Dennis Shiao: "While I enjoyed my work in IT, I’ve found my natural calling in marketing"

You've likely heard the aphorism, "A rising tide lifts all boats." While typically applied to the economy, I believe it can also be applied to what Dennis Shiao does with his public platform — whether his column here at CMSWire where he brings in experts from the marketing world or in his email newsletter, Content Corner, where he features profiles, social accounts and more from colleagues in the field — Dennis uses his social presence to raise the profiles of others.

Dennis came to marketing via an IT background and while he claims below to struggle with finding inspiration for his column, you'd never guess it from reading them. This year, his perspective on virtual events resonated with many readers who were making the transition themselves, 11 years after Dennis first dipped his toes in the online event waters.

What kept you sane during 2020?

Definitely not video meetings, as too many of those wear me out. I stayed sane this year via my health and a routine. My family and I (knock on wood) stayed healthy throughout the year and for that I’m thankful. For all of us to stay healthy was my top priority.

I’ve always been a routine-oriented person — I find comfort in doing the same things in the same order each day. The pandemic forced my routine to get even more routine. After all, if you don’t leave home much, how can one day be different from the next? Some find that “sameness” stressful. For me, it helped my sanity.

Where do you look for inspiration for your articles?

It’s something I struggle with! When the time comes to write an article, I sometimes draw blanks thinking up a topic. I know some marketers who are the opposite: they keep a file of over 100 article ideas. When it’s time to write one, they simply pluck one off the pile.

I have no such file. However, my go-to source is to write about things I’ve experienced recently. Articles in 2020 included advice from managing a personal newsletter and running a marketing meetup. I also find inspiration in sharing observations and learnings from my marketing projects for clients.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

In a CMSWire article, I shared the story of how I transitioned from IT to marketing. During my IT days, I received a compliment. Looking back on my career journey, that compliment predicted my career transition. I used to write summaries of our company wallyball games and email them to the entire company.

One colleague replied, “You should be a sportswriter!” While it wasn’t explicit advice and it didn’t really register at the time, it makes sense that I ended up where I am. While I enjoyed my work in IT, I’ve found my natural calling in marketing. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Maybe that colleague’s compliment subconsciously influenced me.

Which of your projects or research from 2020 (or upcoming for 2021) are you most excited about and why?

My biggest client project was a website redesign for Lohika, an engineering services company. We started in Q4 of 2019 and launched the new site in February of this year. My focus was on the website copy across the site. It was exciting because the new site was the foundation for a company rebrand. It was well-received internally and clients loved it, too.

If you could only recommend one business book, what would it be and why?

I recommend “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman,” by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. I read it this year when I saw it on a list of recommended books. I think company founders and leaders will find it useful. Chouinard shows us how to build a company around values and a mission and how to nurture a company culture that ties it all together.

Speed Round

What was the best book you read  in 2020?

“Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory In Northern Ireland” by Patrick Radden Keefe.

What was the best movie you watched  in 2020?

"The Trial of the Chicago 7" (Netflix).

What was the best meal you ate in 2020?

My birthday meal. Not for the food (it was Indian take-out and it was really good!), but for the fact that it was a quiet dinner with my wife and daughter. And oh, my daughter made me a pumpkin birthday cake with icing.