By The Denver Egotist / /
The state of Indiana draws racing fans to the famed Indianapolis 500, produces 90% of the world’s popcorn, and houses The Dan Quayle Center in Huntington. The Hoosier State also hides a spectacular creative mind whose agency defies conventions and the hurdles of being in a smaller Midwest city. Meet Carolyn Hadlock here, and then meet her in person at The Denver Post Auditorium on Thursday, April 13 at 6PM as part of the Ad Club Speaker Series.
The best creatives started their careers pursuing something far, far away from advertising. Same camp?
Of course! Wasn’t advertising a default career anyways?
I started out as a nursing major at IU Bloomington simply because I hated math and refused to take speech because of stage fright. (I know. Ironic.) But when it came time to attend the actual school of nursing, I panicked.
I was an average student who hated seeing people in pain. After traipsing from school to school, graphic design became my passion. My junior year, I enrolled in the Fine Art School. Unbeknownst to me, the program eliminated people at the end of each year. Which meant one year later, my social security number was posted on the list of students who didn’t make the cut. 0 for 2. Indignant, I asked my professor for a play-by-play explanation of my book and why the pieces didn’t make it. He closed my portfolio, slid it across the desk and said, “You have no talent and you’re wasting your parent’s money.”
I transferred to a proper art school, started over and am still the only 7-year undergrad I know. It was an early lesson in not letting other people define your talent.
Talent you have now shown at Young & Laramore for 25 years. Wow. That’s a quarter of a century. In an industry where loyalty is a rare thing, what’s kept you at Y&L all these years?
It’s almost embarrassing to stay someplace so long. But it hasn’t been the same place and I’m definitely not the same person I was when I first started.
This place (Young & Laramore) was started by a poet and a painter. When I first met David (the poet), he was laying on the ground under a table on his back drawing on the underside of the table while on a conference call. I remember my first thought was, “no one is ever going to see that illustration.” That was a normal occurrence. Starting at a place that was founded by creatives wrecked me for working for an account run place. We’ve balanced out over the years, and now are co-run by strategy and creative. I’ve worked with our chief strategist for 20+ years and my CDs for 10 years. The beautiful thing is there’s very little overlap between us, so as a unit we’re pretty unbeatable. Whenever I go judge shows or speak, I’m always the one with the best job at the dinner table. I always tell people, recognize a good thing and hang on tight. That’s been me for twenty years.
So what energizes you to keep the wheels churning there?
I think the better question is what energizes me to keep the wheels churning. Being here is a given. I’ve always been lucky to not feel the need to create the work/life balance. Leading a creative existence means making everything a creative act. Making a latte at home or shooting a spot for a client, they’re all equal opportunities to make something great.
Let’s talk talent. What is the secret sauce to attracting good people to Indianapolis and Young & Laramore?
Boy, that’s the hardest thing about my job. Being a single location, independent agency off the beaten path isn’t the catnip for others that it was for me. I think our secret sauce is that two artists started an ad agency with no idea of what an ad agency was supposed to be. We got it right by not knowing any damn better. And it works. We’re pretty non linear in our working method, which isn’t for everyone. But those who love it, love it.
I always start out my presentations saying we live in an old schoolhouse nowhere near an ocean. That said, we have attracted talent from all over the country. There are a few of us who are homegrown (like me) but many come from other places and states. Indianapolis has also come a long way in the past few years. We are starting to get a good reputation in the foodie scene. Many chefs from NY, SF and LA want to stand out, so they move here. While we’re known for basketball, and as flyover country, there are a lot of entrepreneurs here because it’s a good city to live in. I always say we have it the best because we do productions in LA and NY, but we live in Indianapolis. Win Win.
One of the things that I think stands out the most about us too is the people who leave and say they have never found a place like Y&L. We celebrated our 30th anniversary two years ago and invited everyone who had ever worked here to come have a giant party. People came from all over the country, from NY, LA, Chicago, Miami, Denver ;), etc. They’re not ex-employees, they’re alumni.
