2 Minutes With ... Amy Small, EVP of Creative at Media Cause
Amy Small is EVP, creative at Media Cause, an agency that helps nonprofits grow and accelerate their impact. With 20 years of experience, she's worked on big brands like Krispy Kreme and Kleenex, plus high-profile nonprofits such as Catalyst and It Gets Better. Amy also serves as managing director of the RiseUP marketing fellowship, a professional certification and development program for diverse, aspiring talent.
We spent two minutes with Amy to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations and recent work she's admired.
Amy, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in South Florida, in the suburbs of Ft. Lauderdale. Went to college at Boston University. Moved back to Florida for a couple of years because my husband (then boyfriend) wasn't a fan of snow. We got married in 2007, moved to Atlanta three weeks later, and have been here ever since.
How you first realized you were creative.
I don't know if I ever had a realization. I think it was always just part of me. I remember drawing video game boards in composition notebooks in elementary school, then recruiting my neighborhood friends to act them out with me on the sidewalk in front of our houses. I was always doodling in class, too. (My daughter takes after me in this respect). I entered and won several art and essay competitions throughout middle and high school, which of course, encouraged me to keep going.
A person you idolized creatively early on.
Paula Abdul. I was obsessed with the Forever Your Girl album and how she was able to sing and choreograph her dances. My friends and I would try to mimic her videos in our living rooms. We were not very good.
A moment from high school or college that changed your life.
When I went to register for a PR 101 class my freshman year of college, it was already filled with upperclassmen, so I decided to take Ad 101 instead. That class changed everything. I realized that I could write scripts, headlines, ads, come up with ideas—not just write facts or essays or persuasive journalism-type pieces. My professor, Dr. Chris Cakebread, was also a huge influence on me. He was sarcastic and funny and absolutely no bullshit, and cared about his students more than any teacher I'd ever met. We quickly bonded over our love of hockey, and he became my friend and advisor for the next three years. We'd still catch-up over email once in a while, right up until he passed away from cancer a few years ago. I hope he's somewhere up there these days, laughing down at all of us with a Molson's in his hand.
A visual artist or band/musician you admire.
Two of the art directors on my team: Ansley Luce and Erica Baptiste. Besides being stellar designers, they are incredibly talented artists, too.
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
Glennon Doyle's We Can Do Hard Things podcast. It's honest and raw and "brutiful" (beautiful + brutal, one of her words). I haven't missed an episode.
Your favorite fictional character.
Kermit the Frog—but back from the '80s, when Jim Henson was still alive and voicing him. Kermit never sounded quite like himself after that. His character and personality are still largely the same, though. He's kind, curious, a great friend and has impeccable comic timing.
Someone or something worth following in social media.
@The.holistic.pscyhologist (Dr. Nicole LePera). I repost 80 percent of her content because it's just so damn human and relatable.
How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.
Covid hit about eight months after my dad passed away, and the combination of not having fully processed my grief, plus the anxiety from the pandemic… it heightened a lot of mental health issues that I'd been shoving away in a drawer for a while, especially around food and exercise. Things got worse during lockdown before they got better, but I'm not sure I would have hit that turning point if life had still been "normal." It would have been too easy for me to keep ignoring my internal issues by focusing on external things instead. I've done a lot of self-work since then and am in a much healthier place now, and have been able to bring a lot of what I've learned (and am still learning) to my professional life, too—building our agency's mental health and wellness program, running workshops, leading meditations, and being a sounding board for anyone who needs a safe space and open ear.
One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.
Back in 2012 or 2013, I was working on the Kleenex account as part of the digital AOR team, and our assignment for back-to-school season was to get the brand name Kleenex (vs. generic "facial tissues") on more teachers' and parents' shopping lists. They were putting all their eggs in the basket of their new "thicker, more absorbent" product claim, so we also had to figure out a way to make that believable and compelling enough for anyone to spend the extra money on the brand name, vs. getting whatever might have been on sale. The insight we landed on was that when it comes to what's cool, or trendy, or the thing they NEED for school, parents are often most influenced by what their kids think. So, we enlisted kids themselves to help make the case. We invited classes from top-100 ranked science schools to test out Kleenex by coming up with the craziest, most innovative "Kleenex Xperiments" they could think of. The 10 best ideas (as judged by Kleenex's R&D team) were awarded a Box Tops for Education grant, and we traveled the country to help the students bring the top five of them to life in a video series. It was one of the most fun projects I was ever part of, largely because of the kids themselves. Seeing their ingenuity was incredible. We also pulled off a hell of a logistical feat with a small agency team, and it was one of those "in the trenches" type experiences that really bonded us.
A recent project you're proud of.
I'm incredibly proud of the work my team and I did for the It Gets Better "50 States. 50 Grants." campaign, which, in partnership with American Eagle and Aerie, gives middle and high school students up to $10,000 in to create more supportive, empowering LGBTQ+ programs in their schools. The goal last year was to award at least one grant in each state, but we decided to focus our efforts in more conservative-leaning areas where schools were less likely to fund these kinds of programs on their own—and could make the biggest impact. The shift worked, and about one-third of the grants went to schools with little or no existing LGBTQ+ programming. This year's effort expanded into Canada to have an even bigger reach. Knowing that our work is helping LGBTQ+ youth celebrate their identities and feel more comfortable in their schools is an incredible feeling. It's part of why I left consumer advertising five years ago. You don't get to do that with power tools or donuts.
Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.
There's no way I'm the first person to share this one, but the iconic Chipotle "Back to the Start" film from 2012 still ranks as one of my all-time favorites. Everything about it is so expertly crafted. The detail in the animation. The humanity in the narrative. The range of emotions it elicits. The humble sound of Willie Nelson's earthy voice combined with Coldplay's lyrics. I've shared this film for years as a masterclass in storytelling.
Someone else's work you admired lately.
This short film from the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood is absolutely stunning. There's something about being able to breathe life into inanimate objects or textures that adds a whole other layer of beauty for me. Every single detail matters and serves a purpose. This particular film presents a wonderful metaphor by using clay as the canvas to show how adults literally shape the lives of the young kids in their care. And the soundtrack is all ambient noise and conversation—there's no direct dialogue, which makes you feel like you're watching something real unfold before your eyes. It's powerful and magical stuff.
Your main strength as a creative person.
I'm really good at connecting the dots. Whether it's finding the thread between nuggets of insight as a springboard for concepting, or coaching folks at the agency to figure out what brings them joy and how they can infuse more of that into their work, I love illuminating those hidden connections.
Your biggest weakness.
I can be incredibly impatient when it comes to affecting change. More so with process or operations than creative work, though. When I'm self-aware enough to recognize it, I do my best to pump the brakes before I stress other people out.
One thing that always makes you happy.
I'm probably supposed to say my kids here, right? If I can go with something else though… it's our house in the North Georgia mountains. Waking up there on a Sunday morning, and watching the sun rise over the trees, is absolute perfection. It's my happy place.
One thing that always makes you sad.
Any movie where a dog dies, which is pretty much every dog movie. I refuse to watch them.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.
I'd either be a professional life coach or a baker. Wide swing, I know. I did actually have a short-lived stint as a professional baker for a few years while I was freelancing, early-on in my career. I like to imagine that I'll go back to it when I retire, and open up a little shop in the mountains.