[photo credit: Leslie Plesser]
Becky Lang is a creative and copywriter at Minneapolis branding agency Zeus Jones. She is also the creator and co-editor of pop culture blog The Tangential. She enjoys analyzing TV shows, learning foreign languages, hanging out at dive bars and hopes, someday, to go to China.
If you have a degree in what field is it? I designed my own major in English, cultural studies and journalism.
If you could choose one person to work with (outside your own agency), who would it be? I would be interested in working with or even talking to Clotaire Rapaille, the man who used psychoanalysis and semiotics to make a huge difference in the way market research works.
Who was the client for your first advertising project? Probably the first client work I did was digital copywriting for Cheerios.
If you were to change professions, what would you choose to do? I would want to work in publishing, specializing in finding ways to use the strengths of print and digital to create a sustainable business model that won't collapse with the industry. And of course every writer wants to be a novelist. I also want to become a college professor someday. I would like to create a program that helps graduates convert their theses into mass media-friendly creative works. We should all be learning from their studies, not retiring them to library basements.
What do you consider to be the greatest headline of all time? In the spirit of Zeus Jones, I’ll instead say my favorite brand core purposes. While it’s cliché to say Apple, Steve Jobs’s mission to “put a ding in the universe” is very inspiring, especially since Apple’s really gone for it. I also love the literary journalism website The Awl’s mission statement, “Be Less Stupid.”
From where do your best ideas originate? I’m a huge pop culture junkie and nerd. I never get more ideas than when I’m hanging out with like-minded friends and co-workers, having ridiculous and uncensored conversations.
How do you overcome a creative block? As far as I’ve discovered, the trick is to stay calm and have so much to do that you don’t have the luxury of dilly-dallying over one idea or project. When you have too much time to twiddle your thumbs, you get overly self-critical and psych yourself out. Plus, constantly being creative is like boot camp—you start to internalize all kinds of structures and formats so you don’t need to consciously recreate them all the time. But never forget to zone out and watch dumb TV. You have to stay sane.
If you could choose any product to create an ad for, what would it be? I think Nike is inspiring in terms of being one of the first brands to create digital services for their customers and move away from spendy traditional messaging. For example, their Nike Training Club fitness app for women makes me way more psyched to buy their products than constant commercials, although they write a damn good commercial when they need to. That being said, I would love to work with one of Nike’s competitors, like Puma or Adidas, and find new ways to push the game forward. My inner child though, would absolutely love to work with Coca-Cola. I think I’ve wanted to work with Coke since I’ve understood what “having a job” meant.
Do you have creative outlets other than advertising? I challenge myself to write every day on the pop culture blog I co-created, The Tangential. I do the design and development for the site too and I’m always working on some new project with our writers. We plan to produce a lot of print books in the future. I also love to draw and paint, although I never have time anymore.
What’s your approach to balancing work and life? I make it a priority to always have a side project, get a lot of exercise and have a lot of fun. If those things aren’t happening, I’m working too much. I don’t have kids either, which frees up a lot of time. I’m in awe of co-workers who seem to work as hard as I do and have families.
What product/gadget can you not live without? I’m like a commercial for Apple. I’m always on my iPhone, MacBook or iPad. My sister and her husband share a Netbook, and I asked how they could survive not being on a computer all day. They ended up feeling bad for me instead.
What’s your favorite quote? I don’t have one, but this Homer Simpson monologue is pretty cool: “How could you?! Haven’t you learned anything from that guy who gives those sermons at church? Captain Whatshisname? We live in a society of laws! Why do you think I took you to all those Police Academy movies? For fun? Well, I didn’t hear anybody laughing, did you? Except at that guy who made sound effects. [Makes sound effects and laughs.] Where was I? Oh yeah! Stay out of my booze.”
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Don’t come into this profession with just one plan for your career. Come in with Plan A, Plan B, Plan C… all the way to Plan L. Develop so many skills that you can’t possibly get left behind. When I was in college people used to tell me, “Employers want to know that you’re just a writer, and that it’s all you focus on.” But now as someone who scouts and puts writers to work, when I see people relying solely on one skill it always worries me. Really, you graduated and expect to become “a writer” that easily? That goes back to humility too. Be humble enough to be willing and able to do all kinds of work. Also, send employers a nice portfolio; show, rather than insist, that you’re a one-of-a-kind talent.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? I wish I’d known not to get so flashy with design. When I started at Zeus Jones, I entertained ideas that I knew something about design (e.g., Helvetica is way cool). Now that I work with amazing designers everyday, I’ve gotten a real lesson in humility.