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How to Nail a Creative Agency Job Interview


Whenever we start looking to hire, I inevitably end up reflecting on my own interview experiences -- from both the interviewer and interviewee sides of the table. I've run the interview gamut, from extremely structured, multi-phase roundtables to loosey-goosey lunch chats. I've sweated (literally) and rambled and Miss America-ed and stumbled and, in retrospect, sent out my fair share of really awful cover letters. Despite all of this, I've managed to land some pretty amazing gigs over the years, and these days I find myself in the interviewer chair rather than the interviewee hot seat. I'm lucky.

With an unemployment rate of nearly 6 percent, millions of Americans are searching for jobs on any given day. A college degree is no longer a guarantee that you'll walk the stage, grab your diploma and transition seamlessly into the job of your dreams. Lately, it seems I've been seeing a lot of articles about the struggles millennials face when applying and interviewing for jobs. From CNBC:

Some of the biggest mistakes recent college graduates make involve interview preparation or lack thereof.

In an Adecco survey of hiring managers, 75 percent said millennials' biggest interview mistake was dressing inappropriately, and almost as many said they tended to mess up by posting inappropriate material on social media. Almost two-thirds of respondents said millennials tend to demonstrate a lack of research preparation for interviews. These hiring managers also said they were three times as likely to hire a worker over age 50 as a millennial.

One of the things I am frequently asked is how to land a job in the creative industry. For me it was a combination of personal connections, passion and serendipity. I was almost 28 years old by the time everything came together. In the event you'd like to seize the reins instead of waiting for fate and opportunity to show up at your door, here are some of my best bits of advice for those looking to land a job in the magic and mayhem that is the creative industry...

PHASE I: Scoring an Interview Prep work. Grunt work. Leg work. Whatever you call it, do it. Good things come to those who hustle, and in no place does that adage ring truer than in the creative industry. Competition is fierce and talent is rampant, but with a little (lottle) effort, you can make yourself stand out from the crowd. I'm not talking about the kind of hustle you ramp up  a week before you submit a resume. Think of this as a long-term personal branding strategy -- and you're your most important client. This is your chance to polish yourself up and shine. 

FOLLOW + ENGAGE Fun fact: You'd be amazed how many people proclaim their love and admiration for your agency -- then it turns out they aren't even following you on social media. Before you lay the flattery on thick, take the time to connect with the company and people you're hoping to interview with. Many of the positions that open up within the industry are filled with candidates pulled from our personal networks and connections (or referred from the networks of people we know and trust). It really is about who you know, so start connecting today. Comment on their posts. Retweet their content. Reach out and have a conversation. Trust me. We notice that kind of genuine and sustained engagement, and it makes you top-of-mind when a job opens up. 

REVAMP UP YOUR RESUME Here's a little tip: if you are applying for a job in a creative industry, invest in creating a beautiful resume. Not only does that help you stand out in a pile of Microsoft Word templates, it shows that you have an eye for detail. (Which is always a good thing -- even if you're a copywriter!) For well under $50, you can tap into the collective talent of the interwebs and hook yourself up with a gorgeous template. (A few places to start: esty, Behance + Loft Resumes.)

CUSTOMIZE YOUR COVER LETTER Remember that old trick where you write a generic cover letter and just change up the name of the recipient and the job title using find-and-replace? Yeah. Don't do that. We notice. And it sucks. Cover letters are a necessary evil, but they're also a golden ticket. We get a lot of resumes -- a lot -- and a cover letter is an opportunity to stand out and let your personality shine through. Take the opportunity. Put the effort in. Look up the proper spelling of the person you're addressing. Forget you ever heard the phrase "Dear Sir or Madam." If you can't put in the effort to craft a compelling, custom cover letter, that sends the message that you're not going to put effort into anything else. And that's about the fastest way I know to find yourself in the thanks-but-no-thanks pile.

CLEAN UP YOUR SOCIAL PROFILE One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was passed down from my mother. Don't put anything in writing you wouldn't want your grandmother to read. (Lucky for me, my grandmother had an awesomely quick-witted sense of humor and a penchant for using the phrase "Oh, piffle!" when she really wanted to say, "Oh, sh...omething else!")

I grew up in the pre-social media era; a time when the worst thing young people had to worry about was having a teacher intercept the note you were passing during class. Shenanigans were documented on real film, and, for the most part, all evidence of our dumb, young lives was kept safe in the vaults of our memories and 20-pound photo albums. Social media has changed all of that. Everything you do, say and share is public these days, and each post you make represents your personal brand and who you are.

We were all young and wild at one time. We've all done silly things. (Some of us still do.) But the reality is that the things you do, say and share influence how other people perceive you. I implore you to consider this deeply when you share publicly. Before you apply for a job, run your social streams through the proverbial WWGS (What Would Grandma Say) filter. At the very least, know when to flip the privacy switch.

DON'T CONFUSE MISTAKE CRAZY FOR CREATIVE There is a fine line between making yourself stand out and coming off as a creeper. Creativity is always noted (think sending individual hand-designed thank you cards -- rather than a group email -- as an interview follow-up), but don't go overboard. You don't need to ship yourself to us in a wooden crate or pop out of a giant cake to impress us. Just bring your talent and truth to the table. Be yourself rather than trying to be the person you think we wish you were. There's a 99.99% chance we're gonna love the most authentic version of you.

INTERN One of my few regrets in life is not interning like crazy before I hit the point of no return (i.e. adult life + bills, bills bills...). Had I interned, it's possible I would have found my calling a lot sooner. So my advice to you is simple: if you're in a position where you can afford to work for minimal pay (or even no pay), do it. Seize every opportunity you can. If no opportunity exists, call people up and make one for yourself. Help them see how you can help them. Learn how to make a mean cup of coffee, then go in and work your knuckles off. Because every once in awhile (more often than you might think) that summer internship turns into the season of "our newest employee."

