The following is a transcription of an audio interview.
So Jeff, I always start these interviews out by asking people what they’re passionate about. What are you passionate about?
I feel this seems like a pretty generic answer, but I’m driven by a desire to make an impact in people’s lives and to really leave a lasting mark. I want to change the world and I’m very passionate about doing that. I think you’ll see that on a lot of the projects that I work on and a lot of things that I do.
When you say changing the world, I assume that you mostly mean in little ways. Little ways that hopefully build towards something that does leave a lasting impression. Can you give me some examples of what you mean?
You mentioned Our Fractured Minds in your intro, this is a hugely important project for me. Originally I wanted to publish this book and I wanted the whole world to hear my story. I realized at South by Southwest last year, that was a very selfish approach. I don’t want to tell my story; I want to give people a platform to tell their stories. What I found really fascinating is that just by having guests on the podcast tell their stories, it’s changed their own lives because they’ve started voicing their feelings and discussing them. The wonderful feedback I’ve had from my listeners is very similar.
I had a listener email me and talk about how her child had just been through something serious. They had to take her to the hospital and just being able to listen to the stories of the people on the podcast has helped give them strength to know they’re not alone in this fight. I may only be changing the lives of one person but to that person, I’ve changed the world for them. It’s a powerful way to look at things. I think we get so lost up in the idea that one person can’t bring change but what they forget is one person can change the world for one person.
So before we come back to the podcast, let’s talk content marketing. As a content marketer, how are you working to drive success for the company you work for? How do you feel content helps push the needle for that brand?
Well to me the single most important thing that you need to be a good content marketer, is passion. If you’re passionate about what you do, it shows in your work. If you can show that passion of what you’re doing, then it makes it more interesting to the consumer. It makes it more easily digestible to the public.
Here at my current company, which is Dickson, we live under the belief that every point matters. The company motto is taken literally, it’s about data. We collect data, every point of data matters. But to me, it’s so much more than that because if we fail to do our job, then a vaccine may go bad. If that vaccine is given to a child and that child gets sick because the vaccine doesn’t work, then we failed.
It’s this idea that everything that we touch and everything that we do, has such a direct impact on so many people’s lives. That’s sort of a big way that I take that on. if you’re able to write content in a way that you can show your joy in or show your interest in or show your passion in, it moves the needle.
For those people who don’t know, Dickson collects a lot of data related to the monitoring of temperature and humidity, and have transitioned into the world of IoT, with applications for pharmacy, aerospace, food, hospitality, healthcare etc.
When I was looking at the blogs that you’ve written there Jeff, I’ve noticed that while a lot of them are on the topic of temperature and humidity, they’re not actually really necessarily about the devices or the products.
For example, there was one that was exploring how drones can be used to measure the temperature in volcanoes to predict eruptions. What I wanted to ask then is, how do you choose those topics?
When I first came to Dickson, we had an ongoing blog but the readership was fairly insubstantial. What I decided to do is draw the Venn diagram between our customers’ work and their interests. A big part of what I was doing initially when I got here was, I wanted to grow traffic to the blog.
The volcano piece is about how it impacts the environment but it’s about different ways of monitoring the environment. We may not be monitoring volcanoes, but we can certainly monitor high temp applications like ovens. We can monitor sterilizers and those kinds of things. I like to talk about sort of lateral uses of such products. Then I like to use call-to-actions to really speak to what we do.
It’s a great way to tie interesting subjects to your own business, and hook readers who might not otherwise know your brand.
One of the things that I found most gratifying is when I started here, we did a catalog, which was pretty standard. I have since sort of transitioned that to a magazine. We have customers, who will legitimately call us and tell us how much they enjoyed reading our magazine. With most catalogs can you imagine them calling up a company and saying, “Oh my gosh. I really enjoyed reading your catalog. I shared it with my wife because there was something in there that I found so interesting.”
We’ve also been working to build our brand online and try to raise our domain authority through the blog. We’ve been able to generate some really impressive backlinking through people like Yahoo, Investopedia, Forbes, some really powerful players in the world of medicine and healthcare. To me, those are some of the really big benefits that we’ve had sort of from that strategy to date.
When it comes to distribution and getting the right eyes to see your content, how do you tend to go about that? Is it mostly through social? Are you doing direct outreach? Do you have pre-existing relationships with journalists? I just wanted to get a sense of kind of what your process would be.
