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Movies, Music, & Marketing: 6 Lessons That Led My Career to IMPACT

In order to understand any story, you have to start at the beginning.

Mine began on the South Shore of Massachusetts about 20 minutes south of the city.

Yes, I have a Boston accent. Yes, I like clam chowder and lobster. No, I will not say “park my car at Harvard Yard.”

My parents raised me to always have an open mind; to be open to learning and most importantly, to be creative.

I was very lucky to have that support system.

Both my parents had successful careers in the entertainment industry prior to having me. My mother is an incredible dancer and performer, having appeared in multiple Broadway shows with likes of Bob Fosse and Ginger Rogers.

My father is also quite the entertainer as well. He is a singer/songwriter who was known as the “Tom Jones of France” during the late 60’s and early 70’s. He’s sold over 26 million records throughout his career.

Their unique experiences directly led to their overwhelming support for me, my dreams, and my passions — and was ultimately what lead me to where I am today.

Starting Young

At a very young age, I became obsessed with making videos.

I would steal my dad’s VHS camcorder any chance I could to shoot sketches, stories, and recreations of my favorite Hollywood films.

I’m not going to lie, I was no Steven Spielberg, but I will blame some of that on the camera weighing about as much as I did.

That passion developed over time as I practiced and honed my skills.

I furthered that pursuit by attending the Film and TV program at the Savannah College of Art and Design, taking as many workshops as I could in my free time.

I pushed my way onto any set or production that would have me and watched countless YouTube and other tutorial videos for inspirational ways to hone my skills.

I have always been completely obsessed with pushing the boundaries of what’s possible to further my experience and grow as an artist. That passion carried me into my professional career.

Directly after college, I had the opportunity to spend time in LA working on a few independent feature films. That was largely due to an incredible professor I had my senior year.  

He was a successful producer turned teacher working on movies like “The Breakfast Club” and “Fried Green Tomatoes”. Needless to say, I learned an incredible amount from him.  

After that, I pursued an opportunity in the Atlanta area shooting music videos as a freelancer for Capitol Records and Sony BMG. I became one of their regular “go-to” cinematographers/camera operators, most notably working on projects with the likes of Lil Wayne, Birdman, Rick Ross, and Travis Porter.

The experience I gained was invaluable at the time, but I also learned how difficult being a freelancer can be.

This led me to the first big lesson that shaped my career…

1. I Wanted Stability.

The phrase “feast or famine” comes to mind when I think about this time and honestly, it was the truth.

I would be overwhelmingly busy with a shoot making great money one day, then the shoot would end and I would be jobless, hunting for my next gig the next. It was a bit unsettling, to say the least, and there didn’t seem to be much growth opportunity.

That’s when I made the decision to move back to Boston to reconnect with my roots and find my next career move.

The Agency Awakening

I had an opportunity to work at a medium-sized agency in the city as a shooter and editor.

It was consistent work that allowed me to still be behind the camera. — That’s what I told myself anyway.

I wasn’t there for very long before I started to see some unsettling things, mostly around company culture and an overall inability to produce the best work we could for our clients.

I interviewed at a few other agencies and quickly realized they were all the same. It was the smoke and mirror show.

They all sold clients on how special their creative was, but never took the time to understand or educate them. This resulted in clients spending enormous amounts of money on “unique creative” that didn’t work.

It was all focused on creating a “shiny object” rather than understanding the clients’ needs. I always found that to be so disjointed and greedy.

If we don’t understand the audience personas we’re trying to appeal to, then how could we possibly come up with a creative way to capture them?

My concerns fell on deaf ears. It quickly became apparent that if I wanted to truly help clients succeed while also pursuing my passions, it wouldn’t be in the agency world — at least not one run by someone else.

This is where I learned my second lesson.

2. It’s Not Just About Money

I genuinely wanted to help my clients, not just take their money and at my old company, I was alone in that regard.

I explained this to two childhood friends over drinks at a local pub one evening and that’s when the light bulb went off.

“What if we start our own company and do it better than everyone else,” I said.

Maybe it was the alcohol talking, but my friends agreed. I was 22 at the time. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. We all did.

That night was the beginning of what turned into GEM Advertising.

My friends and I became co-partners and we officially started GEM in 2008, crammed into a small little office in North Haven, CT.

It was a tough time to start a company as the US economy was literally in the toilet, however, it made us a scrappy bunch. It forced us to be inventive and make things happen on a shoestring budget.

As we slowly picked up momentum, we gained some excellent clients and grew immensely.

The company’s growth was a direct result of our pursuit to go above-and-beyond for our clients. We focused on creating winning situations that yielded positive results. We had a laser focus on building trust with our clients by showing them real results, in hopes that they would do more business with us or even refer others.

