Have you ever felt a deep voice inside telling you that it was time for a change, but you didn’t know why? Mine started last year. It grew from a passing thought into an internal monologue, until one day it was all I could think about.
In my past when I had a strong gut instinct like this, I followed it without question. This was the first time I felt insecure. Why ruin something that was going well when nothing was wrong? What if I had to start from scratch? “Don’t break what isn’t broken,” they say. It’s much easier to make a life-altering decision when there is something very wrong. Things were going just fine.
Why change? Since I was very young, It has always been my dream to have my own studio that was entirely my own. It was my intention 10 years ago to start my own company before I met Stefan. Life takes you on unexpected paths, and mine took me towards his studio on 23rd street on a cold day in February. That meeting turned into working on several projects together, and we became business partners a few years later.
This decade working together went by in what feels like a second. I dedicated every ounce of my time, energy and passion to our work, our client relationships and growing the studio. We grew from a 2 person design studio to a full-service creative agency of 25. I am forever grateful to Stefan for the ownership and trust he gave me. He’s a design legend and one of the most creative & intelligent people I've met. The partnership worked well for both of us, and we worked on amazing projects together for clients all over the world. In the last 4 years, Stefan moved away from the client work, and I ran the client projects & business operations. Stefan and I also worked on some amazing self-initiated projects together such as The Beauty Book and The Beauty Show. It’s been a great decade, and I feel very grateful for the amazing opportunities and people I’ve worked with along the way.
Why was I so nervous about this next step? I went to a therapist several times to talk about my fears. I initially thought this would involve starting from scratch vs. taking over the current team or office space. I knew I had to be ready to give up what I worked so hard to build over the past years. Each time I met with my therapist, he explained that nothing was mentally wrong with me, that my fears were entirely rational and that I should go to a career coach instead of a psychiatrist. I think I just needed to hear myself talk out loud. I was crippled with indecision for weeks, going back and forth in my head, playing out every scenario. Eventually, I woke up one morning and realized if I didn’t take the leap, I’d always be wondering “what if."
Fast forward to today, and I am beyond excited to launch my new creative agency &Walsh. We’re the same amazing kick-ass creative team at the same location on Broadway. We have a new name, branding & vision for this next chapter. In the last years, I’ve focused on fine-tuning our processes and strengthening our capabilities in brand identity, campaigns, commercials, and social strategy. We’ve also moved beyond design & art direction into deeper strategy and brand development work. We work with brands in early stages, advising on products, identifying audiences and helping to shape the brand from the ground up. We’ve been incredibly privileged to land some of the most exciting accounts in the last few years, including branding & advertising projects for Snapchat, Apple, Beats by Dre, Kenzo, C3/Live Nation Festivals, among many others.
As part of this move, I am determined to make &Walsh not only known for producing top-quality creative and strategy work for top clients, but to be one of the best places to work in terms of agency culture. A few years ago, our team grew very quickly, and we had growing pains. At the same time, I went through something terrible in my family/personal life, and I was spread incredibly thin. I was trying to act as creative director, executive producer, head of accounts, copywriter, strategist, new business lead & recruiter — all while traveling too much for talks & workshops. Throw a family crisis on top of that, and no matter how many hours I worked, it was never enough. I like to do it all, but I learned the hard way: I can’t do it all.
I was stressed. Stressed out leaders stress out their teams, and I knew I had to do better for them. I wanted to focus more on our team dynamics and culture. I wanted to use this experience as a catalyst for positive change. This past year, I've dedicated my focus towards making a few new key hires and a new operations plan. The new structure that will roll out with this launch should allow for more growth & retention for top talent and more mentorship for our junior designers. I’ll be looking to bring on a few senior-level roles as well. I hope to find a few people as ambitious, hungry, creative/business/production minded and fiercely loyal to the studio as I was when I was starting out. For the right people, I will mentor them into associate partners or maybe even partner roles. (Your Name) & Walsh, anyone?
I’m confident and excited about this next chapter, but being human, I can’t help but have fears. What will people say about this? What will the haters find to pick on this time? Will we lose clients now that we're a woman-only led agency? Will we continue to land amazing creative clients? Will anyone care?
But at the end of the day… does it matter? All I can do is what I’ve always done: try really fucking hard. I wake up each morning with a fierce determination to keep growing personally & professionally. To push our work and our studio culture forward. I want to invest even more into meaningful projects such as Let’s Talk About Mental Health or Ladies, Wine & Design. I want to give back to this amazing creative community which has given me so much. I want to find more ways to pass on my knowledge. All of this is at the heart of &Walsh, which I elaborate on in this article.
I’m sure I won’t do this perfectly. I’m sure I'll make many new mistakes along the way. I hope to keep growing & learning from them. Thanks to all who have followed my journey thus far. Let’s see where the next 10 years take us.
PS. As I know everyone will ask! This isn’t the end of Sagmeister & Walsh, Stefan and I will continue to collaborate together through the Sagmeister & Walsh name on art projects like our exhibition and book on Beauty. Stefan does not plan on doing commercial work moving forward.
Written by Jessica Walsh