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Art director turned copywriter turned creative director Ellen Steinberg is currently group creative director and partner at McKinney. She's also: a numerous award winner and juror of respected industry shows; a seeker of knowledge/education, including poetry, stone sculpture, improv comedy and the spiritual world; an ordained minister (and, to date, a non-denominational officiant of seven weddings); a dedicated yogi; a traveler; and a bourbon lover.


Taking Balance Seriously

If you have a degree in what field is it? A BS in visual communications from the University of Delaware.

If you could choose one person to work with (outside your own agency), who would it be? Tibor Kalman, although it’d admittedly be difficult to work with him now. I just like the way his brain worked.

Who was the client for your first advertising project? I believe it was Savin Copiers for whom I produced my first 3" x 5" direct mail postcard.

If you were to change professions, what would you choose to do? I’d be an architect, although I’d skip the competitive, grueling, pay-your-dues part and get right to the building-beautiful-structures part. I’m just so profoundly moved by large structures with designs that speak to me.

What do you consider to be the greatest headline of all time? From one of my top ten ads of all time: An all-type bus shelter from former Fallon McElligott for a local photographer named Rick Dublin with a headline, in large letters, that read, “Headlines this dull need pictures.”

From where do your best ideas originate? I have absolutely no idea, but it seems to be some fertile territory that keeps giving back, so I’m okay with the mystery.

How do you overcome a creative block? I walk away. “It shouldn't be this hard” is the inner dialogue that precedes me putting it away, taking a walk, hanging out with a friend or doing some yoga. The sooner I can step away from it, though, the sooner previously-bolted doors will open.

If you could choose any product to create an ad for, what would it be? I occasionally fantasize about ending my career doing ads for things notoriously difficult to create good work for: tampons, Prilosec, anything that employs diagrams of the digestive path.

Do you have creative outlets other than advertising? Many. I write a lot. I have a series of old diner-ish letter boards that I write on and shoot and will one day compile into a book. I occasionally pick up a paint brush, camera or move furniture to see what other ways a room can work. I look for design in nature. I call my four-, five- and seven-year-old niece and nephews to hear their take on things and remind myself what true creativity looks like.

What’s your approach to balancing work and life? My approach is to take balance seriously. I am adamant about getting time on my [yoga] mat and stepping away for fresh air; the benefits, for me, are immeasurable, but it is a very conscious, created effort and I’ve learned to honor it or else it doesn’t happen.

What product/gadget can you not live without? If the energy of and connection with interesting, inspiring people is considered a gadget, call me addicted.

What’s your favorite quote? “Me, We.” —Muhammad Ali

Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Challenge yourself. Surround yourself with others who are on this same track. Be open. There is almost always a better way; it just requires seeking it out and doing what you’ve not done or seen before.

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? Nothing. If I knew all this, I probably wouldn’t have stayed.