About the Episode

In Episode 3 of “Balance, Not Burnout”, we delve into the double-edged sword of technology and its influence on our lives and workplaces with Mary Ann O’Brien, CEO of OBI Creative.

We’ll explore the psychological toll of constant connectivity, such as heightened stress and anxiety, and confront the adverse habits we’ve adopted during the pandemic, including skyrocketing screen time and the blurred lines between personal and professional life. However, it’s not all doom and gloom as we’ll also share proven strategies to capitalize on technology’s benefits while minimizing its distractions. From time blocking and digital detoxes to creating tech-free zones, we’ll provide actionable methods to improve your digital wellness. Plus, we’ll discuss how leaders can foster a healthier digital environment and encourage listeners to reflect on their own tech habits.

Tune in and join the conversation as we strive towards a more balanced digital lifestyle!

As founder and CEO of OBI Creative, Mary Ann O’Brien has been entrusted by some of the most successful brands in the world to steer their strategic direction, evolve their brand positioning, and guide their marketing and communication efforts.

She has led national and global strategic initiatives for Intel, Microsoft, Sony, Lenovo, Gateway, and ViewSonic. She authored the O’Brien Voice of the CustomerTM and Voice of the EmployeeTM studies, which have repeatedly been the foundation for incredible business success stories.

O’Brien serves on community boards and champions women, diversity, and ethical growth. She considers winning an Integrity Award from the Better Business Bureau as one of the defining moments of her career.

Mary Ann is a devoted wife, mother, entrepreneur, and published author of the Forbes’ book, “Ask and Deliver: Discover the Heart of Your Business by Listening to the Voice of Your Customers.”

Episode Transcript


You’re listening to Balance, Not Burnout, a podcast helping leaders rethink the speed of their business. And I’m your host, Mark Williams. Join me as I explore the power of a more intentional, balanced approach to leadership. Thanks for listening.

Welcome to Balance, Not Burnout. This is Mark Williams, CEO of Brokers International. And today I’m super excited to have the founder and CEO of OBI creative out of Omaha, Nebraska, Mary Ann O’Brien. And just to give you a quick snapshot of Mary Ann, and she has been entrusted by some of the most successful brands in the world, to steer their strategic direction, evolve their brand positioning and guide their marketing and communication efforts. companies like Intel, Microsoft, Sony, Lenovo gateway, you name it, she’s probably been there. So I am super thrilled to have Marianne, talk to us today about technology and how we use that in the workforce. So first off, welcome, Mary Ann, thanks for being on the show. Thank you so much, Mark. It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s nice to see you. Nice to connect. Yeah, nice to connect. Always nice to see you. If you don’t mind sharing a couple minutes of your background and kind of what your specialty is, what do you guys do? Yeah, so I’m the founder and CEO like he said, I’m OBI Creative and we are a full service advertising agency and strategy firm. And I think what makes us unique and different is really that we start with the customers. So we focus a lot on customer insights, customer research, research, and we use those insights to serve as sort of inspiration and the foundation for messaging and positioning. And that’s what inspires the creative. So Adobe, we don’t really, we don’t do creative for creative sake. We do creative based on customer insights, with goal to connect with the customer, our with our clients, customers in a meaningful and relevant way. All right, and in full disclosure, OBI has helped me with my personal branding, both on LinkedIn, I have a website, Mark W williams.com, which they have helped assisted me, I’ve written a book, which was also by the assistance of OBI creative, so I can’t be a bigger fan of what they do and what they can provide. They also work with us at brokers International. Today, Mary Ann, we’re going to talk a little bit about technology. And as much as I think it’s awesome, and I can FaceTime someone in China right now and get a text from all over the world. It has its huge pluses in the workplace. But some of its some huge drawbacks as well. So I’m curious, how has technology been a plus Adobe AI? And how have you use that to benefit their clients? Yeah, I think it’s, I think it is, it’s kind of like balancing on a razor blade, all of this technology, you know, how far do you go?

How little do you use. But I think that for OBI, we’ve always been a technology oriented organization. So since you know, I’m a former Chief Marketing Officer at a Fortune 100 tech firm. And so I was an have always been a kind of an early adopter. So I’m regularly pushing this team to look for new or better, or, you know, more efficient tools.

