Last November, my friend Felix, an IBM UX designer, tagged me on LinkedIn with an ad he thought I’d appreciate. The wording, YOU WANNA BE A COPYWRITER? LET’S MAKE YOU A COPYWRITER with clapping hands emojis, pinched my heart. It had such a sweet beat. The idea behind Gonnabe Copywriter is to connect aspiring copywriters with industry creatives for advice and mentorship.
How cool it would have been to have something like Gonnabe Copywriter when I was trying to break into the business. If not for Kevin Miles, a 6’2” Black senior writer with a booming laugh and a mentor’s heart, I might not have produced a single ad.
Nicole LeLacheur knows copywriters. Those with portfolios and those with portfolios in them.
After participating in Google’s RARE Leadership Accelerator program, and talking to people in a lockdown-induced state of mind, the Grow Senior Copywriter cleared a pathway for a new breed of ad talent.
Gonnabe Copywriter is a hangout platform for Gonnabes and copywriters. This format gives aspiring writers a way to ask their burning questions about the ad biz without any pressure. “The ultimate goal of an incubator like this,” says Nicole, “is to help creative newcomers feel welcomed; not like outsiders trying to get the ‘cool kids’ to notice them.”
Straight from TikTok and The Sims – Electronic Arts, Creative Director and brave-brand leader, Laurel Stark Akman was happy to jump in on a Gonnabe hangout session. Well before COVID, Laurel conceived her own inclusivity incubator and has been on both sides of the launch process. “When I was in Nicole’s shoes launching Next Creative Leaders, the support I received from senior members of our community was core to the success of my initiative. People like Nicole give me hope for our industry and remind me how much community matters. Especially during these wild times. They don’t have big traditional platforms or titles. But they have solutions the world needs right now, and it’s beyond time our industry looked more like them.”
The pandemic feels of Summer ‘20 spared few people I know. But my mother’s mantra, ‘good comes from bad,’ rings true again. Sheltered in place for several months with no finish line in sight, wandering creative souls like Alon Goldsmith, Olyvia Chac-Ngyyen, and Cara Anderson dared to roam in new directions–while seasoned creatives showed up in service and support of the dreamers. Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means ‘a reason for being,’ and is a major tenet of the Google RARE Leadership Accelerator Nicole attended last fall. RARE selects creatives with a passion for providing and receiving representation, moving diversity forward, leading with purpose, and pretty much just figuring out what it means to be a decent human being.
Nicole’s pandemic lockdown sense of place aligned with her Ikigai sensibilities. “COVID did a lot of things. It made people pause, rethink their career path and figure out what’s really important.” A range of job seekers from pharma to theatre to education expressed a need for mentoring that seasoned creatives felt called to share.” Google’s RARE Accelerator fast-tracks under-represented creatives. At RARE, Nicole connected with an extroverted grad student, working in public health at a large research hospital. When Olyvia Chac-Nguyen fell out of love with her field, COVID hit and her passion for branding surfaced. Career flipping while in lockdown left Olyvia feeling isolated from other writers with non-traditional ad backgrounds. Receiving an email from Nicole inviting her to join Gonnabe Copywriter was everything.
Creative Brief: Gonnabe Copywriter OBJECTIVE: Create a safe space to start conversations between the Olyvia Chac-Nguyens (aspiring copywriters) and the Laurel Stark Akmans (senior creative altruists).
“Advertising has been about recruiting from the same handful of shiny agencies for way too long. I honestly can’t believe we’re still saying it,” says Nicole. “There are so many talented people who don’t have the book just yet. We need recruiters and creative leaders to be open to just having a conversation.”
Gonnabe Copywriter is how one fierce community builder beats back the industry’s standoffish messaging to newcomers and gives its redundant-by-design talent pool a serious shakedown.
Alon Goldsmith doesn’t quite fit the Gonnabe profile. His robust client list as a copywriter and photographer includes names like Coachella, Toyota, Mattel, Robert Mondavi, and The Promotional Edge for which he’s worked on brands like The Grammy Awards, Food Network, and MTV. Alon knows what it’s like to be denied access to Ad Land from another angle. “I started in the industry as a copywriter in my 40’s, which was way too late,” he says. “I didn’t climb the ladder far enough and now I can’t seem to make inroads.” His struggle for work is real. Job scarcity during COVID led him to pursue his passion for photography. For one year, he traveled by bike and car throughout Los Angeles, shooting people who were sheltering in place and isolated from friends, family, and co-workers. The work culminated in a recently published book.
Nicole and Alon touched my 50+ copywriter’s heart. Feeling vulnerable about my own career options at the time, I reached out to Nicole for advice. Nicole didn’t just emote about the need for change. She took real action and challenged the status quo when people needed it most. Packing her program with humanity, she also covered all her copywriter bases: sincerity; originality; safety; authenticity; inclusivity, and most deliciously, community.
“My purpose was to provide a safe and secure response to people seeking advice from those in the industry. This could be scaled to make the entry point easier, a far better alternative to the cold DM where you’re not sure someone will respond. This gives people a place to be themselves without fear of judgment for their questions. Honestly, I didn’t think through too many logistics before I pushed the site live. I got the idea, built it in an hour, bought the URL, and hit publish. I thought it would be at most one video hangout with maybe 25 people in attendance, both copywriters and aspiring writers. I paired people organically as responses came in; which, thanks to the power of Ad Twitter, came in faster than I thought. I knew I wanted to keep the sessions around 30 people at most to create a sense of intimacy, so I ended up scheduling a few sessions during the first week. We’re onto the sixth hangout!”
