Editor’s Note: They are leaders. They are inspirational. They are mentors. They are visionaries. They are, quite frankly, badasses. They are our 2021 REEL WOMEN. During Women’s History Month, you will be able to meet these incredible personalities in Advertising, Entertainment, Media and Production. Get ready, they are making “Herstory.”
Founder of the ‘Every Damn Day Writers’ online group, Alison Hammer has been spinning words to tell stories since she learned how to talk.
A graduate of the University of Florida and the Creative Circus in Atlanta, she lived in nine cities before settling down in Chicago.
During the day, Alison is a VP Creative Director at FCB Chicago, but on nights and weekends you can find her writing upmarket women’s fiction.
Alison’s debut novel, You and Me and Us is out now from William Morrow (HarperCollins). Her newest novel, Little Pieces of Me will be released on April 13, 2021.
ALSO READ: MORE REEL WOMEN
In Little Pieces of Me, Alison offers a thought-provoking story of family, identity and relationships, inspired by a friend’s real-life experience. When a DNA test reveals a long-buried secret, the book’s main character must look to the past to understand her mother and herself. This story comes at a pivotal time as DNA testing kits like Ancestry.com and 23andMe are increasing in popularity, spilling secrets that go back generations.
What’s your origin story?
My middle name is Mary, so you might not guess that according to 23&Me, I’m 99.5% Ashkenazi Jewish. I’m originally from St. Louis (I went to Clayton High for those who know that’s a St. Louis thing) and I’ve had addresses in Israel, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, New York, Boston, DC and Pittsburgh before landing in Chicago for good. I live downtown in the Gold Coast, and while I don’t have any pets or plants or kids, I do have two published novels. My debut, You and Me and Us, came out a few weeks into the pandemic, and my second novel, Little Pieces of Me is coming out on April 13, 2021.
How did you get into the film industry?
When I was a younger, all I knew about advertising was that it was what Angela on Who’s The Bossdid—I didn’t realize it was an actual job people could have. I started college as an English major, but after I took an intro to advertising class during my freshman year, I was hooked. I thought it was amazing that I’d discovered a career where I could be creative, use my writing talent and have a regular paycheck and insurance.
Who were your mentors?
I’ve had so many mentors at various stages of my life and career. One of the women who had a big impact on the way I approach my job in advertising was Amy Hunt, a creative director I worked with at Mullen in Boston. She changed the way I looked at a lot of the less-sexy projects—embracing them for the challenge they were instead of trying to be funny for twenty seconds and cramming the hard working stuff into the last ten seconds. Plus, she was a great role model and example of how to be a bad ass woman in a department that was mostly led by men.
While there will be others, what do you consider your biggest achievement to date?
Personally, the health journey that I’ve been on has been one of my biggest achievements, losing more than 100 pounds over the last two-ish years. While quarantine slowed the loss a LOT, I’ve managed to keep it off.
Professionally, my biggest achievement would have to be my publishing side-hustle. Every step of the journey has felt like an accomplishment in itself—from finishing the book to finding an agent and landing a book deal—but managing to balance it all with my advertising career and release two books in middle of a pandemic feels like a pretty big accomplishment. I’m not sure if I can beat that one!
How about your biggest disappointment?
Career wise, there have been a few new business pitch losses that still hurt. The other thing that comes to mind is that I missed the opportunity to shoot with Joe Pytka. He shot a campaign I worked on for Today’s Military, but I was laid off in middle of casting. The spots turned out great, but I would have loved to have had that experience.
And my biggest recent disappointment was publishing related. My debut novel, You and Me and Us, was supposed to be for sale and on display at Hudson airport bookstores, which was one of my author dreams—but it was cancelled because of the pandemic.
If being a woman is your superpower, how has it helped you?
Having empathy for other people, and being able to multi-task like it’s my job. Which, let’s face it, sometimes it is.
What’s your Kryptonite?
Caring too much.
How did a combination of pandemic, Black Lives Matter and QAnon affect you?
The events of 2020 have made me more aware of my actions, the words I speak and the ones I don’t. I’ve always tried to be an ally—but the Black Lives Matter movement made me be more purposeful and open about my journey. I’ve done a lot of reading and had a lot of difficult conversations that have helped me grow. I know I still have a ways to go, and that being a anti-racist is something you have to actively choose every day, not something that you achieve once and can stop working on.
What can the industry do better to promote true inclusion?
So many things. It’s not a box that can be checked, it’s about changing the way we do and talk and think about things. Creating more opportunities and casting a wider net. Listening. Not being afraid of change or doing the hard work and having the tough conversations. I’ve been proud of the way my agency, FCB Chicago has really stepped up their inclusion efforts. They’ve not only created opportunities for learning and open and honest dialogue, but they have taken a hard look at the way things have been done historically, and have started to implement change on both a process and a cultural level.
If you’re Batwoman, who’s Robin?
I admit, this question stumped me. I had to ask several friends for help decoding it and I got answers from “who would you want standing next to you in tights” and who my sidekick would be—which started another conversation about being relegated to second fiddle.
I have a lot of strong partnerships in my life, but they’re all on equal levels—we are each other’s sidekicks depending on the moment.
In my advertising world, that would be Pierrette Hazkial, my account counterpart. We make a great team—we both work really hard, but still manage to have fun with whatever we’re doing.
And when it comes to writing, my Robin would be Bradeigh Godfrey. She has been my critique partner for the last four+ years, and during the pandemic, she became my co-writer. We’re currently working on our second book together, which has been a really great experience!
What’s the engine that pulls you?
Probably my competitive drive. I’m ridiculously competitive against myself in silly ways that don’t matter. One of many examples: I have a sleep app that tracks my sleep quality, and every day I try to beat my score from the night before. I know, it’s a little ridiculous.
I’ve also learned that I’m motivated by success. I know that sounds obvious—but where stretch goals motivate some people, I can get easily overwhelmed and shut down if a goal feels too far away. I’m much better off when I set smaller, more achievable goals. The success makes me feel good, and makes me want to keep going. I’ve even been known to write things that I’ve already done on my to-do list just so I can have the satisfaction of crossing them off…
Climb in a time machine and tell 15-year-old you something.
Be kind to yourself. Keep wishing on 11:11. And if you stop eating grains, dairy and sugar now, you will save yourself a lot of trouble when you’re older.