Where It All Started
I’d had a very good run in corporate advertising, an almost cliché “up from the mailroom” 30-year career. Starting as a stat camera operator (who remembers that?), I steadily progressed through the ranks of production, design and copy until I held the lofty though precarious title of executive vice president and executive creative director.
The agency where I spent most of my career was early to interactive development. And I used to regularly get my hands dirty coding. Hypercard, Director, QuarkImmedia and several other now-dead tools. I even wrote a CMS of sorts, in HyperTalk of all things, finishing it about a minute before Netscape Navigator rewrote the rules.
That was in the 90s.
Over my last 12-15 years, I was management. I was in charge of a creative department, a design department and an interactive services department, but I didn’t actually do much myself. I had people. My muscles atrophied.
So, when I fell overboard one fateful day in 2012, I thought I might drown.
The Deep Waters Of Web Design
It turns out that what they say about tossing somebody into the deep end is true. You learn to swim. Within 24 hours, I had an iPhone, a tax ID, an ISP, a color printer/scanner/fax … and a website. It wasn’t a great website. But the fact that I was able to build it myself was suggestive.
Or should have been.
In the beginning I thought building websites myself was sort of an emergency response. I assumed that once I got big enough I’d hire professionals. And a couple of months in, that’s exactly what I tried to do.
I was approached by a great supporter and good friend, the director of the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, who asked if I might be interested in helping her rebuild the website of another group she was involved with, the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center.
The LGBTQ Community Center is a wonderful resource. Located in Kingston, NY, the Center seeks to “unite the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community across lines of age, race, gender, and economics.” To accomplish this, the Center employs a staff dedicated to organizing and promoting a range of services, including training and professional development programs, school-based LGBTQ awareness programs and regular events and fundraisers.
Discovering WordPress & Elegant Themes
The Center needed an easy-to-manage, CMS-based website. And of course, it needed a design that was fabulous.
So I hired a fabulous designer. He hired a fabulous developer. And I assumed my brief return to design and coding, perhaps even my flirtation with WordPress, was done. From this point forward, I’d have people, just like the old days.
But in the three months or so between being kicked off the boat and picking up the LGBTQ project, I had started using Elegant Themes. I rebuilt my company website using the Flexible theme. I built my first site for a paying customer using the Chameleon theme. And I built a slightly bigger commerce site using the Nimble theme.
Now, I’d be lying if I said all this didn’t stress my 53-year old brain. But by the time the LGBTQ Center project rolled around, I found I had been rewired. The development process I’d used as an agency guy, the process I was trying recapitulate as a self-employed guy, simply no longer made sense. While the designer and developer with whom I’d contracted were quite talented, the whole old-fashioned production line process was so slow, so cumbersome, so lacking in interactivity that, immediately after the first round of design and development, I took the project back in-house.
Thanks to Elegant Themes, I’d learned how to work directly in WordPress. I’d learned to write in WordPress. To design in WordPress. To think in WordPress.
For the LGBTQ Community Center I used the Trim theme, but you might not know it at first glance. By this point, thanks to a lot of trial and error and some terrific customer support, I’d learned how easy it was to punch up a design and turn it into something very individualized and custom. As for the final product, the client couldn’t have been more complimentary. One member wrote, “I am thrilled and almost speechless (which almost never happens)!”
Thanks to WordPress and options like Elegant Themes, communication strategists like myself can now sketch out and implement digital marketing solutions almost as effortlessly as if we were using a pencil and paper.
Okay, maybe that’s a little hyperbolic. But just a little.
I think it is an indisputable fact that the old production line model of marketing, which lasted through the first 20 years of the web, can no longer hold. In fact, it can no longer be tolerated. The relationship between businesses and nonprofits and their customers and clients has grown too intimate, too real-time and too necessarily interactive.
So it turns out getting tossed into this sea was the best thing that could have happened to me. Though I didn’t intend to get into hands-on web development, I think I would have grown irrelevant had I not. Instead, I am building a new-model agency that, with just a couple of people comfortable in WordPress, can successfully compete against the largest agencies in the region.