Evelyn Hernandez

So You Want to Be an Art Director Part I: Evelyn Hernandez

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I tend to have a bias to write about copywriters. Mostly, because I’m one and I think we’re pretty freakin’ awesome. But I’m aware we’re only one part of making a creative department function. So in effort to not keep the aspiring and budding art directors hanging, I’ve wrangled a few of my creative buddies to see what life’s like from their perspective.

First up, we have the very talented Junior Art Director at Geometry Global, Evelyn Hernandez.

Black Coffee Creatives: What’s your background and how has it helped you succeed thus far?

Evelyn Hernandez: I’m a Chicago native. I went to Parson School for Design in New York and I studied Design & Management which is a major that combines business and design thinking. It’s kind of a buzz phrase, but what it meant was taking the problem solving creativity you use in design and applying it to problems that aren’t traditionally thought of as design problems. It forced us to realize that it all really is design, from how a McDonald’s drive through works to the train you ride. That mentality really helped me value my skill set as more than just someone to make pretty things; that’s antiquated and as designers you have to want more.

BCC: Let’s take a step back further, what first attracted you to the advertising industry?

EH: I think I always wanted to be an artist, but having immigrant parents and knowing the sacrifices they made so that I could have a better life, it brought practicality to the forefront for me. When I found out advertising was an industry with careers, like once it clicked that it’s someone’s job to do this, I feel like my life clicked as well.

BCC: How did you break into the industry and what was your first gig like?

EH: Have I broken in? When I left for school, I knew I had to work because going off to New York City was my choice, and I wanted to be responsible for it financially as much as I could. So my first year out I worked in the dorm in the front office. The dorm director promised me the job the following school year, but when I returned she had already hired other people. Low key, she was kind of shady and made no point of concealing how unhappy she was in her new job so she’d try to start up problems just to have stories to tell. I think she thought I was going to flip, but honestly I want to thank her now. It was such an easy, chill job that if she had given it to me, I would’ve never pushed myself to find something that would help me build a career because the minute she was like “oh, j/k I hired someone an hour ago,” I sat my ass down on a computer and applied to a bunch of marketing jobs. I ended up interning at the east coast version of Panera, but what made me legit was three months in my boss left, so I had to become the marketing manager. That role means different things depending on where you work, but at that company it meant I was responsible for anything that was remotely marketing— the design, the wording, awarding production bids, scheduling material delivery, etc. This is a very long-winded way to say that being a 19-year-old marketing manager at a major food chain in New York is what I consider to be my break.  Not just because it looked flashy on a resume, but because it shook me into realizing I could actually do this thing.

BCC: For many aspiring ADs, putting together a book can cause a lot of professional anxiety. What did you do to prepare your portfolio?

EH: I was lucky because Parsons has a designated portfolio class for almost every major around senior year. That isn’t exactly the portfolio I use now, but it forced me to organize all the crap I’d made and realize that there needed to be a story. My professor made such a good point of saying, “these people will get tons of sites and books with cool work, but even amazing pieces of art are forgotten if there’s no substance.” So because my major was pretty eclectic in that I wasn’t just a painter or a fashion designer who had a capsule to show, I had to figure out how to frame it. Which is cool, because now I have my buckets and I have the narrative, I’ll just go back and plop new stuff or cull the old. I know the argument for reinvention, but I think you need to have a solid structure to pile crazy onto.

BCC: What are qualities that you believe showcases what it takes to succeed in advertising?

EH: You have to be fearless and adaptable. You have to have good taste and you have to have instincts and know how to trust them. Creative obviously, but being able to advocate for an idea.

BCC: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

EH: There are two pieces of great advice: Be polite because your mother taught you, but also because it’s good business. My Business of Screenwriting teacher, Doug Tirola, said that to us on our last day. Being polite meaning don’t be haughty or dismissive to anyone that you haven’t actually interacted with.

The other comes in handy whenever I start doubting my choices, my fairy godmother Carol Overby always says, “what would a man do?”

BCC: As we all know we have to be creative on demand, which can be quite the challenge at times. What helps you in getting creativity to strike?

EH: I think first you have to surrender to the idea that you can’t just make it strike. It’s like any other skill because the more you use it and get those synapses firing, the more you can roll with it. And yeah, you’re going to get stuck on a few things, but then you pivot and you start thinking about something unrelated. The point is to keep yourself moving because what you shouldn’t do is “take a break.” It never works the way you think it will because nothing will just hit you and then when you want to get back at it you’re not going to be able to get yourself fired up again.

