Take Ownership to Succeed

Graduating from a university located in what some call a “fly-over state” meant not many in-state ad jobs existed.  I remember hearing someone from the industry say that (at that time) you’d be lucky to land an entry-level ad job with a starting salary of $22K-$25K.  As an underclassman, I set my sights on $20K to prevent feeling let down in the future.

Success comes by choice, not circumstance.

We must be “at cause” for our results.  If we allow our current situation (or worse, our past situations) to mandate what we can and can’t do, then we’ll never get unstuck.  We must choose to get unstuck.  We must decide to succeed.

Being “at cause” means to take ownership of our attitude, mindset, action and results.  Take ownership of your circumstances.  If you aren’t happy, make a change.  Get rid of the things in your life that aren’t working for you.  These could be physical things, time commitments, money commitments, relationships, jobs or even beliefs.  When you get rid of these undesirables, you’re making room for something better – even if you don’t know what that is yet.

What do you need to let go of in order to achieve success? 

My junior year at Oklahoma State University, I landed an internship as an art director at Leo Burnett in Chicago.  During that internship, not only did I let go of the belief that I’d be lucky to land my first real job but also the belief that I would only earn $20K starting out.  (I also threw out any chance of working anywhere that wasn’t a big city.)

My first entry-level ad job was in San Francisco earning DOUBLE what I was told to expect.

Choose to own your success.


Being Realistic and Flexible [more lessons on writing a book]

Did you read my blog seven weeks ago?  It was about how I failed to finish my end-all be-all how to get a job in a creative industry book.  I wrote about how I failed, learned from it and was moving on.  My goal was to have the first published copy of my NEW BOOK in my hands by Monday, Sept. 30, 2013.  Seven weeks to write a book….

I promised to keep you updated.  So, do I have the first published copy of my new book in my hands this week?

:::drum roll please:::


Have I failed (again)?


While I didn’t hit my initial (and uninformed) deadline, the first published copy of my book will be in my hands in a matter of weeks.  I will achieve my desired outcome.  What’s important in reaching my goal is to be flexible with extending my timeline to a more realistic date and to keep pushing my progress.  Here’s what happened:

At around week three of writing I realized that not only was my printed book going to be 75-100 pages but also what my writing speed was.  If I were to finish my book in time to give the printer time to approve the proof, print it and deliver it to my door by the last day of September, then I would have to spend 54 hours a week on my book.  That’s 54 hours on top of my regular workweek coaching and consulting advertising creatives.  That’s laughable!  Coming from someone who has worked 90-hour weeks in the advertising world, I know better than to do that to myself again.

I have no problem admitting that I set an unrealistic goal for myself.  Sure, it sucks to have set my expectations (and possibly your expectations) so high and fallen short.  Let’s be honest, I didn’t know what a realistic goal would look like in this case.  I’ve heard of people taking 30 days to write their book and people taking three years to write their book.  What I’ve found is how long your book takes to write depends on the type of book (e.g., a novel, book of tips, workbook, instruction manual, short stories, etc.), how many hours a week you can crank out quality words and the rate at which you write – and that’s after you’ve organized the content.

For me, I’ve found that I can write for two hours before my eyes and my brain start to lose focus.  Looking at my calendar, you’d see five two-hour blocks of time scheduled throughout the week.  If I write more than two hours, great.  If I write more than five days a week, awesome.  As a creative person, I need that rhythm with its rest breaks.  And now I know what is realistic and still ambitious for me to complete my book.

Think about this: If I hadn’t have set my initial goal for my published book so high, would I have gotten as much done?  Seven weeks in, would I have made this much progress?

In seven weeks, here is what I have accomplished on the way to publishing my first book for creative people:

  1. Organized the content of the book using 57 Post-Its and the back of a door in my office (It’s an evolving work of art.)
  2. Sent the first portion of my book to my editors
  3. Decided on a working title
  4. Revised the timeline twice
  5. Created a preliminary marketing outline
  6. Secured two blogs to promote my book to their more than 50,000 followers
  7. Written 66 pages!

You may be wondering what my revised-and-much-more-realistic timing goal is…  My printed book will be in my hands the first week of December.  It may even be in your hands in December. *wink*

To give you an idea of what that means- my writing needs to be complete within the next 3.5 weeks in order to provide the editors and printer enough time to do their parts.  This timeline accounts for holidays and time I’m away for a conference.  It will be a push to hit this updated goal but it’s realistic this time.

