As often as possible, we strive to post content from a guest blogger with an expertise in an area of the field. This week, we are fortunate to have Mary Beth Reser, the COO of Wilderness Agency. As marketing director for prominent real estate development groups and publishing companies, she leverages content to drive revenue and she works with organizations across industries to clarify messaging and share truthful stories to drive sales.
She manages operations for a team of 50+ creatives, but before her move into the “C suite,” she spent several years as a reporter, including for the Fairborn Daily Herald and Dayton Business Journal. Her post is about her movement from news to marketing and how her skills transferred across these fields. Interested in being our next guest blogger? Contact us here.
Nothing is more embarrassing than turning in an article past deadline to your college journalism adviser. It’s even more embarrassing when you’ve spent the last month restructuring your company partly on the basis of missed deadlines.
How did we get here?
I didn’t set out to be a COO. In fact, my career path is nothing if not defined by a series of pivots. I spent 15 years, from age 10 to 25, dedicated to being the absolute best journalist I could be. I started school newspapers. I pushed them to the limits. I chose my high school and college purely on the goal that I would spend my future as a daily reporter in some metro somewhere, pounding pavement and investigating tips.
I didn’t count on a couple things. The economy. The availability of jobs. The lack of pay. Sexism and ethical dilemmas I encountered while in the industry.
I told myself I wanted to focus on telling positive stories. I couldn’t bear the weight of covering crashes, fires and violence, so I switched to business reporting, which had interested me in college. Then the recession hit, and positive stories on my mostly positive beats turned sour.
In the end, I could only blame my discontent on myself, and after five years as a professional reporter, I pivoted. Having turned on the most steady passion of my life, I went through some lengthy periods of self evaluation. I knew was that I still loved telling stories. True stories. With positive results.
I spent the next four years as in-house marketing/PR at two commercial real estate firms. I was telling stories in the form of press releases, and I was starting to tell–and sell–commercial space to tenants based on stories I was telling through marketing.
Chasing happiness, I jumped back into publishing and helped to develop social media sales strategies and digital sponsored content for a mostly advertorial publication. We’ll call this my gap year.
Four years ago, I made the jump into agency work and discovered my true passion. I could work with a variety of clients and tell TRUE stories in several ways that achieved measurable results. I graduated my first agency job and convinced a friend from the business reporting days to pull me in as a project manager at Wilderness Agency. I was still telling stories, but now I was putting teams together and telling them on a larger scale, not just through copy, but also design, websites, digital marketing, content strategy and video.
I was using my storytelling skills in new ways, and the business was growing as a result. In fact, we were skyrocketing. This is not to brag, but to explain the place I find myself currently. As we grew, I grew, and I started making major decisions for the company. I moved into a director of operations role, and started focusing on the Wilderness Agency story. Who do we hire? Where do we spend? How does it all fit together?
I looked around and suddenly, I had gone from business reporter to running a business. I look up how to spell proforma at least once a week because, I am flabbergasted at how I came to see one as an extension of myself.
These days, I am still telling stories, but the stakes are higher. When I worked on our clients’ accounts, I was affecting their businesses, but now I am affecting our own. The stories I tell now, with numbers, with org charts, with process decisions, affect not just my own income, but the livelihood of the 10 employees and 40 contractors who work for Wilderness Agency. They support my boss, that same friend from the business newspaper, who had blinked and found himself transitioned from sales intern to CEO.
We are the fastest growing agency in our market. We attribute it to telling the truth, which is painful, but welcome in the current climate. It’s not always comfortable for businesses to hear what they should or should not be doing, but we find we don’t have time to mince words or present them with smoke and mirrors, and they don’t have time to hear anything else.
And sometimes, I have to prioritize work over a lot of other things I’d like to do, such as turning in this article on time — sorry, Vince.
The stories I tell now are guided by the ridiculously annoying number of questions I ask in sales meetings, because after all, I have the heart of a reporter. We dig down to the truth and use it to everyone’s advantage. And when I focus on turning that interrogation on Wilderness Agency, we benefit as well.
I may not be telling the same kinds of stories as I did 15 years ago. They don’t get measured in inches or hits. But the stories I tell now are supporting a business, and the passions of myself an a team of special marketing operatives we call Wilderness Agency.