Shanteka Sigers Sold Her First Ad in 5th Grade and is Now One of the Most Creative Women in Advertising,

“People who do not brainstorm for a living go wrong by stopping too early. If you stop too early, then you never get past the familiar thoughts. The good stuff is waaaaaaaaay out there, past a whole bunch of really bad stuff. “


Shanteka Sigers is senior vice president executive creative director at Sanders\Wingo.
Business Insider lists her as one of the Most Creative Women In Advertising. Black Enterprise named her a Top Women Executives in Advertising and Marketing. Complex Magazine called her one of the Top Creative Innovators and published her advice for creative professionals.
She has created advertising campaigns for McDonald’s, AT&T, Verizon, Chevrolet, Toyota and more. She has supervised productions with celebrities such as Blake Griffin, Mary J. Blige, Venus and Serena Williams, Sanya Richards-Ross and Diggy. Her work has been acknowledged by pop culture tastemakers, such as Pharrell Williams and The Source magazine.
At heart, she is a writer. Her blog, Library Of Maternal Nagging was voted Best of Austin by the Austin Chronicle. The Chicago Reader and The Evansville Review have published her works of short fiction.
Sigers received a B.S. in radio television and film from Northwestern University and lives in Austin, Texas, with her son.

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How did you childhood shape who you are today? Were you creative as a child? When did you know you wanted to get into advertising?

I was a very lonely only child. I had to be creative or die of boredom. When I was small, I lived with my grandmother, who was very creative. She named me. I remember she’d written and illustrated a poem about me on a paper plate: “Shanteka, my love, Shanteka, my dear, is there any wonder, why you are here?”

I remember taking my writing VERY SERIOUSLY. One of my elementary school teachers had us write and illustrate books with wallpaper sample covers and stapled pages. I still have mine. You can see where I wrote, then erased, an entire page, then rewrote it. No pictures.

There was also an early attempt at creative direction: “Your wallpaper cover has bunnies, but your story is about a train. I mean, can you work the bunnies into the story or something?”

Mine was about a multicolored lion and — doggone it — there was a multicolored lion on the cover.
I didn’t figure out that people got paid for these kinds of antics until I was a senior at Northwestern.

I read you sold your first ad to Lawson’s Cleaners when you were in 5th grade. What was that about?!

Every day I used to cut behind Lawson’s Cleaners on my way to school, and they had a huge glass window back there, I guess it was to give the folks who were steaming and pressing back there some daylight. There was a woman who sat back there, and she would smile at me every morning. That, for some reason, was enough for me to feel comfortable marching into that dry cleaner and pitching them. I’d drawn a poster of Smurfette (white dress, lives in a dirty forest). They put it in the window and gave me five bucks. I wish I could thank the owners and that woman who smiled some courage into me, but they are all long gone.

What’s does a day in your life look like?

Not sure I have a typical day. Sometimes I am doing one thing all day. When there is a new business pitch, I have teams working directly for me. Most days they work for the Creative Directors that work for me, and I am plotting work domination via spreadsheets. People frequently arrive in my office with an apologetic look, needing something (ads or strategies) in an inappropriate amount of time. So my days are often blown to hell.

In advertising, you gotta be okay with your day getting blown to hell.

Here is a quiet day: I’m in the office very early by advertising creative standards, usually by eight. COFFEE. INTERNET. RESEARCH. If I have anything to write or be creative about, I do it then while it is quiet. I’m always researching because I never know what I might need or what might inspire me. COFFEE. INTERNET. RESEARCH. I’m not naturally gregarious, so I try to make it a point to get out of my office and hang. Think of it as a bunch of tiny, strange status meetings to check on my team’s well-being. Look at work. COFFEE. INTERNET. RESEARCH. If our behavioral scientists are in, I go pester them with questions. If they are not, I rearrange their desks or steal their office supplies. COFFEE. Check in with the group CD in El Paso. Talk about ideas, look at work. WATER. INTERNET. Do some big-picture department/agency stuff. I now HAVE to leave at a reasonable hour to pick up my kindergartner. He owns me until seven. Then I’m back working virtually. INTERNET.

What do you love about your career? What’s the worse thing?

I enjoy mass manipulation. I do. I’m like Brain from Pinky and the Brain. One time, a bunch of young folks came to the office, and we showed our work. When a commercial I wrote came on, they all said the words. I think I rubbed my hands together with glee and went, “MUHAHAHA, I OWN SPACE IN YO’ MIIIIIIND.”

