Creative Directors, Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Daniel Isenberg, Associate Creative Director at Octagon

June 26, 2019

Daniel Isenberg is the Associate Creative Director on the Octagon content team, specializing in sports and entertainment marketing.

For over a decade, Daniel worked as a music journalist, writing for publications such as Complex, Pigeons & Planes and NahRight, and he still publishes articles in his free time.

Daniel’s in-depth interview with DJ Premier was awarded Best Music Journalism by Red Bull Music Academy in March, 2014.

Balance the Grind spoke to Daniel about his transition from hip-hop writing to the advertising world, balancing his work with his wife and three young boys, blogging as a creative outlet and more.

This conversation is brought to you by Freelancer.com, the world’s largest freelancing and crowdsourcing marketplace.

1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?

I currently work on the concept team at Octagon, which is a global sports and entertainment marketing company based in Stamford, Connecticut.

It’s an evolution of my writing career, which began for me as a music journalist writing features and interviewing artists for publications like XXL, Complex and hip-hop blogs like NahRight.

I had always done writing on the side, like as a side hustle, and had a full-time career for almost fifteen years directing youth programs for places like the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester and the White Plains Youth Bureau.

But then an opportunity opened up for me to take a full-time writing job at an ad agency, and I jumped at it. And I’ve been in that world ever since—but I still write about music on the side when I can.

2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?

My official title at Octagon is Associate Creative Director, and I’m tasked day to day with doing everything from coming up with ideas for brand campaigns to writing scripts to providing creative direction on content and experiential activations.

We work with a really awesome roster of brands, and lots of our work centers around professional sports leagues, events and athletes, which makes the daily grind pretty fun and interesting.

3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Well today, I started off by taking an early call about a digital activation we’re working for an upcoming industry conference, and I’m pretty excited about how it’s all coming together.

Then I jumped into putting together a shot list for an upcoming spot my team is working on for the MLB All-Star Game, which is probably the most high-profile project on my plate right now.

Then I spent some time writing website copy for an event one of our brands is sponsoring with an MLS team, which I also played a role in conceptualizing.

And we’re in the midst of a Father’s Day influencer campaign for another one of our brands, so I’ve been monitoring those conversations and posts as it’s all starting to roll out this week.

Plus, we had our weekly concept team meeting and some other check ins throughout the day on active and upcoming projects.

On other days, I might be brainstorming new ideas with my team for a brand campaign or content series, writing and putting together a pitch deck for a client presentation, on set at a shoot, or in the editing room. It varies every day, which makes this job always feel fresh.

4) In between everything you do and all your responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?

My family is the most important thing in my life, so I try to spend as much time with them as possible. I have three young boys, so I do my best to help out and be with them when I can before and after work.

I drop my two oldest boys off at school or the bus stop every morning, and I try to make it home for dinner and bedtime every night unless I’m really stuck at work or have an event to go to.

And my weekends are always dedicated to spending time with my wife and kids—going to family gatherings, going to the park to play sports, taking day trips together, taking the kids to their practices and games, stuff like that.

This past winter I coached my oldest son’s basketball team, which I really enjoyed.

Beyond family, I still love writing about music. It’s become the biggest hobby in my life, and definitely balances out the work I do at Octagon—plus, I think it helps me to be a better writer and creative overall.

I still have a few outlets where I contribute content and articles. Most recently I interviewed legendary Brooklyn rapper Jeru The Damaja for the Urban Legends website, and I wrote a Slick Rick piece for the new Def Jam website.

Also, I started a new blog last month called Playlist Bodega, so when I have free time, I’ve been putting together posts for that.

And I’ve been dabbling in making beats again, just when I feel the inspiration or I have a song I want to loop up. I used to rap when I was younger, but my musical interests have shifted a bit. I still get the itch to create every once in a while though.

I rarely write raps anymore, but I still like the music side of it all. I actually started teaching my boys how to make beats on GarageBand—they love it.

One thing I want to mention too is that Octagon is very supportive of a healthy work/life balance, which is one of the reasons I am so grateful to work there.

They understand that we all have personal lives and interests outside of work, which makes finding that balance between my job and my family and my music writing that much easier.

5) What are some of the things you do to take time out and recharge?

For me, recharging happens at night once we put the kids to bed. That’s when my wife and I spend time together, talk about our days, catch up on stuff we need to take care of, and have some fun, too. I cherish that time together, especially when the weeks get really crazy.

And then, my late night sessions writing and working on music stuff outside of my day job is where I recharge my work brain. I need that stuff to keep me motivated and interested in writing and being creative, and to keep me sharp.

It’s good for me to always have something I’m writing or working on outside of my daily Octagon grind.

Also, just being able to hang out with my family on the weekends and be free from work and the daily stress of getting the kids to school and homework and the nightly routine and all that stuff is huge.

Waking up, making pancakes for everyone, going outside and shooting baskets. Taking them to the park to ride bikes and play wiffle ball. Listening to music together in the car, going out to lunch.

Going to hang out with our friends and family. That’s what I need to recharge so once the week hits and everything turns back on I’m ready to go.

Oh, and one other thing. I have this WhatsApp chat group with all my best friends that I grew up with in White Plains. It’s literally been going on every day since the Blackberry era, almost a decade.

That’s a daily escape for me—jumping in there and catching up on everything my friends are joking about or posting. There’s always a new video or photo someone is throwing up, or a crazy story, or just a funny conversation going on in real time.

That’s a great, quick, daily escape for me, and allows me to stay connected to all my friends who I don’t really get to see that much anymore now that we all have families and live in different towns.

6) Are there any gadgets, tools or products can’t you live without?

I have two cell phones and my MacBook. I probably don’t need two cell phones, but I have one for work and one for personal use.

I don’t think I’d make it very far without my MacBook though, I need that for everything I’m working on professionally and personally. And I love my JBL Pulse wireless speaker, I use that around the house and outside all the time.

7) Do you have any books that you love and would like to recommend?

My favorite book of all-time is Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists. That’s like my bible. It’s from the ‘90s, but it’s a must-have for any true hip-hop fans.

And check out my friend Evan Auerbach’s book with Stretch Armstrong called No Sleep: NYC Nightlife Flyers 1989-1999. It’s a dope coffee table book of classic flyers from the golden era of New York hip-hop and club life.

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

On busy days, I try to make a list in the morning on my phone of everything I need to do. That’s helpful for me. And I try to always prioritize, and work on stuff that’s time sensitive first. That’s kind of how I construct my list.

Beyond that, I try to have fun and be positive! Things can get stressful at home with the three kids and lots of projects happening at work, but I do my best to appreciate everything I have and never take it for granted.

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