Shift Culture For the Better: Kristi Lira + Emma Z. Green, TBWA\Chiat\Day LA

If culture isn’t a monolith, agencies shouldn’t be, either.

кем India Fizer , AdForum

TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles
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Los Angeles, United States
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We spoke with Senior Copywriters at TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles, Kristi Lira and Emma Z. Green, about innovation through unconventional platforms, the power of mentoring and how meaningful pro-bono work can spark growth and creativity.

Can you tell us about your current role and responsibilities?

Kristi: My role is to help shape our clients’ business with smart, breakthrough work. I also make it my job to ask a lot of questions and make sure we’re connecting with the audience. It’s all of our responsibility to stay in the loop with news, social and culture, which I love doing anyway. I mentor with WriteGirl and Women Who Create, as well as mentoring junior creatives in the industry. Sometimes it’s a little less about traditional mentoring and more about empowering and knowing when to step aside but stay nearby for support. I was empowered very early on in my career (shoutout to too many folks to name, but especially École Weinstein) so I like to pass it on.

Emma: I’m a creative at TBWA\Chiat\Day LA, currently working on Discover, as well as new business and any pro-bono opportunities that come our way, like the recent Period Piece PSA for the nonprofit organization PERIOD. I’m responsible for helping our clients find a unique voice and cultural relevance through creative work of every shape and size. That’s what I love about being an agency creative. Some days, it’s finding the perfect song to punch up a script. Other days, it’s concepting huge, culture-rocking ideas. Some days it’s being on set, making sure the execution lives up to the ideation. I like to think of us as creative Swiss Army knives.


What drew you to work at this agency and what opportunities does it provide to foster your professional growth?

Kristi: “Good isn’t good enough” is a saying at Chiat that I agree with on a few levels. I’m not the type to want to just push out work, it should be something that resonates with people and pushes the brand forward. I’m a bit of a nerd too and I attend virtual talks and panels frequently, even ones outside of our industry. So when there is time — or even better when it’s mandatory — to attend some talks and panels, I’m fully present. Chiat provides said opportunities. I’m a handraiser too and I appreciate getting the chance to work on different projects. For example, we recently worked on a pro bono project for with Creative Director, Tescia Deák who has had a passion for ending period poverty for a while. Sometimes it’s programs that help foster that growth, but most of the time, it’s people.

Emma: Chiat has a long legacy of smart, boundary-pushing creatives. I wanted to learn and grow alongside such a talented group of thinkers. Since starting here, I’ve had several fantastic opportunities: helping a big brand develop a new tone of voice from the ground up, collaborating with a passionate team on meaningful pro-bono work, and crafting pitch-winning manifestos. I’ve been encouraged to step up, own the work, and mentor whenever possible.


Are there any unused skills you have that you'd love to incorporate into your professional work?

Kristi: Completely unused? No, but there are some I could use more. Writing for Television was one of my minors and I get to use that to an extent. I also write poetry and I did spoken word and played around with songwriting in college. I’ve had a bit of a reputation for bringing a lot of music-related ideas forward for years, it’s just how my brain works. I don’t sit down with briefs like, “What song could we write for this?” It’s not right for every project or every brand. I’d still love to see a bigger music project through though. They’ve usually been smaller-scale. I also do improv occasionally and have found that really helpful with brainstorming, writing and being on set. I’d like to leverage that more.

Emma: I have an unconventional background in theatre, film and production, which means I love to be as hands-on as possible when it comes to making work. I’ve had the good fortune to wear almost all of my creative hats on the job - from directing to contributing voiceover to collaborating on original music. I’m always looking for opportunities to use every skill in the box in the pursuit of great work.


Joining such a massive industry can be overwhelming, how do you stay informed and ahead of the curve?

Kristi: I don’t tell people how I stay informed so I stay ahead of the curve. Jk. I’ve been a little over IG for years now. I was on and then it became TikTok, so I was there kinda early (lurking, not creating). I pitched and TikTok ideas five years ago. Most people didn’t really get the platform and they didn’t take the time to understand it and/or they felt like they couldn’t justify spending time there for certain brands (but now people know it doesn’t cost much or anything to show up organically). Then, starting maybe two years ago, everyone's favorite question became, “Can you do something with TikTok?” Sure, yes, and, what are we doing with other platforms that you might not completely get yet? What other platforms have no cost or low cost ways to show up and test the waters? Any that tap into some of your other interests? Sometimes you just have to try. That’s all I do to stay informed and ahead, I try. And I watch “The View” at 10 a.m. PST so please stop scheduling meetings at that time. Honestly, I love hearing their different perspectives and how half of hot topics include political happenings now.

Emma: I keep up with industry news and verticals, of course, to stay inspired and hungry. Keeping up with culture feels even more vital - blink and you’ll miss the perfect opportunity for your brand to join a conversation or own a moment. That said, the internet isn’t everything, and culture isn’t a monolith. There is so much to read, watch and listen to, and it’s especially important to take in the work and stories of as many diverse voices as possible.


What areas in the industry do you believe could use an overhaul?

Kristi: I’m glad the industry is making more of an effort to seek out diverse talent. Most people are still focusing mainly on the pipeline though. There are great candidates at all levels looking. ALL LEVELS. We really need equity, representation and inclusion at the highest levels. That’s when we’ll see real change, not just at work but in the work too. When more identities and perspectives are in leadership, it speaks volumes. Also — listen to those leaders. It’s one of the loudest ways to walk the walk. And those leaders are out there. Some happen to already work at your agency, under a different title. Some work in another industry but have transferable skills and even more skills than some of your competitors. Some are waiting for your email right at this very moment.

I’ve been in creative departments where I’m one of two people of color or the only non-male and I’ve been without any representation in leadership. That sends a message, whether intentional or not, that a part or parts of your identity aren’t fully valued or respected. And there are legitimate cultural differences that can make it unnecessarily hard for some people to succeed. I think the industry is understanding diversity more — but more equity, representation and inclusion, especially at the leadership level is needed for real progress.


Emma: Making space for diverse voices to be included, valued, and prioritized is key – especially in creative. Our industry has a long history of gatekeeping, and it’s beyond time to swing those doors wide open. If culture isn’t a monolith, agencies shouldn’t be, either.

On a lighter note, I’d also love to see traditional agencies embrace the maker-creative on a larger scale. “Copywriter” feels like such a misnomer for what we actually do. We concept, perform, research, even direct. Giving creatives opportunities to use all those skills and take ownership of the work can be incredibly empowering.


Where do you hope this role will take you down the line?

Kristi: I hope this role gets me a message from Ms. Lauryn Hill to write a song together, or maybe just even be in the same room as her when she writes one, or an invitation to one of Gloria Calderon Kellet’s or Michael Schur’s writers’ rooms. But I’ll also take continuing to eat up more experiences and information like a Pac Person and sharing my learnings with others. If you’re interested in getting into advertising (even at a leadership level) and you happen to read this, find me on LinkedIn and message me for a virtual coffee. Even if I’m not the right person to talk to, we’ll find you someone who is.

Emma: As I continue to learn, grow, and develop my voice as a creative, I hope this role will keep me sharp, on my toes, and jumping on every opportunity to use my powers for good. Bonus points if I’m behind the camera. At it’s best, our work can shift culture for the better. That’s work I want to be a part of.