Growing up in a small town in New Jersey, Genevieve Wilkins wanted to be an artist by the time she was four years old. In high school, she took art classes at FIT in New York, including one taught by famed illustrator Jack Potter. That led to her pursuing a Bachelors of Fine Art from the School of Visual Arts in NYC.
After graduation, she landed a job at Ogilvy and spent several years on Madison Avenue. A corporate marketing opportunity at Cushman & Wakefield brought Wilkins to Atlanta before she made the leap to DC to become managing director of creative at DCI Group. In September, she joined ROKK Solutions as its SVP of creative.
C&E: What makes effective advocacy creative?
Wilkins: You have to remember you don’t want to turn off your audiences. You want to turn on your audiences. Sometimes people are used to seeing things a certain way. A part of commercial art is to persuade people to see things differently, but not make them so leery that they don’t want to look at what you have. It’s just about getting your messages right, creating visual communications that are compelling and powerful and engaging.
An eight-and-a-half-by-eleven flier is great, but what if you can work with the print vendor to fold it in a way so people have to lift it up a different way when they read it? There’s just different ways to attack a project. It will cost the same to print it, but it’s about thinking about it from an art director’s perspective and presenting that to your audience and making it compelling. It doesn’t have to be as simple as it used to be. I want the fearlessness of creativity to continue and I don’t want DC to have this stereotype that the creative isn’t that good.
C&E: Advocacy and political creatives face a greater time crunch than those in commercial marketing. Do you think that’s helpful?
Wilkins: A lot of people who I’ve mentored, because they’re used to working fast — we need to have this by 4 o’clock and it’s 12 o’clock — when they go somewhere else, and it’s slower, they really don’t like it. It’s what you’ve gotten accustomed to.
I worked at ad agencies and on the big accounts with JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Tumi luggage where we had weeks to come up with the content. In advocacy, when you have to come up with ideas really fast, there is something extremely exciting about it, but you have to be that creative person. If you are that person, who likes to think and tap into that left brain, you can find it very fulfilling. I need to come up with this idea about excise taxes and I need to come up with a sketch in two hours, oh, wow.
C&E: You mentioned mentoring, what do you think is key to being a good mentor?
Wilkins: The first thing with mentorship is the person has to be approachable. If the person has all this experience, but they’re not approachable, that’s not someone people are going to want to seek out. There are a lot of people who are not approachable.
I try to talk with everyone who reaches out to me. I’m comfortable with giving referrals. Everyone who has been on my team, who’s wanted to be on my team, I just say, ‘You can call me or text me anytime with questions and we can talk about it.’ That’s how it’s been. I’m learning from you, like you’re learning from me. That’s how I look at it.
C&E: What advocacy trends do you predict we’ll see next year?
Wilkins: It’s kind of hard to create trends in commercial art, but you can be the first one to put something from a trend into your work. You can be an individual in your style as a commercial artist, but you have to remember that individualism for fine art is different from individualism as a creative director. In fine art, there’s no one that you have to satisfy, that’s just how it is.
You can be a trendsetter in commercial art, but more than likely you’re not going to be the person who came up with the idea as a whole because of the commercial aspect of what you do. You’re going to embrace something that you’ve seen in art and you can apply that to commercial art. One of my favorite designers, his name is Robert Brownjohn, he was the first person to have movie credits projected onto a person in Goldfinger. He’s not the first person to think of projecting art onto someone, but he was the first commercial artist to use it in connection with a project.
C&E: Where do you draw inspiration from?
Wilkins: You need to be out looking at other art, other artists, not just sitting online or on Instagram. If you do that, you’re never going to find your muse. You have to go to galleries, you have to look at graphic artists. Sometimes the best messaging is what you see on the street because it’s someone’s straight message.
C&E: Tell us about your work with The Collective PAC.
Wilkins: They brought me on to help create a more modern look. The average person who is online, we have such short attention spans, if that graphic or video doesn’t catch you in the first five seconds, they’re going to skip the ad or just swipe it left. They wanted me to bring inspirations into some of the creative that are from popular art right now and from popular graphic design right now. For their five-year anniversary I suggested a concert and that’s what we did. The founders there, Stefanie Brown James and Quentin James, are very creative and they understand the importance of breaking through the digital clutter with interesting ideas.