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  • Lance Rice

Student Becomes Marketer

Today is the day. I got my cap and gown ready so all I have to do is shower and get down to the auditorium then finally, FINALLY, I can move on to that next stage of my life. What they don’t tell you is how boring graduation ceremonies actually are. Literally thousands names being called and when yours comes up you learn that you’ve been sitting there for hours and then you just stride up, shake hands, and walk away with an empty folder. You don’t even get the degree until a few weeks later but, oh well, your family gets a photo op and you get to dress like an extra from Harry Potter. It’s all worth it though because now you are a college graduate and the world is yours to conquer. Well, at least that's what we are told.

The reality of the situation is you are one among thousands of people graduating that quarter with a nearly identical degree all going for a handful of jobs. Luckily I’m one of those creative go getters so I threw together some mock up ads and sent them to every marketing agency within 100 miles. Weeks go by and all is silent on the Western Washington front. After a round of follow up calls one place took pity on me and offered to give me an informational interview. It’s not a job interview but, hey, at least it’s something. Turns out my dazzling personality and top of the class senior marketing project was enough for them to recommend me for an actual job! This is it, that whole conquer the world thing starts here.

I’m getting ready for that first real interview and somehow can easily relate to Eminem in the beginning of 8 Mile, minus the slightly used spaghetti on my sweater. Basically, I am pumped for this interview. After 30 minutes of back and forth, I walk away feeling good and ya know what? I killed it. I got called back for a second and third interview to eventually become a finalist. Here I am walking on sunshine (with the song on repeat in my head even) when I get the dreaded letter.

“We think you’d be great for this position, however, you do not have enough experience so we are going with another candidate.”

Well now, isn’t that just the mother of all catch 22s. Can’t get a job because I don’t have enough experience and can’t get experience without getting a job. Welp, time to throw in the towel and accept my life working in a movie theater. Nah, that would be a lame end to this story when in fact this story is just beginning.

Going against the grain in life is nothing new to me (ask me about my entrepreneurial activities sometime). No one will hire me so I can get experience, fine, I’ll make my own. Time to launch FreeLance Marketing. Plus, I look for any excuse to make a bad pun.

The idea was simple, I have a certain set of skills, not unlike Liam Neeson in Taken, that I could put to good use and there are a lot of local business owners that could benefit from them. I wanted to target smaller business that probably couldn’t afford a full-on agency since they’d be more receptive and appreciative to what I was offering as opposed to larger business that just wanted free labor. I did a bit of pounding the pavement until I remembered that I’m a marketer, not a door to door salesman. That evening I wrote a press release about what I was doing and how I could help local business. An inspiring story that I had no idea if it would be picked up or not.

A few days later I was rudely woken up by nonstop phone calls. At first, I thought there was some family tragedy because who else would be calling me at 8am bc (before coffee). Turns out the local paper and a trade journal picked up my story so now everyone wanted a piece of me. I was the belle of the ball but there were way too many dance partners so just a few weeks in it was already time to expand.

I reached out to my former marketing professor and she was more than happy to have me come speak to her students. My presentation was fantastic! Started off with my tale woe about trying to get a job and included some downright melancholy music from the soundtrack of Philadelphia. I could be mistaken but I think I saw a few tears in the audience, besides my own. Like any good story, there was a climactic turning point where the pragmatic hero found the strength to move forward. Not only that but this pragmatic hero would also offer a path to those young marketers who’d like to avoid a similar harsh fate by getting their experience before graduating. Not only did I help inspire a slightly younger generation but I also found recruits.

So here I am with a new team and a pile of clients all wanting help with their marketing. I could go into each of them but for the sake of time, I’ll just talk about my favorite. They were one of the first business I talked to and also the one that would push my blossoming skills the furthest.

This client did amazing custom cabinetry work and after conducting a needs analysis we came to the conclusion he needed a television campaign to show off their product. Here’s where things get interesting. The press release mentioned full-service marketing and the name FreeLance meant just that, free Lance. There were no funds to hire a video crew so it looks like I’ll be learning how to shoot and edit a commercial. Knowing my first attempt at video production would end up looking questionable at best I figured why not write the commercial to emphasize that? The brilliance was not in its expert editing or amazing camera shots but rather the viewer taking notice and saying out loud, “What the hell?”

This is why they were my favorite client. Most businesses would be afraid to take a chance on something so strange but him, nah, he wanted to go for it. The idea was simple, “Sock Puppet Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Now, remember when I said I was doing everything? I meant it. Not only did I write, shoot, and edit but also sewed the puppets and did the voice impersonations, poorly. The combination of a first time ever video production and the use of sock puppets worked oddly well together.

Next step was to get this masterpiece on the air. I set up a meeting with my client and Comcast Spotlight to discuss a media plan. Little did I know that a few years later I’d be back in that same office beginning the next phase of my career but that’s a tale for another time. Anyway, we discussed our target demographic and upcoming programming. Eventually, we agreed on a media plan that fit his budget and had the reach and frequency we were looking for.

There’s an old saying about how only 50% of your advertising is effective but you’ll never know what 50%. That was not the case here, at all. Within two weeks of airing, this masterpiece of oddity combined with a fantastic media buy had paid for its entire six month run with the increase in sales. Now how do we know it’s specifically because of that commercial? When people come in talking about sock puppets you know they either saw your commercial or are toddlers and thus too young to appreciate fine custom cabinetry.

So where does that leave me and FreeLance Marketing? Well, the local paper did a follow-up article about us that was quite flattering but it was time to hand off the business to the recruits. For me, six months of working with various clients and building experience helped land me the first job I applied for. Thus began my paid professional career with Baron & Company.

Though it's true, this heartwarming story may one day end up on ABC Family (with my character obviously being played by Ryan Reynolds) that is beside the point. Consider this, as a recent graduate I beat the catch 22 of experience by starting my own agency, recruited a team, and created a highly successful campaign that required a skill set I had never touched prior. Imagine what I could do for an organization with the experience I have acquired since and the continued drive to accomplish any goal no matter what I need to do or learn to achieve it.

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