Simon Fong graduated from the MS in Publishing program in 2012. He is currently employed as a Digital Jr. Associate at MediaVest, one of the leading ad agencies in the industry. At Media Vest, he works on the Procter and Gamble account and 14 brands within the Person Health Care and Wellness category of this account. Fong was a Web Intern at both Condé Nast’s Details magazine and at Niche Media.
Prof. Denning: Hi Simon and thank you for agreeing to do this interview. It has been one year since you graduated from the MS in Publishing program in 2012. Can you tell us a bit about what you have been doing and how your career has developed since then?
Simon: Hi Professor Denning! It’s such a privilege to be selected to be part of the Alumni in the Spotlight Interview! I remember reading many of these interviews when I was a student at Pace and taking a lot of valuable information from them, so I hope that I can give some great advice and useful information to some of the current students who are reading this interview.
It’s been a complete whirlwind experience after graduating from the Pace M.S. in Publishing Program last year. Shortly after graduating, I accepted a job as a Digital Jr. Associate at MediaVest, one of the leading ad agencies in the industry, where I work on the Procter and Gamble account. It is definitely an intense job, but it is very fulfilling and has given me so much first-hand experience with the advertising industry!
Prof. Denning: What does your job at MediaVest entail? How do you interact with the other members of dynamic, design, marketing, media and human experiences company?
Simon: I am currently a junior media buyer on the Proctor and Gamble account, and work on 14 brands within the Personal Health Care and Wellness category in the P&G portfolio. I am both client and vendor facing, so I interact with the brand team on a daily basis to work on display ad programs, social media programs, and also tactical broadband programs (video ads you see on websites like Youtube).
I also work closely with the creative agency. It’s very exciting because I get to preview ads before they are actually live. Additionally, I work closely with the strategy team to come up with dynamic campaigns that focus on the human experience and reaching the right target consumer. We have worked on many campaigns together, one of which is the recent Scope Bacon April Fools campaign, which was extremely fun to work on.
I also love working with vendors, which are the websites we partner with to create these programs. I am constantly in meetings! I think 50% of my time is spent in meetings. It’s a very social job, and you need to have a friendly and outgoing personality, since you are always meeting with vendors and have to also attend after work events and parties. These events are amazing networking opportunities, since you get to meet so many professionals in the industry. After awhile everyone just knows everyone, since it’s such a small industry.
Prof Denning: What are some of your favorite parts of your job?
Simon: Some of my favorite parts of the job are working with vendors and understanding what their websites can offer us and learning about their capabilities. The digital space is constantly changing, so even though I’ve only been working for a year, I feel that so many things have already changed in the way we approach a campaign compared from when I started a year ago.
Working in media is great, especially for someone fresh out of college. Everyone is young and fun and it’s definitely an environment where you can meet a lot of friends at work or outside of work. There are always tons of industry parties to attend, and you get to go to some of the finest restaurants in the city. Vendors also go out of their way to make their clients happy, so you can always expect fun perks like designer jeans, designer sunglasses, and going to concerts and spas. We definitely work very hard and I am completely content with my job even without all of these perks, but it is an added bonus to the many hours you dedicate to your job. Our company’s motto at MediaVest is “work hard and play hard,” which is definitely true!
Prof Denning: Tell us a bit about P&G at MediaVest and some of the initiatives they have taken in response to new technological developments.
Simon: Procter and Gamble is the largest advertiser in the United States. They are in the forefront of innovation, and have taken many steps to make sure that they are the leaders in the digital space. Our ads are some of the most technologically advanced in the industry. We implement channel intelligence widgets in our ads, which helps users drive to different e-retailers to purchase our products.
Additionally, we are always mindful of using all of the most sophisticated capabilities our partners can offer, such as search remessaging, purchase based targeting and demo-targeting. For example, one of the 14 brands I work on is Tampax. We can ensure that our ad is served (seen) by a female who is between the ages of 18-34, has purchased a Tampax product in the past, and has also searched for feminine hygiene on the web.
Prof. Denning: How does new technology and social media fit into/impact your professional role?
Simon: Procter and Gamble is on top of social media. They want people to talk about their products in the social space. We have been very successful with this with many of our products, especially Old Spice, which has been one of the most viral campaigns from any company in recent years. Covergirl is also a brand that benefits a lot from social media, since we have celebrity endorsers that already have a huge social media following.
