Women in Business: Christan Summers, Creative Director, Raison D'Être

Women in Business: Christan Summers, Creative Director, Raison D'Être
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A business-minded creative, Christan has developed brands in Asia, Europe and the United States; each country slating a unique chapter in her personal and professional development.

Working with brands to refine their vision and voice in a digitally focused marketplace, Christan approaches initiatives by first identifying why we're here, versus what we sell/offer on behalf of a brand. Taking great consideration in the reasons that drive consumer engagement, she amplifies and often, identifies, the human element of a brand by highlighting shared beliefs and values to connect with a consumer audience. Ultimately, building loyal consumer-to-brand relationships.

Recent campaign work for The Estee Lauder Companies' Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign can be viewed at BCAcampaign.com. Christan collaborated with Click 3X Director, Jonathan Yi, to film a total of seven families, all touched by breast cancer, which lead to the creation of a campaign trailer, a series of short videos featuring each family and a 27-minute documentary. The videos communicate the message that breast cancer is never a one-sided story.

In addition to her duties at Raison D'Etre, Christan is an active photographer and Founder of ICUINPARIS, an online boutique offering curated selections from independent designers across the globe. Summers' holistic approach to ICU - where she personally worked to establish the image, brand positioning, photography and styling for each designer - made the ideal proving ground for her work as Creative Director.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
The term leader is often misleading as we've created an idea that a leader is someone great - superior - at the helm of it all. I'm not going to try to define leadership; I can only suggest the idea that a leader creates experience, and does not let experience create them.

I was raised by a gay dad and a photographer mom - they taught me to have a mind of my own, to risk opportunity and create my own way. I've chosen to live and grow brands in Asia, Europe, and now North America. Those experiences have led to learning new languages and cultures, lifelong friendships and business colleagues, love and heartbreak, failure and success. And one of the most valuable tools I continue to hone is fear and not allowing it to paralyze me from moving forward.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Raison D'Etre?
I've been an entrepreneur most of life and have taken an unpaved road to where I am today. Immediately after graduating University I traveled alone to India to source stones and manufacturers to stock my first e-commerce jewelry site. To this day, achieving business alone, as a young woman in India was the most intensive course in business, distribution, communication and sales that I've ever been through. Following India, I lived in Bangkok where we sourced a women-led jewelry manufacturing facility and designed a full collection over a span of five months. It was in Bangkok where I was challenged to further develop two of the most valuable traits of any leader - communication and patience.

From Bangkok I went to Paris to distribute the jewelry collection. I lived in Paris for four years and further established my e-commerce business (selling and marketing jewelry and accessories by independent designers). I learned French and grew into an important part of my life. The friends and business contacts I made will be those for life.

After years overseas, designing, developing, building and marketing brands, I came back to North America and by chance, met Peter Corbett, who is the President of creative post-production company, Click 3X, and the founder of Raison D'Etre. We found a common ground in design and marketing, which led to my position as Creative Director.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Raison D'Etre?
The highlights have been working within a team - and learning how to be the best leader to that team. I'd never led a group in a large office and it has been one of the most valuable experiences to date. In turn, of course, it has also been one of the most challenging. No one can prepare you for the politics involved when working within sizeable teams.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking an agency career?
Speak with women who are working in the department that you're interested in pursuing. Ask as many questions they are able and willing to answer and learn about this role, it may be different than what you perceive it to be. While interviewing, be sure to ask questions important to you (e.g. work environment, health plans, team structures, who is your leader and what is their leadership style, etc.). Remember you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.

Read your contracts through and through, especially if you are in the design realm as your intellectual property will be required. Lastly, ask for explanation on salaries, benefits, taxes, etc. You have the right to know all of these things - take it from an entrepreneur who didn't know a think about a 401K! It is essential to take the time and learn about the system you are working within.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Balancing work/life is really just about accepting the ebbs and flows of the industry; there will be busy periods, late nights and sore necks but slow periods are just around the corner and I'll be tapping my foot in no time for the next influx. I will say that I've learned to tune out on the weekends and refuse to sleep with my phone by my bed and do not check emails until I've got my coffee in hand!

Raison D'Etre and Click 3X also offer a great level of freedom and sensitivity to family and personal life. That is rare, and much appreciated.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I'm hesitant to say this, but have often faced the issue of women bringing too much personal life into the work environment. I've always been adamant on the division between work and personal life. I think as an entrepreneur, I've had to make those boundaries for myself so I've carried those into the workplace.

People by nature take on new perspectives of others when certain boundaries have been crossed. I'm not dissuading from creating healthy and friendly workplaces, but when emotions get in the way of doing a good job, I have a hard time supporting it.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Immensely. I would not be where I am or who I am without the people who have been behind me, beside me and in front of me - cheering me on, picking me up and pushing me forward. I think the one thing to remember is a mentor can be as fleeting as the woman behind the counter selling you a train ticket and as lasting as a best friend or parent. Each person offers his or her own profound component to your life.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
My mom, my aunt, my grandma and my closest girlfriends - each of them brings and has brought an entirely different perspective to life. Over the years, we have found a way to share and exchange leadership without getting in own way. And by that I mean no envy, judgment or dishonesty between each other.

What do you want Raison D'Etre to accomplish in the next year?
Raison D'Etre is based on the principle of good work. The team helps brands ask the right questions before embarking on a new project or campaign. The baseline is marketing dollars and how to spend them more wisely. In the next year, Raison D'Etre will lead more brands to question why the initiative is a good one and how it will live and thrive in the hands of their consumer audience. We will see campaigns take on a minimalistic communication model that reflect brands' mission and overall vision more clearly.

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