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'Get comfortable being uncomfortable': Beyond the Brief featuring Anne Elisco-Lemme, Duncan Channon

Anne Elisco-Lemme, ECD, Duncan Channon

Duncan Channon executive creative director Anne Elisco-Lemme knows that sometimes the best kind of work is the kind that turns heads and stirs the pot.

For twenty years, the Pittsburgh native has brought the San Francisco shop some of its most inventive work, while rising up the ranks and embracing her creative identity. For Hawaii-based Kona Brewing Co., a series of love letters that make the rest of us mainlanders rethink how we work (perhaps we can all try single-tasking). Or for California’s tobacco control efforts, a campaign that pulled the curtain back from the dangerous e-cigarettes trend. As DC’s head of advertising practice, Elisco-Lemme has the final say on every piece of creative that goes through DC’s doors — and into award shows, annuals, and clients’ annual reports as work that helps move the needle.

You can’t be surprised that Elisco Lemme has an eye for great work, she got her practice as a young, starry-eyed girl, leafing through her copywriter father’s old swatch books. Now, look through the pages of Communication Arts (CA) annuals, you’ll see her name attached to some of the industry’s greatest campaigns. Her work’s been honored as some of Graphis’ Annuals best pieces of advertising, and been awarded Effies, Clios and One Show Pencils, and been finalists for the prestigious 4As O’Toole Awards. For her part, she’s become a judge for CA annuals and a speaker at the 3% Conference. Not bad for someone who moonlights as a keyboardist in a Led Zeppelin tribute band called Black Dog.

Elisco-Lemme is a bold advocate for brave work, a creative leader in an industry still pushing to change the ratio, and a rockstar example of living beyond the brief.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your advertising career?

To force myself to keep taking risks and do things that scare me. Earlier on in my career, I was a good soldier. Everything I did was for my agency and I let my creative identity become secondary. It slowly dawned on me that you’ve got to make things happen for yourself and put yourself out there. Now, I push myself to do things that make me feel vulnerable — speak at conferences, judge shows, go up and talk to people who inspire me. It’s been a fairly new mantra for me: get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Have you ever thought you should quit your job, but didn’t? Why?

Um, yeah. Lots of times. Listen, to be a female of a certain age in this industry makes you question why the fuck you’re still around. But I stay because I feel like I still have so much to say, observe, contribute. Maybe it’s because I want to prove everyone wrong. I don’t know.

Craziest thing you’ve seen happen in a new business pitch.

We were pitching an auto-racing prospect and I had the brilliant idea to surprise them by pitching at a tailgate party. We rented a Winnebago, set up a big sun umbrella, grilled hotdogs and had coolers of beer. Well, their parking lot was at the top of a hill and it was particularly windy that day. The cautious optimism on their part quickly turned to horror as the wind blew paper plates of hotdogs with ketchup and mustard all over their suits, and the umbrella took flight nearly knocking out their CMO. Needless to say, we didn’t win the account.

What’s your favorite thing about your hometown? What (in)tangible thing have you taken from there?

I grew up in Pittsburgh, and I loved the old gathering spots like the Ukrainian Club and others near the defunct steel mills. These places were run by old-timers but they’d get crazy acts in like Carl Perkins, arguably the founder of rock-a-billy. It was the coolest convergence of characters, women in babushkas sitting at folding tables while 20-somethings danced to music. It was like the wedding scene from The Deer Hunter pretty much every night.

If you went back to school to pick up a new skill, what would it be?

Writing. No question. You know that saying, “Everyone thinks they can write?” Well I don’t think I can — because I’ve tried. And it’s fucking hard to do well. Still, I would love to experience the joy of putting words together in a way that moves people. I would even do it for myself. I honestly get joy from it. It’s such a fun puzzle to try to solve.

Is work too personal or not personal enough at times? Why is that?

I dig personal. I want it as messy and personal as it can get. That’s what allows us to take chances. To be comfortable with vulnerability. It allows us to collaborate. Social media, on the other hand, yeah, we can all simmer down now with the personal shit on that.

To celebrate its 100th Anniversary, the 4A’s has partnered with us at The Drum to pull back the curtain and look at an industry full of problem solvers, creative types and analytical minds. But what keeps them going once the briefs are written, the campaigns executed, and the pitches won (or lost)? We’re interviewing 100 people at 4A’s member agencies — across all disciplines, levels, regions, and agency types — to get a glimpse into what drives them at work and what fuels them in life.

To pitch someone from a 4A's member agency for Beyond the Brief, please complete this linked form.

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