Meet the Mentors: Kiersten Utegg & Shanon Wille
By Alixandra Rutnik on Aug 30, 2022
VMLY&R's Kiersten Utegg & Shanon Wille share their Mentor & Creative experience
Mentor & Creative is our fabulous 6-week program that allows our student members and Young Ones winners to pair up with our corporate members and work on a professional-level creative brief together.
Mentor & Creative launched in summer 2020 to correct the lack of internships due to COVID-19, and it has proven to be a great learning experience for both Mentors and Mentees.
We’ve heard student stories from Paul Bernabe and Chi Hao Chang; Dinma Onyekwere; Monica Andrade; Yashashree Samant; Palak Kapadia and Nicole Gausman; and Kakei Chong. We’ve interviewed 160over90’s mentors Kat Saoyen & Rajiv Lahens– and today we’re hearing from another mentor pair– Senior Copywriter, Kiersten Utegg and Associate Creative Director Shanon Wille from VMLY&R.
We’ve highlighted the students in M&C, and now we want to feature the mentors. How did you get involved in M&C as a mentor?
Kiersten: Someone from our agency nominated Shanon and I to participate in the program. They let us know we’d been chosen to represent VMLY&R as mentors in the M&C program, and we jumped at the chance.
How is your experience mentoring the program different from what you initially expected?
Kiersten: After guiding four young minds during this process I must say I gained far more respect for the teachers I had growing up– it was a lot of work! Before we even met the team Shanon and I discussed the top-level themes of advertising we wanted to cover over the six weeks. We then met up every week to formulate a lesson plan gathering materials, learnings, and actionable goals from each topic for our mentees to adopt. As one of the only female teams in our office, we also wanted to inspire these four young women to take the advertising bull by the proverbial horns, offering our own tips and tricks to standing out in a still male-dominated arena.
"As one of the only female teams in our office, we also wanted to inspire these four young women to take the advertising bull by the proverbial horns, offering our own tips and tricks to standing out in a still male-dominated arena."
Mentoring is a great reminder of why we all got into this business in the first place, whether it’s for the fun, the people, the thrill of awards, or something totally different. Maybe that reminder is exactly what we need to keep pushing our own creative work.
Shanon: It was more gratifying than I expected. I walked away from those six weeks not only having grown in my own ability to provide creative direction, but also feeling full of pride for the creative growth of these amazing women. I wasn’t expecting to feel so close to them in such a short time. It exceeded my expectations in the best way.
" I walked away from those six weeks not only having grown in my own ability to provide creative direction, but also feeling full of pride for the creative growth of these amazing women."
Other agency creatives should get involved to challenge themselves personally and creatively. Also, it’s super fun and there’s so much the mentees can teach you.
What did a typical class session involve?
Kiersten: Typically, Shanon and I would start the class off with a 15—30 minute presentation on a core part of advertising. We talked about briefs, collaboration, taglines, production, post-production, and talent (i.e. celebrities). The rest of class, we focused on the team’s work, pushed thinking, gave recommendations, and set clear deadlines for revisions.
Kiersten, you’ve been a Copywriter at VMLY&R for a while; did you always see yourself working as a CW?
Kiersten: It’s only been five years, but that’s a century in advertising! As a child I wanted to be a princess, then a marine biologist, and then an architect/geologist/world traveler. Then, I won a writing contest in the 8th grade that showed me how writing was a way to be and do all those things with just a pen and a piece of paper (now, a laptop).
I definitely romanticized the idea of writing, as most writers do. But by the time I made it to Boston University, faced with the rising cost of tuition and Thai food, I was already trying to turn writing into a job– then I found advertising.
On LI, it says you’re a chocolate snob (so am I), so what is your favorite brand of chocolate?
Kiersten: Mast Brothers chocolate is to this day my absolute favorite. They have a Rye dark chocolate that appears in my dreams and their Goat Milk chocolate bar is worth the hype. (even with the scandal, those dudes know how to make good chocolate.)
