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How to become a Creative Director in Austin–The Journey from Copywriter to Creative Director Revealed

Luna Data Solutions is a full-spectrum recruiting firm located in Austin, TX.  We're interested in connecting the right people to the right opportunities. That is why we're diving deep into the career paths of leading Creatives in our hometown. 

This is the first edition of our monthly Climbing the Creative Ladder series featuring interviews with creative, marketing, and design leaders here in Austin. We’re taking an uncensored look into their first jobs, challenges, achievements, and advice for those wanting to follow in their footsteps.

For starters, what defines a Creative Director (CD) here in Austin?

Chief Creative Guru, Creative Beer Director, or Creative Branding Goddess – the Creative Director (CD) title takes on an array of meanings dependent on company size, clientele, culture, geographic location, and objective. They are visionaries, content developers, and team builders. CDs are responsible for the look, feel, and taste of a brand. Not only do they lead the creative vision, but they also interface with clients, handle disputes between designers, and encourage a collective drive to form better relationships and bolder results. 

The Luna Data team had the pleasure of sitting down with local CDs, Marshall Walker Lee and Sam Kimelman, to cut through the digital noise and find out what led them from copywriting to their current role as a CD, what it is actually like to be a CD, and how they hire the best creatives for their respected teams.

Meet Marshall Walker Lee of Emergent Order

Marshall Walker Lee is the Associate CD at Emergent Order, a media agency that develops and produces films, advertising, and digital content.


Marshall poses with his pup Marlow, Photo Cred: Emergent Order

Marshall always wanted to be a novelist, he just 'wanted to write.' In the early stages of his career, he worked in South Africa where he fell in love with the freelancer lifestyle and did everything from teaching and creating art to developing non-profit arts programming in rural African towns. Throughout his career, he has done a variety of weird jobs ranging from bread and furniture delivery to freelancing for Thrillist, with the priority of making every contract, project, or position more interesting than the last.

Phoebe Nygren (PN): How did you land at Emergent Order after years of being an uprooted freelancer?

Marshall Walker Lee (MWL): "My biggest concern was being stuck in an office, the idea was absolutely terrifying. That is until I met John. John Papola is the CEO of Emergent Order, and has directed and produced for huge brands such as Nickelodeon, Spike TV, and MTV to name a few. I saw him as a model for what I wanted to do. Our professional relationship was cultivated over an entire year when I was still living in Portland while producing content on a freelance capacity. When the opportunity to come to Austin came up, I jumped at it and haven't looked back since."

PN: What is the Emergent Order bread and butter, why do clients choose EO?

MWL: We truly create higher quality content, whether it is video, a brand, or strategy, we don’t settle for anything less than amazing. It seems simple, but it is the truth. We only hire ‘geeks with heart’ as the intellectual human element is vital to our team dynamic and output.

PN: What do you see as the largest transition from Copywriter to CD?

MWL: The CD role is also simple: DIRECT all the creative work. As a CD, you need to reassure and inspire your team, but you also need to find the right vision for the project and execute it by any means.

PN: What advice do you give to millennials starting out their careers, or those looking to move from a copywriting to a creative leadership position?

MWL: The best thing you can do is pursue personal projects. Portfolios are fine, but they typically don’t represent a young creative’s personality. In lieu of a young portfolio, consider documenting a project that you’ve owned top to bottom. We look to personal projects when hiring as one of the most essential parts.

Marshall explains the need to know what gets people excited: “Whether it is a side logo design business, a Kickstarter campaign, or geeking out to wearable tech or artificial intelligence - everybody has some passion, and successful CDs need to find novel ways to harness that passion and keep their teams excited and motivated.”
Connect with Marshall on Instagram or LinkedIn

Meet Sam Kimelman of Rock Candy Media

Sam Kimelman is the Creative Director at Rock Candy Media, a full-service advertising agency specializing in the delivery of long-term strategy that sticks.


Sam Kimelman working on a campaign focused on Buzz Words, Photo Credit: Rock Candy Media 

Phoebe Nygren (PN): How did you land your position at Rock Candy Media (RCM)?

SK: I graduated in 2011, when the economy was not in a hiring mood. So when I spontaneously moved to Austin - where I had absolutely no connections - I was forced to cobble together an existence built on a bunch of random freelance gigs and paid internships. Those initial contacts then started referring me to their industry friends, which eventually put me in touch with Annie Liao Jones of Rock Candy Media in 2012. I think I wrote like two press releases before she hired me as their first Content Strategist.

PN: What is the RCM bread and butter, why do clients choose You?

SK: When clients come to us, it’s not to continue what they’ve been doing. If their old messaging and strategy were working, they’d have no need for us.

Our job, therefore, is to present them with something completely unexpected, that sets them apart from the competition, and also gives RCM a reason to exist.

Our writers, designers, and strategists all work in the same room, so that makes everyone very goal oriented. Whenever someone declares a success, like that an email newsletter increased a client’s sales by 400% that day, someone will inevitably ask, “does advertising work?” And someone will reply, “it just did.”

PN: What do you see as the largest transition from Copywriter to CD?

SK: I think the biggest transition is the amount of influence on process. I wanted to influence the entire creative process (not just one piece of it) and that is the role I get to take on as the CD.

PN: What advice do you give to those looking to move from a copywriting to a creative leadership position?

SK: I hate inspirational things, so I’ll make this really practical: 

  • Don’t expect to get a good job right off the bat.
  • Don’t be too good for shit work that will get you in contact with good people.
  • Don’t submit articles from your personal blog as a writing sample, or don’t submit a boring article you got published simply because it’s published somewhere. 
  • Think like an advertiser when applying for jobs.
  • If you have a great looking website, people will pay more attention. It will affect how they perceive your writing. That’s how the human brain works.

'Wine AND DINE' Design

According to Sam, "A study found that wine experts described the taste of white wine differently when red food coloring was added to it. The look of the wine changed how it actually tasted to them. That’s how the interrelationship between content and design works: your genius tagline will come across as total garbage if you put it in comic sans. Likewise, a really great designer could make lazy writing sound like Shakespeare. So find a designer friend and offer to write some clever headlines for their portfolio website in exchange for some design on yours." 

Connect with Sam on LinkedIn or on the RCM Instagram!

Climbing your Career Ladder 

The transition into any new position is never easy, but as Sam and Marshall explain, it is usually worth jumping out of your comfort zone. Don't be afraid to reach higher, the Luna Data Solutions team is here to help you every step of the way.  

Start Climbing Your  Creative Ladder Today! 
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