VOLUNTEER We often meet super eager candidates who lack the practical experience to land the job they're applying for. (A common struggle and catch-22 for recent grads trying to break into the creative world.) Newsflash: there are tons of organizations and nonprofits that need help with everything from event planning to social media management, but don't have a budget to pay professionals for it. Go volunteer your time and talent. When we see that kind of thing on your resume, not only does it add cred to your work experience, it demonstrates that you care about something bigger than yourself. Bonus: you get to help make a positive change in the world. Go you.

FIND A MENTOR Job openings come and go, but the relationships you build in between are lasting. So you found the agency of your dreams? Do some digging (and Twitter stalking). Figure out who holds the position you want, then launch a carrier pigeon, shoot them an email or give them a ring. Introduce yourself. Ask if you can take them to coffee or lunch (we love coffee and lunch!) -- then do it. Show up with a list of questions. Learn all you can. Then rinse and repeat. Start building your own mentor. You never know when a job will come up and that relationship will come in handy.

Phase II: Acing the Interview So the unthinkable has finally happened. Your resume fought its way to the top of the stack. You've stood out as a stellar candidate. You've just received the call. We'd like you to come in for an interview. What should you expect? What should you wear? What should you do? (I'm so glad you asked.)

DO YOUR HOMEWORK My biggest piece of advice when it comes to creative agency interviews is a huge cliche: DO YOUR DANG HOMEWORK. And I'm not talking about a quick scroll through the website. If the agency has published books, find them and read them. Dig through their client roster and case studies so you're prepare to cite specifics. Explore their culture, manifesto, philosophy and beliefs, then think about how those align with your own. Research competitors in order to get a feel for how they differentiate themselves within the industry. It may seem overwhelming, but so few people take the time to do really thoughtful, thorough background research, and this is exactly the kind of thing that will set you apart and above.

DRESS THE PART There's an old tidbit of wisdom that advises "dress for the job you want, not the job you have." It's so old I'm not even sure it's still going around. That advice gets a little tricky in an industry where jeans are a wardrobe staple and going barefoot is often the norm. (Creativity can't happen when your feet are stuck in a restrictive vortex!!) My advice is err on the side of fancier, rather than more casual. Dress like us, but nicer. (You can stop wearing shoes once you have the job.) Also, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but leggings do not qualify as real pants.

KNOW WHO YOU'RE TALKING TO One of the most impressive things I have experienced was an applicant who called our Office Manager to get the names and titles of each person she would be meeting with prior to her interview. When she arrived, she was able to reference my "adorable dog" by name (instant way to win my heart) and shared an anecdote about a city we had both recently traveled to. You can learn a lot about a person by taking a quick scroll through their social channels. We humans all like to feel important and special. I can't recall one other person we interviewed that day, but years later I still remember that applicant because she took five minutes to get to know me before she met me.

Smart answers = a good interview. Speaking to the shared interests between yourself and the company/employees = great interview.

COME PREPARED TO ANSWER QUESTIONS Confession: I find it more painful to be on the interviewer side of the table than the interviewee side. Something about the sympathetic pain of knowing what the interviewee is going through makes me feel clammy.

Agency interviews can be really strange. Much of the time it's like the Wild West, but instead of shooting bullets, everyone is shooting questions. I've heard everything from "What's the last book you read?" to "How many tennis balls do you estimate can fit in a standard school bus?" Weirdos aside, here's a short list I would be prepared to answer in some form or another when you take the hot seat:

  1. Why do you want to work here?
  2. What do you think you can bring to our team?
  3. What do you want to be doing 5 years from now? 10 years? 25 years?
  4. Tell us how your past work experience makes you uniquely qualified for this position?
  5. What is your philosophy about design/marketing/advertising/programming?
  6. What are your three best qualities?
  7. What are you worst three qualities?
  8. Why should we hire you?
  9. What work are you most proud of?
  10. What do you do for fun?

COME PREPARED WITH QUESTIONS If the last section didn't fill you with panic and dread, hooray. The good news is that you can (and should) keep tossing the hot potato back to your interviewers. Answer questions, then follow with a question of your own. Come prepared to assault us with an exhaustive list of questions, keeping in mind that you're not just trying to convince us to hire you. An interview is an opportunity for both sides to feel each other out and try each other on for size. When you ask really thoughtful questions, that tells us you’re not just trying to sell yourself -- you're trying to determine if we're something you really want to buy into. Here are a handful of questions I've asked and answered over the years: 

  1. Who is/has been your favorite client and why?
  2. Who is your dream client?
  3. What kind of person thrives here? What type struggles?
  4. What made you decide to come work for X agency over all the others?
  5. If you had to boil the agency's core belief/mission down to a single statement, what would it be?
  6. What do you wish you had known about the agency/industry when you first started out?
  7. If your agency had three best friends, which brands would it hang out with?
  8. What has been the most meaningful day of your career at X?
  9. What has been the most challenging day of your career at X?
  10. How would you describe the X culture?
  11. Who are other brands and thought leaders that inspire X?
  12. Tell me about your favorite parts of living in CITY (if relocating)?
  13. How can I, in this role, most help you? (This is always a really interesting one as you'll likely get very different answers from an AE, Community Manager, Designer, Copywriter, Strategist and Admin.)

Phase III: Sealing the Deal Boom! You nailed it! Or at least you think you nailed it. Ohmygosh you really hope you nailed it. As the torturous decision-making wait begins, here are a few seal-the-deal moves you can sprinkle on the "PLEASE HIRE ME" cake... 

FOLLOW UP RIGHT AWAY Assuming things have gone well in your interview, follow up within 48 hours to express your continued interest in the position. The best follow-up contact is personal. That means no generic, cc-all thank you. Take the time to send an email (or -- SUPER IMPRESSIVE -- a handwritten note) to each person you interviewed with. Bonus points for calling out something specific you learned from them during the interview. Follow ups needn't be long or gushy, just enough to let everyone know you're in if they'll have you.

