A Seat at the Table With the Women of Instrument

We’re excited to introduce our new series, A Seat at the Table, where you’ll get the opportunity to hear from dynamic women who work together at the same company. Their specific roles may be varied, but their message is the same: It’s time for more women to join them in shaping today’s business world.

Grab your coffee and take a seat as we introduce female executive producers at Instrument, an independent digital creative agency in Portland, Oregon. The ladies you’re about to hear from have created memorable digital experiences for brands including Alternative Apparel, Rdio and Black Diamond. Their work can also be seen on Nike Rewards, and Google’s I/O and Map Dive. With those accomplishments, you might even want to take notes!

Meet The Team (clockwise, from top left) ::
+Laurel Burton, Executive Producer
+Coryna Sorin, Client Partner (Nike)
+Amie Pascal, Executive Producer (Google)
+Kara Place, Executive Producer

Be the spark. Anyone can find the difficulty or pessimism in a situation and manage from a place of conflict or tension aversion.

What is the culture like at Instrument?

Kara: The foundation of the culture at Instrument is built from the people who work here. Instrument is extremely conducive to creativity and collaboration because we hire creative and collaborative people. Those tenets are not forced and not feigned. We value the community at Instrument as much as we value the work we create. Holding ourselves to the highest set of standards as a group pushes us to grow faster as individuals.

How do you lead multiple teams to successfully work together in the agency environment?

Coryna: Relentlessly high standards and expectations. Everyone is at Instrument to create the best work of their lives and to help solve complex digital and creative problems. Mindfulness and an absence of ego keeps the work at the heart of every decision and conversation. People need to deeply believe that their best work is ahead of them.

Bringing in the right types of projects and casting the project teams with intentionality is key. This requires leadership to be acutely aware of team chemistry, paired with a strong understanding of industry landscape and client needs. I promote an environment of collaboration (not only internally but with clients) and mentorship. This should be a nurtured philosophy that transcends discipline types and title hierarchy and should be embraced across the entire team/agency.

We sell ideas against time, so running a tight ship enables the work to remain the primary focus.

Throughout your careers, how have you set and managed both internal and external relationships to keep everyone happy?

Kara: Relationships in the workplace should be treated like any other relationships: Make sure that connections to people are rooted in communication and trust. Adhering to a firm set of person-to-person values ensures that the relationships in, and outside of, Instrument remain authentic and successful. Through those successful and loyal connections, more relationships can be built on a basis of mutual respect.

Do you feel that bringing a women’s perspective benefits the work that Instrument does for its clients?

Amie: Yes, I definitely do, as I believe it’s important to have a diversity of perspectives on a team; diversity only benefits the work we do. Diversity comes from a mix of individual elements, including gender, race, class, sexual orientation, etc. One thing I bring to Instrument (that I think is common for women) is an emotional intelligence. I understand people and how to figure out what matters to them and what motivates them, which leads to better work in the end. I also bring a strong perspective on the importance of relationships to both our client engagements and our Instrument teams. Healthy relationships make the work better — and make it more fun along the way.

We hear you all have quite the lives outside of the agency! How do you balance career and life?

Laurel: Several years ago (at a previous agency), I found myself alone, lights dimmed with a lone desk lamp illuminating an abandoned office. My inbox was the only conversation going on and it would only return a chant of “Unread” and “Reply All.” This had become my routine. A routine I hadn’t even realized I had acquired as normal, and readily welcomed into my life.

When I came to Instrument I brought that same idea of normal with me, work hard, stay late, get it done. But things are different at Instrument. The idea of balance is an organic one, it’s not forced. We don’t have “Work Hard. Play Hard.” sketched on our walls. We’re a family, a tribe that brings their A-game every day, every hour and we all want to create the best work and we also want to grab a beer after work, camp on the weekends or ride bikes together during lunch.

If you surround yourself with like-minded individuals your career won’t overwhelm or shadow your life, instead it will enrich. And not only do I now have a team of the smartest people I know who make it possible to leave at 6 p.m., but I have an extended family that supports my kid, my recent Harley habits —and my life. Could I have continued working those nights? Yes, but only I am accountable for my time and expectations for my life, and I can’t express that enough.

Is there any formal mentorship/professional development among the teams at Instrument?

Amie: There isn’t a lot of “formal” anything at Instrument. But there is a lot of great mentorship, collaboration and professional development among the teams and disciplines here. We tend to see a lot of mentorship come from doing work together, with our team and discipline leads (as well as the partners) working alongside all team members to create beautiful and compelling work with our clients. We also ask everyone to be active members in their development at Instrument, encouraging ownership and engagement in a person’s own professional path.

What do you look for in potential employees when expanding your teams?

Coryna: Positivity, aptitude and dedication. Skill level, taste and talent. Progressive thinkers who are always curious.

What are some leadership lessons you’ve learned throughout your career?

Amie: Context is everything. To be a great leader, you need to motivate and influence people — and the work — through the why: Why are we doing this? Why does it matter? Why do I matter to this work? Why is the snack drawer empty again?

Be the spark. Anyone can find the difficulty or pessimism in a situation and manage from a place of conflict or tension aversion. Bringing an attitude filled with optimism, momentum, possibility, and opportunity to the work will allow you and others to start fires — to bring passion and creativity to the work. Don’t be a wet blanket.

People matter. If you care about the people you work with, they will care even more about the work. Treat people like adults and give them challenges to solve (but not so high-risk that they are set up to fail), and support them to succeed — and make sure people take real time away from the work and the studio. The work is better in the end with happy and healthy people.

Kara: Trust is everything. Instilling a sense of mutual trust with your team means all parties feel protected and valued. I want to trust that my team is going to deliver amazing work to the best of their ability. They need to trust that I have their backs and won’t steer them wrong.

Being a leader doesn’t mean being on top or in front. Sometimes getting down and dirty with the work and leading from within is the best way to push a team forward. Respect is earned from others seeing us commit to doing great and difficult things. This inspires momentum to move in the same direction. Leadership is being able to build that trust, and maintain it. Like in that movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The one with Kevin Costner.

How do you see your industry evolving within the next five years?

Laurel: The world of 2020 totally mystifies me, but the sheer possibilities of human ingenuity and technology fascinates me. Five years ago today, the world looked a lot different. We hadn’t even heard the words Google Glass, Samsung Occulus, Snapchat, Uber or Apple Watch uttered in any conference room. Females were still finding their footing, and Google Keywords were still relevant. Where will we be five years from now? I have no idea, but I do have an active imagination.

There will be the world’s thinnest, lightest, waterproof, crackproof iPhone 11, and a game-changing successor to today’s Apple watch; changing our communication expectations. And the disruptive nature of Silicon Valley will seep its way into another one of our antiquated systems ripe for reinvention.

I can also imagine an inventive, free-economy world fueled by creative men and women; working together, voices equal, changing the world and building the foundation of all that is to come. A place where technology is less novel, removing the screen stare and reminding us all to look up and connect. Tools that have been designed so seamlessly will have enhanced, rather taken away, precious moments of our lives. An economy that is thriving, fueled by the newest virtual-free-education model that has inspired a new generation of technologists inspired by the disrupters of 2020 to build a stronger, brighter 2030. I guess you could say, I see greater opportunity in the next five years than ever before, and that is exciting.