Stefani Zellmer
Freelance writer of all trades
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Writing Samples

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Nine Things I Learned In Nine Years of Running My Own Agency

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Running a business was never my dream. It fell into my lap when my husband and I were both freelance writers after I left GSD&M. He had a client with a decent media budget, so I nudged him to write a TV campaign that was beyond what the client asked for. After the scripts we wrote together sold, we went into production. In our meeting with directors, a producer asked us what our agency was called. We just looked at each other and shrugged. Next thing you know, the Swizzle Collective was born. It became our third child.Two years and several clients later, I decided to branch out and start my own firm with a focus on marketing to women. It was when I landed the Mothers’ Milk Bank account that I called Beth McConnell in to be my art director on their new marketing campaign. Again, a new agency was formed organically when it just made sense to merge my firm with her design firm and hang a shingle as Zellmer McConnell.

Being my own boss was something that worked for me when my kids were young. But they grew up. And so did I.

Here are nine things that experience taught me that I think will make me an asset to an in-house creative department:

1.     Managing a team of creatives is one thing. Managing a team of account people, research consultants, media strategists, publicists, digital consultants and a roster of clients is like getting a master’s degree in multi-tasking. They say women are good at that. Whether that’s true or not, I certainly got plenty of practice trying to prove it.

2.     Clients are people too and they love their business more than an agency ever could. While I lost sleep over my client’s business challenges, I could never match their level of investment in their success. As a copywriter, I didn’t always respect clients. The admiration I’ve gained for clients over the years is why I’m ready to be one myself now.

3.     You don’t need a big budget to do great work.

4.     Owning a business means owning every decision that’s made, good and bad. Most sentences start with “Should we…?” When you’re wrong, it’s on you. I have learned to think long and hard about big decisions, decisions that hinged on millions of dollars in business. That’s a lot of pressure. But it’s made me cautious in a way that allows me to make decisions with confidence. Because I know I’ve exhausted every possible outcome.

5.     The amount of information you can find out about your target audience is creepy.

6.     New business pitches can bring out the worst in people, myself included. It all boils down to fear. I learned that being kind to each other, especially under pressure, keeps the process focused and at the end of the day, kind of fun. As it should be.

7.     Learning is endless.

8.     There’s a lot of freedom to be found in admitting you just don’t know the answer. And it’s often the best way to find it.

9.    We're in a world driven by technology that evolves more rapidly every day. What I know about branding is that brands need to evolve as quickly as tech, including our own personal brands. For Stefani Zellmer, the brand, it became time to evolve.

Stefani Zellmer