Denise Burrell-Stinson is the Head of WP Brand Studio, the brand marketing division at The Washington Post.
1)To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
My current job is the Head of WP BrandStudio, the brand marketing division of the Washington Post. I work on immersive, story-driven content for brands that reaches and engages Washington Post readers.
I got into content marketing six years ago. A good friend of mine was in a yoga class with the editorial director of another content studio. He was building out a team, we were introduced and a month later I was hired.
I stayed there for about two years and joined WP BrandStudio in 2017. That’s my career timeline in content marketing, though I’ve been in media for many years. I won’t divulge the exact number, it’s a big one.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I hit snooze many times before I’m up and moving, then I try to start the day with a 20-30-minute walk to claim a few quiet moments for myself before jumping into work.
I spend the bulk of my day in meetings: attending briefings on presale pitches, one-to-one meetings with my team, brainstorming, and creative directing projects in production. I’m also part of many client meetings, which I love.
Evangelizing the work of my team to external partners is a privilege. I tend to save projects that require solitude and deep focus, like writing memos or reviewing film treatments, for the evening or late at night.
I can really lose myself in that type of work, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s one of my favorite parts of the job, but I stay up late and keep odd hours. I tend to have big ideas when many people are asleep.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working?
If so, how does that fit into your life and routine? I’ve been working remotely since March 2020, so coming up on a year. I see the biggest challenge as keeping my team feeling connected.
I invest a lot of time in building the strong relationships I think are key for a business to thrive. Success doesn’t come from working alone. I collaborate with designers, project managers, research teams and a host of other stakeholders, and we all need to be working towards a clearly articulated creative vision.
Building that support is a lot easier IRL, through all of the organic, unscripted, off-the-cuff connections that are part of office life. Over the past year, I’ve had to pivot to fostering those connections virtually. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible.
Sometimes watching a co-worker get Zoom-bombed by their kid or heating up a frozen pizza while I take a call reveals the cozy, domestic, bloopers of everyday home life that can help me see people—and be seen by them—as real and relatable.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
I like to end each day thinking about what I’m grateful for. It could be a big win at work or a quick 10-minute conversation with a friend. The achievements can be big or small, but I find balance through recognizing the good in my life.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
Pre-COVID, my daily routine involved commuting to the office in the morning, putting in a nice, full day there, followed by an exercise class in the evening a couple of times per week. I’m a huge fan of yoga and Pilates classes in studios.
Paying for the experience motivated me to set aside other commitments and having instructors and other class members in the room inspired me to push past the boundaries I tend to give into when left to my own devices.
I’ll hold a pose longer, lift a heavier weight, etc. There are also some beautiful, extremely tranquil studios in New York that did a great job of creating small oases of calm. My presence in those types of spaces helped me to make an important mental shift. I never brought my phone or an electronic device into a studio space; it was an essential ritual for me to recharge.
A lot of my exercise practice is now home-based, which is not my favorite way of staying fit. But I leveled up by investing in some high-quality weights, yoga mats, blocks, blankets and other equipment. I’m a pretty motivated person, but this has been the biggest challenge. Luckily, I found a couple of good online exercise classes that were game changers.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I’m a huge fan of the Washington Post, obviously. In addition to the hundreds of stories published each day, the Post releases dozens of newsletters each week, including a colorful, upbeat, piece aligned to our food vertical, Voraciously, and another called The Optimist, for inspirational stories.
I like going to my inbox and seeing the word “optimist.” I also like the newsletters by Morning Brew and Axios, and I’ve recently started reading Air Mail by Graydon Carter. Finally, I make a regular habit of checking in with the Numerator newsletter to keep up with the world of branded content.
When it comes to podcasts, I find I like just about anything by Pushkin Industries. A while back, I stumbled upon the Slow Burn podcast series on Tupac and Biggie, which blew my mind. It’s not recent, but still worth mentioning. Vox’s Recode Media podcast almost always delivers something insightful.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
I am deeply attached to my Nespresso (actually, I have two). If you want to know more about my love of coffee, let’s book a part two to this interview.
I also rely heavily on my Steps app. Pre-COVID, it was a cinch to hit thousands of steps every day, but since I’ve been working remote, I’ve had to be a lot more intentional about walking. It’s so easy to answer one more email or take one more call and deprioritize my fitness goals.
I’ve become pretty focused on resisting that urge, however. I look at the number of steps I hit each day as more than a report on my physical activity, it’s a measure of my commitment to balance.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I’m so curious to know what’s on Kamala Harris’ mind as she assumes the vice presidency of the United States. I believe this is a momentous moment for all of us, regardless of race or political affiliation.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
When it comes to work, find a job at a place you’re proud of and whose values align with yours. Learn the business and don’t be afraid to have a strong point of view, but do it with diplomacy, kindness and humanity.
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