Patrick sits down with Brendan Roach and Kelly McKibbin, AMG's first team members working out of our new Philadelphia office to discuss the challenges and obstacles of working remote and growing a business. They explain how AdVenture Media Group was successful at remote work during the pandemic which ultimately lended itself to opening a new office during such unprecedented times.
Patrick Gilbert: Welcome to the How to Hide a Dead Body podcast. My name is Patrick Gilbert, I'm the COO of AdVenture Media Group. This is a podcast where we talk about digital advertising, business consulting, and career growth.
This is the last episode of the 2021 season however, we're tracking this. This has been an incredible year for us at AdVenture Media Group. We've experienced a lot of growth, a lot of successes, a lot of interesting failures. But just from an experience standpoint, it's been different than any other year that we've had.
Among the most significant of those milestones or things that we've taken away from this year is that we've officially expanded our geographic footprint into multiple offices. This is one thing that we took out of the pandemic was that, to do good work, we didn't all need to be in the same room all the time.
So our main office is in New York on Long Island. We have about 20 people that are full time here. We still have a bit of a flexible hybrid schedule, but for the most part, the majority of the team is still here. Some of our team members are remote in Florida, Europe, and a few other places. But I guess it's been six or seven months now that we now have an office in Philadelphia.
It's been an incredible experience figuring out all the logistics of what a second office would look like, and how to staff and how to set up workflows, and all these different things. And that's what we want to talk about today. What have we learned from that and what do we need to do better?
Joining me today, we have Brendan Roach and Kelly McKibbin, who are two of our team members here that are based in our Philadelphia office. I give them a lot of credit. They're basically the Lewis and Clark AdVenture Media Group for traveling out to Philly and figuring out what it would be like for us to have a second office out there.
This all started at some point within the last year when Brendan, who was originally based in New York, was going to be moving to Philly. And the idea came up of saying, "Why don't we give this a shot?" So we looked into coworking space and found an awesome office, right in the center city at Suburban Station—it's called Bond Collective; it's similar to WeWork—and we went for it. And for a little while, Brendan was sitting by himself in this dark, lonely office until we started to find some of the team members that were going to join him out there.
But I want to start with that. Brendan, when we first suggested this idea of saying, "Instead of you just going remote, how would you like to essentially become the manager of an office that doesn't exist yet?" That certainly wasn't something you expected at the time. What was that whole experience like?
Brendan Roach: It was pretty surprising. I think I'd been with a company for about a year and some change probably when that happened.
Patrick Gilbert: Yeah, it was probably the 15-month mark.
Brendan Roach: Yeah. I mean, that was pretty surprising. I thought it was really exciting. Personally, I have always loved Philly. So I was really excited to come here. And then to actually be presented with that opportunity really sparked my interest even further. I love this city.
Patrick Gilbert: At that time though, I think this was right after we had signed a large client that you're going to be taking the lead on.
Brendan Roach: Yes.
Patrick Gilbert: So it was like, "Hey, hope all as well. Here's this huge new responsibility, and also this other huge new responsibility." So what was that like?
Brendan Roach: It was exciting and I was nervous at the same time. I didn't know how this would shape up. I didn't know who would be joining me here in Philadelphia. Luckily, I had Kelly to join me a couple months later. But yeah, I think overall, I was a little bit nervous. There's such a distinct feeling coming into the New York office. I don't know, I was really nervous about being able to replicate that.
I think that in terms of everything that happens on a day to day in New York, it's hard to explain it unless you're there. I'm sure even Kelly can attest to that. But there's a distinct energy that's felt in the office on a day to day regardless. If somebody is not having a positive day, there's probably somebody else who's there to pick them up. And that kind of energy flows through the office space.
Patrick Gilbert: I definitely hear that. And that was always a concern for us as well. And that's something we've been struggling with since the beginning of the pandemic. We have two team members that have since moved to a different state and we're planning on opening an office there now that we're figuring this out. But it's hard. It's like, how do we replicate that sort of feeling where they are still a part of the team, or you are still a part of the team, and it's not just these separate people that are off in their own world? That's certainly been a challenge and I'm sure we'll dive into that.
