Monthly Archives: July 2013

True Life: Gerard St. Louis

Inside the Office:

Gerard works in the Information Technology (IT) department and is essential in keeping Vanguard Direct at the top of its technological game. He usually works on the development of different applications and also maintains the Vanguard website. He is the go-to person for network support and assistance with malfunctioning programs.

Outside the Office:

Outside the office, Gerard loves to be, well, outside! He enjoys the parks of NYC and truly believes that being active is the best use of his free time. In high school, he played basketball, soccer, and cricket and ran the 400m in track and field. Though no longer on a sports team, Gerard still makes exercise a priority. In keeping with his fit lifestyle, Gerard has been a pescatarian––meaning he only eats fish and vegetables––for the past two years. Even though athleticism seems to be Gerard’s passion, that was not always the case. He is a self-proclaimed “geek.” When he was younger, Gerard was very shy and would read everything and anything about programming when computers were not available for hands-on learning. His mom was very influential in helping Gerard enter the world of IT because she encouraged him to attend a school that specialized in IT. At school, his IT teacher was very significant in helping him succeed in the field and pursue his career.

Gerard’s early hunger for knowledge led to one his one of first jobs: being a high school teacher for five years. He began teaching in Guyana at a mere eighteen years old. During those five years, Gerard taught seven subjects, including Spanish, French, and math. Gerard moved to NYC in 2005 and has been here for eight years. He enjoys giving back to the community and helping to feed the homeless. The fact that Gerard is trilingual definitely helps in a city as diverse as New York. Gerard has a lot of family here and enjoys spending time with them on the weekend. He told us that he has always been a bit of a clown because life’s too short not to have fun!

Vanguardian Experience:

When Gerard is at work, he only focuses on work. It is this focus that allows him to tackle technological problems that most people would just shake their heads at. Keeping his home life and work life completely separate is important because it allows him to concentrate without distractions. Yet when he does need a quick break at work (Who can’t relate to that 2:30 PM feeling? Insert 5-hr. energy endorsement here!), his Vanguard friends help him clear his mind. He enjoys the freedom that Vanguard gives him to approach his assignments in his own way in order to produce the highest-quality solutions.

Author: Lindsey Clark, Liz Baron, MinJi Kim

True Life: Eric Swenson

Inside the Office:

Eric Swenson is a Creative Project Manager in our New York office. Eric works closely with our clients to map out their communication needs and to define the role Vanguard Direct will play in meeting their objectives. On a day-to-day basis, this means managing a dedicated creative team to work on specific projects, presenting work, and setting timelines and budgets.

Eric has a versatile advertising agency background, having worked with several top corporate accounts, including Northwest Airlines and Charter Cable. He’s done extensive copywriting and video editing work as well. All in all, he’s worked as a project manager for nearly nine years. Eric received his bachelor of science degree in communications (with an emphasis in television and radio production) from Bradley University, where he also studied business management.

Outside the Office:

In an effort to start anew, Eric made the leap from the Midwest to Midtown. He moved to New York City eight years ago with enthusiasm that knew no bounds. Almost immediately after arriving, he joined the theater group Blue Hill Troupe, not necessarily because of his huge passion for the arts, but as a way to meet people. Presently, he is an active member who, in season, dedicates a few hours each day––for up to five days a week––to the show. This charitable, nonprofit group of actors was founded in 1924 and continues to support various NYC-based charities (currently the GO Project) by performing a Broadway show in the fall, an operetta in the spring, and several concerts around the city every winter. One of his favorite shows to perform was Little Shop of Horrors, where he got to be the man-eating plant, Audrey Jr. Many Vanguard employees attend the shows to support Eric as well as Blue Hill Troupe’s partner charity.

