Interview: Jessica Walsh on how to use stress as fuel for your work
Jessica Walsh is the founder and creative director of &Walsh, one of the few creative agencies around the world that are led by women. She talked to us about sexism in the creative industries, role-models and her approach to dealing with stress.
This is an extract of the 2020 Forward Print Magazine. Find the full interview here.
One of your ambitions for the new company was to build a better work environment. Which kind of agency culture would you like to see?
As part of this move, I am determined to make &Walsh not only known for producing top-quality creative and strategy work for top clients, but to be one of the best places to work. I think a really important part of our culture that I want to foster is that anyone at the studio can share ideas for a project. We do not limit who can submit ideas based on hierarchy. A good idea is a good idea. We often have interns send through great concepts that we could end up taking to the client. I believe that this is how you grow as an individual & as a creative. If we all feel heard, we feel appreciated and valued, the work and the culture will reflect this.
We’ve started doing many more workshops, brainstorms, and off-sites for the team. I am also starting a mini-workshop/talk series at the studio, where we are inviting top creatives in the field to come to &Walsh and give a mini-talk or workshop to the studio. I think it’s so important to continuously be inspired by other creatives in our community & get ourselves thinking outside of just how we work.
This is just the beginning, of course. I hope we look back in 5 years and see how far we’ve come.
Do you consider yourself a born leader or was it something you learned over time?
It came naturally at first. I was very good at designing. I also have a strong point of view on strategy and how that can translate into a creative vision. So it was not hard to start directing others to make work more strategic, or conceptually and formally stronger. I loved getting people motivated about their ideas and projects at hand.
However, our studio grew too fast and at a certain number of employees, no matter how great you are at leadership it becomes difficult to be there for everyone. After we grew to a certain point, my leadership declined as I was spread too thin. I was trying to act as creative director, producer, accounts manager, copywriter, managing our finances & overseeing invoicing, all while traveling around the world to give talks. No matter how many hours a day I worked, I couldn’t do it all.
This was part of the reason for starting &Walsh. I have a clear vision forward which is hiring & growing senior talent here who can mentor the juniors and designers. This process is underway, but it’s really going to be a 3+ year plan to get to where I want to be. We don’t have any outside investment or funding like many large agencies, so the growth has to be careful and slow. It’s not easy. I work round the clock.
How do you find balance in your creative career? How do you deal with stress?
Project management is an incredibly important skill that I am grateful to have learned early on in my career. This means understanding the speed at which I work, my limitations, and being able to create accurate estimates of how long something will take. This helps me plan my weeks/months/year and create realistic deadlines that I can follow through on. The variables are greater when working with a team. I have to learn everyone’s speed, strengths and weaknesses, and then plan accordingly.
Like any job at times, there will be stress, hard work and difficult decisions, and forces trying to bring you down. But I don’t let the hard times or negative thoughts kill my passion or hunger anymore, I use it as fuel. Why? All my best work, discoveries, or personal developments were born from the toughest times! And I am still hungry to learn and grow and I know I have a ways to go. I am passionate to push our work to be better, our studio workflow to be better, push my skills as a leader to be better.
Get the full interview to read the answers to questions such as…
You have put all of your energy into your career from a very young age on and you have come so far. Did you ever feel like you were missing out on something in life?
Your blog posts are full of helpful advice – how did you get to the point where you don’t feel like giving it all away by sharing your tips and tricks?
The creative industries are still dominated by men. Do you feel women have a harder time in our society to be successful (than men)?