Leading by Example: Sarah O’Bryan
September 1, 2022
Welcome back to Leading by Example, our new series on leadership featuring Hothouse leaders and innovators. Next, we’re hearing from Sarah O’Bryan, Hothouse’s Vice President, Group Creative Director. She’s seen Hothouse grow over the years and has incredible insight into where we’ve been and where we’re going.
Haley Robinson (Senior Copywriter at Hothouse): Thanks for chatting with me. Let’s start with some foundational questions. How did you get into advertising?
Sarah O’Bryan: I like to say I weaseled my way into advertising. I went to UGA for my undergrad in advertising and was part of Ad Club there. Then, I was able to get an internship in the traffic department of an agency here in Atlanta. It was an awesome way to get to know everyone in the agency and see what everyone did. I learned so much! Ultimately, I started asking if I could help on the creative side as long as I got my traffic duties done. Eventually, they hired me full-time as traffic coordinator and then I transitioned into a junior copywriter role.
HR: How did you find Hothouse?
SO: The summer before I went to college, I was introduced to Hothouse by a lady at my church. I then became an intern here. At the time, Hothouse was big in entertainment, so my job that summer was to call and convince cable networks to accept branded boxes from one of our clients. Over the years, I kept in touch with the Hothousers I’d met – they were all such a great group of people.
HR: Wow, so you’ve known about Hothouse since the beginning. What brought you back?
SO: Like I said, I kept in contact with Hothouse. Even as I moved to the west coast, whenever I’d come home for a visit, I’d always grab coffee or hang out with someone from the agency. Jon (President) and Dale (EVP, Brand Strategy) were always so supportive of my career. It’s truly a testament to the people here. When Dale reached out to ask me to help in a freelance capacity, I was happy to.
HR: What do you consider your biggest contribution to the Hothouse team?
SO: From a culture standpoint, I had a pretty big role in creating the culture that is here today. By finding different ways to connect, I’ve helped bring people together over the years. I made a good foundation. Now, as new people have joined, it’s been exciting to see them contribute and build on what has been created to make it their own. Hothouse is always open to change; everyone has the ability to bring their passions and interests to make the agency different from when they found it.
HR: I love that. Now let’s talk more about the creative process. When a client comes to you with a problem, what’s your approach?
SO: I ask a lot of questions. My job as a creative is to get what I need to be inspired to solve whatever problem the client is bringing to us (or we have identified). Because you don’t know what that solution is yet, you have to get as much info as possible. It can be overwhelming, but I find it exciting. I love learning about new things and bouncing around different subjects at different levels of complexity – and jumping from one client to another. It’s all about investigating, becoming curious and using what you discover to inspire those solutions. Hothouse is really good at empowering everyone to do just that.
HR: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry?
SO: I’ve always admired how Jon has consistently put people first and when you show that support you get the loyalty that is clearly present here. But the industry hasn’t always been that way. The idea of actually caring about your people has been the biggest shift. When I started, creatives expected to be treated like crap, work terrible hours, not have a life, and have their ideas made fun of. It was an intense experience, but I don’t think it’s necessary to being a good creative. And you don’t have to be a dick to be a good creative director. The CDs I still talk to are the ones who were empathetic and supportive on the job.
HR: I’m going to ask you to predict the future now. What trend do you expect to see in the industry?
SO: I think there is a trend toward the rejection of hyper-connectivity – or finding a better balance of it. There’s an ickiness of social media that has ended up in some real disconnect. I think brands will have to find different ways of engaging with people that will leave them feeling more positive and more connected to those around them instead of the alienation felt currently. The brands that figure out how to do that will be more successful moving forward.
HR: Recently, you’ve helped develop Hothouse’s new brand strategy. What resonates with you about it?
SO: The cool thing is that it’s not a huge pivot; it’s what we’ve always done and continue to do: help our clients, be responsive and flexible to what they need now and help them address what is next. Now we have clearer language to describe it. It’s not a revolutionary; it’s a refinement. It will give us the tools we need to have better conversations with our clients, current and potential. Ultimately, we’ve crystallized our capabilities and packaged them in a way that feels authentic to who we are now and where we want to go.
HR: What characteristics define your leadership style?
SO: The title of this series is perfect, because I do try to lead by example and show people I’m a human and I make mistakes, too. I’m always going to be open, honest, and transparent about successes and failures. The failures are even more important as you’re learning and growing. People are hesitant to own them and usually pretend they don’t exist, but I always take the opportunity to own mine. Beyond that, I like to take a love-languages approach with the people I work with to show them support in the ways they receive it best. My natural way of doing it may not be the best way. So by learning what makes them tick, I can adjust my leadership style to their needs.
HR: The team has been growing. What’s your vision for the HH creative team?
SO: Now that we have so many wonderful teammates in place, my vision is to figure out how to best support each other as we move forward in this new way of working. We’re the only department that has out-of-state employees, and they outnumber the Atlanta-based creatives. I want to show the world the benefits that come from being able to tap into talent across the country, and how we can use our different perspectives to strengthen the work. We may not be sitting together every day, but there is strength in our diversity, and we’ll bring that to our clients. Since our team is newer, this next year is all about finding that rhythm and supporting each other to produce the best work we can.
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