top of page
stephie logo w stars.png
  • Writer's pictureStephie Coplan

Last week, I came across an acquaintance's post on LinkedIn. I liked it so much that I decided to make some tweaks and repost it on my account:

"In addition to donating money to anti-racist organizations over the past several days and reading several anti-racist books, I'm donating time to help Black individuals professionally.
Throughout my career I've had access to (largely white) professional networks of people who were willing to make time to talk with me about their career journeys and answer my questions.
Many Black individuals don't benefit from similar professional networks in the advertising world. Despite 14% of the US population being Black, Black employees make up only 5.8% of the industry (source in comments).
So I'm offering up my time to prioritize 15-30 minute calls with Black individuals either currently in or looking to move into#advertising,#copywriting,#artdirection,#branding, or another field where I can be helpful.
I know my experience as a white woman won't translate directly, but I want to help any way I can.
If you're interested, please go towww.stephiecoplan.comand send me a message. If you know someone else who might be, please send this post their way."

The reason I posted it is because I'm basically as senior as you can be without having any actual power. I don't get to decide who gets hired. Most times, I don't even get to decide who gets interviewed. It seemed like a good way for someone like me—a powerless middle manager—to do their part to change the landscape of my industry.

Two things happened after I hit "post."

First, only one Black person reached out to me. My suspicion is that there was something about the way my post was worded that alienated the Black community. Maybe I came off as too much of a white savior, too proud of myself for my virtue signaling. The more I thought about it, I realized that I was essentially offering to do a nice thing for Black people that I do on a regular basis for pretty much anyone who approaches me, because I like helping people. And then I thought, well, if I'm willing to do this for anyone, how am I helping to level the playing field for Black people? How am I giving them a leg up if I'm giving people who already have white privilege a leg up, too? Once I came to this realization, I wanted to take my post down, but I didn't want the people who had already seen it to think that I had changed my mind for sinister reasons. It's still there on my profile, but I'm embarrassed about it.

The second thing was that my post got reposted by several high-profile execs who, unlike me, do have hiring power. You might even say they have all the hiring power. I think it's great that the idea resonated with them, but if 15-30 minute phone calls are all they're doing—and maybe it's not—they're missing the point of this entire movement. Black people are sick of white lip service. They are sick of hearing us say we care, and then not following through by hiring, promoting, or empowering them. What Black people need right now from people in the C-suite isn't a phone call. They could have gotten that in 1995. It's clear that they need, and deserve, jobs. Good jobs. The kinds of jobs that have always historically been offered to white people because they look like the other people in the C-suite.

It's really that simple. Your diversity task force and day of reflection are great, but they must be coupled with making Black hires, and paying them fairly. That's what matters.

Because Black lives matter. So Black jobs do, too.

That was advice that my ex-boyfriend's mom gave me.

Unfortunately, when she gave it to me, she didn't realize that I was going through a period when I felt like I was way behind where I should have been. I was trying to go from being a lower-middle class musician to a superstar. I was about to turn 26, but I felt like I was turning 100. I lived not under a dark cloud, but a ticking clock counting down to 30—the death knell for a female performer. Every minute that passed brought me closer and closer to failure.

I will be turning 33 next week and when I look back on 25-year-old me, I simultaneously empathize and feel sorry for her. I know why she felt the way she did. But I also wish I could have made her realize that the only reason she felt old was because of the way the music industry warped her perception. By any other standard, 25 is pretty much like being a teenager, except with with full rights and a paycheck.

I'm an ambitious person and to some extent, I'll never really be happy with where I am professionally because one of the hallmarks of my personality is always wanting more. I'm bad at celebrating my own accomplishments. I'm bad at allowing myself to relax. As soon as I achieve something, I don't even catch my breath before looking for the next rung on the ladder and hoisting myself up. It's not really something I want to change about myself, but it is something I need to learn to temper.

So here are three things I'm proud of. They're not impressive to anyone else but me. But I know how much work they took, so I'm going to do something out of character and give myself a pat on the back.

1) I have learned how to have more empathy. This means understanding why a client might reject an idea that I'm absolutely in love with, or being extra-nice to an account person who is going out of their way to help me with a proactive project that will do way more for my career than their own. It also means taking a minute to reflect on other people's personalities—their insecurities, weaknesses, fears—and adjust the way I treat them accordingly. Some people struggle with accepting criticism. It is my job to understand when to keep my thoughts to myself, even if I'm right, or have the best of intentions. Some people need to be the center of attention at all times; the "funny one," the "big personality." It's my job to be mature enough to rein myself in so those people can feel good about themselves. And some people simply don't like themselves, and they project that energy on to other people. It is my job to not take it personally, or change things about myself that I like because I think it'll make them happy. It won't. Nothing will.

