Dear Younger Me -  President/CEO of Casanova, Ingrid Smart

Dear Younger Me - President/CEO of Casanova, Ingrid Smart

The 21 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I Started In This Business 

1.    Be Nice

Linda Kaplan Thaler (Founder of KTG now PKT) says in her book, The Power of Nice: “nice is the toughest four-letter word you will ever hear.” I could not agree more. Many times, people will say “she is nice” because they don’t want to recognize your other traits.  Nice does not mean you are a floormat or a pushover. Nice means you treat everyone with respect and the way you would like to be treated.  It means you say please and thank you, and you mean it.  It means you treat people with kindness and accept nothing else. It means you can sleep at night because you made the decisions that are true to your values.

Nice people do finish first.

You will meet enough assholes in this business; I guarantee that. Do not become one of them.

2.    Know when to give up and what battles to fight

This is not an easy lesson to learn and it took me too many years to learn it. One of my best clients, John Vanderzee, former head of advertising for Ford Motor Co. taught me this when I kept butting heads with the dealer associations. He said I needed to learn which battles were worth fighting and when it was ok to compromise. He taught me it did not mean I lost, but that I lived to fight another, more important battle. 

3.    Find a Mentor 

Or better yet, a mentor will find you, so be open to it. You need someone that you trust and that understands this business, because it does get lonely if you don’t. Someone who you admire and want to emulate. 

I was lucky early in my career to find a mentor in Paul Mejia who is today Chairman of MWG in Mexico.  He took the time to teach me so much. I will never forget that for my first presentation to a new client, he spent the entire weekend coaching me, over and over. It has been over 20 years since we worked together and I still ask myself, what would Paul do? And it is enough to help me think through the issue.

4.    This is not a job, it’s a career

I know I don’t have to tell you this, but it is worth repeating that this is not a 9-5 job.  Nothing replaces hard work. I can tell you for my first 7 years in McCann PR, I worked 12-14 hours days from Monday thru Saturday. Sundays were half days as I usually tried to leave the office before 5. And I have never regretted it. 

5.    Love flying

If you don’t like to get on a plane or want to sleep in your own bed every night, this job is not for you.  Judging by my frequent flyer statements, I have flown over 10 million miles since I started my career and have gotten to see places I would never have even dreamed otherwise. But business travel is not always glamorous. Know that things will not go the way you planned most of the times, you will get a middle seat in a 5 hours flight, your hotel reservation will be screwed up and you may get sick in a foreign land. Be patient, be flexible, be prepared and above all, keep a positive attitude. And try to find the time to see something else than the inside of a conference room. 

6.    Don’t follow the money

Find your passion; don’t just look for money. I was lucky to have found my passion early on, serendipitously, and followed it. I was not looking for a well-paying job; in fact I made $600 a month when I started. But finding this joy, this love, has allowed me to have the most interesting experiences.  

7.    There is no such thing as balance

I have been asked about balance in almost every talk I have ever done. How do you balance your career and family? How do you balance work and personal time? I hate to tell you, there is no such thing as balance. You need to find what works for you. Know that you will make sacrifices and one thing or the other will hurt at some point, so you need to give yourself permission to not be perfect. Find your own balance and don’t let anyone else tell you what that should be.

8.    Be Grateful

I start and end every day with a word of thanks. I realize daily how blessed I am, and don’t take any of it for granted.

Be grateful to God, to parents, friends and associates. Recognize daily those who help you and make your life better.

I am grateful for so much and to so many people. I am especially grateful for my Casanova Team. And I also want to recognize someone who helped me navigate WG when I returned after spending 18 years at WPP : Marcio Moreira.

Marcio was an icon of mine 20 years earlier, and became a friend when I returned. He took the time to tell me who was who and make the proper introductions. For the first year, he committed to meeting with me every time I came to NY and gave me a list of people I had to meet and why. On the next trip, I would give him a report of who I had met and what we had done, and we would make a new list. By the time I got to the airport after each visit, there were email intros to each new person. And every door opened after an email from Marcio…

So again, thank you, Marcio. You are missed.  

9.    Clients are like children and dogs

They can tell when you don’t like them and they can smell fear.

Learn to like each client. Truly like. That does not mean you have to be Pollyana about it. Find something you can respect in each one. You don’t need to become best friends with them although I am happy to say I am still friends with many former and current clients, but you need to make them feel welcomed, wanted, loved, and/or respected. If not, someone else will.  

10. Hire for attitude and train for aptitude

We have to stop looking for the perfect entry-level candidate. We were not perfect when we interviewed for that first job so remember that when you are interviewing people and keep an open mind.

Focus on their attitude, their passion, how curious they are about the agency and the job. I can teach them the job, but I cannot beat them over the head to change their attitude.

Recently I saw a billboard on my way to Arizona with this wonderful phrase: “In looking for the perfect resume, you ignored the perfect candidate.”

