The Business of Creativity
S.W. Miliano always thought he would make movies. Once he was introduced to communication arts at New York Institute of Technology, he discovered that filmmaking was just the tip of the iceberg. He now runs his own marketing and advertising firm, The Stone Register, serving a diverse set of clients. He spoke to The Box about how New York Tech helped to broaden his horizons and prepare him to start his own business.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I kind of have two backgrounds. The first is rooted in creativity and has been present as far back as I can remember. This includes music and film production, writing, and drawing. My second background is rooted in business, and this developed out of necessity much later in life. I’m referring to sales, negotiations, business management and strategy, that sort of thing. I would have laughed if someone told me this 20 years ago, but art and business are a lot closer than you might realize.
Why did you choose New York Tech?
New York Tech is actually my father’s alma mater. We studied completely different things and went into very different industries, but I happen to think that speaks volumes to the school’s diverse offerings. My son is only five years old now, but I often think about how great it would be if he attended New York Tech as well. I’ll certainly recommend it just like my father did to me.
I cannot speak about my father’s influence without mentioning my mother. While she did not attend New York Tech (she was an FIT graduate), she was fundamental in shaping the person I’ve become and continue to become. My mother was an artist and a designer, an absolutely amazing and inspirational person on every level. Tragically, she passed away in 2016, so she never got to see me start my own business. I miss her very much.
What excited you most about your field of study?
I had a very narrow focus when I entered my field of study. I don’t think that’s uncommon with young people. I wanted to make films specifically, and nothing more. That was the only reason I was going to college as far as I was concerned. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was getting a very well-rounded education in communication arts as an overall discipline, which ended up completely shaping my career. My job requires that I wear many, many hats, most of which were a part of my New York Tech education in some form or another: journalism, writing, audiovisual production, graphic design—the list goes on.
You recently started your own business. What made you decide to branch out on your own?
I had worked for a couple of publishing companies, one of which I called home for 15 years. I worked my way through the ranks to become executive vice president. In this role, I was able to steer the creative direction of the company. This is when I began to hone my business acumen. Ultimately, that company’s management and I faced irreconcilable differences, so I resigned, as did my business partner.
Was it a difficult transition?
My wife, Stacey, was incredible throughout the entire process. Many stay-at-home-moms might have reacted differently, but Stacey said, “You should do what you believe in and what makes you happy.” I will never forget that, and I told her I appreciated her support.
Regarding the company, failure was never an option. I hate to use such a cliché, but it’s not an exaggeration all; I willed myself to succeed through sheer faith, determination, and hard work. Like a tightrope walker who doesn’t look down, we just kept our focus and followed a strategy.
Can you tell us about your company?
The Stone Register works with clients in various industries, including law, health care, education, engineering, business, coaching, religion, and everything in between. We help companies large and small with marketing and promotional needs, as well as individuals. We have branded ourselves as a one-stop-shop for marketing: press release services, website design, customized logos, audiovisual production, and much more.
We also offer one particularly unique advertising service: Times Square digital billboard advertising. We produce and carry out ad campaigns on these larger-than-life billboards in one of the busiest places in the world. It is extremely exciting for our clients (and us!) to witness these campaigns come to life in such a grandiose fashion. Clients come from all over the world to see their ads running live. We currently have access to 12 separate billboards—and counting—right in the heart of Times Square. Our clients’ ads regularly appear on the Nasdaq MarketSite and the Thomson Reuters building.
What are the aspects of your job that you find the most interesting or challenging?
It’s all a big balancing act, which is always challenging. I approach each day ready for anything, yet I always marvel at how much “mind over matter” holds true. On a good day, I feel like I could bend steel with my mind! Both my successes and my failures are all my own. As much as I try to mitigate the latter, everything is a learning experience. I would rather fail for myself than succeed for someone else.
How did your studies at New York Tech prepare you to face the challenges of your job?
Following graduation, I struggled to find an “ideal job.” I thought that if I didn’t do exactly what I’d set out to do, then I must be doing something wrong. It took me many years and starting my own company to realize that there are so many other ways to make the most of one’s college degree.
Was there a project, professor, or experience at New York Tech that stands out in your memory?
I would have to say that [Associate Professor] Anthony Piazza, M.B.A., Ph.D., has made the most lasting impression. He had such a preoccupation with studying people’s faces in order to explain the essence of communications and remark on the human condition in general. He would go to so much trouble just so we could watch literally 10 seconds of a Seinfeld episode to discuss the expressions on Jerry and Elaine’s faces. His quiet, but undeniable passion for communication arts was unlike that of anybody else.