Topher Stephenson, Marketer, Musician & Portland Ambassador

Topher has been recently promoted to the VP of Marketing at Atlantic National Trust in addition to being the Volunteer Marketing Director for PROPEL, a non-profit whose mission is "to enrich Maine’s economy by developing an environment and culture where young professionals can thrive in Maine’s growing business community." Through networking, celebrating small businesses, and introducing newcomers to Maine, Topher is committed to Portland and its future.  

When did you first get involved in marketing?

There were a few experiences in college that helped shape my perception of marketing early on. I had my first real experience when my friend and I both quit our summer jobs to start a house painting company. We were both excited to get out of our comfort zones and try something new, but the downside was we hadn't lined up any business before quitting our other jobs. I kind of thought we should build a quick website and make a Facebook page before doing anything else & my partner thought we should just hit the pavement, we ended up doing the latter. We made a flyer and went door to door for 2 weeks straight until we had a summer worth of work lined up - I don't think I became an expert salesman in that 2 week stretch, but it definitely taught me the value of hustle when it comes to bringing money in the door for a small business. 

After that some friends and I started up a blog to cover the Penn State music scene (State In The Real) which introduced me to social media as a marketing tool (and later on how putting too many eggs in the social media basket is a mistake) - It also kind of forced me to learn how to leverage relationships with different businesses and student groups I knew to form partnerships and help promote the website. Working with the blog ultimately landed me an internship with Red Bull where I got a better understanding of how a big brand handles marketing - IE the necessity of having boots on the ground in your target markets to strengthen brand awareness and the importance of working with local thought-leaders to get your message out.

 Part of the  State In The Real  Team circa 2012

Part of the State In The Real Team circa 2012

What would you say inspires you? 

I'm inspired by people that strive to be the best at what they do. It's super easy to get bogged down in day-to-day minutia and lose sight of the big picture things like "How can I stay ahead of the curve?" or "How can I focus on the projects that generate results and weed out the ones that don't" - Especially because there is never a definitive answer to those kinds of questions. But when I meet people who are continuously trying to keep themselves on the cutting edge in their field and improving their craft, I find that really inspirational.

Can you give us a brief history of your education and work history? 

I got my Bachelors of Science in Health Policy & Administration from Penn State in 2012. Up until I started my current job my work history is a big mish-mash because I was doing a lot at once to get as much experience as possible. 

My last year at Penn State I worked for Red Bull as a Student Brand Rep and I was running State In the Real (which at the time was comprised of 20+ people/volunteers). When I graduated I kept interning with Red Bull part-time, took on 2 more part-time internships and started up a collegiate marketing company with some friends until Red Bull brought me up to Maine for a full-time internship. Eventually, I started working with Mainely SEO doing Social Media and Search Engine Optimization in Portland while I did some marketing consulting in my spare time. I started consulting with Atlantic about 4 years ago until they brought me on full time to manage their real estate marketing program. As of November 2017, I've taken on more marketing and communications projects in addition to the real estate marketing.

What role does music play in your life?

Not nearly enough of one lately but music is both a creative outlet and a stress reliever. Depending on what the project is, music can actually turn into its very own form of stress but I've been lucky enough to stay away from that for the past few years. I'm not putting nearly as much time into music as I'd like lately, but I was lucky enough to do some vocals on 2 albums that were released in 2017, one from my friend Harry Zobel and one from local rapper Myles Bullen. I'm working on some new tracks with local producer & beatboxer Ben Toppi, but with both of us having busy schedules it will probably have a while until we have a finished product.

The Sublime rendition of Marley Medley as performed by Topher Stephenson.

What do you like to do outside of work and music that directly impacts your career? 

My favorite things to do outside of work are hiking and taking advantage of Portland's awesome food & beer - Unfortunately, neither of those things really impact my career. I'm of the mind that people should do less business networking on the golf course and do more in front of Food Trucks.

Other than eating and hiking, I sit as Marketing Chair on the Board of Directors for PROPEL, an organization dedicated to making Portland a place where Young Professionals can thrive. It doesn't play into my job every day but the connections I've made through PROPEL have come in handy in on many occasions. We have a very talented board and I consider myself lucky to work with them. 

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. What would you say are yours?

