TWIST Creative President on Prioritizing Passions and Giving Back

Charlene Coughlin shares how she manages wanting to do it all and the impact of the Adweek Mentorship Program

by Luz Corona

By Luz CoronaLuz Corona

We’ve all heard a lot about healthy work-life balancehealthy work-life balance, but what does one do when one absolutely loves one’s work? Following the wise words of her mentor, Charlene Coughlin lives a fulfilling life knowing “anything is possible, everything is not.”

After working in the non-profit world for a bit, Charlene realized the agencyagency world was more befitting for her pace, yet she makes sure to still make an impact as a board member for two nonprofitsnonprofits. Based in Cleveland, she is now the recently appointed President of TWIST Creative, overseeing all the operations for the agency—from developing partnerships and ensuring financial success to building client relationships. Additionally, she is an Adweek Executive Mentee and a mentor in the newly created Adweek Rising ProgramAdweek Rising Program, actively engaging and mentoring to continue learning and evolving. This can all be quite time-consuming so how does she do it all?

To learn healthy work-life integration tips from a trailblazer who leads life following her passions, read more about Charlene’s career journey, the investment she made that paid off in the past year and the inspiring agency leaders who helped shape who she is today.

How did you get to where you are today?

I quickly discovered my passion for agency life—I love the pace of the businesses, the changes and the client relationships. I was lucky to have people who believed in me along my career and who pushed me to learn more, work harder and push myself to grow.

One of the most impactful experiences in my career came just a few years ago when I watched as colleagues tried to get me fired for being too “aggressive” (aka assertive). That moment was pivotal for me—I saw the double standards that women are held to throughout their career. And I saw how much harder I was going to have to work to prove myself in some situations. I was lucky to have a CEO at TWIST Creative, Inc. that understood my potential and invested in me.

How do you foster strong professional relationships as you grow in your career?

My approach to professional—and personal—relationships is to not expect anything in return. I’m not building a relationship with a current or potential client to develop the business; that comes naturally at some point. Instead, I build relationships that will benefit each other, even if that means just having a glass of wine to discuss a campaign that our team may never work on.

What’s one way you’ve invested in yourself that’s had the most impact over the course of your career? What about within the past year?

It seems small, but I have invested in myself by seeking mentors. I was lucky to be selected to be a part of the Adweek Executive Mentor Program and it is something that changed my life. I have a group of fellow mentees that I can seek advice from, discuss ideas with or share management ideas. For me—a very Type A extrovert—I needed that experience to make it through the pandemic. In addition, I am on the board of two nonprofits, and I see how impactful giving an hour or two a month can become a huge thing for a nonprofit.

How do you view work-life integration, especially now, and what advice can you share with others who may be struggling with it?

I personally have struggled with work-life integration but mostly it’s because I love the work I do and the people that I do it with (clients and team members). I have had to learn how to prioritize my day, week and month. I am a big calendar person (yes, I still use an actual planner) and I need to sit down on a Sunday and plan out my week. I look at things I need to do vs. things I want to do and determine where I can give and take throughout the week.

We are all figuring this out, especially when we are passionate about our careers.

My other advice: give yourself grace. We are all figuring this out, especially when we are passionate about our careers and still want to feel like we can have it all. It’s okay to cancel occasionally if you need that time for self-care.

Can you recall a situation where you’ve dealt with typecasting in the workplace? And what advice do you have for other women on how to overcome typecasting at work?

I’m often known as the aggressive one or the one that moves too fast. It’s hard to know that you may have rubbed someone the wrong way when you are trying to make decisions to either help a client or your business. When my colleagues were trying to get me fired, it was really hard. But it was important for me to have women around me that were encouraging me. I called one of my mentors, Stacey, more times than I could count that year. I also tried my hardest to help each person on the team to understand why I was pushing for decisions or trying to exceed expectations.

My advice? Keep a tight group of mentors, friends, and colleagues around you to encourage you but to also hold up a mirror when needed.

What’s one tip you can share or something you’ve learned on how to handle salary negotiations or raises?

I once heard Cindy Gallop say, “Think of the highest salary you can ask for without laughing, then go in and ask for that.” That has partially been my approach, but I am also a list person and need to write down accomplishments, as well as the value I bring to each role or project. Having the research, as well as understanding the value that you bring to an organization, is an essential to making sure that you can handle yourself in a difficult situation.

Who has helped you in your journey and how did they help shape your career?

Nancy Hill has been my #agencylife hero for years and in the past year, I have been able to receive advice and mentorship from her. In addition, I have had the opportunity to watch and learn from women like Laura Maness. I love that the advertising community has really embraced women in leadership over the past few years and you can see so many women rising and helping other women rise. Due to the Adweek community + Twitter Ad Community, I have learned so much from women in leadership roles, but also from peers.

The Agency Sherpa Founder Nancy Hill shares tips from agency world.

What’s the single best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“Anything is possible, everything is not” from Nancy Hill. My Type A personality makes me want to be able to do all of the things—in my personal life as well—and I’ve realized there’s only so many hours in the day. I have learned how to best prioritize my time in order to avoid burnout and to still have the fun I want to.

What does success mean for you?

Seeing our clients and team members succeed. There’s no better feeling professionally than seeing a team member rise or seeing a client’s campaign have success and knowing that we had something to do with it. It’s [also] so important to give back. I have loved being a part of the Cleveland community including being a board member of a crisis nursery, Providence House. When I see a woman, child or family’s life impacted by the work that we do—that makes it all worth it.