Interviewee: Ryan Whitten
Interviewer: Fiona Le
Pixability is a YouTube ad buying and video marketing platform, located in Boston’s North End. The Pixability office, with its interior brick walls decorated with trendy artwork, has a very warm and innovative feel to it. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Ryan Whitten, Digital Strategist at Pixability.
Fiona: I understand that you are a recent graduate. What was the transition from college to full-time work like for you?
Ryan: I graduated from BU in May 2014. The transition was smoother than most students because I had been an intern at Pixability for almost a year at that point. I already knew everybody, and becoming full-time was really just an opportunity I had been waiting for quite a while. That is, being able to spend more time at work and working on all these cool projects. It’s definitely nice to be on a more set schedule because at school you have so many different things going on. That happens when you work full-time too, but you’re expecting it to happen on a normal business window there. What’s great about working full-time also is having the weekends free, so no more Sunday nights writing papers and studying for exams.
Fiona: What kind of activities were you involved in at BU?
Ryan: I was heavily involved in the Digital Media Club, which was founded, I believe, 3 years ago. I became President halfway through my Junior year. It was a relatively new club and the biggest challenge was being able to grow the club from a very small member base and to figure out the mission – what does this club stand for and what are we trying to accomplish here? It was definitely a lot of fun trying to get students interested in Digital Marketing and Digital Media. One of the things we did was host workshops where we taught students how to build personal websites so that they can better brand and market themselves. That was one of the things we really accomplished.
I also just learned so much about what it takes to manage a team of people, especially students, because they’re tough. There are so many things going on, whereas, here in the work environment, everybody’s essentially working towards the same main goal. In school everyone has different interests, different activities, different course loads and schedules. I guess essentially it was almost a startup type of environment as we were a small team of people trying to work together to create something. It was a valuable experience either way.
I was also involved in freelance video production, other student organizations and other student startups in the area. At the same time I was still interning part-time at Pixability throughout my Senior year.
Fiona: How did you end up at Pixability?
Ryan: I had been at BU for one year, my Junior year, and I really wanted to stay in Boston for the summer before my Senior year. I began looking for internships. I wanted to do something in advertising, something more on the creative side, but I also only wanted to focus on video. It’s really the beginning of brands creating a lot of their own content, specifically, the ideas of content marketing and brand publishing. Those were the areas that I was really focused on and wanted to build my career on. So when I went to apply for internships at a lot of the big ad agencies I realized it wasn’t really something that they really doing at that time, and they weren’t really offering internships either. I also didn’t really fit the bill for the typical creative internship, where you’re going to be working on all kinds of digital banners, print ads, TV and all that.
So that kind of led me back to the drawing board. I was just researching every single advertising company in Boston and I stumbled upon a company that said they worked with brands on YouTube, and I thought that was very fascinating. They didn’t even offer internships at that time or they weren’t publishing it, so I just sent an email saying “Hey, I think your company is really cool, what can I do to at least come in and learn more about it?” I came in for an interview and ended up becoming an intern for that summer, working full-time. It shows that if you can find a company that you’re passionate about what they’re doing, it does help so much more, especially if you can convey that during the interview. I continued to work part-time 2 days a week after the summer, throughout my Senior year. It was definitely tough for me in my Senior year. I was focused on getting a full-time job after graduation and I still had school and everything going on. It was tough also working full-time and loving it over the summer, and to have to scale back.
Fiona: What does it mean to be a “Digital Strategist” and what is an average day like?
Ryan: I would say it’s a combination of account management and digital analyst. An average day would be using data that we get from YouTube videos and using our software to analyze all kinds of spaces and industries on YouTube, then taking that data, analyzing it, and creating valuable stories for brands. What can this data tell you about the brand’s current strategy? How can Pixability help? The account management side would involve actually executing these plans and ad campaigns and working day-to-day to deliver great results for clients.
Fiona: What are some projects that you have worked on?
