Next Creative Leaders 2021:
Preethi Balakrishnan and Kelsey Boylan
By Laurel Stark on Nov 02, 2021
She / Her / Hers
Hometown and country:
Kelsey is from San Francisco and Preethi is from Austin.
Current employer, city and role:
Saatchi & Saatchi NY, New York, Senior Creative Team
How did your upbringing, family or hometown shape you as a creative?
Preethi: Even though I grew up in a pretty STEM forward community, my parents were always supportive of my illustration itch. I poured many many hours into Photoshop before I even decided to become an art director.
Kelsey: I grew up in a family of readers and words were always a big part of my life. Even as a copywriter, I still always lose at Boggle when I go home.
What’s your “breaking into advertising” story?
We attended UT’s undergraduate program with a portfolio sequence—which is where we met and started working together. The first industry jobs we ever had were making promotional materials for the college dining hall. We worked in the basement of one of the dorms and we still have way too many vegetable puns. Before we graduated, we interviewed with several agencies and landed an internship at DDB Chicago our first summer out of school.
What’s the piece of NCL winning work you’re most proud of and why?
Our work for Women in Film was one of our more challenging yet fulfilling projects. Working with a limited budget and pandemic production restrictions, we handcrafted 30+ movie posters to speak to studio executives where they’d be listening—on “For Your Consideration” billboards in LA. We took on so many parts of the process ourselves, with the hope of building a better Hollywood for women after the pandemic.
What’s the lesson another creative can take away from that successful creative experience?
Maintain a consistent vision for your work. We created more than 30 posters using found photography, over many months, so we learned that it was really important to keep a consistent theme in the work to ensure the campaign’s success.
What does being named a Next Creative Leader mean to you?
We’re honored to be recognized by The One Club for Creativity and The 3% Movement. There are so many remarkable, diverse leaders in this industry, and we’re excited to connect with and learn from them this year, as well as all the women entering the industry.
Who has most influenced you in your career so far?
We’ve been very lucky to work with some incredible female leadership, who have taken the time to guide us, give us feedback, and watch any number of TikToks we send them. These women challenged industry and media norms well before we got here, paving the way for us to make even more progress.
What is your secret (or not-so-secret) creative superpower and how do you flex it?
Preethi: I’m a quick study. Which is useful when a project calls for an edit, an animation, a design overhaul, or a new media tactic “by EOD.”
Kelsey: Puns. But more generally, finding the stupid solution to a complicated problem.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing the creative industry right now and how would you solve it?
We think the biggest challenge, especially on the creative side, is that there’s still such a high barrier for talent to join the industry. Even as agencies look to hire more diverse creatives, the high cost of portfolio school and the uncertainty of internships narrow who can break into advertising. We would solve this by encouraging agencies to look at a candidate’s potential, not just their portfolio (and also to pay their interns! And hire them!). Programs like MAIP are also a great starting point.
How has the pandemic changed your creative process or the way you work?
We’re a pretty collaborative team, so transitioning from passively spending long amounts of time with each other to eight hour long video calls was exhausting. We had to suddenly make up for the lack of long brainstorming walks and inspiration from the city. But here we are, a year and a half later, somehow still making work after thousands of hours of video calls.
Our jobs can be exhausting even in “precedented times.” How are you caring for yourself right now?
We’re still working on finding balance but for both of us, care means finding time for our hobbies. Preethi loves to illustrate and play D&D. Kelsey is really into baking and playing the guitar. It helps us to get out of our heads.
How are you working to celebrate, support, or elevate other marginalized voices and experiences?
Kelsey actively volunteers her time to organizations like Coffee at a Distance and 826 Valencia to lend her expertise to up-and-coming creatives, and young writers of all ages. Preethi reaches out to and mentors diverse talent within her agency, to provide them with support they might need in their first jobs.
Creativity can save the world. What real-world problem would you want to tackle with creativity, if time, budget, and logistics were not an issue?
Addressing mental health stigma, especially at a highschool and college level, is a cause that’s important to both of us. We think one of the most powerful parts of creativity is that it doesn’t just change how people act, it can change how people think.
Where do you turn when you need to spark your creativity?
We try to get to a different headspace. Back in Chicago we’d to go on long walks in Millenium Park when we got stuck on a problem. These days we spend a lot of (non-work hours) on Tik Tok. Sometimes if it feels like we’ve been thinking about a problem too hard, we’ll play battleship while we concept.
How are you leaving work, the workplace, or the world a better place than you found it?
At work, both of us push boundaries—in concepting, casting, and film crews, because we recognize that every single project is an opportunity to feature often-overlooked talent. It helps to have awesome clients, like Tide, who are eager to showcase diverse families that reflect the world we live in.
What is a story you feel uniquely set up to tell?
Right now the industry is excited about gaming, but they continue to think of it as a male-dominated space. Preethi is a gamer (Kelsey is not, but is also excited about this space), and the story we think we’re uniquely qualified to tell is about how to broaden our perspectives on gaming to include diversity in audiences, and games.
Who is inspiring you right now and why?
WNBA players! We have learned so much about the league as we’ve worked on their latest campaign. They’re amazing athletes. The league is so diverse and has a long history of being involved with social causes.
If you could go back in time, what pivotal advice would you give yourself before your first day as a professional creative?
Ask for what you want. And be annoying about it.
Be sure to check out all the winning work for the Next Creative Leaders of 2021!