Reel Women: Emily Walton, advertising pro

Emily Walton

Emily Walton

creative phenom
talks about
family, work,
evolving attitudes
towards women,
and tropical drinks

Emily Walton is an Associate Creative Director (Art Director) at O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul where she helps lead the Chili’s business.

Having visited over 40 countries, Emily looks to her experiences abroad to inspire her work, which has also made its way around the globe. She has been recognized with top honors at Cannes, London International, Art Director’s Club, and was the 10th most awarded Art Director at D&AD in 2018. Emily got her start in the Texas Creative Sequence at The University of Texas in Austin, but now calls Chicago home.

Since then, she’s worked at agencies like DDB Chicago, FCB Chicago and We Are Unlimited on brands like Radio Flyer, Capital One and McDonald’s.



How did you get into the business? I’ve always been surrounded by insanely creative people. My dad has an infectious entrepreneurial spirit. My mom threw the most elaborate, intricately designed birthday parties you’ve ever seen. (Special shout out to my Survivor-themed 10th birthday party). My aunt always wanted to be a writer, but was forced into law school, then decided to merge both worlds and write comedy about law. And my grandpa started out hand painting ads for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, then transitioned into an incredible 40-year career as a Director of Advertising for Giant Eagle Grocery stores. I fell in love with all of their creative spirits and quickly learned to embrace my own early on in life. The hard part was just figuring out what to do with it. But a few things helped shape my career path from there. The first was an advertising class that I took in high school where I designed cereal boxes and filmed a scary movie trailer in my backyard. It wasn’t scary at all, but was a ton of fun to make. The other was the Texas Creative Sequence at University of Texas, where I really learned how to embrace my own brand of weird, think outside of the box, and fall in love with the ideation process.

What obstacles have you faced specifically because of your gender? Hands down, it has been finding my voice. In a room full of men (especially at a young age), it can be very intimidating to truly speak your mind and feel heard. It has taken time, trial and error to feel confident enough to embody the fearless attitude that I have now. Lucky for me, I have been graced with incredible female leadership throughout my career that has helped me get to where I am today. Thank you to Kathleen Tax Wille, Marisa Groenweghe, Myra Mazzei Nussbaum, Shelby Georgis and Marnie Vosper (amongst others) for everything you’ve taught me along the way.

Best thing to ever happen to you to remind you that you are a woman? Last year on International Women’s Day in LA, we flipped McDonald’s golden arches from an M to a W. It was so much fun to see the hundreds of women that showed up with their moms, sisters, daughters and friends to take selfies in front of the sign, and reminded me that it’s pretty awesome to be a woman.

Work you are most proud of? The work I am the most proud of is a set of print ads that I made for Radio Flyer at my first job at FCB. The work isn’t the most recognized, and admittedly isn’t the best thing in my book, but it was the first time I felt really proud of something that I created and brought to life from beginning to end. Plus, it made the cover of Communication Arts which was pretty awesome. To this day it puts a smile on my face when I see it sitting on my bookshelf!

Do you think the #metoo movement has created significant change? I think the #metoo movement has given many women an opportunity to feel comfortable enough to step forward and share their story. That is significant. But in my opinion, we are just beginning to scratch the surface. There is a lot of work to do moving forward, and I can’t wait to see where we can take the platform from here.

How have professional attitudes towards women evolved during your career? I believe that attitudes are always evolving, and that some attitudes are further along than others. But in general, I think the perception of women in the industry is shifting from just trying to fill a quota to seeking out women for their undeniable talent, work ethic and unique point of view. Over the past few years, seeing more women in leadership positions has been very promising. I’m lucky enough to work in an agency that is 60% women, so my hope is that the rest of the industry continues to follow suit.

Trapped on an island what essentials must you have? A lifetime supply of ice, rum, a blender, and something to open a coconut.

If you had a time machine, what would you say to your past self? “As long as you’re having fun, you’re doing it right.” | We all put so much pressure on ourselves to be the best, to rise to the top, to win the most awards. Especially as women. But it isn’t all about that. Often times I think we all forget how much fun our job really is. Let’s be real…we aren’t saving lives selling people internet packages and dollar menu items, but we are making people laugh, cry and feel something. I think that’s pretty special.

If you could have a one-on-one with anyone who would it be? And why? I think that I would have to choose Amelia Earhart. Her adventurous soul and brave spirit is one that I have always admired. Plus, I think we would have an amazing time together sitting and dreaming about where we would like to go next.
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