'Round here we love to hear about successful women in advertising who are also succesfully raising families (to further prove it can indeed be done). Enter Lisa Taylor, freelance copywriter, Arnold alum (they hired her at 7 months pregnant, ahem) and mom of two youngsters. We asked her a few questions about work, life, and the clever self-promotion site she created, coverlettercustomizer.com. (Check it out if you haven't seen it yet.)
I started out as a receptionist of a small agency. I scraped together a portfolio that eventually landed me a writing gig in addition to a large bill at Kinkos. I didn’t go to ad school, but I have always loved to make things. And write. Plus, I happen to be a woman.
Why'd you go from full-time to freelance?
It may sound counterintuitive, especially during a terrible economy, but I quit my job because I love what I do. I simply didn’t want to burn out. During my maternity leave for my second child it became apparent that the full-time lifestyle wasn’t right for me anymore. I still miss the creative environment and the camaraderie.
How did your career change, if at all, when you got pregnant?
The morning I found out I was pregnant was the same day that Arnold lost VW. And I was freelancing there. One part of me was really excited to start my family. Another part was totally bummed. And the remaining part really, really wanted Fritoes. I freelanced elsewhere for months but ended up coming back to Arnold full-time when I was over six months pregnant.
In the long run, I can’t say whether I’d have this job or worked on that opportunity if I weren’t a mother. Who knows? I don’t think it’s all that productive to speculate. But I can say with certainty that being a parent inspires me creatively. Also, motherhood has taught me to be more open to different perspectives, manage my time better, figure things out on my own and not whine. (As any parent of a toddler will surely appreciate.)
Though, I definitely don’t socialize with coworkers nearly as much as I would if I didn’t have children. Which is sad. I really like beer.
How did you get the cover letter customizer up and running? Did you have to bribe a programmer?
I sketched out a wireframe with pencil and paper and wrote the modular bits of copy. Then I didn’t touch it for months. Eventually, and most importantly, I got off my bum and asked an ex-coworker named Derrick Williams if he would program it for me. Because he believed in the idea, he kindly agreed. Derrick brought my scrappy wireframe to life in HTML5, improving the experience with every step.
I also consulted my frequent designer collaborator, Suzanne McKenzie, on the front-end look/feel and a UX friend, Jennifer Dolan, to make sure we didn’t totally butcher the flow. They rock. Hire them.
What advice do you have for writers who want to make cool web stuff but aren't BFFs with some savvy programmers?
Isn’t that like saying, “How do you make a sweater if you don’t know anyone who knits?” Plan it out as much as you can by yourself and find someone with the skills to take it further. Also keep in mind that for every Wilderness Downtown-type project that requires a large programming investment, there are countless existing platforms that are free for the taking (or close to). Get creative with one. Like that copywriter did for his Google Job Experiment. He didn’t even have to pay to register a domain name like I did. Brilliant.
Why do you think there aren't more senior-level creative women at agencies? We get a ton of different answers--curious to hear yours.
While there are many factors, I think part of it has to do with self-fulfilling prophecy. If women as a whole are not supported and invested in because there is the underlying fear they’ll leave or be less dedicated when they have families, it’s not surprising that they aren’t staying. Prophecy fulfilled. That is, if women are even hired in the first place.
For instance, since the beginning of my career I’ve been fielding questions about my marriage and my future plans for my uterus (my words, not theirs) in interview-type situations from both males and females. Working in the subjective is hard enough without getting the spotlight treatment on an enormously personal and private decision like fertility but, sadly, it happens. I also had one company that was repeatedly calling me about freelancing stop the moment I told them I was pregnant. If only that technique worked for telemarketers.
I still give Arnold kudos for hiring a very pregnant copywriter. They believed in me. Trusted me. Promoted me. I stayed for four years and left for reasons beyond their control. I sincerely hope all creatives find similar opportunities in their careers, whether they're male or female, pregnant or not pregnant, Fritoes lovers or Fritoes haters.
Follow Lisa on twitter - @taylorwriting