I personally work very closely with Facebook and Twitter. Just a few weeks ago, I was on a call with Twitter to learn about their new interface and had a one-hour session with them to learn how to use their interface, which was extremely fun to use. I also work with Facebook a lot, and I think I correspond with them either on the phone or via email at least once a day.
Prof Denning: During your time at Condé Nast you worked as a Web Intern at Details magazine, and at Niche Media. What was the transition from Web Intern to Digital Jr. Associate like? What advice would you give to a young publishing professional looking for their first “real” job?
Simon: Being an intern is one of the best experiences ever! I believe everyone should at least have a few internships to test out what you like and what type of professional career path you want to take after you graduate. I loved interning at Condé Nast! During my time there I contributed to the Social Media edition of the September issue of Details Magazine, which was on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and Flipboard. It was very fulfilling interning for one of the premier magazine publishers in the industry. I also worked on search optimization and affiliate marketing at both of my internships.
I continue to have a great working relationship with Condé Nast to this day. I had actually worked with Details Magazine on a Crest White Strips campaign last summer, and have also worked with other Condé Nast properties, like Teen Vogue, Glamour, Epicurious.com and Style.com.
I must say that there is a vast difference between interning and having a “real” job. As an intern, you go in at 10am and leave at 6pm every day. You aren’t given the most important responsibilities, so if you do make a mistake, it’s not a huge liability. You’re really there to learn and develop necessary skill for your first “real” job. Now, as for working in the real world, people aren’t going to spoon feed you anymore or hold your hand. You have to be tough and be prepared to deal with real situations. If a multimillion dollar campaign is being delayed, there is a chance that the client is not going to be happy on the phone, or if a campaign did not perform well, there is a chance that the client will flip out. These are the real responsibilities that employees have to deal with and interns don’t ever see. Additionally, there are times when you are literally working 14 hours a day for the whole week. I remember being at the office from 9AM to 12AM working on media reporting for Nielsen last summer. Advertising is definitely not a career for everyone. You need to be mentally tough and also truly love what you are doing, or you most likely won’t make it for long.
Simon: Pace was an amazing place to learn about the Publishing world. The best thing about this program is that the faculty is made of professors who have worked in the industry or are currently working in the industry. I think that it’s very helpful to get first-hand experience from professors who can share what they know about the industry and also impart their knowledge to their students.
One of my favorite professors from this program is Professor Baron. She was fantastic at teaching what she knew best and always made her classes extremely enjoyable and engaging. I always looked forward to attending her classes. She was also the reason behind me getting my internship at Condé Nast. She actually asked someone who she had known at Details to put in a good word for me, and the following day, I got an email from them asking me to interview with them. So, it’s definitely important to make those great relationships with your professors, and also never be afraid to ask them to give you career advice, since that is what they are there for.
I also loved the more business oriented classes that I took during my time at Pace. I loved the advertising sales class I took with Professor Wilson, since it had prepared me for some of the things that I deal with on a day to day basis, like CPMs and agency/publisher relationships. I think it’s important for students at Pace to take a whole array of different classes to get a more holistic view of the publishing industry.
Prof. Denning: What advice would you give to students who still have to write their graduate thesis papers? What were the most important points you learned from your own thesis, titled “The Future of Magazines in the Digital Age?”
Simon: Writing my graduate thesis was an extremely fun process. I believe that you need to write a thesis about a topic that is interesting to you and the rest will be easy. It was extremely easy to write my thesis, since it was really enjoyable reading about all the industry trends that was happening at the time and also incorporating what I had learned from my classes into the thesis. So, I think it is imperative to start off with writing a thesis that you have an extreme passion and interest in.
Since I only work on digital and occasionally some mobile extensions in my campaigns, I never deal with print in my day to day job. There is a separate team who does print in my agency. That being said, I do work with publishers like Condé Nast, Time Inc, Meredith and Hearst on all of their online properties. They offer a lot of great content and sometimes offer tablet extensions. I do meet with account directors from these publishers, and there are definitely a lot of new things that are coming from these publishers. Unfortunately, since a lot of what is shared in these meetings are confidential, I wouldn’t be able to share what is new and up and coming with these publishers.
Prof. Denning: What advice would you give students entering the field do to set themselves apart from other applicants? What specific details should they include on their resumes or in an interview?
Simon: I for one know that it was extremely hard to get an interview when I first graduated. The key is to network, and I definitely took advantage of that. I remember connecting with every guest speaker we had in class on LinkedIn. After I graduated, I sent about a hundred resumes out and did not received any responses. I then went on LinkedIn and started messaging all the professionals I had met in those two years and asked if they had 30 minutes to meet with me, or to help me out with connecting with the right people to get a job. All of them were willing to help, and they were all extremely helpful in my job search.