From start to finish, I will have organized, written, edited & had edited, proofed, printed and marketed one heck of a book in 16 weeks.  I can hardly wait to share it with you!

I’ll keep you posted.

5 Days of Work Doesn’t Fit into 4 Days

The post-Labor-Day workweek.  Ah yes, another wonderfully long weekend that’s benefits wear off once we’re back at work.  Let’s cram 5 days of work into 4 days now, shall we?


Why should the fact that we all had permission to take one day off – specifically as a holiday from our labor – mean longer hours and more stress for the next four or more days?  It shouldn’t.  I don’t need to argue this point any further, do I?  You’re with me.  Simply put, we can enjoy our day(s) off and not pull our hair out when we come back to work.


Well, the best way is to PLAN AHEAD.  Since it’s after the holiday, let’s move on to the second best ways – PRIORITIZE & CLEARLY COMMUNICATE.

What can you cut from your workweek?  We’re looking for a 20% cut here.  Prioritize what you can realistically handle during the short week.  Delegate to someone else, streamline the process, delete the item or delay the task to next week in order to make your few days in the office more manageable.

PRIORITIZE –> Delegate – Streamline – Delete – Delay – Do

Right now, take 14 minutes and write down everything you thought you were going to have to tackle this four-day week (including your dentist appointment, happy hour with the client, etc.).  Then mark each task with delegate, streamline, delete, delay or do.  For each, jot down a note of whom else needs to be involved in order to make this happen.  Remember, we’re shooting for a 20% cut here – saving you 8 hours of time or more.  To clarify, your list is going to have a lot of “Do’s” still on written on it.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Make sure that your priorities are also your boss’s priorities.  It’s a good idea (not imperative) to check in with your Creative Director, Creative Manager, whomever necessary to confirm that you are focusing on what they would also deem as the top priorities.  The key to successfully delegating, streamlining deleting and delaying tasks is clearly communicating with those involved what you are doing and why (more on this point later).


Advertising Creatives, can you delegate anything to the production studio, an intern or the account team?  If so, clearly communicate with those involved in the project what responsibilities have been transferred and to whom.  Freelancers, can you delegate any tasks to a virtual assistant or webmaster?


Are you able to streamline your day by not attending a meeting and asking the account manager to e-mail you the key points that will affect the creative?  Before the meeting, let all the attendees know of this plan and the reasons behind it.  Can you get on the phone with the strategy team, account team and project management/operations team all at once instead of meeting with each in person separately?  How can you set up your files on your computer this week to save yourself time?


What can you delete from your day: Designing nine comps before checking in with your Creative Director?  Answering that call from your long-winded brother-in-law?  Getting caught up in the latest news about a certain 20-year-old who was recently on the VMAs?  Checking Twitter every hour?


Creatives, what can you delay until next week that won’t negatively rock your world next week: Being briefed on a project that has a long lead-time?  Updating your Adobe software?  Posting your Labor Day photos on Facebook?


Yes, it may seem like a bunch of back-and-forth will be necessary to delegate, streamline, delay and delete tasks.  When choosing these tasks, keep in mind which are more likely to go smoothly and which will save you the most time.  If missing a 30-minute meeting is going to take you 15 minutes to get out of, is it worth it?  It might be a better use of your time to walk over to your Creative Director’s office and unofficially meet with him about the direction your comps are going before you spend the next 3 hours on them.  You may not need to do all the strategies mentioned above.  If you’re lucky, you may only need to negotiate around two tasks on your To Do List.


Trouble – you will run into it if you neglect clearly communicating.  Inform the people you work with that you are prioritizing and appropriately managing your time for the short workweek.  You’ll get bonus points if you throw in some phases like, “the attention this project deserves,” “focused, quality effort,” “to respect your time as well,” if they are genuine.

Please know that this doesn’t mean that you have to walk every assistant account manager through the list of what you are prioritizing to do this week and what items you’re delegating, streamlining, deleting or delaying.  Share what is necessary with who is necessary.  This is all about saving time.

Also, using the strategies above does not give you permission to be difficult (not that you would).  Keep the delicate balance of creating boundaries while remaining flexible.


I’ve been there; I know what it’s like to have 5 days worth of work that is expected to be crammed into 4 days.  By prioritizing and clearly communicating, you can shift those expectations. 

After all, you shouldn’t be expected to make up the labor that you missed celebrating Labor Day.  By shifting and managing expectations this holiday week, you set the new standard for holidays and shortened weeks to come.

