REEL WOMEN: Senior Copywriter Caroline Johnson

(REEL WOMAN: Caroline Johnson)

Bay Area native Caroline Johnson is a senior copywriter who recently joined leading San Francisco agency Muh-tay-zik / Hof-fer.

Though she graduated with a degree in visual arts, language has always been her passion. An avid reader from a young age, she grew up writing poems and short stories until she found a home for her meticulously collected vocabulary in the advertising world.

From her home base in Los Angeles, she creates eye-catching, ear-catching work for clients ranging from legacy airlines to beloved wine brands to emerging tech companies.

Let’s meet Caroline!

What’s your origin story?

After I was jettisoned to Earth from a dying star, I went to college for graphic design because I thought it was the same thing as web design (spoiler alert: it’s not). My real trial-by-fire, however, was a brief stint working at a commission-based department store. I credit that with all my successes to this day. It taught me how to be absolutely fearless (if you don’t go up to complete strangers and attempt to charm them, you don’t get paid!).

My resulting lack of social anxiety directly led to my first creative job: I started working as an office manager at an ad agency and sent out insane weekly diatribes about office goings-on that caught the eye of the CCO, who gave me a shot as a copywriter.

How did you get into advertising?

I fell into it! It’s not really something I had ever even considered as a career until I started dating a copywriter. But I have always been a voracious reader, which led to a love of words, and when I stumbled into copywriting it just fit. I’m really lucky to have accidentally landed my dream job.

Who were your mentors?

I will be eternally grateful to Tommy Means, the founder of Mekanism – the first agency I worked for. I joined the company thinking I’d go into production and it was Tommy who pushed me into writing. He saw a raw talent in me and put in the hours to foster and develop it. He taught me not just the craft of writing but the art of selling in work that you believe in.

My former ECD Laura Wimer also holds a very special place in my heart. Although she’s a brilliant creative, I learned so much more than that from her – she taught me how to make work that’s not just fun or pretty but smart; how to be an effective and empathetic leader; how to advocate for myself.

While there will be others, what do you consider your biggest achievement to date?

Creating, selling, and producing a campaign while I was eight months pregnant. Nothing has made me feel more powerful than directing a photoshoot in my giant circus tent of a maternity dress two weeks from my due date. I’ve made lots of work I really like, and at least one baby I really like, but powering through a ten-hour day bringing my brainchild to life just days away from giving birth to my human child was a singular experience I’ll never have again and it was incredibly empowering to me.

What drives you to create?

Sheer joy. When I’m not creating at work, I’m creating in the kitchen, or at my ceramics studio, or writing for fun, or making up songs for my son (and my dogs). Making things is just FUN and it gives me an immense sense of pride to look at something and think, that used to be nothing until I got to it.

What shows are doing the best job of portraying strong women on TV?

Ozark started out as Jason Bateman’s show and then quietly became Laura Linney, Julia Garner, Lisa Emery and Janet McTeer’s show. They’re not good people but they’re real people – flawed and multi-faceted.

Same with Succession. Shiv is awful, but she’s also vulnerable and shrewd and strong and myriad other adjectives I don’t see enough in female characters. I will choose a three-dimensional portrayal of a terrible person who happens to be a woman over a Strong Female Character™ every time.

REELated: See who else is on the Reel Women List

Coffee, Lunch or Happy Hour. Name a famous woman you would like to attend each function with.

Coffee with Olivia Coleman. I’ve been a huge fan of hers for years and not only is she fabulously talented, I just get the impression she’s genuinely nice and a fun hang.

Lunch with Mallory Rubin, one of the founding editors and the current editor-in-chief of The Ringer. She seems like the most genuine, down-to-earth Earth person in the world (or at least in LA) and the perfect intersection of all my nerd franchise favorites.

Happy hour with Hunter Harris – I don’t know if she’s technically famous but she’s a celebrity to me. She’s a pop culture writer with the most insanely funny and insightful takes and I think two to three martinis with her would be a historical night for me.

What is the biggest challenge to women in your industry?

Unconscious bias. The double standards absolutely exist (confident man vs. arrogant woman, passionate man vs. crazy woman) and this is an industry where personality and likeability are big factors in your success.

How has having the superpower helped you?

I’m a firm believer that traits that are often dismissed as being “feminine” are actually superpowers. Being empathetic, collaborative, a good listener – these are what make a person a good team member, and the best work always comes when multiple brains work together.

What is your kryptonite?

Negativity. Don’t get me wrong, toxic positivity is ABSOLUTELY a thing, but advertising is a team sport, and having a team member who complains about everything is just draining. If you can change it, change it. If you can’t, move on. Complaining serves nobody.

When you’re not creating, what do you do in your off time?

When I’m not creating for money, I’m usually creating for fun. But I cannot say enough how important doing absolutely nothing is to me. Somehow “women can have it all” has become “women should do it all” and I am so grateful to have reached a point in my life where I can say “You know what? I’m gonna stare at my phone for an hour and recharge. And that’s ok.” 

Predict your future! Where are you in 5 years?

Picketing Elon Musk’s moonbase for fair treatment of workers.

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