Kristen’s 2018 in review: A year of amazing, grateful change

Looking back on 2018….

I think this may have been the best year of my life thus far. On January 8, during the Alabama-Georgia national championship game halftime, I took a pregnancy test. I was nervous because Alabama was behind, and I had an extra test available…. it was positive. I was pregnant! We went out to buy a set of two tests after Alabama pulled out an amazing win (ushering in the age of Tua!) Those two tests were also positive. It was real.

Photo by Freshh Connection on Unsplash

Vonn Thomas Heptinstall arrived 8 months later, on September 4. The first month for me was a sleep-deprived, swollen-all-over blur, but once I felt better after my c-section and V started sleeping 6-8 hours overnight, we settled into a great routine. I have been exclusively pumping for V for more than 100 days now. Nursing directly hasn’t worked out for us, but the Spectra S1 has been wonderful. I can’t recommend it enough.

In October, I sold my reliable “Point A to Point B” 2010 Nissan Versa hatchback and went car shopping. I needed something bigger and safer for Baby V. Ultimately we found an awesome navy blue VW Passat that blew me away in the test drive. And she was mine, and her name is Greta.

Also in October, we realized that we could think about the possibility of buying a house. Initially we wanted to buy around February 2019, but as things go, we started attending open houses and met our awesome Realtor, Lori Paul, with Keller Williams Realty. We nearly put an offer in on a house in McCalla, Alabama, but decided to keep looking… and we found our home in Alabaster! We closed December 14 and here we are painting and prepping to move in this week. We will celebrate Christmas in our new home.

On the career front, I celebrated 2 years with Hearst Television in October. I couldn’t be more grateful for Hearst now offering FULLY PAID maternity leave. And I am grateful for the support of my Digital Strategy team as I became a mom. I also have a handful of freelance writing and marketing clients that I work with. All found me via Twitter or LinkedIn.

2018: So very GRATEFUL.

6 Tools That Help You Juggle Tasks

This originally appeared on the Swarm Agency blog on April 21, 2015 during my time as a project manager there.


As a project manager for Swarm, it’s a must that I stay connected, communicative and productive at all times.

As a PM, not only am I helping to wrangle project timelines, agency resources, project budgets and hours spent on our projects, but I’m also entrusted to communicate with our clients throughout the lifecycle of a project, from discovery to deployment.

Aside from typical project management software, I’ve found there are a host of handy productivity tools to keep me on track, on time and on budget. Here are just a few:

  1. Evernote – Swarm has invested in an Evernote Business account. I love being able to search through client meeting notes and internal brainstorms quickly and easily. I can email meeting agendas directly from Evernote and share chats internally to agency stakeholders. It’s a lifesaver!
  2. Powerbot for Gmail – Powerbot allows you to save email threads, including attachments, to Evernote or Dropbox with a click of a button. Based on the contents of the email, Powerbot will even suggest which Evernote notebook it should be filed into. I tried this on a trial basis, and I’m about to pull the trigger on a paid subscription. Powerbot is also available as a bundle for Google Calendar, and is also available for Outlook and Yahoo Mail.
  3. Awesome Screenshot – Awesome Screenshot is a free Google Chrome plug-in. When working through projects with clients, I can take screenshots and quickly add annotations. You can then save the image locally, print it, or save on Google Drive, among other options.
  4. Boomerang for Gmail – I love, love, love this tool. Whenever a fellow Swarmer or client wants me to follow up something on a later date, or if I’d like to remind myself on a certain matter, I can schedule an email thread to pop back up at the top of my inbox. Not only that, but I can also compose and schedule an email to go out at a certain time and date excellent for reminding clients or coworkers about needed assets for a project! If you’re a multitasker who lives and dies by your email inbox, this is a very handy tool.
  5. Sidekick by Hubspot – This is a great and handy way to know when an email has been opened and read. Basically, it’s a stealthy “read receipt.” Sidekick is also building in some features to compete with Boomerang, such as email scheduling.
  6. Todoist – I splurged on a Todoist Premium account and haven’t looked back. I’m able to keep track of my to-dos in multiple projects, attach files and notes to to-dos, create alerts for to-dos via text, email or alert, search tasks and more. Todoist helps me keep on track for what I need to do for a project, whether it’s for work or for life: groceries, finances, volunteer activities and more.

