When Success Equals Balance
Updated: May 30, 2020
Cecil Apostol and Adam Chang met over ten years ago as interns in New York City in the MAIP program (Multicultural Advertising Internship Program) run by the 4A’s. They also started their careers at the same media agency, what was then MediaVest, where I had the privilege to meet them. They are now senior digital marketers at Google and IBM. In this conversation we covered what success looks like to them now, lessons learned over their careers, and the importance of finding balance.
Cecil Apostol and Adam Chang
Cecil on his role as at a Product Marketing Manager at Google.
Adam on his role as a Paid Media Specialist at IBM.
. WRBP: You are now ten plus years into your careers. How do you define success for yourself now, and how might that have changed from when you began?
Cecil: Honestly success as it relates to my career is not career related. Success means that I am able to separate my work life from my personal life. For example, not having to bring my work computer with me on weekends. Actually being able to close it and focus on myself that is a success.
I found a job where they are not working you to the bone. They trust you to do your job in a set amount of time and not have to do it after hours. They value that work life balance so that you can be a well-rounded individual and not just make your life entirely about work.
That’s success to me, it doesn’t really matter how much you get paid or if you work for a big brand or company. It is about personal happiness and that’s outside of the responsibility of your job your company and your manager to provide. If you can find good managers and a good company then those are the places you can thrive.
Adam: I agree with Cecil. Success does mean work life balance: having the time to spend with my loved ones and my friends. Having time to do the things that I enjoy and doing the things that I want to learn for myself outside of work. From a work perspective, I agree it’s not always about money.
Early on in this industry, in marketing and advertising, it is a challenge because you want to rise up quickly, that’s everyone’s goal. You do get worked to the bone in some cases. I don’t regret anything as far my career at all. I think that everything I’ve done has led to the success that I’ve had so that I do have a really good work life balance right now and I do appreciate that now. I don’t take any of that for granted.
WRBP: You both mentioned the importance of work life balance. How have you come to value that balance? Did something happen over the course of your careers that you realized you needed to adjust how much energy you were putting into your careers?
Cecil: Yea that hit me in 2011. I was three years in working at MediaVest and I hit my burnout stage. It’s pretty typical in an entry level agency role, people grind it out for one or two years. Then they move on to another agency or they get a little pay bump or maybe they leave advertising all together. For me it was a mix of different things like a lack of work life balance and the stress of the long hours.
And I also needed a chance of scenery too. I’d been in the Tri-State area my entire life. So it was just the right time and the right situation to take a step back and think about what do I need in my life. As a 25 year old it was to be in California and not be working at an agency anymore. So I took that plunge and applied to a bunch of jobs in California. I applied to Google not thinking I’d get a call back and I did. I went through that process and ended up with the role and moved out to San Francisco and have been with them ever since. That was it for me, 2011.
I’m back in New York now, this is always home to me. Having grown up here, gone to high school here, and college in Connecticut, I was kinda done with New York. I wanted to separate myself from that and its’ always been embedded in my identity. I went to high school in Jersey City and we could see the Twin Towers from the window of our classroom. There’s a lot of history trauma and memories that are within the Tri-State area for me. So it is refreshing to separate yourself from that for a bit and then come back to it with a larger sense of appreciation.
WRBP: Adam, you’ve been in New York City for your whole career. How have you managed to stay in New York this whole time and renew yourself?
Adam: I’ve always loved New York. Since the end of college I’ve always wanted to come to New York. I have family here, I have cousins here. It’s a place I always wanted to go. I don’t know why there was some sort of familiarity to it even though I grew up in an area that was nothing like NYC. I’ve gotten to live in Manhattan, I’ve gotten to live in Queens and now I am in Brooklyn. There is always something new to experience and so nothing really ever gets stale beside train delays and tourists. At the end of the day it is still New York City so there are so many things to do.
Cecil: I’m curious Adam do you feel like the summer we spent together for MAIP living in the city and being a bunch of kids out of college working in NY at agencies and working our nights and weekends together influenced you. Or did you already have that notion of NY even before that summer of MAIP?
Adam: I did have a notion of New York but I would say that experience at MAIP of living in the city on my own, sort of, solidified it. That experience was amazing. That was definitely one of the sealing points of me feeling like I have to live here.
WRBP: Your first marketing jobs were at a large media agency. How did your time on the agency side impact your careers?
Cecil: You really cut your teeth learning so much, especially at a larger agency where you’re working on clients that have very complex structures and teams and stakeholders that you need to manage.
