October 15, 2019

Jess O'Brien: Leading Creative Teams

Shelley Barratt

It CAN be done!

Jess O'Brien is Secretary & Treasurer of the Beaufort Digital Board of Directors and is an experienced Digital Marketing and Advertising professional with a proven track record of leading creative teams and projects to success. Living in the Lowcountry since 2014, her experience working with start-ups, mid-sized and large corporations garnishes her the understanding to meet client visions in today's ever scaling tech scene. While her career has spanned across the southeast, Jess is proud to now call Beaufort, SC home.

Where did you grow up and what was life like?

I grew up in Valdosta, GA which is a smaller military town, much like Beaufort, on the Georgia-Florida border. It was a great place to grow up with a supportive community that embraced creativity. I was involved with the local theatre. Though my dad was in the Air Force, he worked and retired there so I didn't have a traditional military-kid upbringing; I was there until I left for college at the University of Georgia.

How did you come to be in Beaufort?

I'm a long-time avid reader, and some of the books I read painted a picture of Beaufort as a wonderful, beautiful place- Pat Conroy, Nicholas Sparks... and it was always a place I wanted to visit to paint those scenes. We sojourned in 2008 and fell in love with the scenery, but the job market wasn't here. We were fresh out of college looking for opportunities, so we went back to Atlanta, my husband's hometown, and got our first jobs there.

We always had Beaufort in the back of our minds, however. So, when we were in a situation where we could make a move, we decided on the Lowcountry and Charleston at that point had the job market for us. We moved to Charleston, still thinking of Beaufort as a dream option, and when the opportunity arose to work from home, we jumped at it and came to Beaufort right away!

What was your first job, or most memorable early job? What did you learn from it?

I worked a lot of retail in college- at Yankee Candle Co. and Bath & Body Works, quickly gaining trust and holding keyholder positions. Some of my biggest lessons came from customer service and learning how to treat everyone with decency and respect. One Black Friday I was the only employee for several hours starting at four o'clock in the morning. The store had a rush, and there was a line of customers wrapped all the way around. I was trying to do everything: check people out, answer phones, and I missed one phone call. That angry customer came in, and I was able to turn the situation around by listening to someone's concerns, making them feel validated, and figuring out a way to solve a problem creatively. Problem-solution management was a great trade I learned in retail.

Would you say you have an entrepreneurial drive? Early on, or through experiences?

Very early on! I wanted to work the second I was allowed to. My parents didn't require me to work to "earn my keep", but I wanted to. I found out you could get a work permit at the age of fifteen, so the moment I turned fifteen, I started working.

I've always been the first to adopt new industry trends and try out new tools to figure out how to make something better and more sustainable. I didn't choose a path in Advertising, it chose me.

Can you tell us about working remotely, its pros and cons?

It's all pros for me. Working from home allows you the opportunity to accomplish your workload while allowing flexibility for weekday errands, personal goal achievement and family time. Setting your own schedule allows time for attending skills workshops, entrepreneur luncheons and networking events that you may not have the ability to attend if you were stuck at a desk from nine to five or couldn't get away from your email for a minute.

It gives you the opportunity to create more. Ever since our company switched from full time working at the office to remote work for the whole company, we've seen a complete uptick in productivity and longevity of employees staying with the company. They feel like it's more rewarding because they have the freedom to schedule with a doctor appointment or contractor at the house, and it makes it a lot harder to leave something like that. If you have a strong desire to succeed and are self-motivated, working from home is a great fit!

What does your company do and what drew you to it?

The company I work for is ClickGiant, a content-centric digital marketing company that builds high-quality web traffic for clients through blogging, SEO, remarketing, display ads, and web design. As a creative individual, it was interesting to learn how much research, thought, and strategy goes into developing these specific content pieces that drive visitors to websites. Without having prior knowledge of the tools that drive industry influence to those avenues, it was interesting to learn all of the different ways you use data to learn how people are using your site and how to optimize your website to get conversions for the exact type of person that is searching for your product or service.

