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The image below is a new business pitch idea I had for The Shops at Columbus Circle, when they were first opening in The Time Warner Center.  I didn’t only design web sites.  I was eventually invited to come up with creative campaign ideas, umbrella concepts, which could be executed across channels.  My idea was to show all the things one could do, any time, at the shops.  My idea worked for subways, taxicabs, and booklet covers. The focus is time…saving time by shopping at The Circle…just in time.  I figured they could run with the tag of "just in time" during their initial launch.  I didn’t have a copywriter assigned to work with me, so I wrote all the copy and chose all the artwork.  No, I did not draw those illustrations.  I also made each of the copy points specific to New York, considering "New Yorkers who are accustomed to getting the best" was our target audience.  And I wanted to steer away from "shopping" because they didn’t want to be seen as "a mall," which is exactly what it is.  So I focused on experiences, and the fact that you could do so much, save so much time, by doing it all in one place.  Our creative director never showed this to the client… he said because he, um, couldn’t open it on his computer.  WTF?  I’ve seen the actual advertising the client has gone with, and it’s not nearly as hip, fun, or I’m sure, effective.  And this happens all the time in advertising.  The good ideas never get a chance.  But you know that going in.

Timewarner_stephanie_2 Advertising was easy for me, in part, because no one ever gave me grief if I rolled into work at 11:15, or even 11:30 am.  I’d watch Regis & Kelly, then half of Ellen, sometimes the whole thing.  Then I’d grab a cab, knowing I should have motivated earlier for the subway.  Occasionally, but not enough to ever make a difference, some higher-up would tap his watch and shoot me a disapproving glance, but on the whole, as long as everyone was satisfied with my work, and I didn’t miss any meetings, it was all good.  Advertising was picnic because a lot of the time it consisted of image searches, just combing through photography in search of a gesture or color to make something feel finished.  It was art, really, finding balance and paying attention to the edges and negative space of things.  It wasn’t always glamorous, designing buttons and tabs, working with information architects to resolve problems.  But it was a hell of a lot easier than standing on my feet all day, greeting customers as they passed through the glass doors of Banana Republic.  That was work.  Retail sucks if you’re fat.  Not only do you have zero desire to spend your day imagining how you’ll spend your next paycheck as you sort through the newest arrivals, but you can only listen to size six women complain about how the flat-front trousers make her crotch look "bulky."  And even when the store is barren of customers, you’re still not permitted to sit, even if you’re in the dressing room, folding rejected merino blends. And there were always the really nice, but still kinda sketchy, dudes who worked in the stock room, who because you were fat, seemed to think you’d want to date them and their chains, pagers, and goatees.

What I loved most about working at Wunderman, the direct marketing subsidiary of Young & Rubicam, was the people. I am still in touch with many of them.  Well, twelve of them, really.  Maybe more.  It was also easy because there was a Fourbucks downstairs.  And my job consisted of searching the internet for clean designs, keeping up with the new technologies.  There were uninspired status meetings, sure, but even then, it was a chance not only to learn what everyone else was up to, but it was an opportunity to get the hell out of my chair.  It forced me to socialize.

I loved listening to music all day, singing.  One night,quite late–there were perhaps six people left in the building–I decided to listen to R.E.M through my headphones to keep me company as I finished my design.  I’d regularly bust into song without really knowing it.  Dave would sometimes tap me on the shoulder and start to laugh, but he’d gone home hours earlier.  When "Everybody Hurts" chimed in, I raised the volume.  Before long, I began to belt it.  "NO, NO, NO, YOU’RE NOT ALONE!" 

"NEITHER ARE YOU!" someone in a cubicle outside my office yelled back.  And instead of being dreadfully embarrassed, I thought, "That’s exactly why I work here.  I love this shit."

And now I miss it, some of it anyway, listening to David say, "Hey, check it out," as he encouraged me to look as his latest design, or photo, or some crank calls web site he found.  Or when I shared an office with Steve Henderson, and we quoted lines from movies all day.  Or when I bunked with Kerri in another office, the two of us laughing and wheeling in late.  We had fun. And work, while it was just that, never felt like it really.  Even when we had to work on the weekends, or stay until midnight, even then, I liked what I was doing, so it was never that bad.  But deep down, I didn’t feel like I belonged.  I didn’t feel completely fulfilled.  I sometimes cried in the bathroom (I love how this post ends… that it was written when I started this blog.  Gives me chills).

When I’d first started in advertising, back in 1997, I mostly designed banners and insufferable interstitials and pop-ups.  Then I’d work on campaigns, got involved with testing and focus groups.  Switched over to marketing for a while, performing competitive audits for my clients, studied click-through rates, and learned what worked and what didn’t.  Tested copy, offer, and creative.  Put together  Powerpoint decks.  Then I switched back to creative, with a firm grasp on what Forrester/Jupiter Research had to say about web performance, driving traffic, etc.  I always wore both hats and was easily able to balance design with what had to get done from a marketing perspective.  Actually, it wasn’t exactly always "easily." 

