Next Creative Leaders: Chelsea O'Brien

Posted on Nov 02, 2016

What's your "How I broke into advertising" story?
I kicked in the back window to a shop and just started working there until they noticed. Well, it sorta happened that way. I snagged my first job at David & Goliath as an account coordinator in Kia's Dealer Marketing Group. Sexy, I know! Fresh out of undergrad, the idea of two more years of portfolio school with student loans sounded awful. I was dying to get inside an agency. And I was willing to don a silver power suit to get there. That's true, by the way. I wore a silver pant suit from Ann Taylor on my interview, where I told them I wanted the job in account services as a stepping stone to copywriting. I paid for the flight out to LA and was willing to work for next to nothing. To this day, it blows my mind that they wanted to hire an account coordinator who fully disclosed her desire to be a copywriter instead.

What made you put yourself forward for Next Creative Leaders?
Dafna Garber. She's a former co-worker, current mentor and forever friend of mine. She was given this honor last year, and I saw her Facebook post encouraging women to apply. I was inspired by the message the that I "didn't need anyone's permission" to put myself forward. I'm a big proponent of women putting themselves out there, and feel it's important I follow through on my own advice. So I did!

What piece of creative work are you most proud of and why?
I love all my children equally. Ha, really though it is hard to choose. I?d say it?s a toss-up between THE GIFYS and the "New Friend Requests" video we made for A.1. sauce. While one was purely a side project, the thing they both have in common is that they leveraged universal truths about society and culture. Those are the ideas that always feel the best to me. The ones that connect with people on another level beyond advertising and fill this void you never knew was there. No one knew they wanted an award show for animated GIFS until we gave it to them. And no one knew they would be crying about A.1. and steak breaking up on Facebook. But they cried. And they laughed. And they felt emotion for an inanimate object because it was a scenario they could relate to all-too-well.

What do you want your legacy to be?
I want to be remembered for being a good person. A kind person. A positive person. A champion for great ideas, who always gave credit where credit was due. I want to be remembered as easy to work with. And fun to work with. I hope I leave a legacy where I always stayed humble, was a team player and had always had everyone's best interest at heart.

You had a "manbassador" early in your career. Can you tell us about him?
John Battle is objectively the most likeable person on earth. It also doesn't hurt that this nearly seven-foot-tall man looks like the human version of a hug. Battle sees things in people others don't. He came into David & Goliath as an ACD months after I'd been working on the account side. During a libation-fueled work party conversation, I told him of my dreams to become a writer. He was instantly excited by the idea. He told me how he too started in account services, and his mentor took a chance on him. He wanted to pay it forward. When I marched into his office the next day, beaming with excitement, he couldn't have been more surprised. Apparently no one actually follows through on his offers.

He started by sneaking me briefs. As soon as I clocked out of my account job, I'd switch over to write all evening. After a while, I openly began working on pitches, rolling my office chair over to the creative side at 6pm sharp. A true moonlighter. Through the whole process, he was my number one cheerleader. He coached me, stuck my work in front of the ECD and ultimately, convinced them to give me a shot. Just over a year after starting at D&G, I was a bonafide junior copywriter with a shiny new MacBook I had no idea how to use.

If you could go back 5 years in your career, what advice would you give to you?
Stop torturing yourself. There's a lot of pressure in this industry to burn the midnight oil for five consecutive nights and then pour kerosene on your whole weekend too. I've never written anything good on four hours of sleep. I believe in hard work. But I believe in hard stops as well. Relax, take breaks and breathe. Good ideas come to those who are inspired. And to be inspired, you have to live.

Oh, and also — it gets easier. But it never gets less scary. You'll always have days where you feel like the most uncreative person alive. But you also find creativity flows more freely over time. And while I don't think one can ever "master" ideation, it certainly starts to come more naturally.

You started out in the account world. How has that benefitted you in your creative roles?
I feel that every creative should walk a mile in an account manager's shoes. (And vice versa, if we're being real). I can absolutely say that having even just one year in account management opened my eyes so much to the bigger picture of both how an ad agency ticks, and how important every department is to the brand we're representing. Account managers have one of the hardest jobs in the agency. On the surface to some creatives, it looks like they're just middle-men (and women!) and yes-men (and women!) who only need good organizational and time management skills. But a great account manager is so much more. A great account manager wrangles an outrageous request before it ever gets in front of the creatives. A great account manager is always looking at the brand goals holistically, not just project-by-project or day-by-day. They have insanely honed in people skills. They can perform Jedi mind tricks and reverse psychology. They anticipate client comments before they come. They build reasonable schedules with a fire escape. And they always push for the integrity of the work. They're on our side. And the client's side. Because theoretically, that should be the same side.

What inspires you?
I'm constantly inspired by the entrepreneurs of today who take something that's a necessary evil, and improve the experience 1000%. These days, I'm a sucker for subscription services that make my life easier. I can't get enough of them; it's borderline an addiction. I am a member of Dollar Shave Club, Birchbox and Stitch Fix. I work out with ClassPass, cook with Blue Apron, and order takeout from UberEats. I've actually started dry cleaning my clothes now thanks to Rinse. And I am even considering a subscription to Quip because it might just make me floss more. Anything that makes my life more efficient and improves on something I never knew needed improving - those are the most inspirational to me. Those are the things that I want to make for brands.

Any secret creative weapons?
A good night's sleep and an great to-do list. That is seriously the least-creative sounding answer ever.

What's your advice to creatives about when to move on from a job?
Ask yourself: what's my next goal, and is it achievable here? Maybe it's getting a promotion or growing into your current new role so you can properly fill it at your next agency. Maybe it's getting TV production experience. Maybe it's making crazy awesome work that wins awards. Maybe it's diversifying your portfolio so you have more than just eight car ads in your book. The key is, if you can say to yourself "I still have room to grow," then there's no reason to leave. In fact, I recommend staying put. It'll only make you more prepared for your next opportunity. That said, there is no right answer or set period of time. I've been at CP+B for over 4 1/2 years and can proudly say my work here isn't done.

Creatives should also look at their agency's success overall. Just because you've been slow for a month and don't know what your next project will be does NOT mean you should immediately jump ship. If you're at a great place, chances are an awesome opportunity is around the corner. You can always make your own opportunities, too. Free time means side projects, which can mean awards and recognition! But if your only account is appetizer platters to middle america with no sign of change in the next year, run!

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