Meet The Drum’s US 50 under 30 honorees from the Midwest

Each day this week, The Drum will be highlighting 10 of the 50 talented women that make up our inaugural 50 under 30 in the US, a list that is celebrating women across the country who are putting themselves - and their cities - on the map via their creativity, achievements and dedication to an industry that is changing at a fast clip.

Today we are featuring our honorees from the Midwest. Each was chosen with the help of a judging panel that included MullenLowe Los Angeles executive creative director Margaret Keene, Colle McVoy executive creative director Laura Fegley, Arnold Worldwide chief creative officer Icaro Doria and Barker EVP-creative director Sandi Harari.

After receiving nominations from readers, the judges helped choose the final 50, who will continue to be revealed throughout this week. They will also be featured in the October issue of The Drum's magazine.

Below, our finalists from the Midwest discuss career achievements, advice they’d give to those just starting out in advertising and favorite things about living and working in their respective cities.

Find out more below – and check back tomorrow (August 17) to read about our honorees from the South.

Katie Dondale, art director at The Integer Group in Des Moines, Iowa

What is your biggest career achievement to date?

Fulfilling my lifelong dream of drawing for a living. I like to think I’ve made the desk-doodling 6-year-old me proud.

What one piece of advice would you offer someone entering advertising today?

Network your ass off and never be afraid to show your inner weirdo. Be confident in your work, but humble enough to accept critiques from people who know more than you do.

Why do you like living and working in Des Moines?

Des Moines is so underrated. We’re going through an exciting transitional phase, and the creative community is growing fast. Artists are coming together to support and promote each other’s work, which is really encouraging. Plus, the low cost of living makes it easier to work as a creative. I think of Des Moines as an awkward teenager — it has some growing to do, but you can tell it’s about to blossom into something really cool.

Lisa Ivy, senior strategist at Leo Burnett in Chicago, Illinois

What brand means the most to you?

Cliché but Nike. Its ability to stay true to its ethos over the years while always pushing the boundaries to have a meaningful role in people’s lives has always been something I’ve admired.

Why do you like living and working in Chicago?

I’m a Chicago native so I have a deep love for this city. The beauty of it, is its ability to have so many cultures that have built micro communities and co-exist with one another. It allows me to meet people from various walks of life and see the world through their eyes, even if it’s just for a moment.

Who or what motivates and inspires you?

Stories of people that have succeed against all odds — they inspire me to keep going and to push harder.

Christine Taffe, copywriter at Fallon in Minneapolis, Minnesota

What one piece of advice would you offer someone entering advertising today?

It’s a fine balance of working extremely hard while also trying to “just have fun with it.” So, if you feel like you’re doing it wrong, you probably are, but that’s okay because only like five people have figured it out.

Why do you like living and working in Minneapolis?

Cheap rent so I can have money for vacations and eating good food with my friends. Also, I can live in the city without a car because of all the biking and public transit available.

What is your biggest career achievement to date?

Selling through a crazy idea we had for Cheerios—to tell people to have more Cheerios-eating babies over a Major Lazer track—and having it run on the Emmy Awards. Like cilantro, you either loved it or you really didn’t.

Marry Tonnu, senior art director at Deloitte Digital in Chicago, Illinois

What brand means the most to you?

My personal brand means the most to me; I work hard to produce great work in order to accurately represent myself and my capabilities to show what I can bring to the table. My personal brand ultimately reflects the brands I help to represent.

What is your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest success thus far has been successfully assembling a talented team of designers for our Deloitte Digital presence in Chicago.

Who or what motivates and inspires you?

I’m very inspired by the environment I’m in and those who surround me. As people alongside me are being creative, it motivates me to continue pushing myself in hopes to inspire them as well. It’s a continuous circle of inspiration and motivation.

Hannah Husman, senior copywriter at Bailey Lauerman in Omaha, Nebraska

What is your biggest career achievement to date?

I’ve had a lot of opportunities to grow and produce great work during my time leading creative for Panda Express. Right out of the gate, I helped develop a campaign that resulted in their highest sales quarter ever. During a last-minute scramble, I wrote the TV spot for Five Flavor Shrimp from the back seat of a van on the way to the Women’s March in DC. Nothing like a few conference calls to break up an 18-hour van ride.

But as a female creative in a male-dominated space, I’m most proud of the network of powerful, inspiring women I’ve cultivated, and the small actions we take every day to champion the people (not just women!) around us.

Why do you like living and working in Omaha?

From the outside, Omaha is a city on the rise, but having grown up here, I know it’s always had talented people of all kinds who aren’t afraid of a side hustle and don’t apologize for their geography.

Who or what motivates and inspires you?

I’m inspired by people. Strong women, characters on screen and on the page, people with really good Instagram stories…I’m looking at you Jen Gotch and Eva Chen.

Noemi Garcia, narrative strategist at We Are Unlimited in Chicago, Illinois

Who or what motivates and inspires you?

My parents. They were able to navigate a new country, a new culture, and learn a new language, all while raising four daughters. This helps me keep things in perspective.

What one piece of advice would you offer someone entering advertising today?

This industry will try to change you; it will attempt to mold you into the “ad type.” Resist. A great agency will hire you because you bring a fresh perspective or something that defies convention. That’s the true value you offer and that’s what makes you an agent of change.

What brand means the most to you?