These are just a few of the tools that help me slash through my to-dos and keep my projects on track. I hope you found these helpful!

Circling Back and Failing Up

quotes_xkcd_success-people-think-really_tribal-simplicityIf you had told me back in January that by the end of this year, I would be working back in the local news business, I would have looked at you like you had two heads.

Rewinding back to 2012… it was that year that I ran away, screaming, from my last local newsroom, after working in local news exclusively for 7 years. That year, on my 29th birthday, I was told that I was a square peg, that I was not a fit for that newsroom, and that I had 6 months to find a new job.

I was so heartbroken and shocked at being let go for the first time that I turned away from local newsrooms altogether. I felt as though I had failed. I left the following month to embark on a 4-year journey into digital marketing and project management.

So by January 2016, I had pivoted to a digital agency project manager life that I had set out on in mid-2014. But if I’m being really, really honest with myself, living in that world wasn’t an awesome fit for me.

The long hours and client interactions exacerbated my anxiety, and while being a project manager spoke to my strengths as a communicator and taskmaster, it didn’t speak to my creative strengths, and left me feeling exhausted, stressed out and drained. I also found the start-up atmosphere to feel contrived – as though the agencies were putting on a show for clients.

So, here I am, in the last week of 2016, having circled back to what I really love. And I couldn’t be happier, because I have finally realized that what happened back in 2012 was entirely about that particular newsroom, and that particular leadership team. It’s even been echoed by new coworkers who once worked there, too.

Here all this time I had felt like a failure. I thought I was no good at what I was doing, and ran away. But being told back in 2012 that I wasn’t a fit was the catalyst for all of the experience I’ve gotten since, allowing me to “fail up” into a corporate social media position that would have been a dream job back then.

So, while 2016 hasn’t been the best year, in the end, it did provide me with this unexpected but totally amazing circle back to what I love. I feel at home with the people of my new employer and my home base. It’s a great feeling and one I haven’t had since my time with local media in Alabama, more than 5 years ago.

And if I’m being really, really honest, I don’t think I’d do anything differently.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

When Faith Supplants Fear

faithoverfearI’ve been on a wild goose chase for five years.

It all started when my husband and I first relocated to Orlando from Alabama in August 2011. News and social media were my passions. I took a job managing the website of one of the local news channels. They even paid for my relocation.

Six months later, it all came crashing down.

One afternoon, I was ushered into the news director’s office. There, I was told that I was a square peg, that my contract would not be renewed, and that I had six months to find a new job.

Did I mention that I was told all of this on my birthday?

I had never experienced any sort of career setback before. I was gut-punched. Granted, I was not loving my job at that point, having butted heads with leadership on issues I felt were important for digital, such as having website staffers cover more hours of the day. I was already plotting how best to find something new once my contract was up.

I spent the next six weeks going to work knowing that I was not wanted. On top of that, I had a non-compete, and couldn’t take a job at a direct competitor right away.

Luckily, I stumbled upon an opportunity at a niche magazine publisher, as a digital content director for a group of enthusiast magazines. There, I managed editorial and website projects for a year. But the company was going through the same major issues that all publishers have been facing, and had to shut down some titles and  lay off several people.

And I was one of them.

Here we go again. At least this time, I got a glowing recommendation letter from my manager.

From there, I began floating from one opportunity to the next. I was no longer in charge. I just wanted a job that would pay me, that didn’t hate me or lay me off. And from there, I made the mistake of leaving the news industry, and leaving my passions behind.

Since that layoff in April 2013, I’ve held four different jobs in marketing and digital agencies. Four jobs in 3.5 years.

I didn’t plan it that way. I didn’t want it that way. And deep down, I hated it. I hated working on projects with no meaning, that only existed to sell, sell, sell. I hated the sometimes-contentious client relationships that my anxiety-ridden, overly trusting, too-nice self had to deal with. I hated that I had to work with clients who I sometimes felt morally wrong dealing with. I hated having to lie to clients about who was really doing their work — often interns or contractors.

