As a kid, when you’re watching television commercials and your instinct is to start rewriting the messaging instead of singing along, you know your future is in editing. That’s exactly what happened to Sarah O’Grady. Since then, her unusual career path has been driven by her bohemian spirit to follow the opportunities that present themselves. In the process, she has gained experience across different verticals and roles, but one thing has remained constant — the creativity she brings to the brands she works with. Even the most mundane things can be made interesting with the right creative mind behind them.
Talentedly: What inspired your passion for copywriting?
Sarah O’Grady: I’ve always been drawn to words. When I was young, I remember watching commercials and thinking about how I would have written the payoff differently. Or reading magazines, I’d be dreaming up different headlines. I’m always dreaming up lines in my head; the words I’d use to make something sound more interesting than it is. That, and I LOVE a game of Scrabble! I figured, if I could turn that love into a career, I’d be set!
Talentedly: Sometimes copywriting can be interpreted as only the writing of copy, but it sounds like your work is multifaceted around a brand, PR, marketing, events, and more. What’s your role as a consultant and what aspect of your job do you like the most?
SO: My career progression has not been typical. I started as a junior copywriter for an ad agency and transitioned into a copywriter-slash-trend researcher-slash- clothing stylist for L’Oreal. I know. Unusual, to say the least. But I had a bohemian spirit and so I just let the creative opportunities I was presented with chart my course. This approach has allowed me to work in different creative capacities for brands like Ethan Allen, Target, Cigna, Sony PlayStation, Carolina Ballet, and UNC, among others. Different verticals, different roles, but one thing remained constant: I brought a unique flavor of creative thinking to each brand I worked with and a comprehensive understanding of how all sides of the table operate in business, and I think that’s why I continued to land great opportunities. Now, I’m in charge of creative, social and content for Lenovo and I’m having a lot of fun in my new, full-time role! At this stage of my career, I’m truly the sum of all of my parts.
Talentedly: You got your BA in journalism — were you ever interested in becoming an author?
SO: Absolutely – I’m still interested! I’ve probably started 25 books over the course of my life. I never finished any of them, however. I think that’s the hardest part. But I’d love to write (and finish!) a children’s book at some point. I have a few ideas up my sleeve…
Talentedly: Was there an event or person that helped shape your career?
SO: There have been a few, but the one that stands out most for me was my first boss at the NYC ad agency where I worked right out of college – a brilliantly creative man named Gustavo Asensi – he was a huge source of inspiration for me. He encouraged me to do more than my job description dictated; a job description he wrote, no less. He encouraged me to color outside of the lines, always, and to challenge the norm. He helped me realize that even mundane things can be interesting with the right creative behind it. And that has remained with me always. It’s easy to make booze or candy sound fun. The challenge is often in working with brands or businesses that don’t have that built-in intrigue.
Talentedly: What skill has helped you most in your career?
SO: Learning to not take things personally. Creative work can be so passionate – you really feel a connection and a strong sense of ownership to creative ideas. But it’s also subjective, and I think it took me a while to really understand how to reconcile that and not consider it a personal dig at my talent when someone didn’t like my ideas.
Talentedly: What do you think is the most underrated skill in the workplace?
SO: The art of killing with kindness. And it is an art!
Talentedly: What social media mistake do you see the most that makes you cringe?
SO: It makes me crazy when big brands put kids at the helm of their social media accounts. Social media is a legitimate business. It’s not just the free cocktail party everyone touted years ago. There are metrics and KPIs, and an incredible amount of money involved in the business of social and engagement marketing. But some brands put inexperienced drivers behind the wheel of their luxury “social” cars and then wonder how they end up on “Social Gone Wrong” lists. The people running your social accounts need to be strategic; they need to have the right mix of marketing and street savvy that comes with a few years of experience.
Talentedly: How has your industry most significantly changed over the last 10 years?
SO: Everything these days is about numbers – about showing results – when for a long time, it was about being experimental and just seeing what worked. Social accountability – being able to analyze dashboards of data and make sure you’re spending your budgets wisely, achieving your KPIs strategically, is a heavy (but necessary) part of the social job for someone who’s creative- not data minded.
Talentedly: Advice for anyone wanting to go into the copywriting or branding industry?
SO: Have a hook – whether it’s that you know how to really push the envelope in the B2B space, or you have the secret to getting people to read beyond a headline (because honestly, people don’t read anymore… I know that’s not a promising fact coming from someone who writes for a living, but it’s the truth!) Be more than just a good copywriter or content marketer or social media person. Be enthusiastic about the world, about uncovering things to help not just inspire you but those around you. Because again, you’re the sum of all of your parts, and that includes the team of people you work with. You never know where your next idea will come from; so nurture and feed your soul, which will in turn fuel your work.
Talentedly: Quote or mantra to live by?
SO: “Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think is still the secret of great creative people.” – Leo Burnett
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