But oftentimes, as with any new with any new technology or tool, you know, people get nervous when you start adding new tools. It’s more work to integrate those things. But people also get nervous. I think now with the sort of the advent of AI, they get a little nervous that, you know, how could this take my job was this going to eliminate, and what I tried to do here is just, you know, help them understand that at all the technology in the world is never going to be as good as the human touch. It’s never going to be as good as the the soul to soul connection. And so having a creative engineer or a prompt engineer, look at what the AI is delivering is always, in my opinion, going to be a really valuable role. So for me, I think we use technology as more foundational data and we it allows our team to sort of level up and be more strategic with insights that that that technology is providing us. So I’m curious to start the conversation Marian, how many employees do you currently have? And do you guys have a hybrid work schedule? Or is everyone in the office out of the office? Because that will kind of lead me to my next question about technology just work workwise? Yeah, we’ve probably got an I’m terrible with how many but I think somewhere in the 35 to 40 range from an employee standpoint, and then we use freelancers, depending on the workload, we also do have a hybrid work schedule. So we, you know, after COVID, we were, you know, like everybody else ever been out of the office, but now we’re back two to three days a week in the office. And I think for us, that’s been kind of a nice balance. You can get some of those personal things managed on either end of the week, at OBI.

And then we try to cap people come in Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, we have a very similar setup. So after COVID, we went to a hybrid work situation as well, two to three days in the office two to three out. And that’s really where technology has been a huge advantage for us, much like we’re doing right now. Right, I can see you were talking, we can hold meetings, but I will add, there is nothing like face to face. And we’ve had several breaking bread opportunities where we’ve sat down around either a restaurant or even a conference room table, there is nothing that matches that. But that technology really has assisted us in touching our customers, when it’s at times that are inconvenient to travel, or inconvenient to be together. And I’m assuming you feel the same way. I feel the completely the same way. Like when I see you, I’m like, oh, I want to I want to see Mark, you know, so I, I do miss the breaking bread moments, I do miss the just, you know the friendships so that like human connection, the personal connection, but it is, it is nice, because technology does allow us to not have, you know, be running from city to city all the time. And we’re able to use a lot of that time to think about our clients and think about how we can help them connect with their customers. So for me, I like that we can use technology to have a connection, but I still do like the in person side of things. I think there’s a balance. Yeah, me too. What I think one of the drawbacks to technology is just how connected we are. And I’ll give you an example. 20 years ago, if you wanted to set an appointment with me, you either placed a phone call and left me a voicemail, or you sent me an email.

Today, it’s a text, and I can’t tell you how many times someone will text me and say, Hey Mark, just give me a call when you’ve got time.

It’s not really setting an appointment with me. And quite frankly, oftentimes our I think our customers have used that service, right, calling us after hours, maybe sometimes shooting us a text on the weekend. I do think that that causes some increased stress, some anxiety. How do you manage that with your employees? And what’s your expectation for them, communicating with your customers and communicating with your customers, maybe after hours or on weekends, it’s it’s dicey, honestly, because, you know, one of our mantras here is that we move at the speed of business. So we want to be very customer centric. But we all you know, our primary customers are employee as every organization and so also kind of managing expectations between the employee and the employer, and then the employee and their client. So yeah, it’s touchy. First, we have this, I break clients into sort of three personas. So I have sort of, you know, Speedy Gonzalez client, and I’ve sort of got middle of the road. And then I’ve got I call them slow gin, right, they’re just real slow, you know that and it’s fine. And, and over the years, I’ve personally like to set up the, you know, the organization with a portfolio approach of type client types. And then we match those clients with the client service team. So if it’s a very fast client, the expectation might be that you will get a text on the weekend, it isn’t, the expectation isn’t that you have to blow up your weekend. But reply, let them know you got it, because the urgency from that client will just cause more issues if you don’t respond. Now, my other you know, on the other end of the spectrum, kind of those slow gin, the kind of the calm those clients, they don’t, you know, they would never darken the door of texting us over the weekend, unless it was an absolute emergency. So if there’s an emergency, we all we all have committed that if a client needs us on a weekend, it’s emergency, you know, they can call click or commit, and they can do whatever they want. But

it really is matching for us the sort of the persona of the client service person who’s going to manage that relationship with sort of the heartbeat of that client. We kick off all new engagements. And one of the questions that we changed was, you know, do you prefer phone calls you preferred email? How do you how do you like be communicated with now it’s text, when when is it not appropriate? So we sort of have a dossier on the client to know, you know, if there’s a change in client service, or there’s a change on our end that we you know, the client, the playbook is still there on the client. And, and, and so it’s at that meeting that we sort of build some rules of engagement. Again, we try to lean in, but we also want to have boundaries somewhere and I’m curious with your employees, we don’t use click, we don’t use CLICK software, right. So I don’t I don’t track what my employees do online. They have internet access. There are obviously the normal websites we block which would be gambling or adult websites.

