How does one woman go from working in the oil and gas industry to behind the counter at Sprinkles Cupcakes and then finally land herself as an account manager at Adweek’s 2015 Breakthrough Agency of the Year? In short: a lot of soul searching. We’ve all been there—accepting the first job that comes to you after college graduation is tempting and, truthfully, smart. But when Whitney Evans found herself crying in the bathroom stall after a particularly trying day at the office, she knew something had to change. Without another job or finite plan in place, her two week notice was in and the quest for a new chapter began. In the meantime, there were cupcakes to serve and a steady paycheck to earn while she planned her next steps.
While her plethora of academic writing in college couldn’t land her a job as a copywriter, her project management skills did finally pay off and after a few months of job hunting she landed her first position in the advertising industry. After reading her story, it comes as no surprise that Whitney is as gutsy as she is gifted.
Full Name: Whitney Jane Evans
Location: San Francisco, CA
Current Title/Company: Account Manager, Heat (advertising, not basketball)
Educational Background: Bachelor of Arts in Literature form the University of Houston-Clear Lake
What was your first job out of college and how long were you there? What was the greatest lesson you learned from this experience? Was this the field you wanted to work in?
I took the scenic route through college. I began the journey in 2002 and finished up in the winter of 2010. I just couldn’t decide what I wanted to do, like so many others. I finally decided to stick with something I loved and majored in literature. When I graduated from UH, I was living just outside of Houston, near the town where I was born and raised. My first job out of college was at a small oil and gas supply company, though I had been in the industry (working through college) for years. I was at the first company for a little over a year. The greatest lesson I learned was that I didn’t want to work at a small oil and gas supply company. It was not the industry I was interested in. I had a BA in literature and I loved (and still love) to read and write. Oil and gas employed the exact opposite of my skill set.
What happened next?
I wish I could say that my next step involved some sort of huge epiphany followed by a swift industry shift, but it didn’t. Being in Houston, much of the workforce is driven by the OG industry, and it wasn’t easy to escape that. So instead of changing industries, I changed jobs and roles, hoping that the opportunity for more responsibility might mean a new interest in the field. Clearly it didn’t.
You managed to do some freelance copywriting while holding a full-time job in the oil industry. How big of a role do you think that played in allowing you to break into advertising?
I quickly learned that I needed some sort of creative outlet. When I began freelance writing, it was tough because the majority of the jobs I took were very technically driven, and my role was to take the technical jargon and turn it into something the layperson could read. Not shockingly, this was not the “creative outlet” I was seeking.
Because I did enjoy the additional income of writing on the side, I continued to do the work, but I also began writing short stories in my off time. This was the outlet I needed. It became a way for me to keep that creativity flowing. The more I wrote, the more I realized that I couldn’t do 40-hours a week thinking about injection valves and pressure gauges, which is when I decided I had to do something different.
After four years in the oil and gas industry, you made a bold move and left it all behind to take a job working behind the counter at Sprinkles Cupcakes. Tell us about that decision! What drove you to it? How did you handle any push back or concern from others regarding this choice?
It only took three seconds of hearing my lonely little sobs in the work bathroom to realize I needed to make a change. Anything would be better than what I was doing and I needed time to figure out my next move. So, one smoggy day, I walked into work, put in my two week notice, and immediately felt the weight lift off my shoulders.
In order to maintain some semblance of financial responsibility, I started working at Sprinkles. I needed something light that didn’t require a lot of brainpower, because that power was being spent getting my shit together professionally. I swore I would never again wake up and dread the coming day because of my job.
I needed something light that didn’t require a lot of brain power, because that power was being spent getting my shit together professionally. I swore I would never again wake up and dread the coming day because of my job.
There was minimal push back on this. There was the initial worry of not having health insurance but, at the time, I was 27 and figured that health care could wait a few months while I dug myself out of the career doldrums. A broken arm or bout of flu was no match for the looming depression that always tagged along with hating my job. I did what was right for me at the time and my friends and family have always been supportive.
My mother in particular is always good about giving me the support I need in a way that doesn’t exclude or ignore reality. She’s always pushed me to go for what I want and need in my life while still reminding me that I can only rely on myself. She never wanted me to be dependent on someone else. She’s always been self-sufficient and has pushed me to be the same, for which I am forever grateful. I think in the end she trusted that I would do what needed to be done.
Within the year, however, you landed a role that utilized your English degree and your passion for the written word as an account executive at Adcetera in Houston. What do you attribute to landing this position despite a lack of experience in the advertising industry?
