. Because, I mean, everybody who's going into digital marketing these days is picking a specialty, essentially. If you're young, you're probably picking out one aspect of digital marketing and going that route, maybe it's search engine advertising, or digital PR; whatever it is. And it's easier to do that. It's by necessity, because there's just too much information to stay on top of.
I try to stay on top of it by basically--I've got a system. I use Feedly, I put a bunch of publications into Feedly and I follow the stories there. I skim every day, I post to my Twitter account, which is a kind of disciplined way for me to stay on top of stuff. So I post stories basically every half hour to my Twitter account.
B.L. Ochman: It's amazing to me that you do that.
David Erickson: But that's how I do it. But I mean, it's very surface; it's not very deep, right? The only time I go really deep is when either we're going to be talking about something on the podcast.
That's another aspect of staying on top of this. This podcast is discipline for--you and I have talked about this--discipline for staying on top of what's going on in our field. But most of the the sharing stuff is pretty much headlines and descriptions, unless I've got this podcast or there's a client that I need to learn stuff about, right? So--
What Do You Read Every Day?
B.L. Ochman: --So what do you make sure you read every day?
David Erickson: Ah, let's see. I don't have a publication that I read every day. I follow some publications closer than others: Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal for search engine optimization, search engine marketing. Marketing Land, Vox...all the, you know, the--
B.L. Ochman: TechCrunch.
David Erickson: --major mainstream media, too. TechCrunch. But yeah, there's not one that I follow specifically, unless I need to get caught up on... If, you know--Social Media Examiner--there's something I need to get caught up real quick on some Facebook stuff that I haven't been paying attention to recently, I'll turn to one of those outlets to get in a deeper dive. But there's...yeah.
What Do You Wish You Could Learn Instantly?
B.L. Ochman: So is there something you wish you could learn instantly?
David Erickson: Oh, yes. A lot of things. Like how to read music. Or languages. I mean, music basically is a different, is another language. But yeah, I mean, I would love to learn another language.
My brother married an Italian woman and their kids are bilingual. So they both speak fluently, Italian and English. And I remember when they were young, they would be talking with me. And they'd be talking to each other--two boys talking to each other--and then talking to me. And they turned to me and talk to me in Italian. And then all of a sudden they go, Oh, yeah, he doesn't speak Italian. They switch to English.
But just the idea of the ability to think in different language, I would really love to be able to do that. I've tried a couple of times, it's really hard to learn another language and you're my age.
What Do You Do When You're Not Working?
B.L. Ochman: I think it's hard to learn another language at any age, you know? So, what do you do when you're not working?
David Erickson: Well, I'm not. I'm working most of the time.
So I used to play football, but COVID kind of shut that down. And it causes me no amount of sorrow. I dearly miss it. So there's that.
Music. I play play guitar. I dabble in keyboards and I'm trying to record some stuff. So that's--I read, you know, read fiction and movies and hang out with my GF.
What Do You Collect?
B.L. Ochman: Yeah. I can obviously see that you collect guitars? And is there something else that you collect?
David Erickson: I used to collect the phrase "Yes, yes, I know; shut up" in different languages. So "Si si lo se; Cállate" is Spanish. "Ano, ano, vím; mlč" is Czech, I think; or Slovak, I can't remember. I had a bunch of them that I was collecting but I've since I stopped collecting a couple of years ago. So I forgotten all those years ago. I
B.L. Ochman: Funny, I wish--
David Erickson: I have the reason...I should explain why. Because I found it, I don't know, long ago, I thought it was very, very, very amusing to be able to insult somebody in a different language.
B.L. Ochman: Definitely. Definitely. The way you did it. I mean, there are much more insulting ways to do it. And I know a few of those. So what's the most recent thing you learned? new thing?
What Is The Most Recent Thing You've Learned?
David Erickson: Ah, that's a good one. Yeah. I learned that America is not immune to authoritarianism.
B.L. Ochman: Horrifying.
David Erickson: I mean, we can stop there we can we can set that aside because that's just depressing. But that's what came to mind.
What Would You Like People To Know About You?
