Reel Women: Sarah Uchison, advertising pro

Sarah Uchison

Sarah Uchison

The creative star
from OKRP
talks about
life, career,
and the “uniquely
powerful feeling
of woman-ness”

Sarah Uchison is an Associate Creative Director at O’Keefe, Reinhard & Paul in Chicago. Since graduating from DePaul with a BA in Advertising, she’s made a name for herself at shops like Upshot, Leo Burnett and We Are Unlimited, making cool things for brands she considers to be true American staples — McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Starbucks.

Her work been recognized at Cannes, The Clio’s, London International and she was the 8th most awarded Copywriter at D&AD in 2018.



How did you get into the business? I got into the business thanks to the dedication of one of my professors at DePaul University, Cristina Benitez. She was the one who really sparked my interest in using my writing for advertising and went above and beyond to invest in me, always making sure I was asking the right questions of others and myself and putting me in the places and in front the people that would help me shine. My Senior year, she invited me to be her +1 at an agency’s Christmas party that she was attending – imposter syndrome kicked in, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’m glad I went because it was there that she made the introduction that eventually led to my first agency job as a Jr. Copywriter.

What obstacles have you faced specifically because of your gender? As a woman, I’ve found it incredibly hard to be heard – which is the worst obstacle to have simply because it’s the barrier to tackling most other obstacles, like creating change, having your point of view be taken seriously, let alone even having the chance to bring your opinion to the table. It’s also one of those obstacles that people tend to dismiss, either not noticing that you’re being talked over or twisting the circumstances so it comes off as something you could have done better, which is definitely tough.

Best thing to ever happen to you to remind you that you are a woman? Gosh, besides free drinks (JUST KIDDING) – I guess I would have to say every time I’m put on a brief aimed at telling female-focused stories. It’s a uniquely powerful feeling that allows me to not only develop a deeper relationship with my woman-ness, but I get the opportunity to do justice by these women by means of correctly interpreting their story. Ultimately I feel like I’m contributing to all of our stories as women and that’s the best feeling ever.

Work you are most proud of? I am extremely proud of the simple yet powerful “The Flip” campaign we did for McDonald’s. Not only were we able to shine a light on the women critical to McDonald’s story, but the fact we were even able to get such an iconic brand to make a statement like the one we did is, in itself, something to be proud of — anyone who has worked on the US business will tell you that. The work itself beautifully captured the stories of female owner/operators and was beautifully captured by an extremely talented group of women – from the majority of the creative team to our director, our DP, our editor, our account team…all women – so that detail was pretty incredible. Did the campaign do everything the team wanted it to? No, but I think the campaign laid the groundwork for change and how McDonald’s will support the women that make up their business for years to come.

Do you think the #metoo movement has created significant change? Change, yes. Significant change? Only time will tell really. Yes, the #MeToo movement has definitely brought awareness and legitimacy to the stories that thousands of women have been telling for years, but I still think we have a lot of work to do for change to be or at least feel significant. Sexual harassment is still a huge problem and still being covered up in the workplace and especially the advertising industry – I just don’t think we’re done yet.

How have professional attitudes towards women evolved during your career? When I first started in the business, I was just happy to have a job, so I used to kind of gloss over women’s existence within the agency…seeing them as my peers just as I saw men as my peers. Today, pay way more attention and give women a lot more credit. As a creative, it’s so important to see more women not just working beside me, but above me. It’s a box that must be checked when deciding where I want to work.

Trapped on an island what essentials must you have? I definitely could use a vacation so other than sunscreen, La Croix, anything Steven King, and a hammock, I could live.

If you had a time machine, what would you say to your past self? I would tell my past self that my weird was what would one day make me successful – so just be yourself, dammit. I was picked on a lot for my sense of humor or sarcasm, the way I dressed and the things I thought were interesting. And instead of embracing creativity, I spent years denying it in order to impress all the wrong people. Luckily, my weird won out, but man, if only time machines or decent people in middle school were real – I probably could’ve avoided a lot questionable relationships.

If you could have a one-on-one with anyone who would it be? And why? Gosh, I’m terrible at these kinds of questions. I mean, it’s so hard to pin-point just one person when there are so many brains I’d like to pick over a cocktail. I guess if I had to pick one, it would be my mom, BUT I’d get into the time machine from the previous question and go back to the moment she found out she was pregnant with a girl. I’d love to know how, as a woman, she felt bringing another one into this crazy world and to know what she aspired for me.
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