Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Pussy Blog: Unemployed and Still Late Edition

Gee, you'd think with me being jobless I could get this posted earlier in the day on Friday, right?

I would like to say I was busy vacuuming under the bed but that is clearly not the case. Having seen this photo I will make time to do that soon. Sissy has been isolated in the bedroom for over a week now. She has her own litter box, food and water bowls. She seems happier without the constant torment from Tater Tot and Jessie Lee, and the house is certainly quieter without her frequent howling because they tried to touch her, or simply looked at her as if they might.

Jessie Lee is ready for me to go through that open door and fetch her some chow.

The Tot is also ready.

It's feeding time!

Happy Friday!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Two Zero One Two - Here We Go!

I have been in the television advertising industry for nearly 22 years. I have been a data entry clerk and a VP of Operations. I have supervised a staff of 12-15 at my peak.

Half of my career has been spent in a managerial capacity during which time I spearheaded efforts to streamline agency operations. I know how to find ways to greatly improve efficiency resulting in a more pleasant "user experience." I have been the liaison between IT programmers and other departments in helping develop systems which allow more work to be done, and with greater accuracy, with the same staffing levels, and at the risk of sounding Romneyesque, sometimes with less staffing levels. And yes, I derived pleasure from it.

When I started in this business the amount of paper being used was unbelievable. The business of getting a broadcast-quality tape of an advertisement out to a cable network and on the air, as well as the subsequent tracking of effectiveness and reporting data to the clients, required a mountain of paper.

Back in the early 90s, media buyers (those who negotiate rates and arrange a schedule with national networks and local broadcast affiliates) would write up the schedules on paper forms. In a large agency with 10-15 buyers, these schedules would quickly become stacks of paper.

Buyers or their assistants would fax these orders out and then place the paper in bins. Data entry people would come and gather these stacks, take them back to their workstations and begin inputting the data on their DOS-based computers.

Requests for tapes to be sent would also be written up on forms and given to the traffic department. The traffic people would prepare a request, on paper of course, and fax it to the tape duplication facility.

In my branch of the industry, we were more about selling products immediately (think food dehydrators, miracle knife sets, or inflatable beds) rather than merely providing brand awareness for a client. This involved a need for toll-free phone numbers to appear in the ads which involved a need for large telemarketing facilities to handle the call volume. This meant more paperwork.

Media schedules would be faxed to telemarketers so they could plan their staffing levels based on when they would anticipate an influx of calls. Every morning the telemarketing company would return the favor by faxing over a shitload of call activity from the previous day.

The agency also had a staff to comb through this data and accurately attribute the calls to a specific airing of an ad on a specific station or network. My first job in the industry was to manually input this call center data from faxed pages which had been marked up with a pen by analysts. Media buyers and account managers would then print out stacks of reports in order to analyze the effectiveness of the media and make adjustments to future media as needed. Some even had weekly scheduled meetings to sit around a desk and read through these books together.

The process evolved to a point where the telemarketers would begin sending over data files rather than faxing the data. I worked with the IT department to design an efficient flow which enabled our system to take these data files and match up with our own data to automatically assign clusters to calls to specific ad placements. This was pretty cool in an era when we didn't even have email in our company, and if a fax machine broke down you were well and truly screwed. Imagine 3 or 4 people waiting their turn to fax out a stack. I've seen it and lived it.

[My sincere apologies to all the folks in accounting who have had their own mountains of paperwork. I didn't intentionally leave you out of this; I just think people reading this get the idea by now.]

The availability of email and office software began to flip this world upside down. From 1995 until around 2003 -- mind you, that's just 8 short years -- I witnessed my paper usage decline by at least 98% while efficiency increased by the same rate. In recent years I realized that many times I was still printing documents which really didn't need to be printed at all. It was habit coupled with the comfort of holding something tangible in my hand which would quickly become clutter on my desk. This clutter necessitated making file labels to keep things organized and neat, and insure that I would never see those particularly pieces of paper ever again.

Since 2008 I've made a conscious effort to stop all that. Files can be organized and stored on a hard drive. They can be easily retrieved when needed and I've never seen a brown ring stain from a coffee mug on any of these documents.

In the latter half of my career I have transitioned away from all the operations and management responsibilities to focus on what I love most: media buying and campaign management. It is far more satisfying for me than having to supervise the work of others, performing the dreaded annual reviews, being handed resignation letters because the employee's music career was taking off, having to begin the arduous interview process, or reprimanding an employee for pulling out a knife threatening a pregnant co-worker. Thanks but no thanks!

