Highlights from our Live Design Week Portland 2017 Recording of “Have a Nice Idea” Podcast with Duncan Channon ECD Anne Elisco-Lemme
Want to think like an award-winning creative director? Take a bathroom break.
At our live “Have a Nice Idea” podcast recording for Design Week Portland 2017, Anne Elisco-Lemme told Grady Britton’s Andy Askren about how she makes brilliant ideas happen:
“I go to the bathroom. I’m not kidding you!”
Anne, who serves as Executive Creative Director for Duncan Channon, knows that “sometimes, you have to walk away from the problem.” Early on in the recording, she told Andy a story about hitting a wall during a client project with her then-creative partner (and agency co-founder) Parker Channon:
“I said, ‘I’m going to go the bathroom, and when I come back, I’m going to have a really great idea.’ And I didn’t expect to come back with a great idea, but I came back with a really fucking great idea. I was like, ‘I’ve got it!.’ We pitched this piece of business with this idea that literally came out of nowhere.”
It’s not just bathrooms: “Showers, too. Something with water coming and going. It’s flowing, right? It’s all flowing.”
Anyone familiar with Duncan Channon will recognize the defining characteristics of the company’s work—a refreshing sincerity, a blunt sense of humor—in its senior creative decision-maker. Anne is a one-of-a-kind creative thinker who believes the quality of an idea depends on how it’s sold to the client, and that the shortage of women in the industry has as much to do with systematic exclusion as it does with one’s ability to crack a period or fart joke.
Over the course of an hour, Anne shared her insights and experiences gained from a career in marketing. Topics included Anne’s path from art director to ECD, her involvement Duncan Channon’s campaigns for Kona Beer, her love of a good creative brief, her childhood experiences huffing markers, why she thinks every marketer should take an improv comedy class, and her advice for young professionals just getting their start.
Here are a few of our favorite moments from the conversation:
On the Challenges of Recognizing and Presenting Good Ideas
How does Anne know when an idea is going to work? “I 100% get a feeling. Since [my early days in] this business, I would feel it in my stomach. I would get this really excited knot.”
Anne told us she’s “always been a fan of the simplest work, because problems are so complex that any time somebody can take an idea and get down to the essence, there’s something really human.” She also spoke with Andy about the difficulty of communicating an idea to someone who wasn’t part of the original brainstorming session in the shower:
“I have seen really great ideas die because people could not present them. I’ve seen teams almost seem bored with their work. If you’re bored when you’re presenting it, everyone else in the room is going to be bored, too. … I love when people go act out their ideas. A lot of creatives who have done improv are so great at selling their work. You have to be willing to be vulnerable and put yourself out there.”
As she’s grown older and moved into higher-ranking agency positions, Anne has started thinking less about how talented people come up with good ideas, and more about how those ideas are sold during meetings. Often, she said, a marketing presentation is the best part of a client’s day—and creative professionals need to respect that:
“You’ve got clients who are dealing with all sorts of numbers, distribution problems—business school stuff—but when they come sit in a room and have creative ideas pitched to them, they love that. When you come in as a creative and you’re not bringing it, it’s disappointing. It’s a huge missed opportunity.”
On Duncan Channon’s Ads for Kona Brewing
Kona Brewing Company, a brewery based in Kailua-Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island, is one of Duncan Channon’s prominent clients. You may be familiar with DC’s TV spots for Kona, in which two wry Hawaiian brothers educate US Mainlanders on island culture.
The campaign’s exceptional longevity and performance among viewers are largely due to Anne’s creative direction. Originally, however, she wasn’t part of the project:
“There was a team that was assigned to Kona. And it’s beer, right? So it’s two dudes—an all-male team. I drink beer, I like Hawaii, but I wasn’t on it. For whatever reason, these creatives could not land the campaign that the client was buying. Parker Channon came to me—and I wasn’t creative director at this point—and said, ‘Would you just throw some ideas in the ring? Just help us get there?’ I said, ‘yeah, yeah, I’ll toss you guys some ideas.’
