BABE #136: HEATHER CROTEAU, Lead Copywriter @ Belief Agency + Editor @ Babes Who Hustle
Heather is the Editor-in-Chief here at BWH, the Lead Copywriter at Belief Agency in Seattle, and a close friend of mine. Through our mutual love of reading, writing, incessant sarcasm and snail mail, our long-distance friendship of 8+ years is stronger than ever. When she told me she wanted to get involved with BWH, I didn't think twice before offering her the role. Spoiler: she's doing an outstanding job; I've had a hard time cutting down her interview because she has so many good things to say. Thanks for letting BWH into your world, H! We love you, and of course, you're a babe.
Hometown: Originally from Weymouth, England; raised in Orlando, FL
Current city: Seattle, WA
Alma mater: I took classes at the University of Central Florida for a hot minute
Very first job: Ritter’s Frozen Custard
Hustle: Lead Copywriter @ Belief Agency
Babe you admire and why?
I have such a crush on Chelsea Moylan, the ladyboss at ANOMIE. She started as a beauty and lifestyle blogger on YouTube (who always said 'I have no idea what I’m doing, I’m just here to pick up tips from everyone else') while she was in college getting her master’s degree in sociology and criminology, then leveraged her following into running a successful online store, and later a physical store in San Francisco. Their goods are beautiful and their social strategy is on point (browse the Shop Girls of ANOMIE Instagram), and if you check the #copgirlsofanomie hashtag you’ll see the sting operations they run on thieves—so far they have a perfect score catching them. Badass.
Go-to coffee order?
Decaf Americano, black
Go-to adult beverage?
Favorite Harry Potter book?
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (but, also, the version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone my team just animated for Amazon Kindle and Pottermore).
Three things we can always find in your fridge?
Land-O-Lakes Sweet Cream Butter, grapefruit juice and Typhoo tea bags from England
Go-to news source?
Support your local public radio station
Favorite social media account to follow?
Lately it’s @noihsaf.bazaar, an Instagram-based consignment shop that mainly sells small and independent labels (Rachel Comey, Jesse Kamm, random ones no one has ever heard of). For fun and aesthetics: The Running Shepherdess (I was born in a town with more sheep than people); Houseplant Journal (great tips for growing plants indoors); Girlboss; Overheard London
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
I took my husband to my hometown in England for the first time last March, and I’ve been missing it fierce ever since.
What’s one thing you wish you knew more about?
I'm using the Robinhood app to get an immersive lesson on the stock market.
Last concert you attended?
Two of my coworkers are in a band called Demon Hunter. Last month, a bunch of us from the office went to see their Seattle show.
Go-to road trip snack?
I’m not a road trip kind of girl. Three hours is about as much as I can do. Luckily out here that’ll get you to Portland, Vancouver, the desert in Eastern Washington, the rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula or the West Coast. I could eat 10 bags of Smartfood white cheddar popcorn along the way.
Tell us about your hustle.
I work for Belief Agency, a Seattle-based full-stack creative agency that focuses on marketing and film production. My title is lead copywriter, but nowadays writing is only half of my job. In that respect, I lead our team of copywriters and I’m responsible for the quality and accuracy of any words that go out the door. Day-to-day, I work closely with my boss, our CEO/creative director, on creative collaboration—writing pitch decks, developing concepts and brainstorming ideas—and I work with all our clients in the initial stages of our engagement with them. We have a process we take them through to uncover the beliefs and values that drive their organization, which we use as the basis for all their marketing. (For example: Babes Who Hustle believes each woman’s progress is every woman’s progress, which is why we’ve created a community where hardworking women can celebrate and learn from each other.) A big part of my job is working with them to discover what their belief is, then working with our team to figure out how to contextualize that and communicate it to their audience. Ultimately, I get paid to think. It’s a privilege.
What does your typical workday look like?
It’s difficult to quantify. One of the things I most enjoy about this work is that it’s completely different every day; different projects, different clients, different hats to wear and shoes to fill. My first month on the job I was in Alaska shooting. Sometimes I’m sitting at my desk with my headphones jammed in or working from home writing. Some days I’m conducting interviews with the people we’re making a documentary about or writing an article on. A lot of the time I’m meeting with clients or brainstorming with people on the team. One week I was holed up in a cabin on Vashon Island finishing a book about music and emotion I wrote for a huge client project. That there is no “typical” is the best part of my workdays.
Have you always had a love for writing and editing? Where do you think that comes from?