I get incredible satisfaction from making a few keystrokes and a minute or two later I've placed a $100,000 ad buy on a cable network. No assistant needed. No paper used. (At least not by me; I cannot vouch for what happens on the receiving end.)

I am extremely versatile or I never would have made it as far as I have. My experience is wide and varied. My career has taken me to several agencies with vastly different environments. The smallest had 2 employees when I started; the largest had over 500. Technology has allowed me to leave the cubicle environment, drop the commute, and work from my home which I have done for 11 of the past 12 years.

Thanks to so many similarities between the agencies (let's face it: after 20 years everyone eventually settles in to a similar set of procedures for doing the same work) I've never had trouble adapting to a new job. The longest was about 5 weeks at the aforementioned 500+ employee agency. I absolutely hated it during those initial weeks and then everything started to click. It was the peak of my career in so many ways.

After 2 decades in this industry, I'm pretty good at seeing trends and knowing when the waters are about to get choppy. I saw it in 2007 at the 500-employee agency when a large client (if you had an iPhone, you were signed up with that telecommunications giant!) announced they would be "reviewing" the agency at the end of the year. I expected the worst and had 6 months to prepare myself financially. In the end it was the bloodbath I imagined.

By the summer of 2008 I was fortunate enough to be rehired by an agency where I had worked at the beginning of the decade. Going back there was so easy because I knew the people, the systems, and the procedures. I told myself going in that it would be the last job I'd have before retirement. Well, assuming a steady course of business without any drama. You know what they say about assumptions.

Things began to slow down. I could see the writing on the wall and I knew some kind of instability was on the horizon.

During my career I have obviously known a lot of people. Almost all of my close personal friendships developed with people from my work. So when I started being coaxed to bail out and join a Dallas-based agency, I was reluctant at first. Despite the fact that I knew and had worked with 5 current employees of that agency during the course of my career, a number representing about 25% of the entire staff, it still was a difficult decision to make. Another job change, particularly one initiated by me, was not my preference.

However, the warning signs at my agency continued to grow and my workload had diminished significantly. After several phone conversations over two months with the Dallas-based agency, I finally made the decision to take the leap and I started there on March 28, 2011.

It felt right, and I thought it was a pretty cool testament to my reputation that I was hired without ever having an in-person interview thanks in no small part to the word-of-mouth recommendations from other employees there who had personal knowledge of my work experience and ethics. I still haven't set a foot in the Dallas office.

After my first week, I had already been handed a number of projects, mainly building media proposals for perspective clients, in addition to my media buying responsibilities. Frankly, I was startled by the volume of work being throw my way. Suddenly I was feeling utilized and needed again, and I was being stretched professionally in ways I never thought possible. But I thrive on that and enjoy developing efficiency procedures for myself which enable me to turn projects around more quickly and hand them off upon completion.

It was not an easy transition though. Six weeks passed and my personal adjustments to this agency were still a work in progress. I had surpassed the previous record five weeks of love-hate squirming before the waters calmed. By the time 3 months had passed, I was seriously wondering if I hadn't made a huge mistake in leaving the prior agency. Maybe job insecurity was something I could have lived with in exchange for having clear workplace communication and logical, familiar procedures.

Shortly thereafter, Hurricane Reality hit the shoreline at the ex-agency and 16 people lost their jobs. My instinct was still intact apparently. Any fantasy I'd harbored of returning, or kicking myself for leaving in the first place, quickly evaporated. To be fair and honest, there is no such thing as the perfect job environment. When I would sit down and imagine everything I didn't like about the ex-agency, it suddenly made the current agency look pretty good. (Big perk: no electronic time sheets to fill out.)

I still struggled for months. At the end of August I had received a job offer with a more generous salary and compensation package, and I agonized over that decision for days before rejecting it. Despite the passing of 5 months and still feeling a sense of being blindfolded while working, I didn't feel right in giving up and moving on again to the perception of another greener pasture. This situation would either improve or I would figure out a way to adapt.

It seems ludicrous that I was even having this adjustment dilemma. I have always thrived best in a smaller agency environment. Being one of two media buyers in my department makes things pretty simple. Business was heavy and brisk. New clients were coming on board. What more could you ask for?

The volume of work was such that we needed a third buyer. It wasn't essential, in my opinion, but helpful. In the event that one of us was out, the entire burden fell on one person. It wasn't impossible but it was a load for sure.

For me, the idea of adding this 3rd buyer was equally important in that it would force the opening of communication a bit more in addition to spreading out the workload. After all, if two of us are raising the same issues, that has to get someone's attention!