Kelly, you've been on the team for a little bit less than a year. And when we were interviewing you, you were coming from a different agency. Now, they were based in New York or they were based in Chicago?
Kelly McKibbin: Based in New York, though I was working technically in the Chicago office, even though I was essentially permanently remote due to COVID, living in New Jersey with my parents.
Patrick Gilbert: Right. Very weird situation. When we originally started talking, I think that you had intentions of working out at the New York office, right? That was the case. And then during one of our earlier conversations, it was like, "Oh, wait, we're actually about to open..." Your parents live in New Jersey, which is right in between these two spots. We’re just opening this office in Philly, would you be into this?
And you were like, "Oh, yeah, that actually works great. I would love to do that." So it kind of worked out. But what was so key here and honestly so pivotal to the success was that before you officially moved, you worked out of New York for like six or eight weeks, whatever it was. I know that was really valuable and I want to hear about that experience.
But also, just as a testament to that, you were bought into that concept from the very beginning of saying, "This is going to be valuable and I'm totally on board. I know that this is going to be scary and weird, and I hope I get along with this Brendon guy." But also, there was no easy commute. You were driving from northern Jersey into Long Island every single day. That was not a simple thing.
So I want to reiterate how much I appreciate that. Talk about that a little bit, that whole being here to learn, but also to absorb some of the culture and what we're trying to do here. What was that whole experience like?
Kelly McKibbin: Yeah. Even though some mornings I was cursing myself on the commute, it really was worth it. Because as Brendan said, I'd walk into the office and you're always greeted with, "Oh, hey, Kelly, how's it going?" You walked in and you just felt better. It could have been the worst traffic day, it could have been the easiest commute ever. It didn't matter. You walked in, you're going to be smiling. You knew somebody was going to make you laugh.
And I think that that was the most important part of the culture. I knew I was going to learn, I knew I was going to be excited to be there. So being in the office really did set that foundation of what I knew was going to be in Philly waiting for me because Brendan was eager to have that again. So I was not worried about coming to Philly once I experienced the New York office and culture. So I tried to bring that with me too, even though it was only about eight weeks of being in New York.
I think that the cool part of Philly is Brendan and I got to take our experience of the New York culture. And yes, as much as we want to replicate it, we want to have our own Philly culture, too. So there's our office mixed with everything that we learned and wanted to take out of Long Island and bring to here. So it's been a really great experience, but I would not trade my time in the New York office for anything.
Patrick Gilbert: What did you learn from both being remote first? You joined fully remote. You're the first employee that we've ever had that joined remotely. What did you learn from that? And then what was different when we were back in person, and what was like, "Oh, that was different than I expected."?
Brendan Roach: I think that the main thing that I noticed when I walked into the office was the willingness for everybody to help. And you had communicated this during the onboarding process that everybody has been in your shoes, everybody's been in the place where they're onboarding and learning.
It's really difficult to interpret that when you're remote because you don't see everybody having connections on a daily basis. Everybody there in the office is there to, A, learn, even if they've been with the company for you know, doesn't matter if they've been at the company for a year, two weeks, or five years. Everybody's trying to learn and everybody else is trying to help them learn.
Kelly McKibbin: One thing I would teach and I'm also still learning myself, is to just say to somebody—it doesn't matter if I’m bothering Brendon because I'm not—simply just rolling over his desk and saying, "Hey, can you help me with this?" It's something that is just echoing what Brendan just said. That's the beauty of being in person and I feel like the time that a lot of us had remotely, it felt like a weird boundary that you were crossing, like taking advantage of being in person. I feel like that's something that I definitely lost and was excited to regain when I joined AdVenture because I came from a full remote position. What drew me was coming to an office and getting over my fear of asking somebody to have a chat.
Patrick Gilbert: So, in terms of getting up and running, what worked? What did we screw up? What do we have to do better next time?