What about clients? Your roster list runs deep with nationally respected brands. What draws them to Y&L?
The other nationally respected brands that work with Y&L.
Our design background combined with strategy and creative gives us branding heft. That’s what clients are looking for now. Thankfully, the days of the shiny object are over. Helping clients define their brand internally and externally is something we take great care doing.
Any favorite campaigns inside Y&L? Outside?
Fave campaigns inside Y&L. Hmmm, well anytime you get to invent a brand, that’s a pretty special thing, so Brizo is at the top of my list.
Locking a guy in a tiny house for Schlage was pretty great. And rebranding Champagne Velvet for our client Upland Brewing was an honor.
The one that sticks out the most to me is when we created a recruiting campaign for a group of cloistered Carmelite nuns. Talk about a challenge. They were spectacular clients, frog leaping us in meetings. We inadvertently ended up creating a virtual ministry that embraced all religious beliefs. Watching Matt Lauer talk about the nuns and show us on the Today show was a pretty wonderful moment.
Outside of Y&L, love the typical campaigns everyone else loves — Under Armour, Apple. Any campaign that can house the cookie monster and a guy walking upside down in a surreal cityscape is perfection in my book. One of my favorite things about Eunoia is allowing myself to become a student of the industry again. Eunoia, my personal blog, allows me to become a student of the industry as an ECD and express the beautiful things I see out in the world. It is one of my favorite things.
We understand you’ve drawn upon other industries to augment the work at Y&L. Tell us how.
We had a sculpture division for a while. That was pretty amazing. We all love sculpture and art, and hopefully we still bring a fine art bent to our work today. It’s part of the flame I like to keep kindled that David and Jeff started. Working in 3D spawned a lot of original ideas for clients that were unique for the client, and the agency. Helping create and foster the collaboration between Jason Wu and Brizo is a highlight too. Importing fashion into a faucet brand was pretty unusual 10+ years ago. Finding Jason before he was famous was a stroke of luck for us.
For women in advertising, what advice would you give those rising in the ranks?
I tend to not think of advice in gender terms. The best advice I think I have is — Who you choose for your partner might be the most important creative decision you make in your career. Not your work partner. Your life partner. The industry is a bit upside down with expectations of our people now. Dads, moms, girlfriends, boyfriends, daughters and sons all struggle to be where they’re needed. We’ve got to figure out how to create more space for everyone. I think I’m a bit unique in that I’ve not experienced the issues that some friends of mine have in bigger agencies. Thankfully, I’ve been lucky to always have good people around me who want and expect the best for me.
What about yourself? Any successes you relish? Any pitfalls that made you stronger?
Making partner was a pretty significant event in my career. It’s the first time my mom and dad knew I had made it.
There are a million highs and lows in this crazy business. Learning how to ride the rollercoaster and still have faith in what we do is the best method for staying strong. I’ve always felt like I had a team that had my back, which makes it easy to stay strong. Obviously, being told I had no talent at such a formative age forged my character. There are days when I think I’ve got it all under control and then the very next day, I feel like I have zero control. As Paul, our CEO says, this industry is not for the faint of heart.
Tell us about your upcoming speech in Denver. Please share a spoiler or two if you don’t mind.
You can probably guess by now that I find power through vulnerability. Making the transition from CD to ECD was the hardest shift I’ve ever done. It’s true that what got you there isn’t what you’re supposed to do anymore. That’s terrifying.
When I say I was without a map, I literally mean, I was directionless.
Being the naïve person that I am, I figured I should just go to the top of the mountain and managed to convince Susan Hoffman to allow me to come to Wieden+Kennedy to spend a day with her. It would’ve taken me years to learn what I learned in an afternoon with her. She saved me a lot of time and heartache.
We heard you’re undefeated at Jenga. True?
Come hear Carolyn Hadlock chronicle her journey over the last twenty years — becoming Young & Laramore’s first ECD — and describe the ever-expanding list of mentors, friends, challengers and future game-changers she’s met along the way. Get your tickets here.