The after-work activities do not stop there. Eric plays soccer, softball, and tennis and is also the president of a wine club as well as a cheese club, both of which hold monthly meetings. His life as wine aficionado began at the beginning of his advertising career when he lived in Minneapolis. After a long day at the office, Eric would go to work at a high-end wine store. It was here he learned the intricacies that go into a great bottle of vino. Each wine meeting is dedicated to learning about one wine from a particular region (the club has covered over 30 regions!) and the proper food that complements that wine. At the moment, the wine club is at capacity with fifteen numbers, and there is an ever-growing waiting list. The cheese club idea was sparked when a friend gave Eric a “cheese of the month” membership for a year. Not wanting to end his gourmet cheese experience, Eric started a club in which members pool their money to buy a yearly membership and to enjoy the great company of fellow fromage fans.

Eric is originally from Wisconsin, went to school in Illinois, and has been to every state except Texas and Alaska. Yet the borders of the U.S. do not limit his travels––as a solo traveler he has been to England, Argentina, China, Thailand, and Cambodia, just to name a few. Later this summer, he plans to explore the wonders of Kenya and is especially looking forward to taking a train that passes through wildlife preserves.

One of Eric’s Favorite Vanguard Direct Moments:

For a while, Vanguard Direct has been putting together holiday video cards to send to clients. Two years ago, Eric was put in charge of this assignment and decided to tackle the festive challenge with a music video. His vision required the entire staff to be involved, each person having his or her own part to play during “Jingle Bells” (the Glee version). Eric’s theater experience proved useful, though the logistics and choreography were still quite a task. Collectively, the Vanguard staff was ambitious and wanted to complete the music video in a single shot. This meant everyone had to perform flawlessly or they would have to “take it from the top” and start over. It was a true test of patience.

The first take was not perfect, but after six or seven takes, the Vanguardians nailed it. What had started out as a simple assignment quickly morphed into an office bonding experience. Following the final take, people were cheering and high-fiving. It was one of those rare instances where Vanguard employees all had to work together to achieve one common goal. Eric explains, “The entire video was a mere 90 seconds, but the memory of it will certainly last a lifetime.”

Author: MinJi Kim, Liz Baron, Lindsey Clark

True Life: Doreen Doyle

Inside the Office:

Doreen Doyle serves as the ultimate liaison between clients and vendors. She handles the flurry of proofs, printing, prices, invoices, mailings, billings, sales pitches, and creative services that are essential to a project’s success. She is also very familiar with doing work with city agencies. Other responsibilities include mentoring new employees, visiting printers for on-press printing approval, creating orders in DemandBridge, keeping up with suggested literature on printing, taking webinars, attending vendor presentations, and following up with clients once a project is completed. In essence, as Vanguard Direct’s Senior Client Services Manager, Doreen does it all.

Outside the Office:

Doreen is a born and bred New Yorker. She grew up in Manhattan and has watched her childhood home transform into the vibrant city we know today. Not only has she seen NYC change, she has also seen the printing industry go through a technological revolution. Doreen began her printing career in her junior year of high school. Starting at the factory level, she learned everything from the ground up. She explained to us step by step exactly how the printing process worked.

It would seem printing chose her, and she has enjoyed being involved in a business that is always changing. During our interview, she explained, “I wanted a challenge where every day is different.” Doreen harbored this adventurous spirit as a child, when she  believed it was her destiny to become an airline stewardess who would travel all over the world.

A love of discovery has fueled Doreen’s travel through France, Italy, Spain, England, and Croatia. She plans to go to Dublin later this year for her aunt’s 80th birthday party! Any place with water and a golf course get an automatic “thumbs up” from Doreen. She keeps a set of clubs in Florida to be able to play whenever she goes down to visit. Out of all her travels, London is her second-favorite city to explore (NYC is obviously #1!). One exceptional aspect of NYC is that there is always a new place around the corner––her new favorite spots to visit are Eataly and Chelsea Market, and one of her traditional favorites is the High Line. Finally moving out of the city, Doreen now uses Peekskill, NY, as a launching pad to see the world. Westchester life makes getting to a golf course easier. (You don’t see too many acres of untouched land in NYC besides Central Park.) Her fifteen-year hobby has made domestic travel to South Carolina and Myrtle Beach a no-brainer to get a few rounds in.

