Maureen Shirreff is Creative Director for Dove--North America at Ogilvy's Chicago office, in addition to being a wife and mother of two. Despite the hectic schedule, she somehow managed to find the time to sit down with us and talk work, life, and polite ass-kicking.
What gets you up for work in the morning?
I get a big charge out of problem-solving—with both the management of people and the work. It seems to break overnight each day… your work will stay safe for a few days and then someone seems to find something that’s broken. But a lot of my job is to take care of the people too and make sure everyone is happy.
At the office, how do you maintain authority as well as a positive work environment?
I think the positive work environment is comprised of the people in it. You’d better feel good about the people you’ve hired, and hopefully you’ve built a department of like-minded individuals. Not clones, of course… but people who can talk to each other and work together.
I believe in very open, direct, honest, fair communication. I have to come down hard sometimes, but [my team] knows I’m fair. I try to be as fair as I can but I’ve had to apologize sometimes for being a little out of line. Ceatives need that though ... someone they respect and who gives them that authority. You have to respectfully kick them in the ass sometimes. But that being said, we have a great time with one another.
The biggest gift I can give you is you can be yourself here. Creatives clam up if they feel they can’t be themselves. If they’re afraid to talk to you as an authority, that’s not good.
You're taking on a huge issue--women's self-esteem--with the Dove campaign. What other issue(s) in this world would you love to tackle?
I’d love to tackle the ridiculousness of people thinking they’re victims of everything. I’d like people to start taking responsibility for themselves and their actions. I’d like to see an end to personal lawsuits. What product would take care of this, what this cause would be called? I don’t know.
Rick Boyko and I also share an affection for the fire departments of the world. We do the pro-bono for the Chicago FD here. I’d love to see us get them treated better. They don’t even have the right protective gear.
We have to ask: what are the keys to being a successful creative director AND mother?
Well first of all, I have a great husband who was in the business, so he understood it. It’s critical to balance the kids. When the kids were little—you’re torn. But we needed the income.
I’ve always worked for people who put family first. If my kids are sick, I’m home with them. Period. If I honor myself as a human, I’m a better creative. And for me, the more I juggle, the faster I get and the better I am! And my family has helped so much. We’re tight. And when I decided to come here [Ogilvy], the creative director was a single dad. I do think you can juggle and make it work.
And when I leave this place every day, I get in my car and it feels past tense. I don’t want anything to do with it, I don’t want to bring it with me. As I get closer to my house it feels like [work that day] didn’t even happen.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you had known when you got started in advertising?
To really trust my instincts. As I’ve gotten older—this is my 26th year in the business—I look back at old stuff I worked on…and still feel like it could have turned into something.
It’s hard to keep belief in yourself. But if you believe in yourself, eventually others will too. When I started, I felt like a total loser…didn’t have a clue…and I felt pressure to find my place. But give yourself some slack! It isn’t just you going after this thing. This thing is trying to find you, too.
Before I got into advertising I had always wanted to be a flight attendant. I thought flying was so glamorous…but I got rejected by American Airlines and was devastated. But that was not where I was meant to be.
The more you can be true to yourself… you will get there. Those who honor themselves as humans do find the right path. It sounds queer and new-agey, but I really believe it.