Ryan: One of the cool things that I’ve been able to do is to work on content strategies for brands. One case I worked on last summer or fall was Zipcar, the local car sharing company that’s now all over the United States and even Europe. We basically used our data and software to analyze the different spaces where Zipcar’s target audiences were actually watching videos on YouTube. They were not all just watching videos about car sharing. There were videos on the Zipcar channel but where could Zipcar be creating content that would be found by people, that blends more into what they were actually looking for? Was it to be entertained or to be educated?
With that put together, our whole strategy based around several different target markets that they had: university, general consumer, and business. We identified different topics they should be in, and came up with some concepts for videos that would work well for each of the topics. With that, the second part then was to find content creators out there who would not only fit the Zipcar brand personality but would also be able to integrate all those different topics. We were also able to identify creatives for Zipcar to partner with, where they could create videos together and grow their audience even further and be their own channel.
Fiona: Who does Pixability consider its main competitors to be and how does Pixability differentiate itself?
Ryan: We are a YouTube marketing technology platform and basically what that means is that we are not an ad agency. Our platform enables brands and agencies to identify their audience on YouTube, pull out all sort of great insights from the data that we have and to get actionable insights to further enhance the possibilities with their YouTube strategies.
There have been some other competitors that have sprung up, other companies that are building their own software with a similar mission. Pixability is the oldest company as we’ve been around for over 6 years, whereas a lot of competitors have only been around for one or two years. So we’re constantly innovating, trying to see what’s next for Pixability, what’s next not only for YouTube but the whole video marketing ecosystem and the internet.
For example, content strategy is definitely one of the projects we still do, but we’re shifting focus to focus more on YouTube videos – the ads that you get before you watch videos. We have really seen great success with brands. Everybody thinks you can just post a video to your channel and people will come and find it and you’ll get all kinds of views and engagement. But we found that it really takes at least a little bit of an advertising campaign to boost that initial push, to really find your audience first. We work with a large variety of brands, actually, in managing and running these ad campaigns on YouTube.
Fiona: Where do you picture yourself in the future in terms of career?
Ryan: For the time that I’ve been here at Pixability, it’s been awesome. The culture is incredible. There are all kind of events going on to get people interacting in and outside of work. We have a book club, running club and all these things. So at least for right now, Pixability is just a really awesome place to be. Who knows where exactly I’ll be in 5 to 10 years, but I think video is definitely here to stay and it’s somewhere I like to be. And who knows where video will evolve in the next few years? It’s an exciting kind of new frontier out there. I think everyone’s dream is to keep rising up and to gain more experience. For me, what’s most exciting is working with some of the biggest brands in the whole world. I’ve worked with L’Oreal and just being able to work with them is exciting. Wherever I’ll be, I’ll still be excited to be working on projects like this.
Fiona: Do you have any tips for students who are interested in a career in marketing?
Ryan: If you’re at school, take marketing classes, take advertising classes, learn about different media and how agencies are structured. Whilst all that’s useful, I think it really comes down to honing your interpersonal skills too, getting out there and learning how to network and effectively communicate to people. It’s probably the most important part of any job, especially in marketing, but even in other industries as well.
At the same time, go beyond what you’re looking for and get certified in different technologies that exist – technology is definitely a huge part of the marketing industry now. Definitely learn about data – data is everything when it comes to digital advertising now as all decisions are essentially based on data. You need to really understand how to use data to develop strategies and recommendations. I would say if you’re interested in digital advertising, get AdWords certified, it’s free for anybody to do. That shows employers you’re actively engaged in your industry, and that you’re taking steps in your own personal growth beyond the classroom.
For me, I taught myself a bit of web design development. I built my own website, started blogging, learned what the analytics mean, learned how to understand all the traffic coming to my site, and saw what worked and what didn’t. That was something I was interested in and got me my initial interview here at Pixability. Do anything that you can to show that you’re engaging in learning new things outside of school, and teach yourself new things outside of school.