2) I am a great teacher. This was confirmed when I taught at Miami Ad School this year, and I saw 20 people go from not understanding what an ad is to making ones that could win awards in just 10 weeks. I wish I had more of an opportunity to incorporate this skill into my...hey! There I go again, looking for that next rung. STOP IT, Stephie, we're making a list of things we're proud of, not things we want to do more of.

3) I have forgiven the assholes. Advertising attracts a lot of kind, smart, wonderful people, but like any industry, it's not immune to the occasional asshole. I used to wish ill upon these people, but I've come to realize that most assholes don't deliberately set out to be assholes. There's usually something sad going on in their lives, or in their brains, behind the scenes that we don't know about. (See point 1, about insecurities, weaknesses, and fears.) Someone may appear to betray you, but really, they're acting out of fear. Or someone may appear to dislike you, but really, they're insecure. I'm not saying that everyone else is always to blame for whatever you're going through. It's not helpful to do mental gymnastics to convince yourself that you're a perfect angel who's tragically drowning in a sea of assholes. We need to take accountability for our own actions and think about the contributions we're making towards other people's opinions of us. But it helps to also humanize the people who appear to imperviously commit acts of assholishness and remember that a lot of that behavior has to do with pain that you'll never understand. This goes for colleagues. This goes for exes. This goes for politicians. This goes for anyone with a heartbeat—because if you have a heart, then you have pain.

So, there you go, Stephie. You're turning 33, and you're doing just fine.

Happy birthday, me.

On Wednesday, my friend and favorite songwriter of all time, Adam Schlesinger, died very suddenly at the age of 52 from COVID-19 complications, leaving behind two daughters, hundreds of perfect pop songs, and thousands of devastated fans.

I could write a book about how much I loved his his sense of harmony and melody, his lyricism, and about the myriad of ways he influenced me, first as a songwriter and then ultimately as a copywriter. And I know I'm not alone. There's a reason he's been described in a bevy of thought-pieces over the last few days as a "songwriter's songwriter." A lot of people—musicians and non-musicians alike—are grieving right now for the premature loss of one of our generation's greatest talents.

But I want to talk about a different, lesser-known, specific legacy he leaves behind for those of us who were fortunate enough to know him: his mentorship.

When I met Adam, I was a dorky, overeager 23-year-old with a full-time desk job, a band after work, and not much else. I posted a cover of one of my favorite Fountains of Wayne songs, "Someone to Love," and it somehow ended up on Fountains of Wayne's website. A few weeks later, I hung out with the band at their show in Hoboken. All of them were incredibly nice to me but I connected deepest with Adam, songwriter to songwriter.

Adam told me I was a great pianist (I think he told me I "banged the hell out of that thing") and noted that he could hear his influence in my lyrics. He was effusive with praise and receptive to songs I would send him over the next few years. I cannot emphasize enough how little I had to offer him when we met, professionally speaking. I was lucky that I eventually went on to have one of my songs chart on the radio, but before any of that happened, I had no equity, no reputation, no leverage. I just had enthusiasm, and my anemic, unpolished catalogue of songs. But for Adam, that was enough.

As a nobody, being validated by my idol was more than enough.

The last time I spoke to Adam was in 2016, over e-mail. By that point, I was working at Apple, living in San Francisco, and doing the occasional musical project for brands on the side. I sent him some hold music I had written that was heavily inspired, as usual, by him. I was afraid he would think I was a failure for selling out. I wondered if he would think I was a hack. But he told me how much he still loved my music, even in the context of advertising, and told me to give him a call next time I was in LA. My confidence soared. Even after I had left the music industry, he was still a mensch, still a cheerleader, still a mentor.

Advertising is nowhere near as competitive as the music industry, but the process of breaking in has some similarities. Getting a creative director to look at your portfolio is akin to getting a label to check out your demo tape. Creativity is inherently subjective, so getting your first job is dependent on your work landing in the hands of a gatekeeper who understands and believes in you. Even if that gatekeeper is unable to give you a job, just knowing they approve of you can make all the difference between quitting and persisting. And of course, no matter what your goal is, persistence is the name of the game. It is heartbreaking to think of all the young creatives out there who might have gone on to be some of our greatest thinkers and innovators if they had only had an Adam when they were starting out.

So for those of you reading this who are fortunate enough—and worked hard enough—to be gatekeepers in the advertising industry, be kind.

Be open-minded.

Be accessible.

Be responsive.

Be empathetic.

Be humble.

Be the person who fills other people with hope.

Be the person who wants everyone to win.

Be the person you would have needed when you were starting out.

Be someone's Adam.

bottom of page