Day in the life: How an Imgur creative strategist explains the 'cat tax' to brands

This is part of a new “Day in the life” series that chronicles the daily work of those on the front lines of media. If you’d like to participate in “Day in the life,” get in touch.

For Laurel Hodge, working at Imgur is an “Oh my God dream job.”

The 30-year-old is carving out a new role as creative strategist at the photo, GIF and video hosting site. She has been tasked with turning the site’s communal hive of creativity into a place brands can advertise, facing challenges very similar to those at other startup communities, such as Reddit, where many of Imgur’s photos end up being shared.

It is her job, for example, to help brands like eBay and Old Spice create Imgur posts that won’t make the notoriously skeptical community recoil from commercialism creeping into their space. It’s a site visited by mostly young, Internet savvy men, who lean toward the geek side. For a branded message to work, it has to fit seamlessly and authentically into the tone of the rest of Imgur’s fare. “We want brands’ most entertaining content,” Hodge said.

The next step for the company, and Hodge, is to figure out how to take the highly customized ad product, and grow it in a way that doesn’t ruin what makes the site special. Digiday asked Hodge to walk us through a day in her worklife. Here’s what her most recent Friday at Imgur’s San Francisco headquarters was like:

Laurel Imgur
Hodge and her dog Sutter

8:30 a.m.: I get up at the last possible second. Before I go to bed, I always check my calendar to look for my earliest meeting so I can see how much sleep I can eke out. When I get up, I check my email for anything important, walk my Hungarian pointing dog and drive to work.

9:30 a.m.: Today was the weekly sales meeting, when we go over the brands we have and the ones coming down the pike. This helps me understand what work looks like for the next 30 days, 60 days and 90 days. It is a revenue-focused meeting, so we don’t talk creative strategy. (I can only discuss brands we already have in the pipeline — Budweiser, eBay, and NBCUniversal’s streaming video brand Seeso.) We beat the sales numbers we set for January, and it looks like it’s going to be an exciting quarter.

10 a.m.: I go back to my desk, respond to client emails, explain why we’re making certain decisions so clients understand the value of what we’re trying to do. For instance, one brand, Seeso, asked, “Why is this GIF at the end of the post?” I have to explain that’s what Imgur users call the “cat tax,” which they sometimes put at the end of longer posts. We tell brands to embrace the customs of Imgur, in this case by tacking on an animal picture, or something similarly fun, at the end, just as a way to thank the community for viewing all the way through.

Noon: It’s time for lunch, which the company brings in twice a week for staff, Mondays and Fridays. Today’s meal is Vietnamese. When the company doesn’t cater, we usually get a lunch train going on Slack, inviting whoever wants to go to pick up food. We’re in a section of San Francisco where the upper Financial District and lower North Beach edges Chinatown. Today, the company had to eat downstairs, because the usual eating spot upstairs was being set up for Imgur’s seventh birthday party Saturday. The theme was like any 7-year-old’s party with a magician, balloons and ice cream, but this one has drinks, too, of course.

1:30 p.m.: After lunch, I have blocked off to browse Imgur. I have a recurring calendar invite to set off 30 minutes to go through the entire front page, to look through everything, but it takes up to an hour. Some people dive into Imgur as a break from their jobs, but this actually is my job. It’s important to keep up with Imgur as much as possible so you can understand the inside jokes and the trends that people are discussing. In one comment, I see users saying how they give a post four Golden Girls, which you would only understand if you’ve seen the Betty White post for “Deadpool.” Today, Valentine’s Day is trending, with Imgur posts like one featuring a dog sadly watching “Lady and the Tramp.”

2:30 p.m.: I have to get back to making changes and edits to posts that we are mocking up. I assign out different things to copywriters and designers. Nothing is ever done until it’s live, and we are constantly seeing what we can do to keep making things better, funnier. This week, one of my favorite posts was the one we did with “Deadpool” for eBay. To shoot it, we ran around eBay’s campus with clients dressed as Deadpool, and I was thinking I can’t believe I get paid to do this. One commenter on the promoted post said we must work in a baseball stadium because we knocked this shit out of the park.

3 p.m.: There’s a brainstorming session with the creative strategy team where we come up with ideas for campaigns, and the next big one is for eBay again and other brands I can’t name. The first half of the meeting, we finalize mock-ups on creative we’re building for the most imminent promoted posts. The second half of the session is to come up with story ideas for future posts.

4 p.m.: Today, we have an all-hands meeting. This is when our company gets together and everybody shares what they’re doing. There are margaritas and tacos; everyone’s lively, laughing and talking. I am not presenting today, although I usually share a screenshot of a promoted post and go over it for a minute. I do get recognized, though, by CEO Alan Schaff with a Front Page Award for going above and beyond. I was totally surprised. It was a good Friday.

5 p.m.: After the meeting, I go back to my desk to finish up for the week. On my desk, I have an eBay mug and an inflatable unicorn horn for cats, which my ad ops guy got me. There’s also a green beach umbrella to block the sun from the skylight. We have a totally open office, and the CEO’s desk is just a stone’s throw away. There’s a lot of camaraderie here; sometimes you might hear someone just shout “Imgur!” as a kind of battle cry, and everyone cheers back. Also, we just got started with the fitness Slack bot that tells people at random times to get up and do push-ups or sit-ups, so you’ll just see people randomly exercising in the middle of the office. This weekend, I leave for the Presidents’ Day holiday. I might just head back home and go hang out on Imgur.