Our People: The first 100 days of a New York City Creative

Life at We Are Social
In the latest in our ‘Our People’ series, our Head of Creative for We Are Social New York Shawn Francis shares how his first 100 days ‘in office’ helped him establish real change and set the tone for a future-focused around culture, creativity and growth.

In America, the media makes it a point to mark a President’s first 100 days in office, using the Commander-in-Chief’s first three months (and a few days) as an early mile-marker and indicator of progress. To be certain, an Ad Man with a background in Tweets and Instagram Stories is no leader of the free world, but for a newly-installed Head of Creative, such as myself, the first three months can be a great reflection point on what direction you hope to steer the ship.

I began my tenure at We Are Social New York during the closing moments of October 2020, after a nearly nine-year run at another agency across town. Eager for a new opportunity to affect change and leave my mark on a different shop, I made the switch knowing that it would be a deliberate move outside of my comfort zone. So on the eve of the most important American election in history, set against a backdrop of surging social justice protests and in the midst of a continuing global pandemic, I decided to test myself and take on a new role; nothing like challenging yourself during a challenging time to see what you are really made of. 

Once onboard, I spent my first two weeks getting to know the agency-wide team, not just my immediate Creative team. Over the course of 10 days, I made it a point to spend at least an hour with every member of the team in an effort to get acquainted, find something to connect over, and hear their thoughts on what the Creative team does well, where it needs help and what, if anything, is missing. While overall, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, it became very clear very quickly that the team was shorthanded; we had more work than we could manage and reinforcements were desperately needed to maintain both the level of service our clients expect and the level of creativity we aspire to. 

When moving into a new space a manager should expect to –and aim to, really– make changes that help push things in a new direction. This is particularly true when you’re being brought in not as a replacement for someone else, a seasonal changing of batteries so to speak, but more to change the way things are done. With my remit being the latter there were three things I came in looking to address in those first 100 days –infrastructure, process, and culture– and staffing fit nicely into the territory of the former. 

To build something strong that will stand up to the tests of time, you need the right people and the right tools. It doesn’t matter if you are building a brand-new home or a brand’s social media identity, the same rules apply. As I mentioned, coming out of the 1-v-1s with my new co-workers, the need to expand our small but nimble and intelligent Creative team was evident, with the art department being the area most in need of immediate relief. After spending a bit of additional time reviewing our current workload and clients, social and creative trends, and projections of the type of work we see coming our way in the future, we began interviewing candidates to join our team as Art Directors and Senior Designers. In the end, we tripled the size of our Art Dept., adding more robust motion design, illustration, and video editing skills to our arsenal of abilities.

With a small team, you have to be focused but also collaborative. These two needs can sometimes run counter to each other when people need to concentrate on one client to meet a deadline but their skills are needed on another project. Still, some slight tweaks can go a long way. Giving creatives a single, dedicated retainer account that’s their “baby” with one-to-two short-term or campaign-based projects that swing underneath can provide a bit of structure and help relieve the feeling that everyone is working on everything. It can also help out by giving creatives more of a sense of ownership and investment in the accounts that they touch.

This one is more abstract but in no way less important. For a Creative team, the constant stream of requests for big thinking and bigger ideas can drain the very creative lifeforce out of you. It’s like being a comedian and someone asking you to tell a joke at gunpoint; even Dave Chappelle wouldn’t give you his best. 

To help the Creative team feel more like artists than Ideas-on-Demand vending machines, we’ve instituted bi-weekly Inspiration Information sessions, where team members can present the art, music, literature, photography, films etc. that they find interesting and important. It’s less about examining ads from other shops and more about having an hour where we can all connect as a group and be reminded that to be successful marketers, we need to always ride the line between art and commerce. Unfortunately, the latter part of that balancing act almost always tries to tip the scale in its favor, so this is a small act of rebellion in the name of craft, not commerce.

Additionally, we’ve started conducting ‘No-Call Fridays’ to combat “Zoom Fatigue” and reduce the need to work longer hours. While the need for over-communication is more important than ever before, the preponderance of video calls can be a real hindrance to the business of getting the actual work done –the writing, editing, illustrating and designing that’s at the heart of what we do– in a timely manner. When you spend six hours of the day talking about the work, it leaves you precious little time to actually do it. 

Of course, there will be the occasional can’t-move client call or internal check-in but, for the most part, we’ve found clients to be amenable (one of them has even instituted the practice themselves) and that the team loves having a day to be heads-down and productive ahead of their weekend recharge.

With my first 100 days ‘in office’ safely under my belt and these new initiatives already having a positive effect on the whole team, we can really feel the wind at our backs – after what has been a challenging year for the whole industry. This momentum couples nicely with our renewed agency emphasis in New York on a culture-focused approach to content creation and our stable of wonderful clients, both long-time partners and newfound friends. And I’m feeling ever-more positive about what the next 100 days – and indeed, my tenure at We Are Social – will bring.

If this sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, our New York team is always looking for new creative collaborators, team members and innovative clients. You can check out the live opportunities on our People page or reach out via [email protected].