Once I figured out that I needed to be working in an industry that was fueled by creativity, I made the move to advertising. I kept joking with friends and family that I had gone from one industry without a soul to another, but at least advertising was fun. Gosh, that makes me sound like a heartless bitch, doesn’t it?
I originally applied for a job as a copywriter at Adcetera, but I only had a few short stories and a lot of academic writing to show for myself, so I wasn’t qualified to come in as a copywriter. Academic writing won’t get you a copywriting job, and that was a tough pill to swallow because I put so much time and effort into that writing. Twenty-page papers were essentially useless, and my creative writing wasn’t ad-driven, so I was back at square one. Dove Harrell and Amanda Lyons reached out to me, though, because they felt I had plenty of experience in account management, and offered me a job as an account executive. I jumped at the opportunity and didn’t look back.
I wholly attribute my successful attempt at breaking into the ad world to oil and gas. Dove and Amanda were right: I had really excellent experience at project management. My job in OG involved planning offshore oilrig equipment shipments that were valued in the tens of millions of dollars. Shipping things to the middle of the Atlantic necessitated the absolute assurance that everything was where it needed to be or millions of dollars could be lost and production stalled for weeks. I never wanted to be responsible for losing millions of dollars or be the cause of hundreds of people waiting to do their jobs.
Account management in advertising is a different game. It’s never life and death, but it does get pretty stressful and you have to make sure letters are dotted and crossed. When you add creativity to the mix, it changes everything. You get to work with a great team of people to watch something come to life from the very beginning. You get to see what you help create live in the world and make some sort of impact. That alone was enough to push me over into advertising.
Let’s talk about where you are now. Currently, you’re an account manager at Heat Advertising in San Francisco. Let’s first talk about the move to SF. What was that adjustment like?
Moving to San Francisco was never really terrifying until I actually arrived. I had visited several times and knew that I loved what I had seen and experienced and so I was excited about the change. But no one ever tells you what to be ready for when completely starting over. Like learning your way around town without a car after living in a car-centric city your entire life. SF is a pedestrian city. The most I’d ever walked around town was when I was 14 sneaking out of my parents’ house to meet up with friends across the neighborhood.
Meeting people was also really tough. Making friends was nearly impossible. There were so many nights where I wanted to just go grab a drink with a friend, but I couldn’t because I didn’t have any. I have the most loving, hilarious, amazingly supportive group of people in Texas and I left that. I knew it was only a phone call away, but it certainly wasn’t available for happy hour. And that was really difficult. I’ve never been one to fear sitting alone at a bar or restaurant, but sometimes you just need a friend to commiserate with. Someone who knows who you are and your past and what makes you laugh and cry. Someone you don’t need a filter around. I didn’t have that. I had a constant filter. In Texas, I could’ve sat down at any bar and sparked a conversation with the person next to me. SF isn’t as open. People here are great, but they’re very guarded and it takes a long time to ingratiate with them. The South is so friendly and open; I never had to work so hard to spend time with people. And that was extremely difficult for quite some time.
How did job hunting differ in San Francisco as opposed to Houston? What do you attribute to you landing your current position?
San Francisco and Houston aren’t too different in terms of job opportunities. Both cities are booming, be it with tech or oil and gas. I moved from one growing city to another, and that was very fortuitous. When I landed in SF, I immediately got a part-time job to make ends meet. I arrived in October 2013, when the majority of businesses aren’t hiring, so I waited until January 1st to start applying to agencies. I sent out nearly 50 resumes that first week. I got a few calls back, some really awesome, others less so.
I didn’t want to jump at the first thing offered because I had done that before and ended up regretting it. So I waited and midway through January, I got a call from Katie Ramp, Heat’s Director of Talent. Katie was so sweet right from the start. I had spoken to quite a few people by this point and every correspondence had a very transactional feel. Katie never made me feel like that. She was genuine in her curiosity and invited me in to meet with a few Heaters. I went in to interview twice, met with the team I’d be working with, and fell in love. Heat was the perfect fit both professionally and culturally. And they had snacks.
Heat Advertising was named as one of the Best Places to Work in SF in 2013 and 2014 and was Adweek’s Breakthrough Agency of the Year in 2015. What do you think sets Heat apart?
