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  • Writer's pictureNana Grace Kwapong

Meet Gino Giovannelli, Digital Marketer and Adjunct Professor

'In digital marketing, determining what you "should do" vs. what you "could do" is the key to moving from thinking mode to action mode.'

Gino Giovannelli is one of my mentors and one of the first people who taught me about Interactive Marketing in a classroom setting. He is an Adjunct Professor at the University of St. Thomas, teaching Interactive Marketing courses to undergraduate, graduate, and executive education students. He is also the Principal at Miles Interactive, where his portfolio of clients includes the 2018 Super Bowl, Life Time Fitness, Sun Country Airlines, and Caribou Coffee Company among others. 

Before these roles, Gino was Director of e-Commerce at Carlson Hospitality Worldwide, followed by VP of e-Commerce at Carlson Companies, then VP of Carlson Interactive at Carlson Marketing Group. He also worked as a VP of Business Development at Electronic Media Group and as a Director of Sales, Marketing Manager at Fisher-Rosemount (Emerson Electric).

Gino graduated from Bucknell University with a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering. His first job out of college was working as a Sales Engineer at Moore Products Company. He did his MBA with a concentration in Marketing at the University of Minnesota - Carlson School of Management. Gino coaches Baseball, Basketball, and Football. He also enjoys mentoring and is a musician and a photographer.

What does a typical day in your role look like?

In my role? It's a split. I usually try to focus on my clients in the morning. I do some of my best thinking in the morning, so I will make sure to get all the client work I need to get done, done. As I get into the afternoon, I start to think about how to incorporate com of those pieces into the teaching that I am doing. That is easier to do than the heavy lifting in the morning, and I also like the breakup in the day. So typically client work in the morning, and then incorporating that into teaching in the afternoon. At night, I do sports with my kids. That is the full day. We, digital nomads, have no office, we have limited business expenses, just light to no infrastructure. You typically just have your laptop and your phone.

What are you passionate about?

I think at the beginning of my career I was passionate about making a name for myself and being successful in corporate America. As I get older and hopefully wiser and have more gray hair, my goal is to make other people successful. I don't crave the limelight, the big staff, or the big budget. My goal instead is to get all of my clients promoted, and if they are miserable where they work, my goal is to find them a new place to work where they can shine. I get tremendous affirmation from other people's success. I think this happened because I got success, and it wasn't as enriching as I hoped. Now, I get more from giving to others and having them be successful. It is fun.

What do you find most challenging in your work?

As much as I think collaboration is crucial, I struggle with it sometimes. One of John Wooden's favorite quotes says, "If you want to fast, go alone. If you want to go far, you go with the team." I love to work in teams, but I like to do a lot of the work myself because I feel it's more efficient. I do realize however that the more collaborative you are, the better. I like to just go and not check-in with anybody, and just do what I think is the right thing. When it comes to strategy, especially the brainstorming part, I like to keep teams small because it gets more efficient that way. I realize in my heart of hearts that that is the wrong way to do it. You need to be collaborative and inclusive and have everybody at the table. It is just not my instinct or my first reaction. I need to kick myself and go "Stop! You need to go wider on this." That is a big challenge for me.

Approvals can also be tough when I feel the clients are making the wrong decision. Things like design are subjective, so I am fine with whatever the client decides. However when it comes to wireframes and issues that affect usability, I get pretty passionate about what I believe to be the right way to move forward. Sometimes, when you are a consultant, they will say, "Thank you very much, but this is what we need to do." You can appeal, but if they say "no" then it's no. You know it's wrong, but you just have to let it go. If they come back around and realize they are wrong, you cannot pounce on the "I told you so." When I was on the client side, I could tell consultants "no" and I liked that. Now that I am the consultant, I am a recommender and not the decision maker, and that is hard and tricky. I don't have a problem with doing a broad range of things. Some days, I work on strategy, other days, I update someone's homepage on a website site.

What do you find most enriching about your job/career?

That's going to have to be on the teaching side, much more than the client side. When clients think you did a good job, they kind of feel, "Well, that's what we paid you for," so there are high-fives and things like that. They tend to think "Ok, we did not screw that up. We got that right. No bad stuff happened." With teaching, you can see visual cues of a student's understanding, like when they nod their heads or smile, or you can see their minds going. Sometimes during breaks, they may run up to you and tell you that you triggered something. For example, in class yesterday, this lady came up to me and said, ‘Can I buy you lunch someday next week, because you lit something in my mind I can't articulate right now, but I will by next week." I love that because something I said helps people go to a new place intellectually, careerwise, confidence wise. That is the biggest affirmation.

