It’s hard to believe we’re quickly coming upon the one-year anniversary of this pandemic: a full 12 months of, for the most part, staying at home. But if you’ve ever worked in the media, you know that us journalists are pre-wired to learn career survival techniques—and we’ve done just that: used this year to contemplate, strategize, trim the fat and, mostly, survive.
But let’s rewind.
It was exactly a year ago that I was hosting my best friend’s bachelorette party at the Cedar House. She was getting married this very weekend in Nashville, and I was the matron-of-honor. Her bridal party and attendees comprised many fellow foreign service workers who live all over the country and the globe. In fact, one of her friends who works for the DOD in Argentina was sharing my room with me, when we woke up on this very morning to texts from her husband—who works in the government with a specialty in China and was, funny enough, having a slumber party at my mom’s house down the road with SVV—alerting us to how severe this novelty coronavirus actually is.
“Do you think it’s something that will hit us? Should we be concerned?” I asked her, knowing full well I was essentially asking her to look into a crystal ball neither of us had in our possession.
“I’m not sure,” she said, “but from what N tells me, it’s not looking good.”
The wedding went on as planned that weekend—the last big bash any of us would attend for a year, now more, though we obviously didn’t know it at the time—then the rest of the bridal party flew back to Miami and D.C. and Seattle and London and Buenos Aires. I myself boarded a plane to see Jade in California then meet up with other girlfriends in Ojai for a long weekend. Two weeks later, I’d go to Wyoming to speak at their governor’s conference and take my last flight for a good long while: 339 days and counting at this point.
photos by Details Nashville
When I returned, the metaphorical sh*t started to hit the fan. At first, we all defaulted to Survival Mode. Shut down the restaurants, close down the bars, stock up on masks and Clorox and toilet paper before it all sells out, go on one final Costco run for who knows how long.
Then, as our new reality hit us over the head like an ACME anvil in a Looney Tunes episode, Maintenance Mode began to set in. We all scrambled to tighten up our businesses, get rid of excess expenses we didn’t really need in case our income were suddenly to halt, apply for PPP and SBA loans if our businesses qualified. Gone were the novelty of Zoom calls, as we were all Zoomed out. It was time for small businesses everywhere to figure out how to make ends meet for an indefinite amount of time.
These days, I’d say we’re all in Fatigue Mode if my social media feeds are any indicator. People are burnt out of staying at home, particularly in the dreary winter months of gray and cold and seasonal depression. They’re filling the restaurants and bars and, consequently, making it difficult for the country to slim down its COVID-19 numbers.
We, however, are still staying at home and, lucky for us, we’ve always had multiple revenue streams so we never truly panicked about our livelihood. Sure, we’re ready to get out and about again when it’s safe to do so, but as entrepreneurs we’ve also always preached the importance of having pillars to keep your income stable; that way if one were to crumble, the others hold your business up. For us, that means owning three separate companies: Odinn Media, our tourism marketing business with various offerings that span content production, writing, photography, video, consulting, SEO and more; a real estate group that has multiple investment properties; and a nonprofit.
In retrospect, I’m glad we had the foresight to spread out our assets into so many buckets as it’s truly been our savior this past year. And if you’re also wondering how to diversify your portfolio for the future, here’s how SVV and I personally have gotten through the darkest months any of us have known.
We’ve written and we’ve helped
Remember when I wrote about how to be ready to come out of this whole thing swinging? Most of our clients agreed and thus kept us on to continue creating marketing assets for their cities or counties.
We’re grateful for both our retainer clients and the CVBs and chambers who repeatedly hire us over and over again, thus allowing us to continue in this line of work. We still had plenty of that this past year, much of the consulting and content production done from our house instead of on the road, as well as picked up a few new projects with CVBs in Tennessee and also Mississippi. We loved getting to explore Jackson and Natchez toward the end of last year!
And for some of the smaller guys who don’t have budgets, we’ve done some pro-bono consulting—after all, if ever there’s a time to help your neighbor (or colleague), it’s now.
But to pay the bills I still work as a freelance journalists. I write my regular bimonthly pages on Tennessee travel for AAA Living, I’ve written a couple features for Parade recently, I’ve waxed poetic about home renovation for This Old House, I’ve built travel content for Airbnb and other clients. And I’m currently completing the onboarding for a new fintech client, a new industry for me.
The great thing about having a career in communications is that writing and editing are skills transferable to almost any industry. While, sure, travel writing is my bread and butter, it’s hardly all I do; in fact, I’ve worked on years-long contracts with big companies such as Bayer in other sectors like healthcare. That’s why when something like a recession or a pandemic hit, I don’t immediately freak out— part of adulting is recognizing the things you have to do to pay the bills, and diversifying my work portfolio as needed is something I’ve been doing for 20 years. Need to brush up on finance lingo or learn to speak to engineers as if I am one of them? No problem. Need to learn about baseball so I can write eloquently as if I were a fill-in? Consider it done.
We’ve focused on art
Sure, people are still traveling—and we’ll continue to promote how to do so safely and where to go in this time, like the Natchez Trace Parkway—but it’s no big secret that we’ve been less focused on promoting tourism during this time simply as it seems irresponsible to some extent (stop going to Mexico already) and more focused on bringing joy to others via public art. While it may not pay the bills for us as, to date, we’ve focused on taking care of our artists and keeping our own income low, it ticks a box that fulfills both our emotional and mental health, which is equally as important in my opinion.
