How She Got There: Rachel Gogel, Creative Director at 'The New York Times'

Name: Rachel Gogel
Age: 26
Job Title and Description: Creative Director, The New York Times (Advertising); Instructor, SVA; Founder, Creative Jobs. 
College/Major: University of Pennsylvania/BA in Fine Arts—Major in communication design; Minor in anthropology
Twitter Handle: @rgogel

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Rachel Gogel: Last week, I started at The New York Times as Creative Director on the Advertising side. I’m really excited about this new opportunity and hopefully will have more to share on that soon!

I can talk about what it was like being Designer Director at GQ Magazine though since I was just there for almost three years. At most monthly magazines, you work on an issue two months before the actual month, so the team is wrapping up GQ’s June issue now. These types of deadlines mean that you're always going to press, proofing pages, looking at color proofs, fact checking and working with a copywriter on getting the right brand message across. I was constantly writing e-mails, going into meetings and brainstorming sessions, answering phone calls, directing entry- to senior-level designers, maintaining the morale of the department, creating a fun environment for the team, encouraging team work and creativity, interacting with management, meeting deadlines, following up on pending projects or assets, managing budgets and workflow, putting together timelines, keeping the project list up-to-date, creating cool identities for all of our programs, running the status meetings, thinking of new ways to push the envelope, trying to stay inspired (magazines, museums, blogs etc.), reading competitive magazines, putting together some photo shoots and gaining awareness of the market. My old team, GQ Design Group, is not only the in-house agency for the magazine but brands were always coming to us as if we were their creative agency as well.

Essentially I'm a commercial artist and I would always try and determine what would work best for that particular brand, while staying aligned with GQ's reputation and quality, and try and steer them in that direction. I had to find ways to keep the print edition alive and not let it be replaced with the tablet edition or online content—they should all be complementary to one another. Being a good leader means having a vision and I felt strongly about the vision I had as Design Director at GQ.

You start to get used to the pace of the industry once you are in it for a few years and some events are annual so there is some routine, but there is no such thing as a “typical day.” Publishing means having tight timelines, working with the sales, editorial, digital, research, marketing, merchandising teams all at once, determining one visual language for a brand and having to maintain that image throughout all materials, which can get very demanding and stressful. Occasionally you might have more time on a project and you might want to take your time and get really into it, but usually the turnaround for things is very quick. That said, we still had to represent the brand in everything that we produced so it has to be of a certain quality. Also, as the Design Director at GQ, I was expected to simultaneously be a hands-on designer and delegate work to my team. I found it challenging, and getting out of my comfort zone is something I look for in a job.

Throughout the years though, my main job though has been providing mentorship and career advice to several students, passionate creative individuals, and my team at GQ (now putting one together at The New York Times). I’m active in the Penn Alumni community and my creative jobs e-newsletter has helped several people advance in their careers.

What is the best part of your job?

RG: I think it’s really important to work for a brand that you really respect. At GQ, I loved the quality of the writing and the editorial team’s design choices are often groundbreaking. I also remember the first time I saw a concept that I pitched come to fruition in the magazine—I was 23 when I first started at GQ, and I had enough seniority to be able to do that. The thing is, I often don’t think about my daily routine as my “job.” I’m usually playing music all day, learning from my peers, brainstorming and exchanging ideas, trying to push boundaries… I’ve been lucky to be part of several first-to-market initiatives and I love seeing the print industry evolve and adapt to the new times.

For example, I built and managed GQ Live!, the industry's first-to-market augmented reality app powered by Aurasma technology, which transformed GQ's print-to-mobile landscape. I steered GQ to become the first US magazine to launch a cover-to-cover AR experience and as a result, with several other magazines following suit, solidified its standing as a digitally advanced leader in a print-reliant industry. In addition, I helped redefine the GQ tablet experience with the MyGQ tool, which empowers our readers to shop, share, save, and browse the pages from the digital edition. These types of projects make me feel like I’m part of the new kind of print. The fun photo shoots and events are pretty cool sometimes too. I’m really looking for these types of projects at my new job and I’m excited to dive into a whole new media empire!
What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?

RG: Born and raised in Paris, France, I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. After Penn, I did a two-week masters workshop in Italy led by design figures Steven Heller and Louise Fili through the School of Visual Arts, and then settled in New York City to look for a job.

I started to find a few freelance clients but had a really hard time getting something full time. All my summer internships while in college were mostly in publishing, so I was determined to find something that would lead me on that career path. I came close to a few opportunities, but as fall 2009 came around, I decided to look into internships.

I landed a great internship in fashion at Diane von Furstenberg’s studio. It was both a great personal and professional experience. As a woman who essentially didn’t know (or maybe care) as much about fashion as maybe most girls, I was fully immersed in that world and learned a lot about how that industry works. Going into fashion instead of publishing immediately also made me see that I didn’t have to go into publishing with my design skill set, and that really, I could do anything that I wanted and there were so many things I could do with my background. I became more open-minded and I’m thankful for that. Professionally, who doesn’t know DVF? She’s a fashion icon—the opportunity opened several doors for me and I actually got a lot of great portfolio pieces out of it. Everyone from my old team there has now gone on to do big things, like Michael Kors, Ivanka Trump, Vince and MEMI. I established a great network from my first job, and there are no regrets.

What is one thing you wish you knew about your industry when you first started out that you know now?

RG: With time, you learn about being open to constructive criticism, time management, team collaboration, professionalism, e-mail etiquette, punctuality, work ethics and leading a team of artists who might have different visions—all while injecting your voice into the daily routine and/or office space. You have to be able to survey your environment, adapt quickly [and] learn about the ins and outs of the industry, as well as get to know your coworkers, maintain professional relationships and continue to network. If you are a passionate and engaged individual who takes initiative and knows how to negotiate/value his or her worth to the company, you will be fine. It also helps if you have a mentor at your job who can lend advice or vouch for you. A good level of confidence, talent and social skills will get you a long way.

