Inside Parliament Coffee on 15th Street, just around the corner from the Campus Philly office, I sat down with Jennifer Kurowski, VP, Creative Director at the Philadelphia-based advertising agency, Digitas Health, a member of the Publicis Health healthcare communications group.
Jennifer will be a panelist at this year’s Create Philly, Campus Philly’s networking event taking place on October 23 at WeWork to show students the creative opportunities waiting for them in a Philly career. With thriving sectors of theatre, art, advertising, writing, and marketing, there are infinite possibilities in Philly for utilizing a creative degree in a professional setting!
Jennifer was kind enough to sit down with us and answer a few questions about her Philadelphia college experience, her transition into a career in copywriting, and thriving in her creative work at Publicis. Tea in all of our hands, we began to talk about our college experiences, and Jennifer’s story is by far the most interesting…
I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City my freshman year of college. Sort of by default, I chose to be a Jewelry & Design major (because that’s what I knew from growing up working in my family’s jewelry business). I got handed my schedule that was already predetermined for me, and from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. I was in jewelry making classes.
It was…very intensive, very technique-focused, very not what I’m good at. I was good at the art side, the conceptual artsy part of it. But with the more technique-driven stuff, I was a disaster!
I had all jewelry making classes and one elective, which I chose as a composition class. My instructor loved me and wanted to send in my story to the guy who wrote our textbook! It was a lot of free-form writing, stream-of-consciousness work, a kind of liberating version of writing.
I was in a dorm with my friends who were advertising majors… they had to make story-boards and come up with TV spots – and they were pretty bad at it actually – so I ended up helping them with their homework every night. I would do their TV spots and write their scripts and write their ads. All these things squished together somewhere in my psyche at seventeen-years-old like ‘Hmm, I love composition, I’m doing all their advertising homework, and I hate jewelry design. Damn, I am a writer.’ And that’s when I decided to transfer to advertising.
Temple really rose to the top as a great communications school and I thought ‘Alright, I guess I’m going back to Philly!’
“Not being afraid to be an advocate for yourself is important.”
What sort of activities did you participate in while in college? Are there any clubs or organizations that had an impact on getting you to where you are today?
At Temple, I was in the student run ad agency, Creative Services Workshop. I helped lead the club, and I think being part of it was very helpful because it’s one thing to read in a book [what each position does], but to actually put that into action and have to sit and work with people to make an end product…it was a helpful experience
“Getting yourself out there and meeting people is important, the worst case scenario is you get some really good advice, the best case scenario is they remember you when they have an opening.”
Coming out of college is a culture shock to most students. Do you have any advice on using your network to connect with employers?
Don’t be afraid to call in favors – if your uncle knows someone who works for an agency, don’t be afraid to reach out to them.
A lot of people are open to even someone saying ‘Hey, I went to [the same school] and I’m graduating and I’m terrified! Would you be willing to have coffee with me for an hour just to share some advice?’ People are open to that! Not everybody, but what’s the worst that can happen? They say no.
No one’s going to knock on your door and offer you a job, they’re just not. Getting yourself out there and meeting people is important, the worst case scenario is you get some really good advice, the best case scenario is they remember you when they have an opening.
Accepting that your first job may not be everything you thought it was going to be is really important. I had a friend who said, ‘I’m not taking my first job unless I’m making at least six figures,’ and I was like ‘Well good for you, good luck with that.’ Remember that salary is not the only measure of what you learn from the job.
What’s the mission of Digitas Health? What drew you there, and what makes you want to stay there?
Digitas Health is all about ‘Helping Not Selling.’ It’s been the agency’s philosophy the entire time I’ve worked there. We are trying to help the clients’ business ultimately, but we’re doing that by trying to help patients first and foremost.
The drive to do awesome creative work is what excites me most about working at Digitas. Couple that with compassion for the people you’re talking to, and that’s what gets me motivated to come to work everyday.
Pharma is very hard, there’s a three-month period where you don’t know what anyone’s talking about. I don’t know that acronym; why can’t I say what I want to say in an ad; like I don’t understand anything! And then you hit a point where all of a sudden, it’s like ‘OMG, I know what you’re talking about, I can follow this! Once you get to that point, you realize that it takes tremendous creativity to make powerful work within the confines of the pharma industry – and that challenge is pretty exciting, at least for me.
As a Temple University alumnus, you’ve worked in the Greater Philadelphia area for most of your career. What about Philly made you want to stay and work in the area?
I was born and raised in the Philly area and my family had a business in Northeast Philly so I spent a lot of time in Philly. I think I just feel very personally connected to the area in a lot of ways, a lot of roots.
