She’s fiercely passionate about social responsibility, a champion for creativity in Charlotte and, well, simply unstoppable in her field. Jennifer Appleby is the force behind Wray Ward, one of the hottest marketing communications agencies around. Their creative chops and ability to produce Better Performing Work has earned them more kudos than her clients can keep up with. But it’s her contribution of time and talent to the community that she’s most passionate about. Get to know the woman behind big branding and her commitment to community. Meet Jennifer Appleby, today’s FACE of the Charlotte.
You started your career in the creative department at Wray Ward, and now you own the agency. Talk about the path to where you sit now as President and Chief Creative Officer.
After graduating with a degree in graphic design from Penn State University, I went to work for a few smaller agencies, then I landed a job as an Art Director at Wray Ward. They had a reputation for doing great work, and I was thrilled to be here. I got to work on important accounts starting out, including Sunbrella — a brand that we’re proud to still represent.
I knew I wanted to follow in the footsteps of a great creative director, and I was in the right place at the right time. Through hard work, passion and, yes, asking for what I wanted, I was promoted to Creative Director, my dream job. It wasn’t long after that the president of the agency said, “I think you could step into the role of President.” I went from a peer to a leader and had to step out of my comfort zone with humility. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off, but I knew a lot of people were watching, and I was overwhelmed by the support of women and the entire creative community.
I listened, learned, laughed and made mistakes along the way. Most importantly, I surrounded myself with great people. I never dreamed I would spend a big part of my life in one place, but here I am.
Has learning from a mistake ever led you to success?
In my personal life and in business, I try to learn from mistakes or less than stellar decisions. But, I’m also in a creative business where being fearless and asking “What if?” is part of our culture. For me, it’s all about making the best decisions you can at the time, knowing that sometimes you weren’t always making the right decision, learning from it and moving on. There are hires I knew later weren’t right, and business we probably shouldn’t have taken on. There was one client where the volume of work was killing morale, and eventually we walked away from it, but it’s that contract that kept our business alive through the recession. In hindsight, we all learned a lot.
What characteristics do you admire in other creative women?
I admire fearless women who are confident, open and generous. And having a great sense of humor is important. There are so many more opportunities today to be connected, and the community of creative women is growing by leaps and bounds. I try to do my part to support by opening doors and connecting people as much as I can.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?
I’ve been given a lot of great advice over the years, but these are my top three:
- Have a great attorney, banker and accountant.
- Never fall in love with the person in the mirror.
- There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.
What’s your no-fail go-to when you need inspiration?
Last year was my first trip to SXSW, and I came back renewed and inspired. Sometimes the busiest times are the best time to step away. That trip was good for me and good for the business. The technology, speakers, food, music – all of it left me inspired. I’m definitely going back!
As consumers, we’re bombarded with information. How does your agency help its clients cut through the noise?
It’s all about helping our clients produce Better Performing Work. It’s about smart, strategic messaging that stands out in a sea of sameness. It’s about idea generation and beautiful design and placing it at the right place at right time with tone and voice. We monitor and measure and make sure we’re optimizing to adjust and feed that data back into our plans.
We represent a lot of core brands in the home and building category because we’ve built expertise and made the choice to focus on these categories. We have the privilege of working with some of the best known brands in this space: Velux, Moen, Levelor, Sunbrella, Caesarstone and Huber Engineered Woods. We’ve developed strong relationships and created work that we’re all proud of.
You and the agency give back to the Charlotte community in so many ways — from serving on boards to producing campaigns for non-profits. Why is this contribution important to you?
Wray Ward has always had a culture of giving back, and personally, it’s something that’s just in my DNA. My father was a pillar in the community, and while serving as Campaign Chair for the United Way, he recruited me to work in the graphics department when I first moved to Charlotte. I learned early on that giving back is important.
When we celebrated our 40th anniversary last year, we created a community wall with the logos of all of the non-profits we’ve donated work for over the years. I was blown away by the number of organizations we’ve helped. That’s when we decided to formalize the process by creating a service-grant program to support 501(c)(3) community initiatives. We call it EmpoWWer, and its framed by three pillars: Creativity, Shelter and Advancement. This gives all of our employees a chance to get involved in supporting important causes and formalizes our commitment to social responsibility that Wray Ward has embraced since we opened our doors in 1977. We had 36 non-profits apply and had to narrow to four. We’re very excited to work with Digi-Bridge, which educates teachers, inspires students and empowers educational partners in STEAM to create a generation of 21st century leaders; The Relatives helps children and youth find shelter and support; SHARE Charlotte brings non-profit organizations together and creates community campaigns that rally Charlotte around socially positive movements; and Charlotte is Creative offers programs and initiatives designed to excite, inspire and draw people into Charlotte as a creative community.
What does the world need more of?
Really good creative talent and a true appreciation for what they add to our quality of life
What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day on the right foot?
Drink lots of coffee and make my bed. In that order!
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are the three things you can’t live without?
My phone, camera and Starbucks
Thank you, Jennifer, for being such a positive role model. And thank you to Piper Warlick of Piper Warlick Photography for the beautiful photos.
Meet more amazing Charlotte women in our FACES archives. Click HERE and prepare to be inspired!