Welcome to So You Want My Job? Each week we ask the people working in some of the industry’s coolest jobs about how they got where they are. Along the way, we dig into their philosophies, inspirations, processes and experiences. Hopefully our interviewees can inspire you to pursue (or create) a job that’s just as exciting. This week we talk to Jack Koch, Reddit’s global head of marketing sciences...
So, what did you want to be when you growing up? And does your job now resemble that in any way?
I wanted to be a race car driver. Every now and then my parents still find old matchbox cars or micro machines behind furniture in our house and I can still recite nearly every line of Days of Thunder. Does my job now resemble that? Well, there are some pretty engaged auto racing communities on Reddit, such as r/formula1 and r/nascar, and my team did go go-karting last year. So I’d say I got about halfway to that dream.
As I got a little older though, I became obsessed with advertising. I grew up in the 90s and loved how print and TV ads during that time were turning the corner from text and voiceovers into honing creativity through powerful imagery, with only the necessary copy to get the message across. I was also really into computers from a young age, and I would create and print posters for events and parties and try my hand at art direction and copywriting early on. I’m thankful that a majority of my career has been in an industry I’ve always been passionate about, and my job now is deeply integrated into Reddit’s advertising business. The insights and trends we uncover from our platform help inform advertisers every day.”
How did you get your job?
After three college internships at advertising agencies as a copywriter and art director (and one summer as a lifeguard, of course), I graduated during a recession when many agencies were reducing staff. I found myself with degrees in both advertising design and marketing, and rather than wait it out I said to myself that instead of using my business degree to complement my art degree at an agency, I’ll use my art degree to complement my business degree.
So I went to work at a large financial company as its first online marketing manager. One of my first projects was to search and buy up all the domains that were spelled similarly to this company’s name, before they could be converted into any kind of not-safe-for-work webpages.
Eventually I found my way back to an agency, Digitas, that was well-known in the industry for its strategy and analytics department, which measured and optimized digital campaigns. As I led an account team, I often got to partner with the S&A folks and the work they accomplished fascinated me.
After some time at Digitas, Microsoft reached out. It was looking for a research and insights lead for its Xbox in-game advertising division. The concept of dynamic in-game advertising on a console was quite new and really interesting, so I spoke with the recruiter but mentioned upfront that ’no, no... I haven’t done research or measurement before’, to which the recruiter said that wasn’t a problem and that the hiring manager would still like to chat.
Speaking to the hiring manager, I again clarified, ’no, no... I haven’t done research or measurement before’, but emphasized my excitement about the opportunity and eagerness to learn more. We ended up having such a fantastic conversation (we talked for so long that my old-school, cordless phone ran out of charge) that I accepted an offer to join the team and the rest is history!
I credit that manager for changing my career trajectory, seeing potential in what I could do rather than what I had done and putting me on the marketing sciences path. And I do the same now with candidates when I’m hiring; I hire based on what candidates can do if given the opportunity, rather than what’s simply listed on their CV.
OK, so what do you actually do?
The ’TL;DR’, as we say on Reddit, is that I use data to help our partners make smarter business decisions. This ranges from campaign measurement and ensuring we have the right tools and services in place to provide our advertisers with transparent and comprehensive metrics to determine success, to uncovering trends and insights to help inform their strategy and how they can best reach their audience on-and-off Reddit.
On any given day, there are millions of comments posted on the platform and it’s my team’s job to analyze these conversations that are taking place within our 100,000+ communities. We provide insight into what 52 million daily active users are thinking and feeling on any given topic, at any given time. In doing so, we’re able to provide a level of understanding into consumer perception that isn’t possible anywhere else online.
Do your parents understand what it is that you do?
Absolutely. My parents have always been huge supporters of my career, and they love to get engaged with the companies I’m working at. When I worked at EA, we played The Sims Social together. While I was at LinkedIn, they created their LinkedIn profiles. When I moved to Spotify, they switched from Pandora. And now that I’m at Reddit, both of my parents have become full-on Redditors. They’ll often send me posts from communities that they follow or just discovered. My mom particularly loves the pet communities, so I’m continuously flooded with posts from r/zoomies or r/whatswrongwithyourdog – which means I get a lot of photos and videos of dogs with their eyes wide open and tongues out! It’s really endearing.
