HOWse Guest: Don’t Be A Homebody – Get Out And About

by Shannon Stull

Before we start this article, let me be clear: I NEVER thought I would work in an in-house environment. I went to ad school, and I thought that advertising agencies would be my home for the next 50 years. I loved everything about the agency environment: the talented people, the creative workspace, and the rush to discover “the next big idea” for the next big client.  However; somewhere along the way, the economy went down and job choices became limited.


.Suddenly, I found myself interviewing for a freelance writer position at a company I had never even heard of.  Soon thereafter, they offered me a full-time position created just for me. Though I had hesitations about accepting, I also had credit card debt and no discernible income. Thus, I accepted, and two weeks later I had a beige cubicle of my own.

In the past, this would absolutely have been my nightmare job scenario: a big corporate environment, no other creatives, and beige everywhere. I felt like a fish out of water, flopping around the edge of the sea of same. And then, a funny thing happened:  I began to love it.

It turns out, this corporate environment presented new creative challenges, and a bunch of smart people to help me work through them. The ideas I strived for were no longer the “weird” ones, but they were the right ones, driven by brand standards, and set goals. I found fulfillment in my job, but there was still a piece missing. As fellow ad school grads began to accept their Clios, ADDYs, and One Show pencils, I got a feeling that I just couldn’t shake: Was I a sell-out?

I was working hard, but I wasn’t winning awards, and wasn’t fully expressing myself creatively.  I started to feel unappreciated by my peers, who felt I was sacrificing glory for flexible work hours and a 401k. So, I took that as a challenge to find out how I could quench my need for creative expression and recognition, while still enjoying the perks of working in-house.

Since I applied that challenge to my life, I have been asked to judge two awards shows, have scooped up seven creative awards, was accepted to the largest nude art show in the country (twice), and showcased a video installation at an exhibition in Paris – all while maintaining my full-time job. I have also just been asked to collaborate with an artist in Mumbai in 2012.

These are minor accomplishments compared to what you can achieve if you step out of your own corporate box and reclaim your creative voice. If you feel the same way I did, and are looking for ways to get noticed, here’s how you can do it.

1. Enter Awards Shows

Yes, the famous agencies may have a leg up in certain awards shows, but there are also plenty of awards that recognize the achievements of in-house designers and writers.  These are great lines on the resume, and also open up opportunities for judging down the road.

–       In-Howse Awards (HOW Magazine)

–       American In-House Awards (Graphic Design USA)

–       Creativity International Awards

–       TELLY Awards

–       AIGA Awards

–       University and Colleges Design Association (UCDA) Awards
Also, if you have recently redesigned your identity package on premium papers, consider entering competitions through paper companies like Neenah Paper. If you have used their paper in your pieces, then you are eligible for awards as well as recognition on their sites.

2. Judge Awards Shows

Do you have a few awards under your belt, and are looking for a chance to network with influential creative leaders from both in-house and agency teams? Judging awards shows is a great way to build your personal brand and widen your recognition beyond your company and industry.

In-house creatives lend a unique perspective to awards shows, since they understand both good creative as well as the rigid restrictions imposed in certain industries. Reach out to some award show leaders, and build your case as to why your input matters. You may be surprised at the reception you receive.

3. Take on Freelance Work

If you are unable to create work that accurately reflects your voice and ability in your day job, put yourself out there as a freelancer. Since you do not have to depend on that income to live, you can choose the clients that will best align with the type of work you want to do.

Aside from the obvious sites like Elance®, some great resources for freelance work include:

Your Day Job Vendors. As long as it doesn’t conflict with your non-compete, try contacting agency partners and printers you have worked with in the past. Because they already know you, they will be more likely to let you run at projects they need help on.

Craigslist/Crowdspring. There are a lot of complaints that people want something for nothing on these sites.  This is a valid complaint. However, since you have a day job, you have nothing to lose. Sacrifice making a few extra bucks for a meaty project that will give you creative freedom you crave. The great work to put in your book is more than worth the hourly price you may be sacrificing.

Non-Profits. Donate your work to a non-profit, and get the opportunity to work for a new client and a good cause. Aside from getting creative freedom (a trade for pro-bono work), you can write this off on your taxes.

Fan Favorites. Are you passionate about a local brand or business? Volunteer to help them spread the word. Trade them your services for their product, and make some really fun creative pieces. The work is bound to be better when you are creating advertising for a product you believe in.

4. Create Art for Art’s Sake:

You may work for “the man”, but that doesn’t mean you are any less of an artist. If you are not being creatively fulfilled at your day job, then don’t forget the reason you got into this business in the first place: the creative.

If you are a Writer…

Finally sit down and write that novel/ style blog/mullet how-to instructional packet you’ve always dreamed about.  This is your opportunity to express yourself and do something the way YOU want to do it.  Good creative work succeeds because it is authentic. You will find fans in like-minded people.

If you are a Designer

Here’s your opportunity to have free reign on your art.

Create super cool graphics free of brand standards and lines of approvals. Go back to your roots with drawing and painting. Regardless of which media you choose, create work that makes you proud. If you love it, somebody else will love it too.

You can try to showcase your pieces in a myriad of ways. Try getting into art exhibitions that feature themes similar to yours or go big and campaign for a solo show. If hitting up a museum is too big time for your comfort, try featuring your work in local hotspots that have rotating fine art on the walls, such as coffee shops, wine bars, and hotel lobbies.

5. Market Yourself Internally

If you accomplish any or all of the above, please, please notify your company. Accomplishments achieved by employees, whether they’re directly work-related or not, speak to the quality hiring choices your company has made.  There may even be opportunities for your company to leverage this information for public relations purposes.

Additionally, it never hurts to have awards and accolades under your belt, should an annual review be around the corner.

I hope my long-winded advice has inspired you to reclaim your creative voice. Now get out there and make it happen.

Shannon Stull is the Creative Director for Rasmussen College. In her role, she oversees video and creative collateral for school programs including: technology and design degrees, business degrees, and more. She has worked in the field of advertising and marketing for more than seven years, with experience on both agency and in-house creative teams. Shannon also has a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising with a concentration in Art Direction from the University of Texas – Austin. When she’s not working, she is known as the super tall redhead on the Orlando arts scene.


5 thoughts on “HOWse Guest: Don’t Be A Homebody – Get Out And About

  1. Susan Bodiker

    Sound advice…I too come from an ad agency background and while I enjoy the challenges of this job (like you, at a university), I am about to start pushing my freelance for all it is worth. There is definitely a creative side to my job here (mostly in managing egos), but nothing beats the big idea and bringing it to life!

  2. Kathy Piersall

    Respectfully, I have to disagree with the point you make in the section that begins with “Since you do not have to depend on that income …” and concludes with “… more than worth the hourly price you may be sacrificing.”
    Taking this approach just devalues creative services and “muddies the water” by making it even more difficult for all freelancers – whether full-time or moonlighters – to help clients understand what creative services are really worth, and to get paid at a decent rate.
    If I misunderstood the point you’re making here, please correct me. But this is an issue that, sooner or later, WILL hurt your business, and others in your profession, if you don’t handle it properly every time, with every client and project, IMHO.

  3. Sarah Smith

    Great article, even as I see it later this year in 2012. I can’t help but heed the advice as a solo designer looking to stay focused and in tune with the creative world.

    I especially appreciated your point 4. Create Art for Art’s Sake….Great advice on remembering to stay that creative individual 🙂

    Thanks for the article,