BCC: It’s my philosophy that while we aim to make our work as creative as possible, we make ads, not art. How do you feed your need to without boundaries (and client reviews)?

EH: Social media. Kidding, but kind of. I’ll find myself making things whether it’s lettering a silly phrase in a fancy manner or editing a picture for a joke to post on like tumblr or something. They’re like little creative hiccups when the energy or idea has no where to really live? It sounds super trivial, but I like knowing I can produce independent of duty.

BCC: As juniors, we’re still in the process of learning and have a bit more wiggle room to make mistakes. How did you recover from you biggest professional mistake?

EH: I think I replied all on an email and like mentioned an in joke which did not read well to everyone else. I just didn’t bring it up, but I made sure that for the rest of the project my work was air tight and that I was early on deadlines.

BCC: What advice would you give to aspiring art directors?

EH: I think what I’ve seen a lot of people struggle with is speaking up. It baffles me because for better or worse I’ve never had reservations about throwing my ideas out there because honestly, what’s the worst that can happen? It’s a bad idea, or people laugh? Cool, laugh with them because you probably also realized how silly it sounded once you said it out loud, or if you really believe in it, fight for it and show that you do have passion for your work. I also think that as art people, we’re usually sequestered into “come in at the end and make this pretty.” That’s bullshit, because like I was taught in school, it’s ALL design and our design thinking is often the secret sauce that’s missing.

5 Things I Learned from My Mentor

My mentor is bomb. She has a quiet, calm energy that commands a room, with a dash of gangster. From the day I met her she’s been a great advocate, and ever since I’ve always been appreciative of her willingness to drop a little knowledge on a youngin’.

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I’m a selfish mentee, and I’m not ready to share her just yet. But I will impart some of her wisdom and hope it serves you as much as it has served me.

Don’t Be Emotional

As much as I try to deny it, I have feelings. And as a woman in the industry, exposing too many feelings in a male dominated field can be seen as being too sensitive or weak. When I approached my mentor about defending work without coming off as something that rhymes with twitch emotional, she coolly shrugged her shoulders and said, they’re going think it anyway. But whatever feelings you show they cannot deny facts. Come with data that supports your work, idea, creative—and there’s no way your emotions will get in the way.

Get Your Coins

Money isn’t everything, but you gotta eat. The first time I had to negotiate my salary, I was afraid I was going to fired. I can’t remember the exact phrasing, but it boiled down to: Do you really want to stay at a place that doesn’t value you? I’m usually pretty quick, but I didn’t have a snappy comeback.  So when the time came to negotiate,  I was confident in my skills knowing that if they valued me as an employee I’d be compensated fairly.

On that note, she also advised not to get crazy with the ask. Research industry standard in your city, while equally evaluating what value you add to the agency.

Watch Your Back

Office politics are probably trickier than actual politics. Sooner that later, there’ll be a bus you can find yourself under. Sometimes it’s stemmed from jealousy, others self-preservation. And unfortunately, sometimes people can be straight up assholes. It’s life.

Though #TeamPetty seems to be the wave, it’s much more advantageous to take the high road. She showed by example that grace, talent and hard work will get you in more doors than burning bridges ever will.

Ask For What You Want

ECD. EVP. SVP. Don’t let those three letters scare you. My mentor encouraged me to introduce myself to leadership and ask for what I needed to succeed in the office. If you need training, ask for it. If you want to help on a project, ask for it. If you need the day off, ask for it. The worst thing that’ll happen is that they’ll say no.

Get Away from Ad Folks

By trade my mentor is an art director. At heart, she’s a really talented artist. At the start of my career I got so swept up in meeting the right ad people and making the right connections that I probably missed out on some valuable friendships and opportunities. There are really smart, talented and creative people who have nothing to do with the industry. And honestly, it’s refreshing to have a conversation that’s not full of buzzwords and acronyms.

Do you have a mentor? What’s their best piece of advice they’ve given you?

Why I Stopped Putting Work First

Back in my intern days, I did everything I could to prove I deserved my seat in the creative department.

Need me to come in early or stay late? There. Work on holidays? Done. Cancel my birthday? Pssh, I have one every year. Donate my liver? They grow back, right? Dad dies in the middle of a pitch? I’ll be there in the morning.

