i've always been fascinated by the evolution of media and how we communicate. naturally, when i connected with the lovely Grace earlier this year, i was super curious about her take on writing in the digital age, and her globe-trotting path to working in advertising.
read on for the interview!
Hi! My name is Grace. I'm an advertising copywriter. I was born in NYC, bred in Atlanta, and now I live in San Francisco.
1. i'm always curious about how people get into the work that they do. how did you find yourself in advertising?
There's a documentary about advertising called "Art & Copy" where Dan Wieden (co-founder of Wieden & Kennedy) talks about the origins of Nike's iconic tagline, "Just do it". "Just do it" was transformed from a story about a criminal's last words into a phrase that was the beginning of so many people's stories. I wanted to be a part of that, so I told my parents I wasn't going to be pre-law anymore, made a VERY rough portfolio, and got a copywriting internship at an advertising agency in Atlanta.
"I was just struck by how malleable language is, how inspiration can come from anywhere, and how impactful story telling can be."
2. you've lived and worked in cities as diverse as Beijing and Atlanta. what was it like to intern for an agency in mainland China? was there a cultural learning curve in addition to an industry one?
Oh big time! Before my internship in Beijing, I was studying abroad at Oxford University and that cultural learning curve was nothing compared to the one I experienced in China!
Even though I speak fluent Mandarin, there were a lot of cultural nuances that I could never master because I had an American upbringing. Because of this, I had to work twice as hard and learned twice as much. For example, as I spent the summer riding the 10 subway lines to take photos of media placements and wrote English press releases, I learned that media marketing really wasn't my thing and pursued creative advertising instead.
[Photo caption: "Tattoo is temporary. What it says should be a permanent way of life."]
3. we're living in interesting times – memes and viral cat videos and Youtube stars alongside traditional print and publishing. how do you relate to this as a writer? as a copywriter? is there a difference between the two?
I think the main difference is that a writer writes from her point of view and a copywriter writes from her client's point of view. In most cases, copywriting is just a writer's day job.
Some of my favorite spots:
"I think a lot of people like to separate digital content on the internet from traditional content, but at the end of the day, they're all stories created to connect to an audience. I'm more drawn to stories that aren't 'viral' — they're usually quieter and simpler, but resonate more powerfully."
4. i was struck by your thoughtful comment on a piece i wrote about feminism and fashion. as someone who works in a creative environment, what is your take on the politics of gender / self-expression / dress codes?
This is probably the most challenging question I've ever been asked, and after several unsuccessful attempts, I think the best way to answer this is: "Imma do me."
So if you want to wear Louboutins to that meeting or ask for that raise because you're qualified, do it as long as you're comfortable with it. It has been my experience that people respect those who are unabashedly themselves (and are also kind and hard-working). And the detractors...well, that's one less person you have to make dreaded small talk with.
"I really think that in order to make it alive in this industry and to stand out, you have to know who you are and who you want to be. If you start thinking that you're limited by gender/social expectations/etc., you might inadvertently begin to believe it and miss out on meeting your full potential."
5. how would you describe your personal style these days? what are you really into lately style/beauty-wise?
I would describe my personal style as minimal classic with tomboy edge. One of the best pieces of style advice I've ever received was "Find an excellent tailor and build a relationship with him/her." The right fit is everything.
Over the past decade, I've really edited my style down to comfortable basics, dark colors (I live in navy and black) with a few accessories in bright colors or patterns. When it comes to shopping, I favor Everlane, A.P.C., Ferragmo, Zara, Club Monaco, J.Crew, Ralph Lauren, and Equipment to name a few.
For inspiration, I shamelessly poach style ideas from Emanuelle Alt, Carine Roitfeld, the Olsen twins (bless them for making Birks cool again), La Cool et Chic, and Les Anti-modernes of course.
Lately, I've been really into my Hermès scarf, which has come to the rescue many a time when Karl the fog rolls in. Beauty-wise, I absolutely adore Kiehl's Musk oil, Byredo lotion in pulp scent, Caudalie beauty elixir, and Mario Badescu drying cream for those particularly trying days.
6. do you have any wardrobe essentials? what do you wear at work? on the weekend?
- Silk or chambray button up with rolled sleeves
- A little décolletage
- Navy or black skinnies
- Ballet flats, Madewell booties or Frye boots
- Cartier Ronde Solo Watch
- Diamond stud earrings
- A touch of Kiehl's Musk or Hermès Osmanthe Yunnan
I usually wear some variation of the above to work. On weekends, I like to show my legs a little more with shirt dresses, sweater dresses, and skirts.
7. is there a personal or sartorial piece that's really special to you? what's the story behind it?
My Ferragamo Varina flats are pretty special to me. My mom bought me my first pair when we were in Paris together and since then, I've been hooked. They remind me of the person I want to be: classic, understatedly elegant and comfortable. I know that's a lot to place on a pair of shoes, but they've been with me through a lot of milestones. They're utterly timeless!
8. what bag are you carrying lately, and what's in it?
My Madewell leather tote is a fantastic catch-all for my Everlane wallet, Hermès scarf, Moleskine, Raybans and other essentials.
9. what do you love about SF? what do you love to do in your downtime?
I'm an East Coaster by nature, so I really tried to resist the charms of San Francisco. I ultimately fell in love with the incandescent glow of natural sunlight in my apartment, the magical (albeit chilly) fog, the food scene and the aquamarine hues of the Pacific Ocean.
"In my downtime, I love to cook because I can create things with my hands, and I love to work on writerly things, like read and actually write things that aren't client-mandated. Writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised to get stronger, and I'm seriously out of shape."
10. what are you passionate about? who / what inspires you?
"I'm really passionate about cultivating a small but valuable life. I am often inspired by quiet moments, walks around the city, Kateoplis, a perfectly poached egg, witty banter, a well-tailored suit, Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyer films (they're like my vision boards in motion), Ina Garten, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Les Anti-Modernes. :)"