Char Eisner: Old School & Still Cool!

I remember when I first started as an agent (a very long time ago!), thinking that if I could encourage Char Eisner to review  the work in our group, then I would have made it.  She was that name on the list that was the one to meet.  She worked on such big name clients that I knew if she called, I had done something right.  Well, one day she did call and today I feel fortunate enough to call her a friend.

Char’s title is Production Consultant at Leo Burnett in Chicago but she has worn many hats there.  It is no wonder that her experience is  widely known in the industry and other industry people seek out her opinion.  Char is not only professional and top rate, but she is funny, endearing and very caring.  She is right when she describes herself as a “work mom” to so many at Leo Burnett.  They are very lucky to have her.

In keeping with the Art Buyer Insider series tradition, we asked Char questions that help us learn more about her as a person, not just an art producer.  Her answers offer great insight into why working with her is such a special experience.  Leo Burnett is lucky to have her.

And, thank you Alison McCreery of POP Blog for conducting the interview on our behalf.  You always encourage people to share the most interesting things!

What did you “want to be when you grew up?”  Are you surprised where you ended up?

I wanted to get married and have kids! And guess what……I got married @19, had a baby boy @20 and had another baby boy @22!!  You bet I’m surprised where I ended up. From where I started…..suburban housewife/mom… where I ended up….high profile ad agency… staggering!

I have a smile on my face just thinking about the journey.

 What was that first moment of inspiration when you knew you would work in a creative position?

My mister, George Eisner, is my inspiration. I met him in 1967. I just turned sixteen.  He was a really funny, interesting guy who wore wing tip shoes… about the suavity factor!  PLUS he was an artist!! He introduced me to all things art and arty. He was a marvelous influence on me and still is.

When our oldest boy entered Junior High, the mister told me his rep was looking for an assistant and I should interview for the job. I got hired and have been in the ad business ever since.

What roles have you held at Leo Burnett?

I’ve been an Art Buyer, Art Producer, Department Head and am currently an Art Production Consultant, a true hybrid position. As many Clients have external cost consultants, Leo Burnett tapped a group of Agency people of various backgrounds and created their own internal version. I learned to take the best of Char from my earlier roles and pair it with the watchful eye of a cost consultant. It took a bit of getting used to but I’m very comfortable with the role now.

How do you work with clients as an internal cost consultant?

Let’s say I’m working on a Miller-Coors project. At the very onset I meet with my Producer and Business Manager. Project specs are created and sent out to the Vendors to quote. As soon as the estimate comes in, I red line anything glaring and/or make production notes on best places, if any,  to trim.  Then I meet with the team to discuss my findings.  If there is justification for a line item in question, I won’t force the issue, as, for me, it’s all about maintaining the caliber of the work.

The estimate then goes to the Client’s cost consultant for another look/see. By this time there should be very little, if any, additional budget slashing. That means I’ve done a good job!

How do you not compromise creativity while finding a workable budget?

There is ALWAYS a way to solve the problem without compromising the integrity of the work. A large part of my job is to help provide viable solutions because at the end of the day the goal is to put together an ad that everyone attached to can be proud of.

Did you always love photography?

Yes, I have always loved photography. The mister introduced me to classic black and white photography when we first met and it all spiraled from there. I have a “fun with photos” file at home that I use to create cards by swapping out peoples heads and writing weird copy.

Growing up, what were your creative interests?

I used to draw cartoon strips in grade school and they almost always had something to do with nuns!  That’s what happens when you go to Catholic school!  Then about twenty years ago I did a self portrait that the mister turned into a rubber stamp (see image at the top of the page). I still look like it too.

How have your life experiences influenced your job choice?

I’ve been married for 40+ years. I have a very happy home life and am a very contented person. Consequently I bring a sense of stability which, in the crazy pace of advertising life is a definite asset.

Being a parent…especially raising boys….also prepped me for the role I play here at Burnett.

I allowed my boys a lot of freedom but reined them in when they needed it. I feel creative people need lots of space but also a responsible adult who can keep them in check. I am work mom to a lot of people over here.

I was also very involved with the local PTA when my boys were little. I had a knack for creating fun ways to generate money for the school as well as producing community events that required staying in budget.

Have you always loved photography and how do you keep the same level of inspiration you had when you started your job?

Yes I have always loved photography. And as far as keeping the level of inspiration up, I host the weekly Agency Portfolio Review Tuesday. It’s a two hour window for Creatives and Producers to pop in and see what’s new and cool in the world of photography and illustration. The events are very well attended. I get great feedback from the Creatives plus the Agents are thrilled to have such a lively venue to show off their work. Heather Elder even wrote a blog post about it last year! I was honored!

I’m also very fond of At Edge and The Workbook, two terrific Industry resources.

What one word describes your working style?  Is it different than when you first started?

The word is “direct”. Let’s cut to the chase. You might not like hearing what I have to say, but at least you know where you stand. Lucky for me most people find this approach engaging and refreshing.

I’ve always been this way so no difference from when I first started.

How do you describe your job to your mother or someone not in our industry?

