Next Creative Leaders 2018: Julie Matheny
Posted on Nov 06, 2018
Hometown and country:
Alexandria, VA / Summit, N.J., United States
Current employer, city and role:
Droga5, New York City, Associate Creative Director
How did your upbringing, family or hometown shape you as a creative?
Although I was born in the D.C./Virginia Area and attended college and graduate school there, I grew up in NJ. So for as long as I can remember, I’ve thought of myself as a Jersey girl. There’s something fun about embracing a place that gets put down all the time. It makes you feel a bit like an underdog, and I’ve always loved the underdog. That’s probably why I love working on challenger brands. I get a kick out of backing the little guys.
Another thing that has shaped me as a creative is playing sports. Being a part of a team, working towards the same goal—the cliches and sports analogies in business are there because they’re true.
What’s your “breaking into advertising” story?
I graduated from The College of William & Mary with an English lit degree and I had no idea what I was going to do with it. I didn’t know anything about advertising apart from the fact that it sounded like fun in the movies. My mom had a contact at Chiat in LA - this real old-school copywriter who had been there for years - and I met with him to see what it was all about. He told me what a book was, and that I should look into portfolio schools. So I did. I found Brandcenter, realized the deadline for the application was days away, and just hustled like crazy to get the thing done. I stayed up all night working on my application and drove it down from DC in person so that I could get it in just under the wire. In hindsight, I think the lack of time probably helped me out—I didn’t have the time to over-edit or rethink the application, or to have second thoughts about ideas. I only had time to be myself.
What’s the piece of work you’re most proud of and why?
It’s tough to say. I’ve been proud of different pieces at different times for different reasons. A bit of writing in this. The casting in that. An insight there. But if I’m being honest, I pretty much look back at everything I’ve done and see a zillion little things I wish I had done better.
What does meaning this award mean to you?
We all need positive reinforcement. Especially women. There are more talented women in advertising right now than ever before, and yet most of us (myself included) spend way too much time doubting ourselves. So yeah, it’s nice when people tell a few of us we’re doing an okay job. Thank you for that!
Who has most influenced you in your career thus far?
My bosses, past and present. Authors, screenwriters. My parents and classmates.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing women right now (work or non work related) and how would you solve it?
It’s the same issue facing the whole country regardless of gender right now: lack of empathy. Empathy for who people are, where they come from, what they want, why they believe what they believe, what they’re afraid of, and what they need to feel safe. I’m convinced empathy is the universal salve. The more we can see things from the perspective of another person, the better off we’ll all be.
If you were CCO of your company, what would be the one thing you’d change (if you could just wave your magic wand?)
I’d like to broaden this question to include something I would change about the creative process in general. If it were my call, I’d stop piling teams onto a brief for a single spot. Pitting four teams against each other might get you more ideas, but I personally think it also brings out the worst in people and messes with morale.
The theme of this year’s 3% Conference is “Bring it.” What do you think you bring to the table as a creative and a leader?
Hopefully, I bring a sense of humor and passion. Also snacks.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the past year?
Don’t walk all over Morocco for a week in unsupportive shoes and think you’re not going to get a stress fracture from it.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career so far and how did it pan out?
I’m not sure I’ve taken that big of a risk yet. Shit. Now I have to take one because you said that. If I end up moving to Bali to write a terrible novel this will all be your fault.
How do you “fill up your cup” creatively?
Oh you know, Netflix, Prime, Hulu. Watching stuff and talking about it with other people. Although everyone makes fun of me because I’m basically 70 years old when it comes to what I watch and listen to. Occasionally I’ll force myself to go to a museum, but I have this weird thing where I feel like I have to read every single blurb in an exhibit even though I don’t want to and I just end up bored and annoyed with the whole experience.
What’s currently inspiring you?
I’m working on a lot of longer format stuff right now, so I’ve been obsessed with reading drafts of screenplays from my favorite movies and pilots from my favorite shows. It’s fascinating to see the blueprint for the lines and characters you know by heart and see how much is on the page and how much isn’t. It’s a great learning experience to read different drafts of the same thing, too.
What would be your dream project and why?
Something longer-form for sure. I’m a writer who loves dialogue and I like taking time with an idea or a concept rather than tying it up in a bow at :30 seconds.
How are you leaving the work, the workplace or the world a better place than you found it?
By (hopefully) not being an asshole. I try to have fun, be good to my friends and family, and make my coworkers and clients proud.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to women embarking on a creative career?
When you’re looking for your first real job in advertising, look for people that you think you could look up to and respect—not just as people, but as creatives. Don’t choose a job based on the industry’s perception of the place. Don’t choose a job based on what account you’ll get to work on. And unless you’re broke, try not to choose a place based on money. You can do that later. Instead, choose the place with women (and men) you think you could really learn from. This is important because those people will inform the way you view the industry, moving forward. They’ll inform the way you’ll work in the future. And ultimately, they’ll shape the type of creative you’ll become.
It’s like a first relationship: Having a respectful experience at the beginning of your career breeds a more positive attitude that lasts the length of it, whereas bad experiences in your first few years are hard to shake. Plus, when you work with people you trust, you take creative chances and open your mind in ways you normally wouldn’t.