Interviews / PR & Communications

Balancing the Grind With Daniel Young, Chief Digital Officer at opr Agency

Daniel Young is the Chief Digital Officer at opr Agency, a leading specialist PR and public affairs communication firm, where he is responsible for the development and delivery of digital and integrated campaigns.

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

I always wanted to be a journalist but failed to get into journalism school and ending up studying Politics at university instead. My first job was in a PR services company that did big print jobs and packed media kits for agencies. Glamorous.

I then got hired as a graduate by The Weber Group Europe in London, which was a very lucky move for me. I worked with some great people and big tech brands in the heart of Covent Garden. This is where I developed an interest in the tech sector – back then it was all about open standards and collaborative commerce.

I was quite unwell at the end of 2000. I was out on New Year’s Eve with friends feeling awful and a few days later I was in Tooting Bec hospital laid up for two weeks.

That gave me a different perspective on life and having fully recovered and returned to work, I decided that I’d take some time out with my girlfriend at the time. We travelled for the best part of a year around India and South East Asia, which was an amazing, before landing in Sydney.

After a short spell with a small PR firm, I joined Burson-Marsteller in the Technology Practice and quickly moved up to Practice Lead. Web 2.0 and social media were emerging around this time, which was a convergence of my interest in politics and technology.

I became the Digital Champion for the agency around 2003 when brands and social media where starting to come together in a meaningful way. From there I ran a digital PR agency called Encoder PR for B-M; then I moved to eBay for a year in a Social Strategy role.

From there, I set up and launched a digital agency called Brightpoint Digital, which existed for three years before I moved to Ogilvy Australia, now opr Agency in Sydney.

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

My role is dynamic and varied, which I love. I am fortunate enough to be a master of my own destiny to a certain extent and I am involved in a variety of initiatives as the digital lead, agency projects, client campaign and new business pitches.

A typical day can involve a lot of meetings and presentations from client updates, to new business presentations and internal training or planning meetings. Between these meetings, I may be working on a plan for an upcoming campaign, provide media and channel recommendations, participating in creative brainstorm or working with a wider team on strategy for an upcoming pitch.

I try to stay on top of what’s happening in the industry so will catch up on industry news and try and re-gain control of my Read folder in Outlook, which contains all of emails, research and reports that I’ve earmarked to read and digest.

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

I was in Melbourne last week for an exciting and big day. We met at the office early with two colleagues to prepare for a presentation on integrated communications to more than 20 brand managers from a large FMCG brand.

We then returned to the office to finalise and rehearse a new business presentation, which started at 5pm that day. Both presentations went well with the new business pitch contained a strategy and several creative ideas that we were all excited about.

The Sydney based team jumped in a taxi immediately after the pitch for a flight back to Melbourne.

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

One of the things I’m trying to work on now is focus. This means resisting interruptions and devoting my attention to one task at a time.

For this Q&A for example, I have shut down my email and Skype for Business so that I can really focus on what I am doing. As we all know, there’s lots of research out there that dispels the myth of multi-tasking.

Getting focused can help with flow and that’s particularly important when you’re trying to solve tricky problems, but it also makes us a lot more productive over the course of the day. Attached to this is the need to prioritise effectively.

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’ve made a concerted effort to get a healthier balance between work and life this year. Last year was a bit out of control and I found myself in the habit of working late in the office or plugging back in at home.

I’ve made a few small changes to help this such as cancelling my gym membership in the city. I’ve got my email accounts on my phone set to manual refresh so that I get to choose when I catch up with email and I have very few notifications on my device in general to stop interruptions.

I also moved my phone from my bedside table into the kitchen over night to avoid reading email or social media the second I open my eyes.

My company – opr Agency – has a great approach to agile working and flexibility, which makes get the balance right a lot easier.

6) What does work life balance mean to you?

I think it means being in control. I’m happy to catch up on work at the weekends or in the evenings. It’s inevitable in our industry and I enjoy what I do but when you feel that you’ve lost control of the volume or the expectations then you’re out of balance.

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?

For me this comes down to managing my internal critic. I’ve done quite a bit of work on this over the last few years through work with psychologists and my own reading.

Success for me is feeling happy and fulfilled at work and feeling as though I am doing my best work. There have been periods in my career where I’ve struggled with imposter syndrome or just a general sense of ineptitude.

These negative thoughts can be really taxing and tiring so I have worked on habits to stay positive and happy. I guess the habit is staying conscious of your thoughts and letting the unhelpful or unproductive thoughts go. There’s a real practice around this, which I have really enjoyed learning about.

Obviously physical health is another factor. I meditate – sometimes regular, sometimes occasionally – and I exercise regularly. Getting into the great outdoors is also good for my state of mind. Modern life is complex and there’s a lot to think about and stay on top of so it’s a constant process that ebbs and flows.

8) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

A recent book, which I got a lot out of was Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.

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

It’s all about prioritisation and preparation. There’s a constant stream of things flying at me with short, medium- and long-term deadlines. Preparation is key as there may be small steps that I can take today that can get things moving the background for a long-term project while I focus on immediate needs today.

10) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

I think a good rule of thumb is that 30 mins of fresh you is way more productive than two hours of tired you after 5:30pm.

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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.