To most non-ad people I suggest they walk into any McDonalds and check out all the posters and signage. I tell them I help in the selection of photographers and guide my Producers in negotiating the estimates to ensure the Client feels like he is getting a bargain and the shooter feels he is being fairly compensated.

As far as my 92 year old mom Rosie goes, she came to the office once with an Uncle who was in from San Francisco. He was beyond impressed by the size of my office at the time and totally enamored with what I did for a living. Rosie, on the other hand could have cared less, her main concern being where we would be going for lunch! Rosie is the reason I am so grounded in reality. Thanks Ma!

What do you think is important to do in your personal time to keep you inspired at work?

I spend a lot of time with family and good friends. This makes me happy and this keeps me centered. My personal life is very different from my work life and I need that balance to be effectively inspired.

What do you love about your job?

I love collaborating with my Producers and Creatives. They trust my opinion and look to me for guidance and direction. Our working relationship is based on mutual trust and genuine respect. I feel very fortunate.

I also love mentoring the interns and new hires. I recognize core qualities and life skills that will help them in their blossoming careers and I nurture them accordingly.  Besides learning the specifics of the job, they also need to learn how to interact with the people they will be working with.

And for the record, my interns fare very well…..the only one not hired by Leo Burnett ended up at Google San Francisco. They all have made me very proud.

What about the industry/your job is exciting right now?

Social media as a selling tool. I attended a training series that was all about social media and the role that it plays in advertising. There is a whole new world out there that’s only just starting to be explored.  The opinions people post can make or break a Client’s product . Everyone has a voice these days and people are not shy about expressing themselves. The silent majority is officially dead.

Favorite way to spend a Sunday?

I love playing in my gardens especially if the mister and the Chicago boy come out and play too.  Actually anytime I can spend with family is great! I love them!

One thing people reading this would find surprising about you?

I think what people find most surprising is how old I really am. I don’t mind saying I turned 60 last year. Although I’m a well seasoned geezerette, I don’t look like one and I sure don’t act like one either!  One of my business managers once gave me the compliment, “you are old school but you are still cool”.  I really like that! Although this can be a hard business for older people, I’m still bringing something relevant to the party.  And I will continue to do that as long as I am here.

How do you stay relevant?

I look to the Industry publications, the email links to websites and of course the weekly portfolio review. I listen to what my Producers and Creatives want/need and research accordingly which is a great way to learn new things. And I hang tight with the young ones who are a million times more technologically savvy that I am!

If you weren’t a production consultant, what would you do?

I would love to be Food Stylist. Not only am I comfortable in the kitchen but am very into how to make prepped food look pretty on a plate. I think I could be a decent Prop Stylist too.

What at the moment do you see happening in the culture that you find inspiring or interesting?

Social Media inspiring relevant social change. All the political turmoil in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya was directly a result of social media. Facebook and Twitter made it happen. It’s scary and cool all at the same time. 

If you could change one thing in the creative industry right now, what would that be?

Too many emails! The human touch is so where it’s at. People crave it. There are only so many hours in a day that you can stare at your computer before your eyes cross and your head explodes! I’m very face time/hands on with my people and they respond very well to it. That sense of humanity brings out the best in people.

If you could tell photographers one thing, what would it be?

Dare to be different. Either in your subject matter, the approach taken to get the shot or even camera choice. Figure out what separates you out from the pack and run with it.

Do you have a favorite photo of yourself that you are willing to share?  Can you tell us about it?

The leopard shirt photo was taken last September on my 60th birthday. The dawn of a new decade is a big deal especially since the following day I had surgery that took me out for 6 weeks and involved months of rehab! Yikes! But I was mentally prepared and very well taken care of by the mister, family and my many friends so I made it through and life is great again.

And, here’s an illustration by the late great George Toomer that I found in Workbook some years ago that looks just like me! When I came upon it, I simply had to call him and give him a hard time about unauthorized usage of my likeness! Poor guy. He was so happy to hear I was just kidding he sent me a huge poster of the art and signed it “to my new best friend Char Eisner”.

Creative hobbies or practices?

I love gardening. I’m a terrific cook and baker.  I’m also a garage /estate sale junkie. I collect  vintage things like grandma tablecloths and retro kitchenware.

Latest discovery?

Mad TV on the Cartoon Network.  I grew up reading Mad Magazine and to see it in motion is really great fun.

I recently rediscovered The Kinks, a totally underrated 60s rock band. Check out “Superman” if you get a chance.

And last but not least…..honey bees! My Chicago boy recently installed a beehive in our back yard.

It’s way cool to observe if you’ve never been around one before. There’s a reason why they are called busy bees! Thankfully no stings so far.

On your home office walls?

Whoops…..I don’t have a home office but at work I have several screened pieces of art done by my NYC boy, my own self portrait, the 2012 Men of Movember calendar featuring Agency people with cheesy mustaches and a pair of ruby slipper earrings my mom gave me so I will always know there’s no place like home.

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One thought on “Char Eisner: Old School & Still Cool!

  1. Pingback: Art Buyer Insider: Char Eisner of Leo Burnett by Heather Elder | POP | Photographers on Photography

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