How do you know when you’ve really, and I mean really, made it in advertising?
When people who don’t work in advertising know who you are.
I reckon Susan Credle has reached that level of influence. Whenever I’ve found myself in the same room as her at conferences, events or in the Chicago office, she radiates a palpable energy. Her honors, awards and distinctions speak for themselves, but at the end of the day, what really counts is her incredible portfolio of work.
M&Ms, Allstate, Mean Stinks—one of these campaigns would be a legacy to be proud of, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the Global CCO of FCB.
Needless to say, you don’t reach such heights without a journey, and along that journey, Susan has picked up her fair share of advice nuggets. Recently, she took to Fishbowl to lead one of the most engaged Q&As of the year. Here are just a few of the highlights.
1. Hunt the opportunity.
Susan’s story began as a receptionist at BBDO, a far-cry from Global CCO. When asked about the transition, she recollects ceaselessly sniffing out opportunities and reminds us how worthwhile it can be to take pride in what we do.
Art Director — Is it still possible to work your way up from a receptionist or similar level position towards CD, ECD etc?
Susan Credle — I’m going to have to say yes. But it’s on you. No one at BBDO was managing me or looking out for my career. Have a plan. I promoted my assistant at BBDO to copywriter. He’s doing pretty well last time I checked! Have a plan. When I was a receptionist, I turned BBDO into my university. I did informative interviews with every head of every department. When I decided I wanted to go down the creative route, I looked for a secretarial job on the creative floor. I found one where all the people were Art Directors. I asked if I could help write headlines for them. I asked a CD if I could sit on creative meetings if I was free, could I play with briefs. I worked overtime typing for other CDs. I got to see how they worked creatively. I immersed myself in the job. I got to know the younger creatives who often wanted to help me. In fact that was who told me to go for the junior writer’s job. And when I got it, I worked so hard to prove they hadn’t made a mistake. Putting in the time and being smart about where to put in the time helped a lot. I was also patient.
Senior Art Director – What advice would you give your receptionist self today?
Susan Credle – I’m pretty proud of my time as a receptionist. I had fun and felt I was representing BBDO. I was the first impression whether I was greeting someone or answering a call. I gave it my best. I’d probably tell myself not to be so hard on myself. Especially as I moved up to a copywriter, I was terribly afraid to show any idea that I didn’t feel was great. I needed to learn that bad ideas can lead to great ones. Getting a little messy sometimes is the best way to get to great creative.
2. Be intense, be passionate but most of all—be smart.
Work/Life balance feels like it can be an unsolvable problem in this industry. As the global solver of problems, Susan gives her two cents. Passion? Yes, but not to the point of exhaustion. If everyone up the ladder works smart, weekend work suddenly looks a lot less likely.
Associate Creative Director — Do you feel the ad industry could do better at work/life balance? It feels like the only way to grow at some companies is to sacrifice your personal life.
Susan Credle — Sometimes, I think it is about working smarter. As a creative, I never really found myself “off.” It’s what makes this career exciting and exhausting. I’m not sure it’s easy to find work life balance day to day. But I do think we can do a better job of letting people step away. I tried/try very hard never to disturb people on vacation. I want them coming back rested. As a manager, I felt if my team was working every weekend, I was failing them. I also think we need to rethink scope. I’m not sure we are putting enough resources against the work we are promising to deliver. I did put my career as a top priority. I felt privileged to work in this industry and wanted to be an asset, not just collect a paycheck. I have found that this is a passion job. The more you love it, the more successful you will be.
PVH Corp — How do you create work life balance for your creatives within the flow of the work that needs to be done?
Susan Credle — I might be one level above being able to answer this correctly as CCOs are my direct reports. I respect the FCB CCOs. It’s important for me to make sure they understand that taking time off is important and they aren’t looked down on for having priorities other than FCB. It’s also okay for them to raise their hand for help. That being said, I know they all work a ton and we must continue to figure out how to manage time on and time off. As I said in another post…this probably isn’t day to day as our business requires intense participation at certain times. But it is about being smart about when to take a break and taking it. This means your partners might have to have your back sometimes and you need to make sure you are building a team underneath you that you can trust to take more of lead. I’ve always said test your legacy one week at a time. If you can’t leave the office for one week without everything falling apart, that’s not a good sign. Autonomy and delegation are a balanced-life person’s best friends.
3. Respect, trust and most of all, transparency.
Transparency is important for wellbeing in any workplace, but in an industry where we rely on communication so intrinsically, it’s vital. Like most qualities, if we see transparency at the top, we’ll see it throughout the industry – here’s how Susan thinks we can get there.
Associate Creative Director — Susan, you have a reputation for promoting transparency in the workplace. How do we get our leaders to be more open to having *real* conversations?
Susan Credle — A lot of people aren’t transparent because they are scared. They don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable. The art of delivering the truth comes with practice. I think I started to develop this skill by going out to lunch with my leaders. David Lubars was a great help at showing me how to be transparent. He was very willing to have real conversations. And he would ask me questions and show some vulnerability. It made me trust and respect him very much.
4. Laugh like your job depends on it.
Naturally, everyone wanted to know what Susan’s secret weapon is. How do you rise through the ranks without crumpling up into an angsty ball of jaded advertising sadness? Well it turns out, it’s pretty simple – just laugh.
Creative Director — Susan, I admire your experience and resilience. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have the stamina to move up the ranks. What kept you engaged in your career?
Susan Credle — Resilience is a great word. I assume in any career one has moments of doubt. Is this worth it? Does it matter? But then you find answers to those questions and you jump back in. I always said if I went 10 working days in a row without laughing, I would quit this business. 35 years later I still haven’t made it to 10. I also have a husband who talks me through the low points and reminds me how much I have gotten out of this career.
5. Dream big—great work is never finished.
Be like the Tour de France, not in a controversial blood-doping way, but in our creative ambition – that’s Susan’s biggest piece of advice. If agencies, clients and individuals collectively dream bigger, we can create world changing work.
Wunderman Thompson — If you could change one thing about this industry what would it be?
Susan Credle — I wish we were dreaming bigger. There was a bike shop in France that years ago started a bicycle race to promote the store. Today we call it Tour de France. How big are your dreams or your clients?
Speaking of individuals, what better way to end this roundup than with Susan’s three favorite creative personality traits:
Senior Art Director — What do people who you respect creatively have in common?
Susan Credle — They are smart and stimulating to be around. They are forever curious. They are never quite satisfied. “Never Finished” as we say at FCB.
Be stimulating, be curious, and never be finished.