So for me I think that kind of exposure was really good. I really learned a lot that about corporate structures in a large agency environment and that was really helpful when I moved over to the sales side. Being able to learn who the key decision makers are that you need to reach was really important. It was such a grind. But it was something that you just go through and then you have your buddies who also went through it at the same time and you can of reminisce together years after. So it was an important formative time for my career
Adam: The agency side, that’s where you earn your stripes in my opinion. That’s where I learned how to do my job now, it’s all rooted in the things I was doing on the agency side. I wouldn’t be a process owner for paid media If I didn’t know how the paid media process works. There are certain processes that are universal like media planning, digital media strategy and buying. At my second agency I learned different skills such as global governance that really help with my current job.
So I think there is a benefit to starting on the agency side. A lot of companies who are looking media specialists are looking for people that have agency experience, the agency side processes and tools are super valuable for an advertiser on their side. My team is made up of mostly agency people, they value that experience for sure.
WRBP: What was the most valuable part of your internship experience with MAIP?
Cecil: It’s definitely number one the people. Adam and I are still super close friends. I even officiated a wedding of other MAIP alums that were in our class. The kinship runs deep for sure. I came in as an English major having never studied anything advertising or marketing related.
I just saw this as an opportunity to see what this industry was about and decide if I wanted to stay in it or not. What I found was that I did really enjoy being surrounded by really awesome, creative, smart people and really seeing all the different things and people that come together to actually make an ad campaign go live. There is so much involved on the media side and the creative side the planning side and the production side and that’s all stuff that I got exposure to through the MAIP internship. Without that I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Adam: I second that, I really don’t think my career would be where it is without MAIP. I don’t know if would be in New York or doing what I am doing now. I can’t envision another path getting to where I am if I didn’t have MAIP. Unlike Cecil and some other folks in the class I had a quarter left of school because I made a stupid decision in changing majors. It was also the height of the recession so by the time I graduated people were getting laid off.It was really hard to find a job at the end of 2008, the beginning of 2009.
I took some time off and went to Korea. Without MAIP I wouldn’t even had that first agency job. Cecil is the one who told me about the position that was available. Without MAIP, I wouldn’t have made those connections to get to MediaVest. For me those lines are clear, they are not dotted lines, it was a direct path.
WRBP: Can you share an experience that might be described as a setback at the time but was a useful learning for you?
Adam: I stayed at a job too long that I hated. It was just a weird interesting time in life. Everyone will go through it at some point, in some way shape or form. It wasn’t the best environment for me whether it was the hours or the demands from either the client or my bosses. There wasn't maybe a cultural fit. I loved my team regardless but you know at the end of the day it wasn’t a good fit and I didn’t realize it until it was too late.
I don’t regret anything but if there was one setback I had is that I didn’t leave soon enough. I left too late the damage was already done. I'm happy now but I could have avoided a lot of that if I just recognized that I don’t have to go through this. Agency life is a roller coaster with its ups and downs. I thought it was one of those downs but it just kept going so I was like, okay time to get off this ride.
WRBP: What were the signs that it was time to leave that you didn’t pay attention to at the time?
Adam: Mostly my mental health. I was just not happy. Do you remember the episodes of Seinfeld when George is sad and he'll go the pier sit at that bench? I literally did that at South Street Seaport. My office was in the financial district and I did that in the dead heat of summer. I would be in my oxford and long pants and I would just go out and sit on the pier.
Why am doing this? Why I am here spending 12 hours a day doing this? Not being melodramatic but that was a wake up call for me. I said I should focus on myself a little bit and find something that fits my life a little bit better.
Cecil: My learning experience was early on in my career at Google on the sales side. I had the ads background but I didn’t really have the ad sales background specifically with digital and search. So there were all these tools I needed to learn and ramp up on. I remember making a mistake that actually wiped out a lot of account history for one of my clients.
There was a process that you have to follow if you're making any changes and I didn’t. I freaked out. I didn’t know how or what I should be doing and eventually came clean to my manager but was hesitant to do so. You are new at a job at a high performing company like Google you don’t want to show a weakness or something wrong. But my manager was super gracious about it and said this happens and we'll figure out something to communicate to the client. He was willing to take the communication direct to the client so I wasn’t putting myself on the line as a newbie who had messed this thing up.
To me the takeaway is that when you find a manager who is willing to have your back no matter what even if its your mistake they're willing to own it that’s a great manager that’s someone that you would respect and work for. He was my manager for eight years and that is why I stayed on that team for so long.
Another takeaway is that mistakes you make especially early on in your career, they’ll happen but don’t beat yourself up. I don’t even remember what client it was that I ruined this account history for. In the moment its gonna feel really bad in the long run its not that big of a deal. We're not saving peoples lives, we are helping businesses grow but its not gonna be the end of the world.
To wrap up our discussion, I took Cecil and Adam back to the year they met at MAIP in 2008 and asked them which was the best movie from that summer. The Dark Knight? Iron Man? Or Wall-E?