KEEP IT QUIET Please refrain from posting about job interviews on social media before or after. It makes us feel weird and you come off as an oversharer. (And yes, we totally look to see what, if anything, you have posted.)

NEVER SAY GOODBYE In the wise words of Kenny Rogers, "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." With all due respect to Kenny, don't fold 'em. In the event you don't land the job, resist the urge to fold. There have been many instances when an applicant we loved was beat out by another candidate by just a hair. Don't fall off the map. Don't slink off with your tail between your legs. Keep a conversation going with us. Stay on our radar. When you stay top-of-mind, you stay top-of-list.

Have questions about creative interviewing that I didn't answer in the post? Reach out using my contact form.

Build a Smart Company, Not a Loud One: On the Merits of Introverts

big-mouth-769x439 A couple weeks ago, a few of us took a Myers-Briggs test just for fun. Upon the big reveal, we discovered that all three of us were INFJs.

INFJs indeed share a very unique combination of traits: though soft-spoken, they have very strong opinions and will fight tirelessly for an idea they believe in. They are decisive and strong-willed, but will rarely use that energy for personal gain – INFJs will act with creativity, imagination, conviction and sensitivity not to create advantage, but to create balance. Not only does this personality type need to be able to express their creativity and insight, INFJs need to know that what they are doing has meaning, helps people, leads to personal growth and, all the while, is in line with their values, principles and beliefs. It should also be remembered that at the end of the day, INFJs are still Introverts (I), and their popularity isn’t always welcome – they will need to step back and act the lone wolf from time to time, pursuing their own goals in their own ways. [source]

That intrigued me.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I was a little bummed at first. Despite having a clear understanding of what energizes/energy drains me, my first reaction to my result was a wave of disappointment when I saw that “I” heading up the pack.

But why, I wondered? There is no right or wrong personality type, so why did I harbor a secret hope that I would come out an “E?” 

We work in a industry where “E” is king. Offices are open. Ideation happens on the spot in group brainstorms. And rightly or wrongly, extroversion is often equated with creativity.

“In previous centuries our culture valued quiet integrity and introspection. However, in today’s culture the emphasis on personality and striving to be noticed has propelled the extroverted personalities to be valued. That person speaks fast, loud, and a lot. They think while they are speaking. The introvert, who articulates her ideas in her mind before speaking, is quiet and reserved, has been pushed to the background.

As a result, it is not always the person with the best, most creative ideas that is heard, but the loudest. The result of this has been a loss of ideas and capabilities of some of the finest thinkers in organizations. That is a huge waste of talent that companies can ill afford to lose. Of course an organization will work best if it can harness the best of all employees, both extroverts and introverts.” [source]

There’s little doubt that within the confines our modern cultural infrastructure, the sun shines brightest on the loudest and proudest, but it’s the often-overlooked introverts who often prove to be the true untapped powerhouses of potential. Why do we value noise over quiet? Why do we evaluate potential based on what someone says rather than what they do? Why do we secretly long for an “E” instead of an “I?”

In her TedTalk, Susan Cain talks to the potential and true nature of introverts. The entire video is worth a watch (and a bookmark) — but if you want a sneak peak, here are ten takeaways from the talk (and yes, they’re backed by research): 

  1. It is estimated that a third to a half of people are introverts.
  2. There is a difference between introversion and shyness.
  3. The key to maximizing our talents is to put ourselves in a zone of stimulation that works for us.
  4. Our most important institutions (workplaces and schools) are designed for extroverts.
  5. Kids that do better working alone in school (introverts) are often tagged as outliers or problem cases.
  6. Introverts are most often passed over for leadership positions.
  7. Introverted leaders often deliver better results than extroverted leaders, perhaps because they tend to be more willing to let other people run with their own ideas instead of putting their own stamp on the ideas of others.
  8. Groups of people will almost always follow the opinions of the most dominant person in the room.
  9. There is zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.
  10. The best organizations consist of a mix of both extroverts and introverts. More importantly, they create a culture and workspace designed that offers something for both.

But seriously. Watch the talk.

Unlocking the Creative Potential of Girls

I hail from a long line of strong women. In a time when much of society was clinging to “certain ideas” about what women were good at and capable of, the women in my family were busy cracking glass ceilings and blowing through barriers left and right. And it doesn’t stop with blood relatives. My life is full of awesome women—from entrepreneurs and innovators to healers and leaders. I even work for an agency with a courageous female at the helm. When it comes to women taking names and kicking ass, I pretty much know nothing else. All of this made it especially shocking when I recently stumbled across a statistic claiming that only 3% of agency creative directors are female. Having known, worked for and worked with some amazingly talented, innovative, genius women in the creative industry, I feel certain the 3% stat isn’t a matter of capability. Having known, worked for and worked with some amazingly nurturing, empowering men in the creative industry, I also believe this isn’t a glass ceiling thing.

So what is it?

My hypothesis is that the 3% is, more than anything, a reflection of our failure to foster creative confidence in young women. And I say that as someone who was a victim of creative discouragement at a pivotal time in my life. (You can read that story here.) To this day, every time I experience a win vicariously through my clients, I reflect on the day I was told, by a guidance counselor no less, that a writing degree would get me nowhere. Then I think about all the awesomeness I would have missed had I listened to her.

As girls, there is an especially precious and fleeting blip of time between childhood and adolescence in which we truly believe that we are capable of doing and becoming anything. We haven’t learned to worry or second guess or shrink our dreams because the world has yet to cloud our minds with fear and doubt. It’s a period during which we are a vessel of possibility, unencumbered by messages and expectations and limitations from the world around us. Simply put: it’s the magic, pivotal moment when everything matters–when the difference between a kind or harsh word, a push forward and a put down can change the entire course of a life.

