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Susan Hoffman '68 leads the creative team of the world's most famous ad agency
From the Fall 2010 Caller
Susan Hoffman ’68 may have the best job imaginable. As partner and executive creative director at Wieden +Kennedy—arguably the freshest and most successfully audacious advertising agency ever—Hoffman has overseen and added her flair to unforgettable worldwide ads for Nike, Target, Coca Cola, and many others. Her biggest claim to fame— so far—was the Nike Revolution TV commercial.
From her early days at Catlin Gabel Susan was inspired to make art, attending as many art classes as the school offered and always craving more. She excelled in sculpture and just kept on creating art. After graduation she attended the University of Arizona. At the time there were no art classes, only commercial art. “I took that course, and it was the beginning of advertising for me. One thing I’ve learned in life, you never know what’s going to make a mark on you and send you down a path, so try everything,” she says.
Susan’s training parlayed into increasingly responsible jobs, first in publishing companies and then in ad agencies. At the William Cain agency she worked with two creative directors who changed the direction of her life: Dan Wieden and David Kennedy. They left in 1983 to form Wieden+Kennedy, and hired Susan a year later—and she has just celebrated her 26th year there. Starting as an art director, Susan worked up to being a creative director, overseeing writers and art directors. Then she ran a few offices, including opening up W+K’s outposts in Amsterdam and London. Today she’s back in Portland, running W+K’s office. She lives with partner Fred Trullinger ’68 (son Edge ’06 graduated from Middlebury College and Hyde ’09 attends Chapman University).
She says work couldn’t be more fun for her. “It’s pretty full on every day. One day might be relatively normal, and the next total chaos. There’s never a dull moment,” says Susan. “Wieden people are amazing. You never want to leave at 5, because work is much too interesting.” Here’s just one tiny example. You know Isaiah Mustafa, the Old Spice guy? He showed up at her office and whipped off his shirt, and everyone, Susan too, snapped photos with him—another surprising day in the office at Wieden+Kennedy.
Susan loves fostering Wieden+ Kennedy’s culture and creative talent—mostly by granting autonomy to creative people. “Creatives will always surprise you if you give them challenging opportunities,” she says. She likes to quote another W+K partner and Catlin Gabel parent, John Jay, on the necessity of being radical to be unforgettable—a lesson she’s taken to heart. “It’s like going to a cocktail party: the interesting people are the ones you remember,” says Susan. “Life and advertising should be that way.”
Susan says her different paths through life and challenging times, as well as what she has learned from Dan Wieden, made her realize that great things can happen if you just believe in everyone’s potential—in both education and the workplace. “I’ve seen it in this agency for years and years, and it still excites me to see everyone’s potential,” she says. “I’ve seen managers give up on employees, when they really need to support them. Everyone can be successful, and everyone can shine.”