It’s true, the day after my father passed away I went to work. I wanted to prove how dedicated I was. Every book, every blog, every panel reiterates how competitive the industry is and how there are hundreds of other equally talented people waiting to take your spot. So my philosophy was you could be smarter, faster, creativer but I would not be outworked.

In the midst of my grieving I was attending briefings. A week later my grandmother passed away. Still I wouldn’t be outworked.

Then my cousin passed.

Then my cousin was murdered.

Then I set boundaries.

It’s been said that the M-F, 9-5 life doesn’t exist in advertising. That, especially early in your career, you have to make many social sacrifices to climb the ranks. Miss family dinners. Cut vacations short. Sell concert tickets. Send apology texts for cancelling again on significant others, friends, family, doctors, etc.

That’s bullshit.

I know last week I said that you’ll push yourself and make sacrifices, it’s true. I’ve simply traded open availability to flexibility. There are things work can’t touch and you shouldn’t feel shamed, pressured or inadequate for setting those boundaries for when you are out of office.

I unplug. I put my phone on Do Not Disturb. I make things that aren’t for sell. I see shows. I create for fun. I talk to people who love me. I explore. I read. I write. I sleep. I breath. I live. Fully.

A creative who’s able to wholly experience life and its pleasures will produce far more interesting work than those who do not. And you get to decide which pieces of your human experience gives you that freedom to enjoy our brief time here.

These days, I don’t cast my net as wide. My work is still immensely important to me, but it doesn’t come first. I see how rewarding advertising can be, but I’ve also seen how quickly life and it can disappear.

I’m almost certain many Boomers and Gen Xers will disagree and I’m up for discussion. But you have to hit me up before 11pm, that’s when I turn my phone off 🙃.

 

Can Anyone Be A Creative?

Back in college, my pre-law and pre-med roomies would often see me watching TV or reading magazines or heading to movies as part of homework assignments, often followed by “this is your homework?! Anybody can do that.” Honestly I think they were just jealous my homework didn’t seem as much like a chore.

Since my college days, my friends and family think all I do is read magazines and watch TV. More fun than “real work.” Granted, we’re not saving any lives in agencies, but advertising is hard.

Being creative on demand is hard.

Advertising is exciting. It’s alluring. It’s glitzy and glamorous. But some days…

lord-please-help-me-get-through-this-briefing

If you’re from the train of thought that you want to get into advertising because it’s fun, it’s easy, it’s not “real work,” sorry to be the bearer of bad news. You’re probably not cut out to be a creative.

But if you’re ready to hone your skills, work hard and have a smidgen of talent, you might have the chops.

Our job is to create work that not only moves people, but moves product. And sometimes you struggle to do both.

Sometimes you get the brief and you can’t connect the dots.

Sometimes you come up with your best idea and your CD says “push this one further.”

Being creative is hard.

And it’s not the creative work at Cannes. It’s not the stuff you see on TV or on billboards. It’s banners. It’s decks. It’s resizing images and revising headlines. And sometimes it’s boring. Then a project lands in your inbox that makes swimming in decks and cancelling your dinner plans with you BFF for the fourth time this week worth it.

And the baby project that feels all worth it will torment you. You’ll think you’re a hack. You’ll log many hours. You’ll think you’re brilliant and the next think you’re trash. You’ll lose sleep. You’ll push yourself to your wit’s end. This is the adlife we don’t talk about on agency tours and campus visits.

I don’t write this to scare you. This is the industry. And as interns or juniors the glitz and glamour and truckloads of cash comes way down the road. If you’re not an adgeek this might seem like torture. But the first time you see your work live makes it all worth it.

So for the big question — can anybody be a creative? Half the people who read this will be turned off from the industry. The rest of you? Welcome to the club.

Now let’s get back to work.

Happy Chrismahanukwanzakah

You’ve worked hard this year, so I hope you have a great break whatever you’re celebrating this season. I know I will. Chill with family and friends, maybe a drink or two. And maybe sign out of your work email?