When people in our New York office ask me about it I usually say ‘it’s real.’ The thing I love about Philly is it’s a little scrappier, I think people are a little more driven here, we’ve got a little more heart. People here are willing to fight to do good work and do the right thing.
I was in classes at Temple with a lot of students who were full-time students and then working a night job or taking night classes and working during the day or taking care of their kids. They were some of the most driven people I met, and I think that’s part of what makes the Philly business community a little different than others. It’s this huge melting pot.
“I just think that when you find the people that you want to work with and you’re in this bubble that’s in sync all the time, it’s really pretty awesome!”
How do you build your professional network? How does connecting with others help in your career?
Whether you know it or not, your network is always building itself.
There are always opportunities to seek people out. You don’t have to approach someone and immediately say, ‘Will you be my mentor?’ Sometimes it’s looking for those opportunities when it works out naturally. When you’re working toward that kind of relationship, you want it to come out of some kind of organic thing you have in common or some kind of respect, not just ‘I think you’d be good for my career.’
Going to industry events can be helpful. When you’re first starting out, it’s about not being afraid to introduce yourself to people.
Exploit your natural connections. Talking to people about what you want to do and where you want to go will also help because things may come out of the woodwork that you wouldn’t have ever known were there.
It’s always helpful to make those connections, go to those events, and if you intern make sure to stay in touch with those internships – I had a really great intern who wrote me a beautiful thank you note when she left and connected with me on all the various channels and just staying in touch. Don’t be shy about where you want to go in your career because you never know who’s going to know someone who is someone who can help you – and then pay it forward when it’s your turn! Always take the calls, have the coffee, meet with the people, because you never know when you’ll have to call on them or have a job that’s relevant to them.
I love mentoring. I recently had an occasion that I looked around like ‘Wow, I’m actually having an impact on people’s careers.’ The mentorship goes both ways. One of the teams I work with are an art director and copywriter who are in the early stage of their career. I work with them everyday, I’m impressed by them every day, it’s a reciprocal thing we have going on and it’s nice. I just think that when you find the people that you want to work with and you’re in this bubble that’s in sync all the time, it’s really pretty awesome!
“College is kind of like a four-year safety zone where you are bumper bowling with your life.”
If you could offer one piece of advice to a college freshman, what would it be?
I would say to take college seriously, but not too seriously. It’s kind of like a four-year safety zone where you are bumper bowling with your life. You can make missteps and you can try things out. Don’t be afraid to test your limits a little and try different things and meet different people. Don’t be afraid to go to an art school then realize you’re a writer! You want to have a certain amount of fearlessness in college by not taking yourself too seriously in the sense that you leave yourself open to some of these opportunities that could completely change your life.
If you could offer one piece of advice to a college senior who is soon to graduate, what would you tell them?
I think it’s the same advice for both – be a little fearless. See what’s out there! I think I’ve always been a little bit ambitious, but still less than someone who was already working in the industry, because I saw myself as only a student. You’re somebody coming in with fresh ideas and a fresh perspective and you have valuable things to say. Put yourself out there and accept those opportunities!
As you’re going into internships and networking events like those in Campus Philly’s Launch Series, or even just reading articles to garner career advice, you’ll want to look for people like Jennifer Kurowski. Throughout the interview, she was kind and never hesitant to answer a question we had for her. She, along with many others in the workforce, believe in the value of fresh faces, mentoring college students like you, and providing opportunities to succeed.
Take Jennifer’s advice: “be fearless” and attend the next Campus Philly Launch Event, Spark Philly on October 2nd. Then, sign up for Create Philly on October 23rd to learn more from Jennifer, who will be a panelist! Our last Launch Event of the season will be Engage Philly on November 13th, but we offer tips, advice, and professional insights for college students applying to jobs year-round on the Campus Philly blog and our Instagram.
Jennifer Kurowski has nearly two decades of experience helping brands find their voice, and their purpose. Since joining Digitas Health in 2010, she has worked on a number of national accounts – crafting campaigns that help patients with well-known conditions like ADHD and Ulcerative Colitis, as well as rare diseases like type 1 Gaucher and HS (Hidradenitis Supperativa). During her travels from Senior Copywriter to Vice President/Creative Director, Jennifer has served as a creative lead on numerous award-winning campaigns, as well as new product launches. From social to print, from digital to broadcast, Jennifer’s passion is to do great work that makes a real difference for patients. Her work has been recognized by The One Show, the DTC National Awards, MM&M, the Addys, and Philly Gold. Jennifer earned her Bachelor’s degree in Advertising from Temple University and her Masters’ degree in English from Arcadia University, where she is an on-again, off-again Adjunct Professor. In her downtime, she likes to give her two rescue cats lessons on how to be adorable.