Interviews / Marketing & Advertising

Balancing the Grind With Alex Cook, Digital Programs Director at Commune Digital

Alex Cook is the Digital Programs Director at Commune Digital, a marketing and advertising agency focused on new commercial modelling in health, digital transformation, SFE, CLM and MCM programs across Asia-Pacific.

Balance the Grind spoke to Alex about working in healthcare marketing, a typical day in his life, balancing work with family, cooking as a way to recharge and more.

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

Like a lot of people in my generation, my career took a few twists and turns before actually landing at where I am now. Contrary to popular belief, I think this is actually to my benefit – lot’s of life lessons learnt and it makes for thicker skin.

I started off as a researcher at university, ended up in FMCG marketing and sales, moved into media before falling in love with health communications and digital marketing.

I won’t bore you with the details, but essentially something about marketing in healthcare just spoke to me.

Nothing wrong with marketing cars or chocolates, but there’s some sophistication to marketing products that save lives in a highly regulated environment.

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

I am the Digital Programs Director at Commune Digital, an APAC-based digital-first communications agency – largely working in the healthcare space.

Healthcare is an abundantly interesting industry to be part of, particularly working with pharmaceutical organisations and the legacy nature of how they have typically communicated or advertised.

Many organisations are in various stages of their digital journey, transformation or roadmap – depending who you talk to.

I have the fortunate position to work with these organisations to strategise and deliver on a wide range of initiates for brands and enterprises alike. Emerging technologies, omnichannel, IoT, augmented – the list goes on, and I’ve worked on it.

No two days the same for me, but there are some consistencies about what my position entails.

I spend a large part of my time managing key client relationships – brand managers through to CTOs, liaising with our internal teams – be it creative, technology, account servicing – to develop and deliver on briefs, and project managing or product owning an initiative through it’s life cycle.

I can set out intending my day to go one way, and it go the other – and that’s completely fine, I have a fantastic team around me who deliver fantastic work. Work is good fun.

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

Let me talk you through my day today, I’ll give you the timecode version while it’s relatively fresh.

5:44 – My 18 month old son yells at me from down the hallway, he’s awake but not quite ready to tackle his day yet as he normally gets up at 06:30.

We talk about life and how his sleep was, we contemplate life’s big questions like ‘does that block fit under the door’? This is our time with him before we face the real world.

6:35 – email time, but quickly. I get a grip on my day ahead, with numerous timezones I work across I cannot be at the helm all the time – but a quick email session lets me get on top of quick wins and readjust my load.

This is usually done with a long black and managing a starving child between my wife and I.

7:30-8:15 – office, luckily a 20min bus ride down the North Shore. I’m a list guy, on paper (yes, paper – yes, I work in digital). The day is planned and we’re away. Coffee number two, long black.

9:00 – client WIP. On track.

9:30 – task brief time, at least a 5 month build.

10:00 – welcome the work placement fella, top kid.

11:00 – business-wide WIP. Always a good alignment session.

12:14 – lunch, and it couldn’t come sooner. I’ve been on the intermittent fasting scheme, it’s working for me so no complaints – apart from missing bacon and eggs in the morning.

12:55 – admin time, heavy document writing and managing an array of unplanned calls. I’m on top of it.

15:30 – digital WIP. Lot’s of jargon, abbreviations and architecting. It’s always productive and calms the anxiety for the week ahead, Dan is a weapon.

17:20 – back up the North Shore on the bus, laptop with me and a few emails on the bus – but no calls. No one wants to hear that.

17:40 – home, hugs, feeding time, bath and send the little guy on his way. This is important time. I’m usually online as needed after here, because timezones.

Having family first puts the world in perspective, decisions are a lot simpler because your personal priorities are founded.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you prioritise your workload?

As I mentioned before, I’m a list guy. It just works. There’s usually a Spirax 560 spiral bound (no sponsorship here, full disclosure) on my desk, in my bag, or in my bedroom for those times

I need to put something down on paper to get back to sleep. So – lists, for sure.

Otherwise block your calendar out for times you need to power through a massive workload, treat it like a meeting and schedule yourself the time.

Invite those who are across the work as an FYI so they know you’re on the case and keep disturbances to a minimum. Everyone wins.

And keep on time as much as possible. Work is never ending, so use your day wisely.

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

You may have guessed I’m a family man, a proud family man at that. Having family first puts the world in perspective, decisions are a lot simpler because your personal priorities are founded.

Time with them is of upmost importance. There’s time when work takes over, that’s always expected and it’s fine, but balancing that back out with family is soul nourishing.

Enjoy the simple times with family too, take in the small moments and work to get back to them. I don’t mean to sound all philosophical here!

Apart from that I’m not a gym guy anymore, too many injuries and failed reconstructions have left this old boy a bit of a mess.

But I eat well, limit the social media influx and talk to humans instead of texting. Yep, that’s balancing for me.

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

Camping and fishing, and lots of both. There’s something extremely grounding about getting back in touch with your basic needs such as cutting wood for warmth or catching your dinner.

I live and work in Sydney, so going where there’s little to no reception and little human contact is ideal.

Oh and cooking, whenever possible. I come from a long family history of cooking so I plan to pass that on to my son. Plus good music, only good music.

7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

I wouldn’t say these are habits but rather mental states I’ve developed over the years. Actually – I guess mental states are habits right?

Find something to work for outside of cashing your cheque, for me that’s family and finding time to get away.

Build relationships and don’t burn bridges, a successful career doesn’t come overnight and you never know who you might bump into down the track.

Do the hard yards, always have your sleeves rolled up and smile when you’re given a challenge. Most of the game is a mental one.

There’s always someone more senior than you, so be grounded and respectful. This is a well trodden path that you’re on.

8) Are there any books you’ve read that have helped you with work-life balance?

I’m actually not reading a books right now, but there are a few that have stood out to me – for a mix of reasons.

I’m a big fan of poetry. Everyday I deal with medical or technical language – very transactional. So it’s nice to fall back into a place where language can be let run, it’s a good balance for the mind. Standouts for me are Pablo Neruda and E. E. Cummings.

If you have time for a read pick up Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa – amazing. Great perspective on sacrifice, hard work and mastering your craft.

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

Simple, it’s a case of going to bed knowing you left it all on the field. It’s a gut feeling but once you have it you know you’ve got the most out of your day.

Having a sense of contribution to something bigger than you is a large part of it – be that personal or professional.

Tick your list off and call it a day. Tomorrow we do it all over again.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.