I’ve always had a love for words; honing that into writing and editing came later. My mom taught me to read books before I could talk, so I learned about their value from a very early age. When I was really young we lived walking distance from a library, and we spent a lot of time there. I would bring books home and read them under the covers at night with a flashlight. My mom was hot on spelling and grammar, which I think was largely a byproduct of speaking British English in America. She would pause a conversation to correct me when I misspoke, and always explained the why so I understood the rules. That gave me a natural aptitude in those areas, and because I think we gravitate towards the things we’re good at (no? Just me because I’m a three on the Enneagram?) there was never any plan other than becoming a professional “person who works with words.”
Specifically, what and who are the writers and pieces of work that have most inspired you as a writer?
That’s changed a lot year-by-year, but I think that’s probably the way it’s supposed to be. In the last few years I’ve paid attention to advertising in a new way. My perception of a good commercial or print ad has completely changed. I’m not looking to be entertained anymore; I’m most impressed when I’m most moved. Sometimes—oftentimes—that’s by truth well told. I still get romantic over a really well-written piece of journalism. Reporting from The Washington Post and the New York Times in the last year (as well as their renewed focus on their own advertising) is inspiring. Lately I’ve been devouring short story anthologies: Glimmer Train, the New Yorker, The Paris Review and editions of The Best American Short Stories. I love the collection “In-Flight Entertainment,” by Helen Simpson and I was shocked by how moved I was by “One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories,” by B.J. Novak.
What draws you to advertising?
I never wanted to work in advertising; I actively avoided this job. I used to work in magazine publishing, and for a few years after we moved to Seattle I was doing a lot of contract communications work. A mutual colleague told me Belief Agency was looking for a copywriter and wanted to put me in touch with them. I had a very Mad Men idea of advertising, and I wasn’t interested in writing pithy one-liners or constantly having to outdo myself ceatively day after day. I agreed to meet with someone at the company, and eventually followed through with the coffee date after almost canceling several times. My husband convinced me to go, and when I came home from that first meeting, I thanked him.
What types of writing projects do you work on?
It’s important to remember that our clients are as much the people we work for as the companies they work for. I’m really, really lucky that we only work with clients we believe in. When you have an emotional connection with your client you’ll do better work, because giving a shit is the ultimate competitive advantage. We've worked with Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon and The Seattle Seahawks—but also Rover, Seattle Goodwill and Dunn Lumber (a local family-owned home improvement store that’s been in Seattle for 110 years), as well as a hundred other local and family-owned companies that are filled with incredible people who give a shit about what they do and who they’re doing it for. One day I found myself crying opposite a local cancer specialist veterinarian as she talked about her job (she believes “every moment matters,” which is what drives her to give her patients and their owners as many moments back as possible). The next week I was on a film shoot in Las Vegas watching a pro race car driver do 400-mph laps around a track. Last week I was on set as we filmed an interview with a man who lived through the Rwandan Genocide. Prior to that, I was writing Christmas card copy for a construction company. It’s a weird job, getting paid to experience people’s stories with them. I tell each of our subjects the same thing: help me understand your story in a way that makes it easy to share in a truthful and compelling way.
Tell us about your role here at Babes Who Hustle.
I’m the editor here at Babes Who Hustle (which, Chelsea and Mara, is why I’m copyediting your questions as I’m answering them. Ha!) On a weekly basis I’m responsible for the quality of everything that gets published on the website. I copyedit all of our interviews and articles, as well as review structure and work with writers to hone concepts. I also contribute all the most boring drivel to The Brief, one of our weekly e-newsletters. But, eh—someone has to link to Nordstrom sales and talk about television, right?
How do you manage your time between your nine-to-five and your role at BWH? Do you have any advice for other babes balancing side hustles?
I have a chronic illness, so managing my sleep is paramount. If I don’t, nothing else matters, because my brain won’t function at the level it needs to in order for me to be successful at work. That’s made me a stickler for routine. I wake up at the same time every morning, leave for work at the same time; I have the same evening routine, and I'm really choosy about what social things I agree to do on weeknights. I get three meals a week from Plated, which has had a huge return on my time for the investment. I schedule time in my calendar for editing Babes Who Hustle work, and if I have to schedule over it I reschedule it, as if it were any other calendar event.
Calendar of choice: written or digital? Which programs and apps help you stay on top of things?
I don't care what people say; I’m all-in for Google. Go ahead, read my emails and track my searches, it’s totally fine as long as you keep sending me tracking updates on packages I’ve ordered, appointments I’m late for, and flights that are delayed. I keep a pretty obsessive Google Calendar with my professional and personal email accounts.
What is your work environment/office culture like? How collaborative is your work from day to day?
