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Life after Moody: Advertising

Advertising alumni stories

Emily Walton

Competitive creativity

As told to Landry Allred


I was a competitive gymnast for the first half of my life. Standing on a four-inch-wide balance beam, in front of hundreds of people doing backflips — that’ll teach you how to be tough.

Many things have helped me to the place I am now, but I think it is that tough skin and competitiveness that are mostly responsible.

I was born in Connecticut but grew up in the Illinois suburbs, 45 minutes outside of Chicago. I grew up in a super creative family, so I knew I wanted to do something creative. My mom is an interior designer, my dad owns three businesses, my aunt was a creative writer and my grandpa was an art director. 

My sophomore year of high school, I took an advertising class and our first project was to make an ad for a juice brand and shoot a movie trailer. We got this movie trailer in my backyard on a little digital camera, designed a cereal box, and I fell in love with advertising. I felt, “This is actually a fun way to make art and money.” 

It was the best of both worlds — business and art.

I'm the first child, so my parents went way over the top with college applications. I applied to 10 schools and ended up getting into UT Austin and a couple others, but UT is one of the only schools that had a creative advertising portfolio program as an undergrad.

When I started Texas Creative, our first assignment was to pick a brand. We had to do our Sharpie drawings, and I came into the next class nervous to present and put them on the wall. Everyone walked around, and it was cool to see some people wrote a bunch of words. Mine was 99% pictures. 

I started to find it fascinating that people’s brains work differently.

This industry is not easy. Everyone is trying to come up with the smartest, silliest, most fun or most emotional idea. Competitiveness inspires such a creative environment. Part of being competitive is looking for the right opportunities. 

I always wanted to do the best work, and sometimes it's a sacrifice. The reason I learned so much is because of the effort my copywriting partner put in raising our hand and asking to be a part of things. Alternatively, there were people who wanted to go home at 5:30 every day. They didn't want to bring the midnight oil, and I don't blame them. Everyone has a different mentality, but we have that more competitive mentality.

I don’t know what my next big move is yet, but I think it’ll be less learning about the industry and more learning about myself and what I’m capable of as a leader.

This is hard work — for sure — but in general, I think it's about learning how to be a leader and leading with that fearless attitude.

Q&A

What classes or experiences helped you the most with your career?

The advertising program at UT is cool in that you learn about different roles in advertising. In my media class, we had to do a full, creative campaign — strategy, budget and creative — for Birds Barbershop. It trained us to work together in a group where everyone has a different role. Texas Creative set me up for success. It teaches you how to do the big ideas first. Everyone I know from the Texas Creative program is killing it, whether it’s art direction, copywriting, design, content creation or anything. Everyone is in a creative role.

What work did you do during your time at UT?

Every summer during college, I (went) to a different place to intern to see what I liked and didn’t like. My first actual art internship was at Y&R in Miami. Actually putting it into practice kept me going because seeing the difference between a strategy role and a creative role and what it's like in the real world was a no-brainer. I think that was probably the best thing I did because it made me feel like I can actually do this.

How did you find your start after college?

I’ll admit — it is hard to break into the industry for juniors because they’re looking at your student work and taking a chance on you. I ended up doing freelance design work, and then a fellow portfolio friend of mine called. He said, “I passed along your information (to a recruiter at DDB). She likes your book so she’s going to give you a call.” I didn’t want to do another internship, but working for a large, well-established agency on iconic brands was too big of an opportunity to turn down. Ultimately, it was the best thing I did. I think it’s the best way to hire because you’re already in the agency, and they see what you can do. It wasn’t the easiest, but I learned a lot in the process because no one’s going to hand it to you.

How have you maneuvered into the industry?

The industry is actually very small, and I really made an effort. I continue to reach out to people (whose) work inspired me, look on LinkedIn, find creatives, see if anyone’s willing to get coffee, learn from them, have them look at your work. It’s not always the fastest process. For some, it happens quick, (which) is rare. Relying on people in the industry and making an effort to keep in contact with those people is important because some of those people — to this day — are people I can call with questions. Networking, in general, is important. People reach out to me, and I’ll always get coffee with someone. I think most would feel the same way. We all work hard, but we also know how hard it is to get started.

What’s the biggest lesson you've learned transitioning from college to the "real world?"

If I could go back and tell myself something is to keep having fun with it. This is such a fun job. We're literally in the business of coming up with ideas and trying to make people smile, cry or laugh. As soon as you're not having fun - first of all, you're not coming up with your best work. Second of all, it's a shame because not a lot of people are lucky enough to say that their job is to come up with ideas. I learned to always carry that enthusiasm and honest fun through it because it shows in your work. People respond to you better. A good life lesson, in general, is to never take anything too seriously and just remember to have fun with it because it is a really cool job.

What was the biggest contributing factor to why you are where you are now?

It is a male-dominated industry, so you have to learn, as a woman, to stand up and speak your mind. I think it’s being a leader, being competitive and also having thick skin. I’ve met a lot of people who struggle with constructive criticism because they take it personally when it’s just about what’s the best idea for the brand, campaign or TV commercial. It’s never personal. That competitive nature, leadership aspect and fearless quality are really important. It’s having that desire to want to do better, to be a part of the work that’s going on and just at least throw your hat into the mix — give it a try.