Balancing the Grind with Michele Danno, Head of Social at Stan

Michele Danno is the Head of Social at Stan, Australia’s leading local subscription video-on-demand provider, backed by Nine Entertainment Company.

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

I decided I wanted to be a writer at about nine years old when my dad bought me a travel journal before my first trip overseas. I documented every detail of that vacation down to how many stray cats I saw on the street every day, and from there my writing dreams continued to change shape over the years.

Cheesy pre-teen poetry morphed into a degree in sports journalism before I experimented with blogging (who didn’t?) and eventually landed myself an internship at a social media agency in Chicago and another for the NFL United Way partnership.

I was making pennies but meeting cool people and loving my life. I did, however, need to start getting paid. My first boss (now mentor) told me she hired me because I “didn’t sound like a brand”, which ironically was my foot in the door to writing for lots of brands.

I specialised in social media (the new era of journalism) and told myself I was “brand journalist” (so my degree wasn’t completely for nothing). This moved me across the country and eventually across the world to my home in Sydney.

My clients have ranged from M&Ms, Kellogg’s, Jim Beam, NFL teams, Nike, Netflix, Samsung, Red Bull, Optus and more, meaning my tone of voice has had to evolve many times over the years. I’ve also had to learn to write “Australian”, which has been a very interesting adventure!

Sport and human-interest storytelling have always had a special place in my heart, so more recently I’ve narrowed to brands in the sport and entertainment spaces, including my most recent role at the Australian streaming service, Stan.

Interviewing and working with top overseas and local Australian talent + covering A-list sport and entertainment events has opened many doors for me within the industry, and for that I am very grateful, but I truly do find writing in my own voice in my free time the most fulfilling!

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

Without sounding like a total cliché, no two days are the same in social media. Like journalism, it moves so quickly and changes so abruptly that you need to be ready to react and adapt at all times.

It’s also a lot more involved than just putting out posts – there’s strategy, paid media, reporting, social listening, research and insights, creative briefing, community management, interviewing talent, live event coverage, crisis management, influencer integrations, partnerships, customer service, and a lot more.

Aside from my 9-5 (which is really more like 24/7 in social), I also still do pro bono work for the NFL United Way back in America, so I’m often taking calls in the middle of the night or waking up at weird hours to join meetings.

My days are often long and very unpredictable, but I will say there is never a dull moment and for that I am fortunate! I thrive on change and uncertainty, and I think you have to in this field. 

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

We’ve been working remotely for most of COVID, which is possible due to the digital nature of the business. While I love the energy an office provides, I thoroughly enjoy WFH life seeing as often my best work happens in non-office hours (I’m my best self quite early in the morning).

I do miss live events, however, and being on set/in studios. COVID has erased a lot of our live coverage and in-person interview sessions, but we do our best to still capture what we can over Zoom!

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Work-life balance means being able to prioritise people and things I care about above anything else.

For me, it’s running, spending time outside, calling home, seeing friends, reading, volunteering and writing for myself. I need to do at least a few of those things every day to remain sane, so I carve out time to do so.

Sometimes this means waking up earlier than usual or staying up later than I’d like, but I know I won’t be productive (or very pleasant!) if I don’t get the time and headspace I need. It also means I spend less time on things that aren’t that important to me.

I don’t put too much effort into my appearance (I’m a makeup-free and air-dried hair kinda gal – COVID has suited me well!), I eat pretty much the same uncomplicated meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I’ve learned to say “no” to things that don’t feel like a good use of my time (something I’m still working on!).

I’m definitely not perfect, and some days are still very unbalanced, but I’ve gotten better about boundaries and feel less guilty about telling people I can’t always be available. 

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5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I’ve started reading more books and finding ways to blend that activity into others – i.e. I read on the treadmill or StairMaster. I also reply to emails/messages or even take meetings while walking on there, too.

I’ve stopped spending much time posting to my personal social media – I found it was taking a lot of my time/energy for very little ROI (to use a wanky industry term).

I also cook dinner in the morning so I can just reheat it when I’m too tired to cook after work – weird I know, but it totally works! 

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

LOADS! But I’ll try to keep it short – Shoe Dog by Nike founder Phil Knight is an all-time favourite for those seeking an inspiring, no-bullshit success story. No Rules Netflix by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer is a must-read for anyone in business or leadership.

Becoming by Michelle Obama (the audiobook version – her voice is MAGICAL!) and Pelosi by Molly Ball are other inspirational eye-openers. There’s an essay called The Busy Trap  that I discovered when I was 23, and it really made me reconsider how I spend my time and balance my life.

I also love this article from sports journalist Rick Reilly about why he pursued his profession (and passion) against the advice of some college professors. And my mentor, Tracey, recently recommended Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (tear-jerker alert!!) by Isabel Wilkerson, which is next on my list! 

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

Spotify – it gets me through every workout, walk, etc. Aside from that, probably my running shoes? Also a daily user/eater of peanut butter, hummus/baba ganoush, tea, and a bamboo straw.

I suppose any of the private messaging apps that allow me to communicate with my family and friends overseas (Facebook Messenger, SMS, WhatsApp, whatever) are also lifelines, especially during COVID times.  

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?  

Michelle Obama, Kim Kardashian (sorry, but I’m fascinated by all their endeavours and tight-knit family) or any top professional athlete 

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

I’m no expert, but my best advice is to avoid the temptation to stack your day with things to do.

I’ve never kept a to-do list and still manage to get more than my share done in 24 hours, sans guilt or disappointment that my list isn’t “done”. Don’t be afraid to have free time and don’t go racing to fill it – you need this time to think, daydream, read, reflect, etc.

Walk places instead of using transport – you can’t (or shouldn’t) bury your head in Instagram while you’re walking and this idle brain time will often lead to your best ideas. Strolling > Scrolling.

Your imagination will be stifled by a busy schedule, so don’t feel guilty about saying “no” to plans sometimes. Anyone worth spending any time with at all will understand.

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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.