Brendan Roach: I think that the main thing is once people like Kelly did start joining our office, it was like, how do we turn around? And how do we make this feel like an office, like a home, AdVenture Media?
Kelly McKibbin: And it's naturally come over time. Last week, the three of us went out. We invited some friends to go out with us. I think that's also been the hardest part is learning each other's communication style, and getting to feel comfortable with each other. You're not going to force it right away. We did have a first day when we started like, "Oh, happy first day." Now it's gotten to the point where we actually like to do that. And it's not the same as New York. If we go out somewhere after work or go out to lunch, it's the three of us staring at each other, which is what we do in the office all day.
So I think it's been cool introducing people that we like in the Philly area to kind of branch our office out. Even though it's work, kind of mixing them a little bit more and getting outside of our nine to five role and getting to know each other a little bit. I think that that was difficult at first but we're getting better at it, substantially.
Patrick Gilbert: I didn't think about how impactful that could be; the idea of meeting significant others or friends or whatever. Just because that gives you a different avenue of things to talk about and be in each other's lives a little bit more than just work stuff. Yeah, to your point, like, "Hey, let's grab a drink after work." And then you're just talking about the same stuff you would have been talking about at work. That's not good. That's not the sort of thing that you want in a team. You want to be able to shoot the breeze about this or that. And that's a big part of the thing I want to talk to you guys about is the overall culture and how to preserve that.
Kelly McKibbin: I remember at the DOLA, when we were talking and the videographer there asked me a corny question about what drew me to AdVenture Media. And I was like, "It's the fact that everybody's family." And I think that has definitely carried in from New York, even to Florida remote here because people want to know who my family is. My friends are my family. My family is my family. People actually care about that. And that's what I think makes the culture so unique and so valuable.
I'd never experienced it before, but I'd been looking for it and didn't know what it would be. But as soon as I experienced it, I was like, "Wow, this is cool. This is different." As Brendan said, work and life, it all comes full circle and everybody actually cares at AdVenture.
Patrick Gilbert: What I think is important, though, is addressing the fact that there's a lot of potential for whether it be you guys or a different office, or anyone that's working remotely to sort of feel alienated, and not a part of the culture here. Which is like, yeah, you guys are dead to me because you're not here. No, I'm kidding. But there is that element of it. Whether it be an inside joke or some sort of story that you're getting whatever.
Is there a way to remedy that? Or are there things that we're currently doing? And I guess for anyone listening, that doesn't really know how our company operates, you guys aren't necessarily operating on your own. We're all working on projects together all day, every day. When we have someone join the company, it's like, "Hey, listen, we have people all over the place. Probably a day won't go by where you won't have FaceTime with people in three different states and multiple continents so just get used to that."
So we are all a part of the same team here, but like there's naturally this weird geographic vibe. So what does work and what might be a better way to make us all feel like one larger team as opposed to just siloed individuals?
Brendan Roach: From the onset, we have conversations with people in order to make them feel like a member of the team. We invite everybody to... it's a joke that we have that when we come onto the team, you're on like 14 calls a day that you kind of don't have any business being on, but the fact that you're on them gives you facetime with other people and starts to build up that comfortability.
I think the main thing is I would never want somebody joining our team to feel uncomfortable to say something in any situation because it's probably more likely than not going to add value to the conversation. And I think we do a pretty good job of making people feel comfortable from the onset.
I remember, one of my first days, I was brought on to a discovery call. I wasn't fully an account manager or anything, but I got to be a part of Avery and Ronnie's team. And they're two of the people who I would say I'm closest with in the office. And that just built up from I think it was day two on the job.
Patrick Gilbert: We've become a larger company and that element of it is something that I definitely want to address before coming to a problem. Because when we were, say, 10 people, someone comes on board, it's easier to include them. And it's easier for them to come in and say, "Okay, well I get it. I know I should go to this person for this question. And I can ask that person or just literally yell, and people will figure it out." But when you're a larger company, it's harder to figure that out.