Shanon, you went from getting a biology degree to a graphic design degree– how did this unfold?
Shanon: Ha! This is such a strange and wind-y story. About ¾ of the way through my biology program, I realized it wasn’t for me. But, I didn’t know what I wanted to do exactly and it was too late to change my mind. So, after college I took a job with Nissan North America in LA (very random, I know) and eventually moved to San Francisco to work at the Academy of Art University.
While at the Academy, I learned that graphic design was a viable career path for someone who loved art. When I was young, I always loved art, but had visions of “starving artists” in my head. So, I moved back to Kansas City (my hometown) and enrolled in Design School. After school, I worked in a couple agencies and made the transition from Designer to Art Director.
Biology and design seem like two completely different disciplines, but they’re more similar than you’d think. Both work on a series of defined principles and require a high level of curiosity and experimentation. I’m so thankful for my past experience and all the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
"Biology and design seem like two completely different disciplines, but they’re more similar than you’d think. Both work on a series of defined principles and require a high level of curiosity and experimentation."
What did the students teach both of you during this experience?
Kiersten: These students showed me how a future of collaboration from all over the globe can exceed our expectations. Every week, our team came together from three sperate countries to discuss and build ideas from scratch. What we came up with was more true and nuanced than I could have imagined.
"Every week, our team came together from three sperate countries to discuss and build ideas from scratch."
Shanon: I agree with Kiersten. It really reinforced the value of differing perspectives to make the work interesting and impactful. This will be such a great thing to remember as I continue to move up in my career and become responsible for building teams.
The proposed creative for Bang and Olufsen is turning chaotic sounds into calming beats/music. As the mentors, how involved were you in the ideation?
Kiersten: This was entirely a team effort. The idea came from our four mentees who landed on the human truth that the world is LOUD, and that can get annoying. They knew from the beginning that B&O needed to be the solution. Shanon and I helped by directing their efforts in an optimistic direction, encouraging the team to find ways to turn negatives into positives.
Shanon: We would love it if this were a real brief, but it was just a practice brief. Maybe we should send it along to B&O just to see?
Why is it important to host these programs?
Kiersten: Programs like this connect the advertising world. In my eyes, it turns what we do into less of a competition and more of a collective mission of creativity.
Do you have any ideas for how we can make this program even better for both the students and the mentors?
Kiersten: If you had deck templates to give to both the mentors and the mentees, that would help ensure every team got the same crack at an organized system! We built our own, but having a foundation would have saved a little time.
Shanon: It would be fun to see what the other groups were doing and maybe have a collective brief for everyone to work on.
Advice to give to future mentors and/or future students?
Kiersten: Advice to Mentors: Try not to be jaded. That is so 2002. Remember that young talent should be inspired! Advertising has a lot to offer to the creative in us all.
Advice to Mentees: Have an opinion. Whether you’re creative, strategy, or account, you are first a person, and advertising is all about talking to people. You know more than you think you do—don’t be afraid to talk about it.
"You know more than you think you do—don’t be afraid to talk about it."
Shanon: Advice to Mentors: I agree with Kiersten – save your jadedness for your happy hours. With that said, don’t be a Pollyanna, either. Give them the realistic, but inspiring view of the industry.
Advice to Mentees: Push yourself outside of your discipline – try writing if you’re an Art Director. Try strategy if you’re a Writer. It’ll all come together to make the work even more amazing.
After it's all said and done, would you do it again?
Kiersten: I would most definitely participate in this process again. It is always humbling to witness great ideas coming from anywhere. Creativity is never just in the creative department of advertising—it is in all disciplines of winning and growing business. This was proof of that.
Shanon: I agree with Kiersten – I would definitely participate again. I love mentoring young creatives – in helping with their ideas and navigating this wild agency world. They are incredibly inspiring and super fun.
Our summer session just wrapped– stay tuned for when applications go live next season!