Stephen Byrne is the co-founder and strategy director at DIFFUSION, a strategic brand agency, where he works across a wide variety of corporations, organisations, businesses and startups.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I’ve been working in marketing and branding consulting for a long time on both the agency and client side, primarily in Australia, the UK and US.
I’ve worked extensively with boards and held board level roles leading and developing marketing, brand and digital strategy across multiple sectors.
My background is as a journalist, and after I joined the government marketing organisation for TAFE NSW, one of the largest education organisations in Australia at the time, I led a lot of innovative digital and publishing projects that contributed significantly to the state government’s repositioning of the sector as well as bringing it into the new digital world.
When I went to London I worked setting up digital strategy for one agency and then directly for a range of clients like Coutts Bank, the Labour Party and the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor investment company.
More recently I’ve been more developing a new digital based brand information resource called BRANDNEWs. It focusses on new brand launches, brand fails (common right now during Covid) as well as providing a strategy focus using the SubStack platform.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I’ve been working from home on and off for over 20 years and so the whole WFM is nothing new to me.
I don’t usually work in my pyjamas but do the whole routine thing of getting up early, doing whatever has to be done to get a nine year old to school and then I’m back working from my kitchen table or office when it’s not been used by my wife who has a pretty high level media role.
My everyday focus is gleaning and reading across a range of international online publications and information boards in every business category from tech through to graphic design.
This translates into a series of daily posts across LinkedIn, Twitter and then into edits and write ups for BRANDNEWs before it’s rolled out via SubStack at the end of the week.
In between there’s also pitch opportunities like government tenders, I’m currently working on for brand strategy clients, so no day is ever quite the same.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Of course, I’m my own boss and I’ve been working both flexibly and remotely for years. There’s nothing new in this for me. Much like most people now I work when I have to and as long as I have to get things done.
When I was working with a New York research house, I’d be working through the night interpreting data, putting presentations together and then doing early Skype meetings and this was when I had a three month old child.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
I’m happy with my work-life balance because I’ve been working this way for a long time.
When I contract with other clients and agencies, it can be hectic working in between school drop offs and pickups and then there are often last minute meetings, board presentations and papers to prepare with constant updates.
But then that’s the beauty of being able to work between lots of different places, with lots of different people and time zones. Technology enables that but keep usage simple, I think and make sure that projects are fully documented and have aims and long term goals.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
Nothing but working from the kitchen table while my wife has had to move from a corporate office and into our attic office. Increasingly it’s looking at cloud-based publishing platforms that enable work to flow continuously from anywhere.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I don’t read business books that often but I do read research from lots of sources and that can be anything from the Harvard Review to the Business of Fashion newsletter.
Sometimes LinkedIn will point you through to some more thinking by a renowned strategy guru like David Aaker or Marty Niemeyer. I also follow people like that on Twitter.
I often take cues from more wider newspaper reading like The New Yorker or The New York Times, which I have paid subscription to.
Most mornings I listen to the US National Public Radio (NPR) News streaming and then later in the day I’ll probably check the headlines on CNN.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
My iPhone and my MacBook Pro. Bose noise cancellation headphones and earphones. I really like the New York Times app, it presents the news far more intelligently than most of its Australian peers.
I use Facebook to read a lot of literary feeds like the London and New York Review of Books, The Atlantic sometimes and more often the Paris Review. IMDB is pretty good for movies as well.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Keep it simple. Don’t worry about what the tech is today because it’s going to change. I’m looking forward to what 5G will bring in terms of quality of streaming services across the board and enhancing how we might communicate.
I’m looking forward to seeing what revolutions Apple and Google’s technology is bringing to our lives and how that might mean we can do things better and easier.
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