Heat isn’t a soulless machine and I’ve never felt like a cog, which has been my issue with every other company. I see the effect of my work on a day-to-day basis, and that’s so rewarding. Heat is also full of really excellent people. Like any business, there are ups and downs, there’s burn out and stress, but it’s much easier to come to work when you know you’re working with good people. Everyone at Heat is smart and hardworking. There aren’t any slackers or people who just don’t care.
So much of Heat being a great place is because of the people at the top. Stoney and Elder are always in the office, always available to chat, and are just very down to earth. They aren’t sealed off from the people who work for them. They aren’t holier than thou, and that attitude is reflected throughout the entire leadership team. I’ve never felt scared to talk to any of the bosses. All questions are welcome and I’ve never worked with people who are as invested as the people at Heat. Everyone shows up every day and is valued. I don’t dread walking into Heat, and that’s a huge testament, coming from the woman who has only ever worked for any single company for less than a year and a half. My two-year mark at Heat will be January 2016, and I couldn’t be happier or feel more valued. I think most Heaters feel that way, and that’s what makes us different.
You’ve worked incredibly hard to obtain an amazing position in advertising—so tell us, why advertising? When did you first know this field was the one? Who or what encouraged you to pursue this dream?
When I left oil and gas, I just wanted to work in a field that was creative and fun. I wanted to see the fruits of my labor and not be terrified that one of my mistakes could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. People in advertising are just more laid back in general and the atmosphere is one of camaraderie and fun. It’s hard work and long hours, but at this stage of my career, that’s what I want to be doing anyway. I don’t want something simple or lazy. I’m easily bored and I need something challenging and fast-paced to keep my attention. Advertising has certainly provided that and much more.
What advice do you have for those who wish to begin a career in the advertising industry? What personality qualities do you believe are most beneficial for an individual to possess in order to be successful in advertising?
Be ready to work really hard. Expect to make mistakes. You’re not going to be perfect. Be ready to screw up big time. Don’t think you’re invincible and don’t think you’re smarter than everyone. Being arrogant can only get you so far. At some point, people need to know that you’re hard working and reliable. So much of your job is just sitting down and putting pen to paper, and most of the time, especially in an account role, you aren’t going to have someone telling you what to do and when to do it. That’s on you. So have your day planned, have your list of to-dos ready to go, and hit the ground running every morning.
Being proactive and thinking a few steps ahead are huge for people in account management. Expect the unexpected and have a plan a, b, c, and d, because something chaotic is bound to happen and you just have to roll with the punches.
I’d also advise you to not lose your cool. Things can get pretty intense when deadlines are looming and people are at their wits end. It’s ALWAYS helpful when people are able to laugh and not let the stress get the best of them (at least on the surface; you can always meltdown internally). Entering a meeting with a smile and laid-back attitude can really help to ease tension. No one wants some crazy, frazzled account person breathing down their neck, so simply communicating in a way that isn’t condescending or irrational can really go a long way. At the end of the day, it’s advertising, it’s not life and death, and remembering that on really long days can save you from melting into a puddle of anxiety.
Since beginning your job as an account manager, what has been the largest obstacle you’ve faced? How were you able to overcome it?
I’m terrified of speaking in public. Truly terrified. And my role involves a LOT of standing up in front of people, introducing them, remembering their names, and creating a general atmosphere of pleasantness and order. I’ve slowly learned how to talk myself off the ledge before a big meeting, but I’m still working through that fear. I’ve found that being overly prepared and practiced is key to not totally ruining a speaking engagement, but there are still times when I get sick to my stomach knowing that I’m going to have to articulately present our agency to potential clients.
What has been your biggest accomplishment or highlight of your career thus far? In the next five years, where do you hope to see yourself professionally?
I am really proud that I was promoted recently after nearly two years in my previous role. That was huge. I worked my ass off and it totally paid off. I think that’s probably my biggest “accomplishment” in terms of my career. I mean, I haven’t won any awards or been named president of the world (yet), but I’m really proud that the people I work with, who I respect so much, value me enough to let me continue to hang out and contribute.
The next five years. Oh boy. I don’t plan on slowing down or taking any sort of circuitous path. I have so much to learn and so much to do, but if all goes to plan, I will still be helping agencies win new business, maybe managing a team of people who are bringing in huge accounts like Coca-Cola or some really awesome booze brand. Maybe Heat will continue to grow and we’ll branch out internationally. I would happily head up new business for the Rio or London branches of Heat.
Stop letting things happen and instead MAKE things happen. Be proactive with your life and stop blaming circumstances for where you are.
Take us through a typical day in the life of Whitney Evans.
