Next Creative Leaders 2020: Imen Soltani
on Oct 29, 2020
She / Her / Hers
Hometown and country:
Current employer, city and role:
TBWA\Media Arts Lab, Los Angeles, Copywriter
How did your upbringing, family or hometown shape you as a creative?
My parents were both on the scientific side professionally, but as children, we only saw their ‘at home’ personas. So to me my dad was this voracious reader, who loved to write and my mom was the music and film lover who was always singing and dancing, and they just happened to fill our home with books, newspapers and music. In retrospect, I think the circumstances of our childhood particularly called for a lot of creativity. We lived outside of the city, we had so much access to nature and very long days to fill, with our parents hard at work. So just like them we wrote, we read, we listened to music, we danced and made up our own games, and that nurtured our creative sensibilities.
What’s your “breaking into advertising” story?
My interest in advertising was mainly political. My late teenage years were marked by the Arab Spring which started in my country, and with a booming political scene, I found myself working on political branding, communication and discourse which wasn’t even what I was studying. A friend of mine who had studied marketing, was the one who made me aware of commercial advertising as a discipline, and when I moved to San Francisco for Berkeley he told me about Miami Ad School and as soon as I found it, this entire journey was set in motion.
What’s the piece of work you’re most proud of and why?
I don’t know that the work itself is what makes us proud. The journey towards it, and how it’s received, are much more gratifying I think. In that sense, I’d say so far two of my proudest moments related to work, were seeing the refugee flag at the MoMa in NYC and waking up to an Emmy nod for Bounce. I still think that’s very surreal. I also really hope that the work I’m most proud of, is yet to come.
What does being named a Next Creative Leader mean to you?
It’s wonderful to be seen. It means that I’m that I‘m doing my best and that I'm growing. It’s also a sign that I need to find more ways to give back to this industry that has taken me in so generously.
Who has most influenced you in your career thus far?
All of my experiences have been very informative in their own way, the good ones and the not so good ones. I think nice people, who are driven and passionate about their craft, are the ones I appreciate the most, and luckily I've met many of those people in advertising. Particularly, Kako Mendez and Robbin Ingvarsson - who were my CDs on Bounce and actually hired me at MAL - gave me great examples to follow and taught me so much.
What is your secret (or not-so-secret) creative super power and how do you flex it?
Mood Boarding. It’s a habit. I collect film frames, and I love finding obscure and random visuals and films. My creative partner and I really enjoy looking for references, it’s just how we brainstorm. We always hear in meetings from other people that we have some crazy mood boards. Sometimes too crazy, but mostly good crazy. Luckily.
Your primary client is Apple, who has a long history of beautiful, game changing work. How do you keep things fresh creatively and consistently will yourself to raise the bar?
Being at MAL is already motivation enough to be honest. In a way, we are each other’s biggest competition, and that pushes us to raise the bar and work so hard to uphold the standards of our client and the legacy it has.
To keep things fresh, I think it’s always best to follow your curiosity to the end and look outside your field. The worst thing that can happen to a creative in my mind, is to become the job. When all you do, read, consume, is just about the industry you’re working within, you’ll eventually have nothing new to bring to the table. I make sure to not let my job become my interest, and to diversify my exposure to things, experiences, people, places as much as I can.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing the creative industry right now and how would you solve it?
It’s kind of funny, because we’re constantly hearing that advertising is dead or about to die, but I honestly think that it’s having a renaissance. Audiences have drastically changed. Consumers expect a lot from brands beyond just the product and the mechanical transaction. They’re looking for an exchange. They want an experience, they want a statement, they want an added value otherwise they just cancel. So that shift, gives advertising a bigger responsibility, as it is the industry that creates what’s beyond the product. It’s a terrible time to be a bad or a lazy brand right now, that looks at advertising as a nice-to-have. It just doesn’t cut it anymore, and that makes this industry more relevant than ever, I think.
What’s the biggest lesson that 2020 has taught you?
To be patient.
How have you pivoted your creative process/the way you work while sheltering in place?
It was a big adjustment. I personally love working at the office, I miss seeing friends every day and I relish that routine of going to work, getting coffee, working, then coming home where I can switch off completely and do me things. Losing that demarcation, threw me off at the beginning. Then, I just started creating a new routine and worked my way around it. Setting up a workspace, taking breaks and not just sit at your desk the whole day and keeping the communication open, especially for anyone working with a creative partner, are essential to successfully WFH.
How do you “fill up your cup” creatively?
Introspection. I really need to take time for myself and observe my thoughts and feelings, and that always does it. It’s a way to digest everything I’ve internalized creatively, and I think it’s necessary to take that time, with all the stimuli we’re exposed to, on a daily basis.
How are you caring for yourself during this stressful time? Any self-care tips and tricks you can share?
I talk to my family, and force myself to take a walk and listen to a podcast every day. It keeps me grounded in the real world to see strangers, and dogs, and runners, and cars and shops. Just to make sure it’s all still there. I also really recommend blasting music at home vs listening on your headphones, and when that urge to dance hits you, just don’t deny it.
How are you working to celebrate, support or elevate other marginalized voices and experiences?
The biggest thing to do, is to actively look for those different voices and experiences and not just succumb to the convenience of mainstream voices. It’s important to reflect how colorful the world is through our choices of collaborators and give them a platform and visibility. I always make sure to suggest a different voice, and recommend the less obvious choice, being one myself. But also MAL has a history of digging up gems, and unearthing different new talent, which is something we’re now pushing even more.
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?
Universal civics. I feel like it’s time to start building an international citizenship platform, where everyone has a duty towards our finite shared resources, especially with the Climate crisis. This would entail a shift in policies, societies and governance, so our collective creativity is needed.
What or who is currently inspiring you?
Anyone making an effort to change things for the better, especially within their own communities, is a hero to me. I’m very inspired by people around the world standing up for their rights. On another note, writer and critic Iris Brey and her work on the Female Gaze in cinema and media is definitely the most refreshing and inspiring essay to come out of this bizarre year.
How are you leaving the work, the workplace or the world a better place than you found it?
I hope to leave work with as much fun and enthusiasm as I had when I first joined it and more women in higher places. Also, I hope to leave the world with more women in power and with more universalism.
If you could go back in time, what pivotal advice would you give yourself before your first day as a professional creative?
It’s ok to feel overwhelmed, and it’s perfectly legitimate to ask questions.