For the last couple years I have been harboring a secret dream: I want to see the women of the creative world band together to supercharge and inspire girls with the support, skills and most importantly, confidence, to know that they can not only be part of the industry we live and love, but leaders within it. I want girls to understand that creativity doesn’t have to be a side project or a weekend hobby, and there are places and ways to turn their passions and talents into the daily practice of their working lives. I want girls to hear that they don’t have to sit down, wait back, stay quiet and politely follow along. I want them to know it’s okay to have an opinion, bring a little opposition, stand up, speak out and take a stand for the things they believe in…and on behalf of themselves.

Whether this dream will eventually come to fruition in the form of a creative retreat, a camp or a summit, I’m not quite sure, but I know there are a bunch of awesome women in this field ready and willing to pay-it-forward by boosting up the girls who will follow in our footsteps. In doing so, I believe we can make the 3% a thing of the past. We can choose to get involved and become mentors, supporters, advocates and champions. We are holding the keys that will unlock the massive creative potential in girls.

Tomorrow is the International Day of the Girl. The mission of this day is “to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.”

Yesterday I posed one simple question to some of the wise and wonderful women in my life. If you could tell the girls of the world one thing, what would it be?

There were their responses…

Brandy Amidon, Chief Financial Officer at Brains on Fire Believe it or not you are in control. Yes, you have parents, teachers, and authority figures that you have to listen to, but ultimately you are in control of your life. You control who you are and who you want to be. There are too many opportunities out there for females to do and be anything they want to. You have no excuse and no one to blame for your situation. We are in control of who we are, how we react to our environment and how we shape the world. So own it, be happy and find the passion in life that makes you want to do good and be better.

Emily Everhart, Gentle Nudger + Account Executive at Brains on Fire Don’t let people misconstrue what ‘strength’ is for you especially in your career. Some people think you need to be aggressive or pushy to get ahead. That it’s a ‘dog-eat-dog world’ and you must ‘kill-or-be-killed.’ Being strong doesn’t have to be about being the loudest or always winning or even getting your way. There is also strength in silence, in compassion, in self-control, in forgiveness and in patience. Be your strength.

Cathy Harrison, Account Director at Brains on Fire Be open to change. Take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. Know that there’s no sense of balance, but if you are open to the inevitable lack of balance between life and work, you can find true rewards. It’s ok to ask for help. Everybody needs it.

Kim Hebert, Licensed Massage Therapist Don’t let anyone get inside your head. Decide what you want to do and set your mind to do it!

Mary Susan Henderson, Office Mom + BOF Glue at Brains on Fire Perseverance is your friend. Don’t let the box that someone has put you in define you. We control how we are defined. And its not really a box…we’re people. We’re nice organic blobs!

Shannon Kohn, Community Shepherd Team Cheerleader at Brains on Fire Always surround yourself with ‘sisters’ who get you and support the REAL you. Learn to see who those girls are in your life and seek out their friendship. They might not be the most popular in school, the most beautiful by society’s warped standards, the most academic or the best dressed, but they are REAL. ‘Sisters’ celebrate each other and help each other grow. They don’t judge. They encourage. We ALL need ‘sisters’ and we all should try to be ‘sisters.’

Moe Megan, Puppet Master + Community Manager at Brains on Fire If there’s anything I can say to you, girls of the world, it’s this: be kind to yourself, be patient with yourself, be true to yourself. Life can be a real monster. It gets up in your face, taunts you, pokes you, and the second you think you’ve got it all figured out, it’ll whip around, kick you in the shin, and blow a raspberry in your direction. Life is a bit of an annoying little brother. But you know what? Just like little Jimmy, you’re stuck with it. So love the life you’re given. It’s a miracle we’re even here, and what doesn’t kill us will make us even stronger in the end. When you get overwhelmed, take a break to step outside and explore. Observe the way the veins of a leaf branch off just so, the way the grass sways in the wind. Listen to the birds, stand in a creek, appreciate the feeling of being small. It will always bring you back to your calm. Take time to figure yourself out. Journal, write songs, run, sing, dance, rap, paint, play ball- whatever floats your boat. Don’t beat yourself up, either. There will always be some girl named Amanda with better grades, a cuter boyfriend, a killer job, a gorgeous house. Do yourself a favor and forget the word “better” entirely. So Amanda’s got it goin’ on? So do YOU, honey. You’re amazing in allllll your own ways. Own those ways and nurture them. Let them shine. Be happy for Amanda, be inspired by Amanda, hell, learn from Amanda. Shift your focus to elevating your own strengths & beauties rather than lusting after those of others. Once you find what makes you happy, be patient with yourself AND everyone around you. We’re all trying to tame this beast, and the nicer we are to each other in the meantime, the easier it will be to wrangle. We’ll all be happier in the end.

Nini Ordoubadi, Owner + Founder of Tay Tea Sit still. Get to know yourself, love yourself and trust yourself. How? Listen deeply to your spirit voice (intuition), it will never fail you. Learn to say NO free of guilt and shame. This will save your life!

Amy Taylor, Chief Wordologist + Stoke of the Fire at Brains on Fire Your life is the greatest story you will ever read and ever tell. Savor every word, every page, every chapter. Embrace and welcome the characters you meet along the way realizing that some may stick around forever and others will come and go. In the end, all of them will add their own unique magic to the pages of the story of you. Never forget that every great story has a conflict that ultimately shapes not only the plot, but also the heart of the protagonist. Some of the most difficult things we go through in life ultimately prove to be our greatest teachers in disguise. Don’t shy away from adventure when it presents itself; challenge yourself to say yes more than you say no. Don’t let your story write your life. Write your story by living it.