I’m taking a break out the country, so there’ll be no new posts until January. But never fear, here are some of my favorites to last you until 2017:

Moving Forward from the Most Racist Ad of All Time

What it Feels Like to be Laid Off (and how to bounce back)

What Makes a Good Partner and How to Find One

4 Personal Must Ask Questions for Novice Networkers

You Get What You Don’t Ask For

You Get What You Don’t Ask For

I know that’s not how the saying goes, but I find it truer. It’s when we fail to speak up, that we’re inundated with all the everything unimaginable:

  • A desk full of boring projects.
  • Passed over for new opportunities.
  • The box of pens that always run out of ink during meetings.
  • Seated next to the ~eccentric~ art director who clips his toenails at his desk.

Many of us are afraid to ask for things. Even as the “Entitled Millennial Generation” (major eye-roll) there’s a fear of rejection, especially from those we respect or admire, that hinders us from asking for what we really want and accepting what’s simply given to us.

At some point you’ve experienced a form of rejection – maybe you were turned down for a job/internship, weren’t put on the project you wanted, or your crush broke your heart. While those experiences don’t feel good, you’re still out here making moves and thriving.

Part of taking control of your career is communicating the different ways you work and learn to your team and superiors. Not doing so takes you out of the driver seat of your career and gives the wheel to everyone else. You may work better with a regular meeting about your performance or want more training in your field or something as simple as a new computer mouse. If no one knows what you need to grow, you’ll get everything except what you really want.

yes-thats-what-i-want

Now, you won’t always get what you ask for, but what you want and need to help you grow in your career will be out in the ad-universe. You’ll still hear no and if you’re anything like me you’ll hear it often, but I take comfort in knowing that if I don’t get exactly what I asked for, I’ll usually get something comparable that enables me to work and learn the way I need. Remember, your team and superiors want to help you succeed; because when you do, the agency succeeds.

What it Feels Like to be Laid Off (and How to Bounce Back)

lay off

I debated writing about this topic for a while. I had reservations on if it was too personal or unprofessional. But I remembered my goal for Black Coffee Creatives was to provide honest advice and insights to the industry for youngsters like myself.  After weeks of personal torment here is my confession: I was laid off.

Out of respect to my former company and colleagues I’ll keep details minimal. And at this point the “why” isn’t as important as the “what’s next.”

When I lost my job in December, I wasn’t surprised. Our company was evolving and evolution requires uncomfortable change. Those changes were various roles across offices. Even though I’d noticed change happening, officially receiving the news is always hard.

As a young creative, it’s an experience I wasn’t expecting; especially so early in my career. I’ve glossed over AgencySpy enough to see that isn’t an uncommon incident. Layoffs happen—clients switch agencies, budgets change, companies downsize. For whatever the reason, it’s part of the business. But no matter which side of the table you sit, it isn’t a fun experience for anyone.

If you ever find yourself on the receiving end of this predicament, here are some lessons I’ve learned.

Don’t Take it Personally

justbusiness

Losing your job is a definite blow to your ego. I won’t lie. However, it is not a reflection of your work, talent or performance. As I mentioned before, it happens. You can either feel bad about it (which is a completely understandable and normal reaction) or you can use what you’ve learned from your previous employer and use it to propel you forward.

Which brings me to my next point…

Sharpen Your Skills

You will have free time. Maybe a few weeks. Maybe a few months. It’s easy to fall into a routine of lounging about watching bad daytime TV. Don’t forget to feed your brain. Do more of what inspires you. If you’re a designer, design. If you’re a writer, write. Go see speakers and participate in workshops. Read books. Start a new project. Keep up with the trades.

Advertising is a fast-moving business so you want to make sure you’re making the most of your time off.

Make a plan

If possible, have an exit strategy. Before I received my news, I’d initiated conversations with mentors on how to navigate this situation and began to make connections that has allowed me to freelance during this career transition.

If there was no time to plan and your layoff blindsided you, evaluate your skills. Update your resume and portfolio. Make a list of things you want in an agency and really be honest on what you’ll be able to bring to your dream job. And as always get your face out there and network.

Resist the Urge to Ball

money

I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t bring up money. It will be tight. Knowing where you stand financially will give you less things to stress about when the first of the month rolls around.

Sometimes your friends will want to go out for drinks and you’ll have to decline. Assess your monthly budget and cut back where you can. Figure out how long you have to look for a job and make sure you give yourself ample time to find one.

Take Care of Yourself

The key to bouncing back mostly stems from your well-being. Don’t forget to eat, sleep, get some sunshine and surround yourself with good people. Staying positive about your future is vital for your creativity, job hunt and your mental health.