By the way, the next Federal holiday in the U.S. is Monday, Oct. 14, 2013.  That gives you six weeks to plan ahead.

A Personal E-mail with a BIG Reveal


I hope all is going beyond well in your world.  Things here are great and only getting better.  I’m really excited about something, and I can hardly wait to tell you!

Do you remember how a couple years ago I was working on writing a book?  It was going to be the end-all be-all how to get a job in a creative industry book.  As you probably guessed, it never got finished.  Now, I know why.  I never finished that book because I became overwhelmed by the idea of having it be that end-all be-all book of its kind out there.  I was shooting for perfection.

Yea, yea, you can hear me telling you, “Progress not perfection,” huh?  Well, I fell victim to the same thing I tell you and my other clients.  Progress not perfection.  Excellence not perfection.  It’s all about focusing on progress toward an excellent COMPLETION.  That way you don’t get paralyzed by perfection.  Well, perfection paralysis got me.

So, I failed.  What am I so excited about?  ha. ha.

:::drum roll please:::

I’ve decided to write a new book!

No need to be leery; I’ve learned from my past mistakes.  This book will NOT be the end-all be-all masterpiece of perfection on the many elements of getting a creative job.  This time I’m focusing on one specific subject and one specific target audience (still creative types).  This book will be an excellent first edition.  That way I know I can go back and improve it for edition two, if needed.  This book will be about something that I know very well, that I speak about, coach my clients around and use in my own life regularly.

What’s the subject?  To build suspense (and buy some time to create a working book title), I’m not going to share that with you just yet.  I will tell you that I plan on having the first published copy in my hand by Monday, Sept. 30, 2013.   That’s right, seven weeks from now!

I promise to keep you posted.


All the best,


What is in Your Way? The Less Obvious Distractions

Road_Closed_Laura_LeavellDistractions are more than that phone call from a salesperson or the latest YouTube video.  Distractions can be those everyday tasks you feel you must do but that don’t get you to where you want to be.  While it may be obvious that playing a game on your phone is a distraction, it’s less obvious that your weekly routine may be what’s preventing you from having what you want.

For instance, let’s say you want to leave your full-time job but you don’t know what’s next.  Many of my clients have come to me for that exact reason – they want to not only figure out but also move toward (and then enjoy) the next chapter of their careers.  Or maybe it’s that you want to finish your book or start your own business.

In the case of wanting to leaving your full-time job and not knowing what is next, the distractions may simply be many of the actions you’re automatically taking. Is working overtime valuable to you or is it a deterrent?  Is happy hour with your colleagues an obligation or a distraction?  Is sleeping in on Saturday important enough that it trumps making time for what’s next?  Is refusing to delegate responsibilities at work helping you?

Take a close look at how you’ve been doing things and the (good and bad) habits you’ve created.  What is serving your desire for what’s next?  And what needs to be altered so that you have the time and energy to go after what you truly want?

Cutting out some activities and habits may be easy; others will require focus on your compelling reason to make the change.  Often the seemingly difficult choices fall into the areas of social, philanthropic and health.  It can be hard to tell your family you’re busy on Saturday afternoon because you set aside that block of time to research career opportunities.  It may be challenging to spend your lunch break working toward your goals with your career coach rather than catching up with your coworkers.  It may feel like a big sacrifice to cut back on the hours you volunteer and/or your time at the gym in order to prepare job applications.

It comes down to what’s most important to you – what do you value the most – and taking action to prioritize it.

Try this experiment:

1)    Take inventory of your last two weeks.

2)    Assess what is necessary and what may be negotiable in your schedule.

3)    Change only one aspect this next week to create a pocket of time and energy for which you can use to go after what you want.

Inspiration Event List & A Question for You

Lately, I’ve been writing quite a bit – some weeks busting out three articles a week for Advertising Week and the Examiner – and yet, I’ve ignored this blog.  I’m sorry, friends.

To start making up for it, I’ll give you a couple quality posts this coming month; I promise.  If you’d like me to address something specific about moving up in your career, creating work-life balance, or something else creative career related, please leave a comment below (or e-mail me privately at angela@definingsuccesscoaching.com).

