by Laura Fegley November 05, 2018
The Colle McVoy executive creative director shares her journey to Minneapolis after 20 years in New York City.
Hi, I’m Laura. I’m a recovering New Yorker. I grew up in Ohio, but I took my first adult job in NYC in the ’90s. And then I stayed. For more than 20 years. I worked or freelanced at nearly every agency in the city. NYC was the center of advertising, and I didn’t see why I should do it anywhere else. But then a little over two years ago, a friend said I had to meet the CEO of an agency in Minneapolis. Kinda overnight, I fell in love with the agency and left my entire life in New York.
While I was really excited about what they had cooking there, I honestly didn’t know if I was doing the right thing by leaving. Even though I had lived in one of the most worldly cities, I was, in a way, sheltered. I learned a lot that may help others realize how good life is away from the coasts. Here are some of my observations about life and advertising in Minneapolis, but these can also apply to smaller big cities all over the country.
Observation #1: Did you know there are evenings?
When I worked at BBH, Sir John Hegarty would come to town and have one-on-one chats with creative leaders. Sir John believes outside inspiration leads to better creative, so he would always want to know what hobbies we were into. Sadly, I’d often have to make something up like "learning to play the ukulele" because the real answer was "I worked till I barely had enough energy to drag myself home and order Seamless before passing out on the couch over my work emails."
At Colle McVoy, people don’t stay in the office much past 5:30 unless they’re cranking on a project or pitch. Sure, people hop on emails and work when they get home, but in general there’s more respect for your hours away being yours.
This freaked me out. I had been trained to believe that time at my desk = great work. But I quickly came to realize that people here were still coming up with great things and hitting deadlines. And the thinking was as good as what I saw as the result of long hours in New York. Sometimes even more inventive. In Minneapolis, people just get focused and get stuff done. Then they go home and have a whole other life. Which makes them better at their jobs. I’m going to have to get a hobby.
Observation #2: Life doesn’t have to be so hard.
On my first night in Minneapolis, I went to the grocery store. While checking out, the bagger started walking away with my stuff and I was confused. Then I realized, people take your groceries to your car and put them in your car and don’t take tips for putting them in your car and you can park that car in your driveway.
Or, maybe better put, everyday life doesn’t have to be so hard. That leaves more energy to be curious about other things. And when life isn’t so hard, work can be hard without making you feel like you’re losing your mind.
Observation #3: I live more like the people I make ads for.
I still do cool ad person things in Minneapolis. I go to foodie restaurants and art shows and hipster axe-throwing bars. But I also live every day more like, you know, real people. I go to the State Fair. To neighborhood potlucks. I got my first Costco card (mind blown).
The Midwest is the creamy center of America’s Oreo. Life here isn’t a novelty; it’s the norm. I feel now that I better know what’s relevant to more Americans. But I’m also better positioned to make the case that middle-America deserves more than dumbed-down messages and experiences.
Observation #4: Children are seen and heard.
In NYC there is work. And there are children. But rarely do these worlds form a Venn diagram. I know a woman who took a job as a creative right after having her first baby and didn’t tell anyone she had a kid so they wouldn’t be afraid to give her the hard assignments.
I wasn’t in a position in NYC to even think about kids until I was in my late ’30s — which is kinda crazy. But the city is so expensive and my job was so demanding, I just didn’t know how to pull it off.
Here, kids are part of the daily dialogue. Kids aren’t a weird thing. They’re a regular part of life that makes people more human and empathetic. My Minnesota baby is named Hugo — he’s 5 months old. I won’t say that I "have it all" here, but I don’t feel as conflicted about the two sides of my life coexisting.
Observation #5: Creativity no longer has a home base.
It’s been proven again and again that some of the most breakthrough advertising can come from agencies in smaller cities. Wieden. Crispin. Martin. Thank you for showing the world it can be done.
But what’s really interesting is all the other creative industries that are bringing it in some unlikely places. Amazing food can be had in Portland, Maine. There’s a booming art scene in Detroit. Creative people are taking their talents to where they want to live and making their own meccas.
There’s a lot of that feeling here, both inside and outside of advertising. Yeah, it’s daunting to rebuild a world from the ground up, but that’s also how new thinking’s going to happen — and it’ll define what our industry will become. If you want to make something new, go somewhere where the world isn’t set in stone.
Observation #6: We could always use more different.
It says lots of great things about Minneapolis that so many natives choose this place as their adult home. And so the stereotypes about Minnesota are sorta true — we have a lot of Scandinavians. Loads of Erics and Eriks and Ericks. It’s part of the character and adds a distinctive flavor to the place. But luckily we also have Pujas, Rotems, Marias and Alejandros — people from all over the world who have chosen to make Minnesota their home. And we’re better for it.
New voices will help us be better Minnesotans. Having different perspectives and diversity of experiences — not just in race and gender — are the most important issues for all of us to address. We need as many voices as we can get to help us be better brand problem-solvers for the future.
Observation #Duh: New York is F-ing awesome!
I wouldn’t trade my years in NYC for anything. I think everyone should live in New York, London or San Fran at least once. The experiences in NYC are next-level and it builds resilience like nowhere else. New Yorkers have seen some s#*t and they can deal with almost anything.
But there are many kinds of awesome. Minneapolis has definitely changed me — I think for the better. The more experiences in life you have, the better. And although leaving New York felt like the riskiest thing I could do, I’m really glad I let myself be open to a new kind of awesome.
Oh, and I couldn’t write about moving to Minnesota without addressing the cold. All my friends in NYC want to know: "How are you surviving the winters?" Well, while it does get mighty chilly here, I don’t remember a lack of snow in NYC, and I don’t have to walk 12 blocks to the subway.
Yeah, winter’s a big part of life here, so people really double down and make the most of it. My boss rides his fat tire bike to work in the snow. There’s ice skating on the lakes. People flood their lawns for hockey rinks. It’s like a damn Norman Rockwell painting. Winter’s not our worst feature. It’s one of our most compelling.
Laura Fegley is the executive creative director at Colle McVoy in the U.S.