For Stephen Mackey and his family, their story “story of reinvention” has turned another page.
Mackey is a Loudoun County native whose multi-faceted talents have seen him succeed in myriad arenas: audio and video production, multimedia marketing, reality television, winery operation, author and documentary film director. A couple years back, Mackey admitted to himself that handling all those projects put too much strain on his main objectives: being the best husband, father and family man he could.
Mackey’s process of defining priorities and restructuring his life took another key step with the announcement today (Oct 9) that Mesh Omnimedia – his nationally known creative agency – has been acquired by McLean-based W2 Communications.
As part of the agreement, Mackey becomes W2’s chief creative officer. In this role, Mackey will lead the digital team, overseeing all projects within the creative services and digital marketing portfolios.
The move will allow Mackey to walk away from some of his organizational and management responsibilities, which fits perfectly into his reoriented priorities.
“I have been working with them for 10 years as their outsourced creative partner,” Mackey said. “When I pitched them on the idea of my whole team joining them, they said it was a business strategic decision they had made a year ago. They just couldn’t find the right people. We fast-tracked this and had a basic agreement in like two weeks.”
The reinvention process began a little more than two years ago, at a time when Mackey and his wife, Shannon, seemed to be living the quintessential Loudoun County life. Mackey had built his successful marketing business and he and Shannon were raising their three sons at Notaviva Vineyards in Western Loudoun County.
Their home,which doubled as Notaviva’s tasting room, had been built as part of HGTV’s “Dream House” reality show. Mackey had authored a book about his experiences, titled “Dream. Build. Believe.”
In the middle of all that, the Mackeys realized that something was askew. The life they had worked so hard to build was running them, instead of the other way around.
“We were burned out as a family – we were exhausted,” Mackey said of the decision in 2016 to leave Notaviva and Loudoun County behind. “There was no separation, there was no privacy for the family. We put Notaviva on the market and we moved to Colorado Springs.”
A little more than a year later, the family was back, but their outlook had changed. They discovered it was the pace – not the place – that needed to change.
“In many ways, this is a story of reinvention, a story of introspection and of lessons learned,” Mackey said. “We got a new way to look at our “first-world problems,’ and they were problems of own making.”
It was ironic that just as the Mackeys finished with the “Dream House” show and opened the vineyard, they began to realize that the dream they were chasing was turning into a nightmare.
“We moved in here in July 2007 and that was the last shoot date for HGTV’s ‘Dream House,’” Mackey said. “In the beginning of 2008 the world went over a cliff with the onset of the great recession. We had left our two corporate jobs, we had two infants and we only had a month worth of bills in savings. We had no jobs and nobody was giving anybody jobs.
“It was a story of survival for the next seven or eight years. We were doing anything we could to stay alive, but we were so focused on our two businesses we were jamming the family in the cracks.”
The separation afforded by the move to Colorado began the reinvention of the Mackey family, but every Exodus story must involve escaping one situation and moving into another. Mackey said that metamorphosis was inspired through the process creating his first documentary film, “This Business of Autism.”
Mackey was drawn into that world through a Mesh Omnimedia client in Long Island, New York. The film tells the story of Spectrum Designs, a non-profit organization that provides employment opportunities for people with autism by producing custom apparel.
“Spectrum Designs is a small business with a social mission,” Mackey said. “Seventy-five percent of their employees have autism. In 2015, I went up to Long Island and I did their logo, their website and a short company overview video.”
Mackey said he was so moved by what he saw that he felt compelled to tell the story. In April 2017, he pitched the idea of making a documentary to Michael Prounis, a friend and board member of Spectrum who had contacted Mackey about the creative branding for the organization. Prounis agreed to fund the project and is the executive producer of the film.
“When you enter this world of developmental disabilities and you meet people on the spectrum and their families, you learn about their struggles and it makes you really examine your own life and appreciate the gifts and opportunities that you have,” Mackey said.
After an sold-out opening in New York, “This Business of Autism” had a Virginia premiere July 28 at Regal Cinemas in Brambleton — the same say Mackey learned the film was accepted to the 2018 Glendale International Film Festival in Los Angeles.
“That surpassed all my expectations,” Mackey said. “What I’m most proud of is I gave these people a voice. Several people with autism were interviewed in the film. That was very important to me. You just cannot get that kind of fulfillment from any paycheck anywhere.”
The introspection and self-evaluation fostered by making the film eventually led to the Mackeys’ decision to return to Loudoun County – refreshed and with a completely new perspective. The Mackeys have three sons. Tristan is in eighth grade, Duncan is in sixth grade and Ronan is in fourth grade.
“First and foremost, we missed Loudoun,” Mackey said. “What we call the ‘Colorado Escape’ allowed us to appreciate all of the things we loved about Loudoun. All of this became clear, probably because we were able to think again. We were out of the madness and we were able to see life through a new fresh lens. We identified the things that we are passionate about and things that we just aren’t going to do anymore. But you can’t go back into it doing it the same way. That is the reinvention I am talking about.”
Shannon went back to a full-time job outside the home and away from Mesh Omnimedia, and Stephen said the deal with W2 Communications will allow him to better focus on his creative side while putting the main focus on his family.
Other changes are planned for the operation of Notaviva.
“Going forward, we are adding Notaviva Brewery,” Mackey said. “We are very far along nearing the completion of the permitting process, and soon we will be pairing both wine and beer with music in here.”
He said the vineyard will only be open two to three days a week, and staff will pretty much run the operation when it is open on weekends. Mackey said they are working on virtual, self-guided tours where customers can learn about Notaviva products and processes through an interactive mobile app.
“We’re going to just completely rip and replace people expectations of what a tasting room is supposed to be, because the current model is so broken,” Mackey said. “We are still going to be authentic and hospitable, but it is going to be streamlined. We’re going to have all-original music, because I don’t think Loudoun needs another bar with some guy on a stool singing ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’ out of tune. We are going to have a gallery with all original art and photography, and will screen indie films. We want to be known as Loudoun’s hub for creativity, fostering the artist community — while enjoying a tasty adult beverage, of course.”
Stephen and Shannon will still be involved with every aspect of the operation and vision of Notaviva, and still love the opportunity to grow a rural business together. This time around, they will include and get a better chance to enjoy their growing, entrepreneurial boys.
“Shannon will still be in charge of day-to-day operations and I will still be the wine-composer and the brewmaster,” Mackey said. “But those responsibilities must come after scouts, after sports and after the school play. I wrote in my book, ‘Love is the only sweat equity that lasts’ and I believe that now more than ever. Everything else is just stuff.”
According to a press release from W2 Communications, the company remains focused on delivering results for a broad range of technology clients, in markets that include cybersecurity, cloud, mobile, satellite and infrastructure, The acquisition of Mackey and his team expands opportunities in new industries, including consumer, government, finance, retail, and others.
“W2 Communications has a stellar reputation for its customer service, results-oriented approach to communications campaigns and commitment to staff,” Mackey said. “I’m excited about the integrated offerings and creativity these teams will bring to clients, amplifying their message and connecting them to customers across various platforms.”
For more about W2 Communications, visit w2comm.com.
For more information about the documentary, visit ThisBusinessOfAutism.com. For more information about Notaviva, visit NotavivaVineyards.com. For more information on Stephen’s book, visit deram-build-believe.com.