I wish more people would think that way.

11. Clout is Great

Nina DiSesa, former Chairman of McCann, said that clout is a powerful weapon in our arsenal but that we don’t use it enough. According to her, clout is a richly deserved byproduct of talent, good judgment and hard work. To keep climbing the corporate ladder, we need to get clout and use it. We also need to learn to accept praise and promote ourselves. 

12.  Ask questions

The only bad question is the one not asked. Don’t take things at face value.  No one should fault you for asking too many questions. This is how you will find what keeps your clients up at night and be able to exceed their expectations.

Be humble enough to know when to say you don’t know how to do something and brave enough to ask for help.

13. Don’t fear change

One of my favorite business books is “Who Moved My Cheese” and I love this quote: “You can believe that change will harm you and resist it. Or you can believe it will help you and embrace the change.”

I had spent 18 years at an agency and for the first time in my career, was not having any fun. It got to the point I knew it was time to leave but it was so scary. I was a single Mom and could not just pick up and leave and I had built a life around this job -- 18 years!  

One day, I received an email from a competitor saying they had heard about changes going on and would like to know if I would ever consider leaving. They asked me to write my own offer letter. That afternoon, they accepted everything but one condition, and I left for a small creative boutique and a job that gave me a new perspective and renewed energy. 

There is only one constant in this business and that is change. Life moves on. So should you.

14. Learning doesn’t stop when you graduate from college

David Ogilvy once said, “Training is not for the trainees” and that is a fantastic lesson. We have to be curious, read a lot -- and not just the trade journals.   

Take responsibility for your own training; don’t just expect the company to train you. We are lucky enough to work in IPG agencies that put a lot of effort into training, but that is not enough. The internet is a marvelous thing, and you can find almost any training you need there; use it.

And don’t think for a minute that now that you have the big title you can stop learning. It is likely you will need it more than ever. I know I do.

 15. It is OK to be proud, not prideful

Our teams work very hard and we should learn to celebrate, promote and merchandise those successes. If we don’t, who will?

But it is important to remember there is a thin line between being proud of your work and been prideful. No one likes a show off.

Learn to celebrate and never forget to give credit where credit is due.

16. Learn to listen more than you talk

How many times have you felt that someone heard you but did not listen? Too many people in our business love to hear themselves talk.

Don’t be one of them. Learn to actively listen and talk when you have something to say.

17. It is still a boys club; help make it inclusive

We have come a long way -- but still have long way to go.

There is still a huge need for women and minorities in leadership positions in our business.

It is not just up to senior management at IPG or the other networks to fix this. It is up to each of us to help each other, build each other up, find the opportunities, and go for them.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do something because of your gender, race, sexual orientation. Only YOU know if you can/want to do the job. 

And to the women, champion other women; create your own women’s network. There are many special ladies in my WG life and I would like to thank a few who make life so much better: Lisa Nocella, Mel Smart, Dana Mansfield, Terri Manolescu, Sara Gavin, Judy Ferber and so many, many more. I feel honored, blessed and so grateful to count you as my friends not just colleagues.

18. Don’t forget to have fun.

We spend too much time at the office not to have fun. Celebrate the big wins and the small ones. Find time to catch up with your teammates and laugh a lot. After all, it’s not brain surgery.

19. Forget the word “me”

Our work is a team sport, not an individual’s show.

It is not “my agency,” “my work,” “my Client”. It is our agency, our work. No one can do this job alone, not even the most brilliant people. Recognize this early and you will be so much more successful because people will want to work with you and for you.

People will look for you and will find opportunities to bring to you, I promise you. 

20. Write thank you notes

This is a lost art and I tell you, I think I keep Hallmark in business! I have always sent handwritten notes as a thank you, even if I already sent an email. It makes a big difference, especially because so few people do it nowadays. Take the time to do it. It means a lot to the people receiving them and they will remember you for it.

21. Give back

We truly are blessed to have the opportunities that we have. Never forget to give others a hand, be it helping them get a job, looking at a resume, writing a reference letter, talking to students about careers in advertising, or just listening to someone that is sick, has a problem, or just needs a shoulder to lean on.  

Share your talent with organizations in need or collect food and blankets for the homeless. Whatever it is, just do it. Find what works for you and give back. It is not just nice to do; it is our responsibility. “To whom much is given, much is required.” 


I have had (and still wish to have) a long, fun, challenging, exciting career. I have made lifelong friends, worked with brilliant people, led interesting assignments, been helped by so many, traveled the world, had great clients (and some bad ones) and met interesting people. 

As Mary Wells Lawrence once said, “Whether you are a woman or a man, you are supposed to stretch everything that you are, you are supposed to love with all your might, you are supposed to have a big life, so that when all is said and done you can say to yourself, with feeling, I loved my life so much”.







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