Making the jump from day-to-day account management to working on new business changed my life. Really. I’ve never worked harder. I’ve never learned more or made more mistakes. I’ve gotten to work with people at a really high-level and being around that level of experience and knowledge has made me readjust a bit. I stop after nearly every meeting to think about what was discussed and how I can be proactive and anticipate what might be around the corner.
A typical day involves walking in a little before 9:00 a.m. and guzzling three cups of coffee before starting any number of meetings. Beyond that, there really isn’t a typical day. If we’re deep in the middle of a pitch, it’s all hands on deck and I’m doing anything from creating schedules and coordinating meetings to building presentation decks and working with the creative team to make sure the work is on brief and going through proofing. There are so many small details that have to happen in order for a pitch to be successful. The weeks leading up to a pitch involve late nights, early mornings, and so many revisions that it’s hard to keep up. But that’s what I love the most about my role. Making sure everyone’s where they should be, working on the right thing, with the right expectations is much like tossing a bunch of plates in the air and trying to catch them all before everything crashes. But every pitch is an opportunity to do things better and it’s so fun to watch all the pieces moving in tandem towards the same end.
If we aren’t in pitch zone, I help out on several internal projects like keeping the website up to date, creating case study videos, and helping evolve the way we promote Heat out in the world. I’m so lucky to work with our PR Manager, Taylor Robinson, who has singlehandedly upped Heat’s visibility in the press ten-fold. Taylor and I work together to draft our quarterly newsletters, news, and blog posts on the site. Outside of that, I have the greatest manager ever, Teri Miller, Heat’s Director of Marketing, and between Teri, Taylor, and me, we keep the voice and face of Heat up-to-date for our clients, prospective clients, and prospective talent. It’s a lot of work, but it’s so much easier when I get to work with these ladies.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
So many people say they wouldn’t do things differently because “it led them to where they are today” but I think that’s bullshit. If I could go back and sit myself down and have a good, productive conversation about how to do things better, I totally would.
I would tell my 23-year-old self to work harder. Stop letting things happen and instead MAKE things happen. Be proactive with your life and stop blaming circumstances for where you are. Plan your next few years out. Don’t just let them go by with nothing to show. Be tougher and get shit done. You’re never going to get this time back. That’s what I’d tell me.
Whitney Evans is The Everygirl…
Favorite part of living in SF?
The sunsets, hands down. I’ve never seen anything like them here. I’m lucky enough to have west-facing windows in my apartment, and I’ll come home every day, sit on my couch, and just stare. It’s incredible.
Thing you miss most about the South?
I miss so much more than I thought I would. It’s very hard to find good salsa here, which, if you know me, you know is a huge problem. But I think what I miss most is the people. Everyone is friendly. Everyone is welcoming. The South has heart and while I’m not quite ready to move back, every time I touch down in Texas, I feel like I’m being reconnected with my home, with people who say “y’all”, and people who will welcome me into their home, cook me a chicken fried steak, and tell me to stay a while.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
At this point in my life and career, I would have to say Tina Fey. She’s so incredibly intelligently hilarious. Her writing is smart and funny and pushes the envelope for women. She addresses race, misogyny, relationships, and professional struggles in ways that are silly and digestible. Also, it’s rare to find a woman whose value is not in her looks. Tina’s beautiful, but that’s never what she’s about. She’s such a talented writer and her career is what I want my own to be. Tina is my hero.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
When I was working with my previous manager, Shaun Kilian, he told me two things. The first was to never apologize for anything unless I had physically or emotionally harmed someone. Women are bad at this. We apologize for everything. He is responsible for me saying “sorry” about 50 percent less than I once did. The second was to always ask why. He taught me to always get a reason for what was happening, especially if what was being requested seemed a little…off. Half the time, when I went back to a client and diplomatically asked why something was necessary or what the driving force was behind a request, it would come out that things could be done more efficiently. Having more context is always beneficial and can usually save you and the client a lot of time and money in the long run. Everyone wins.
Go-to book that never gets old?
I’m usually a sucker for series. Potter, Outlander, LOTR, you name it, I’ve read it. I can reread series over and over. But a story that I’ve come back to no matter my age or situation is Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. This play was the first to introduce me to feminism in a way that I could really, truly relate to, and it’s the story I think of every time I get lonely or scared that I’m on my own, out of my comfort zone in California. It’s a beautiful reminder that independence is at your fingertips and you can’t be fully yourself if you’re living a lie.