Next Creative Leaders: Kristin Graham

Posted on Oct 27, 2017

Kristin Graham
Associate Creative Director - Goodby, Silverstein & Partners San Francisco

Three words you’d use to describe yourself?
Kind, creative, driven.

What work are you most proud of and why?
The Cheetos Museum and the Miller High Life “One-Second Ad” would be the two pieces I’m most proud of. They both really resonated with fans of the brands and were seen by a large audience, which is always nice.

What does leadership mean to you?
It means taking responsibility, steering the ship and looking out for your people. Being able to shape and sell great work also comes in handy.

What’s your “breaking into advertising” story?
I got into advertising early on. I majored in advertising design at Syracuse University before going to the Creative Circus to craft my portfolio, which was a great experience. After I graduated I landed my first job at Saatchi & Saatchi NY as a junior art director on Olay. Nothing against beauty advertising, but I worked nights and weekends so I could get on some other accounts and because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as someone who just works on “girly” brands.

You describe yourself as a “serial monogamist” when it comes to your career. What makes an agency worth the longer investment?
I’ve been lucky to work at two great agencies. I think as long as you are surrounded by great people and are creating work you’re proud of, it’s worth staying. But it’s not always easy. I’ve definitely had some dry patches when I started to stagnate. Switching accounts and working under different people are great ways to revitalize yourself.

You’ve partnered with both men and women. How has either experience opened doors for you creatively?
I think it’s important for women to work with both men and women partners over the course of their career. I’ve worked with some amazing women creatives over the years and loved every minute of it. But one thing I did notice was that pretty soon we’d start getting all the woman-focused briefs in the building. I don’t mind working on female-centered brands, but I do think when you are a team of women, people start to turn to you for certain projects. When you are a man-and-woman team, the projects seem to vary a lot more. It’s just something I’ve noticed over the years. Some of my best work has been done on beer brands and snack foods. I wonder if I would have had those opportunities if I always had a woman partner.

You’ve been an ACD for a few years now. What’s the biggest challenge going from maker to manager?
They don’t give you any formal training when you become a manager in advertising—probably because everyone already doing the job is too busy. So you kind of have to learn on the fly. It’s a strange adjustment to go from being a creative and having your ideas killed by a CD to suddenly being the one wielding the hatchet. Everyone has a different leadership style, and I think it takes time to get comfortable with yours.

Any tips for creatives who are about to make that shift into leading a team?
Just the golden rule: “Do unto others …” And don’t get a big head. You are not a rock star. You are in advertising. Sorry.

You recently became a mom (congrats!). Any tips for agencies looking to help their talent grow through parenthood?
It’s important to be at an agency that is going to do their best to support you in any way they can. I feel lucky to be at GSP during this time. I had a generous maternity leave, which was such a special time for many reasons. And when I returned to work, there was a nice support group of people reaching out. Your needs as a parent can change quickly, and I recently asked for a partner – something I hadn’t had in several years. That has made a huge difference in helping me achieve some balance.

GSP’s Margaret Johnson has been an influential character in your life. In what ways has she shaped your career and experience?
Margaret has been a big inspiration to me, not only because she’s a great creative leader, but also because she’s a mom, too. She’s done that balancing act. Over the years she’s given me advice that a male CD obviously couldn’t have given me. So that’s been really helpful. She’s also just a super-smart creative who sells amazing, award-winning work.

Any advice for creatives struggling to make their outside lives work with their career aspirations?
It can be hard. Over the years I’ve burned myself out a few times. When that happens, you aren’t going to be making the best work, no matter how hard you try or how late you stay. It’s important to have a life outside of the office—whatever it is—and shift your focus there when you need to recharge.

Click here to view her award winning work 


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