Libby Williams, Owner + Founder of Libby Williams Photographs You are a girl. But you are never just a girl. You are a woman. I hate the word girl. It denotes damsel in distress – a girl leaning over a tower with her hair draped down waiting for someone to save her. You are not that. You will never be just that. You are a strong. You are capable. You are smart. And fast. You can get yourself out of anything and recreate yourself in a moment. You are beautiful – the most beautiful creature on earth. You are savvy and can multitask without skipping a beat. YOU. ARE. LOVE. You are your dreams and your fears. Most of all, remember that you are never just a girl.

Rachael Wingo, Controller at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams Wingo’s rules for the next generation of awesome ladies: Don’t listen to conventional wisdom – ever. Make your own path and go figure it out for yourself. Learn how to anchor your personal value in meaningful endeavors. If you don’t know how to do this, go find a therapist and get on it. Learn about positive motivation and get with the program already. Stop hating things and don’t spread negative emotions in the world. Accept the fact that you’re really good at math. Put down the gender roles, and remember that respect goes both ways. For heaven’s sake, go to Asia. Europe is totally overdone. Asia will be huge in your lifetime and you need to understand what it’s all about.

Sara Bareilles, Pop Star I Did Not Interview For This Blog Post

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Who's Your Gary?

FUN FACT: I am extremely loyal to my grocery store. Upon first glance, it makes no sense. Their prices are higher than other grocery stores in the area. I have to battle a notorious traffic bottleneck to get there. The parking lot is an accident waiting to happen. So why bother? Why not settle for one of the other markets I pass on the way? Because, despite being a chain, this particular grocery specializes in being special.

From the Miles Davis cooing over their sound system to the ritualistic Saturday morning explosion of Buckeye-inspired scarlet and grey, 25 cent in-store wine tastings to the stacks of locally-produced artisanal soap available for purchase by the pound, my store doesn’t just sell goods – they create an experience.

I used to dread grocery day, but since discovering this particular store I find shopping has become a form of meditation; an opportunity to put down my phone and worries and wander the grocery aisles like the halls of a museum. Their produce section is a work of art. I don’t know who is responsible for it, but I suspect they have a secret team working behind the scenes. Everything is neatly stacked and displayed with a sense of care. Not so perfect it feels mechanical, just perfect enough it inspires you to take pause and soak it in. A stack of Granny Smiths with a single Fuji apple providing a pop of red. Piles of rainbow chard arranged with their steams peaking out like pink and yellow paintbrushes.

You can tell their people are totally into their jobs. They take pride in what they do. As a result, it’s fun to shop there. It’s fun to be their customer and it’s fun to be a part of their experience.

Last weekend I made a trip to my grocery store and witnessed a pretty awesome interaction. As I was getting out of the car I noticed a family next to me loading their two young sons into a cart. The kids appeared to be about 4 and 2. As the parents finished locking up the car, the older son began yelling, “Gary! Gary! There’s our friend Gary!”

From across the parking lot I saw one of the store baggers, an older gentleman, look up. He was struggling with carts and could have easily ignored the situation and carried on with the task at hand. Instead, he smiled, waved and made his way over. When he reached our side of the parking lot, he shook the little boy’s hand and struck up a conversation with the family. They all marveled over the fact the little boy had so strongly remembered not only his interaction with a virtual stranger, but also the man’s name. From what I could gather, Gary had met the little boy during a shopping trip the month prior – and hadn’t seen him since.

I’ll never know what transpired during their first meeting, but clearly it was memorable. Witnessing the encounter was a good reminder to me that nobody is immune or aloof to a remarkable experience. Everyone wants to feel valued as a customer and appreciated as a human being. And when it happens, it’s not something we soon forget.

Garys aren’t born, they’re made–boosted up and along. They’re the result of an internal business culture that cares. A business culture that understands that relationships and experiences > transactions, and when a brand invests in people, people will invest in you. I have to wonder what would happen if more companies focused on helping their employees embrace what I have now come to think of as “The Gary Way.” Gary clearly understands he was hired to do more than checkmark his way through a task list. He knows his real job is to do whatever he can to make his customers feel good…even the ones who won’t be able to sign up for a store credit card for another 14 years.

I hit on this point last month in “Remarkable Brands Begin With Remarkable People, and the Gary story is another great example. Remarkable doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. It doesn’t have to be difficult or over the top. One-off remarkability can be hugely impactful, but so can consistent small acts of remarkability on an everyday basis. These little things, like thinking about how to make the most of your brand-consumer touchpoints (Miles Davis, anyone?) or creating an internal culture where your employees know it’s okay to stop and have a conversation with a 4-year-old little boy, make an impact. These are the stories people tell and remember. These are the things people care about. The things that inspire them to drive past two grocery stores and a bottlenecked traffic cluster to get to you. These are the things that get your customers cheering your name from across the parking lot.

To Gary, wherever you are, you’ve earned yourself a new (albeit slightly older) fan. Thanks for the weekend lesson in awesome.

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Breaking Brand: 5 Brand Lessons from AMC's Breaking Bad

One of the greatest series in television history came to an end last night. It’s no secret that I have been a fanatic Breaking Bad fan since season 1, and while I certainly don’t have any interest in getting creative with chemistry, I do think Walter and friends have left behind a legacy of wisdom nuggets. From the White family breakfast table to the final moments of last night’s forever farewell, let’s take a look at five brand-relevant tidbits we picked up during five seasons of Breaking Bad… KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER. One of the major contributors to Walt and Jesse’s long-running success was a result of identifying a need, understanding their market and creating a superior product based on that knowledge.

TAKEAWAY There’s a conventional tidbit of wisdom that basically says, “You’ll never learn anything while you’re talking.” So many brands are focused on talking at consumers, rather than listening to them, that they miss valuable opportunities to identify the needs and wants of the people they’re trying to reach. Entering into a brand-consumer relationship without doing the legwork to explore what consumers are saying about you, your competitors and your product just doesn’t make sense. Sure, you can invest time and money in focus groups or you can meet people where they are and simply hush up and listen. Word of mouth is a powerful mechanism for feedback, insight and input. Whether or not you’re part of the conversation, people are out there talking about you. If you want to give them what they want, you first have to understand what they want.