The other thing is because teaching doesn't pay that much, it is evident we don't do it for money. We make what we make, but when you see a light bulb go on for somebody, or after your course, you notice they got a new job in digital marketing on LinkedIn, that is exciting. You think to yourself, "Oh my gosh! This person was an operations person, and now they work in marketing." That's why I teach. You get that feedback. You are teaching young people to swing for the fences. You can't leave this world without doing something as good as that.

How did you find yourself in the career you currently hold?

Through a bunch of missteps that I thought would have ruined my career. I had set goals where I wanted to be a director at 30, a VP at 40 and a president at 50. I just arbitrarily picked those ages. I became a director at 30. I thought my reaction would have been "Oh my gosh! I accomplished this goal. I am so excited to do this job." Instead, the first thought that came to into my head was, "Now I have to leave." It was because I felt there was nothing left to achieve. So I left Corporate America and went into the DOTcom space. Within two months, I realized I had made a mistake organizationally, culturally, everything. I was desperately looking for a new job after I had just been promoted to the job I was hoping to get. I felt like I had committed career suicide. I even went back to the company and asked them to consider hiring me back for the job I walked away from. 

Through informal conversations that didn't go well, I realized that ship had sailed, and I found myself desperately trying to find a new job. It ended up being the best thing for me because it forced me to find a whole path that I never that I would go down. Secondly, I had to make an excellent decision because I had just made a terrible one. I was determined to find something right away. As bad as the situation was, I could not afford to make another bad decision. This time lent itself to soul searching. Fortunately, I got a new in a new space. I think back to those eleven months at that DOTcom company where I was so miserable and upset and depressed. If I hadn't done that, I would not have found the next job, which led to the next job and the teaching and everything else. 

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Things will always work out great. When people call me and tell me they got fired, I always say it is the best day of their lives, because that situation is going to force them to explore something they have never tried. I try to tell my kids the same thing: “If you ever get cut from a tryout or the baseball team, it’s going to feel terrible, but it needs to happen.” My oldest hasn’t been cut from anything, and he needs it to learn that he is not going to die. You need practice or small stakes disappointments to know that the sun will rise again, and you are going to be just fine. Sometimes you even land in a better spot. 

Words of advice for anyone who wants to pursue this career?

In digital? Oh gosh! In general, it should be risk takers or people who are confident in not making the best decisions all the time. The measurement aspect of digital marketing is so transparent that if you run a campaign and the click-through or conversion rates are bad, or the cost per lead is too high, you cannot hide it. It is not like radio or billboard ads that are not as easily traceable. Digital is measurable. Therefore it is watched and measured, and if you are not willing to say “that campaign was a bust, but learned this, this, and this, and will not be doing any of those tactics anytime soon,” then you have lost. The value of that learning is often worth the cost of the missed business opportunity. If you are someone who does not like to ever admit mistakes, this may not be the field for you. Perfectionists tend not to be good fits. Explorers and dreamers are a perfect fit. You need that “let’s here, let’s there. Let’s try it and see” spirit. If you don’t have an appetite to explore, then don’t do this. Stick to finance and accounting areas that have hard and fast rules. 

If you love to learn how to learn, this is a great space to be in, because websites do not come with instructions, and neither do apps. If you want to live in this world, where if somebody asks “have you ever built a website with WordPress? And your answer is “Show me; I’ll do it” or “I can figure it out”, this may be your space. That is what I love about young people. They don’t expect to be taught this stuff. You need to have the zeal to figure things out and be a lifelong learner. 

The other thing is if you want to learn one thing well and stick to it, this is not the right field either. You have to be platform and device agnostic. While you are always learning, you cannot bank the knowledge for the future. IT is not going to pay out over the next twenty years. It may be useful for the next few months or weeks. You have to be willing to abandon that knowledge and information when the platform because obsolete. Be careful when becoming too familiar with particular platforms or programs like Facebook. You should be able to adapt if a new platform replaces an older one you are familiar with. A lot of knowledge like problem-solving and strategic thinking are transferrable skills. Focus on those. You also need an excitement about new things and a willingness to admit you made a huge mistake. If you love to “fail fast, win big”, digital marketing is a great field to be in.

To learn more about Gino Giovannelli, click here or visit his website at!

Thanks for reading!

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