Reinventions: David Armano
"Reinventions" is a questionnaire series with people who are making pivots in their lives. We open with David Armano, whom you may know from his days at a modest little shop called Edelman, or from his blog Logic + Emotion.
What were you before?
I think I need to answer this from a few different perspectives. From a craft perspective, I was a senior strategist, advisor and client counselor. From an "outsider looking in perspective," I think I was probably perceived as an "agency guy" and "thought leader."
It's the agency part that is proving to be the most challenging to reinvent. My last non-agency job was working for the Chicago Tribune as an interactive designer, back in the web's early days. Since then, I've spent nearly two decades agency-wise via the creative, strategy and business side of things. Most recently, I served as global strategy director for Edelman. In this role, I did many different things for clients and the agency itself that led to either business growth or the advancement of innovative client work, or a combination of the two.
What triggered your reinvention?
Simply put, Covid-19. I was professionally displaced along with millions of other Americans during the early days of the pandemic. The beginning of my reinvention story isn't unique by any stretch. For some, Covid-19 has been a business and career accelerator. For me personally, it's been a career disruptor. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. As mentioned, I have been on the agency side for a long time, and I think there comes a point in your career where, unless you reinvent it significantly, you become typecast.
So while I didn't choose to pivot my career during a pandemic, I did have the safety net removed, and once that happens, the idea of risk itself looks less risky. You start thinking more along the lines of "If not now, when?"
What did the first steps look like?
The immediate first step was to take a step back. I gave myself a week or so to sit with the different emotions I was experiencing. The next step was to take a "pause." I went as far as to update my LinkedIn profile, giving myself the title of "Chief Pause Officer" at "Taking A Moment."
I realized that I had not taken any time off during career transitions. While this felt uncomfortable and was a first-time experience for me, I decided I'd lean into the transition by not rushing into anything else immediately, giving myself the time to prioritize some personal life matters and think about long-term goals.
What was one hard obstacle to overcome?
Transitioning from team to solo operator. I thrive on working with teams, whether it's leading them or being a contributor. Being truly on your own, without the stimulation of collaborative teamwork, for me is challenging. I can do a lot of things independently but I enjoy the dynamics that go with teamwork, the energy, and shared success when things go right and the support when they don't. My ultimate goal is to find the ideal organization/career home/corporate sponsor that fully grasps where I can add value and shares my values, but I think this will take time.
What was easier than you thought?
Lining up some initial contracts and setting up an LLC. I didn't have to look very hard for some choice contract assignments to find me, and I've been deliberate about what to take versus what to pass on. On the logistics side of things, an LLC is pretty straightforward to set up these days with the assistance of platforms like Legal Zoom. However, in the early days of the pandemic, state approvals were delayed once you got to that point. And gaining non-agency experience outside my immediate area of expertise was not as difficult as I had imagined. I did a four-month contract role as an interim CMO at a growth stage SaaS startup and learned a ton in the process that was very different from initiatives I've typically done in the past.
What's something you learned along the way that other people, hoping to do something similar, should know?
Take meetings. You never know where something is going to lead. Offer support to others even on days when you feel like you need help—good things do happen to good people, even if it's not on a timeframe of your choosing. Prioritize your self-care as well—I came down with Covid at the beginning of the new year, and it was pretty bad, landing me a day in the ER. I had to know when I could push myself to get work done and when I needed to rest and not overdo it. It wasn't easy to find the right balance.
Did anyone or anything inspire you along the way?
The responses from colleagues when I announced my transition internally and the support from peers, friends and mentors externally. I don't like to name-drop, but I have had access to some very respected and successful industry players who have been exceptionally generous with their time and counsel. I've been inspired by my boys and fiancée, who have, in their own right, dealt with challenges, disruption and transition this past year. I'm also inspired by friends who have retained the quality of experimenting, turning me on to new platforms or technologies like social audio, which I am enjoying to help keep my mind and facilitation skills sharp.
What has this fundamentally changed for you?
Having the security of a regular paycheck and generous health benefits. When you don't have these things, it gives you a heightened sense of empathy for what life is like without them. Yet also, there is a sense of freedom that comes with not having "golden handcuffs" in the sense that you can start fresh in a way or entertain options you may not have ever considered previously.
I think I have a more clear sense of what I want to do and feel like I have more flexibility now to do it. When the floor is pulled out from under you, you'll never have to reflect and wrestle with having made that "big disruptive decision"—or hindsight being 20/20. It was made for you, so you simply move forward and never have to look in the rearview.
Do you think you could go back/do you want to?
I could go back to being an agency person. I know how to do this—I understand the business model, how it's changing, who the players are, and where to come in and add value and innovate. However, it's not where my head is at right at this moment. If I'm genuinely reinventing myself, I can see tapping my expertise and varied skillset from agency days but applying them in a different environment or sector. There are a few areas I have my eye on—and I am going to see if I can achieve that first, then we shall see.
Tell us your reinvention song.
It's tragically uncool by today's music standards, but I love the punk-rockabilly band Social Distortion, and they were the last live pre-pandemic show I saw. I've seen them often at varied venues, from the original CBGBs and twice at waterfront locations by the Pacific Ocean and Lake Michigan. There's a song titled "Still Alive" with these lyrics:
"And I'm still alive and I will survive
I can take what life's got to give
Just need a little time
And I'm still alive, talking that same ol' jive
I can handle what comes my way
Just gimme another day"
Since I got through Covid induced pneumonia intact, these lyrics take on even more meaning for me now.
How would you define yourself now?
In a nutshell, I am a strategic integrated marketing leader who is digital at the core. I recently wrote about my adventures in reinvention, and how I created a visual to kick off an interview process I had recently. I realized that my background needed to be distilled clearly into a couple of areas where I truly excel, so I decided to use my "superpowers" of simplified communication for myself as an ice breaker.
I've learned through this process of reinvention that it's hard to be objective when you are your own "client"—but you have to treat yourself like one, and all clients require investment.