Paris Woodhull’s Victoria in Knoxville, Tennessee
Our nonprofit had its biggest year to date in 2020, contributing more than $100,000 in public art throughout Tennessee, and our Walls for Women project resulted in seven new pieces of art in seven cities, utilizing 14 artists and 200 gallons of paint. We’re doing a round two in 2021, and I could not be happier!
Jenny Ustick’s Hebe mural in McMinnville, Tennessee
We also landed our first National Endowment for the Arts grant last fall, a project we’re now deeply entrenched in for the first two quarters of the year. In fact, we just today announced our recipient cities of those awards: Sweetwater and Lawrenceburg! These projects are even more involved than Walls for Women was, and I cannot wait to do more art. You can subscribe here for monthly updates from our nonprofit.
We’ve taken a lot of photos
Photography has always been in our wheelhouse—after all, I minored in it in college nearly two decades ago—but we’ve really focused on leveling-up our skills and equipment the last few years. This enabled us to take a whole lot of family photos this past year now that we’ve been home. We’ve shot newborns and toddlers and tweens and families—all outside, all wearing a mask—and it’s been really nice to have a bit of connection with humans while still doing what we loved.
We’ve also been tapped by a few entities, cities and CVBs, in our area to develop image libraries for them, so that’s been something we’ve been able to do despite the pandemic. We’ve long preached being ready to market your destination as soon as this thing is over—or at least the vaccine is widespread—and these cities are doing it smartly, having visual assets and marketing materials already prepared.
If we have some spare time this year, I’m thinking of revisiting the idea of creating a print shop for some of our more popular travel photos. If that’s something you’d want, let us know!
We’ve shot video
One thing I’ve loved learning these past few years is more video production techniques. We did two fairly time-intensive outdoor film projects for Franklin and Bedford counties last year, and I couldn’t be prouder of the final results.
We’ve revived our conference and are refining the programming
If you recall, in 2013, we produced a 450-person media conference in Nashville. This time last year, we announced we were bringing back a more refined and advanced 250-person conference, Media Grits, with the help of our friends at Visit Franklin. Those initial dates were last August, which obviously didn’t happen, then bumped back to this April, then we officially decided this week to move forward with April 6-8, 2022.
We’re confident in the widespread effects of the vaccination taking place by then. And honestly, now the Harpeth Hotel has been open a full year, and we’ll be able to make a slicker, even better conference than we initially planned thanks to the additional time to plan.
So if you’re in PR, marketing, or media and interested in attending, shoot me a note or subscribe to our newsletter. We hope to open up early registration again in the next month or so. I never thought I’d miss speaking in front of a crowd so much, and yet I do. I can’t wait until conferences are back in person and I’m no longer giving presentations to groups by the hundreds via Zoom.
In a past life, SVV worked as a commercial painter for nearly two decades (remember: he’s almost 47!). He painted his way through his late-teens and early-20s and through college after his time in the Navy. The irony is that we left San Francisco after he’d painted more than 1,000 upscale houses, many of them mansions for tech moguls, knowing the older he got, the more that physicality would wear on his body and that he wanted out of that world.
And then we started buying fixer-upper homes and started a nonprofit whose sole purpose is activating the environment through paint, so the irony is that rarely a week goes by when he’s not dipped a brush into a bucket of colored liquid. Both of us have painted more surfaces that you can imagine in the past few years.
As our homes have evolved, locals have taken notice and called him for projects. Woodwork. Window restoration. Painting an entire brick exterior. Designing bedroom murals. Redoing full interiors. He’s done it all in the past year since we’ve been homebound, and he’s at my mom’s house this week actually doing some touch-ups for her.
The nice thing is that now we don’t rely on painting as his livelihood. Rather, he can pick and choose projects that interest him and space them out so they don’t completely wreck his body as this kind of work is extremely taxing. But it’s no big secret that he enjoys painting, and he’s also the best of the best in the business. You won’t find these painter skills elsewhere in Middle Tennessee!
And that’s just what we’ve done on the work side of things. Obviously, we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time working on our own house, and rarely does a day pass when I don’t take a break and go over to my mom’s house to play with Charlotte and Mac.
I’ve also learned to take time for myself. Gone are the 60-hour work weeks, replaced with daily yoga in my bedroom, nap time if I need it and plenty of reading for leisure. If nothing else, this pandemic has taught me to prioritize the things most important and let go of that very American need to be hustling and making money every waking hour of the day.
The nut of this is: We’ve survived thus far, we can survive as long as needed until the general health of the world has been restored. And I hope you all are feeling the same.
For more career tips on media, marketing and working as a content creator in these tough times, start here:
- Marketing in a Crisis: The Dos and Don’ts and How to Move Forward
- Want to Be More Hirable As an Influencer? Take These Tips to Heart
- Has Your Instagram Engagement Tanked? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Care
- 11 Lessons from 11 Years of Blogging
- Why I Don’t Work for Free—and You Shouldn’t Either
- So You Wanna Start a Blog? Here’s How