Over the last 30 years, I can safely say I’ve written, directed and produced content for nearly every category in nearly every medium — except for skywriting and fortune cookies. In terms of ad agencies, I’ve burned the midnight (and sometimes morning) oil at a variety of shops, large and small, in New York and Dallas.
My career as a copywriter actually began when I bossed my friend’s mother around at our sorority house. “Please put out your cigarette,” I announced, officiously. While we chatted, she offered me an internship at her company. I accepted before I even knew who she was — Mary Wells Lawrence, CEO of the famed Madison Avenue agency Wells, Rich, Greene.
I learned later that Lawrence loved my moxie, as everyone in her office kissed her you-know-what. Over the next year, I completed an interterm in New York with her agency. After graduation, I became a secretary in the promotions department while taking night classes at the School of Visual Arts, where I built my portfolio of ads, drawn with markers and typed up on copier paper.
I was fortunate to work for several New York advertising powerhouses before eventually landing at Temerlin McClain, working the account for retail giant JCPenney — which is funny, because my grandmother worked on ads for JCPenney in Oklahoma City during World War II. In essence, I was carrying on the family tradition! I worked on this wonderful, exciting account for a decade.
But in 2000, my streak came to a screeching halt when Temerlin lost the JCPenney account, and I got laid off. I was devastated. Then came 9/11. Not only was our nation mourning, the economy was hemorrhaging, especially the ad business. No one was hiring.
Times were tough. After a decade in New York and then jet-setting to both coasts and across the pond, I moved out of my hip, downtown loft and in with my parents. I fell into a near financial ruin. I lost my health insurance. And my father died. I was broken. Enter freelancing, which saved my life.
At first, it was quite scary: the thought of working short stints, not being a “permanent” employee. And the thing about these temp gigs? When you’re working on one job, trying to impress your client, you always have to keep an eye on the future, trying to strategize about how to snag the next one.
Then, things started to turn around. I figured out how to navigate the terrain. The rhythm of managing the present and planning for the future kicked in. And guess what? My career began to hum right along — sing, in fact.
One of my first temp jobs was writing about gorgeous imported home goods from Pier 1. I worked at home — in my pajamas, sipping coffee all day! Then, I booked a freelance, part-time assignment at a TV station, where I wrote and produced some TV spots.
And get this: I won an Emmy! Then, I ghost wrote a children’s book for a toy company, using content supplied by Encyclopedia Britannica. Had I sought full-time employment, none of these priceless opportunities would have come my way.
During the next decade, many freelance positions transitioned into full-time work, one of which I held down while earning my master of fine arts in literature and writing.
Now, as the circle of life would have it, I’m back at JCPenney freelancing in the marketing department, thanks to the rock stars at Cella. Initially, I was brought in for three weeks to work on a special project this past June, then was asked to come back in September for a long-term contract. It’s such a sweet feeling to return to a company where I had some of the best times of my life. My grandmother would be proud. And the nicest thing? I’ve never worked with more dynamic, creative, kind people.
Had I not freelanced, taken a chance, I wouldn’t have had such indelible, amazing professional experiences. But the bigger issue, the deeper truth, is that freelancing helped me weather some pretty hard times — times I wasn’t sure I’d survive. For this, I am forever grateful.