After going to school for creative writing and teaching English In Seoul, South Korea, Darci Manley came to New York via a graphic design degree. After spending time at the likes of Organic and Digitas, Manley joined independent shop The Lab in 2014. Now, she leads the digital arm of the agency as chief creative officer.
In the Q&A below, Manley shares her viewpoints on the #MeToo movement, side hustles and the importance of making.
Tell us how you ended up at The Lab?
My trajectory through agencies was more digitally focused. I was at a lot of New York agencies - my last agency before the lab was Digitas. Lots of smart people. But the title of creative director there meant more of a management role and less about rolling up your sleeves and doing the work. I like doing the work, so I left. After that I went on to create my side project. Then, a creative director who I worked with at Digitas was working at Clinique and they were doing some work with The Lab, so I went the agency to freelance and really liked it. It was nice to get to do the work again.
You mentioned taking a break and going off to pursue your side project. Do you encourage your creative team to work on side projects?
I have always done work outside of this place or any other agency I have worked at. Being really clear on the parameters of what you can do at work and when you need to draw the line is really important. I have tried really hard to create a reasonable work-life balance here. Almost everybody here has something that they’re doing outside of work and I think it’s really important.
Do you always have an ongoing side project?
Yeah, I went to a creative writing school so I always have a writing project on the side. For example, I published a book three years ago. I partnered up on the book - we created a young adult novel called ‘Ash’ that’s published and you can get out in the world.
What do you love about leading the creative department at The Lab?
You’re not going to meet a lot of chief creative officers who get to do the work and I get into photoshop and do the work. That’s the neat thing about my life here. I have defined what I want this role to to be. Obviously, I get pulled into things too. New business happens. Staffing happens. Then there’s a whole element of management. You have to figure out a way to carve out a part that’s important to you. And doing the work is important to me. We got into this business to be creative and the higher you get, the less you get to be creative. You have to find a way to stay inspired and creative for yourself - whatever that might be.
How did you craft this CCO position?
It wasn’t like I was stepping into a CCO role that had already existed. There was no CCO before I came here, so I am just making sense of the role as I go.
The #MeToo movement has taken the world by a storm. How have you handled it with the women and men you’ve mentored?
I am a woman running a department and I have had my own issues with being a woman at a table full of men my whole career. I’m very, very interested in feminism and I want everyone feeling very comfortable when they’re at work. It’s important for people to have a voice when they are here. That said, it’s not always successful. We’re still working on being better. Advertising in general just needs to work on being better. It’s important to know that your leaders support you no matter what.
People don’t do good work unless they feel comfortable at work. What’s going to make me comfortable is going to be totally different than another person at the table.
Interestingly, when you ask someone in an interview before you hire them, ‘How do you think #metoo has affected the industry and your world?,’ you automatically weed out some people who wouldn’t be right in your agency. This has become my favorite question to ask when I’m interviewing candidates. You are either going to get a strong response like, ‘It’s fucking important’ or someone is going to clam up and say, ‘I don’t know,’ and then in some ways you have your answer.