BRANDING MATTERS. The infamous blue color of Walt and Jesse’s product was noted time and time again throughout the series. It quickly became synonymous with a high quality, which in turn, created high demand.

TAKEAWAY Whether you’re manufacturing cars in the Midwest, developing apps in Kansas City or bottling wine in Argentina, you’re probably not the only one doing that thing you do. What you can be, is the only one doing it the way you do it.

TOMS isn’t the only company making shoes. Warby Parker isn’t the only shop that will sell you a new pair of frames. Chipotle isn’t the only place you can buy a burrito the size of your head. What makes each of these brands special is that they have not only found – but taken ownership – of their special. I know that when I buy a pair of TOMS shoes or Warby Parkers, I’m cast in the role of shopping superhero, as my investment gives these brands a way to give back, too. When I order a burrito bowl at Chipotle, I know what I’m getting, because Chipotle leads with their special. Ultimately, I know what to expect, because these brands know what they expect from themselves.

I read in a tidbit of Pinterest wisdom this weekend, “Your culture is your brand.” Branding transcends a pretty logo or packaging (though these things are vitally important, too). Branding is the consistent experience you provide, the remarkable people you hire, the permission you give your people to do the right thing. From the way you greet customers at the door to the amenities in your restrooms, the tone of voice in your email blasts to the easter egg hidden on your website – everything you do and say is an extension of your brand and branding. Make it blue.

PARTNERSHIPS ARE POWERFUL. From the early days of Walt and Jesse to Saul to Hector and Gustvo Fring, Todd and Jack to the lovely-yet-lethal Lydia (stevia, anyone?), Breaking Bad is a pendular lesson on the power of partnerships.

TAKEAWAY As consumers our dollar is our voice and our vote. When you place your card on the counter, you’re not just making a purchase, you’re entering into a partnership. With each dollar you spend, you declare, “I believe in this brand and what they stand for. We are in this together. I’m not just investing with them, I’m invested in them.” We want to invest in brands that makes us feel like we’re part of their story, not just a transaction.

As a brand, we must remember that marketing is about people. It’s important to step back and evaluate how you’re treating your people. Are you talking at them or engaging with them? Are you giving them an opportunity and invitation to become part of your story or are you just expecting them to go out into the world and repeat it?

YOUR PEOPLE WILL MAKE OR BREAK YOUR BRAND If the final season of Breaking Bad has taught us anything, it’s that you live and die by the people on your team. (In the instance of Breaking Bad, this truth is quite literal…)

TAKEAWAY Take a closer look at exceptional brands and you’ll discover they have certain threads in common. At the top of the list: a team that believes in what they’re doing and has a clear vision of where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.

Great teams do not just happen, they are made. Building a great team begins with a strong leader who identifies individual strengths, gives people a chance to shine and pulls people up with them along the way. When leaders are transparent and honest, visionary and communicative, others will follow and drive the brand forward. When a leader loses sight of the goal – or worse, loses their passion and appreciation for their team – the whole ship will go down in flames.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT BREAKFAST. Breaking Bad gave new life to the age-old expression, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” From episode one, breakfast became a silent cast member in the series, giving the White family a regular reason to regroup. Though the circumstances and relationships evolved and dissolved from season to season, this ritual forced them to come together and take a time out to reconnect.

TAKEAWAY Many of the most important, meaningful and insightful conversations happen when we come together and take a timeout. This is true in business and in life. It seems many brands are on a never-ending quest to leverage the latest technology and embrace the “next big thing” in order to reach new people and audiences. In doing so, they often they forget the fans who have been along for the ride, down in the trenches and have loved them all along.

Numbers are numbers. They measure how many people you’ve convinced to click a like button on a page. What’s the value of 10,000 fans if none of them really knows your brand? What’s the value of 10,000 people with their hands out waiting for a coupon, but aloof to your story or success? Don’t lose sight of the people who really get you. Invite them to the table, ask them to share, find a way to connect. Take them to breakfast together. These are the relationships that matter – and their value is immeasurable.

So…to all of you Breaking Bad fans out there (inevitably nursing a bout of series finale blues this morning), chime in! What was your key takeaway from Breaking Bad?


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The Power of Gratitude

“A letter is always better than a phone call. People write things in letters they would never say in person. They permit themselves to write down feelings and observations using emotional syntax far more intimate and powerful than speech will allow.” | Alice Steinbach Last night I stumbled across a powerful video. It begins with a researcher asking participants to write a letter of gratitude to a person who has greatly influenced them. Simple, right?

So they thought.

After the participants have fired off their letters, the researcher asks them to pick up the phone and call the person they’ve written about in order to read the letter aloud to the intended recipient. The immediate rise in anxiety is almost palpable. As each person lifts the receiver, you begin to see the walls of their everyday selves crumble. In this moment of unusually vulnerable truth-telling, viewers witness a transformation as each letter writer becomes a truer version of themselves. It quickly becomes apparent that this is a lesson in something much greater than letter writing; it’s a practice in expressing a deeper sense of gratitude most of us feel, but few of make a habit of regularly vocalizing to the people in our lives.

The video concludes with research findings. Participants who wrote letters, but were unable to call the recipient to share, experienced a small bump in happiness in the time between arriving at the lab and when they left. Participants who wrote a letter and made the phone call experienced a much bigger bump in happiness. Interestingly, the person who experienced the greatest bump was also the person who reported the lowest happiness score upon arrival at the lab.

The study got me thinking about relationships in general. What would happen if we made verbalizing gratitude a regular practice in our lives? How would our relationships with the people we love and the world around us begin to change? What would happen if companies put as much focus on expressing regular gratitude toward their employees and customers as they do on ROI and bottom lines?