“But in my head, I was like, ‘I’m fucking stealing this campaign from these guys. Dudes, the client flew you to Hawaii, and you had a boondoggle, and you went from island to island to learn about Hawaiian culture, and you haven’t sold one yet. I’m going to steal this because I’m going to go shoot this goddamn campaign in Hawaii.’
“I was reading the brief—and the brief was really brilliant—and I was listening to what the client was saying, and I thought, ‘The answer’s right here. It is not that hard.’”
On Finding Success As a Woman in a Male-Dominated Industry
Although Anne grew up with a father in advertising—she “was huffing [art department] markers as a seven-year-old”—she never expected to end up in the industry herself.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do when I grew up,” she said. “And I wish more kids didn’t know what the hell they were going to do when they grow up. Because, frankly, I don’t think you really know until you’re a grown-up, and even then sometimes you’re like, ‘maybe I’ll go do something else.’”
Nonetheless, after dabbling in music, film, and fine arts, Anne took a job in marketing so she could afford more than the single slice of pizza her daily budget allowed. She soon started rising through the ranks and, despite her lack of female colleagues, found people to model herself after:
“There was this badass female director who ran the agency, and I loved being under her. … [One day] I said, ‘Do you ever feel like you’re a fraud? Do you ever feel like everybody’s so cool, and you’re the dork in the creative department? I feel like I don’t belong.’ And—this is my favorite thing anyone’s ever said to me—she said, ‘The good ones always think they’re frauds.’”
Reflecting on her success, Anne credited another role model—one closer to home:
“I really do think that a lot of my drive comes from my mom. This is going to sound ridiculous, but I swear to God: until I was in my teens, I thought I was the smartest person in the world. My mom would tell me all the time that I was the smartest person in the world; I bought that one hundred percent. It wasn’t until we were taking SATs in high school that I realized, ‘Holy shit—I’m not even the smartest person in this high school.’ But I really felt like I could do anything. I always felt that I could do and say what I wanted. She would tell me that, verbatim: ‘You can do whatever you want to do.’ So, when I become a female creative, not doing it wasn’t even an option.”
On Her Role at Duncan Channon, and Advice for Younger Creatives
These days, Anne has become a mentor herself. Looking back on her career, she told us she finds a great deal of fulfillment in her job, even though it was initially hard to give up what she loved doing:
“I came to realize that there was a lot of satisfaction to having the people who work under me be better than I ever was. You let go of the ego and then it’s all about becoming a mentor to somebody. … I really love helping creative teams find the best part of their idea.”
What’s next for the ECD whose agency Ad Age named 2016 Small Agency of the Year? Anne remarked that she’s “been at DC longer than most people should be at any one agency, which is something I’m really proud of and maybe something I’m really ashamed of at the same time.” An audience member mentioned that comment during the Q&A portion of the evening, and asked Anne what’s kept her at Duncan Channon and whether she ever feels the “itch” to move on.
“It never wasn’t working out, but the itch never goes away,” Anne said. “That doesn’t mean I’m leaving DC, but I think as creative people, we’re always thinking ‘what if’: ‘What if I go there? How would that change my life?’ … [It’s something] I would certainly say to any creative: don’t get comfortable. That’s probably when I talk about regret, it’s that I got comfortable. What I had to do is get myself uncomfortable again.”
Anne encouraged the creatives in our audience to go to events, introduce themselves, and try out different jobs. Her other piece of advice? Don’t spend all your time at work:
“You have to go live your life. Our job is to understand and be empathetic enough to have somebody want to act based on what we put out in the world. If you’re not out there living your life and understanding people and understanding yourself, how do you do this job? … It doesn’t matter how long you work. It matters what you bring to the table.”
Hear (or Watch) Grady Britton’s “Have a Nice Idea” Podcast Featuring Anne Elisco-Lemme, Recorded Live for Design Week Portland 2017
The audio portion of this episode is available now (also available on iTunes and Soundcloud.) And if you’d like to watch the live (archived) video of the event, visit the Have a Nice Idea page on Facebook.