People Want the Truth: An Interview with Laura Stigler
Laura Stigler is a Chicago-based freelance writer and consultant. President and founder of Shebang! Writing-2-Consulting, she also holds the position of Executive Vice-President at the Independent Writers of Chicago and has an extensive history in the advertisement industry, including a position as Vice-President/Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson (Chicago) for several years. We sat down with Laura to talk about the “business” of creativity, her history with commercial writing, and the people that influenced her.
Q: Tell us a little about Independent Writers of Chicago
and how you found yourself as the Executive Vice-President.
LAURA: The whole purpose of the organization is to provide writers with a place where they can go to network and find out more information, to get help in ways that could make their business more profitable. I owe pretty much all of my freelance career to IWOC, because they started out - mind you, this is before the internet - with hard copy directories of all of their writers. They would send these directories out to businesses and that’s where people began seeing my name. When I first started freelancing, I did a lot of cold calling and all of that, and while I got some jobs through that, I’ve received a great deal of work through IWOC; if it wasn’t directly through the organization, then it would be through a recommendation from someone else at IWOC via word-of-mouth. So, essentially, I really do owe my career to them, and now that they are online, all you need to do is go to Google and type in “freelance writers Chicago,” or something to that effect, and you’ll see that Independent Writers of Chicago is one of the first listings that come up.
I joined IWOC right after I became a freelancer - that was around 1989 - and around then, I wasn’t much involved, but I’ve found that the more you get involved in the organization, the more fun it is, and the more that you grow. I would go to the meetings and I began to suggest things; after some time, they asked me to be on the board.
Q: Before your time at IWOC, you worked for a few years as the Creative Director
at J. Walter Thompson, an advertising agency. Tell us a bit about how you came to that position.
LAURA: I began with retail copywriting, which I recommend to anybody starting up in the advertising world; you learn how to work quickly and you learn a lot of disciplines in retail. That’s where I started, and then I found myself at J. Walter Thompson. After twelve years or so with the company - those last couple of years having served as Creative Director - I decided that I wanted to move on. But I didn’t want to work in the corporate world anymore; I had already done that. I wanted the freedom and variety that freelance offers, and although it is certainly scarier than a steady paycheck, I was fortunate to have started making money right away. Not immediately at the same rate as my pay at J. Walter, of course, but I worked up to that.
Q: What is one of the hardest challenges you’ve had to face
as a freelance writer for advertising?
LAURA: First, let me say: the thing about freelancing is that you can pick and choose who you want to work for. I vowed to not work for someone that I didn’t like. I decided that I would not work with a person that suppressed my ideas, because it just wouldn’t be productive for either of us. Fortunately, I’ve only encountered this issue one or two times. Aside from that, the hardest challenge I can think of is a consistent one: to always be working. Sometimes it takes a cold call, and sometimes it may seem that there isn’t enough time, but you must keep the ball rolling.
Q: Do you feel that advertising is often ignored as a creative industry?
LAURA: I don’t think so. When you tell someone that you’re in advertising, they’re usually interested; this may be due, in part, to glamorization from things such as Mad Men, or perhaps from cultural events, such as the Super Bowl. But, in a certain way, it is an art, and it is certainly a creative industry. I think it is respected for its creativity, but not as a form of art or an industry of art. It’s commercial - quite literally.
Q: When you begin working on a new campaign, where do you begin?
LAURA: You have to find the thing that is most interesting about it. For instance: I had a job for a small print ad, it was all about “cable ties,” you know, those things that tie cables together. Believe it or not, that’s someone’s livelihood. There’s a lot of innovation that goes into something like that, and everything has what they call “intrinsic drama” - so yes, even cable ties have an intrinsic drama to it, you just have to find it and sell that. That’s what makes the job fun: the search. That’s where you begin, and all the while, you must focus on the truth of things. People want the truth, and if they aren’t getting it, they’ll know.
I wrote a blog once - it was a ghost blog, where the author is anonymous and the blog is credited - and it was about breakfast cereals. It was a look at the habits of “millennials” when it came to their selections, and I found that, overall, they don’t like sugary cereals. The stuff that I grew up with, cereals like Frosted Flakes, young people today tend to see through the “Tony the Tiger” types and all of the misleading portrayals of wholesomeness and nutritional value, and they see what is true: a whole lot of sugar. While people want things that are interesting, they also want the truth; that goes for art, literature, cereal, anything.
Q: In the summary on your LinkedIn, you thank your dad for your “writing skills and imagination”
and your mom for “the ability to ignore the irrelevant and zero in on the important”.
Tell us about your parents and their influence on you as a creative creature.
LAURA: My dad, he’s 98 now and was a brilliant man, a brilliant writer. He, too, was a copywriter, but for Leo Burnett Co. He introduced so much to me, my brother, and my sister. He filled the house with music, movies, my mom and dad would read to us all of the time; they were really full of creativity. My dad would bring home ideas and test them on us and stuff like that. He wrote for comedians back in the day, but he also worked as a freelance writer before I was born. He was a tremendous influence. My mom, well both of them, they were very encouraging with their praise, but also with their honesty. When I read my poetry to them, my dad would say, “you’re better than I was at your age!”, and it always fed my confidence; meanwhile, my mom was more honest, and if I read something that wasn’t so good, she’d let me know.
My dad always talked about the craft of writing, he would say, “Never look at a blank page for more than 5 seconds. You’ve got to just start writing, even if it is the stupidest thing ever, because you never know - ideas can come from anywhere.” My parents were a great balance; while my dad was very creative, my mother was more practical.
Q: Who is your hero and why?
LAURA: Both of my parents. My mom went through great adversity as a kid, and both of their attitudes - they were never bored. They loved their family and encouraged us as kids. They served us as great examples by being nice to people, being kind to people; my mom especially, she would make people feel important. You always felt that she was happy to see you. They were honest and hard-working people, always doing for others. They encouraged us as kids to follow our dreams and made us believe that we could do anything.
Q: What’s an advertisement that comes to mind
that you really enjoyed? A jingle? An image?
LAURA: For Macintosh’s first personal computer, there was a commercial called “1984”. It only aired once, during the Super Bowl in 1984. The impact was huge, but it was broadcast a single time; everything else was PR or reruns on other shows. To talk about “truth” and “interest” some more: it fit the time so well. Before then, people were wary of computers, the technology was overwhelming to some. People would laugh and say, “Oh, you’re going to have a computer in your home?” But this product, it changed the world, and the commercial for this product was crafted perfectly for the time. It was a revolutionary ad for a revolutionary product.
Q: Any last words for the readers?
LAURA: Well, not so much for the readers, but I did come up with a little tagline for your magazine, if you’re interested. It’s a little along the topic of “truth” again. You don’t have to use it, of course, but I thought it was fun.
TMR: We’d love to hear it!
LAURA: The Matador Review: “No bull.”
For more information on Laura Stigler,
you can visit her website at http://www.laurastiglerwriter.com
or email inquiries to “firstname.lastname@example.org”.