One thing that we literally just implemented today because someone started today is a mentorship thing, a mentorship program. And we don't even know what the details of that are. And, of course, I was delayed on this. I forgot that this person was starting today. And last night, I texted Andrew, "Listen, we're going to be doing this new thing. I want you to be this new person's mentor, the go-to person for any questions or anything. Just keep an eye out for them. Make sure that they're comfortable and that they're adjusting." And he was like, "Yeah, love that. Can't wait. Awesome."
Then they went out to lunch together earlier. And he did that and I was like, "That's amazing." I'm so glad that that's happening because now that's a relationship that they have that's not being forced upon them. I don't know, as far as like being included in the group.That's the first step in that and I think that's so important, especially as we expand to different areas.
Kelly McKibbin: Even you just saying the word mentor, Patrick, like today, I was on a call with Nechama. We just started chatting. She's like, "This is how I would do it. I don't want to force it upon you." And I was like, "No, this is what mentorship is. I'm not asking you to formally be my mentor." But that's the purpose of mentorship. And for me and Nechama it's kind of formed over time because we worked together in New York for a little bit and now I've been virtual. But today, I was like, "You're actually challenging my thinking. Can we make this a more regular thing?"
It just became a natural mentorship; somebody who I looked to and respected but didn't think I'd get the opportunity to work so closely with. It just fell on our plate and I'm excited to make the most of it. I'm excited to see what's going to come of Andrew being the great mentor that he is. And then with other new hires, how we can mentor them, even in our Philly office.
Patrick Gilbert: Definitely. She's basically everyone's mentor and therapist and saving grace. I think that all this will definitely become easier as well, as we add more people. Part of the problem, too, is now we have a few other people or I guess one other person that started working in the Philly office since then. And that person has not really spent any time in New York yet. So I think translating our values and our way of thinking and our way of going about, like I said earlier, not taking ourselves too seriously, all that stuff. That responsibility is now given to you guys.
And I know that that's not an easy thing to replicate. It's certainly not an easy thing to do. I think it'll become easier as you add more people. And ideally, we would have had more people start at the same time. I think that was something that was really valuable for me when I joined the company. I didn't know what the hell was going on, but Ari was in the same boat and we were able to figure it out together, and we could kind of emulate our style off of one another. And I think that's really important.
That's what we're going to try to do. So we're getting more serious about recruiting and hiring and things like that, specifically on the Philadelphia side. What I'm curious about, though, is talking about the benefits of being in person, and working with the people that you're with, and seeing how that differs from other things that translate across the entire company. Because obviously, there's benefits to having a more skill set.
And it's not necessarily about experience. As I said, just a difference in opinion helps avoid groupthink, and it helps people solve problems in a more sophisticated way. But in your experience, are there things that have been proven to be easier when it's, say, the three of you working together in the Philly office that you think may not have been as easy to solve if you had been virtual in any capacity?
Brendan Roach: In terms of developing I think that if I'm working on an account, and in this example, I'll use Richie, it's very easy for me to work with him on an account and also teach him along with our process, the AdVenture Media process. And I know that we've talked about processes and developing processes across the account. But in terms of the onboarding process, I know that's been something that you've been really diligently working on.
I know that Nina and Daniel have also been a part of that, developing some content and developing actual course materials for that. But in this industry, we really don't learn well, unless you actually are taking that direct action. It's like the contextual component and then actually directly implementing it. I think that's one of the benefits of working not remotely. It's like, "Hey, I'm doing something, come look over my shoulder. Let's do this together." Or, "Do you want me to come and help you set up a keyword projection?"
Whatever that might be, I think that's really beneficial to be in office for, especially if you're working inside of the team in that same location.
Patrick Gilbert: I can think back to when I was just starting out, and I would see Isaac on the phone with a client and he would not be fully prepared. And he would jump on the call like, "Oh, wait, I'm late for this call. I forgot that I had it." Jump on board and he'd be able to figure it out. And just watching tha, and it's really hard to describe because it's the sort of thing you need to witness. And watching that is like, that's so impressive but also, I think I could do that.
