Advice for Young Creatives in Marketing — Finding a Balance
If I Knew Then What I Know Now
Part III: The tough questions — advice on finding balance, from our own chief creative officer, Susan Britton
We’ve spent the week asking our chief creative officer, Susan Britton, everything we’ve always wanted to know: how she got to where she is and what she’s learned along the way. In this last installment with her, we ask her some of the toughest questions. In the end, she says, it all comes down to balance. (If you need to catch up, click to access “Part I: Advice for Young Creatives in Marketing” and “Part II: Creative Process and Leadership.”)
Q: While you were building your career, you were also raising a young family. How did you balance the two?
A: I personally have never met a woman passionate about her work who felt completely “successful” at both. You want to give them both everything you’ve got, but you only have 24 hours a day to do it. I often taught art classes at the kids’ school, so I could be a part of their lives, when the school system couldn’t afford “extracurricular” classes that I saw as core to education. At one point I asked for two half days off a week for a couple of years to bring some work-life balance. The furniture company could afford to have me do that for a time, thankfully. It does not always work, depending on your role. We have to accept what responsibilities we accept.
“‘Diplomacy is the art of letting someone have it your way.’ It’s all about the words you choose in your communications.”
When we were home and we were together, we tried to make everyday events more memorable. One of our favorites was to put Meghan and Andrew to bed, and then, after 20 minutes, run in and flip on the light and announce it was a “Night-light Night!” Everyone then got in the car in their pajamas, and we went through a drive-through to get junk food or an ice cream “Dream Cloud” at the local dairy hut, put on oldies music really loud, and just drove around for a while. It was cheap and it was fun. In the end, it is always just a balancing act, and you just have to accept that it is a weekly series of decisions, making adjustments, bringing more balance here or there. Schedules are never even on either end. You make do and try to have fun in the middle of it.
Q: As young women, we often hear about regrets. “You’ll never regret asking for a raise.” “You’ll never regret starting your own 401(k).” “You’ll never regret spending time with your children.” What are some of your biggest regrets?
A: Most of my life I’ve spent trying to live it without regrets, but I do have some, as we all do. One of the big ones I can think of is not speaking up for myself earlier in my career. As a woman, as an introvert, and having been taught to listen and obey in my parochial upbringing, these issues worked collectively against my ability to defend my views. Don’t get me wrong, businesses are not democracies; sometimes we have to just listen and obey, but we should also defend our ideas if we believe in them. That gains you respect even if the boss disagrees with you. Companies need you to contribute your best ideas in order to grow collectively.
“We have to accept what responsibilities we accept.”
I eventually leveraged my empathic nature again, to put myself in my opposition’s shoes and come at a controversial conversation from their pain point, first, so they knew I understood their struggle. Then I explained why my approach might work to be a great solution. I love the quote “Diplomacy is the art of letting someone have it your way.” It’s all about the words you choose in your communications.
One habit I developed is this: When writing emails it is easy to say I think we should …, I think it is best …, I disagree …, etc. But before you send it, go through your email and replace (where appropriate) the “I’s” with “we’s” (e.g., Perhaps we should consider …), realizing the recipient doesn’t care if it is your idea or what you think. If it is all about you, it gets in the way of solving the collective problem.
“You may not always love the work at the beginning of your career, but you are building character and equity, which will naturally lead to greater opportunities.”
About regrets, here is one we avoided. After losing a son at 7 years old to an accident, Jeff and I were gratified to realize that while Andrew’s life was short, we did not have any regrets. We had squeezed in a lot of fun in that time we had with him. We do often say to our team members, when home issues call, “Go, go, go. You will never regret spending more time with your kids or your family, but you might have regrets spending too much time at the office.” Jeff and I, having worked for other companies, always had an aspirational goal: When we started Britton we wanted our team members to have a life beyond work. That is, after all, what we all work for — our families. It is easier said than done, of course, for two reasons. First, if you hire passionate people, they just love their work and will work all hours to get it to the right point of excellence. And secondly, the work doesn’t come in evenly. We try to keep some overcapacity to ensure a more balanced work life. It’s a goal, and a constant balancing act, but it beats trying to squeeze every last drop out of the people that work for you. Plus, in a perfectly selfish sense, rested people do better work, so we try to plan for overcapacity. We are less profitable, but in the end, when you come to the end of your life, it is not about how much money you made but about how you treated the people God entrusted you with.
Q: What would be your top three pieces of advice for young creatives — in particular, young female creatives?
A: First, work your butt off. No one was ever fired from doing what no one else wanted to do. You may not always love the work at the beginning of your career, but you are building character and equity, which will naturally lead to greater opportunities. It will teach you what kind of leader you eventually want to be, or even that you don’t want to be a lead person and that your personality is more comfortable in that of a support role. Allow yourself to be used a little. One day you will need help and assistants to achieve your goals too, and young team members must bring that support. As a woman, you will have to work harder to prove your worth. That is just the reality. In our company, it is not quite the same, obviously, but in our case we have to be careful to not discriminate against the men in our firm. Their opinion is just as valid. It may be just different, but balance is a good thing too.
“In the end, what matters is that we work hard enough to feel pride in our work expression and balance those demands, the crazy schedules, with real life.”
Second, know that if you really listen, you will learn something from everyone you meet and every project you do, particularly people with a different viewpoint. I have noticed that young staff often want to be heard, but when you are starting your career, the best thing you can do is watch, listen and learn. Join in brainstorms, yes, but really listen more.
Emulate. If you love what a senior creative does, watch them closely and figure out how they are doing it. When I was the marketing manager and creative director at Vera Bradley, I was looking for an art director to help me. What I found was a photo-art director who was much more talented than me. I was tempted to just find someone to complement me, so she didn’t show me up, but that would not have served the growth of the business, so I hired her, and guess what. We are still working together today, and I learned so much from her that I am a much better designer than I ever could have been if I had not had her beautiful influence.
Other than that, I suggest you use the golden rules we talked about earlier, such as trust and positivity, because you can then live your life fully, creatively and without regrets. I think women are especially capable of working collaboratively and empathically, which can add depth to the way we experience our daily work.
In the end, what matters is that we work hard enough to feel pride in our work expression and balance those demands, the crazy schedules, with real life. It all needs to add up to one great answer at the end of our life.
David Brooks said we have two selves: “the self who craves success, who builds a résumé, and the self who seeks connection, community, love — the values that make for a great eulogy.”
Balance is important, but one has to dominate, so which one will it be?
Thus concludes our first three-part series focusing on advice for young creatives in marketing. If you missed the first two parts, you can access them here:
Part I: Advice for Young Creatives in Marketing
Part II: Creative Process and Leadership