Obviously things like that. We do use the internet to assist clients. Right? And so I don’t feel it a need. But I’m curious how you feel is Do you feel that the technology can be a distraction for your employees? And do you manage that? Or are you? How do you manage that? Yeah, we’re kind of like you guys, we don’t we don’t track it. I mean, we have the ability, I think, through our technology provider, if there was an issue, like if there was a,

for us, we track all of our time by the hour. So if a client came back and said, You didn’t work those hours, you know, let’s say there was some question around the integrity, I know that we can go back and look at screens, but it’s not something we ProAct you know, we don’t do that on a regular basis. In my history, we’ve only done it once, in 22 years. So I think we, I always say, you know, we hire professionals, and you know, these are people, we expect to act like professionals, and they want to be paid like professionals. And so if if it becomes if if technology becomes an impediment to their professionalism, it gets addressed, but we’re not really big brothers doing anything. I don’t know if that’s what you were talking about. But I, for me, it’s more, you know, I start at trust. And then if there’s an issue, and we have to delve in, we address it quickly. And hopefully they resolve it. And if not, then we you know, have to take other actions. Yeah, I think you and I have the same philosophy, especially with our employees. I’m curious, however, you guys do a lot of work with me on LinkedIn. And some of the websites do become much more, I am much more active outside of normal hours. So you, OBI assist me in doing posting and writing some of my things, but of course, responding and even looking at what’s been posted. Oftentimes, I’m doing that in the evenings, I’m doing that on the weekends, I shoot my own personal videos on the weekends. And again, balance, not burnout. How do you how do you manage that both with your clients? And with your employees? Like when is too much? When is too much activity? When When does it creep into their lives? Their work? And how do we? How do we manage that and manage that expectation? Yeah, I mean, the, the more technology, the more I can, I’m concerned with that. For my clients, and for my employees, just exactly what you’re talking about. I think the again, I think all of the content, the sort of the paid, earned, owned, shared side of marketing

has grown exponentially over the last 10 years. And so content,

I think, is gonna hit a point where it’s less about the content and more about the quality of the content, because I just think today, you know, with Chechi, beauty and all of these different tools, you can, you can be automating content building, in a way that’s, you know, faster than you know, a human can do. But at some point, there’s a human on the other end of that screen, or on the other end of that article, or that blog, or that podcast, and they’ll be able to see through, was this just generated by a machine with no human touch? Or was this something that somebody really, you know, gave a damn about, and spent some time and thought about? So for me, I was just having the conversation with Christian and on our team yesterday, saying, you know, I think at some point, there will be this sort of,

you know, that this moment where there’s a sea change, and people start to say, look, I want more quality content, I love Mark’s posts on the weekend, because I know, those are his, those are from him. And I think that you might even see in the future, again, I love the future. So I don’t want to scare anyone with this. But you might even see a future where we go back to good, right. So we go, we’ve gone all the way to like, more content, more content, more content, maybe now the barometer or the meter will come to the center, and maybe things like storytelling will matter more, because it’s connecting people at their soul versus, you know, just check the box, I got that podcast out, I got that, you know, I got that article out I got. So I think that we might be able to get more creative. And we might get to be more honest and genuine with our storytelling on the creative side. And I think our client, I think clients missed that, you know, we’re about the same age mark. You know, we grew up in an era where there was TV, print radio, there was kind of this traditional marketing that was happening, there was sort of a halo. And that gave you a sense of who that client or that customer was. And now, customers still do some of that, but they do a lot more content. And so I think in a world where there’s just so many, you know, sort of messages coming at you as as, as say

salespeople as marketers, as humans, we have to find the right moment in that customer’s life, to send the right message. And so that might, I think, maybe take us back to maybe some storytelling, maybe some mass marketing tactics, I don’t think like the old days, it’ll be, but I think it’ll get a little more balanced than just a lot of a lot of content, I would say to my client, you know, to you or any of our clients,

