Interview with Cristina Pansolini
What specifically turned you on to the world of advertising? Did you initially choose to go to NYC to pursue a career in communications?
I came to NYC to start my degree in Media, Culture, and Communications at New York University. I always knew I wanted to be in marketing, PR or advertising, but was leaning toward PR. Most of my internships had been in PR and marketing, but then I was offered a summer internship at Saatchi & Saatchi NY. As soon as my foot set in the door, I knew this was the industry I wanted to be in. The creative vibe, the bustle of the account people, and the confused-but-determined looks of the strategic planners were too incredible to pass up. The overall scene of an advertising office is what turned me on to the industry…and Mad Men.
What is the single most valuable lesson you have taken from NYU and applied to your career?
NYU is all about standing out in the crowd. Because it’s such a big school, there just isn’t enough man power to hold every student’s hand.
If you aren’t eager and aggressive, you will undoubtedly get left behind.
There is no question that NYU prepared me to be an individual and to really work for what I want. I managed to continue at Saatchi past the summer internship as a part-time freelancer while I finished up my last semester at school.
The drive to make it is part genetic, part environment. I credit NYU and NYC for that hunger to strive.
We understand you interned for Saatchi & Saatchi before being hired as a freelance Junior Strategic Planning Strategist. What advice would you give to those hopeful interns looking to turn their internship into a career?
Technically, I had three different roles — and still do.
I work in the Internal Communications Department (aka PR for Saatchi itself, not its clients), in the Social and Emerging Media Department, and in the Strategic Planning Department. I’m very much an entry level employee, and don’t have an official title. I appreciate Saatchi letting me have a hand in different departments so I can choose which direction I really want to go into. As of right now, I’ve fallen for strategic planning.
The best advice I ever received was from a past supervisor, Rosie Siman. She used to be my Social and Emerging Media supervisor, but is now a Social Strategist at 360i. Rosie taught me to stand up for myself on the one hand, but to know who you’re speaking to on the other. She balanced professionalism with humor and fun, and was really honest when asked for her opinion.
People respect someone who respects themselves. I would say the best way to turn an internship into a career is to gain that respect.
Being professional is one facet of this, and not just by writing an email the right way (Always address the person! Using their name goes a long way!). Go to events in your field. For instance, Rosie sent me to Advertising Week and Internet Week events and paid me to go. I ended up learning more about my field than I did in the office — so go. You’ll appreciate it later, I promise.
The second facet to respect is personal. If you don’t take your work seriously, or in other words respect your own time and effort, then no one will hire you. Checking Facebook twice a day at work is okay, but letting it creep into your hourly schedule will eventually hurt your work ethic. If you have a job right now, it’s a rarity. Appreciate it even if you have more work to do than you know what to do with. At least you have work to do, right?
We would love to hear a bit about Saatchi & Saatchi. What originally turned you on to this agency? What makes Saatchi & Saatchi different from other agencies in NYC?
To be honest, I was so new to advertising that I had no idea quite how big Saatchi & Saatchi was in the advertising world. My mom’s good friend works in the office and suggested I submit my resume, with her blessing. Connections have done wonders for kick-starting my career.
So what makes Saatchi different, now that I’m here? The relaxed vibe, for sure.
The people are probably the best part! It was hard for me to balance school and work at first, so my desk mates would take some of my busy work when they had a lag in work load.
We wouldn’t even be working on the same project and they’d be there to help.
Additionally, I actually feel like people here care if you make it. My supervisors come over to talk about life — one of them even helped edit a creative writing piece I had for school. I babysit for the head of one of the departments. They check in when they don’t have to. It’s refreshing.
You’ve compared Saatchi & Saatchi’s vibe to the Mad Men culture. Please elaborate. How do you think Mad Men has affected the advertising industry in the eyes of the general public?
Well, in my response to the first question of this interview I stated that Mad Men had something to do with my career choice. Technically speaking, that was a joke. But if I’m putting my pride aside, I couldn’t help but drool over the clothes, and Don Draper. While I knew whiskey, cigarettes and 3-piece suits weren’t actually part of the industry anymore, the “swag” and creativity certainly is — and the egos!
I don’t think Mad Men has changed much about the actual industry, but I do think the appearance of it to the general public has definitely been heightened.
As soon as I mention that I work in advertising, I wait for the inevitable, “Oh my gosh, I love Mad Men!” comment. I think advertising is seen as more glamorous due to the show. I hate to say it, but I think some people actually think a campaign is created by Don Draper slowly saying a catch phrase between puffs of a Lucky Strike cigarette.