I was also operating on fear: fear that I would be fired or laid off everywhere I went. And when fear is running your brain, it has a way of manifesting itself. Of those four jobs since April 2013, I was laid off once (budget cuts, again) and fired twice. In the process, I dragged my poor husband to Atlanta and back. He was unemployed for a year during our time there. And since April 2013, I’ve spent nearly six months unemployed myself as fear ruled my heart.

But then, something started to change. Over the last month or so, faith has supplanted fear in my heart. I finally had that aha moment about my passions, my fears, and my dreams. And what I realized is that I belong back in the news industry.

And as luck would have it, the perfect fit of a job came along. I start Monday as Social Media Strategist for Hearst Television.

Here’s how perfect it is: I’ll be reporting to a guy I have known for years. Above him is a guy who was my equal at different news stations back in 2008-10. On my team is a guy who I once interviewed for a job with me, and a gal who I recently figured out is my sorority sister from another school. On top of that, my old news station in Alabama was acquired by Hearst, and I may have the chance to work with them again.

How cool is that?

The moral of the story: Don’t let fear rule your heart. When faith overrules fear, great things can and will happen.


What a crazy few months it’s been! Back in October, my husband, pup and I returned to Florida. I worked from home for Swarm Agency through January, but I’m now on a quest to find a new fit for me local to Orlando. I’ve dubbed it #helloorlando.

This job search has been ongoing for roughly a month. I’ve had a lot of luck this time around. So far, I’ve had in-person interviews with 5 potential employers, and have made it to advanced rounds with two of those. I would have made it to advanced rounds with three, but one had the dreaded hiring freeze put into place.

I’m also finding that my varied experience is getting me interviews for several types of positions, including technical account manager, marketing manager, digital project manager, business analyst and digital product manager positions. At the end of the day, all of these involve digital know-how and project management skills.

I’ve also had touch points with a lot of recruitment agencies here in Orlando. I’ve found the folks at Ciber, Theoris, TEKSystems and Conexess to be the most helpful and professional, although it’s looking like in the end, the job I land may be one where I was directly recruited or directly applied to the position. Funny  how things work out!

LinkedIn has been wonderful. I sprang for the JobSeeker Premium, which was free for the first month, and it’s been so helpful. I’ve also found that a lot of companies are using ZipRecruiter these days. I also like the Indeed job search engine, and have alerts set up with LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, and Indeed. The “suggested jobs”emails I get are the funniest though. Pretty sure I would NOT make a good construction site project manager, ha.

My goal is to have this job search wound down and starting a new job by no later than March 21. Hopefully I can make that goal. Wish me luck!

“Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations”

This quote has been my mantra for several months now.

Let’s rewind back to what feels like a lifetime ago: August 2014, when, after just 10 weeks on the job as a contractor for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Online, I was told my contract would end in two weeks due to budget shortfalls.

I was devastated. After losing my dad to a sudden illness in January 2014, I made the decision in May to leave my steady job and take the leap as a contractor with WDPRO, signing on to 1 year with the company. Working for Disney had always been my dream. And it was a great gig, with nice people, interesting projects, and an endless supply of Coca-Cola products.

The worst part about it was that my stint was cut so, so short. I had finished training and ramping up, and was really getting to know the brands, the projects and the people involved in my work.

So, I started looking. I was anxious to find something quickly, as I bring in about 2/3 of my family’s income, and we rely on my salary to pay our monthly expenses.

I first started looking in the Orlando area, and was happy to quickly begin talks with some local companies and agencies… only to see all of those opportunities fizzle out. I spoke with my former employer, who agreed to bring me on part-time, but couldn’t commit to full-time. I gratefully accepted and continue on with them to this day as a consultant.

So, after a couple of weeks, I expanded my job search net to include Tampa, Atlanta and Birmingham. And a few phone calls and Skype video chats later, I found myself seated at a conference room table with the leadership team of the Swarm Agency in the west Midtown area of Atlanta.

We clicked. I could tell it from the get-go that this was a great team of scrappy, genuine people with a sense of humor and a desire to grow and learn together. And shortly thereafter, I received an offer to join the Swarm team as a project manager.

Fraught with anxiety, I discussed the issue with my family. I made the decision to relocate to Atlanta and take the job, not knowing what sort of job my husband would find in Atlanta. And he went along with the relocation, though not happily. And I found out later on that my husband did not feel comfortable speaking up about his true feelings — that we belong in Florida — because of the loss of my dad. He did not want to stir up trouble in my time of grief.