All of the above is the best answer. We do push a lot of things out social. We’ve seen it picked up, just from being pushed out via social. We’ve started to develop some relationships with some of the journalists that have picked up our pieces the most. One of the best things that I can suggest is when you have a journalist who enjoys or references your news or content, make sure you start a relationship. Ask them what you can do to make their job easier. If a journalist comes to you, saying, “Hey I want this information.” Then you know that it’s relevant, it’s something that’s going to get a lot of play.
I noticed you wrote a piece about a Jarts tournament that you guys had. I wanted to ask you a bit about culture-related content, and why it’s important to write.
Dickson is based in the suburbs of Chicago and we are always looking to hire premium, young talent which can be hard in the ‘burbs. One of the things that we have found that we need to try to do more of is sort of outreaching to that group and discussing more about what makes Dickson a great place. We don’t have a lot of the amenities that people in the city may have, but we do other things that I think set us apart.
I used to work in agency, and while we don’t have agency perks, it’s so much fun to work here. The Jarts tournament is just a part of it. We sometimes have game days, where we come in and we do events over lunch time. We obviously have the regular potlucks. I’m trying to start up an annual chili contest. I’ve started going to Topgolf and going golfing with a lot of the people I work with.
Everybody I work with here I would enjoy hanging out with outside of the office. To me, if we can really discuss that via our blog, talk about what makes Dixon worthwhile, what makes it a great place to work. Then hopefully we can start acquiring some of that premium, young talent.
Let’s pivot over to the podcast. You talked a bit about it, the Our Fractured Minds podcast. You’ve been doing it since earlier this year, correct?
Yes. I launched it, I believe in May. Gosh, I can’t believe I put out 20 episodes of it. My hope or plan is to start again in 2018 with season 2.
For those who don’t know, it’s a podcast where you invite guests on and you discuss their challenges and victories surrounding mental health. How did the whole process of you making the podcast come about in the first place?
I was on the GSD Chat, with Jason Schemmel, early last year. I really enjoyed that process. I got a lot of really positive feedback, not only from him but a lot of people who listened to it. Then I was on another podcast called the Butterflies of Wisdom and when I was done, the host of that show really pushed me hard to say, “You’d be great at a podcast. You’ve very well spoken.” Then I talked to her about what my idea and she was like, “Yeah, that’s a great idea.” Then we sort of flowed out from there.
Can you describe the lifecycle that goes into the recording and publishing of each episode, including how you find your guests?
Well the first part obviously is guest finding. For me, that is by far the hardest part. For one, it’s a sensitive topic and not a lot of people are outwardly publicizing their own battles with mental health. For me, a lot of my guests have been referrals from listeners or from other people who have been on the show and what I’ve been amazed is how many people have reached out and said, “Hey your show has touched me. I’d like to share my story too.” That’s been great. But it can be challenging at times, especially when you’re trying to do a weekly podcast to make sure you have enough guests to sort of fill that time. As someone who also suffers from anxiety, it can be very intimidating to blindly reach out to someone you don’t know and ask them to sort of come and share this information with you. That’s the first part.
Then from there, it’s getting bios, prepping them so that they’re ready to go for the podcast, writing an introduction to the show, developing a list of questions. Typically, the list of questions are all the same. But I got to speak to a couple of really interesting people who didn’t necessarily suffer but they did some other things within the mental health community. Then obviously comes the recording. For the most part to me, the interview is very organic in sort of how it goes.
I went to school for journalism. So I go in with an idea of what kind of questions I want to ask but those aren’t necessarily the questions I end up asking. It’s about finding something interesting and letting the person speak on that. Well what does that mean to you? How did that happen? We may not get to all the questions that I mean to ask. But I think that we can always find something very interesting to discuss.
Once it’s recorded, I usually spend four more hours editing. When you speak about mental health, there’s a lot of nervousness in people sometimes. So I try really hard to cut out places, where there’s some nerves or some ums or some thinking to really help bring it all together, especially considering I try to keep everything tightly to 30 minutes. Once the editing is complete, I set it up and schedule it for publishing. Then I build a webpage for every episode I do. There are quite a few steps in making this all happen the way I like to make it happen on a regular basis.
