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Unfiltered: Creative Unemployment

I'm always intrigued with how different people handle those awful words: We don't need you any more.

It's the phrase no one wants to hear, but it just might be the words that launch you into a new, better place in your life.

At least, that's the attitude Lori Jo Vest has. Vest is the co-author of the customer-service bestseller “Who's Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan.” She also serves as managing director of Communicore Visual Communications, a television production studio in Birmingham, Mich.

Currently serving as vice president of membership for the Michigan Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Vest has spent the last 23 years of her career in sales, marketing and customer service in the fields of advertising and TV production in metro Detroit.

Let's hear what she has to say. (Oh, and take note of the Thursday showing of the documentary, "Lemonade," which tells the tale of 16 advertising professionals who lost their jobs. A movie trailer is at the bottom of this blog post.)


Managing Your Creative Career in Detroit's Down Economy

By Lori Jo Vest

It was May of 2008 when Dennis Moylan, from Royal Oak, Mich., got laid off. A project manager in television production, his ad agency clients were suffering with shrinking budgets and the production shops in town who served them were being forced to downsize. What was different about Dennis? His resilience and positive outlook - while he wisely spent significant time actively seeking a new job in Detroit's creative industry, he's a great example of making the best of a bad situation.

“My son Tyler and I finally performed together in a local theatre's musical and we had a blast. I never could have done that when I was working,” he said. “We also auditioned as extras for some films that were shooting in town. I appear at the very beginning of Rosie O'Donnell's Lifetime movie ‘America' and in a few of the other big name productions. And my son has gotten some parts in films, too.”

Besides acting, Dennis did stints as an outreach presenter for the Detroit Science Center, a crossing guard, cafeteria monitor and even substitute teacher at his child's elementary school.

Detroit's creative community of advertising agencies, video production companies and other creative shops has seen incredible job loss numbers in the last two years. Unemployment in this segment continues to grow, though those who manage their jobless experience well seem to be the ones who get back in the workforce first.

In July of this year, Dennis was hired as an account manager/project manager at Communicore Visual Communications in Birmingham. While he was unemployed for fourteen months, he found aspects he enjoyed about being home while his wife Mary, an engineer at Ford Motor Company, went off to work.

As the employer who hired Dennis, I can assure you that his attitude played a big part in our decision. When you have to do more with less, as we all do in the new corporate America, people who can approach a problem with maximum flexibility and a positive outlook will most likely make great employees. What can you do to make great use of your time and stay positive as you keep looking?

Stay connected with old friends and make new ones: Don't take your anger about losing your job out on your previous employer. Keep in touch with your boss, your former coworkers and your friends in “the business.” If you stay connected with them, you may be the person they turn to when they need help. Attend trade industry events so you maintain regular contact with people you already know and meet others who may be hiring in the future.

Use social media to increase your circle of contacts. Metro Detroit advertising agency recruiter Traci Armstrong offers courses on how to use sites like and as job search tools, and if you decide to take the entrepreneurial route, she covers social media marketing for businesses, too. You can find out more here.

Open your mind to new possibilities: Focus on the positive aspects of your situation. View your job loss as a chance to start over. What can you do that you couldn't do when you were working? Spend more time with your kids? Volunteer at their school or sports outings? Help your spouse out by doing the laundry and making dinner every night? Should you turn your decoy carving hobby into a business? What can you do that makes a difference? While financial stress can make you feel incredibly low, taking the initiative to make productive use of your extra free time will inevitably raise your spirits.

“Lemonade,” a documentary film about life after being laid off from advertising, is the result of Erik Proulx losing his job and choosing a new career as a documentary filmmaker. You can watch the trailer here.

Local integrated media studio Ringside Creative is hosting a screening of “Lemonade” at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 17. (The film starts at 7:30 p.m.) It will be held at Combermere Sound Stage at 1350 Combermere in Troy. You can find out more and RSVP to

Don't take any options off the table: If you can't find a job in your industry, find a job outside your industry and focus on something about it that you enjoy. Paul Paruta, a former ad agency art director, got his CDL license and now drives a truck. He's still actively pursuing advertising jobs, though he's able to feed his family as a cross-country semi driver until he's able to get back into the field in which he's spent his career. He publishes his story, with photos and details of life on the road, here.

Start your own gig: Companies that have had to lay off people in their marketing departments may be looking for independent contractors to fill their need for communication. What services can you offer? Look for a mentor - a friend or family member who already owns their own business - so you can get advice on how to solicit clients and handle the business end of your freelance work. Attend local chamber of commerce events so that you can meet and network with other entrepreneurs. Join industry trade groups so you can meet other small business owners that provide complementary services. You can feed each other sales leads and help each other on projects. I know several former advertising agency creatives who now work for themselves successfully. One friend has put together a career as a freelance photographer, instructor at the College for Creative Studies and commercial art director. She's happy with the flexibility her new and varied “job” has given her.

Keep your head up: You have to create a certain amount of faith in your job search if you want it to be successful. Keep looking and stay open to whatever possibilities may arise. Set goals of meeting a certain number of new people that could be potential employers per week or per month. Spend as many hours looking for a job or selling and performing your freelance services as you did when you were employed full-time. You may look back in a few years and think this time in your life was the beginning of a fabulous new chapter.

To learn more about Lori Jo Vest or her book, go here. To find out about Communicore, click this thingie.

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