Where do you find inspiration for design?

RG: Each project has somewhat inspired me for the next project. I look at magazines [and] books, go to museums [and] shows, browse design blogs and peruse other artists’ portfolios and work. I go to several design events through organizations such as AIGA and ADC, and my students at SVA inspire me every week. I also love to travel and take photos everywhere I go. Conversations with peers and other like-minded people always get me to think outside the box and inspire me to push harder.

There is also a lot of bad design out there, and I am constantly trying to make sure I still get stimulated by the good stuff. New York City has so much to offer and is filled with so many characters, so it’s hard not to find inspiration just by walking the streets of this city.

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

RG: I only graduated almost five years ago, so my whole career growth so far has been pretty surreal. I moved to New York without a job and spent hours in a Borders bookstore looking at mastheads and writing down designers’ and art directors’ names from my favorite magazines and publications. After sending my resume and portfolio to as many people as I could, I only heard back from a handful of people.

My internship at DVF opened many doors and I loved being exposed to fashion and discovering that I didn’t have to go into publishing with my craft. When I was given the opportunity to be Junior Designer at Travel + Leisure Magazine, I took it because I had always been curious about that career path—so I left DVF after an eight month internship (which was only supposed to be four months!)

In March 2011, I left Travel + Leisure for USA Network at NBC Universal because I wanted to keep learning and growing (I was freelancing after all!), and the film/network industry caught my interest. That summer, I went from being a Junior Designer at Travel + Leisure magazine to a Graphic Designer at USA Network and in July, I finally landed my first full-time job as Associate Art Director at GQ. My life changed in just 3 months! I was managing a team of designers for my favorite magazine at the age of 23. And at my annual review in April 2012, I was promoted to Art Director.

In 2013, I participated in several speaking engagements, was promoted to Design Director, started to teach my own Continuing Ed class at SVA, and last winter, I was picked to represent the U.S. News & World Report's Best Jobs of 2013 Art Director profile. And here we are in April 2014, and I just started a new job that I know will be a game changer for me.

Work aside, I’ve been involved with several side projects that have been pretty extraordinary. One of note: I designed the title treatment, early posters and collateral for Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry documentary, which went on to win several awards and is still creating buzz. Sundance Channel has been a client of mine on and off for several years and I feel like the work that I had done for them ultimately helped me for the Weiwei project. I also designed my first book cover ever for Kevin Roose’s new book “Young Money: Inside The Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits” and it’s already a New York Times’ bestseller.

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

RG: When I talk to people looking to get into the field, I stress three things: 1. Grow your online presence, 2. Networking is essential and 3. Learning doesn't end with school. Once you establish a brand or identity for yourself and you start to develop your own voice/style, you start to feel more confident about selling your skill to a potential employer. Show that off online with a strong portfolio, resume and a developed LinkedIn profile clearly highlighting your experiences and strengths. You also want to research potential companies and know their competition (follow brands on all social channels), connect with people online, help others build their networks, take on projects through connections, and surround yourself with other like-minded professionals either through events or by joining an organization. Finally, staying fresh and inspired is key. There are continuing education classes, seminars, and online tutorials that can keep you up-to-date on new programs and media. Also, designing your own holiday cards and writing personalized notes to your friends and contacts is something I still do, and I love it.

My client list is the result of five years of freelancing, working and being open-minded about taking on all sorts of projects in order to build my portfolio. I ended up accumulating experience and industry knowledge in a short amount of time. Some people think they need an art school education to go into Art/Creative Direction, but it's not true necessarily. You just have to be passionate about the field that you're in, have a strong foundation and some fluency in certain software programs. Being a designer or Creative Director doesn't mean what it used to either—you're expected to know about print, web, tablets, social media—it's no longer one-dimensional. Having a diverse range of experiences will set you apart. The (print) industry is also constantly evolving and new technologies keep appearing, so it's also hard to keep up. As long as you're willing to learn, do the research/follow the industry buzz, embrace the new tools and are aware of the multi-faceted responsibilities that are expected when taking on a Creative Director role, then you are qualified. You are signing up to be a designer, copywriter, creative thinker, art director, collaborator, photographer, mentor and leader, because that's essentially what being an Art/Creative Director means. Having a background in marketing and communication, a basic understanding of business and some production skills will also come in handy.

Also, remember it’s not always about the title or the money—be sure to do your research. You can be a Art/Design/Creative Director for several years at one brand or advance quickly at another, depending on so many factors: How big is the art department? Are you designing solo or do you manage a team? Do you just have that title because you've been a Senior Designer for years and that is the only way to keep you happy? Advancement in one job is always an interesting topic because working for a start-up is very different than working in a corporate environment, and policies might be different. Once you know what kind of place you see yourself working in, you should talk to people and get informed about whether job growth is something correlated with experience or just based on your negotiating skills. Also since it's an interesting time for Print Publishing, it's important to know what factors are affecting the business and do some digging. Summer internships while in college are a great way to try different things and figure out what you want, and definitely take on a lot of freelance projects so you can see what type of things you like working on. Remember though, every company needs a designer and/or creative leader; there is not just one path for this skill set.

Finally, it's important to keep a healthy work-life balance. Hours are typically 9 to 6:30/7 for me with the occasional late night. I teach a class at SVA once a week, and started my own creative jobs e-newsletter. I also play basketball, am on a few committee boards, joined a book club and enjoy going to museums/cultural events. The things you do outside work will help you stand out and differentiate you from others, ie. language skills, traveling, dancing, pro-bono projects. All of these things will hopefully help me open up my own design agency one day.

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