Christine Cowan, our Managing Director of Account Service, talks about her journey in (and out) of the advertising industry.
As I ponder my almost 30 years in the advertising business, I’ve decided the best way to share the ins and outs of my career is a “sizzle reel” if you will. Let’s get right to it:
- Proudest Moment: Crossing the state line into Michigan to be greeted with “Welcome to Pure Michigan”, a campaign I and 6 of my closest colleagues created and evolved together for 10+ years..
- Most Embarrassing Moment: Covering a cab fare that my boss refused to pay (in front of the client)
- Biggest Accomplishment: authoring and winning an Effie award after year upon year of submitting an application to no avail.
- Most Fun: Hands down, a week-long TV shoot to capture towns and scenics on the east coast of Michigan (Lake Huron) in 2008. Later dubbed “Spring Break ‘08”. We (clients, agency and crew alike) had more fun than I can ever remember or should be allowed at work. Every night was a “wrap party” in itself. Yet we still managed to make our 4 a.m. call times every morning, and walked away with breathtaking footage that everyone else knows as “Pure Michigan.”
- Most Interesting Learning: a walking tour of Gannett Outdoor (now OutFront) as a traffic coordinator. We got a glimpse into a day in the life of the creation of an outdoor board (the ones on the side of a highway) – do you know back then an actual person PAINTED the outdoor billboards by hand, filling in a grid of squares across the standard 14’x 48’ wooden board?
- Coolest industry perk: So many to consider: the Super Bowl, US Open, the Ryder Cup, shooting a PT Cruiser spot at L.A. Studios, but I’m going to have to go with attending the White House Correspondents Dinner in 1997 as a guest of Time, Inc. (Bill Clinton was President and delivered the annual roast to the press corp). I didn’t even like him, but he was fabulous.
- Best Campaign: Of course, it’s the Pure Michigan campaign. The winningest tourism campaign in US history. But…a close runner-up would have to be a Jeep campaign when I worked at Bozell (I worked on Chrysler not Jeep, but close enough). It was called “Snow-Covered” and won at Cannes (a huge deal). It showed a car traveling underneath a blanket of snow, stops at a stop sign, and then a turn signal lights up, and the vehicle turns, only to be revealed it was a Jeep in the final end card with the Jeep logo. You never saw the vehicle for the entire spot, and it was brilliant. A story about capability really. Kudos to Carol Joseph, Andy and Bill Morden (I think??) for pulling it off.
- Worst Campaign: Surprisingly, a single asset we created for “Pure Michigan.” I can speak of it openly because we all knew it, and we joked about it. In truth, the end result was a product of the clients dictating to us, not of the team who created it (shame on them, and shame on us for going along with it). We were working on a logo that would reflect the likeness of a historic scenic byway on the west coast of Michigan – the local clients (not our state clients) had asked for everything and the kitchen sink – please show “trees (deciduous and pine), a roadway, a skyline, a waterway”, etc. The final straw was a request to add fish. It was Just. So. Bad.
- Most Starstruck: Hanging out with Kiefer Sutherland who was hosting the season premiere of “24” at our local movie theater (a private event for the Ford Truck team thanking us for sponsoring the uninterrupted 60-minute show).
- A moment I will never forget: It was 2001, my Coleman [Camping] client was in town for a photo shoot and on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, we got our nails done first thing in the morning before heading to our pre-pro meeting at the agency. As we were exiting the salon my phone rang to let us know things were likely cancelled. I was not happy, unbeknownst to us what had transpired in NYC that morning. We quickly got up-to-speed as I drove the 25 minute route to the office to drop off my client at her hotel (she spent the entire drive on the phone trying to find a rental car to drive back to her home in Wichita, Kansas). After dropping her off, I turned around immediately to head back to my house as our office was quickly closed for the day. I was in grid-lock traffic traffic on the phone with my Dad when the first tower fell. I will never forget hearing the horror from a man I always knew as unflappable. I got home minutes before the second tower fell, and like most Americans will never forget that moment, that day, and what it has meant ever since. Over 20 years later—my Coleman client and I still revisit the awful events that unfolded that day, and will forever be connected by this terrible tragedy.
- Best Client: Okay best two clients. My feelings about these two have never wavered:
- George Zimmermann – the State Tourism Director for Michigan. I don’t know how to describe it, but George and I had a special connection from day one. Our work styles were almost identical, which thankfully worked to our advantage—we belabored very little, both realists, and not afraid to say it like it was. I have the utmost respect for George. To this day, George and I stay in touch, and he is the first call I make any time I need advice, help or a sounding board.
- Steve Hill – my GM client. Steve is the kind of guy that people listened to. And not because he raised his voice, which he didn’t. He was always the voice of reason and not afraid to make tough decisions, regardless of the outcome or who he had to face. Because you know why? “We’ll figure it out.” He was reasonable, likable and funny. He embodied what it means to be a “great client”. He was the bar for every other client that followed him, though none surpassed.
- Pivotal Moment: This was not too long ago. Sitting in my brother’s kitchen on vacation in Savannah with my entire family. I was supposed to be on vacation but instead I was working on a video for the Governor of Michigan who was making a trip to China to discuss business/trade opportunities. We were translating the video into Chinese and it was a complete nightmare. I was sitting at the kitchen table when everyone went to bed, and still sitting there 8 hours later when they emerged after a night’s sleep. I remember them questioning what in the world could be that important (only those of us in advertising understand the ridiculous hoops we jump through repeatedly, often at the sake of family and loved ones). I was so embarrassed because I knew that it was ridiculous, and I was in tears, in front of my parents, which was also mortifying. That was the first time I snapped (there were 2 others still to come). I quit my job the day I returned from my “vacation.” Lesson: If you are miserable, always in tears, and personal relationships are being affected, something isn’t right.
And last but not least:
- First Time I Liked my Job: You guessed it – Amélie. It only took me 25 years and leaving the industry twice – add in a little dampening of the spirit, a smidge of perspective, and a dash of realizing there is more to life than my job, ironically, is when I found happiness at work. I truly enjoyed going to work. Those who know me couldn’t believe their ears – I loved the job and home I found in Denver, at a place called Amélie. And then COVID hit…but that’s a different blog.
Christine Cowan, Managing Director, Account