At some point, working people that I just joined the team that were working remotely, I received feedback at one point of somebody saying, "I think that this is very overwhelming because all these people on the team are very impressive." Because they were only seeing them on the finished product. They were only seeing them on client calls. They weren't seeing the five minutes before when they had their head in their hands saying, "I don't know what the hell I'm about to do. Let's just do it live."
And I think that element of it is when you actually witness somebody, before, during and after is so important in terms of culture, and figuring out how things are done.
Kelly McKibbin: And it opens a door for feedback. After one call, Brendan told me, "Your word is this. You said it like 80 times on the call." And the next time I paid attention. But if we're remote, it seems scary for him to message me and say, "Hi, I have feedback from the call." Meanwhile, we can just hang up, rip out our headphones, and he can make a joke about it. It seems more relatable and it seems like, yes, he wants to teach me but he also is my friend. It's not coming from a critical way. It's just coming from a hey-I'm-looking-out-for-you way.
Patrick Gilbert: Yeah. Last week, A few of us had a meeting with a client in New Jersey. So we had TO drive and it was myself, Nechama, and Andrew in the car for an hour and a half beforehand. And we were talking about the upcoming meeting. And it gave us a really good opportunity to not just prepare for the call or prepare for the meeting, but also, what do you think is going to happen? What do you think is going to be their opinion on this? Let's play this prediction game. And then it's an opportunity to provide real time feedback like maybe you should be thinking about this a little bit differently, or here's how I see it.
And then afterwards on the drive home, recognizing that we were all wrong and it went very well. But be like, "Hey, listen, this is how this could have been better. This is how we didn't see that coming." But I think that that was that sort of thing that, to your point, would have been really weird to do as an official. Let's do a debrief and let me give you critical feedback. It was just like we're in traffic shooting the breeze about, "Hey, maybe we could approach this differently." Yeah, I totally agree.
The Philadelphia office has really been serving as a guinea pig for AdVenture Media to be able to figure out how we can do this at scale. Next week, we're going to be looking at office space and the Fort Lauderdale area. That's where we want to go next. But Philly was the next step because it's three hours from New York.
I spent some time there and I plan on being more diligent about this in the new year. You guys are going to come visit and it's going to be great. I think we've identified that for Richie who's new, who started in Philly, we want to get him a lot more exposure to the folks in New York and be able to spend some more time here. What has worked that we should continue to do as we look at other spaces? What should we do differently? Kelly, what are you thinking?
Kelly McKibbin: In terms of what we could do differently because I'll start with that first; I think it might help if one or two people from the New York office are there on some of these first days to just give that extra element. Maybe it was a little bit different when I started because it was just me and Brendan awkwardly meeting each other face to face for the first time. And as he said earlier, see how tall each other is. It was kind of funny. But with Richie, we at least had that banter with each other. And I remember the day that you came to visit; it added that extra element that made us, yes, a little bit more professional. But in the sense of fun, this is how this isn't just because it's just us here. This is how it is in New York, like this is how it was there. And just like continuing the culture down. So I think that would be really helpful. Something that we can do differently.
And I remember the day that you came to visit; it added that extra element. It made it a little bit more professional, but in the sense of fun, this isn't just because it's just us here. This is how it is in New York. This is how it was there and just continuing the culture down. So I think that would be really helpful; something that we can do differently.
Patrick Gilbert: Saying I visit, is there a specific type? Does it really matter if we're working on something together? Or is it just like, "Hey, it's good to be around." And I guess maybe I shouldn't say that as if it's nice to be around me because it's not. It's very unpleasant. But anybody, I guess. When someone that's enjoyable to be here, let's say Nina wanted to go visit you guys, should it be to collaborate on something specifically, like she has time carved out? Or does it really not make a difference and just like, "Hey, it's good to be here."?
