Recently my term as president of AAF Buffalo came to an end. Yep, three years leading the club and six years total on the board, I’m finally done. And some thought I would never leave!
This blog post has been a challenge for me to write. Maybe because it signifies the end of a great journey or I just wasn’t sure what to say. So here is my story about my time with the club and the great people I met along the way.
How it all started
It all began in 2011, I had changed jobs at the beginning of that year and was excited about trying out a new career path. Well, a few months after starting that job, there was some uncertainty about the future. It was a wakeup call, what would I do if I suddenly had to find another job? I didn’t know many people in the industry, I had only the contacts from my first job and that didn’t seem like enough.
I was always familiar with the Advertising Club of Buffalo and talked to a few people about getting involved. I had never been on a board before, but knew I had to do something to get connected professionally. That summer, I threw my name in for a spot on the board of directors. It didn’t seem like much of a risk because I didn’t think I would make it. I obviously did and it created more opportunities than I could ever imagine.
The Treasurer Years
Most people spend time on the board as a regular board member and work their way up the ladder to a leadership position. I, on the other hand, started right off as treasurer. How did that happen? Well, I actually missed the first meeting that year. Yes, my first ever board meeting. Maybe it was the fact that I worked at a bank or that was my punishment for missing the meeting, but they asked me to take on this role, so I did.
Cait Zulewski was the outgoing treasurer and seemed very eager to move on from the role. During my first meeting, she handed me a box full of binders, checks and more. That was how the torch was passed and I suddenly had a lot of responsibility. Cait taught me everything I needed to know for the role and I spent a lot of the first year adjusting to it. Her biggest piece of advice from day one was “always pay Tina first.” She of course meant Tina Pastwik, the club’s admin. I learned quickly why that was valuable advice because Tina is the backbone of the club. She was there to support me at every turn and I never would have made it as treasurer and then president without Tina’s guidance.
When Charlie Fashana took over as president in my second year, he asked me to stick with him through his term, so I was in for two more years as treasurer. My biggest highlight in this role was helping the club achieve financial stability. Not an easy task, but it helped us take on new events, increase our scholarship fund and grow the club. I was pretty satisfied with my work over three years in this position, but it didn’t seem like enough. I really didn’t want my time with the club to only be in this role. As Charlie’s two year term was nearing an end, he was seeking out the next president. I didn’t show any interest at first, it wasn’t even a thought that I could be president. However, the opportunity was right there and I took a chance that turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.
When I took over as president in the summer of 2014, I quickly realized it was going to be no easy task. I had to figure out how to motivate a board of 17 volunteers, keep membership and financials healthy and deliver quality events. We did just that, but in some respects I felt like I just kept the lights on in that first year. I wanted something more from my time as president. I wanted to leave an impact.
In year two, I started to discover more about who the club is and our affiliation to the American Advertising Federation (AAF). I always knew we were part of the AAF, but wasn’t sure what that meant other than the yearly American Advertising Awards competition. That fall, I went to Washington DC for our district conference. This was eye opening for me. I met leaders of other clubs in our district, found they shared similar challenges to us and brought home some great ideas to implement in Buffalo. Looking back, this started the club down a new path. Later that year, we entered the AAF’s achievement awards, a program that recognizes outstanding accomplishments of its affiliated advertising clubs and to showcase the programs and projects that these clubs undertake each year. I had no idea this existed, but we learned about it at the district conference and decided to dip our toes in the water. Thanks to the help of Corey Crossman, who may or may not have pulled an all-nighter preparing awards entries; we entered into three categories, Advertising Education, Communications and Programming. Much to our surprise, we won first place in all three. This was my proudest moment in year two as president! Volunteering on a board can be thankless at times, but these awards were a testament to a strong board of directors and to the members who support us.
That June, Kyle Rogers and I went to Anaheim for our first trip to the AAF national conference and to receive these awards. We left there with a challenge. Joanne Schecter from the AAF said to me “Buffalo, Club of the Year next year, I know you guys can do it.” I left there thinking, why not us? We just put Buffalo on the AAF map, let’s go for it.
Club of the Year
Before we get into this part of the story, you may be wondering how I ended up as president for a third year, or maybe not. Well, it all happened because Corey Crossman was set to take over for me after year two. However, you may recall his blog post from last summer about how love pulled him away from the club and Buffalo. I have no doubt he would have done great things leading the club, but I knew I needed to stick around one more year to find the next leader.