I strongly believe that networking is the key to getting a job these days. You can have the best resume, but no one is going to read it when you submit it online. They have systems that electronically sort out thousands of resumes before it actually gets to a real person. I think students should take advantage of every career fair event that Pace offers, make meaningful and lasting relationships with your supervisors and colleagues at your internships, and also make meaningful relationships with your professors.
You have to be hungry for a job, especially in the economy we are in now. A job isn’t just going to fall on your lap from sitting in front of your computer screen. You need to be persistent and connect with people to help guide you in the right direction. Especially since I’ve been working for a year, I see that many people move from one company to another company based on the relationships they have built and from referrals from those relationships.
As for resumes, I think it’s best if you have as many people look over it before you send them out. You (Professor Denning) are great at refining resume but I would suggest that students also ask other professors that they respect to take a look at it too. If you know people in the industry, have them take a look at it too, such as your supervisor who you are interning for. Also, ask for a recommendation after your internship to show that you are a valuable asset.
You should be prepared for your interview, and research background information on the company and really be passionate about why you want to work there. You should also ask a lot of questions about the industry and how your interviewer feels about industry trends. I remember when I interviewed for a digital sales position at Conde Nast, thanks to a referral from a class guest speaker; that the account director I interviewed with was so impressed by me that he was actually stumped by a question that I had asked him. I wounded up accepting the position at MediaVest though.
Prof. Denning: Have you always been interested publishing and media? Where did that passion come from?
Simon: I’ve always loved reading magazines. As a child I loved the beautiful imagery in magazines. I initially wanted to be a writer, because I thought it would be fun to write for a magazine. Unfortunately, my writing skills just were not up to par, and to be honest, I think I would be surviving of off ramen noodles if I were to be a writer.
I always thought that media would be a fun place to work in, and it is. My eldest sister works in media and my second oldest sister works in fashion at Alice + Olivia. I studied finance as an undergraduate, and couldn’t envision myself working in the financial industry. When I started taking classes at Pace for publishing, I was taking them for fun, but then I decided to enroll in the program. It was one of the best decisions I have made. I took many different classes, and I naturally liked the digital classes I took. So, I guess that’s how I ended up working at an ad agency being a media buyer for digital display ads.
Prof Denning: What do you think the future holds for companies like MediaVest and their competitors? What should graduates expect as they enter digital media and the publishing world?
Simon: MediaVest is a company that works on all media types. We do media buying for digital, mobile, print, tv, radio and out of home (those big ads you see in Time Square). Television is still the biggest in terms of expenditure, and it makes sense naturally, since they still have the largest reach out of all media.
I believe that digital will continue to grow in the future and other more traditional medias like radio and print will continue to decline. Within my company, there are many employees who are willing to start over as a junior again to be on a digital account. There are people constantly moving from TV or print into digital, so that shows how things are shifting even within my own company.
Students should expect to be bombarded with a lot of information all at once when they start their jobs. You will feel overwhelmed at first, and maybe even cry at your job the first few months. I didn’t know what I was doing for the first three months at my job, and it was a horrible feeling, but then it gets much better. The learning curve is extremely steep for digital, so it’s not something that is as intuitive as print or tv. You need to be prepared to give it your all and be dedicated to your work. It’s definitely not child’s play when your client is entrusting you with a million dollars to work on a campaign!
Prof: Denning: What do you think the biggest trends in website/magazine publishing are today? What are the biggest challenges that publishers face?
Simon: The biggest trend for magazine websites is definitely custom sponsorships. They offer 100% share of voice for our ads that run on their sites, similar to competitive separation in print magazine, 100% SOV means that your product has 100% ownership of the webpage, and no other similar products will appear on the same page. They also offer a lot of call to action opportunities, such as giveaways and contests, which brings more awareness to our products.
The biggest challenge for magazine publishers is that it is continuing to decline. There are many other websites that are giving magazines a run for their money. The decline in magazines is more of a trend, and it’s something that is affected by consumer behavior, so it’s hard to say how they can turn it around.
Prof. Denning: Any other advice you would like to offer up to our students and to those looking to survive and thrive in this industry?
Simon: My advice is to love what you are doing. It is that simple. If you love what you are doing and love the people you work with, then you’ll be able to survive and thrive in this industry.
Thank you Simon for your insightful and informative interview!