Doreen’s Favorite Vanguard Memory:

Doreen began working for Vanguard in 1993, left, and then returned in 1999 and has been here ever since––it would seem she ended up where she was meant to be. Out of countless fun times around the office after work, she treasures one memory above all the rest. After 9/11 there was sense of closeness to her coworkers and a feeling of being cared for. Returning home after a traumatic and exhausting day, it was a huge comfort when managers called her to make sure she was all right. There was a deep relief in being able to stay in contact with everyone in the office and to hear that all were safe. The community that exists within the work bubble at Vanguard Direct extended far beyond the confines of cubicles, and having that community for strength and support was––and still is––priceless.

Author:  Lindsey Clark, Liz Baron, and MinJi Kim

No Time to Read? No Worries––You Can Just “Skimm”

A good friend of mine recently introduced me to an online newsletter, “theSkimm.” Reluctant to subscribe, I had to read a few of its archived issues before realizing it is certainly worthwhile. For those of you who haven’t heard of theSkimm, it’s essentially a newsletter that simplifies the top stories of the day for the many people (like me) who lack the time or devotion to sit down and read––or watch––the daily news.

Today, so much of the news we follow is broadcasted on social media. Social channels like Twitter and Facebook have become standard news sources, but the endless updates on social media sites can be incredibly overwhelming. With the 140-character limit on Twitter, stories can also be unclear. Reading theSkimm takes only takes a few minutes and leaves you with useful knowledge that is very easy to understand. Yes, it’s still a digital, abbreviated version of a classic newspaper, but it provides a wide array of topics and focuses on news.

Cofounders Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin explain on theSkimm’s website, “You may follow the ‘right’ people on Twitter or get the ‘right’ breaking news alerts but with so much noise, it’s hard to filter what you need to know in politics, international affairs, sports, entertainment, technology etc.”

The newsletter is sent out around six in the morning, every weekday. It contains a simple summary of select events and stories that are practical for casual conversation and common knowledge. To sign up, you merely submit your email address without having to add any other personal information.

Weisberg and Zakin are women in their twenties who met studying abroad in Rome. They eventually became roommates in NYC and both worked for NBC. Constantly interested in the news, they left NBC and together launched theSkimm about a year ago. Although they initially intended theSkimm to cater to a female audience, they were surprised to find that many readers were men.

“Our concept is simple: we read, you Skimm.” – Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin

Author: Liz Baron

Gamification: What and Why

Let’s face it. Our attention spans are shortening and our patience dwindling. Additionally, social media, smart devices, and other digital technology have reinforced our expectation of instant gratification. So how do we feed the reward system that has taken hold of us? We borrow from something the new generation entering the workforce knows all too well. We use gamification.

What is gamification? Despite its name (pronounced game-ification), it has very little to do with playing a game and more to do with encouraging behavior. Gamification can best be defined as using game attributes and mechanics to encourage “player” behavior outside a game environment. For example, the social media app Foursquare encourages people to “check in” to locations in the real world and rewards users with high levels of check-ins with badges (which then get sent to a virtual trophy case of sorts). The company isn’t a game company, and the user is doing something very real and tangible but is getting rewarded for using the service with a small token of acknowledgment.

So why has “gamification,” a new marketing buzzword, become so widely used? Because your behavior has been driven by it on websites, social media, and mobile apps. Your fitness app has a progress bar that tells you how much farther you have to run to complete this week’s goal. The social app ranks your usage against your friends, driving you to continue using the app in order to be number one. The website forum you visit allows your comments to be voted on and ranked, encouraging quality participation and collaboration for the best information.

Gamification draws on a lot of our natural instincts––competition, collaboration, gratification, learning, and wanting to feel involved––and everyone from marketers to user-interface designers know it. Because “gamified” content gives us what we want, we’re more likely to engage with it. User participation and community interaction increases, monthly visits and average time on a website increases, and page views and actions taken before logging out are increased. All of these are highly valued statistics in digital business.

At the end of the day, however, gamification isn’t the end-all solution. As with every new phenomenon that enters the marketing sphere, this is just a tool to use to enhance what you already offer. This tool specializes in increasing interaction with a product and can be used to that advantage. So make room in your quiver––you may have another arrow to stock.

Author: Zack Smith