Ep 3 - Hip Branding Agency
Shannon puts her dreams of being an artist aside in favor of the brand agency fast track. Copywriting. Creativity. Competitive salary with perks. When the urge to make art (while still being great at her job) leaves her sleeping just 3 hours a night...what will she choose?
Shannon: I work at a hip branding agency where I’m a namer. I come up with names for products and companies from web 2.0 startups to big corporate giants. I name cell phones, software and pharmaceuticals. My co-workers and I tell dirty jokes and hold brainstorming sessions with whiteboards and goat cheese pizzas. There’s a pool table, a massage chair, and always enough coffee.
Kerri: Hi, It’s Kerri. The content strategist. Last time, you heard how this podcast got started. A mutual desire between myself and Shannon - to integrate art and business - and make marketing that comes from something real. One way to merge art and business is to use art to talk about business, which is what you heard Shannon doing at the top of this show.
I’m going to play you the rest of the excerpt from BURST, Shannon’s one woman show about the time she spent on the branding fast track as a young professional in her mid-twenties in the Bay Area. Let’s hear it:
Shannon: I’m on conference calls, on cell phone, on email and on board. I’m in traffic, in the know and in the loop.
I’m with clients, with cash and just plain with it. I am jetsetting, staying in W hotels, swiping credit cards, charging to clients, wearing suits, flying first class, ordering the salmon. Mmm. Glass of chardonnay and ooh orange chocolate flan please!
Yeah, it’s true. I don’t have a lot of down time, but I mean, I’m interning at McSweeney’s and I meet Dave Eggers and wear thick-framed glasses and I say things like, “Ya know, just livin’ the dream.”
Kerri: Living the dream? Sounds...exhausting. And apparently, it was.
Shannon: I was in this personal dilemma while living in San Francisco with this combination of working too much because I love my job and also trying to be a working artist. I started doing all these weird wacky art things, where I started a blog and did local storytelling performances... But it was almost impossible to sustain. I’d be working my job 10-12 hours a day and then I would start writing and I would write until 3 in the morning and wake up at 6 and try to go to work. I’d be going like crazy during the week and then I’d just crash on the weekends, because I didn’t want to give anything up.
Kerri: How did this happen? How did a person become so passionate about two different worlds that she would sleep three hours a night to make it work?
Shannon: I mean, I’ve been performing since I was a kid. I auditioned for every single theatre production in my high school. I was hooked - I’ve always wanted to perform, I’ve always wanted to write. When I was a kid and they ask you what you want to be when you grow up, I would say “I want to be a poet and performer. I want to be a poet and performer.”
Kerri: But when Shannon went to college, she didn’t major in the arts. She thought, “who actually gets to be an artist? Not me.” So she went with something slightly more practical and chose linguistics.
Shannon: I fell in love with linguistics and I thought well at least it’s an area of study. I also double-majored in mass communications thinking, “I don’t know, somehow that’ll be marketable.” But I also would stroll the empty corridors of the theatre department at Cal looking at the audition notices and peeking through the windows of the kids doing improv and voice warm ups and all sorts of weird theatre games, going ‘maybe I’ll audition this semester.’
Kerri: But she never did audition.. Fun fact: I was one of those theatre kids rolling around on the floor. Not at Cal, at NYU, but that’s the path I chose. While I was learning accents & dialects and singing with my guitar in the subway stations, Shannon was getting real world branding experience and putting her acting dreams aside.
Shannon: I worked my way into an internship at Landor Associates in San Francisco. I got experience at this big brand agency. I maneuvered my way in and got all this stuff I could put on my resume when I was graduated from school and done with the internship. And then I decided that “Oh my dream is to be a copywriter!” cause then I could write and make a living. So I’ve always tried to integrate this creative and professional self. I called up creative directors at brand agencies and said, “Hey! I’m young and enthusiastic. I don’t have a lot of experience but I’ll work for cheap.” Living in San Francisco in the Mission. I worked at Peet’s just enough to support myself while I tried to get freelance gigs to build up a portfolio and volunteered at 826 Valencia so I could hang out at McSweeney’s and Believer Magazine cause I was thinking Maybe someday I’ll just submit some of my writing to Dave Eggers. And one day he said, “Hey Leave some of your work on my desk and I’ll read it.” I never did. All of these things I think of when I look back - some part of me just didn’t think I was allowed to be an artist.
Kerri: Have you ever felt like that? Like you needed permission to make art? I think I’ve felt the opposite. I could make all the art I wanted - but work for a real company? With a salary? That just seems impossible. But Shannon didn’t have a problem there. When she heard about a position opening up at Salt Branding, she went for it.
Shannon: I interviewed and two days later I was on a plane to Microsoft. I just started going as a brand consultant. I learned so much, I cut my teeth there on how to be a brand consultant. Just amazing training in being strategic. They taught me a lot and they took me under their wing. I also worked way too hard, over 80 hours a week just trying to keep up.
Kerri: This may be an unpopular stance with the Silicon Valley set - but I don’t think I’ve ever worked 80 hours a week in my life - and I don’t think you should. But I guess, it’s all about what you consider work. Actually, my first spoken word piece was about this, it’s called “The Poet’s Work”
I say, “I’m a poet”
And he says, “Where do you work?”
And I sigh and I smile and say -
I work where I am lonely
But filled with inner company
A thousand voices thumping my heart
Hand shaping the start, the ascent, the surrender.
And then sir,
I work when I find my mind silent
So quiet, sneak in right beside it
I sit and I breathe
Stuff my wit up my sleeve
Cause my work doesn’t like to see me clever
I sever her, that girl who doubts the words “grace” and “forever”
I work when I love
And I love when I work
That’s the poet’s life:
Waking and waking
I suppose work is relative. But even so, this frenetic pace was not something that Shannon could keep up forever.
Shannon: I’d be going like crazy during the week and then on the weekends I would just crash.
Kerri: So what does Shannon do? Quit her job? Or quit her art? Tune in next time to find out.
This podcast is brought to you by Arthouse of Who, a division of House of Who, Inc. You can find out more at houseofwho.com. Music by cf watkins at cfwatkins.com. Follow Shannon’s blog and sign up for podcast bonuses and secret episodes at www.helloartistceo.com. My name is Kerri Lowe. You’re listening to the story of Shannon DeJong. Signing off.