Women in Business Q&A: Carolyn Hadlock, Principal and Executive Creative Director, Young & Laramore

03/02/2016 20:23 | Updated 03 February 2016

As Young & Laramore's longtime executive creative director, Carolyn Hadlock is the driving force behind the agency's creative department. Carolyn has spent more than 20 years at Y&L, inspiring teams to deliver original, startling, and consistently effective creative for the likes of Brizo Faucets, Goodwill, Scotts Lawn Service, Schlage, and Stanley Steemer.

Among other noteworthy efforts, Carolyn played a key role in establishing the Brizo-Jason Wu partnership, reinforcing the Brizo faucet brand's position as a fashion label for the home. Carolyn led the charge to have the up-and-coming Brizo fashion brand partner with an up-and-coming, unheralded, young fashion designer named Jason Wu. Since 2006, she has encouraged Brizo to sponsor Jason's shows during New York Fashion Week, exposing influential architect and interior designer bloggers to the Brizo brand. In January 2009, Carolyn's efforts shone through as the client--and the rest of the world--watched Jason shoot to superstardom when Michelle Obama wore his gown at the Inauguration Ball.

Since joining the agency in 1991, Carolyn's work has garnered recognition and many awards: Art Director's Club, One Show, Graphis Logo and The New York Film Festival. Her unique perspectives and projects have been featured on NBC's Today Show, and in publications ranging from Advertising Age and Communication Arts, to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I would say being average at almost everything during my school years informed my thoughts on leadership. I never had the arrogance of thinking I knew everything, or the lack of self esteem that I didn't know anything.

In college, after finally settling on my major (Graphic Design), the head professor told me at the end of the year that he wasn't going to keep me in the program because I had no talent and that I was wasting my parents' money. Humiliated, I went home and told my parents the new plan - go to a local art school and keep the internship I'd already started at a marketing firm that summer.

The hardest part of it all was that when I went back to school, I had to start over as a freshman, during what should have been my senior year. But I stuck it out, and by the time I was (once again) a senior in college, I was a Creative Director at a small advertising agency.

That experience taught me to not allow other people to decide my talent.

It was ironic when years later the same professor who called me talentless, called me to compliment my success, asking if he could bring his students by the agency I was working at for a tour. Floored, I accepted, and wondered how it was possible that he didn't remember me. I did the entire tour and he still didn't remember me. I stifled the desire to tell his entire class my story.

Taking the high road is life lesson #2 in leadership. It's still never led me wrong.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Y&L?
It probably hasn't had as significant an impact on me as others who've been in the business for 25 years, because I've been at Y&L 21 of those 25. But I definitely learned things at my previous jobs. I learned about what I didn't want to do. I also learned that every project, no matter how boring or small, shaped my creative abilities. Which meant I treated--and still treat--everything the same. There are a multitude of places in our careers and lives that we should prioritize. Assignments are not one of them. I approach everything with the same amount of energy and respect, whether it's a national brand that has millions of dollars behind it, or a POP for a local shop.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Y&L?
What I've loved the most about being here is the access that I've had from day one to the leadership of Y&L and to the transparency of running of the business. David Young and Jeff Laramore fostered a culture where it was not only acceptable to ask questions, but expected.

From a highlights perspective, becoming Creative Director. I assumed it would never happen at Y&L, because that role was already taken by Young & Laramore themselves. But I'm so glad I hung in there.

It taught me that I shouldn't ever assume things will stay the same forever. Momentum creates positive change. Props to David and Jeff for letting go and letting me truly take over from the first day I became Creative Director.

If I'm honest, the challenges have come mostly from within. Am I good enough, am I making the right decisions, was that last campaign the best work I could've done, etc.? The vibe here is very much about being self-sufficient. Everyone understands that the best kind of pressure is the kind that comes from within.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in advertising?
Choose your partner wisely. Not your creative partner, your life partner. Choose someone who doesn't tolerate your career, but actively champions it. Choose someone who, when you have children, never makes you feel guilty about not being home with them during the day. I've seen too many women make the wrong choice in partner and then have to compromise either their marriage or their career.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Don't only look to those older and more experienced than you to learn from. Everyone has an expertise in something. Soak up everything you can. You'll use it someday, somehow. Even if it comes from an intern. Adopting a student mindset makes you look the most confident.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I don't give myself boundaries. I don't stress about getting things done or staying on task because I know the important stuff will work itself out. Last week, I was working towards a deadline and a friend called. I didn't have time to talk, but I knew it was more important than what I was doing at the moment so I stopped and took a moment to be a friend. Obviously, you can't do that all the time, but five more minutes with a child, a friend or a co-worker who needs you is more important. The work will always get done.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think my experience is different than others because I've spent the majority of my career at an independent agency of people who refuse to be defined by gender, age or experience. So, I've never really run into the types of issues that I hear about for women who work at larger agencies.

I'll go back to the earlier comment about life partner. That may be the biggest issue. There have been several times I've called home at midnight, saying I won't be home for hours because we "just-don't-have-it-yet." My husband understands and makes room for the unknowable things that constantly pop-up.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
It's made a substantial difference. I've had many mentors along the way, but a few key ones who've been with me my entire career: David Young (Y&L's co-founder), Paul Knapp (Y&L's CEO), and my husband. They have been and continue to be my biggest critics and champions. They keep me honest and competitive.

In general, being at an agency in a Midwestern city not known for advertising has made mentorship challenging. Because of that, I helped found the Creative Leaders Retreat with the One Club. It pairs mentors who lead the ad industry today with people like me who are running creative departments in smaller markets. I've attended both retreats and would need a second article to chronicle what I've learned, but in an effort to conserve time and space will simply say: it has been invaluable.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I think Susan Credle and Susan Hoffman are bad ass because they don't use gender to advance their careers. They use their talent, humor and grit to run some of the biggest and most successful creative departments in our industry. And they've both been very generous to me personally with their time and wisdom.

What do you want Y&L to accomplish in the next year?
-Win more national work in the outdoor and restaurant categories
-Get agency bees
-Write our next book