We have a big, open office, which I always thought I would hate and now I couldn’t live without. For a couple years before coming to Belief Agency I worked for myself, from home, full-time, and the lack of creative collaboration was slowly killing me. Now, our office gives me energy. I still need days where I work from home to focus on pumping something out, but day-to-day there’s something life-giving about being in the midst of other writers, designers and filmmakers who are all supportive of each other’s projects and talented enough to give feedback across disciplines. I’ve worked with a lot of incredible people who are doing extraordinary things, but there’s something special about this team. If you dove into their resumes, the most impressive things would come up—but you’d never know it just being around them, because it’s a group of the kindest, most talented, most humble people in the world.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
I had to learn that what works for men wasn’t going to work for me. Where men can be aggressive, I learned how to be assertive—but positive. Where men can be confrontational, I learned how to be commanding—but charismatic. Where men can dig in their heels, I learned how to be firm—but flexible. Where men can play checkers, I learned how to play chess. I work for a company that applauds and rewards the accomplishments of women and invests in their personal and professional development. The best idea wins, and I have never been “less than” or sidelined because of my gender. For that, I am grateful, because it’s not necessarily the majority experience.
What is the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
When I started at Belief Agency, I was one of two girls with 10 men. We’re now two-thirds of the staff, and half of our department heads are women. To be honest, I’m not terribly familiar with the rest of the industry, having never worked in it before. I do know that only three percent of creative directors are women, white men are predominantly the CEOs and leadership of most major agencies, and the wage gap is a real problem. What’s encouraging, though, is that a majority of the departments at the big companies I work with are run by women. It’s pretty common that I find myself sitting at a conference room table with five or six women on the client’s side. They’re writing the creative briefs, running projects, giving feedback, and making the decisions. It’s badass.
What’s your biggest career milestone and why?
Being blocked on Twitter by Ann Coulter in response to an article I wrote criticizing her use of the R-word. I’m rarely proud of anything I write longer than it takes for it to be published, but I’m always proud of having spoken truth to power.
Do you ever feel like you’re at a disadvantage for not having finished your bachelor’s degree?
I felt significantly disadvantaged early in my career; partially out of personal insecurity, and partially because people in power tried their best to make me feel that way. Today, I rarely think about it. I kept learning even after leaving college, and I was able to be laser focused on the skills I wanted to develop, because they directly pertained to work I was doing for my job. I left school based on a calculated decision that work experience was a more valuable asset, and I’ve never regretted that. The job I left school to take launched my career; everything I’ve done since can be traced back to that role. It was only a few months ago I was chatting with my boss about leaving school and he stopped me and said, “Wait, you never got your degree?” I reminded him that we’d talked about it in my interview, and he burst out laughing and said: “I totally forgot! I love it—our lead copywriter never finished college. That’s amazing.” That interaction reminded me that good work always wins.
What would you say is the skill you most need to improve?
My boss once told me that the primary role of a creative director is managing people’s emotions. I’m stoic, and British, and emotionless, so developing that skill is my biggest professional challenge.
What advice would you give to a babe trying to break into your industry?
Your portfolio is your most critical asset, and you’re judged on the average of your work, not the sum. It’s better to have three great pieces than three great pieces, two mediocre ones and one you’re ashamed of that was published by a big name. Don’t include a piece unless it’s your best work, and don’t consider it your best work without it having undergone review and critique from people you trust who are qualified to provide feedback. Then, be bold: email people whose work you admire and request informational interviews. You’d be shocked how many of them will reply when you use the subject line “Can I buy you a coffee?” and request 30 minutes of their time to pick their brain. When you email them, suggest a meeting place near them and offer a few ranges of times you’re available. More times than not, they will say yes.
What helps you wind down and manage stress?
My husband, Sean, and I live about a mile away from the beach and ferry terminal. Most nights over the summer we head down to the waterfront after dinner, grab some frozen yogurt and find a driftwood tree trunk to sit on and watch the sun set over the Olympics and the ferry boat lights coming on. It’s dreamy; I can't wait for next May. This time of year when it's dreary for weeks on end, I catch up on a lot of books while I'm curled up on my favorite chair with my dogs keeping my feet warm.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Practice asking for (and giving) feedback; graciousness needs to be learned. Invest in one great pair of shoes that makes you feel like a boss. Teach yourself to cook two or three killer dishes you can turn to when you need to (a) accomplish something, even if it’s small, (b) impress dinner guests, and (c) eat a really, really good meal. Look your best when you feel your worst. When you talk about the people who have mentored you, say their names—they deserve it. Always remember that anything good for dessert is better for breakfast. Never make yourself smaller to make someone else feel big. And when you have a killer Sunday outfit, make it your Monday outfit.