It’s hard to tell whether Mitch Joel choose digital marketing or if it chose him. Starting his career in music journalism at an early age, he combined his knowledge of the media business with his passion for computer technology and has been at the forefront of digital marketing ever since:
You are the President of Mirum Agency; daily contributor to Six Pixels of Separation blog and host of its podcast; author; and dad. What does a typical day / week-in-the-life look like for you
I’d love to say that I have a “typical day”… I do not. My days are divided by travel days and home days. Travel days are — as you can imagine — a lot of Uber, airport lounges, waiting and hotels. It’s definitely not as glamorous as people might think. I do love what I do, but I could do without the hectic travel pace. Home days are, typically, spent dealing with emails, meetings and more. I make the focus of all days the business development of Mirum. Everything else (content creation, etc…) comes after that. I do manage my own schedule, which is important to me. With that, I try not to make travel the reason not to have meetings, etc… I like to keep my days full. In all, I’m super-busy, but I would not want it any other way.
A few years ago your company, Twist Image (now Mirium), became part of WPP, a world leader in advertising and marketing services. That had to be a big decision to make. What was that process like? And, now that you are a few years out, do you feel that it was the right move?
We could not be happier about everything. We built one of the largest independent digital marketing agencies in North America that creates experiences that people want and businesses need. We help guide brands in business transformation, experience design, and commerce activation, and were fortunate enough to have the largest marketing communications holding company in the world acquire us. We’re very proud of this accomplishment. Plus, we aligned within the J. Walter Thompson Corporation and — along with several other like-minded digital-first agencies — all came together to launch Mirum about two years ago. Within our first year, we were named to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Global Digital Marketing Agencies, and Mirum is now in over 20 countries with close to 2500 employees. It’s super-exciting and the exact “rocket fuel” that we were looking for to grow the business. It was a big decision, but we made this decision to ensure the company’s health and future-growth. It was the right move for us. The process can be tough. I’m lucky to have three of the best business partners any human being could ever ask for (hi Aubrey, Mark and Mick!), and we surrounded ourselves with people who knew this process and helped us navigate it. Overall: A+.
In addition to the many hats you wear, you’re also a sought after speaker, sharing your insights and ideas on digital marketing to large groups of people around the world (Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Microsoft, to name a few). How did you come into public speaking? And what type of impact do you hope you are having with your work?
In 2006, I was asked to speak at a full-day leadership event that featured Dr. Phil. It was an event that hosted thousands of people. While that entire day is now a blur to me, I remember a couple of distinctly powerful moments. My most vivid memory is that I was following Chuck Martin (Editor of the IoT Daily at MediaPost). As he was onstage, I remember being behind the scenes, looking at the stage with the countdown on the confidence monitor reading fifteen minutes left, and then shifting my sights to the exit sign on the door. I was literally contemplating the idea of making a run for the exit. I let the anxiety and stress get to me. I worked hard to prepare for that moment and it paid off. That was my start. From there, I was fortunate to have two powerful talent agents sign me on (Speaker’s Spotlight and Leading Authorities), so they filter and bring me opportunities as they arise. I do close to 50 speaking events each year. I love doing it. It’s a great way to get brands excited about the work that we do at Mirum. It’s a great way to crystallize your thinking in a non-salesy kind of way. And, most importantly, you get the feedback about the impact. I’m hopeful that my speaking helps business professionals think differently about how they connect with their consumers.
Going way back now, before your digital marketing career you were a music journalist. We read that your very first interview was with Tommy Lee. How did you land that?
True story. 1988. Interviewed Tommy Lee right before Motley Crue launched the Dr. Feelgood album (remember albums?). I was always into music. I was always into music magazines. I would stare at rock magazine covers and say to myself, “who are these people that are lucky enough to spend time talking to these rock stars?” I wound up meeting someone who was working at a large national teen magazine. He lacked computer/typing skills, so I offered my services. He would thank me with free music and concert tickets (I didn’t need/want money, because — let’s be honest — I would have spent all that money on tickets and music anyways). As a “thank you” he invited me to a show. While we were driving there, he got the call about Tommy Lee and asked if I would do the interview. I was hooked. I wound up writing for many publications, launching my own magazines and still, to this day, maintain close ties to that industry. I host a podcast called, Groove — The No Treble podcast. It’s a monthly show where I am trying to build the largest oral history of bass players in the world. I have already had folks like Jerry Jemmott, Michael Manring, Mark Egan, Victor Wooten, Jeff Berlin, Tony Levin and many more on the show. Still love the music.
Music journalism to digital marketing is quite the leap. Why did you decide to make a change, and how did you do it?
I don’t see it like that. It was in music journalism, but it was the media business. I was still learning about publishing, advertising and the myriad of media business models. Tangentially, I was also heavy into computers and desktop publishing, so it was all very connected. When I was publishing my own music magazines, I was putting them “online” at a time when nobody knew what the Internet was. I remember a cover story on one of my magazines about “The Internet” and the latest innovation was hyperlinks. I kid you not. So, it was not so much of a change as a move into the media, strategy and digital side. It may sound strange to those who knew me in the music business, but it felt very natural and organic to me. It still does.
There has to be plenty of difference between digital marketing and journalism, but have you noticed any surprising similarities?
Like I said above: it’s the media business. It’s about content, advertising, connecting stories that matter and more. I’m not surprised at all. In fact, I’m more surprised when other people are surprised by how closely linked they are. There are close connections to what makes a brand and what makes a band. Just look at the rock band KISS.
The Six Pixels of Separation blog and podcast focus on the intersection of brands, consumers and technology with a slant towards marketing. What are some recent developments in the industry that excite you most?
There has never been a more exciting time to be involved in digital marketing. The building of applications and sites is just as dynamic as it ever was. The new advertising models are fascinating to watch. We’re in a mobile-first and digital-first economy, so all roads lead to the work that we do. On the horizon, we’re seeing technology like marketing automation, virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, machine learning and more take hold. It’s really a brave new world. I feel so lucky to have this front row seat. It would be hard/impossible to pin one thing as “the most exciting”… it’s all exciting!
What have you been finding interesting lately / what have you been saving and recommending about recently?
I can’t live without Pocket. Seriously. I’m not just saying that. I mean it. Pocket = my brain. I save everything there. It’s hard to define what I find interesting. If it makes me raise an eyebrow, I save it to Pocket. I know it’s safe there.
Here are the last four gems that I saved to Pocket:
Against Willpower — Nautilus
Intuit says 45% of Canadians will be self-employed by 2020, releases new app to help with finances — Financial Post
Space changed gut bacteria of these twin astronauts — Futurity
Art in the Age of AI: How Tech Is Redefining Our Creativity — SingularityHub
What are your go-to places — sites, apps, people, etc — for finding new stories to read and watch in Pocket?
I subscribe to many (like hundreds) of e-newsletters. I drive most of my content through email and then save what I think I may need in Pocket. Here are some of my favourite places and thinkers:
Seeing what friends share on Facebook/Twitter
If you had the chance to escape and read all of your current Pocket saves where would you go to do it?
I’m a sucker for a quiet cafe with a power outlet and fast connection. If I had to choose, let’s go with either Paris or London.
Who would you want to see us interview next?
I’d love to know what people like Seth Godin, Douglas Rushkoff, Tom Petersand Clay Shirky save.