In the meantime, check out the fun list I created for an article on inspiration.  These are life experience-type ideas that don’t take as much time or commitment as the usual examples of traveling, skydiving, learning a language or taking an art class.  Give some of these a try (or let them inspire you to create your own list) that you can pull from when you hit a creative block:

  • Watch a foreign film (with or without the subtitles)
  • Hang out in a store you’d be embarrassed to be caught in
  • Crash a party or happy hour (You get extra points if it’s an industry-specific event for an industry you know little about. Hint: These are constantly taking place in hotel ballrooms.)
  • Search for the perfect gift for the weirdest person you know (and who isn’t a close friend)
  • Learn to fix something mechanical (e.g., old clock, typewriter, motor)
  • Eat at a foreign restaurant where you know nothing about the type of food
  • Attend an open mic or beat poetry night
  • Go to the most bizarre niche MeetUp group event you can find
  • Get to know festival/carnival/fair workers and their stories (Yes, befriending carnies will inspire you. Trust my experience.)
  • Volunteer at a food bank
  • Spend time in a musical instrument store (if you don’t usually)
  • Play with Mad Libs

Read the full article on ways to get unstuck creatively, if you’d like.  If you do, you’ll learn about my “carny days.”

Remember to leave a comment (or e-mail me directly) if you have something you’d like this blog to answer for you.  What would you like help with?

How NOT to Manage Creative People

The Harvard Business Review recently published the blog post “Seven Rules for Managing Creative People” by professor Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic.  And wow, was it wrong! 

The professor starts by over-generalizing and negatively portraying creative people. Here’s how the blog post begins:

“Moody, erratic, eccentric, and arrogant? Perhaps — but you can’t just get rid of them.”

What a way to preframe the readers’ thoughts about creative people.  It continues…

“In fact, unless you learn to get the best out of your creative employees, you will sooner or later end up filing for bankruptcy. Conversely, if you just hire and promote people who are friendly and easy to manage, your firm will be mediocre at best.”

For someone who is an “international authority in personality profiling and psychometric testing,” it’s surprising that he hasn’t met the friendly, easy to manage, innovative, and award-winning creative types that I have worked with.  There are no two types of creatives – decent people verse innovative people.

I’ve worked with hundreds of creatives and if categories of creatives were to exist, the number of categories would be in the double digits.  A very small percentage may be “moody and arrogant,” but the majority are brilliant, kind people.  Many of which I call my friends.

The Harvard Business Review blog post feels like an attack on my friends, on my previous co-workers, on my clients, on the advertising and design industry as a whole, and on me personally.

Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic might be able to get away with writing something like this if it pertained to teenage private art school students (maybe), but this article is slamming professionals.

And does the professor not know that competition and deadlines push creative people to actually create?  Not only does he state, “The worst thing you can do to a creative employee is to force them to work with someone like them — they would compete for ideas, brainstorm eternally, or simply ignore each other,” but also he goes on to say that creatives shouldn’t have to follow processes or structures.  No competition and no accountability.

Then he advises to pay creative people poorly because the more you pay people to do what they love, the less they will love it.  WHAT?!  But while you’re paying them poorly, make them feeeel important.  And remember, that you should not let them manage others because creative people are rarely gifted with leadership skills.  WHO IS THIS GUY?!

More than 350 people have commented on the blog post asking the same thing.  My favorite comment is: Looking forward to your follow up “How To Survive Extraordinarily High Turnover.”  You see, because if this professor managed creatives hands on according to his tips, he would be fired based on the extremely high rate of creatives running from the building.

The scariest part is that Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is the co-founder of metaprofiling.com, a company that is designed to identify employees’ creative and entrepreneurial potential.  I’d hate to think of how he’d treat those who score the highest on metaprofiling’s creative scale.  As a “leading authority in talent management” according to the metaprofiling website, think of the advice he’s giving to the companies he’s consulting.

As for how to manage creative people (from someone who has managed creative people for years), here are my rebuttal tips – 

Eight Rules to Managing Creative People:

1.  Ask them what motivates them and then motivate them that way

2.  Create the best synergy possible by surrounding the best creatives with the best creatives and encourage competition as well as collaboration

3.  Don’t waste their time and talent on meaningless briefs

4.  Have real deadlines and accountability otherwise little will get created and/or you’ll lose their respect

5.  Pay creative people what they’re worth and then some knowing that creatives are in high demand and no two people are the same

6.  Make them feel important because they are

7.  Give them the opportunity to lead and encourage the growth of their leadership skills

8.  Treat Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s blog post as if it were written for The Onion 

To This Day Project – Animated Video with a Heart-Centered Message

When artists, designers, animators, and all the talented people who choose to work in advertising and graphic design come together to produce something like this…there aren’t words…

It’s human.  It’s real.  It’s beautiful.