So advertising is an outlet for my small-scale megalomaniacal tendencies.

The worst thing is wrestling with the idea that there is only one way to be a successful creative director. I agonize over that a lot.

Do you have a process for brainstorming your next greatest idea? Do they just come to you, or do you have to actively have to pursue them?

Once you know the problem you have to solve, then you just start gathering loosely related things into the ring. Some from the Web. Some from leaving the office to eat hot dogs and go swimming. Some from this crusty box of Scientific American Mind magazine articles that you’ve been collecting for just such a time. Some from each other. Some from your mother. Others from my BFF (in my mind), Malcolm Gladwell.

Once I get all my random thoughts in the ring, I go do something else. Preferably something that wants all my attention. Eventually I’ll start to mentally procrastinate by wading back into the ring and processing my original problem.

So I guess I pursue them by ignoring them?

I follow that process many times over on one assignment. People who do not brainstorm for a living go wrong by stopping too early. If you stop too early, then you never get past the familiar thoughts. The good stuff is waaaaaaaaay out there, past a whole bunch of really bad stuff.

In your article for the 3% Conference, you say that a black female creative director is a unicorn. Why do you think this is so? What do you think would help pave the way for more black women into creative leadership positions?

They have to see that it is possible. Then somebody has to smile some confidence into them. Also, to get more young black women coming in, somebody has to convince their parents that they won’t die starving artists.

At what point during your career did you become a mom? Was it before you “made it” as a creative, or after? Did you find that you had to sacrifice anything in your career once you became a mom?

I didn’t have my boy until waaaaaaaay into my career. Like, I was a “geriatric” mom. And it was on purpose. In the beginning of my career, I wanted to work late in the office all the time. I wanted to travel and shoot all the time. I wanted to be the presenter you could throw on a plane at any time. I wanted to be an Executive Creative Director (ECD). I also assumed that I’d want to see the child sometimes, and that didn’t seem to fit. So I chose to wait.

I had no idea how much I was going to like momming. I would have had at least three kids. But I waited so late to start that the larger sacrifice is on the mom side. I probably won’t have time to have more.

But by making it into senior vice president land, I get to shape a more parent-friendly creative department. Hopefully I can make it easier for other people to be parents and still do great work.

The work sacrifice is a funny thing. I still want to be ALL UP IN THE TRENCHES. I want a partner again. I want to play foosball until the wee hours, and I wanna jump on planes and put out fires.

I didn’t sacrifice that for my mom title. I sacrificed that for my ECD title. As ECD, if I still have to do ALL the things I did as a copywriter, then I am doing something wrong. I still get to jump into the heady work of the cowboy showering creative (did somebody say pitch?) but not every day.

“My son is definitely going to learn to fight. Mostly from his father. Let that man tell it, he’s got ninja on his grandmother side, his daddy is part Zulu, and he was a Boy Scout. So I have no doubt that my boy will learn to wreck shop. But I still want to teach him the way I was taught…by my mommy.”

This is me, reading my work “How To Fight” for Listen To Your Mother 2012.

Do you have any resources for someone interested in advertising (website, publications, book, professional groups, etc). Does a creative director need to go back to school for a degree?

Degree? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA … I have a Northwestern degree for a job I didn’t need a GED for. I wouldn’t trade being a Wildcat for anything though. And I never would have made it into advertising without professor Ron Kaatz telling me my senior year that that is what I was made for.

However, schools like Creative Circus or Miami Ad School teach discipline and provide connections. You need those. The creative department is a haaaaaaard place to get into.

How To Put Your Book Together and Get a Job in Advertising, Maxine Paetro
The One Show Annuals


Do you have an activity for kids that can help them jog their creativity?

I am always trying to show my son, Amsden, that his creativity has value by placing his work alongside other artists’ work:

1. Make a coffee-table book of his art. I used the ARTKIVE app. You snap a photo of your kid’s art, and they will compile it all into an awesome hard-back book. So our coffee-table books include Basquiat, Clemente and Amsden.

2. Help him write a book. He came up with an interesting thought. I asked lots of questions and then wrote a draft. Then read it to him. Then rewrote a few times. Then I hired an illustrator (Fiverr or Elance) to make it come to life. I show him the drafts and ask his opinion of the story. So his library will include Keats, Seuss and Amsden.

3. A few fabric markers and a T-shirt and he’s a fashion mogul. His closet includes Vans, Airwalk and Amsden.