Dave Fleet is the Vice President of Digital at Edelman’s Toronto Office. Dave has held roles in marketing and communications at large corporations and within the public sector. Visit www.davefleet.com or follow @davefleet to connect with Dave.
Dave, you’ve worked in both the private and public sectors in Canada. From a marketing and communications view what are the big differences when working in private vs. public?
From my perspective, communications principles are the same regardless of where you work. I’ve taken a lot of lessons from my time in the public sector and applied them to the work I do in agencies, especially when it comes to considering the needs of myriad stakeholders (something that is central to the life of government communicators).
With that said, there are certainly differences. While government communications requires you to get in-depth on a relatively limited set of topics, agency life generally you to work more broadly. Some people like that variety; others prefer to sink their teeth into a smaller set of topics. Agency life is also much faster-paced and high-pressure. Again, some people like that (I thrive on it) but it’s not for everyone.
Agency life is also much faster-paced and high-pressure
Dave, you are the VP of Digital at Edelman in Toronto. What does your typical day look like?
I work with a team of about 30 people, split between Canada and the US. Fortunately they’re all smarter than me, so from my perspective my role is to help to set the right direction for them, provide whatever support they need and stay out of the way so they can do their jobs.
My days are generally a mix of providing input on proposals, plans and reports from the team, participating in client calls on any number of topics, administration (hiring, finances, 1:1s with reports etc) and generally acting as a clearing house for information for the team. Sometimes I’ll get more heavily involved in specific projects, but one of the things I love about this team is that 99% of the time they’re more than capable of kicking butt without my involvement.
You’ve built a strong following online with your blog where you post regularly. How important has blogging been to your career?
Blogging has been incredibly valuable to my career. First and foremost, it has enabled me to throw my ideas about communications and social media out to a broader group of people who don’t hesitate to provide a counter-point or tell me when I’m wrong. As such, it’s made me much smarter and better at my job than I would otherwise be.
Secondly, my blog (and social media activities in general) helped me to dip my toe into social media at the outset, before I had any intention of moving my career in that direction. At a very 101 level, it let me experiment and figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Lastly, the exposure that my site gave me has been helpful from a visibility perspective. That’s been useful at both a consulting and broader career level. However, that wasn’t why I got into the space – it’s just been a happy side-effect of my online activity.
Your blog posts are always well written and go into more detail than the vast majority of bloggers, do you use a specific structure to your writing?
No, I don’t. I approach my posts from a variety of ways depending on the type of post. Sometimes I just write in a stream-of-consciousness fashion then go back and edit (I spend much more time editing those posts than others). Other times I’ll write a high-level outline first, then build it out slowly.
Each of my posts tends to take between one to three hours to write. I rarely post “quick posts” on my site. My key rule is providing something useful. If I critique something, I’ll provide my thoughts on alternative approaches. If I review something, I’ll try to provide clear take-aways. I always want the reader to take something useful away from their time on my site.
Each of my posts tends to take between one to three hours to write
The Facebook Ad platform seems to be getting more serious about the ad business. What changes do you envision?
If you look at the metrics for Pages over the last year, you’ll see that (to my great chagrin) Facebook has significantly tilted the scales away from a pure focus on engaging content – punishing brands focused on creating communities with their customers – and towards those that leverage paid advertising. As it stands, only 16% of an average brand’s fans – that’s less than one in five – will see updates from the Page in their news feeds. So, while rich media content is much more visible on the Page itself, far fewer people are seeing that content in their news feeds, where most activity on Facebook occurs.
I think we’ll see that pendulum swing back slightly, but companies need to be aware of that shift. Facebook is a business that’s in IPO mode – they’re looking to maximize revenue, and that means the ad-driven approach isn’t going anywhere. That means companies need to (a) ensure their community managers understand what’s going on, and how to optimize content for this model, and (b) companies need to become more willing and nimble in allocating their dollars to promoting content through Facebook.
I wrote more on this topic on my blog recently.
How do you approach productivity? What tools (apps, gadgets, etc) do you use to help you stay productive?
I’m manic about managing my inbox. I often receive 300-400 emails in a day, which can get overwhelming quickly if you don’t get good at carefully managing the time you spend on it.
Dropbox and Evernote are two key tools for me, for syncing files between work and home, and for taking my notes with me wherever I am.
I often receive 300-400 emails in a day
Last year you read 32 books and I understand you’re aiming for 36 books this year, with such a busy schedule how do you make time to read?
I learned a simple trick from my friend Julien Smith, who reads way more than I do. It’s easy really – just break it down into how many pages you need to read each day.
When I started on this reading kick two years ago, I aimed to finish one book every two weeks. If each book averages around 280 pages, that means you just need to read 20 pages a day.
My daily commute takes around 40 minutes of walking and transit. I can get through most of my daily reading during my commute. Beyond that, I’ll take 30 minutes in the evening to read if I need to catch up, or if a book has particularly captivated me.
I’m a little behind my goal for this year right now (I’ve stepped it up this year), but I’m still on my ninth book of the year and loving it.
Do you have a good work-life balance?
I’m a bit of a workaholic so I may not be a good example – I’m in a happy position where I look forward to getting up and going to work in the morning. With that said, I use running to get my mind off work, I play video games when the opportunity presents and the reading helps too.
With that said, I’m a firm believer in helping the team maintain the balance they want. We put a huge focus on quality of life and culture at Edelman (we just ranked #11 in the Best Workplaces Canada 2012 awards, and we were among the 50 Most Engaged Workplaces 2011), and we’ve placed a similar focus on balance at a team level.
Can you share a personal or business challenge that was hard to deal with and how you overcame it and what you learned from it?
One of my biggest challenges was accepting that a point arrived where I couldn’t be the guy ‘doing’ everything any more. That was always my favourite part – writing the plans, executing the programs, organizing the events – but as my career progressed I found myself juggling more and more responsibilities, and working longer and longer hours because I wasn’t letting go. Once I recognized that, and accepted that not only could my team handle the work, but that they could do it well, it became much easier to make that transition.
What is your favourite quote of all time?
I don’t know about a favourite quote, but I do have a favourite maxim to live by, from Lyndon Johnson – “We can draw lessons from the past, but we cannot live in it.” I’m very much a believer that we create our own paths through life, and this helps me to stay focused on what’s next rather than what came before.
We can draw lessons from the past, but we cannot live in it.
What is one thing that your coworkers, clients or friends may not know about you?
I’m a pretty open book with most people. I guess one thing is that I’m way less extroverted than most people think – I love hanging out with people, but I need my space. If I go more than a few days without being able to just tune everything out and spend time in my own head then I go crazy, so I’m very protective of my “Dave time.” I’ll turn down speaking gigs and social engagements to make sure I’m able to create that space.
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