On the topic of recording content on a very sensitive issue, when you are bringing those guests on board, do you kind of set up any kind of rules or boundaries with them?
I always ask them ahead of time if there’s anything that they specifically want to touch on or anything they specifically don’t want to touch on. I also let them know, I say, “I’m not an advanced editor, but I’m good enough at editing that if we touch on anything that you’re uncomfortable with, I can cut it out post-production.” That usually puts them at ease and what’s amazing is I haven’t had one person come to me and request we don’t speak about certain issues.
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s just important to help your guests feel empowered in the way they’re going to be presenting that story, and I think you’ve done a great job facilitating that.
I appreciate it. It’s definitely been something that has been very much a passion project for me, normalizing mental health as an everyday issue. The last question I ask everyone in, every episode of my podcast is something like this: “The media today tries very hard to label people who suffer from mental illness as being defined by the illnesses they suffer from. But I don’t believe that’s correct. I believe we all have the right to define ourselves. If I were to ask you how you would define yourself today, how would you do it?” That’s been such a fascinating question because everybody defines themselves differently. Some people define themselves as a parent. Some people define themselves as an entrepreneur.
It’s really interesting to sort of get to the crook of it. For me, that’s a big part of normalizing it. I want people to know that people who suffer from mental illness aren’t just the people you see on the news, who are committing somebody’s atrocities that we see on an everyday basis. These are people that you sit next to at work. These are people you’ve been friends with your whole life. In some cases, these are people you’re married to because they’ve been so afraid and so scared into hiding their true feelings that they’ve never come forward and admitted to some of the things that they’ve thought and the help they may need.
Some people who grow up in very small communities, I think feel more stigmatized and a lot harder to speak out if there’s nobody really around you talking about it, then you feel like you need to hide it, bury it deep down. But that’s obviously what makes mental illness so much worse. It’s really amazing that with the Internet, it lets people like that connect more with other like-minded people who traditionally in the past would have never met.
It’s amazing. It really is. Like I said, the people who’ve reached out and said, “I can’t ever imagine having the confidence or bravery to come on and speak on your show but just listening to everyone just gives me comfort.” There’s a reason why therapy groups help. There’s a reason why PTSD groups help. It helps normalize it. It helps you understand that you’re not alone and that you’re not, for a lack of a better term that I hate using, you’re not crazy, right?
This is something that is normal for you to experience and normal for you to feel. You shouldn’t feel like less of a person because you need help. It’s important to feel comfortable with asking for it. It’s totally okay. It doesn’t make you less of a person. I think that if my podcast or if my book ever gets published, my hope is that it will help people understand that it is okay to suffer because suffering doesn’t make you weak. Suffering makes you human.
Yeah, 100%. On that topic where you’ve said, you’ve been very open about your own mental health struggles. Do you find for yourself, sharing your own story is kind of a form of therapy for you, as well?
It can be. I know that the book I wrote, the main character is very much myself to the point it’s scary. I’ve always been very afraid to let people read the pages of it because it is very personal and I finally came to the conclusion that if I’m going to ask all these people to share their stories, I should be willing to share my own. I believe episode 19 of the podcast, I finally did that. There was a basketball player at my alma mater, who took his own life, very unfortunately before the school year began. His story really spoke to me. Not only did he go to my alma mater but it sounded like, from what had been published, a lot of the initial problems and struggles came following the death of his mother. As someone who lost my father at a young age, in my freshman year of college, it really spoke to me because I’ve had lots of problems dealing with his passing and dealing with life without him.
I think that made me stand up and say, “Okay, I think it’s time to share my story to talk about where I am, where I’ve been from, and why we need to normalize this because we need people like this student to know that it’s okay to suffer. It’s okay to hurt.” But by God, I hope you’re willing to ask for help because every person who takes their own life, is one person too many.
Yeah and unfortunately right now, we’re still seeing, whether because of bullying or other issues, lots of children, people who are so young, taking their own lives. When you’re less than 10 years old, you haven’t necessarily had those conversations or had the kind of touch points towards mental help that other, older people might get. Hopefully when we publish more of these tragedies and we make the conversation public, we help normalize the conversation. This is hugely important especially for young folks because if people are suffering from a young age and you can get it early, you might save them so much trouble down the road, if you get them into regular therapy early and things like that.