What started as a whim is now a list of several hundred writers.
Cara Anderson was an aspiring copywriter trying to break into an intimidating industry during a draining global pandemic. Thanks to Gonnabe’s portfolio feature, group hangouts, and mentorship pairing on both sides of the creative fence, she felt energized and positive about opportunities. Cara says that her energy and positivity led to an interview, offers, and ultimately a job as a brand copywriter at an in-house company. During one hangout, Bennett D. Bennett took the opportunity to help an actress and a teacher reframe their expertise through the lens of an ad pro: “You already are a writer.” He explained how building lesson plans, distilling information, and embodying a tone of voice are all skills they already have, which translate naturally to ad work.
Brandon Wells is a copywriter at R/GA who knew Nicole before Gonnabe, dating back to her pre-writer days. “I feel like in our industry in particular, we’re pressured to do work on top of our day jobs to help set us apart from the competition. But Nicole has done it in a way that’s more about leveling the playing field than putting herself above other writers, and I really admire that.” Olyvia vividly recalls her hangout. “With seven minutes left to go on the call, I told people all about me, and said ‘please tell me what you know.’ “Their responses were so affirming. It’s like I was in a cave and they took a torch of light and gave it to me, and the cave lit up. They were basically telling me, ‘You’re not too far from the light–just take a few steps and retrieve the torch from us.” People responded with offers to check out Olyvia’s book and make introductions at agencies seeking creatives like her.
Then, appearing on her LinkedIn and University of Oregon network, another grassroots mentorship program caught her eye. The Inturnship is a remote mentorship concept that Chris Puma and Harley Garner launched for young creatives stuck in their homes, stripped of their jobs and internships. While Gonnabe Copywriter is a community of copy wizards and elders who are guiding junior talent, The Inturnship gives junior creatives like Olyvia the opportunity to hone their craft, while helping small brands that deserve the spotlight but might not get it. Olyvia says both programs are a result of people who used their creative privilege for good and have helped her while she finishes school and journeys to Ad Land. “We may spend a short time at The Inturnship before being swept off to new jobs, but the tribe here is powerful and the time we spent together is one we’ll always remember.”
In-Place | Portraits of a Pandemic is a project that allowed Alon to capture and bond with a range of people from rabbis to rock stars. One of his subjects, Lydia Green, an Airbnb super host, saw the pandemic ‘pause’ button in action as a mother, writer, and yoga teacher who welcomed couples seeking a retreat to nature in the Santa Monica Mountains. Bookings spiked at her canyon-based getaway known as The Hidden Lady. “I have a respect for how everyone has taken it differently,” she says. “I do believe it’s serious, very serious, but I also think it’s causing us to regroup, look at life a little differently. I certainly have seen it in my guests. There seems to be a little more introspection going on, trying to figure out what’s important in our lives.”
A husband to and father of three socially conscious female creatives, Alon proudly posted his pandemic portraits and stories on social media. “For me personally, having the luxury to see and connect with people through my project was more moving than anything I’ve experienced in a long time.” Alon’s neighbor, a Chiat Day creative director, saw the posted images and hired him for a photoshoot for QuickBooks. That gig hasn’t parlayed into an Ad Land comeback, but it certainly could and it got Alon stoked. He listed his profile on Gonnabe Copywriter.
“I really love Nicole’s concept and I think it could be applied across all creative fields. The hardest thing for creative folk trying to turn their skills into a career is the difficulty of breaking into these industries with all the barriers to entry. Pairing up ‘newbies’ with experienced mentors and teaching them about the industry’s quirks is a great way to get them onboarded.”
Nicole knows there are a lot of amazing people out there ready to live their best creative life. Getting their diverse thoughts and ideas on the table fuels her fire, maybe more than being a copywriter. She’s a fixer. When she sees gaps and barriers, her instinct to help kicks in. “A lot of the time people just need someone in their court to vouch for them, pass their name up the chain, cheer them on.”
So where does Gonnabe go from here? Maybe those who got a lifeline will step up to ‘build it forward.’
Laurel Stark thinks Gonnabe has the potential to grow into a long-term mentorship program that agencies and brands can engage with. Maybe an educational video series, a speaking series, or a book. “Just by showing up in genuine service to a moment, Nicole is already a raging success in my book.”
Nicole is moving the world of advertising from a lunch table with a few ‘cool’ kids to an open invitation party. Whatever form it follows, if a pattern-obsessed copywriter can add fringe to the bottom of some jeans and make it look cool, she can cut out the cookie-cutter look of advertising, and make it cool for everyone.
Gonnabe Copywriter’s success stories are ramping up. I see the fertile ground being laid for copywriters of all stripes, and am ready to give my dream project a voice. It might include a boujee hotel group or a brand like Fireclay Tile, and it would definitely have lots of dogs. The message, straight from Alon’s pandemic playbook: “You never stop making friends.”