It takes way more work than that.
The show doesn’t go into the strategic side of anything. There is a reason a campaign is launched at a certain time of year, or why the catch phrase is worded the way it’s worded. It’s all planned out through several departments. There is definitely not just that big honcho with all the great ideas.
While at Saatchi & Saatchi has anyone taken you under their wing? As a newbie, whom do you look to for mentorship? Is mentorship important to you?
I have a few people who check in on me and make sure I’m comfortable with what’s going on. Rosie, mentioned earlier, was my biggest mentor and still is.
Aside from Rosie, Mark Pollard, Mark Sherwood, Becky Wang, Mat Newman and Lynne Collins have rallied around me. Whenever I need help or freak out about where I’m going in my career, one of them inevitably tells me which direction is best, or at the very least buys me a coffee and tells me to relax or hang in there.
Mentorship is probably the most important thing to me.
I come from a close (and loud) Italian family, and I tend to take that mentality with me wherever I go. Knowing I have a team of people who have been in my 21-year-old shoes and can talk me through the confusion is beyond comforting.
Tell us about Hudson/Houston, Saatchi & Saatchi’s blog you often contribute to. What is the most important part to maintaining a successful blog? What is the most challenging aspect?
The most important part of maintaining a successful blog is having a flexible editor!
Mat lets me run with ideas. He’s honest with me when a post doesn’t look all that fantastic or if an idea is a little flat. That being said, he generally lets me try pretty much everything once and if it looks good, he signs off on it. He does edit everything that goes out though, which I think is another key part.
All of our posts have the same voice, and Mat ensures we stick to it.
The most challenging aspect, which any blogger can attest to, is getting people to care.
It can be hard to create content when you invoke outside help. People always say yes to contributing, but getting them to follow through can be difficult because they have their real work to worry about, too. The lack of incentive for participating is what it really boils down to. However, Saatchi’s higher-ups have recently put more weight on the blog as a way to show work ethic and true passion, so it’s been getting easier!
With social media being a fairly new medium, in what direction do you see it going in the next few years? How will this affect advertising in general?
Social media is definitely new in terms of business, but it’s old news for my generation.
I’ve had some sort of online profile since I was in 8th grade (MySpace…oy).
Recently, businesses have been realizing how massive the social media market is, and it’s rapidly expanding. The first thing people do now is Google something, and one of the top search results is usually the Facebook page of that something. Slowly, Twitter has been added to that results list, with YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, etc. close behind.
In the next few years, I see social media being quantified.
The data gathered from social media isn’t just online chatter. It’s free, unbiased focus groups for brands and companies to hear exactly what their consumers are saying.
I never understood why some companies were afraid of being on social media. They fear of backlash and public scrutiny, which I totally understand. However, isn’t the point of a business to please the consumer and therefore garner more profit? Not only does social media allow the consumer to be heard genuinely, but it also allows the businesses to have a dialogue within both the positive and negative feedback.
People forget that behind a business logo is a person.
Social media allows that behind-the-scenes person to actually speak up, person-to-person. It is called social media, after all. It brings humanity to business.
We understand your ultimate goal is to end up at an integrated agency, as you want to work on a combination of all your passions. Tell me a bit more about this goal and your plans for the future.
Ideally, I’d like to end up at an integrated agency because I’m a product of my generation. I show no shame in admitting that my age bracket will never go back to “the way it was” — working in one office, slowly moving up over a 30-year time period to ultimately retire.
While I fully respect the way the older generations once saw careers (I wish I had that attention span and patience!), I just don’t have what it takes to do one job for years and years.
I admire integrated agencies because everyone gets a hand in everything.
Obviously each employee has their specialty and focus, but they also get a taste of how other departments live and work together simultaneously to create a final product.
My goal is to be on the strategy side of things, but I’d love to be at an agency where my creative ideas are considered, or even where some account work needs to be done, as well. That’s really where I see this industry going — I truly believe integrated agencies with multi-faceted employees is the future of advertising.
Cristina Pansolini currently works at Saatchi & Saatchi NY as the Public Relations, Social/Emerging Media and Strategic Planning Assistant. She graduated from New York University in January 2012, majoring in Media, Culture and Communications. Follow her @cristina_simone and @hudsonhouston, or email her at email@example.com.