At a certain point my boss called me into her office and said, "This ain’t gonna cut it."  She meant my straddling both worlds.  I had to choose, and if I was going to design, I had to make shit look good.  I couldn’t walk into a meeting with a piece of creative and support it with research.  I saw it as an opportunity to grow.  Others might have dug their heels in and argued that what I did was what more designers should have.  Know the research, know what works.  But what would have been the point? 

In the weeks that followed, I worked on new business campaigns while also attending to my regulars.  And my boss pulled me aside and said, "Stephanie, these are just beautiful.  I can tell you took what I said seriously.  Really, just lovely."  And they were smart, too.  And she was a good boos.  Because it seems we don’t hear enough of that these days.  Both of us, the talkers and the listeners.  The talkers tend to focus on what we’re doing wrong, and as a listener, as much as they might include something positive, we cling to the negative.  But my boss paid attention and didn’t have to tell me that she noticed a drastic change.  But she did, and it was encouraging.  It made me want to take it further.  To do better.  I work very well under direction, especially when it’s laced with encouragement.

I loved the energy there, even when the most creative ideas weren’t given a chance to breathe.  I loved David and his sweet nature, how he’d try to keep up with Gary when we made a run at night to Trailer Park for Patron shots.  Loved Gary and the way he’d strut through the office, one clip of his shirt hanging beneath the excess leather of his belt.  He’d ask me to whisper because it was too early for "a Klein story… but later, Sweetpea, once I get my coffee going."  Then he’d return later in the afternoon.  He wouldn’t say a word, just pulled up a chair and waited with his hands in his lap.


"Come on, Steph, spill it."  He’s the only one who I never corrected when he’d call me "Steph."  I don’t know why; it was the way he said it.  I miss our small tribe, our brainstorms, and drawings, and the jokes, and the Thursday nights, where we’d stay late drinking in the office, playing Cranium in Joani’s office.  And when we moved to the Madison Avenue location, and I began to report to Jane Walsh, I was even happier.  I was given more responsibility, and I remember her instructing others to look at my work, "keep it in her style.  Have Stephanie show you."  And I felt proud.

And that’s what made it so hard for me to leave.  I really did like my job, and saw it as that, a job.  Not a career.  A job.  But once the NBC deal went through, on top of the books, I felt in over my head, like I was straddling again.  So I didn’t see it as quitting my job as much as starting my writing career. 

While in advertising, I began this blog.  I posted to it almost daily from my office, never writing about work or co-workers in fear of losing my job.  I posted between meetings, during a bit of downtime.  And then I wrote my book proposal during working hours.  Because I could.  It was the kind of job that allowed for it.  As long as I handed in a design the client loved by our scheduled meeting time, no one cared when I’d done it.  Only that I had. 

I sometimes think of returning to the world of advertising, wondering which side I’d end up on, copy or design.  But in reality, I’ve got a whole lot more writing to do before I can think about that.  But if I had to, it would be design.  I do miss it.  But that’s what scrapbooking is for.



  1. I wrote ad & promo copy for years — both for print and toward the end for websites — and loved the meetings, the brainstorming, praise from clients & my boss, etc. etc. I still miss my dysfunctional office family, and it's been 7 years since I left. But when my now-husband's business partner died, he asked me to toss my pantyhose and drycleaning bills and work for/with him as a research editor. At home. So now I work with one of my cats draped over my keyboard and putz around on blogs far too often. And I miss writing copy. But that's what fiction writing's for, right?

  2. I am so envious (you did a post on that a long time ago, envious and jealous and this is definitely envy) of your marketing job. As a graphic designer that feels like she's still floundering around I'm still wishing and hoping for that environment, that sense of accomplishment and that energy towards my job that you describe.

  3. i see/hear so much of myself in this post, too – living in the marketing world, not for an agency but for a corporation. I sometimes wish I had that team around me, the kind to brainstorm with and kick ideas around with and shoot the shit with. But at the same time, it's kinda nice to be looked at as the "creative one". Co-workers come to me for clothing advice & "can you write this letter for me?" requests.

    And I do a ton of writing & designing during "work hours". but what is that anymore? Maybe some people need a rigid work schedule where they don't take personal calls or IM. I can't work like that. for the longest time I used to think I had to hide it from people, so they never knew that I got personal email at work. But after 5 years, I realize – my stuff gets done. And it rocks. And I continue to get more responsibility, because I'm turning it in. So what if I designed my friend's bridal shower invites the other day? right? It really is helping the creative juices, regardless.

    just wanted to say thanks for this – makes me feel like I'm not alone in my own version of "corporate". :)
    hope the beans are well today!

