Capitol Communicator is running “Up Close and Personal” profiles of communicators in the mid-Atlantic. In this profile we feature Chris Sheldon. Photography for the series is by award-winning Cade Martin, wardrobe styling by Pascale Lemaire and Sybil Street for THE Artist Agency; and hair and makeup by Patti D Nelson, Janice Kinigopoulos and Lori Pressman for THE Artist Agency.

Chris, please provide a short bio.

Fate. That’s what it feels like when I think back to how I got here. It started with stumbling across a lonely copy of AdWeek on the bottom shelf, of the first stack, of the library periodical section. This magazine, which was the closest thing my school had to a communications program, captivated my attention with every new issue. That weekly rendezvous motivated me into a new business internship at a Baltimore agency where my morning routine, of combing through newspapers for leads, had me scanning an article about a new ad school start up. Information that sat dusty and forgotten on the back shelf of my brain for two years until one hot week in June it popped into my head long enough to make me inquire about applying. That’s when I learned that they were still accepting students for that fall’s class, starting in 2 short months. In less than a week I went from thinking about attending grad school in a year to completing an application, dusting off a portfolio that, up to this point, had only been useful at making creative directors roll their eyes, having a face to face interview and happily being welcomed into the first class ever at the VCU AdCenter (now called the Brandcenter). You might say that this journey to becoming an art director was just due to good timing and not some fateful intervention and I might agree if it weren’t for one little slip of paper tucked into a folded up, crispy, cookie that arrived with my take out the night before my acceptance letter did.

It read: “Creativity will play an important role in your life.”

And so it has, from Leo Burnett and Ogilvy in Chicago to coming to D.C. to work at Arnold, RP3, Wunderman, Influent50 and now WundermanThompson where I’m currently a freelance Creative Director.

Are you involved in any other organizations?

I’ve been thoroughly involved in an organization called My Daughters for the last 17 years. It’s a highly demanding group that leaves very little time for much else. I have heard rumors that the time commitment lessens after a while, but until then it’s my main focus.

What are the things you are most proud of?

I’m proud of the fact that my daughters are smarter and more talented than I am or could ever be. I’m proud that those two beautiful women call me dad. I’m proud of the way I approach every new job as an opportunity and even more proud when it becomes an actual opportunity. I’m proud that I came up with some pretty decent answers to this question.

Who are your personal role models?

Jerry Torchia was my first art director professor at the VCU Brandcenter and the toughest person I have ever had to present work to. The fact that he looked like Groucho Marx’s long-lost uncle wasn’t enough to soften the devastating way he could state “What am I looking at?”  His classes regularly consisted of everyone putting their latest concepts up on the wall and then watch him walk around the room ripping them to shreds, sometimes literally.

There was one particular assignment where I found myself struggling daily. I would come to class, tack up my 50 new attempts at a concept and then watched him stare at each one, rip it off the wall and drop it to the floor before moving on to the next person’s work. This happened class after class after class, as I watched my friends around me move forward with their ideas that avoided the floor. I left each class frustrated, angry and cursing Jerry’s name, a lot.

One day I sequestered myself to a corner table of the local bagel shop in hopes that new surroundings would spark anything at all.  Lost in the pages of my concept book filling up with anything worthy of pencil to paper, I wasn’t even aware of the person standing next to me until their finger pointed to a sketch on the corner of the page. I looked up to see Jerry standing there looking down at me as he said “That’s the one.” Then I watched him turn and walk out the door with his lunch. That sketch ultimately turned in to my favorite campaign of my student book and the day that Jerry Torchia started to set the bar for every creative director I will ever work for.

I learned that his banishing of ideas to the floor wasn’t a critique of my abilities, but about not wasting my time on something that wasn’t worthy of my time. Where I thought there was judgment and meanness was actually raw honesty and encouragement. He showed me that my love for my lost ideas got in the way of my ability to see how crappy they really were. He taught me to trust my gut, to demand more from myself and to receive feedback and criticism without taking it personally. Today I am the creative director that is trying to reach that bar, but I’m still the art director listening to that voice in my head that say’s “That’s the one.”

I love David Ogilvy quotes, and one of my favorites is: “If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”

I see giants around me every day, professionally and personally. Whether it’s someone showing me a new way to think, do something, approach a problem, or handle a situation I’m constantly growing and learning from them. You all know who you are and thank you.

What professional advice do you have for others?

– If you’re the smartest person in the room you’re in the wrong room.
– Most freak outs over emails can be resolved in 30 seconds if you get up, walk over and talk to the person.
– If you solve the problem before you agree on what the problem is, you’ve got a bigger problem.
– The only bad idea is the one that stays in your head to pollute your thinking because you are too afraid to say it out loud and move on.
– The best awards in this job are seeing the success of the people you helped shape, the other ones just become doorstops.

What’s on your Spotify and Pandora playlists?

I have no clue since most of my Spotify time consists of listening to my daughter’s playlists when they take over my car’s audio. But here’s what they say I’m listening to:
– “Can You Call Me Tonight” Dayglow
– “Tongue Tied” Group Love
– “Are We Still Friends” Tyler the Creator
– “Afterglow” The Driver Era
– “Small World” Mac Miller

What’s your favorite restaurant?

Fav of all time: Mori sushi on Pico Blvd in Los Angeles. Everything is beautifully crafted, even down to the handmade ceramic dishes that the sushi is served on. The food tastes so good it feels like a sin to brush your teeth after.

Fav local go to: Fisherman’s Crab Deck in Kent Narrows. Great crabs, great energy, sipping ice cold cheap beer outside on the docks watching the sun set as people go by in their boats.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

I still have the fortune from that fateful cookie and have kept almost every fortune since then.

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