Balancing the Grind with Stephen Mariani, Associate Strategy Director at The New York Times

Stephen Mariani is a San Francisco-based Associate Strategy Director at The New York Times, where he crafts brand, creative and media strategies for NYT partnerships.

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

Currently, I’m an Associate Strategy Director at The New York Times (but based in San Francisco). Growing up I wanted to be a journalist, so you could say I have my dream job – but I’m on the advertising side of the business!

In all seriousness, it’s a great place and role to be in. I graduated from both undergraduate and graduate school with degrees in journalism – from Michigan State and Northwestern respectively.

From there, I spent one year as an official “journalist,” working in video production for Crain’s Chicago Business in Chicago. After Crain’s, I transitioned to marketing/advertising, spending time both client side (as a Social Media Manager at BMO Financial Group) and agency side (at a boutique agency in Chicago named SOCIALDEVIANT).

Today, as a part of T Brand Studio at The Times, which acts similar to a creative agency, I craft brand, creative and media strategies for NYT partnerships.

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

Compared to client side – and even agency side – the publisher side moves fast. On a typical day, we would receive a Request for Proposal (RFP) from a media agency or client partner, then I would take lead – with partners across T Brand and Sales – to form a team to respond to the RFP.

Most of the time, when I am part of that responding team, the partner is looking for branded content ideas that would live on (or across our diverse ecosystem).

To inform those ideas, I create a strategy, unearthing audience, cultural, brand and competitive insights. Normally, I have to do this in a matter of hours – not days.

From there, I brainstorm with our creative team to come up with content ideas – from branded content articles to custom podcasts – that help promote the brand in question. 

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

Currently, due to Covid, most of The NYT organization is working remotely. I’ve been doing so since early March. I always loved an office environment, but working from home does have its perks – I get to sleep in later and see my wife more.

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

Work-life balance is critical to me in order to put out my best strategic and creative work. I never sacrifice my health for work, though I do put in the hours from a work perspective. Each day, for example, I shut down by 6pm and go for a run to clear my head and get exercise.

This is really important to me, and it keeps me centered. If I do have more work to do, I don’t mind logging on later in the night because I’ve been able to destress – and can tackle any impending challenges refreshed. 

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

Considering the past 12 months (with Covid) have completely upended all of our lives, a lot of my routines have changed. I’ve tried to start new routines that would replace my old ones.

For example, I used to walk to and from work each day. Now with that not possible, I try to go on walking meetings when possible (though it’s tough knowing the right meeting for that!). 

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

Well, as a Times employee, I have to give a plug for The Daily! I love how each episode does a deep dive into specific news-worthy topics. My wife and I try to listen together and discuss the topic!

The books I read are generally not very academic – ha! Since being in shelter in place, I did start my own podcast called Flopography. Might as well plug that too! Check it out if you’re a pop music fan.

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

 Well, my phone, for one. I love the app Robinhood – I’m kind of addicted. Most often in use on my iPhone: Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, Nike Running app and Headspace. As a former Marathon runner, I love a good foam roller; it’s very helpful to crack your back after a day in front of the computer.   

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

Probably no one famous or well-known, because they either truly likely don’t have work-life balance, or they have the support an average person wouldn’t. I would like to hear from a mid-level manager, who has a very full life! Someone most people could relate to. 

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

I think we all need more of it. More human interactions. It’s really insane how much time we spend in front of a screen (my eyesight is feeling the impact). Find time to step away, and truly ask yourself: “Does this email really need to be sent right now, or can it wait?”

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Order our Daily Routines ebook today! Featuring first-hand interviews, insights and revelations compiled from 50 of the world’s most successful people.
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.