  4. I used to work across the street from you at C&W! Though I was and still am a Dunkin Donuts devotee I doubt we ever crossed paths at Starbucks on the corner! Nice post. Makes me miss my big ole NYC job…NOT!!!!

  5. Isnt it funny how when you are just born with that creative itch you find SOME outlet to express it, it's impossible not to.

  6. What is up with the timing of these blogs? It’s awesome! When I'm having relationship troubles, you manage to post something so relevant. And now that I'm having severe issues with my current job, you post this. You'd be amazed at the contrast. I need a new job and a new direction… this is inspiring to what can be if I get out and look for it. Thanks!

  7. I'm a copywriter and I know what do you mean.
    I work for a big american ad company: "Ogilvy&Mather"
    When I begun to work I was very happy, I thought "this a very interesting and funny job"
    But now, I'm not sure anymore about this.

  8. I always wondered how the book proposal / writing mixed in with your work and how you did ti. I can't seem to find the time to sit down and write my proposal. It seems like a big task that I keep pushing off.

    I'm also in advertising and want to write – and be a florist and decorator. I don't want to settle for less either. How does one overcome inertia to gain momentum?

  9. I am wondering how you learned enough about design to work at Wunderman. I could be wrong but I thought you went to school for English. I just find this so incredible since I did an off -campus program for Graphic Design during my senior year of college and Wunderman was one of our tours. That was years ago, but I remember thinking that I would never be able to get a job like that even with my educational background. Just curious about A. how you learned the skills and B. how you got the job without a design degree.

    FROM STEPHANIE: While at college, I worked on a few magazines: Columbia's Guide to New York, and I was art director of a literary magazine. I don't remember which program we used to do layout. I certainly didn't do much of it, but I'd seen it, knew it couldn't be that hard. I was offered jobs in publishing when I graduated college, but they didn't pay enough money for me to afford to continue to live in Manhattan. So I kept looking. Long story short, I took a job at Juno Online Services, now United Online/ NetZero. I worked there from 1997-2000. I basically lied during my interview, told them I knew a bit of Quark, Photoshop, and Illustrator. I didn't say I was an expert, said I was willing to brush up. I showed them slides of my art work, showing I was creative. I'd taken a lot of art classes in college. Drawing mostly, figure drawing. During my interview, they asked what books I liked, where I liked to eat. Their theory was hiring smart people they liked and wanted to be around, and then they knew we'd be capable of learning. I got the job. Shit! I better learn those programs now. I had two weeks before I started, so I spent every day learning the programs, took some quicky class at some computer place, sat with books at B&N. And I kept my job, obviously, for 3.5 years, learning HTML, and proprietary languages, learned Quark and became an expert in Photoshop before I chose to leave and began working at Y&R in July 2000.

    I worked for Y&R and Wunderman (both companies actually) for 5 years as VP, Senior Interactive Art Director. I basically negotiated the VP title when I took the job. The man who hired me at Y&R became CEO of Wunderman, and when he switched companies he was only able to take a small team with us. I think he took 6 of us. We all came over with titles. Basically, I learned a lot on the job, and I worked hard. I kept up with all the latest research and knew what worked and what didn't. Knew how to increase click-through rates and drive traffic, knew how much affiliate programs actually worked, what the benefits and drawbacks were of live chat.

    I pay attention and always strive to do the best I can. When my boss told me I'd need to change drastically, shifting my focus to design instead of industry best-practices, I studied every book I could grab in the design section of book stores. I looked at designs she liked, sites, magazines, and I said, "let me try to recreate that." And eventually you just get it and know what to do. And it didn't hurt that I could present my designs to clients as if I were also a strategist, working in my knowledge about best-practices, weaving in quotes from the latest research to support why I chose to design the way I did.

  10. I often wonder how you folks do it…so much creativity…so much imagination, how do you get all those ideas? I think i am totally missing that gene!
    Well, me being me…for now, i am just happy with my computer programming and IT consulting!! But man, i really wish i had that gene. there is no creativity/imagination at this side of the laptop.

  11. This was a great read. I'm at a job right now where I feel exactly like you described, with the people, with my boss. Everything. It was nice to read this and appreciate where I'm at right now. :)

  12. Stephanie, I'm a long-time fan of your writing and blog, but a first-time poster. I am facing exactly the situation you describe: a good job that pays well and allows me to do thing I love most during work hours at times — write. I just started the process this week of figuring out how to turn my MFA, novel manuscript, and zillions of article ideas into a career, and leave my job. Any advice you have to pass along on how in the world to do this would be appreciated more than you could ever, ever imagine.

