2 Minutes With ... Mel Routhier, CCO at VMLY&R Chicago

On Breaking Bad and her character-building teenage years

Mel Routhier is chief creative officer of VMLY&R Chicago, where she oversees efforts for Abbott Laboratories, Kraft Heinz, Butterball, Kontoor Brands and the YMCA, among others. Mel's work—spanning almost 25 years in the industry—has won acclaim around the world, including honors at the Clios, Cannes Lions, Effies and other top shows.

This year, she served as president of the Health and Wellness Jury at Cannes. We spent two minutes with Mel to learn more about her background, creative inspirations and recent work she's admired.
Mel, tell us…

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

A little bit of everywhere. As an Army brat, I moved five times before the third grade, then spent a huge chunk of my childhood in Germany. Growing up in Europe in the '80s did nothing for my already awkward teenage fashion sense. I live in Chicago now, in one of my favorite neighborhoods—Bucktown. Despite moving around seemingly all of my life, I've been here 25 years now (and I haven't missed seeing a moving truck in the least).

How you first realized you were creative.

When I was in fourth grade, I won an essay contest. You had to write about your teacher, and I remember everyone asking her boring questions like what was her age, or what was her height. I played it different. I asked her all these oddball things—like what food made her barf and would she ever jump out of an airplane. Then I wrote this pseudo-fictional story about her. I won a gift certificate to Waldenbooks and thought I'd won the lottery. The whole thing gave me the writing itch. (Hi. Mrs. Brett!)

A person you idolized creatively early on.

Sally Hogshead. I remember seeing her name on the credits of a BMW ad and loving that it was written by a woman (imagine!). I used to study everything she wrote.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

I got Bell's Palsy the summer between leaving Germany and starting my freshman year in Texas. If we had more time, I'd tell you the full "character-building" story of starting out as the new girl at a new school in a new country … with a half-paralyzed face. Let's just say a healthy dose of those empathy skills were acquired.

A book, movie, podcast, or TV show you recently found inspiring.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus.  It's fun. It's sharp. And it''s a great discourse on feminism.

Your favorite fictional character.

Walter White (I'm a huge fan of a Breaking Bad). His character arc is incredible. That's another teacher I wouldn't mind interviewing!

Someone or something worth following on social media

Adam Grant. His observations equally equate to personal and business life.

How Covid changed your life, personally or professionally.

It's not a revolutionary response, as I know it was similar for so many, but Covid was revolutionary in my life. It brought my family—my kids and my hubs—closer. It reminded me that work can get done around life, versus life getting done around work.

A recent project you’re proud of, and why.

My kids. They're the coolest things I've ever made. And the hardest things I've ever produced (we went through five years of IVF). I marvel at who they're becoming and, while I want to stop time because it's speeding by too fast, I constantly daydream about who they'll be and what they'll do in 5 ...10 ...15 years.

Someone else's work you admired lately.

Harley Davidson's "Tough Turban," which involved an innovative design for a protective motorcycle helmet for turban-wearing riders. Inspired by diverse groups of motorcyclists, the work shows an incredible depth and richness of insight into a community.

Your main strength as a creative person.

Empathy. I work hard to understand where people are coming from. Why they have the thoughts and ideas they have. And what they need to do their best work.

One thing that always makes you happy.

A spicy mezcal margarita. 

One thing that always makes you sad.

Soggy pizza. 

What you'd be doing if you weren’t in advertising

Baking. Carbs are my love language. I've had my bakery name picked out for decades. I still add to my pile of "opening day" recipes … but the idea of trading late-night ad-life hours for pre-dawn baking-life hours has been a hard trigger to pull.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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