Words of Wisdom from Branding Guru Leslie Sims

By Nathan Mersereau

Leslie Sims is one of the most influential and well-known creative professionals in the country. She was recently named the Chief Creative Officer in the U.S. for Ogilvy, one of the world’s most iconic advertising, marketing and PR agencies. She was previously a top creative executive with Young & Rubicam and McCann – both creative industry heavyweights. You have no doubt encountered her work. She’s the brainchild of the famed “Easy Button” campaign from Staples. She’s also done award-winning brand messaging work for big-name companies such as Verizon, Avis, MasterCard, Dell and General Mills to name just a few.

I had the opportunity to interview Leslie and thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. While I don’t live in the marketing, advertising and branding world, I have always appreciated its vital importance. No matter what industry you work in, I think Leslie’s words of wisdom will resonate. Here are my top takeaways that you can apply to your professional (and even personal) life:

You have way more competition than you think. One mistake that many brands – and executives – make is thinking that they’re only up against their direct competitors. But that’s not true. You’re also competing against any choice a potential client or customer makes. When setting a strategy about how to appeal to your target audience and position your company, you need to think deeper or “widen your aperture” as Leslie says.

Stand for something and communicate it. Leslie says people today essentially want to vote for a brand or company and what they’re doing in the world by buying that particular product or service. Be a brand that espouses values that customers can relate to and believe in. 

Look for the “white space.” Where are your primary competitors not aiming? Where is the open environment where your brand or company can potentially play? Find the white space where others aren’t operating.

Get grounded. “If you don’t take yourself too seriously, magic can happen.”

Persevere through the grind. Leslie works on high-profile – and high-intensity – campaigns that can take many months to come to fruition. It can be a slog. While it’s natural to focus on what can go wrong when the stakes are high, be positive and surround yourself with people who inspire you and who see success where others see an unwinnable situation. Power through. “Tackle big problems with great people,” she says.

Always have a role model. No matter where you are in your professional life, don’t underestimate the value of a great mentor. Yes, Leslie is a high-powered executive but she’s also a parent of two children. Leslie didn’t worry about growing both her career and her family because she had a boss who found a way to help her rise through the ranks and still be a great mother. Put simply, Leslie saw people who made it work and followed their lead. “It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t have this job.”

Appreciate irony. Working on the Easy Button was one of the “the hardest things in my career.” 

Don’t dare to compare yourself to others. From a career perspective, constantly measuring yourself against others can be debilitating and make you miserable. “Play your own game” and enjoy the process. 

Use sunscreen! Seriously. Check out my full podcast interview with Leslie Sims now to get the full story.

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