But trouble we encountered, when my amazing Disney chef husband could not find anything up his alley as a mid-tier chef in Atlanta. And we were homesick for Florida, more so than I ever thought I would be, having grown up in the Atlanta area. My husband was right. We belong in Florida.

So after six months on the job in Atlanta, I made the decision to share with Swarm Agency leadership that we will relocate back to Orlando this fall, to allow my husband to return to his career as a chef at Walt Disney World.

And Swarm’s response? “We love you, you’re awesome, and we still want you to work with us.”


So I can now proudly announce that as of October, I will work remotely for the Swarm Agency, traveling to Atlanta as necessary.

And I can say that more than ever, I am so happy that I made the decision to come to Atlanta. I am happy to have found a mutual match in an employer that values its employees as people, not commodities. And I am happy to continue on with Swarm, happily buzzing away from my home office.

Thank you, Swarm, for making my difficult road lead to a beautiful destination.

New Beginnings: Kristen is Up for Grabs

Back in June, I took on a new challenge: Account coordinator with Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Online (WDPRO). 

Here’s the rub: It’s a contract position that lives or dies by the funding available to our department. And unfortunately, the funding has dried up in this last stretch of the fiscal year, which ends Sept.30. 

My last day with WDPRO is August 22, and I’m looking for the next challenge. 

I don’t regret coming to Disney on contract for a second. After all, what’s the quote — “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” I’ve ushered through complex digital projects involving copywriters, producers and developers. I’ve met some amazing, smart, and friendly people. And I’ve received all positive feedback from my leader and partners I work with.

So, now it’s time for the next move. 

I’m really digging deep this time, and trying to ignore my anxious thoughts about finances and possible unemployment. I really, truly want to find the best fit for me — a place where I can manage digital projects, act as account or product manager/owner, or work with internal or external stakeholders to come up with the best digital/social strategies and products.

As to where that will be, I don’t know. I’m looking here in Orlando, of course, mostly concentrating on digital agencies and the tourism industry. I’m also considering remote work, with a couple promising options. And I’m considering cobbling together a couple great gigs into a consulting business for myself.

On top of those types of opportunities, I’m exploring other cities. It’s no secret that my husband and I miss Alabama, and we’d actually like to be able to go to a Tide game every fall. We would love to find an opportunity in Birmingham or Huntsville that would be a fit for me, but in all actuality, there is more up my alley in Nashville or my hometown of Atlanta. 

Wish me luck, and feel free to send any leads my way.

Exploring My New Dawn in Digital Marketing, PR, CPG and More

Modern marketing conceptIt’s been a really interesting couple of months for me.

Back in April, I was laid off from my former employer, which has since sold or traded about 1/3 of its media properties. So let’s just say I consider myself lucky to have been put out to pasture before the biggest — and most unexpected — axes fell.

Up until April, I had always worked in media — local newspapers, national magazines and local TV. But having worked in a digital role since 2006, I had been immersed in content marketing tactics and social media for many years, leading the charge at past jobs for things like a cloud-based social media dashboard and engaging directly with the community.

So, my switch to digital marketing for a specialty foods company was a no-brainer, and a great fit for me, as I love to eat as well. (Who doesn’t?)

Over the last two months, since starting my new position, I’ve been researching marketing tactics and software. Here is what I’m most excited about for marketing tactics.

Inbound, or Permission Marketing: The first term, popularized by Hubspot; the second, by marketing god Seth Godin. This is essentially marketing to people who want to be marketed to for your product or service, whether that be through opt-in emails or through searching on Google or Bing.

Relationship Marketing: Somewhat tied to inbound marketing, relationship marketing is a focus on customer retention and satisfaction. In digital channels, this is done through a combination of social media, public relations, SEO, content development, and app development.

Content Marketing: Pretty simple — the creation and sharing of media content in order to acquire customers. I’m excited about this one, to say the least. Content marketing inspires business and advocacy from customers. This dovetails pretty nicely into…

Social Media Marketing: The process of getting attention and website traffic through social media channels. A big part of my strategy.

