Directors / Founders / Interviews / PR & Communications

Balancing the Grind With Andrew Bruce Smith, Founder & Managing Director of Escherman

Andrew Bruce Smith is a specialist digital PR, social media, SEO and analytics trainer and consultant.

With a career spanning 33 years, he has developed and implemented many highly successful strategic digital communications programmes for some of the world’s biggest brands including IBM, CapGemini, Apple and Checkpoint.

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

I graduated from Edinburgh University in 1985 having studied philosophy, English Literature and mathematical logic. I began my career that same year as a UK trade journalist in London.

I moved into PR and marketing communications in 1988. I joined a tech PR firm in 1989 that allowed me to see Silicon Valley at first hand. I also discovered the miracle of e-mail in 1989. I was apparently the second PR professional in the UK to send a press release by e-mail.

My good friend Frank O’Mahoney (then PR Manager of Apple UK) got the prize for being first – he beat me by 10 days.

I was part of the senior management team of a large tech PR firm (Brodeur A Plus) that became part of Omnicom in 1995. In 2000 I set up my own marketing communications consultancy.

I founded Escherman in 2008 with a singular focus on digital and social media communcations.

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

My current role divides my time between running a wide range of training and development workshops as well as providing consulting services direct to organisations of all types, shapes, sizes and sectors.

I have had representatives from around 2000 organisations take part in training workshops I’ve run over the last 9 years and I’ve directly advised just under 200.

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

It depends if it is a training day or a consulting day.

A public facing workshop will typically involve spending 5 – 6 hours with groups from 5 – 50 in size going through hands on use of tools, tactics and methodologies to help them get better at making informed decisions about how best to utilise their digital and social media resources.

Consulting days invariably involve spending a lot of time analysing data and trying to extract meaningful insight from the vast array of information available. It is a bit like being a digital detective.

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

I’m a big fan of Trello. My personal Trello board is my management hub. It provides me with a single place to keep a handle on all the various balls that need juggling.

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

I think you have to proactively make the effort to carve out time away from work. It is all too easy to allow work to encroach on every corner of your life – and spending every waking hour devoted to work is ultimately counterproductive.

Conversely, some of my best ideas and insights come to me precisely because I’m not actively focused on them. Steve Jobs was an obvious exponent of using time spent walking to clear the head and to recharge the mental batteries. I share that view.

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

I play bass guitar in a local covers band (5 Day Weekend, available for bars, wedding and parties). Nothing beats playing gigs in front of a live audience to help you step away from the stress and strains of modern life.

I’m also an avid member of the National Trust – so there is rarely a weekend not spent walking in beautiful countryside and getting some fresh air and exercise.

I’m also a student of Choi Kwang Do – a Korean martial art. This is a brilliant way of keeping mind and body in good shape.

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’ve been a long time fan of David Allen of Getting Things Done fame. For me, his key insight was that you can’t manage time – but you can manage actions.

That simple reframing of looking at things in terms of “What’s The Next Action” and managing this rather than time has been incredibly helpful.

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

I’ve already mentioned Getting Things Done by David Allen but another equally useful book was The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss.

This book also pointed me to Richard Koch’s 80/20 Principle which has also had a huge influence. Otherwise known at the Pareto Principle or Power Law, once you are aware of it, you realise the world is pretty much dominated by it.

The key point is that 50:50 is actually quite a rare ratio i.e. the idea that you get back exactly what you put into something.

Also, it isn’t always 80/20 – it could be 1/100 (Only 1% of Wikipedia editors generate nearly 100% of the content). The trick is to keep an eye out for those power law distributions and make sure you use them to your advantage.

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

Get out of bed.

In all seriousness, always try to have a plan for how you hope to spend your time in a day. Unknown variables will always conspire to throw you off course and no plan survives contact with the enemy. But by having a plan in the first place, you are more likely to get where you want to be than not.

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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.