There is always something new to learn. Google updates its algorithm all the time, so you have to stay on top of potentially impactful changes. It could seem intimidating at first, but it's actually exciting; it keeps you on your toes.

What is your marketing style? Why is that your approach? Has it changed over time?

Originally my marketing style was storytelling with long, drawn-out detailed explanations. But as I've grown into the field, my emphasis has shifted more into the user experience side. While a subject might be interesting, it also needs to get to the point. While content is still considerably important for driving traffic to a website, users will need to be able to find what they are looking for quickly, or else they'll bounce. Having clean navigation, clear CTAs (Call to Actions) and one-click Call or Email forms will help users convert to customers at a higher rate.

What lessons have you learned from bosses?

My first boss out of college was an amazing woman who worked at an agency prior to the corporate world. Her individual drive and work ethic, putting thought and attention into every single detail and campaign, helped me see what you can create when you create with intention. It's so easy as an entrepreneur to have several projects going on at the same time. Setting your intention on a clear goal and map out the journey to achieve it.

What's the hardest or most important lesson you've learned in business?

An important lesson I've learned is to not beat yourself up. As a woman in tech and a creative, there's a lot of heart and passion that goes into the work I do. Sometimes you give 120% to a project just for it to be scrapped. You have to learn to not take things personally and know that every step back isn't necessarily a step in the wrong direction.

Another is it's okay to manage your team with heart, they are your work-family after all! It's not ideal for anyone to feel like a robot cranking out one project after the next. Acknowledging the hard work others are doing and rewarding them for their efforts can make all the difference.

Do you have a morning routine? How do you start and end your day?

Every day we start with a thirty-minute nature walk around the neighborhood to set my intentions for the day. It's a peaceful way to start the morning but is usually followed by a cup of coffee for an extra pick-me-up.

What do you look for in the people you work with and/or hire?

A positive attitude is number one! Skills can be taught/learned. I would rather hire someone straight out of college that has no experience, or a mid-career person who is looking to go a different route if they have an innate drive to want to learn versus someone who thinks they know it all.

What is your biggest pet peeve in business or amongst colleagues?

Lack of communication and procrastination. I've seen this a lot with interns. They'll receive an email with a project task and deadline, but not respond to the person who sent it until midnight the day before the project is due. Their response usually includes questions about the original assignment at hand, meaning they haven't even started working on it. Talk about a nail biter! An unnecessary stressor that could have been avoided by reading and replying to emails in a timely manner.

What advice would you give aspiring digital creatives?

Find a mentor. Mentorship can come in many forms. It doesn't have to be a person you meet with face-to-face. If you don't have an eligible mentor you can establish a relationship with, you can find mentorship in books and blogs related to your industry or one that you are interested in pursuing. Some of the best advice I've been given is from former Google employees and Fortune 500 CEOs, and I didn't even have to leave the comfort of my home to get it.

What do you see as the future of digital marketing?

As computer-assisted AI grows in popularity, I believe we'll see a lot more virtual shopping assistants, robo-chats and maybe even predictive purchase subscriptions.

What inspires you?

Seeing what new ideas or innovations those younger than me are producing motivates me to keep up with them. It's interesting to think that the kids graduating middle and high schools now may have jobs that haven't been created yet by the year 2030.

I'm also inspired when I'm told something can't be done. This challenges me to find a way it can be done.

Are you a Mac or a PC? iPhone or Android?

I'm more inclined to Mac products because it is a really easy user experience for me.

What's a book you always recommend?

Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis, author and entrepreneur, teaches you to go after your passions and any excuse you have, whether it's not enough time or not knowing what your direction is, there's an answer for everything. The other book I highly recommend is Pivot by Jenny Blake for people who are mid-career, with tools for those looking to do a complete one-eighty by using your strengths and weaknesses.

What is your usual Starbucks (or other restaurant/pub) order?

Cappuccino gelato at Common Ground.

Outside of work what keeps you busy?

Spending time with family, being a cat mom, teaching yoga, and being a roadie for my husband's band Twenty-Seven Degrees.