Laurel Stark isn’t just a US creative – she’s a US creative who’s out to change the world. Here’s what copywriting looks like when it’s flavoured with values, ethics and beliefs.
My senior year in undergrad, I was procrastinating before midterms by browsing the makeup counter at the local mall.
The cheeky copy on the Benefit Cosmetics products made me giggle, so instead of diving into my paper on Milton, I wrote an ‘Ode to Benefit’ and sent it to the PR girls there.
They responded with a free lipgloss kit and the priceless advice that I should ‘go into advertising’. After looking into what that entailed, I applied to MFA Advertising programs and the rest is history.
You’re an activist as well as a creative. Can you tell me about the 3% Movement?
The 3% Movement was founded by my dear friend and mentor, Kat Gordon, nine years ago in response to a shocking lack of women in creative leadership (just 3% according to a 2009 study).
Though initially focused on gender diversity, the 3% Movement has become a champion for all types of diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) in our industry and a major driver for measurable change (women now hold nearly 30% of creative director roles).
Though I haven’t been a part of the 3% Movement since the very beginning (I attended Kat’s second conference in 2012 and joined her team in 2013), it’s been a transformative and healing part of my own journey as a creative, leader and advocate.
So grateful to Kat for the role she and our 3% community continue to play in my personal and career development.
What other issues drive you?
I’m driven by every issue facing humanity right now – from human rights to the health of our planet. Everything feels so urgent – and as overwhelming as that can be, it’s also an opportunity. As Vicki Saunders famously said, “Everything’s broken. What a great time to be alive.”
I feel that deeply as a creative, an advocate and a mother.
What can you tell me about the Next Creative Leaders program?
Next Creative Leaders is a global portfolio competition held in partnership with the 3% Movement and the One Club for Creativity. It highlights the unique creative contributions of up-and-coming women and non-binary creative leaders.
I co-founded it six years ago, after being frustrated with the very narrow lens of creative leadership I saw celebrated in our industry.
I wanted to start a broader conversation around the important way women and non-binary creative talent lead and shape work. And I wanted lesser-represented groups to see themselves in the stories and the work of our winners and think ‘maybe success on my terms is possible for me, too’.
And Silent Partner? Is mental health close to your heart?
As someone who was diagnosed with generalised anxiety and an eating disorder in my teens, I’ve always made managing my mental health part of my creative career – though for a long time it was one I never talked about, out of fear that it would hurt me professionally.
Back in May, the global pandemic was hitting the creative industry hard, we were on the brink of a civil-rights movement that was bringing our industry face to face with systemic racism and I was concerned about the mental-health crisis that was brewing among creatives.
Unable to ignore our own challenges – or the deafening silence coming from industry leadership – my co-founder Victoria Rosselli and I launched Our Silent Partner, an anonymous, crowd-sourced creative portfolio that turned invisible struggles into creative work to start a much-needed conversation around mental health in our industry.
You’ve got a great resume. Google Brand Studio, Intel and Team Pixel. You seem to love internal creative teams?
I’ve worked in and around Silicon Valley my whole career (and spent a chunk of time as a freelancer), which has opened so many opportunities to work on different types of creative projects, in a wide range of settings, for some pretty amazing brands.
I’ve been agency-side, worked in-house at big tech, startups, design consultancies, gaming companies, DEI firms… and worked on everything from campaigns and e-commerce to apps and physical spaces. It’s been a wild ride but I’m super grateful for my expansive and not-always-linear path.
You were adopted, right? Do you think that’s helped shape your career?
Absolutely! Things that are core to who we are as people absolutely shape how we see the world and how we react to it as creatives.
As an adopted person, my cellular desire for belonging has shaped so many things about my life and career — from my passion for DEI, to the people I call family, to the way I see the world and the things I am driven to solve creatively.
I am an exhausted optimist. An empathetic creative. And a reluctant entrepreneur who is constantly working to make magic happen with heart, community and sheer force of will.
What do you think are your unique skills?
I have networking skills on steroids.
I have crazy ‘starter’ energy – which makes me great at willing ideas into life, even when there’s no budget, no structure and no resources.
I’m a powerful verbal and written communicator.
I’m a deeply empathetic person and use that to connect with others, connect with ideas and tap into meaningful human truths.
I’m a very UX-savvy (and platform-agnostic) writer.
I bring a DEI lens to everything I do.
What would you choose if pushed: creative direction or pure copywriting?
I am a storyteller in my heart of hearts. But if I had to just pick just one, it would have to be creative direction.
I love the collaboration involved in creativity at its best. Working with a team, helping them shape ideas, collaborate fearlessly and hone their craft. Being of service to a group of creatives, a client and a big idea – that’s magic.
What’s been your finest hour?
I’m most proud of the work I’ve done in the DEI space (Pride, Our Silent Partner, Next Creative Leaders) but I sincerely hope my finest hour hasn’t happened yet. I’d like to think I’m just getting started.
Tell me about those awards – Fast Company and Pitch Magazine. I’m impressed.
Thank you! To be honest, as a non-traditional creative, I haven’t put a ton of stock in the shiny honours in my proverbial awards cabinet. But the two you mentioned are close to my heart because they acknowledge what really matters to me as a creative and an activist.
In 2018, I led my then-agency team at Firewood on the Google Pride work. It had been a devastating year for LGBTQ+ progress, but we wanted to stand in the bravery and celebratory roots of Pride.
Our campaign #ThisIsFamily set out to challenge the limiting and heteronormative lens that shapes what the world sees as family, and to celebrate the beautiful non-traditional families that LGBTQ+ people create.
We earned a 2019 Fast Company World Changing Idea nod for our work, which was incredibly special for a team who actually want to help create meaningful change for a community we love and belong to.
Pitch Magazine honours the women and men who work behind the scenes to make adland more inclusive. I was honoured this year as a Pitch 100 Superwoman for my work on Next Creative Leaders, Our Silent Partner, and Pride. It was especially sweet to be recognised by my peers for doing the DEI and advocacy work I love to do.
What would be your dream client?
My ideal client would be a brand that’s in crisis or at a major crossroads – and serious about making big, scary changes. So right now? Maybe Nike or the United States Post Office.
And your dream assignment?
I don’t want to get too specific because hopefully I’ll get the chance to pitch some of these ideas sometime soon. But in general, I love assignments that task me with starting a hard conversation or challenging a perspective.
I’m so interested in our roles as strategists and storytellers – and how we can use our skills to bridge the divide humanity is struggling with right now, physically, emotionally and ideologically.
Any tips for clients?
Really engage with the creative process. Get nerdy with it. Ask all the stupid questions. Challenge your own preconceived notions about your brand, your problems and your creative partners.
Be honest with yourself and your creative team about your asks and your issues. And remember that creative isn’t a silver bullet for PR or product issues. Anything that isn’t authentic to your brand, product, experience or the way you’re living your values won’t actually solve anything.
Be open to considering solutions that live beyond marketing. Because that’s where real change (and better stories) live.
And any tips for newbie copywriters?
Never forget that your actual creative gift is the unique way you see the world. So get curious about who you are. Hone your perspective, have opinions, know what you like and why.
This can be a brutal industry with all the rejection – especially during times like this where there’s this sense of lack due to the pandemic. But your clients, your boss, the world needs your voice.
So know who you are and lean into that in your work – both paid and passion projects. And if an agency doesn’t like your favourite portfolio piece, don’t take it to heart. It’s just the universe’s way of telling you that’s not your place. Keep going.