I didn’t really expect a third year so it presented the opportunity to go for club of the year. The achievement awards are a great recognition for the work of the AAF chapters, however, they really represent the pillars of what the AAF is all about. We had to take the club to new horizons. Surprisingly, nobody on the executive board or the board of directors thought I was crazy to take on all this new work. At least they didn’t tell me if I was. And because we didn’t have enough to do, I threw in the idea to rebrand to AAF Buffalo. Let me tell you how hard the entire board worked to make all this happen. I can’t thank them enough as none this is possible without a great team. For the first time I can remember, we had all our events planned by August and released a calendar that included our first ever speaker series. We partnered with Buffalo Prep for a career day and new scholarship for one of their talented students. We received a proclamation from the Mayor for Advertising Week in Buffalo. We had held member only workshops. On top of these new initiatives, we also delivered the club’s annual events such as the Big Tip Off, Holiday Bowling Tournament, Uber Bowl and the very successful American Advertising Awards show. What a year! I felt great about what we accomplished and even if we didn’t win club of the year, I felt satisfied with my time as president and the impact I had on the club.
Well, as you hopefully know by now, we did it, won Club of the Year! On top of that, I received the honor of President of the Year. These awards were presented at the AAF national conference in New Orleans this past June. What an amazing feeling it was to set a goal a year ago and achieve it as a group. I was so proud to accept these awards on behalf of the board, our members and our great city. And what a way to end my term as president! None of what I have talked about here would have been possible without incredible people. So if you stick with me a little longer here, I’ll tell you about the best part of AAF Buffalo and getting involved in the club.
I struggled with this part the most, only because there are so many people who had an impact on me and the club, I’m sure to leave someone out (I apologize if I did, you are all awesome!). Thank you to the six years of board members that I worked with. You all showed incredible passion and dedication for the club, going above and beyond to deliver the best events year in and year out. We have a truly talented group of professionals in our local advertising industry.
Here are a few people I wanted to mention specifically, as they left a lasting impact on me.
It all started with Charlie Riley and Cait Zulewski, thank you for getting me through the first year as treasurer and teaching me how to be successful in the role.
To Tricia Barrett, thank you for all the advice and guidance over the years, it is not easy running the club, but having your support helped me through it. It helped that you are a hockey and wrestling fan too!
Jason Yates, Mr. ADDYs, thank you for staying involved with the awards, it takes a lot of people to pull this off each year, but your consistent involvement made it easier.
Charlie Fashana, thanks for believing in me as president, although maybe you were just happy to have a replacement as your term ended. You did teach me some of the skills needed to be a strong leader which set me on a great path to success.
Frank Conjerti and Katie Briggs, two of the members of my first executive board – thanks for helping me through that first year as president, you were some of the first to support my ideas and help me become a better leader.
Matt Low – thanks for always yelling at people. No really though, thanks for stepping into the VP role during my second year, you helped strengthen our leadership team and kept us laughing while doing it. And I can’t forget your efforts in growing the academics area of the club and producing an awesome awards show this past spring.
Corey Crossman, first of all thank you for becoming treasurer so I could finally move on from the role. You took my advice to heart while in that role, “you get out of it what you put into it.” You were right there by my side to do whatever it took to make the club successful, including being the entire communications committee for a couple months during a transition between club years. Now you can move back to Buffalo anytime, we miss you!
Dan Nesselbush – it would be hard to match Dan’s worth ethic and commitment to the club. He set us on a great path with our programming, set up sponsorship packages, served as secretary last year and has moved into the very deserving role of vice president this year. I thank him for being a go to guy for anything we needed.
Kyle Rogers – he won’t admit it, but in my eyes he is one of the best PR guys in the area. Kyle helped raise the awareness of the club through many media opportunities, including setting up our Ad Week proclamation and meeting with the Mayor last fall. Plus, he always wears a suit, so it made me at times dress better and presidential. Thanks for challenging me on the way and making me a better person.
Tim Bouchard, the new president. From day one on the board, I could tell Tim was destined to be a leader of the club. Thank you for supporting all my crazy, big ideas and helping to deliver them, including the rebrand and the speaker series. Having someone like you by my side helped us achieve greatness this past year. I have no doubt the club is in good hands and you’ll achieve bigger and better things with another talented board behind you.
This club changed me for the better. I was always a pretty quiet guy, even during my early years with the club. The experience broke me out of that shell, made me more outgoing. It presented opportunities I never would have had as well. Where else can you speak in front of 400 people in a wrestling ring (see ADDYs 2017)? I’d say I have less of a fear of public speaking now thanks to my time with the club. Also, I learned what it takes to be a strong leader, motivate people and deal with challenges. Most importantly, I met some amazing people some of which are now good friends.
I encourage everyone to get involved in something they are passionate about. Take advantage of opportunities that come your way and don’t be afraid to take risks. I certainly did all that and got so much in return. It has been an incredible journey and I am thankful for the opportunity.
So what’s next for me? My retirement from club leadership has left a big gap in my life and it has only been a month since my term ended! Knowing I would need something to fill my time, I ran for a seat on the AAF District Two executive committee. In June, I was voted in as the corresponding secretary. This role handles all communications for the district including social media (follow us!), emails and web site management. The district serves clubs across New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC and Delaware.
If this blog wasn’t long enough, I’ll be glad to tell you much, much more about the last six years. I love this club, what it has done for me, my career, our industry and the community!