Influencer Marketing: Identifying and marketing to influencers, be it journalists, bloggers, or other trendsetters with an audience of their own. I’m excited about launching some initiatives along these lines, and already got started by supplying samples to a recent blogger conference.

Loyalty Marketing: Growing and retaining customers through incentives. For a specialty foods company, this means mainly loyalty cards, and having our coupons available on these, as well as having our consumers come back for our brand again and again.

I’ll next cover some of the SaaS (software as a service) providers I’ve been exploring as I decide on tools for my digital marketing strategies.

The Switch: My Journey from Digital Media to Digital Marketing

I posted this little missive on my Facebook account today. I think it boils down what I’m feeling quite nicely. Image

On April 3, I was laid off from my former job. And on April 22, I started a new career in digital marketing for consumer packaged goods. Talk about a quick turnaround! And I could not be more thrilled about what lies ahead.

The most interesting aspect of being laid off, and of being able to be open about job-seeking, was the questions I got from those curious about my journey. I received several messages along the lines of “I’m intrigued to see where you end up.” (And I had a lot of cheerleaders, too! You know who you are!)

And so, digital marketing is where I ended up. I don’t know if everyone really finds that intriguing, but I will say that I believe digital marketing is a great career path for digitally-savvy journalists bound to traditional media, but hungry to move beyond the focus on and subsequent constant “shipping” to traditional print and broadcast channels.

Some things I’ll be tackling: Inbound/permission marketing, digital content strategy and execution, social media strategy and execution, influencer and blogger outreach, email marketing, mobile strategies, project management, etc. etc. etc.

A few tips for those wanting to make the switch from media (or any other industry) to marketing:

1) Read, read, read! There is a bounty of books and websites devoted to digital marketing. Learn as much as you can. I’m still a novice in many regards — especially all the marketing jargon! I’m a huge fan of thought leaders Chris Brogan, Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach, Seth Godin, and Guy Kawasaki, just to name a few. I also have books from Mack Collier and Jackie Huba on my reading list.

2) Network, network, network! Attend local meetings of the Social Media Club or other marketing-focused groups in your area. Reach out to professionals you admire in your town and ask for 30 minutes of their time over coffee or lunch. I’ve had several chats over the past year or so with folks here in the Orlando area who I (wrongly) assumed might not even give me the time of day! And I’ve had others reach out to me in turn. Give some, take some!

3) Sign up with talent agencies. I hooked up with Aquent and Vitamin T a little more than a year ago. It took some time, but my second interview through Aquent worked out with my current placement, made through their Vitamin T network. Did I mention that Aquent also placed a former report of mine in a position in New York City? They’re the real deal! Digital talent agencies like this are a great way to jumpstart the job hunt while still employed.

4) Brand yo’self! As a journalist, your skill-set may be reporting, editing and/or photography — but it’s all relevant. Beyond those skills, think about the digital skills you’ve learned and make sure they’re prominent on your LinkedIn profile. Don’t have a LinkedIn page? Then you’re probably not a fit for digital marketing — at least, not yet.

I’m excited to see where my future is headed. With a little luck and a lot of hard work, I may be changing the world soon enough!

Putting it all in Perspective

breast-cancer-ribbonI recently wrote about the great outcome of my husband’s employment journey, but I neglected to mention that I’m currently undergoing one of my own.

Laid off from work. Yep, that’s me. A few weeks of severance, then I’ll begin navigating the world of unemployment. It happened just last week. I was going about my day, then — BAM. It was all over, as the brands I worked with were absorbed into other groups. Such is the plight of the publishing industry.

Feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger. Then — freedom, hope and confidence. Even a tad bit of exhilaration. I think I’ll be coming out the other end of the tunnel soon, and making the transition I’ve craved — from online media to digital marketing and social media.

Still grappling with these feelings, I woke up last night, and during this little bout of insomnia — being the social media addict that I am — I began scrolling though my Instagram feed.

And then I gasped.

A blogger friend, and sorority sister from another college, had been diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant, at age 29. I reeled, and suddenly my problems seemed so, so small.

Kirsten is chronicling her journey at her blog, A Bump and a Lump. I urge you to check it out and leave encouraging messages and prayers for her and her family.  Because at the end of the day, despite whatever problems our careers are throwing at us, what’s most important is faith, health and family.