To This Day Project

Spoken Word Poem by Shane Koyczan

Animation by Giant Ant

Full Credits



Publicly Venting on The Creative Confessional

What is the advertising industry about?

Over and over again (ad nauseum) I hear creatives say they want to “make cool shit.”  Awesome.  But what are some (maybe most) doing instead of dressing ponies in sweaters and creating krakens that kidnap right now? Whining.

Wait.  Hold on a minute.  I love advertising creatives.  I have the highest respect for great art directors, copywriters and graphic designers.  And I understand that some clients are hard to work with, some projects suck, and account managers will inevitably get on your nerves.  I get it- creatives need to vent.

But do they need to vent on The Creative Confessional for the world to see?  Many people already hate advertising; they hate what it’s about and the people who create it.  And yet, this week advertising professionals have aired the dirtiest of their laundry anonymously, yes, but publicly online.  Couldn’t that time venting and then reading others’ confessions be spent “making cool shit,” maybe?

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Sure, some of the posts are industry inside jokes.


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Yet, some creative confessions are downright depressing, hurtful or frightening.











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What do you think?  Is it all fun and games, or are we shooting ourselves (and the advertising industry) in the foot?  Is this creative confessional what it’s all about?

Are these posts what we want the advertising industry to be known for?


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Why Are Freelance Advertising Creatives Failing?

Why aren't freelance advertising creatives making the money their talent deserves? (photo credit: efffective.com)

Why aren’t freelance advertising creatives making the money their talent deserves? (photo credit: efffective.com)

Freelance advertising creatives – art directors, copywriters and graphic designers – have great potential but often fall short in creating and maintaining a successful advertising freelance business.  Getting enough clients to sustain a full-time, lucrative business is the main challenge.  CLIENTS = MONEY  Freelance creatives aren’t landing clients so they aren’t making money (or enough money to continue freelancing and maintain their lifestyle).

Why is that?  Why are many talented advertising creatives unable to make money as freelancers?

Because of their brains.  Some of the best creatives are much more creative-minded than business-minded, much more right-brained than left-brained.*


Because they don’t connect one on one.  While advertising art directors, copywriters and graphic designers have perfected the art of  connecting with the masses through, let’s say, a print ad, they aren’t experienced in generating client leads person by person.


Because they go straight for the jugular…I mean…sale.  It’s a rookie mistake to pitch your services to a potential client before understanding if the individual and/or business is even interested and if so, what their true needs are.  Imagine pitching a serious brochure when a business wants a funny microsite.  Now imagine overwhelming an individual with talk of social media, web banners and mobile apps when they haven’t the slightest idea of what they want their logo to look like.  Freelancers must understand a potential client’s needs and then communicate how as an advertising creative professional they can meet those needs.


Because they offer everything upfront.  Many creatives can do it all; they can create fully integrated campaigns and they can art direct and write.  Even if they can do everything, there are certain things they do better and enjoy doing more.  The freelancers that are having a harder time making money, are the ones who are offering everything upfront and not specializing.  Whether it’s designing packaging or writing radio scripts, freelancers who market themselves as an expert in an area are sought out by clients who need their expertise.  Once a freelancer is hired for what they’re known for, they can offer the client everything else.  For instance, a designer who is hired because of their specialty with packaging can also recommend he or she designs the business cards, brochures, print ads, landing pages, etc., in the same look and feel.


Because they don’t target their ideal clients.  Ideal clients are the individuals or businesses that the freelancer is genuinely interested in and THAT HAVE THE MONEY TO PAY the freelancer.  As an advertising creative career coach, I primarily coach and consult senior- to executive-level creatives.  While I have a soft spot for helping students and juniors (and I do as much as possible), younger creatives aren’t my target audience. As a business owner, I must market to those who can afford the services I provide.  And currently, more than half of my clients freelance or own their own businesses, which I work with them to grow.

OR many talented advertising creatives are unable to make money as freelancers…

Because they don’t follow up.  Freelance creatives aren’t politely persistent – calling, e-mailing, stopping by in person, etc. – until they get a yes or a no.

As a freelancer, which of these is holding you back?  Post it in the comments below.

The good news is that while inherent creativity can’t be learned, business and sales skills can be learned.  Freelance creatives can succeed if they invest more of themselves in learning that left-brain, business side.


(*Side note: I am almost equally right-brained and left-brained. My creative side is a notch above my business side. Both sides came in handy when I was managing the creative department at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, and now both benefit my clients as I coach and consult them to get unstuck, reach their goals and finally feel satisfied.)