I’ve taken this whole layoff situation as a learning experience. Hopefully I’ve learned enough for a lifetime and won’t have to go through this again, but I can appreciate the time it gives to reflect on career needs and goals. This career hiccup isn’t the end-all, be-all. So if you find yourself in the same situation remember there will always be other jobs.

What Makes a Good Partner and How to Find One

A few days ago marked mine and my partner’s anniversary.  I don’t know if she remembers…or if we should exchange gifts.

Not Every art director and copywriter  becomes “official.” From what I’ve observed ride or die creative teams are becoming less common. While I’ve worked with my share of art directors and copywriters, I always come back to old faithful.
dj_khaled_loyal
My partner and I met in the basement of a bar – I promise it was at a networking event. We were both looking to get into the industry, she had just graduated from portfolio school, I on the other hand was bagging groceries at Whole Foods. We chatted for a bit, exchanged information and sent really awkward emails.
Awkard_AF
Fast forward a couple of weeks later and the next time we see each other is in the lobby of our internship.

Finding a partner won’t always be this easy. In fact, before my current partner I’d been taking out Craigslist ads and sending Twitter S.O.S’ searching high and low for someone to create spec work with. I was lucky to bump into Ariel.

Having a creative partner is very much like dating. You’ll learn each others weird, creepy habits. You’ll develop a comfort level where you’re able to share your off-the-wall ideas and not care if they think you’re batshit crazy. You will challenge them and they’ll tell you when your idea sucks. They’re there to help you defend ideas and have silent conversations with in status meetings. And they’re there to support your cool, non-work-related projects.

Personally, having a creative partner is lit.

The best advice I can give on finding a creative partner is networking and looking within your circle. Look at people you  work with, even if it isn’t in your desired field.  At Whole Foods I worked with so many artists, writers, designers and even passed my business card along to a few customers. I just so happen to meet my partner through an organization where we were both members. Consider joining a group or club (AAF has tons of local chapters) where you can meet interesting people if your network is small.

You’ve connected someone who wants to create some awesome stuff, how do you know it’s a good match? Again, like dating, you have to get to know each other.  Even if it’s a friend you want to work with,  you may have dissimilar work ethics and professional goals. Having different life philosophies and outlooks are fine, and even encouraged, as they’ll challenge you creatively; but a good creative partner will want to achieve the same goals.

Alright, you’ve found your creative soul mate the only thing left to do is get to work!

P.S. the best thing about creative partners vs IRL partners,  open relationships aren’t taboo. So feel free to switch around and mix it up.

4 Personal Must Ask Questions For Novice Networkers

My greatest mistake I made at the beginning of my career was not networking. I absolutely hated it and avoided it at all costs. As a self-proclaimed introvert, going out and meeting new people can be exhausting.  And industry events always felt as authentic as Sunday brunch on your local Love and Hip-Hop.

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Hate it or love it, networking can make or break your career. But I promise, once you start putting it into practice it’s not nearly as painful as it is in your head. Here’s some questions to ask yourself as you  sharpen those networking skills.

Who are your friends?

The first and easiest place to look when starting to network is people you know. You already have a rolodex (right next to your fax machine) full of friends, coworkers, professors, and family. You’d be surprised at the amount of talent among the people you talk to on regularly. Those are the ones that can help you execute a project, introduce you to other connections and get a job.

What you makes you so special?

You’ve identified the people and their awesome skills you’d love to work with – but what’s in it for them? What type of value can you offer for their goals? The main goal of networking is to create mutually beneficial relationships.

As a novice in the industry you make be thinking that you don’t have enough experience or know-how to to help anyone, but remember your point-of-view is a powerful thing. As creatives, we’re able to see the world differently and sometimes simply offering your unique perspective can help someone solve a problem.

What do you need?

If you were to meet the perfect person to add to your professional network, what steps would they need to take to help you reach your goal? Would it be an introduction to someone else? Advice? Feedback on project?

I’ve noticed that people are more inclined to help those with a plan. It’s wise, not to go into networking situations blind. Map out the people you want to meet. Map out the questions you need answers to. Make it easy for your connection to help you. Then in return, always revisit question #2.

Is this a genuine connection?

Using people is not ok. While I’m not saying every connection is going to spearhead into best-bud-city, you want to connect with people who you at least like.  Talking to people you feel comfortable with, especially if one of you needs a favor, will take the pain and awkwardness out of the whole ordeal.

Now go forth and network!