What do you love most about your job?
I love telling stories with data. I get really excited when we finish a project and there’s a very clear and powerful narrative that connects with the intended audience and inspires action. When I’m sharing compelling findings, you can see it as people nod along and ask thoughtful questions. It’s why I come to work every day, and what I’m passionate about.
The great thing about doing this at Reddit is the depth and breadth of conversations happening on the platform; the stories we’re analyzing are so rich from a storytelling and data perspective. My team and I learn something new from the platform every day, whether it’s advice about working from home, recommendations for new sneakers or headphones, what I should be watching on Netflix, and so much more. Our job is to dive into them all and find information that helps advertisers connect and meaningfully engage with our audience. This not only adds real value to their strategy, but it also allows my team and I to go down such weird and wonderful rabbit holes in the process! So it’s that, and the fantastic people I get to work with on a daily basis.
How would someone entering the industry go about getting your job?
It’s wonderful to see so many opportunities in insights, research and measurement these days as companies recognize the value of the role. Marketing Sciences is a career that combines both art and science. We’re data-driven storytellers that use insights and research to shape our narratives. We’re scientists and marketers. There are potential candidates I meet that have deep data and analytics experience, but they haven’t yet honed their skills translating that data into insights to develop a compelling story.
In this career, I think it’s important for someone to have a variety of experiences outside of traditional research and analytics – get out of the office and meet with clients, take a graphic design or toastmasters class, try your hand at creative writing or any other practice in expanding your worldview. My previous roles in sales, marketing, copywriting/art direction and strategy have been invaluable to creating a compelling story out of insights and relating to a variety of audiences.
What advice would you offer to others entering your industry, especially at this weird time?
If you’re early in your career, be open to experiences and opportunities, rather than waiting for the exact role you think you’re looking for. Your first, second or third career path doesn’t have to be your last, and you never know where it may take you! I started out my career wanting to be an art director/copywriter, but through a variety of experiences and some great people, I discovered my passion for research, insights and storytelling through data. If I’d gone straight to an agency, as I originally thought I should, my career would have taken an entirely different path.
When you do find yourself in a career or role you love, take advantage of becoming an expert in a greenfield or niche area if possible – one where there aren’t a lot of people already carving a path. When I started out in insights and research, it was for in-game advertising. And because it was a new media there were only a few of us in the industry doing that type of work. So it brought with it lots of opportunity to iterate, innovate and share externally what we were learning, which accelerated my growth.
What would you say is the trait that best suits you to your role?
Taking a large set of data and paring it down into the insights that will make the audience go ’ah-ha, I get it’, quickly and efficiently. That and being incredibly nit-picky about the need for headlines in a presentation to be aligned from slide to slide. Thanks art school.
Who should people wanting your job be reading or listening to?
For my job specifically, I’d suggest you start by diving into Reddit and see where the rabbit hole takes you. Even if it doesn’t lead to a new career, I can guarantee it will lead to hours of entertainment, unique views and interesting perspectives – and that’s never a waste of time.
Beyond that, I’m a huge fan of books from ’the advertising greats’ that outline their process of creating great ads, so my recommendation is to read up! I find industry reads tremendously valuable and a personal reminder for me to get past all the noise and focus on the insights and stories that matter. One of my favorites is Hey Whipple, Squeeze This from copywriter and professor Luke Sullivan. There’s a section I find particularly relatable to telling a compelling story, where he demonstrates ’reductionism’ – paring away elements until you get to the essence of an ad by asking questions like, ’is the headline doing something the visual can do?’ and ’is the tagline bringing any new information?’
I also spend time looking at advertising annuals for inspiration. I’m constantly blown away by the ingenious ways creatives continue to take a complex strategy brief and find the simplest and most efficient way to get messages across. One of my favorites is The One Show, which is an annual award show for advertising, design and digital marketing – and, coincidentally, where Reddit just won a few Gold, Silver and Bronze awards alongside agency of record, R/GA. There’s also Lürzer's Archive, which is a more global, bi-monthly magazine featuring advertising campaigns for print and TV from around the world.