We’d all be happier, apparently. You can’t argue with science.

Today I’m issuing a challenge to each of you reading this. (And I’m challenging myself to do the same.) In the words of wonderful Sara Bareilles, “Show me how big your brave is.” Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t be fearful. Be brave. Be happy. Be grateful.

Take a little time out to write a letter of gratitude to someone in your life today. Then pick up the phone. (And when you’re done be sure to loop back around and leave a comment below telling us how it went.)


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Silence Is A Response: A Brand Lesson in Crisis

When I was little (okay, pretty much from ages 5-17…) I had a recurring run in with the parental law, so to speak. I always wanted the last word. More often than not, getting the last word came at a price. I knew there would be repercussions, but the temptation was just too strong. And so I jumped, mouth first, into the proverbial fire time and time again. Last week I watched a lot of brands follow in the footsteps of my 5-year-old self. They rose up on the anniversary of 9/11 to get a word in, to seize the moment, to chime in on tragedy. I’m not talking about the stories of horribly misguided advertising. I’m talking about the brands, however well intentioned, that felt it necessary to say anything at all. The butter brand, the laundry detergent, the car dealership vowing they will “never forget.”

There is no question that social media has become a critical conduit for disseminating information in times of crisis. It could even be argued that social plays a valuable role in bringing the nation together in the midst of our most difficult moments, allowing people to process and grieve as a collective community. For marketers, however, the wild card remains the appropriate role of brands in the crisis conversation.

There are people who will argue that brands are people, too. I argue that brands are brands. Brands are comprised of people—individuals who each experienced their own form of loss that day as our lives, country and world as we knew it, were suddenly divided into Act 1 and Act 2.

Though much of the sentiment expressed by brands across social seemed genuine, their actions left me with an unsettling feeling. Wedged between quirky photos of cat memes and 10% limited-time offers, many brands were daring to distill one of the most life-altering days in American history down to 140-character blips and a trending hashtag.

Tragedy is not a commodity or a social currency. It’s not something to leverage, tap into or harness in the name of ROI. It’s not a “like” generator or something that makes your brand more relevant to your consumer. What I want brands to know is that it’s okay to take a step back sometimes. It’s okay to take a time out. Tragedies aren’t a time for self-promotion or proving a point. They’re a time for people.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. It’s all about context. Was it appropriate for American Airlines to share a post on Facebook reflecting on 9/11? Of course. Was it in good taste for marathons around the country to express their sympathies about the Boston Marathon bombings via Twitter? Absolutely.

So how do you know? When is it appropriate for brands to take to social—and when is it better to stay respectfully silent? Here are a few guideposts for assessing if, when and how to respond in a time of national tragedy:

• Is this a conversation space you’d typically participate in? In times of crisis, it’s especially important to ask whether your contribution as a brand is really adding value to the conversation. Do we need our paper towels or cereal of choice to chime in with condolences on Twitter? Probably not. In the midst of a crisis, try not to let the good sense of any normal day get swept up and carried away in the emotional flurry of the moment. Give yourself (and your employees) permission and time to grieve on a personal, human level, then evaluate whether this is a conversation space your brand would normally participate in. If the answer is no, perhaps the better plan of action is to step back and let those who own that space on a day-to-day basis take the lead.

• Take a time out from your regularly scheduled content. Whether or not you decide it is appropriate for your brand to comment on a tragedy, in times of crisis it is typically not appropriate to carry on business as usual. Few things bring on the cringe factor like an ill-timed, pre-scheduled tweet. Give people the space and time they need to talk it out and catch their breath. Your brand doesn’t have to be right in there with them to stand in solidarity beside them.

• Educate your community manager and employees on your brand’s social policy and crisis communication plan. Shortly after the Aurora theater massacre, took the #aurora trending topic as an opportunity to promote its Kim Kardashian-inspired Aurora dress. (See tweet here.) Two weeks ago Kenneth Cole was raked over the coals after making light of the situation in Syria. (See tweet here.) Last week Esquire found itself in hot water after an unfortunate 9/11-related technology glitch prompted a decidedly unapologetic Twitter response from the brand. (See tweet here.) Your brand reputation rests in the hands of the people you put in place behind the technology. Be sure your brand has savvy, attentive social managers on the other end of your digital channels and that s/he feels well versed on your crisis and communication policies. A good social manager is worth their weight in gold. A “not-so-good” social manager is a surefire way to find your brand cast in an extremely negative, extremely public spotlight.

In times of crisis the nation is often searching for answers most brands cannot meaningfully address. What many of them fail to realize is that silence is a response. Often it’s the best response. Know when to use your voice. Know when to use your silence. Your brand will be better for it.



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The Importance of Mentors

josh groban raise me up Last week I found myself sitting across the table from my first professional mentor, filling him in on the past few years of life. Though we've kept in touch (and have sent more than a few emails) over the years, it's hard to top a face-to-face conversation with an old friend over a bottle of wine. At the conclusion of our converastion, he looked at me and proudly declared, "You have really grown into yourself. You have really grown up."

In truth, I probably shouldn't have landed my first job. Years after being hired, I learned how my mentor had challenged the other two hiring managers at the conclusion of the interview process. While they pushed for the easy choice, he placed all his chips on Amy. For whatever reason, despite what I imagine were probably fairly standard interview responses, he recognized something (he calls it "something special") in me that afternoon from across the table. It compelled him to fight for me and take a risk. In doing so, he helped unlock a door that inevitably led to the opportunities and experience that have set the course of my career.

From time to time, I have had people ask me what is the best piece of advice I can offer newbies just stretching their wings in the industry. Invariably, my response is find a mentor.

When to find a mentor. Whether you're a college student or a high school student or a junior high student or an elementary school student, the time is now. Go job shadow. Pick up the phone. Send an email. Reach out to someone who works in a field you're even mildly interested in. Ask them if you can come spend an afternoon trying on their world. I'm willing to bet almost everyone will respond with an enthusiastic yes.

