Connie Zhou is an award-winning art director, multimedia storyteller, and photographer. I believe being a successful creative is to diversify and learn from those around us; our job may be to tell stories, but the greatest thing we can do is to listen.
First question: Do you consider yourself a freelancer or a founder?
Both, but probably leaning more towards a freelancer! I started earlier this year, and have learned a lot.
You've had an impressive career to date. Can you tell us more about it?
Thanks! I started as a junior art director at Arnold New York, then moved to BBH New York. Both are great agencies with incredibly talented people. Arnold taught me the basics of being a professional and taking ownership of your work. BBH taught me how to think and push ideas. In February I decided to embark on my own and try out freelancing. I've been fortunate to have somewhat steady work despite COVID and a difficult economy. It's been a fun journey and I've learned a lot about myself. I got to work with a variety of agencies and brands.
Where does your love of photography stem from?
When I was younger, I always loved capturing memories. Always had a disposable camera on me no matter where I went. My dad also taught me everything I know about photography. I remember as a kid, he'd have these crazy vintage large format cameras and make us freeze for 30 seconds at a time to take a photo. I hated being in front of the camera but realized I loved being behind it.
For those who don't know, will you share what it is that an art director does? And, what advice would you give to aspiring art directors?
An art director in advertising is part of the creative department. Art directors typically partner with copywriters to come up with the concepts for advertising campaigns and executions. From there, an art director will handle the visuals of whatever media they're working in from the design, set, wardrobe, edit, etc. I always say that an art director is the jack of all trades. You don't have to be the master of all of them but understand and be able to give direction.
For aspiring art directors, focus on the idea. Sure you can make anything look nice, but the idea is what will make you stand out. Agencies already have designers, production, photographers, etc. so they don't need more people to make things work, they need creative minds.
Can you tell us about Summer Camp and balancing being one of the founders of the creative studio?
When I started freelancing, I realized there was another Connie Zhou in NYC and she too was in the creative industry. So I needed a new name to operate under. My friend and I had always talked about working together and I thought it was the perfect time to get a head start! For now, it's mostly me working under the Summercamp umbrella as she's currently a full-time creative director at an agency. But, when the time is right, we'll be ready to launch into new heights.
How can freelancers scale and position themselves as a founder of a studio?
One of the best pieces of advice that I received starting off was to remember that you are running a business. I think with that mindset, you already start changing your overall positioning to the world. Yes, I work temporarily at a bunch of agencies, but rather than thinking of myself as a temporary worker, I see myself as a vendor and consultant. It's two businesses working together.
What advice do you have for creative people who want to pursue their passion as a career?
It is doable! Growing up I didn't think there were jobs out there that were strictly creative. However, I do think the world is more appreciative of creativity and it's a highly marketable skill to have. I would also make sure you separate what you are willing to compromise and what you aren't. Learn when to say no to projects if you want to keep your passion a hobby.