We want to let kids just be kids and we want to think that they’re innocent. But the kids are growing up faster than ever before. They’re being exposed to more and they’re growing up faster than every before. Because of that, kids aren’t kids as long, right?
These things are impacting them at younger ages and we’re starting to see the consequences of this. The other part of it is when it comes to diagnosing kids or recognizing it in kids, you have to be able to get to the problem without really having somebody who can voice the problem. It’s a very special kind of process and it can be a very difficult one for everyone involved. As a father of two little girls, you don’t want to believe your child is suffering from depression because you feel like you’ve done something wrong as a parent and I think there’s a lot of denial involved in that. It’s a very complicated issue for that reason.
Yeah and unfortunately also, as we all know, mental health resources can sometimes be few and far in between. Initiatives like your podcast and others will hopefully start changing that conversation and getting more money towards these resources because they’re so important, especially when the pace of society just keeps speeding up. Anxieties are only increasing, right?
Alright Jeff, well I have one more question. I always like to end on a fun one, especially after such a heavy conversation. But thank you so much for sharing. Again, it’s interesting when you try to talk content about sensitive issues. I’m glad that you and other people like you are putting that kind of content out there.
People who know you well, know you’re really into pop culture and comics. You’ve got a special spot for the DC Comic, Green Lantern franchise. I just want to know if you can tell me a bit about why that franchise is so special to you and out of all the Lanterns because there’s several, who is your favorite Lantern and why?
I’ve always been into superheroes. I was diagnosed with a Superman complex, which means that I always feel like it’s on me to fix the world’s problems, which probably means it doesn’t surprise you that I’m passionate about trying to make an impact and change the world. But they’re always something I’ve been into and growing up, it was only movies. I was mostly exposed to Superman, Batman, and then the cartoons of Spiderman and the X-Men.
But as I got older, I started going to the library and finding that they had this plethora of graphic novels that I could check out. The first thing that I did was I got everything I could about Batman and Superman. I read The Long Halloween. I read The Killing Joke. I read Hush, which for anyone interested is my personal favorite Batman story of all time. I read Red Song Superman, which is an understanding take on what would happen if Superman landed in The Soviet Union, as opposed to Smallville.
Then I happened to be scanning through books and I came across this book called Blackest Night. Blackest Night, the artwork was just gorgeous because of how colorful it was. I don’t want to give too much away but the idea is that the Lantern Corp. creedo is: “In brightest day and blackest Night, no evil shall escape my sight. But those who worship evil’s might, beware my power, Green Lantern’s light.” It’s this idea that blackest Night has been building forever. It’s taking this idea that started when Green Lantern first began and it created this blackest night. What was originally just a Green Lantern Corp. eventually fractured to all colors of the light spectrum.
So you have red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet and each one represents a different emotion. As somebody who manages mental health and deals with emotion on a regular basis, that spoke to me very personally. The reason why my favorite Lantern is Kyle Rayner is that he’s always struck me as a Lantern, who suffers from mental health issues but he’s never actually voiced it. It’s never been discussed.
As a writer, if I ever had a chance to write for a comic book or graphic novel, my dream is to write for Kyle Rayner because I could do so many fun things with that kid. But it’s really incredible. If you’ve ever been interested in comics, I definitely recommend Blackest Night as a fun place to start. It actually inspired me so much for the Green Lantern universe, I went all the way back to the 1980’s Crisis on Infinite Earths and then tried to read every major Green Lantern story up through the start of the new 52.
That’s awesome and what a commitment that’s got to be. That’s a lot of comics.
It was a lot of comics but the Lantern Corp. is so fascinating to me and just so beautiful to look at and to read and to consume.
Within Jeff Renoe beats the heart of a writer. Being named an Indiana Young Author at eleven and a top columnist by the Women’s Press Club of Indiana at seventeen only fueled his passion for the written word. These days, his interests and experience lies across multiple media channels, giving him new avenues and opportunities to tell stories and craft content. Jeff is happily busy as an innovative marketing manager for the Dickson Company, hosting the Our Fractured Minds podcast, and polishing up his first novel, Fracture at Alpha. You can often catch him in various Twitter chats as @Renoe and sharing periodic moments of #GIFspiration.
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