I have a soft spot for Mattel Barbie. Barbie isn’t perfect, but she’s always been a symbol of possibilities – I could be an equestrian one day and a pro skater the next. Today the brand is embracing inclusiveness in all shapes, sizes, and colors – expanding possibilities to all girls.

Gabrielle George, vice president of cultural strategy at Doner in Detroit, Michigan

What one piece of advice would you offer someone entering advertising today?

Always go above and beyond, even if you think no one’s watching. Never stop being proactive, creative, flexible and curious.

What is your biggest career achievement to date?

There is a real thrill in contributing to Doner’s recent new business success and helping win assignments from some amazing brands. It’s also exciting to be conducting ethnographies across the country on behalf of our clients, and to get hyper localized in our approach. Being able to learn why people think and behave in their natural environments has been truly enlightening.

Why do you like living and working in Detroit?

While most of my friends moved to major cities post-college, even if just temporarily, I knew I wanted to stay in Detroit and begin establishing myself in my native city. I have come to love and appreciate Detroit, and I have learned that it is so much more than “auto land.” Thankfully, Doner has offered me the opportunity to work across different brands and sectors throughout my advertising career, which isn’t always the case in this market.

With all of the change happening in Detroit, it has been incredibly stimulating to be here, both creatively and intellectually. From attending electronic music festivals like Movement, to the growing collection of art in the city such as the murals in Eastern Market, to the explosive food scene, Detroit is a gem and a place where culture comes alive.

Samantha Hirshberg, copywriter at VML in Kansas City, Missouri

What is your biggest career achievement to date?

Never working a day in my life. Advertising has allowed me to turn my love of sports into an actual job. It’s given me a voice and an outlet to create.

What one piece of advice would you offer someone entering advertising today?

Sweat the details. This industry is full of great ideas, but it’s how you work and how you present yourself that sets you apart.

What brand means the most to you?

Gatorade. They are constantly raising the bar and pushing what’s possible. They’ve shown me how work isn’t work when you believe in something.

Rebecca Mader, designer at Cramer-Krasselt in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

What is your biggest achievement to date?

I have what some people call “project management brain.” I think I’m one of the rare Type-A Creatives, so details and planning excite me just as much as design and art direction. I worked on a massive newspaper insert – so big in fact, it set a Guinness World Record. This was an incredible accomplishment because of the organization and coordination it took in addition to the designing. And I was at the center of it. That entire project I felt like I was floating from one thing to the next using all of my strengths at once. From figuring out how to get more than 5,000 products into the insert to figuring out what the thing should look like. It took major problem solving and a major sense of calm in the eye of the storm.

Who or what motivates and inspires you?

I’m continuously inspired by people who put good into the world. A powerful speech, a TV spot that makes you happy-cry, someone who buys a stranger coffee in the Starbucks drive-thru. The smallest of good deeds remind me of who I am and who I want to be in this world.

What brand means the most to you?

I go to a local gym called Spire Fitness and take spin classes. It’s a place I wholeheartedly I stand behind. It’s a community dedicated to challenge and bettering yourself both physically and mentally. My favorite part is that you never sweat alone. They’re Milwaukee based, and I’ve never been more enthusiastic about working out.

Kayla Varcoe, associate director of strategy at MRM McCann in Detroit, Michigan

Who or what motivates and inspires you?

Fear has always been a huge motivator of mine. To look back and think that I could have done better or more is terrifying. Also, my boyfriend probably has a fallback career as a life coach. He has pushed me to become a much stronger, confident and positive person. Watching him take his business to the next level has also inspired me to stay focused!

What one piece of advice would you offer someone entering advertising today?

Someone told me that in order to be successful in this industry, you have to be both interested and interesting. Lots of individuals are very ‘interested’ in pursuing a career in advertising and have the curiosity to learn, but that alone isn’t enough to set you apart. You have to let your unique personality shine through and work equally as hard on building relationships with both clients and colleagues. On the other hand, you can be an ‘interesting’ person that others enjoy working with, but if you don’t possess the drive to innovate and proactively stay on top of the latest trends and technologies, you will fail. It takes both qualities!

Why do you like living and working in Detroit?

I actually love it when people ask me “so what’s Detroit really like? Is it really coming back?” Aside from my time in New York and Europe, I have lived in Metro Detroit my entire life and have seen it change for the better. The constant evolution of the city alone is motivating. Detroit has this thick network of entrepreneurs that rivals, or dare I say exceeds, those in cities like New York, Chicago or San Francisco, and the city itself is partly to thank. Affordable and often empty real estate puts something like opening a restaurant, office or even hotel within reach to so many more people. But the best part about living and working in Detroit is the network itself. Everyone is willing to help one another out to make the city a better place. No one is gunning for your position or idea. I think people here realize that you can't create change alone, and if you're going to succeed, your neighbors also need to succeed. When a new restaurant recently burned down, other young chefs hosted pop-up dinners in their own spaces to help out. I haven’t seen that kind of community and camaraderie in any other place I’ve lived.

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Minda Smiley

Minda Smiley is a reporter at The Drum covering creativity and advertising. Based in Philadelphia, she primarily covers independent agencies and B2B marketing. She also oversees The Drum’s “Independent Influence,” a weekly series that spotlights the work, perspectives and inspirations behind independent agencies. During her time at The Drum, she has covered industry events including SXSW, ANA Masters of Marketing, 4A’s Transformation and C2 Montréal. She is a graduate of the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.

All by Minda