How an Impromptu Networking Stunt Launched My Career


By Jennifer Lemerand

In 2007, over 100 people, armed with eyeliner, drew on me in an impromptu networking stunt at the HOW Design Conference. It was no-holds-barred. Some left signatures, others drew cartoon person even drew a particularly questionable male body part. At the time I was just having fun, but soon I would come to realize that this spontaneous HOW Live moment changed my life. This may sound like a bold statement. Really, a conference? Sounds like malarkey. But, I’m serious, it truly did change my life. Let me tell you how.

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First, let’s take the DeLorean back to 2007. It was my second HOW Conference, but first away from my hometown of Chicago, IL. I had a few creative friends along for the ride and for the most part I kept to my small circle. At the end of the last day I was feeling really down for not forcing myself to meet more people. I can be outgoing, but for some reason I felt intimidated around all of these incredible designers. I felt a slight pressure to talk shop. Was I good enough? Was I cool enough? Will I sound like I know what I am doing? These things unknowingly paralyzed me until it was almost too late.

But, I had one chance to shift my mindset. The wrap up party was that night. HOWies get a theme as inspiration to dress up in costume and party. That year’s theme was black and white. I am someone who LOVES Halloween, but all I had was a boring black and white dress. Why was I being so lame? As I walked past Sephora on the way to my hotel room, I came up with the idea to buy black and white eyeliner and just draw all over myself before I went to the party. That is when it hit me. I can ask HOWies to do the work for me!

I ventured off to the party with tools in hand ready to make some new friends. It turned out to be quite the interesting social experiment. The first few people were apprehensive. Some people looked at me like I was crazy and said “no” but, most were really excited and didn’t think twice. By the next hour, I had a line of people waiting their turn! Some just stared worried it was actual Sharpie on my skin… but that would not happen until the next year. In the end, I went home with over 100 business cards of designers I connected with. At the time social media was not nearly as prevalent as it is today, so I was not really sure what to do with all of these names. I sent emails to everyone and made some connections I still speak with today. I figured the stunt ended there.

Until I attended next year’s conference. I had people coming up to me saying this:

  1. “Hey! I drew on you last year! That was awesome!”
  2. “You’re the girl with the upside-down glasses! I remember you!”

It was in that moment that I realized I had a personal brand identity people are remembering me for. To this day, I’ll be talking to someone new, and they stop mid-sentence, cock their head to the side, and ask me if my glasses are upside-down. The designers are the ones who made me understand how my glasses played an integral role in my life. So I took the concept of my glasses and applied it to my design approach by saying I have a “fresh look at creative.” And it stuck.

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Dovetailing off this revelation, the next big shift for me was gaining more confidence in my work, which led me to become a better designer. This enabled me to attain a promotion to Senior Art Director, then a year later to Creative Director at a small agency called Salt Communications. I realized I was living under a rock when one of the partners asked me if I was aware that at 32 years old, I was now one of only 3% of women who held this title. With this in mind, I started to look for a mentor program to find women in the same role to mentor me and ensure I kicked ass as a CD. I ran across a group called SheSays, an award-winning organization running free mentorship and events to women in the creative and marketing businesses. Sounded right up my alley. I reached out to find out if there was a Chicago chapter. None yet… but they felt like I was the right person to start it in Chicago! So I did.

Today I am a Creative Director at a wonderful boutique agency called Vis-à-vis Creative, and I have been running the Chicago chapter of SheSays for four years with almost 600 members and growing. While I may not be the famous designer you are heading to HOW to learn from, my goal is to be of that caliber.

I truly trace all of this back to HOW Live and how it unknowingly made me the person I am today. If I had not pushed myself out of my comfort zone, my career path may have been much less exciting. I have since been to three more HOW Live conferences and have done different iterations of the Draw On Me Experiment, adding up to almost 400 designers making their mark on me. The second year I let people write all over a white dress with sharpies… and in turn on my skin with eyeliner (and some sharpie!). The third year I tried a less intrusive approach with blank address labels, letting designers draw on the sticker in place of handing over a business card – ideally with their twitter handle – then adhere it anywhere on me, later to be my sketchbook. The fourth version was admittedly the most boring. I had everyone sign my plain white tee with different color Sharpies. Maybe I was lazy that year or rushed, but I learned my lesson. While a keepsake with signatures from greats like Chip Kidd and Von Glitschka, it was simply not wild enough and felt more like asking to sign my 8th grade yearbook.

HOWLive-DrawOnMe-JenLemerand-YearThree-StickersFront HOWLive-DrawOnMe-JenLemerand-YearThree-StickersBack HOWLive-DrawOnMe-JenLemerand-YearThree-StickerArm-Finished HOWLive-DrawOnMe-JenLemerand-YearThree-BlueHairSo this year, I invite you to HOW Live to add your creative persona to my newest interpretation of the Drawn On Me networking experiment. Keep my ridiculous story in mind as you step foot into the HOW breeding grounds on May 4th. While you don’t need to go to the extremes I did, just taking the time every day to introduce yourself to new faces will set the stage for good things to come. Remember you don’t need to talk shop right away. Perhaps ask what someone’s favorite 80’s movie is (mine is Back to the Future), or if they could be in a Reality TV Show – what would it be (when I was 18 I would have said Real World)? Or simply “I like your KERN jacket!”

If you want an introduction to some new faces, you can also look for those of us with “HOW Champion” badges. Our job is to make sure you are having a blast and introduce you to some kick-ass people. By the way, being a HOW Champion is another amazing thing to come my way due to this experiment! It could be you next year!

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Keep up with the HOWie Hoopla with #HOWLive. Find me on Twitter and Instagram @Upsidedwnglsses, and again on Twitter for @SheSaysChicago.

If you have not yet registered for How Live, now is the time to do it! Use code AMBJLEMERAND to save $50 off your single day pass or big ticket. If you need help, here is how I convinced my boss to send me years ago!

See you in Chicago future HOWies!

V8865It’s Who You Know: The Ultimate Networking Kit

By Ilise Benun

You could be one conversation away from doubling or tripling your income. Would you know what to say? Networking opportunities pose themselves often in our businesses—but far too many of those opportunities are neglected, overlooked, or not handled properly because people simply aren’t equipped with networking know-how. We could tell you endless stories of how singular conversations led to big budget projects and huge amounts of business for creatives just like you.

Hands down, networking in the most effective tool there is to grow your business. In this kit, you’ll get everything you need to network effectively. It’s all right here!