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NEW YORK, United States — Sara Rotman is the founder and chief creative officer of creative advertising agency MODCo. Having graduated from the School of Visual Arts, with a BFA in graphic design, Rotman started in the music industry designing album covers at Sony Music, before joining agency powerhouse Saatchi & Saatchi working on P&G brands including Oil of Olay. This led to a position at RDA International, where she was the creative director for clients such as W Hotels, Akklaim and Todd Oldham Jeans. In 1996, Rotman founded MODCo (short for "My Own Damn Company") which attracted clients such as Carolina Herrera, Vera Wang and Nina Ricci. Over time, Rotman has also worked with Theory, Rebecca Taylor, Lagos, Nespresso, Century 21, Joe Fresh, Via Spiga and Alex and Ani. Today, MODCo Group has 50 employees, based across offices in California and Argentina, as well as the company's headquarters in New York City.
BoF: Please describe your current role.
My role is a hybrid role. My business card reads "Founder/Chief Creative Officer/Boss Lady." For the creative aspect of my role, I develop concepts for campaigns and brand strategies, photo and video shoots, logos, websites, and packaging. Pretty much any consumer-facing messaging falls under my jurisdiction. I also nurture my team members and mentor the art directors and graphic designers at the agency. At its core, my role is that of a storyteller. I find succinct ways of telling truthful and compelling stories to my client’s intended audience. As for the business side of things, I review a lot of profit and loss charts, handle human resources, balance budgets and manage client relations. The Boss Lady nickname is just for fun. Sort of.
BoF: What attracted you to the role?
I didn’t know this role even existed when I was younger. I had heard of being a doctor or lawyer but not a creative director. I knew I wanted a creative endeavor. I wanted something that allowed me to use all aspects of my brain including my intellectual side, creative side, dreamer side, wild side and entrepreneurial side. I get to apply all these aspects to achieve the stated goals of my clients. Telling a 'tall-tale' is literally my job, and that’s a good thing. I get to play with fantasy and create beautiful, perfect versions of a client’s self. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
BoF: What is the most exciting project or initiative you have worked on?
I love everything I’ve worked on. When I am allowed to do my job and execute a story, I’m excited. Simply put, doing good work for good people keeps me motivated. One of the company's biggest projects was working with Tory Burch on her logo and brand identity in the early stages of the company's development. Now that company has become a billion dollar empire.
If I have to pick one exciting project, I would say my work for The Ronald McDonald House in Argentina. We created and executed a polo tournament and all the associated branding from scratch, to raise money for families in need. As an avid polo player and owner of a team, the project touched on all my passion points both creatively, socially and fundamentally.
The advertising industry is always changing - one minute you’re in, the next you are out. It’s how you deal with it that sets you apart.
BoF: How is your role changing? What are the forces driving this change?
The advertising industry is always changing - one minute you’re in, the next you are out. I’ve come to accept that. It’s how you deal with it and move forward that sets you apart. One major shift in the industry, and thus with my role, is the popularity of social media. Love it or hate it, it is increasing the quantity of content put out into the world and unfortunately not all of it is good. Content should still be produced with thought and integrity no matter what the medium. I have embraced this new medium and will embrace whatever might come next but I will do so in a meaningful way. I will still produce work that has the level of quality that my clients have come to expect and that I expect for myself.
BoF: Tell us about a time you failed and how you learned from it.
When we are assigned a project, as creatives our minds go racing, and we get very excited about the task at hand. We invest countless hours and resources into developing pitches but don’t always think about qualifying the pitch. Is there an actual win at the end of the arduous process? No, not every project is winnable in the end. That’s something that I didn’t realise early on. I had to learn to keep my creative checklist in sync with my business checklist and to find a balance between both worlds.
BoF: What advice do you have for people who are interested in doing what you do?
Stay curious and tenacious. Never become dogmatic. The role you dream about when you are younger isn’t always going to look that way when you start working. Tell stories and be open to the vehicles that can relay that message. Be nimble in order to achieve your storytelling goals and find creative answers to your client’s queries.
Ultimately, work hard. Nothing is ever given to you, it’s earned.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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