Agency Life 101: Jenny Lafortune, Art Director

Jenny LaFortuneFrom time to time, we like to open a window into what life is like here at SHIFT. We pride ourselves on our smart, dedicated, creative (and who can forget ballsy) culture. This week, we check in with Jenny Lafortune, the Agency’s Art Director based in our Boston office. Jenny gives us insight into her role on the Creative Services team and offers advice for those looking for a glimpse into the SHIFT life.

What are your main focuses as SHIFT’s Art Director? How do your day-to-day responsibilities play into this?
Anything creative! My hands touch all sorts of projects ranging from the development of infographics, web banners and print collateral to social content and animated Powerpoint presentations. Another large responsibility is making sure SHIFT looks good, visually speaking that is. Not only do I spend lots of time on new biz presentations where I design campaign logos and custom templates, you’ll see lots of other examples around the office; think custom designed mouse pads, laptop decals, community boards, eBooks and even a big book of our infographics, soon to hit coffee tables at an office near you.

What are some of the things you enjoy most about being SHIFT’s Art Director? What are some of the challenges?
First and foremost, I love to design. And thankfully I get to do a lot of that here! What’s most exciting for me is how the Creative team is still evolving and building. I love being a member of a growing team because you actually feel connected to its development. It’s especially gratifying when a client comes back looking for more design work when they could have gone to a creative agency. As a team, there are weeks we wonder how we’ll get through our workload. Being busy is a testament to how far we’ve come and the quality of our work.

One of our greatest challenges is educating SHIFTers about our creative services. We heavily rely on the Account teams to upsell our capabilities to their clients and streamline the design process. As you’d expect, carving out a creative corner at a PR firm is not something that happens overnight. It’s a gradual process that requires education and patience. Luckily for us, the response from SHIFTers has been nothing but positive and appreciative. I laugh when I’m praised for resizing a logo. I can do that in my sleep!

SHIFT is unique among PR agencies in that it not only has Account Services teams, but a Creative Services team and Marketing Technology team as well. Talk about what it’s like to work with so many teams across the Agency.
I’m assuming for most, working with a Creative team is a new experience. Well I can say the same about working at a PR agency. It’s the first time I’ve been in PR and there is a learning curve. I’m not familiar with all the day-to-day responsibilities of the Account Service teams and even the lingo. I hear “Gorkana” and “Media Lists” but I think in terms of “Style Guides” and “Adobe Creative Suite”. But that’s OK. I’d much rather be challenged in my job and have plenty of opportunities to learn. The alternative is boring.

You have now worked on both the agency and client side. What do you see as the biggest differences between the two?
One of the biggest differences is the lifecycle of projects. On the agency side, they tend to be handled more smoothly with clearly defined deliverables. The project has a beginning (brief), middle (1st, 2nd & final draft) and end (files are released). That’s right, the project actually goes somewhere. You can actually zip up the files and put them in your “finished” folder. Client side is different. There is no scope of work which means there are no guidelines for how a project will run. You could do endless drafts spanning over months. You could pour your creative heart and soul into it, and it would just sit in that “ongoing work” folder on your desktop. I can’t count the number of projects I did over the years that just sat. And that’s hard when you’ve invested countless hours. It’s much more fulfilling to see a project through to the end.

You have had an opportunity to work with a variety of brands – from McDonald’s and T-Mobile to B2B tech companies and non-profits. What are some of your favorite types of pieces to work on?Fortunately, I’m not picky when it comes to the type of design work I’m doing. And due to the dynamics of the Creative team, we work with all of the Account teams so we’re exposed to a variety of clients. Each project is different so it keeps things fresh and exciting. For me it can be difficult to fully understand the ins and outs of a client, at least in the same way the Account team does. We tend to get a crash course before starting a project.

If I could choose what to work on, I would say anything event related. Having a concept or theme and working it into various items always tells a nice visual story. Think signage, invitation, eBlast, event collateral and if we’re lucky, an identity for the event.

As a mother, how do you achieve the work-life balance that allows you to be both a kick@$$ mom and graphic designer?
First off I do agree, I am a kick@$$ mom J I find that I’m a happier person at home when I not only love my profession, but also my job. I think (and hope) that feeling of positivity is passed down to my daughter. I’ve always wanted a career even with a family and I think that balance is hard for some that are in restrictive work environments. I feel I am able to achieve that work-life balance better than I would have ever expected with the help of SHIFT. Working for a company that not only understands the need for flexibility but also offers it, is hard to come by. And when you have a 2 year old, it’s an absolute necessity. Believe it or not, kids get sick and need to get picked up from daycare.

What is your best piece of advice for other creative professionals looking to enter the agency world?
I worked in-house for years and always wanted to make the move to the agency side. I knew if I didn’t do it, I’d regret it. When it comes to my career, I’ve never been one to settle so if something is on my radar, then I go after it. Creative work can be hard to find. Don’t think applying to 2 jobs is all it takes either. I used to say looking for work is a full-time job. I missed many weekend parties because I was devoted to the cause. If you want to make the switch, then you should go for it. Agency life is different, not necessarily good or bad. It depends on what you are looking for. I wanted more excitement, to be surrounded by the smartest and brightest in the business and the ability to work with a variety of clients. I got all 3 at SHIFT.


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