Director of Creative Services Kirsten VandenBout shares why promoting honest creativity and full authenticity is necessary for growth with Authority Magazine.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
As a kid, I always told people I wanted to be a “starving artist.” I had no clue what that meant as a five-year-old, but it sounded like a pretty sweet job. Ultimately, I knew my end goal was to be an artist of some kind. In middle school, I was homeschooled, so I had the flexibility to control my school schedule. I would race to get all my schoolwork done early in the day, so I had all afternoon and night to draw endlessly. After continuously hearing “you’re not going to make money in the art field,” I decided to collect some research. The pessimistic outlook surged a new drive inside of me; I had proven to my parents and those less-than optimistic teachers that you could be financially successful in careers like art direction. I worked hard in high school, entering scholarships and art award programs to build my portfolio. I was accepted into my dream school, The Fashion Institute of Technology, for fashion illustration. After graduation, I soon realized the industry was very niche, and there were more extensive opportunities out in the city of dreams. I reapplied to FIT this time in advertising design. The unconventional side of my story, which I don’t recommend to everyone, is that I dropped out my junior year, just shy of graduation. As a young 21-year-old, I reconciled with my mind that accepting a graphic design director job was wiser financially than accelerating my debt. That career opened up opportunities to agency life in content services at Brand Networks, which eventually spun off to Helen & Gertrude. After three years of determination and the spirit of proving myself, I became the director of creative services, leading the talented force of creative geniuses.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
I encourage my teams to bring ALL the versions of themselves rather than fit into a cookie-cutter robot. The “female disruptor” in me promotes a creative culture that allows for mistakes to be embraced and creativity to be honest, which is the only way we can all improve and do better. I’m an “assertive” person, according to many career trait assessments. As Creative Director at a digital marketing agency, I’ll tell you that the word assertive doesn’t typically have a positive connotation. With that being said, I can’t pick and choose which version of myself I show up to work. I have learned to appreciate my “flaws,” whether internally or externally labeled. I have to identify “my weaknesses” as mislabeled strengths to accept my whole self. Too direct, assertive, and emotional can also be adapted to be a problem-solver, team advocate, or empathic leader. When I show up like this, I contribute to healthy industry culture and encourage others to do the same. By creating the space for others in our department who may not speak up, I seek ways to validate them and create safe environments for communication. I’m allowing creativity to come from excitement and safety, providing my teams with the ability to experiment without fear of judgment or failure.