the more genuine the content, the higher your engagement will be. Totally true with me. And I see that even on LinkedIn, the the items that are posted that are genuine, that are oftentimes not tailored pictures, they’re a snapshot off an iPhone, or my walking with Mark videos, which are literally me Holding, holding my iPhone and walking, the things that are that, that show my personality seem to grab much stronger than any of the other pieces, not that the other pieces don’t grab, and they’re good content. But I think people are starving to see the real person. The authentic person and I know, that’s the word is probably way overused. But that authenticity that comes with natural things, like it’s a picture sometimes that you take with your friends that are just a snapshot versus a formal photography session, right? It’s it just feels different. It does. And I think that is that’s the connection we’re missing. Right? But it’s that that real life, maybe not perfect, not Hollywood shine, just, you know, the true blue, Mary Ann O’Brien are the two blue Mark Williams that’s that’s what people want. Now, that’s not to say that all that foundational work isn’t still important, because they they got attracted through some of that foundational work, I think where they get addicted or connected is through that genuine side of, you know, the messiness of life. And, yeah, as a C suite, I’m curious as to the technology that you have become addicted to, and how do you and how do you manage that, and I’ll share my own secret. I am addicted, I cannot stand to see the little red bubble that I have unread email. It’s a horrible habit. But I’ll go in at inopportune times and just clear out my my email, it’s a bothersome for me. I’m curious for you, what things are you addicted to? And how do you regulate that as a person who runs a company and has lots of lots of stakeholders that are that are vying for your attention?

Yeah, I wish that I had a clean email. I mean, I don’t even want to tell you how many emails they’re in there. And it’s embarrassing because I used to be, you know, I didn’t get to build this business not reading emails, right. I read every email but but at some point, you’re it gets so crazy with all of the inputs again, that I personally have to compartmentalize a lot. I really do. And I’ve, I may have told you this, but I often on the drive home, I turn everything off the phones in my purse, there’s not even music, nothing and I am giving myself a pep talk like you are the mom, you are not the boss, you are a mother, your daughter needs you know, I have to get myself sort of yogurt in to like, what if wherever my hands are so how I handle the addiction of technology is wherever my hands are is my focus. So right now I’m focused on having this conversation. I’m going to run to the next meeting after this and it might be a whole bunch of tech stack platforms that have to engage in so I just I think my way of maybe managing it all or coping with it all is i I’m very compartmentalized. Now the tools I love. I still love

my my what is it? Guilty pleasure is I still love like Instagram and Facebook at night. Like I feel like that’s my Mary Ann’s time after I’m all done working. But CCCT handled, Jason’s handled it’s Mary Ann’s turn to just be like scroll through people’s lives, right. And I don’t always engage. But like I still love to, that’s a way to stay connected to the people I care about. And then email is still probably the biggest app I use, but text is very, very close behind. And then we have a tool here, which you probably are familiar with a reporting tool here called tapclicks. And that’s an aggregator of all of the different tactics that we’re doing by customer. So I’m often in tapclicks, looking at my you know, a dashboard of what’s going on with Mark’s engagement what’s going on with this clients you know, media so I do love that tool. Very much like you I’m always in a dashboard. Our customer dashboard is where I live, where we see the business submitted the business that’s paid for what’s pending all the all the KPIs of my business.

I spent a lot of time there. So totally with you on that. Seeing that we’re getting close to time balance, not burnout question that doesn’t have to do with the office. It’s Saturday morning. And Mary Ann O’Brien can do whatever she wants with whomever she wants. Describe for me your balance Saturday morning. Well, my balance Saturday morning is a very hot cup of coffee around 730.

On a white couch, in a little room inside my house watching something on YouTube.

A lot of times it’s Jason, my husband I watching.

Like home shows, there’s, you know, just kind of a little mindless, just really watching the beauty of somebody take a house from nothing to something. And then I’m spending time with my daughter. She gets up around eight and hanging out with her, we’ll go outside on the deck. And then I’m really planning out our day, what are we going to do? We’re lucky enough we have a pool. So this summer, it’s been a lot of Pool time. Or we’ll go to the gym and work out and then come back to the pool. So that’s a Saturday morning for me. Not too exciting, but I live for it. And I love it. And so that’s one of the ways that I manage the balance from the burnout. Amen. So Marianne and OBI creative. I can’t thank you enough for spending some time with me today. And our listeners nationwide firm that can do anything from posting on LinkedIn to building websites to helping brands and rebranding and a ton of advice including books and and

color palettes and you name it. They do it nationwide Firm. Thanks again. Mary Ann O’Brien for being on board today. can’t thank you enough. Thank you so much, Mark, we we think you’re amazing. And we appreciate your trust and your confidence and all the hard work that you’ve put in on your brand and on brokers International. So thank you again. Yep, take care. Thanks, everybody.

Thanks for listening. If you think bounces is important as I do at work and all throughout your life, help the show up by subscribing and leaving a five star review following me on social media. Or please share the podcast with someone you think would appreciate it. If you have comments or questions, connect with me on LinkedIn and join the conversation there. Thanks for sharing your time with me today. And until next time, this is Mark signing off.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai