Capitol Communicator is running a series featuring profiles of communicators in the mid-Atlantic. In this “up close and personal” profile, we feature Chris Lester. Photography for the “up close and personal” series is by Cade Martin; wardrobe styling by Pascale Lemaire for THE Artist Agency; and hair and makeup by Patti D Nelson and Janice Kinigopoulos for THE Artist Agency.
Chris, please provide us a short bio.
I am a partner and chief creative officer at CHIEF, a brand and digital agency in Washington, D.C. My company works with high-impact clients like Disney and Hilton, and big government agencies like the SEC and U.S. Department of State. Our projects range from focused brand consulting to heavy technology development. I started out as a designer and strategist working in NY and SF before settling in D.C., where building CHIEF, along with my partners has been a labor of love and tremendously rewarding. When I’m not doing CHIEF stuff, I spend my time enjoying family, running along the river and dreaming up ambitious art projects.
Are you involved in any other organizations?
I’ve worked with a number of non-profits in both pro-bono or reduced-fee relationships. I’ve supported social justice organizations like Mississippi Center for Justice and community arts and environmental organizations like CraftWorks. I am a member of AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) and frequently host and attend a wide range of industry events.
What are the things you are most proud of?
Building a brand and company that people want to be part of makes me tremendously proud. I’ve seen the power that culture has on organizations and have made it my priority—I believe it’s the key to achieving incredible things. I also feel fortunate to have been invited to speak in countries across the globe and share the stage with incredible people including Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad Yunus.
Who were your personal role models?
While in high school, I was introduced to a retired advertising executive who had attended Pratt. His name was Bob Ertell, and his mentorship had a powerful effect on my decision to study at Pratt and pursue a creative career. My father was also a powerful influence. He was a diplomat and art collector, and he gave me a deep appreciation of culture through consistent exposure to art, dance and theater.
Did your role models offer professional advice that helped you in your career?
Bob gave me the sense that everything is what you make of it. If you want something to be great, you have to make it great. And you can. I took this advice into every job I had and worked to create environments that I found fulfilling.
What professional advice do you have for others?
My mantra is “Be Brave” — do things that others are not doing and don’t do anything just because you think you’re supposed to. It’s also important to understand that the real win in most engagements is not the project itself, but the relationships you build and the impression you make.
What advice do you have on what’s appropriate attire for CHIEF?
A company’s culture dictates its attire, anything is appropriate if it’s aligned with the culture and reflects the brand. CHIEF has more than 100 people, so depending on the level of exposure to clients; on any given day, you’ll see people in jeans and t-shirts, and also people wearing suits. It all makes sense and it’s never been an issue. We want people to be themselves, and they know when to dress up or dress down.
Where do you buy most of the clothes you wear to the office?
Bloomingdales — they have great stuff and service, and a real a balance of taste and style.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?
I get up at 5:00 in the morning to run before anyone in the house has stirred. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and a ton of energy to push through the day.
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