Young Money: an interview with Charles Fashana
blog by Caitlin Campbell McNulty • March 13, 2013 @ 10:32am
You might know him by his twitter handle, @CharlieFlash23. Or, perhaps you work with him through his day job as a marketing manager with First Niagara Bank. Then again, maybe you know him as the energetic president of the Advertising Club of Buffalo. If you’re really networking, you probably know him as all three. And if you don’t know Charles Fashana at all, read on!
This month, I sat down with Charlie to discuss the latest news from the Advertising Club of Buffalo, life at First Niagara, married life with the dynamic Karen Fashana and his advice for young professionals in the Western New York region.
Caitlin McNulty: I’m not very familiar with the Advertising Club of Buffalo—can you tell me a little more about the group?
Charlie Fashana: The club is at one of its highest points ever. It has been around for years under various iterations, but we currently have an active board of 18, and our full membership is pushing 300 dues-paying members.
CM: Impressive—to what do you attribute this to?
CF: I think that people see we’re trying. The group is showing that we’re active and dedicated to serving the membership, and that’s really what it comes down to when you consider our growth in membership. We also have senior level people from area agency’s participating which draws in a bigger crowd. Members want to meet these senior people, speak with them and learn from them. We had Tod Martin at AdLab this month. When we bring individuals of his caliber in, everyone comes out. Our members find value in that.
Currently, our membership skews younger, but there are no true age limits to membership. Our challenge is to bring older, more established members back in.
CM: What can we expect from your term as president?
CF: I hold a two-year term, which started in September 2012. My goal is not to do more, but just be better at what we’re already doing. I want to take what’s good and try to dominate at that. This has been the mantra since I’ve started. We’re going to commit to our events—go 100 percent, all in and completely dedicate ourselves. This is a big ask for our board because we are all volunteers, but I give a ton of credit to our board members who really help us out to grow the organization.
Most of our success comes from the AdLab program (which runs the last Tuesday of the month). AdLab is what we do month in and month out that shows we’re trying to help people learn, make new connections, etc. Recently, we changed the venue and format of AdLab and added food and drinks as well as a networking component. We are trying to bring in bigger names as panelists. We had 85 people at our February event, which shows us that AdLab is really taking off.
CM: I’m sure you get this a lot, but does someone have to be in the “industry” to join AdClub?
CF: No. Whether you’re promoting yourself, a product or a business, you need to be involved in this organization. People think about things like TV commercials when they hear the word ‘advertising,’ but it’s much more. We serve designers, PR people, marketers, communications people and more. It’s all about being good in business—it doesn’t matter if you’re an accountant, you still have to sell your products and services.
Truthfully, I had a similar misconception myself. This is why, in my term, I want to take the client-side approach and show that Ad Club is for everyone in the community, and not pigeonhole ourselves into one area.
CM: Your wife works for Visit Buffalo Niagara. Is Ad Club able to collaborate with the organization to drive tourism to our community?
CF: I collaborate with Karen on everything. Everything I’ve been able to do is because of Karen. She’s the reason why I’ve been able to be so successful.
I leverage her office as much as possible. She helps me understand what the best venues to use (for events) would be, ways to heighten awareness of people in our community, that kind of stuff. For example, we’re bringing Seth Godin to Buffalo. It was Karen’s idea to get me in touch with the Burchfield Penny Art Gallery. The Gallery is the best place to hold the event, and one that we never would have thought of. At the same time, I help her by highlighting one of her strategic partners.
Ad Club is also working with one of her colleagues to bring our American Advertising Federation district conference to Buffalo. It may only bring in 50 people, but that’s 50 hotel rooms, 50 people eating here and 50 people seeing our community. That would be awesome, to have those ad clubs come here and see what we’re doing.
CM: I’m sure that serving as president of Ad Club may seem like a full time job, but I know you work for FNFG. What is your role there?
CF: I’m a marketing manager. I focus on a retail marketing strategy. I face off with the sales leaders to understand what they’re selling, what their challenges are, what they need to do and then put together campaigns, promotions and product launches to support that. I work with people in our agencies to bring that vision to life.
CM: There have been a lot of changes in the Western New York banking industry lately. How is working at First Niagara different from other financial institutions?
CF: I spent my whole career at HSBC, and left eight months in advance of the conversion. I left because I wanted to work for a company that cared for the local community. Some things are very different, some things are the same. It’s a bank. I have a passion for marketing, and that’s why it works for me. Banking is a tough industry. Today’s economic conditions make banking really tough.
At First Niagara, John Koemel walks by me every few days. I have an arm’s length to the most senior people of the bank. It definitely has the feel of being more regional—truly a local bank. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with more local vendors.
CM: Are you a city dweller or a suburbanite?
CF: We live in North Buffalo. Karen and I made a conscientious decision to move to the city when we got married. I used to live in Snyder and grew up in the ‘burbs. We feel strongly about living here for two reasons: the first is that we need people to get back in the city to get things going. Second, it’s so damn cool to be able to walk and do anything we want. In the summer, we walk to church, rollerblade to Delaware Park, etc. While I wouldn’t mind having more space, the trade-off is ok with me.
CM: When we scheduled this interview, you mentioned Spot on Hertel was your second home, what are some of your other favorite places in the City?
CF: That’s tough to say. We try and go everywhere. We do this in part to support Karen’s work—she wants to know about everywhere. At home on Hertel, we go to Empire a lot. We also like Cecelia’s and Blue Monk on Elmwood.
CM: What’s the one thing you’re most excited about for Buffalo?
CF: The new way of thinking. It’s evident to me that people are starting to get rid of that “oh, it’s Buffalo, woe is me” attitude. People are saying, forget that—we’re going to do this. We’re going to expand here and develop here. It’s happening in front of our eyes. I’m excited about the change in mindset and excited people are excited.
CM: Anything else you’d like to add?
CF: From a personal perspective, I’ve spent my whole career in huge corporations. If I can give one piece of advice, it is to challenge yourself to get involved outside. It’s easy to become stuck in those four walls of a corporation. A lot is done internally and corporations can be self-sufficient. At times, there’s no need to engage with other humans who don’t work for the place. It’s critically important to get outside the corporate walls, both for yourself personally and for the company. The more people who are out, active and engaged, the better.
Becoming president of the Ad Club is the best thing I ever did, and I wasn’t originally going to do it. There were a variety of reasons why: time commitment, I didn’t know enough people, I didn’t know enough about the group—whatever. Then I just said I’m going to do it. Stepping outside your comfort zone is critically important. It’s about doing the best you can—I felt I could do more than contribute, I felt I could lead the group.
Challenge makes you better. I have a lot of help, but challenge makes you better.