Barely a week or two had passed before I started to see warning signs flying about like arrows on fire.

Communication did not improve. Basic standard operating procedures did not suddenly materialize. Questions and suggestions continued to vaporize into the electronic ether. My workload and responsibilities started to disappear. The almost daily calls with requests for media proposals just abruptly stopped. It wasn't because things had slowed down so much. The work simply shifted to the new buyer. For all my years of experience and highly developed intuition, I didn't need a shitload of perception to notice I was suddenly being phased out passed over.

The rationale for adding a 3rd buyer was supposedly to lighten the load from the two of us doing the work. Another of those "arrows on fire" was when I realized the 60/40 workload split between the two of us evolved into more of a 60/30/10 split after the new addition. Gee, thanks! I no longer had an excuse for waiting until 5:30 to scoop cat shit out of the litter box.

It was quite clear that my issues and concerns were mine and mine alone. I could either drive myself crazy with the notion that maybe someday this agency would perform at the basic operational level as every other agency, providing clear directives, and create a sense of teamwork and camaraderie, or I could adapt and just learn to work within the framework of what was given.

As 2012 neared and finally rolled around, I made a conscious effort to stop feeling a sense of personal failure whenever I was given directive on a Friday to get something on-air or worse, off-air, the following Monday. Under such circumstances you do the best you can do and some factors are out of your control. But I was getting there. I had accepted the fact that suggestions at improving communication and streamlining processes were not likely to be entertained, that even basic minimal operational enhancements would be an uphill struggle, even if they made perfect sense in my mind. The lights would remain off and I could adapt to working in the dark, or not. So, darkness it was.

Earlier this week we finally got the long-awaited server upgrade. I was happy with any flicker of light at the end of any long tunnel. On Thursday I worked exclusively from my home PC while connected to their server -- checking email, managing my Excel documents, and placing media buys. I no longer needed the company-supplied PC to comfortably do my work efficiently.

I got all my work documents transferred from that PC to a public folder on the server and by Friday I never even needed to turn on the company-supplied PC. It was a rare breath of fresh air, a sense of moving forward into a new year with a newer way to work. Cleaner. Less clutter on my desk. I was even wondering whether I should box up the company PC and send it back or hang on to it as a backup just in case anything happened to my PC down the road.

I have boxed it up, along with the printer they supplied which I never have needed to use thanks to being 100% paperless in my work. What a contrast to the old days when I'd go through a friggin' case of paper every few months! This equipment sits in my kitchen ready to be carted off to Fed-Ex on Monday.

I marvel at the sleek and minimalist appearance of my workspace now. Emphasis on "space" rather than "work" because on Friday the 13th at around 5:05 in the afternoon, I was dismissed from my job.

At that moment, my access to the long-awaited awesome new server was permanently disabled. But hey, it was rockin' my world for a day!

The only reasons cited in my termination were "bad fit" and a "cultural" differences. Oh, the irony.

I can only hope when they sent out the email announcing my departure they utilized the industry-standard closing line of "we wish him well in his future endeavors."

Work used to happen here.

Questions having immediate answers:

Do I need to toggle my monitor back and forth between work and personal PCs? No.

Should I de-clutter and send back the company equipment I don't need? Yes.

Do I need to use a personal day to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday? No.

Do I need to worry if my lunch breaks run longer than an hour? No.

Should I alert someone in the office if I'm running late? No.

Do I need to scan my internet bill as a PDF and email to anyone for reimbursement? No.

Should I fret over dysfunctionality? Give that a rest.

Will I need to visit the Dallas office? Not in the foreseeable future.

Do I have any excuse for not resuming my Rosetta Stone Spanish lessons? No.

When will I be able to take some extended vacation time? Now would be ideal.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Pussy Blog: Friday the 13th Edition

My girl loves Sheldon's office chair. We have this ongoing ritual where Sheldon gets up and she gets in it. Then I have to move her when Sheldon returns. (Sheldon, for some very odd reason, thinks she's unclean and he'd have to wash his hands after moving her.)

This scenario plays out 4-5 times daily.

Happy Friday the 13th everyone!

Friday, January 06, 2012

Friday Pussy Blog: Feeding Frenzy Edition

Chicken: It's What's For Dinner

Tot loving on my leg.

Jessie Lee waiting patiently.

Sissy pretending to sleep patiently.


Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year!

As usual, Hong Kong gets my gold medal award for best fireworks display thanks to another appearance by the french tickler!

Runner-up goes to Sydney:

I'm expecting 2012 to be some kind of wild ride, politically, economically, and climatologically. Buckle up! We're in it now and there's no turning back!