We started as a creative consulting and video production company, but the emergence of social media business tools and inbound marketing quickly shifted our focus.

Even if we didn’t know exactly how to do something, I knew we would do whatever was necessary to figure it out — And we did.

That’s when we started to realize the importance of hiring experts to fulfill the new demand in these emerging technologies and I encountered my third lesson.

3. The Importance of Hiring

The growing demand gave us the opportunity to hire incredibly talented people.

We searched to find like-minded individuals, focused on creating winning situations for our clients as much as we were.

We had to put the right people in the right seats in order to deliver on time, on budget, and in a stellar way.

I always thought of this team as the foundation of our organization. Without it, and everyone working towards the same thing, the house will eventually come crumbling down.

In the last quarter of 2012, we officially grew into a full-service ad agency. Our team, that started as three friends, became nearly 40 people across four offices.

Our success was a direct result of putting our clients and our team first — my fourth lesson.

4. Building Trust & Forging Relationships

Relationships define who we are and how we interact with others.

At our very core, as human beings, it establishes a baseline for trust. That’s why it’s fundamentally important to me as a person. It’s what enables us to do the best work for clients and makes peers want to send work our way.

I spent a little over a decade at GEM growing relationships this way and telling creative stories for the clients we served.

In 2017 we were named the 3rd fast growing company in the state of CT and #725 on Inc.’s 5000 fast-growing companies list. It was an incredible growth experience for me on both a personal and professional level.

However, like anything in life, with growth comes change.

5. Embrace Change

Towards the end of 2017, the company shifted to meet the demand of new clients. It was a great move for the company, but on a personal level, it wasn’t in alignment with my passions and goals.

Without going into too much detail, it became apparent that I needed to make a change and pursue my passions. Meaning, it was time to part ways with my friends and work family.

It was one of the hardest and scariest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

I remember feeling so lost, but it also helped me discover so much about myself.

It motivated me to revert back to my young entrepreneurial self and I launched my second company; Dutch Lion Productions, as a chance to focus on my passion for telling stories through film and video.

Thankfully, I had success right out of the gate with some of the strong relationships I formed over the years.

I was on locations/sets shooting projects left and right. Not too shabby for a one-man band and, most importantly, I was happy.

But that was it. Only I was happy.

I was working alone. I started to miss the collaborative environment I was so accustomed to; Having people to bounce ideas and give advice is invaluable as a creative.

It became more and more apparent as time went on. It was here that I realized how much I liked being a part of a team. I wanted that again.

6. Teamwork Makes The Dream Work

The biggest lesson I learned as a creative happened relatively early in my career.

I learned that I could do well on my own, but I could accomplish so much more with a team of like-minded people.

Not just accomplish but exceed my own creative expectations. Those types of situations are what I constantly strive to discover.

And Then, There Was IMPACT

Life is all about timing. Again, one of my strong relationships that stemmed out of my time at GEM was with a gentleman by the name of Chris Duprey.

He and I hit it off immediately when we first met. During one of our usual hangouts, we discussed that I had left my company and was venturing out on my own.

I could tell by the look on his face that something was brewing in that mind of his. Without pause, he said you need to come work at IMPACT.

We laughed at his remark but he then repeated… “no seriously.”

Chris is a very genuine and intelligent guy, so I figured it was worth seeing what IMPACT was all about.

After a little research, I was hooked. The company culture and core values at IMPACT totally aligned with my own personal values and everything I had learned over the years.

It was almost uncanny. I couldn’t believe how in tune it all felt.

Honestly, not to sound cliche, it felt like everything I learned through my experiences directly contributed to becoming a part of the IMPACT family. Everything that I strived to be and hoped to accomplish aligned perfectly with their core values.

Needless to say, I was very much interested to learn more and explore opportunities.

The inbound model is something that truly resonates with me.

I say that because I’ve always strived to not just sign clients, but truly help them. It stems from my perspective about relationships. Inbound is all about fostering strong relationships. Rather than telling people what to do, it allows us to educate people. I love the idea of giving people the tools to make an informed decision. That to me is worth more than anything. Not to mention it makes logical sense!

I’ve never felt so in alignment with something before. The opportunities at IMPACT are very bright. I’m pleased, humbled, and excited to be apart of such an incredible team.

Being passionate can’t be taught and at IMPACT, passion oozes out of every facet of its being.

As the creative director, I feel that it’s only fitting to quote a fellow creative director. (Fictional or not)

As the famous Don Draper once said, “If you don’t like what people are saying, change the conversation.”

We all have the ability to control the conversation.

The question I ask you all is this; what message do you want to convey? What mark do you want to be remembered for by your friends, family, clients and the world at large?

What can you do that will make a lasting IMPACT.

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