Meet the Man Behind the ACTG websites

Past positions with CarMax and the Discovery Networks gave Larry Lawrence the communications skills and technical know-how to land the job of Website Content Specialist at the AIDS Clinical Trials Group’s (ACTG) Network Coordinating Center (NCC) in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.

“There is that stereotype about people in information technology being a little difficult to communicate with,” says Lawrence. “But you can’t be a car salesman at CarMax and not know how to communicate with people! I also worked for 12 years for the Discovery Networks, bridging their marketing and web development teams. Because I could speak both the technical web hosting language and break it down into laymen’s terms, the NCC hired me.”

Three years later and Lawrence is the man behind the content posted to the ACTG’s public website. He assists two other colleagues at the NCC with managing the ACTG’s member-only password-protected site.  When asked what people contact him the most for assistance with, Lawrence says password retrieval and set up have always been the number one requests from users in his web career.

“I function as the primary support person for all the websites, so I may help with passwords, assist in locating content or respond to inquiries about internship opportunities,” Lawrence says. “Beyond that, I function as a project manager overseeing much of the maintenance and improvement efforts to those websites. I often work as an intermediary between the NCC and our development team. Since I have worked on both sides of that fence, it helps when balancing technical requirements against the needs of the end user.”

At the Discovery Networks (Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, etc.), Lawrence was part of a team that launched, managed and redesigned Discovery’s first business-to-business website for their affiliate sales and marketing department as well as their second business-to-business website for their press department. That experience taught him the value of brand management, effective marketing and communication, and the importance listening to the needs of the end users. Always interested in public health, when he saw the job working at the ACTG’s NCC literally around the corner from Discovery Networks, he applied.

“I had been interested in taking my career in that direction for years when I came upon this opportunity,” says Lawrence. “Now I have the chance to apply my skillset every day in support of such a crucial and worthy endeavor that affects the lives of millions of people. I am a small part of a very large and amazing machine, and I couldn’t be happier.”

The fluid nature of websites is what keeps Lawrence in the web field.

“I have always liked working on large, complex websites. They are very much like living things because they must grow and evolve over time in order to be successful. They need constant and ongoing attention in order to be certain that they are working as best they can,” says Lawrence. “And it’s always a moving target. Without intending to sound fatalistic, I like to say that there is always something that needs fixing. By that, I mean that there is always room for improvement, and you can always find something that could be updated, reformatted, reworked, repositioned, or possibly removed. It’s an ongoing challenge in the best possible sense to stay on top of that.”

Lynn Nguyen, Lawrence’s Manager at the Network Coordinating Center, says he is a true asset to the NCC and its clients.

“He provides outstanding client service because of his technical expertise, effectiveness and clarity in communication, and promptness in completing requests. He is proactive and professional in managing expectations and delivering results,” Nguyen says. “Larry was instrumental in improving many aspects of the ACTG websites and portals such as the recent release of the new and improved website Support Help Desk system. He works well with staff, ACTG members, developers, and collaborators to promote and to improve the ACTG websites, portals, and social media tools.”

With the Network’s annual meeting taking place in July, Lawrence also worked with the ACTG Meeting Planning Group to prepare the meeting registration site. But he looks forward to this event for a different reason.

“My favorite part of my job is easily the face to face time with our community members and my colleagues from the ACTG’s Leadership and Operations Center (LOC),” Lawrence says. “The nature of my work is electronic, which I love, but it doesn’t allow me many opportunities to see people in person outside of the NCC. At the Network Meeting, I get a chance to work in person with my friends from the Outreach, Recruitment and Retention (OR&R) subcommittee. They are an amazing, inspiring and fun bunch of folks. I always conduct drop-in website training sessions, which allow me to potentially meet anyone from around the globe, and hopefully, show them something new and useful which might help them a little bit. So it’s an amazing chance to meet people and make new connections.”

Lawrence also attends the OR&R subcommittee business session. Although not a voting member of the committee, he provides the group with any web support their projects require.

“I began working with OR&R’s Chair, Michael Louella, about two years ago because I found that he and I shared a similar vision for the role that social media might play in and for our network,” says Lawrence. “Working together with him, Luis Lopez-Detrez, who manages our Facebook page, and our Communications Specialist Morag MacLachlan, we have really made a tremendous amount of progress in a short time.”

Louella recalls his first encounter with Lawrence and how supportive Lawrence was of OR&R’s social media ideas.

“I’ll always remember Larry’s first appearance at our OR&R business session in D.C.,” says Louella. “I had a big agenda for OR&R – my wish list of projects to build a more dynamic, engaging Internet presence for the ACTG by creating a blog, some wikis, and a YouTube channel. I was ready to debate, argue and plead why these things were necessary. As we went down my wish list point by point, this stranger named Larry would announce to the group that it was already done or was on the way. I think we were all dumbfounded by this man, who seemed like a Web 2.0 Santa Claus fulfilling every wish.”

Lawrence and MacLachlan will hold web, social media and communications drop-in hours during the ACTG’s annual meeting on Tuesday, July 30, and Wednesday, July 31, from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. in the Independence Level foyer outside the Cherry Blossom room at the Grand Hyatt Washington Hotel, Washington, DC. The ACTG now has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Plus, Tumblr and Instagram. Lawrence continues to stay on top of the latest applications, like Vine, as well as draft social media guidelines for people interacting with the ACTG’s channels. Being social media savvy not only helps Lawrence professionally, but also helps him relate to his children.

“Spending time with my wife, son and daughter is where you’ll find me in my spare time,” says Lawrence. “But my son is 14 and my daughter is 12, so in all honesty, I am probably not spending as much time with them at the moment. They usually have better things to do, until tech support is required! On the plus side my wife and I have started going to movies again. She and I met at the University of Maryland (Go Terps!), so we love going to football and basketball games whenever we can. And now that it’s summer in Maryland that means two things: the beach and crabs.”