Creative Recruiter Emily ‘Mama Goddess’ Elyshevitz Has Advice for Both Employers and Young Creatives Entering the Workplace
It’s graduation season, and young workers are finding their way into the workplace. When it comes to young talent in the creative and marketing industries, Emily Elyshevitz, also known to many as “Mama Goddess,” has had a tremendous impact. Elyshevitz has acted as vice president and director of creative recruitment for several ad agencies and brought in an array of notable talent. We sat down with her to get the scoop on who the new class of creatives are and how agencies can create a meaningful work environment for them.
Here’s what she had to say.
This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
Tell us a little about your history with the creative industry. How did you get into it?
When I first entered the industry, I had fallen into it. I was very young, in my early 20s and I had a job as a receptionist in a creative department. When I first got there, I was so amazed because people were doing exciting things like creating commercial spots I’d see on television. I worked very closely with producers, art directors, copywriters, and illustrators — and I loved that.
I decided to go to secretarial school because I didn’t realize I could be trained to become an art director or a copywriter. I followed more of an administrative path, then became a creative assistant, working for many years at the same company.
What was your journey as a young person exploring the creative industry like?
In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with really great people, like Bill Backer, at an agency called Backer Spielvogel. Bill wrote “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” You might recognize it as the last song in “Mad Men” where Don Draper created the ad for Coca-Cola.
After 15 years with Backer Spielvogel, I went to work for JWT; after that, I worked for a dot-com ad agency. That was very interesting, but a dark period — 9/11 happened, and the agency failed primarily because of the unscrupulous behavior of one of the executives.
I was fortunate enough to get a job at Ogilvy, where I met and worked for Steve Hayden as his executive assistant for 10 years. Steve wrote and worked with Lee Clow on the iconic Apple 1984 ad. He is an amazing and brilliant creative leader.
How were you inspired to start coaching young creatives?
Going to Ogilvy was like going to advertising college. The level of creativity, the level of work they’d do was really excellent. Working with Steve Hayden, I got to see how he led. He was smart and knew advertising, but he was also very kind, which resonated with people.
I would watch him give rather harsh critiques to creative directors but do it in a manner that was so respectful and allowed them to retain their dignity and ego. I loved talking to Steve about the work and how he assessed things and watching him manage people. I learned a lot from him.
I’ve always, though, had a leaning toward working with young creatives. When Steve retired, I was asked to manage and mentor a group of young creatives from Miami ad school. That’s where [my work with young talent] really started.
What was one important goal you wanted to focus on as you took on this role?
After Steve left, one of the executives told me, “Figure out where there is a problem and fix it.” One problem I saw consistently was the need for more diversity in all the agencies I worked — brown faces, Black men and women, Latino men and women, Asian men and women. I started to look for them, and when those voices were in the room, I wanted to give them more opportunities to express themselves.
I also worked to help them be more visible to leadership. It was hard initially because [agencies] didn’t recognize the lack of diversity as a real problem.
What was your strategy for recruiting more diverse talent?
When people started to understand they needed to bring more people of color into the creative department, they were looking in the same places. I decided to look in other places, other schools, and more local, meaning the inner city like inner-city Brooklyn. Not gentrified Brooklyn — the neighborhoods like the one I come from. It was very important to me because, growing up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, there wasn’t anyone around me who had a creative career.
I felt so lucky and blessed to work at a company like Ogilvy and I wanted to share it. I wanted to help talented people gain entry into our amazing industry, especially on the creative side.
What should marketing and advertising agencies know about this new generation of creative talent?
The world has changed so much. There was a lot of bullying of young people, people new in their careers, in the industry when I started. There is no place for that kind of behavior or lack of sensitivity now. This generation expects to be respected, heard, and seen.
They’ll give you their hearts, but mega-creative egos won’t destroy them. Management has to be trained in soft skills. On the business side, they expect constructive critique, but you must leave them mentally and emotionally intact. Teaching and mentoring them is reciprocal because the new generation has so much to teach us. They are attached to what’s happening now and have an eye on what’s coming.
What type of fundamentals do you teach to your students?
I talk to them about money. I want to help them level the playing field so they know what to ask for, how to ask for it, what opportunities they have, and what salary ranges look like. I give them information to help them negotiate. Even if negotiating at this stage might not be easy or expected, I still want them to know what they need to look out for.
I also talk to them about how they present themselves. Sometimes there’s a casualness that does not read well. I speak to them about how they show up. I talk to them about things that are also important, like soft skills and how we treat people, critiques they can expect, and interviewing skills. I discuss imposter syndrome. When I feel a topic needs to be included, I teach it. The curriculum is ever-evolving.
Any final words for the young creatives?
Don’t take shit from anybody! But understand there are proper ways to handle difficult situations. Understand that success requires working through difficulties. If you hit a wall — you push through it. So if that means working on yourself, then you work on yourself. If that means you need to learn a new skill, then learn the new skill. Don’t be afraid to do whatever it is, as long as it’s legal, to gain that success. Ask questions, find a mentor, and tap into your network.
one50one would love to thank Emily for her time. When we asked her what we could expect from her in the future, she answered, “You never know.” One thing is certain: She will always teach the youth.
Share this article with young creatives looking to break into the creative world.