What to look for in a mentor. Though it's not necessary your mentor work in your field, it's definitely an added bonus to have access to an industry sensei. A mentor who has been in the trenches and in your shoes tends to come at things from a place of greater perspective. They can help you see (perhaps even appreciate) the forest rather than obsessing on the trees. They understand the quirks and joys, the ups and downs. They can talk you off the ledge when you're being unreasonable, and give you a push when it's time to get the hell out of Dodge.

More important than industry is integrity. A mentor shouldn't be a "yes man" (or a "yes woman"), they should be a guiding voice, a sounding board and a no-bullshitter. Look for a mentor who can and will be brutally honest, but also understands the value of nurturing. More importantly, look for a mentor who knows when the time is right to employ one or both of the two. My mentors have inspired me and encouraged me, but in many ways I think the fact that they have pushed and challenged me has been even more significant to my career development. They've asked me to do things that terrified me. They've insisted I do things again and again and again. They've pissed me off and made me cry. They've frustrated me and inspired me. And as a result, I've come out the other end better for it.

It's easy to be a buddy. It's less easy to strike a balance between love and tough love. When you find someone like that, you've found your mentor. Don't settle for the easy and obvious choice. Find someone who challenges you. Find someone who pushes you to grow.

Where to find a mentor. I have been extremely fortunate to find mentors down the hall (and at times, sitting at the desk beside me), but not everyone is so lucky. Social networking is a great way to establish first connections with prospective mentors. Engage in conversation. Get to know them. Feel them out and decide if this is someone you respect and feel can give you sound guidance. When you find that someone, all you have to do is ask.

I hold the belief that the creative industry is built upon a mentorship (or perhaps it's better said, apprenticeship) model. Generations of creatives have taken mentees under their wings, in order to pass on the tricks of the trade. They've refined, edited, torn up, red-penned and demanded do-overs, grooming the next generation to take the reins. I believe that most of us who have had the good fortune to be raised under a mentorship model cherish the knowledge it has afforded us and hope to pay it forward and pass that on to others when the time is right.

All you have to do is ask.

The Girl Who Cried #Hashtag

whoomp No longer can I sit idly by watching you people--and you know who you are--commit your daily crimes against humanity. It's time for an intervention. Sit down and settle in. We're going to have a little chat about your hashtag abuse problem.

For reasons I cannot understand, the advent of Twitter and Instagram seems to have given people carte blanche to go apeshit nutty with the hashtag. I know you're probably feeling drunk on power (or maybe just feeling drunk, period) as you steer the social bus, but it's time to stop.

Here's the thing. I'm not sure what you're saying/doing on Twitter, or Instagram for that matter, that would warrant the use of 4-9 hashtags. You only have 140 characters to begin with. #Seriously.

I don't need a hashtag dissertation on a photo of your feet (#feet #grass #summer #love #yay #woohoo #IHaveToenails #TheColorGreen). And your Instagram shot of a cityscape followed by a stream of #sunshine #sky #tree #building #sidewalk #people #humans #society #BananaHammock makes you look like you a) don't know what you're doing, b) are desperate for attention, c) have hashtag Tourettes. So what is it?

I believe it was Coco Chanel who once offered a sage tidbit of advice to all the ladies of the world. Noting our propensity for wearing all the sparkly things we own at the same time, Coco advised that before leaving the house, women should look in the mirror and remove one piece of jewelry. The same advice applies to hashtagging. When you abuse hashtags, you look like this guy...who wears all the scarves.

lots of scarves


Moderation is a good thing. Give it a go. You might like it! If you're creating good content, people will find you. If not, pounding them over the head with the pound sign isn't going to do a gosh darn thing. Except inspire ranty Monday night blog posts.

In the meantime, let's leave the 'tag teaming to the professionals, shall we?

Yeah. I took it there.



How a woman named Thelma changed my views on marketing...and helped me clean up my act.

mrs. meyers soap radish When I was little and we would leave a restaurant, two things would inevitably happen. My dad would pop a red-and-white peppermint in his mouth before we had hit the door, and as soon as we climbed in the car my mom would roll down the window, gasping for fresh air. I always liked the smell of mint so I never understood her aversion, but the day I walked face-first into a friend's vanilla candle-laden home, it all started to make sense. I felt like someone had smeared my nose in a cupcake. And while I love a cupcake just as much as the next girl, I'd rank artificial cupcake scent somewhere between "wet dog" and "dorito feet" on the olfactory offensiveness scale.

Among all the wonderful things I inherited from my mother, it seems  I also inherited her acute sense of smell.

Which is precisely what inspired my first purchase of Mrs. Meyers hand soap. Actually, that's not true. The design drew me in, the scent sold me. I'd like to say "the rest is history" (because that would make for an epically succinct blog post), but it wasn't so. That afternoon, standing in the soap aisle at Target, was just the beginning of a true love story about to unfold.

There aren't a lot of brands I'd profess to love. Even fewer I would say make me feel giddy with joy. Mrs. Meyers is both of those and more. And as someone who so feels enraged over paying $12 for a pack of toilet paper that she has to text her sister to express said anger from the store, pledging allegiance to a $4 bottle of hand soap is kind of a big deal.

Months after becoming a Mrs. Meyers fan, I finally moseyed over to to check out Thelma's website...only to discover a mecca of marketing excellence. (I'm only sort of joking when I say I tiny digital branding and identity angels descended on my screen...)

Beautiful, clean, on-brand site design! Amazing execution of brand storytelling! A tagline that integrates the phrase "like the dickens!"

And that's when the music began. 

Had I found the Holy Grail of  marketing done right?

So here we are. You be the reader, I'll be the writer. And we'll spend the next couple weeks worth of blog posts taking a look at a company that is more than just another pretty smell.

Cupcake huffers need not apply.