Once in an interview, I was asked - "What is your superpower?" I think I was too early in my career to have a good answer at that point, but I know what it is now  - Above all else, I'm resourceful. I think a lot of the value that I've added to my job over the past 4 years comes from digging in and finding marketing opportunities that other people in the industry have no idea even exist, or just haven't thought to use for real estate. 

The less that people are using an effective marketing tool, the more valuable it can be.

I'd say my biggest weakness is that I often try to do everything/ get everything done at once. Sometimes I'll have a Sunday completely free and want to work on a hobby, but instead of working on 1 hobby I'll play guitar for 20 minutes, have a quick workout, take 5 photos and read half a chapter of book - I feel well rounded at the end but it's not really a good practice if you want to excel at anything. I recently listened to a great podcast featuring Derek Sivers where he mentions the concept that we can all do everything we want to do, but only if we can get used to the idea of doing those things over the course of a lifetime and not all at once. I think this is something that Generation Y struggles with as a whole, but considering how time-poor we are it is something we really need to accept and it's something I plan to be mindful of in 2018.

How do you measure the impact of PROPEL'S success and continued growth?  

As the Marketing Chair and coming from a digital marketing background I gravitate towards numbers - It's awesome to see that our email subscribers have gone up 25% in the past year and that we have over 100 people signed up to be Maine Ambassadors, and it's always a great feeling when we sell out a Networking Event. But I think that I get real a feel for PROPEL's impact by the anecdotal things you can't measure, like when someone tells you they made an important connection at an event, or better yet that they made an introduction that helped them land a job interview - Those kinds of stories make me feel like we're living up to our mission. 

  "  PROPEL strives to enrich Maine’s economy by developing an environment and culture where young professionals can thrive in Maine’s growing business community."

"PROPEL strives to enrich Maine’s economy by developing an environment and culture where young professionals can thrive in Maine’s growing business community."

Similarly, we're in the process of launching Phase 2 of the Maine Ambassador Program, ultimately the app will allow people who are visiting or just moved to Maine to connect with established Mainers (the Ambassadors) so that they can take them out for a cup of coffee and show them the area. It will be good to see new Mainers begin to use the app, but what I'm really excited for is to hear the feedback from them after they've made a connection and get an idea of how well we're helping them acclimate to the area.

What advice would you give to people deciding whether to live and work in Maine?

If you haven't been to Maine, book your ticket - It is worth a trip whether you decide to live here or not. While you're here, definitely take some time to hit the usual tourist attractions, but consider making use of the Maine Ambassador Program - It's an awesome way to meet someone local from the area who can tell you what it's like to live here, take you to some of the hotspots that your average tourist won't know about, and show you what living here is all about. The project was originally spearheaded by Chris Lee, PROPEL's previous President, and is run by Eric Collins - They've both done an excellent job getting us where we are.

If Topher's photo's alone aren't reason enough to move to Maine, I don't know what is! 

What is something people will be surprised to know about you?

A friend told me the other day that when he thinks of people who are good networkers, I'm one of the first people that come to mind. Fortunately, he's never actually seen me in action - The surprise is that for someone who sits on the board of an organization that regularly throws networking events, I'm shockingly bad at networking by all standards. But I've definitely noticed that the more I do it the better I get - Maybe I'll start using Mindbosa to give myself an incentive to keep it up. 

What is one "can't live without it" app you use? 

I travel a lot to NY and PA to see family and friends so that means lots of 5+ hour drives, I'd be toast without the Podcasts app. On that same note, if Joe Rogan and Tim Ferriss both quit doing their podcasts I think I'd need to start buying more plane tickets because driving would be out. Other than that - Anytime I run out of room on my phone and need to make room to take pictures (happens pretty frequently), the only apps I can never bring myself to delete are Instagram, Spotify, Waze and the Tabs & Chords app from Ultimate Guitar.

What is your favorite inspirational/motivational quote? 

This changes frequently, but right now it is this video. Sometimes waking up early requires tough love. 

In one word describe yourself: 

En route.

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  "New  #drone  new  #selfie ." via Topher's  Instagram

"New #drone new #selfie." via Topher's Instagram

To Connect w/ Topher & PROPEL: 

Email: topher.step@gmail.com

Instagram: @tophernow || @propelportland