B.L. Ochman: I know, it's never far from mind these days, you know? What would you like people to know about you as they meet you? How would you like people to understand you?
David Erickson: The one question I always wanted to ask people in interviews, but was too unfair to ask, is that if you had nine lives, how would you spend them? Because I think that kind of...what I like people knows is that I'm very curious. If I had nine lives, I could spend them in many different ways. So that's probably the biggest thing is I'm an omnivore for learning.
B.L. Ochman: You also, don't you play games, too? Aren't you a gamer?
David Erickson: Oh, video games? Yeah, yeah. Not in a long time; it's probably been in a year or more that I actually played a video game so--
B.L. Ochman: Not enough time
David Erickson: --but yeah. I do like them. I like them as an immersive entertainment kind of thing. But I got into them because I saw them as another communications vehicle. When I saw that Xbox Live came out and people are talking and gaming at the same time. Like that's another communications channel I need to learn.
B.L. Ochman: Absolutely. That one is an astonishing one. You know, I mean, isn't there a whole channel for that now? Twitch?
David Erickson: Twitch. Yeah.
David Erickson's Pro Tip
B.L. Ochman: Yeah. And people get rich on it. So do you have a pro tip for us?
David Erickson: I...yes. So, this is a podcasting tip that you and I have talked about, because you told me not to do it all the time.
But I've been noticing it.
I've been producing couple of podcasts. And I've been noticing some of the guests. When they are making a point, they're gesticulating and sometimes they're hitting the desk. And that, you know, that comes through the microphone loud and clear. I think was my thing is not necessarily just gesticulating and hitting the desk; I often just inadvertently start fiddling with a microphone while I'm talking.
B.L. Ochman: You do that.
David Erickson: Moving the microphone, you can hear that coming through. Like I don't know if that's--
B.L. Ochman: Yes, we hear it.
David Erickson: The other thing is typing on the keyboard while you're while you're recording a podcast or video conferencing.
Your Last Surprise?
B.L. Ochman: Use the mute button. When was the last time something surprised you?
David Erickson: Ah, great question. "The last surprise is when you realize that nothing surprises you anymore." That's a poem by Richard Brautigan. It's one of my favorite poems.
Advice For Young Communications Professionals
B.L. Ochman: What is your advice now for young people who are coming into this field? What would you tell them?
David Erickson: Ee talked about how young people coming in usually have to pick a channel and go deep and learn everything about it. And that's probably inevitable.
But I would say that it is insanely important, I think, to be really successful in this type of--in strategic communications, writ large--is to have a broad knowledge base. To, you know, have a liberal arts education.
I got an English degree and for the longest time, I was like, hitting my head against the wall. Why did I do that? Why didn't I get a business degree because it did not matter for getting me a job or anything. But in this line of work, now it has paid dividends in spades.
You know, it's understanding what a story looks like; understanding a story arc. Empathy, putting yourself in the place of the characters in the book. Just all those different things play into exactly the skills you need to be an effective communicator.
How Has Marketing Changed Since You Started Your Career?
B.L. Ochman: And know that all those things are absolutely true. And then I think that this is probably my last question for you. But what's the most striking change since you started? in your career in marketing?
David Erickson: What I was excited about at the beginning of my career was the level playing field of communications, where all of a sudden with the Internet, anybody had a megaphone, essentially. Or you could you could create an audience, you could reach an audience without going through going through a mediator to find an audience. That is still a remarkable thing about the Internet.
But it went from an idealistic thing--many of us were very idealistic about it--to what it is now, which is a threat in many ways to democracy. So the harnessing of this, these technologies by bad actors is the most striking thing. And now, as communicators, we need to deal with hacking attacks, we need to deal with misinformation campaigns, we need to deal with fake content, we need to deal with bad actors, and that's something that is very sad.
B.L. Ochman: Yeah, we ended on a sad note, you know, but but that's all really, really true.
I'm really glad we got to spend this time together. And there was a lot of things that I did not know about your background, even though we've been doing this now for what?, eight years.
We're really glad that you were able to join us today and thanks, Dave. That was really fun.
David Erickson: Thanks, BL. That was fun.