The Importance of Making a Career Pivot

There comes a time in a career when you must make a choice. Sometimes that choice wasn’t something you had been looking for. Sometimes it was in your sights all along. But that choice can take your career down a different path — a better path — than where you were headed. It might be a completely different industry. It might be a different area of focus. Either way, this career pivot can help drive your future success.

I’ve had pivots on my mind since covering the topic in my NYU class a couple weeks back. We talked about Twitter altering its business model from a podcasting company to media brand, Netflix moving away from mailed DVDs to streaming and Amazon from books to, well, everything.

I’ve actually made three career pivots. The latest took shape last month. I’ll get to that a little bit later, though.

The first two I can confidently say have led me to where I am today. The third it’s too early to tell, but if I didn’t feel good about it, I wouldn’t have made the move. But these pivots didn’t just happen. I had to make them happen, recognizing early on they were areas I needed to be involved. That involvement allowed me to move from an area of comfort to one of potential. These were where the industry was headed, not where they had been.

First Career Pivot

My career started out covering professional sports for a 30,000-circulation newspaper in New Jersey. The paper, however, covered teams outside the distribution area though. I had taught myself website design skills in high school and, being the self-promoter that I was, decided to build a website to display my articles for those outside the circulation area. I remember being nervous what the teams and newspaper would think — they ended up liking it.

In that decision, I had the foresight to leverage technology for ideal incremental purposes. But that wasn’t the pivot, although it was a minor one.

I went on to host radio and television shows, along with continuing to write. I wanted to be a triple threat when it came to traditional media. On the side, I continued to design websites, mostly to help pay for college.

When I graduated, I began looking for the next big thing. I was fortunate to have worked professionally in the industry I went to school for during my college years but was looking for the what’s next. That what’s next came in the form of AT&T.

I can remember the call: a man telling me about this new broadband television network that AT&T was starting. A TV network that streams online? Sign me up.

AT&T had seen my work and wanted me to come create shows and anchor a twice-daily newscast. It seemed like a great opportunity, outside of the topic being about extremely dry technology topics (I’m talking viruses and network patches).

This is when I realized the opportunity wasn’t about patches and viruses. It was about seizing the transition and convergence of what I had been doing with where the industry was going. That convergence was of traditional media to online media.

My writing was now online (print), I was writing, producing and hosting shows online (television) and, while I didn’t do one, there was also podcasting (radio). The world was moving digital, so my career needed to, as well.

When I think back to it, AT&T was a pretty cool job. It was poorly run, but then again, no one knew how to manage a streaming television network because no one had managed a streaming television network — it just wasn’t a thing yet. But complacency was never my thing and so it became part of my career path.

Second Career Pivot

I’ve told this story before, but also recited it a few weeks ago during my keynote at The Wine Marketing & Tourism Conference. Here’s what I told the audience:

In 2009, I used to work for the National Basketball Association, writing for NBA.com and working on the web side of things. It was a great job, attending NBA games all across the country, interviewing players and writing a weekly column. I was also helping with their NBA Game Time app. It was one of the App Store’s first to be released after Steve Jobs announced the iPhone two years earlier. It wasn’t long before I left the NBA though to lead web content marketing at Avis Budget Group, but by that time I decided mobile was the future.

I can remember the first book I picked up on the topic, reading it cover to cover in a matter of days. I spent my mornings, nights, weekends consuming as much about developing and marketing apps as I could — it became an addiction. And when was the ideal time to create my first app? When I had a one-week-old son at home.

At the time, my wife was up at night, bored after having watched every episode of Golden Girls possible. I told her I’d create a word game, something she could play while nursing our son. LetterSlider went on to become a Top 100 word game in 105 countries. When the opportunity to lead mobile marketing and product opened at Avis, I had developed the skills (taking a chance outside of my 9-to-5) to lead that area of the Fortune 500 company’s business. Nine months later, The New York Times came calling — because what’s easier than car rental, but newspapers.

I want to reiterate that it’s important to note that I was working on the web, but recognized where mobile was headed so I created opportunities. Without that work outside of the 9-to-5, I wouldn’t have been trusted to head up mobile for Avis, joined The New York Times to lead their entrance into the mobile subscription business, been asked to teach at NYU (without a Master’s degree) or had the great fortune of traveling around the country to speak to audiences about the importance of the medium.

I didn’t go to school for marketing, let alone mobile — it wasn’t really a thing when I was still in college. But I used one opportunity after the next to leverage into something bigger. I used passion and persistence to create an opportunity where I wanted to go, not where the path was pointing.

Third Career Pivot

Two months ago I accepted a completely new position to stay at The Times. This role, Managing Director of Platform Operations, is to lead the content, monetization and product strategy across our off-platform partners.

Off-platform was an area I had been devoting 15 percent of my bandwidth to already but will now give it complete focus. It is listed as one of the company’s top priorities because of the significant audience growth we’re seeing on these partners, which include Apple News, Facebook Instant, Flipboard and Google Amp, among others.

So why do I think this is the next pivot? Because I believe platforms are where many industries are headed. Platforms (Facebook app) on top of platforms (iOS or Android), creating closed environments to contain consumers from venturing outside of them — why wouldn’t they considering a majority of time spent are in these apps. And if these companies are creating closed platforms, publishers need teams to figure out how to strategically work with them to make sure their business continues to grow and they don’t get cannibalized or caught giving away too much for free. Not surprisingly, most of these platforms are also mobile first.

I also believe this is an important move for my career and gets me be back to the product side of the business, which I’m excited about. I’ll be able to prioritize our strategy through the lens of consumer revenue. The combination of product and monetization experience will give me a great perspective moving forward.

As the book “Art of War” teaches, being defensive always fails. It’s those who are on the offensive that are victorious. In the context of this post, it means not waiting for something to establish itself before making a move, but looking for opportunities and seizing them when you find it.

The importance of a career pivot is not for the now. It’s for the future. You’re setting yourself up for where the industry is headed, not where it’s at. It’s easy to reflect. It’s harder to have future foresight. But if you use a mixture of limited data, industry knowledge and gut feeling, you’ll be able to reflect on that foresight with a sense of accomplishment.

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