On the Spot: Sally Hogshead

Shortly after college, the intrepid Hogshead spent six months with a tribe in Ethiopia, sleeping in a hut made of cow dung. Moving to the comparatively cushy world of advertising, she worked as a copywriter at Fallon McElligott, Wieden + Kennedy and The Martin Agency before opening Robaire and Hogshead in Los Angeles. Three years later, Hogshead, 38, closed the boutique agency when Crispin Porter + Bogusky tapped her to launch an office in Venice, Calif.

Q. You opened CP+B’s L.A. office on Sept. 10, 2001. What were the repercussions of trying to get established in such a difficult economy?

A. It made us feistier. Like, “Oh yeah? You think we’re going to fail? We’ll show you.” That being said, for me personally, the first six months were a humbling experience.

In what way?

The first six months were like fishing in a lake with no fish. But, you know, they say babies born during depression or war grow up to be resilient and successful. This office is built from the ground up to survive.

What’s it like working with Chuck Porter?

Remember the food seasoning called Accent? You could sprinkle it on any food to improve the flavor. Well, that’s Chuck. He makes anything better. Chuck, Alex, [director of account services] Jeff Steinhour and [president] Jeff Hicks—they’re an insanely brilliant group.

Was joining CP+B an easy decision for you?

To be honest, no, it wasn’t, because it meant saying goodbye to my partner, Jean Robaire, and the agency we’d spent three years creating. Leaving Robaire and Hogshead was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

What’s the dumbest decision you’ve ever made?

I make them all the time. The thing I’m learning is that a mistake isn’t the same as defeat. In fact, mistakes lead to the most interesting choices.

You’ve worked now in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, New York and L.A. Was your experience in each quite different?

The city you work in definitely influences the kind of ads you’ll do. As Andy Berlin explained to me, Midwestern agencies believe that life is inherently good, and New York agencies believe that life is inherently evil.

How do you deal with pressure?

Lock down, focus in and crank like a mo fo.

What’s the biggest issue facing the industry?

We don’t do three-martini lunches anymore.

You’re a little audacious, if I may say so. How does that translate to your work?

Besides having a pet snake in the office? I love ads that hit a nerve, finding something to say that’s so honest or unfamiliar, it’s almost startling.

Would you recommend advertising as a career? Do you ever work as a mentor to young people?

Absolutely. I’ve mentored dozens of people, some of whom I’ve hired. Right now is a brutal time for juniors—there’s no demand, yet the conveyor belt just keeps churning them out. They need mentoring more than ever.

What advice would you give to people starting out in this business?

Try and pick out a last name people can make fun of.

A lot of good creatives are looking for work right now. How do they try to get noticed?

I get about 50 books and résumés a week. A copywriter bought www.sallyhogshead.com and offered to give it back to me in exchange for an interview. An art director sent a chocolate sheet cake with his entire portfolio printed on the frosting. And here’s a tip: Don’t send a fake foot to get your foot in the door.

What’s your biggest fear?

The middle of the road.

What’s the last book you read?

Probably the thesaurus or a Zagat guide. I don’t have time to read. How lame is that?

Give me three words to describe yourself.

Devoted, passionate, unsatisfied.

What motivates you?

My sister won three gold medals in the Olympics. My brother graduated from Harvard, I’m the underachiever in the family.

You recently won Buca di Beppo, the restaurant chain. Is it true you bused tables to get a better understanding of the operation?

Sure did. I can refill water glasses like a pro.

What’s your favorite quote?

Do one thing every day that scares you.

And your least favorite?

Anyone who uses the phrase “think outside the box” doesn’t.

What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?

Becoming a mother. It seemed impossible to be a mother and a creative director. Now I understand that having a child makes you a way better creative person, because it connects you to your deepest, most profound emotions. Not to mention the fun of breast-feeding during a conference call.

Your husband is a stay-at-home dad. What key lesson has motherhood taught you?

A job won’t love you back.