It was my first job out of college. I landed a gig as a graphic artist at an ad agency whose biggest client was Kmart Corporation. (I'll never forget my very first interview when I showed my design portfolio full of college projects, which included a newspaper layout with a story about how Kmart had filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy... The hiring manager noticed the story in my portfolio and said, "Kmart. They're our client." Talk about embarrassing. Yet they hired me anyway.)
I was thrilled to receive the job offer yet nervous to start. I joined the offshore account on a team of 14: a creative director, art director, production manager, traffic coordinator, editor, two account executives and seven graphic artists (including myself). I learned the processes and workflow of an agency setting and thrived in its fast-paced environment. We had ads due every week for four offshore markets: Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
We'd receive our job bag at the start of a project, complete with assigned pages and hand-drawn mockups. We would build the pages based on the mockups and client-provided content. We would hang the pages in a conference room and do what we called "Walk the Wall" – a chance for the entire team to look at every page and mark up mistakes. We would update pages and they would go through an editing process and a few rounds of client reviews. Once pages were approved, they would be sent to print (or in the case of the Puerto Rico ads, they would be translated to Spanish before going to print).
I observed other roles on the team and learned how to look for mistakes ahead of time to reduce markups from the editor. I learned what needed to be perfect versus what needed to be let go in order to meet a deadline. I gathered a good understanding of everyone's role on the team even though I did not perform those functions myself – and it came in handy.
Little by little, team members were laid off. Our team got smaller and smaller until we were just a team of three. Three graphic artists. No more creative director, art director, production manager, traffic coordinator, editor or account executives. Just three graphic artists. Yet somehow those missing roles still had to be filled.
The three of us would often rotate some of these functions, each week taking on different responsibilities: sketching page layouts, assigning pages, assembling job bags. We continued to do our Walk the Walls with the help of creative directors from other teams in the agency. Then even more people were let go.
I eventually found myself doing a lot of this work on my own, as well as communicating directly with the translator and sometimes even the client. I began sitting in on meetings with directors and managers to give updates on the offshore account. I wanted our projects to be just as successful as when we had a team of 14, and to continue to meet deadlines without skipping a beat. I became known as the point of contact for the team, and was eventually dubbed "the General" by one of the agency's senior copywriters. It stuck. Multiple people started calling me by this nickname and I was honored.
"At Meridian she became the point person on our Offshore Account in a relatively short time span. Versed in both writing and design, Nikki quickly established herself on the account as one of the best and was looked to as the primary contact."
– Robert P.
The day then came where those of us who were left were called to a meeting where we were told that the agency would be closing and that – unless we were able to move to Chicago – we would be losing our jobs. Kmart would be merging with Sears, moving to Chicago where Sears was headquartered, and our work would move to Sears' agency, Ambrosi Advertising. I was devastated, but I kept pounding until my very last day.
New employees were hired to take over the account at Ambrosi and were brought in to cross-train with those of us who were left – and by that time, I was the last [wo]man standing on the offshore team. I trained three graphic artists (and even the new production manager!) for six weeks, traveling to Chicago for part of that time during the transition.
As a newlywed at the time, relocating to Chicago was not an option for me. Plus, I decided it would be in my best interest to go someplace new and develop new skills. (More on that – and how I was called "hawk-eye" – later.)
And that, my friends, is how I became known as "the General."