    FROM STEPHANIE: Realistically, I'd say, try to straddle both for as long as you can. If you can keep your job while also doing the other things, great. I'd at least get the security of having a few gigs lined up before leaving the stable job. Also, if you choose to leave, do it on very good terms, letting them know exactly why you're leaving… just in case. It made it so much easier for me when I left, even though I had signed contracts with HarperCollins and NBC, to leave when my boss and several people came to me saying, "you will always be welcome back, and if I'm not working here, wherever I am, I'd be psyched to have you aboard." That was incredible. "Not that you'll want or need to come back, but still." Made it so much easier for me to leave. Health insurance. Make sure you're covered one way or another. And mentally, don't see it as quitting your job. See it as starting a new one, or beginning your career (even if your office is at home).

  13. I used to work at Banana Republic and the Gap. While working at the Gap during my senior year in high school, the store manager was fired for having sex with the stock boy in one of the dressing rooms after hours. She was married and he had a goatee and a pager chained to his shorts.

  14. after being laid off in january from one PR job, and being let go due to some weird circumstances in April, I've been working retail and freelance designing on the side. Reading this post ignited the spark in me to find a way to get back into the industry that i love and have been away from because i let a few things set me back. nobody could've said it better. :) thank you so much for this post.

  15. The more that times goes on and I find myself (during work hours) reading your blogs, other regularlly checked sites and jotting down blog ideas for myself on post its, I realize, that even though I love what I do everyday at work, it is WORK aka a JOB and not a passion. We all deserve to have a passion.

  16. I enjoy this glimpse of you Stephanie. Well done. It allows people to see that there is more to you than what meets their reading eye and consequently narrow view. Kudos to hard work and determination.

  17. Thank you for reminding me of how much I enjoy my job and my co-workers. It is a job, so it's easy to forget sometimes that this place is like family. I feel lucky.

  18. omg, you are not going to believe this, but I'm quite sure i know the Joani of which you speak and that I worked for her sister in NYC! Small, small world.

  19. Looks like Klien cries in the bathrooms at work like somebody special I know. *smile* But seems like this unfufillment was have been destiny calling saying I want to take you on a ride that you will never forget if only you jump into my arms. So Steph, I'm glad you made the jump because, because of you on this day my better half little gazelle will be smiling since she introduced me to you.

  20. You're lucky. You know what you want, you chased your dream, you're living your life.
    I attended a workshop once where we were asked to write down the top 5 things we are passionate about. I drew a blank. It still bothers me.

    I bet you worked hard and were (are) very good at what you did, but I also bet that living in NY and having college as a springboard helped a lot too.

  21. I work in advertising, too, but feel the opposite about it. I guess it's that grass is always greener thing. Or, maybe I've been doing it too long and can no longer find a way to appreciate it. I'm a copywriter who also writes blog posts at work. And I do it because I dream about making a living the way you do, instead of suffering through meetings that make me feel like my soul is spilling out of my ears.

  22. It was a nice post! Showed me that job can be interesting and it is never late to change something for better. I am reading your blog from another part of the world (Russia) but some thoughts are so close to me. Thank you!

  23. i don't mean this to sound rude, but this post really pissed me off!
    i laughed when i read this because i am an art director at a major agency in nyc and there is NEVER anytime to come in at 11 or "write a blog" during lunch. its just not possible. from my understanding, you were not a designer, just an art director who didn't know how to design. there are tons of them out there, and they are highly frowned upon by the real designers. i always try to give these people the benefit of the doubt, because hey, just because you didn't go to design school doesn't mean you can't design. but its funny to me that a lot of art directors don't even know InDesign or how to create fonts, etc. and they don't put in any of the time that we real designers do because frankly they don't know what to do most of the time (except for give their "expert" opinion). this is the way most ad agencies run in the midwest, because there is no one better to choose from.

    FROM STEPHANIE: I don't use InDesign, no. I know Quark, Photoshop, Illustrator, and yes, Fontographer, too. And um, if I didn't know how to design, I doubt they would have kept me on staff for 5 five years, especially through several rounds of layoffs. And as for coming in at 11, we ALL did. And the blogging took all of 10 minutes, and I never took a lunch. And I always stayed as late as needed to get a job done.

  24. Writing ads is easy. But working in an ad agency is impossible. You're lucky you had a positive agency experience. For too many of us it was a creative as well as an intellectual dead end. I'll never have those brain cells back again.

  25. get her stephanie. you know, i met you when you did your book talk in austin, and i have to say this is the most meaningful post to me you've done yet. i'm about to transfer to the savannah college of art & design, probably to major in advertising design. emotional artistic types that paid too much for their artistic education bitch about it for the rest of their lives (i.e. this anna pisareva character), and i really hope i don't get that way. it sounds like an absolute blast, being able to watch the today show/regis & kelly before going to work (what a dream!!!) and i have to say, that's pretty much the sort of job i want to end up having…being absolutely comfortable where i am and doing what i love :)

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