Kelly McKibbin: I would say just good to be there. I mean, repeating what we said earlier; we just look at the three of us all day. It's nice to have that extra perspective that just comes organically because somebody was overhearing what we were talking about on a client that we work together with. It just gives some fresh perspectives. And even if it might not be something that everybody's like, "Oh, I love paid social," it could be, "Oh, I saw this ad. Actually, it's a brand that's similar to your client. Have you ever looked at it?" It's just a fun little added bonus of some other personality to add to our boom.
Patrick Gilbert: Okay, I like that. So aside from the things we should do differently, what do you think has work that we should try and replicate? Because also you have to recognize, the next office we open, you guys have been essential in this whole thing. And there's a lot of great qualities that you have that have helped make this successful. What should we make sure that we do the next time we do it knowing that the two of you are not going to be a part of it?
Brendan Roach: I think we were pretty good with the introductions. I forget; on your first day or it was Ritchie's first day, I spent probably a good hour and a half total just talking. Not about account work, not about anything just introductions, past experience, where you're from. I mean, it's like those weird icebreakers that are so uncomfortable and so awkward to put up with but they move things along.
It's like, "Okay, great. We established that you have some callers that I might or might not have heard about, you might have heard of somebody I might know." All that awkwardness is out of the way. And then it's like, "Okay, who are you really?" And once you can get to that point, I think that's just going to move the relationship further. Like, I found out that Kelly has a weird 1990s vending machine at her house that caught on fire because her brother wanted one. That's really cool information that doesn't have any benefit for us other than building relationships. But I found that out in the first week.
Patrick Gilbert: I didn't know that. That's news to me. That's super weird.
Kelly McKibbin: It is weird. I think one other thing that we did really was I walked in on my first day and I had a desk. That was so cool, coming in and being like, "This is where you're going to sit. These are the friends you're going to make." I really liked that and I think that that's something that we did here with Richie.
I spent like three hours creeping around the office, looking at other people's layouts, seeing how they best use their office space. So I think that's something that we really did try to make the effort of. How can we best sit in the office to make this new person the best way to just jump right in and give them a seat that doesn't feel like, "Oh, you're just in a corner because this is the only desk that's open, that's new." And that's even how I felt in New York. I joked around that I had a seat in the fun pod. You guys put me in a seat where I was going to best be able to chat and collaborate and just jump right in.
Patrick Gilbert: On that point, I think that that's really important. And that's something that even though last night I sort of remembered that we had someone starting today, I did make sure that their desk was set up and clean and organized and ready to go. And, of course, that's always the thing. Someone's first day; they always show up early because they think that that's important. Meanwhile, it's more stressful because I know that they're going to get to the office before I do.
But he came in and knew where he was sitting. That was a big deal. But one thing that you guys have also talked about that I think is really important is just spending more time working in the same room. And I try to do that here. I try to make sure that my door isn't closed all day, or I spend as much time in different areas and pockets of the office as much as possible.
It's very important to not just be that worker drone. Right now, you guys are sitting in one of the phone booths in this coworking space because we're trying to record, but I know, you've been trying to make a more conscious effort to spend more time. And as weird as that sounds, it really makes a big difference. Would you agree?
Kelly McKibbin: Huge difference. On the days that we're all sitting there chatting, the conversation just flows. And as Brendan said, it opens the door for good conversation. But then also, you know, we're human. It makes us more approachable in those moments where we need each other.
Patrick Gilbert: Awesome. Well, you guys have been doing great work. It's been a huge success. I'm really excited to see where this goes. And I'm very happy to have you guys at the helm of what has been a very challenging but exciting next step in AdVenture Media's growth. So thank you guys for that and I appreciate you coming on.
If you were to give advice as to where to hide a body, what would you guys say?
Brendan Roach: The second page of the search engine results page?
Patrick Gilbert: Thank you guys. I appreciate it. This has been the How to Hide a Dead Body podcast. Check us out adventureppc.com. We'll catch you next time.
We'll get back to you within a day to schedule a quick strategy call. We can also communicate over email if that's easier for you.