“Go with the flow, because you may end up somewhere even better than you’d hoped. I never would’ve dreamt that working at a company like Google was even a possibility, but it happened in this crazy roundabout way that, at the time didn’t make sense, but in the end it was exactly the right place for me.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Marsha Chandy, who is currently a freelance Creative Director at Google, where she uses her talent and experience to come up with ideas rooted in data insights for advertising campaigns using Google technology like YouTube, Daydream (AR/VR platform), Google Maps API and Google Assistant. She is a Miami Ad School graduate in Art Direction, with 12+ years in the ad industry. She came to the U.S. as an international student and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in advertising from Michigan State University with high honors. She has experience working at some of the most awarded agencies in the U.S. like BBDO, JWT and Strawberry Frog, amongst others. During her time at these companies she worked across a number of national and international brands like Lay’s, Rolex, Macy’s and Puma, to name just a few, creating brand campaigns across all platforms from big budget TV commercials to social and integrated campaigns.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I had a pretty varied upbringing, being Indian but being raised in Kuwait for most of my childhood. My life was disrupted for a couple of years in the early 90s when my family and I left Kuwait on vacation just five days before the Gulf War began, and we weren’t able to return until about two years later. I did my junior and senior years of high school at a British Cambridge-curriculum boarding school in India, and then did my first two years of undergrad at Cyprus College, which is an American university. I was then able to transfer my credits to Michigan State University where I completed the next two years of my degree in advertising.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
American culture was always prevalent in my life, not just through popular culture in the form of TV shows, movies and books, but also because my eldest sister attended an American school in Kuwait throughout her schooling. So, that really brought American ways into our home in a very real way. I remember her celebrating Halloween at her school, and dressing up as the Statue of Liberty, and being very fascinated with this holiday that gives people a great way to express their creativity through their costumes.
That influence definitely increased my interest and appreciation for the U.S., and I always felt an affinity toward it. The decision to come to the U.S. did not become a conscious one until I was a bit older, when I decided to pursue advertising as a career. I knew that the best place to get an education for my dream career and express my own creativity and talent would be in America.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
When I first came to the U.S., it was to pursue a degree in advertising at Michigan State University because it had one of the top three undergraduate programs for advertising. MSU also awarded me an international student scholarship due to my high GPA. Arriving here, I must admit, was a bit surreal at first. Being at MSU was the quintessential American experience, and so the first two weeks there felt a bit like I had stepped right into a TV show or a movie. But, that quickly faded and it felt like I’d always been here. America has always felt like home right from the start and because of my familiarity and comfort with the culture, I was able to quickly assimilate and excel academically. I graduated from MSU with high honors, and went on to do a program at Miami Ad School in art direction.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
I would have to say my parents. My father came with me to the U.S. to help with the transition and to get me settled in, making sure I had everything I needed to start off fully prepared. The knowledge that I could always count on them, even though they were thousands of miles away, has been a monumental part of my success and gave me an innate confidence to take risks and push forward in my career to bring me to where I am today. Also, the friends I have made here during my time at MSU and in the various cities I have lived in have definitely helped make this country feel like home over the last 16 years. It’s wonderful when your friends become like your family, and I’ve been lucky enough to experience that many times over.
So how are things going today?
I am grateful to have been able to work on some amazing ad campaigns at some of the most recognized and highly awarded agencies in the world over the past 12 years. The past two years in particular have been very successful, and I attribute much of that success to being an Associate Creative Director at BBDO, which was named Network Agency of the Year at Cannes in 2017, and in 2018 it was named Agency of the Year at four different major industry awards shows, namely the One Show, the Webby Awards, D&AD and the Art DIrector’s Club. It’s been a privilege to have been a part of the agency during this period of success and accolades. Also, being a part of Google NY over the last few months, which is arguably one of the best companies in the world to work for, has been a highlight of my year and career. That said, there is still a great deal I hope to achieve in the near future both career-wise and on a personal level.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe in giving back to my community and spreading some of the goodness in my own life to others. In the past, I have volunteered at NY Cares, an organization that partners volunteers with various NY neighborhoods’ needs and projects. Through this organization, I’ve helped senior citizens learn basic photoshop skills and helped paint a new mural at an arts-focused high school in Harlem. That was a wonderful experience, not just to be able to give something to the next generation but to be able to reiterate the importance and influence of arts in a teen’s life and to be able to encourage that in some small way. I’ve also mentored students at events like the Hustle Summit and Miami Ad School portfolio review, where I’ve given students and new graduates advice on their resumes, portfolios, and careers. Being able to share my experience to help people in their own career paths has been very rewarding. Lastly, I’m a strong advocate of women’s rights and particularly for the right of every child, especially girls in underdeveloped and developing countries, to an education. To that end, I sponsor a child and regularly contribute to Plan International, which is a development and humanitarian organization that advances children’s rights and equality for girls.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
The main thing I would love to see in the near future would be to have some sort of immigration reform or bill which makes the decision-making more merit-based and contingent upon the abilities of individuals being considered for immigration. I think a merit-based system could be more beneficial to the U.S. as a country and its economy. The diversity coming into the country would be based on each person’s disparate skill set, and not just their ethnicity.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- First I would say: stay resilient. With the emphasis on stay. It’s easy to be resilient at the start of your career, but being able to stay resilient even 10 years into it and not letting setbacks keep you down has played an integral role in my life here. I’m definitely a believer in the phrase, “If you don’t give up, you cannot fail.”
- Next is: be scrappy. And by that I mean not losing the determination to achieve your goals no matter what your career path may look like. It may not look exactly the way you envisioned it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t still get you to your goal as long as you don’t lose sight of it.
- Third would be: go with the flow, because you may end up somewhere even better than you’d hoped. I never would’ve dreamt that working at a company like Google was even a possibility, but it happened in this crazy roundabout way that, at the time didn’t make sense, but in the end it was exactly the right place for me.
- Fourth: be kind, because that will likely take you a lot farther in your career than any other achievement or ability.
- And lastly: read, and then read some more. In advertising, you never know where your next idea comes from, so I am constantly reading to keep my mind growing; whether it’s the latest bestseller or an article on laptop or listening to a new episode of the Radiolab podcast. I find myself making new and interesting connections on subjects using references and ideas that wouldn’t have come to me without the steady influx of words and knowledge reading exposes me to regularly.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
First, the current booming U.S. economy is very promising because it shows that the U.S. is always able to bounce back, regardless of how dire things may seem, and that’s something to be very optimistic about.
Second is the people that make up this country. The fact that such a diverse group of people are able to coexist and achieve everything this country has accomplished, especially over the last 30 years, just shows me that the underlying root that brings everyone together is the fierce pride that people take in being an American. And that makes people always bring their best to this country, which in turn brings the U.S. as a country to the top.
Lastly, the conversations and vocality of this country, from the small voices of a neighborhood to the roar of the nation. Even the smallest voice can get heard, and that is something truly unique about this country, and it makes me especially optimistic because it means that as long as everyone is talking to each other, and more importantly listening, then something is being done right, and something great can be achieved as a nation.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Gerry Graf. He’s had one of the most awarded and successful careers in the ad industry, and I have loved his commercials over the years, from Starburst when he was at TBWA Chiat Day to some of his more recent ads from BFG, the agency he founded, like the Kayak and Ragu commercials. He has an impeccable sense of timing when it comes to humor and storytelling, and that is something I aim to do in my own work. I actually met him briefly once, and he was the epitome of humility, to top it all. So, yeah, I’d love to have a meal with him and pick his brain a little, and hope that some of his magic rubs off on me!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Originally published at medium.com