Between meetings, pitches, phone calls and flights, it's hard to get to know your peers beyond business talk. But perhaps you should start taking the time to ask more questions outside of work, because it turns out that adland is full of people with unique, exciting—and sometimes shocking—lives beyond their day-to-day.
Here is the first part in a miniseries on everything you don't know.
Chief creative officer, JWT
On Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Graves, 33 years old at the time, left his career in advertising to join the U.S. Army. "I realized it was time for me to step up and do my part. I was living my American dream, and I wanted to give back," he said. Once he was deployed, he spent about two years on the ground in Northern Iraq and another 11 in the reserves. "While I was deployed, I attended several memorial services and also faced my own mortality. It showed me that I had to focus on what is important in my life—my family, my friends and the community," said Mr. Graves. He decided to go back into advertising because he loves it. "Now that's not to say the industry is perfect," he added, "but it is the one for me."
Executive creative director, Droga5
Before his jump into advertising, Mr. Brady had a long career in music, including recording five records, performing for former President Bill Clinton's inaugural ball playing in his own salsa band. Writing an ad is similar to writing a song because they're "both short pieces of communication that you compress until only the necessary elements remain," said Mr. Brady, who still lends his musical talents to the Go-Kartel band, playing accordion and guitar and singing lead vocals. "People are often surprised at the 'stage Kevin,' as I'm pretty calm and reserved all day at work, but you go to a different place onstage," he said.
Executive creative director, Iris Worldwide
In 2013, when Ms. Shor was taking a break from advertising, she and a few business partners decided to get into the booming fast-casual dining space. She helped launch Tres Carnes in New York City, which brings together slow-smoked Texas meats with bold Mexican fare. "Suddenly, I was the creative director, CMO, social media manager, prep cook, graphic designer, executive chef, head taco taster, planner, brand consultant and client all in one," said Ms. Shor. She said she knew she'd eventually go back into advertising when she found "a truly special opportunity," which is why she joined Iris last fall. But she hasn't forgotten about Tres Carnes—she still helps with the brand direction through social media, photography, branded materials and PR.
Founding partner and managing partner, The Brooklyn Brothers
When she's not trying to spin circles around the competition during pitches, Ms. Stevenson is literally spinning in circles for her side gig as a professional ballroom dancer. She only jumped into the sport about three years ago, but has already turned heads with her partner, Craig Shaw. In 2016, the duo started to compete in the bronze league and became U.K. champions at the Champions of Tomorrow competition in Blackpool, U.S. champions at the U.S. Dance Championships at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and world champions at the Embassy Ballroom Championships in Los Angeles. "It helps hugely with my working life too," said Ms. Stevenson. "It feeds creativity and you understand what makes a great partner and collaborator and it teaches you real-time discipline."
co-founder, chairman and CEO, Republica
In 1991, at the young age of 17, Mr. Plasencia co-founded a nonprofit named Amigos for Kids for underprivileged children and families. Mr. Plasencia, along with a few friends who volunteered with him at a Miami shelter for abused children, wanted to start an organization that would raise awareness of child abuse prevention and help abused and underprivileged children, as well as families in need. "The idea was simple, but the task at hand was not," he said. Now, more than 25 years later, the once-small group has grown into a mainstream nonprofit that assists thousands of kids and families with services such as after-school programs in Miami's inner city, parenting classes and community-wide prevention initiatives.
Principal-brand management, The Richards Group
Before Ms. Fannon decided to take the leap into advertising, she was a first-grade teacher, a job that taught her many useful skills for the ad industry. One big thing she learned was how to effectively talk to a group of people. "You can't stand in front of a room full of 24 six-year-olds for seven hours a day without knowing how to present," said Ms. Fannon. Some other skills she acquired include managing different personality types, expressing creativity in different ways and understanding the important power of persuasion. "And I learned to wash my hands at the end of every day."
Not only did Ms. Krug fulfill her dream of becoming an Olympic diver when she competed in the London Games in 2012, she maintains her athletic spirit by serving as an instructor at Trapeze School New York. "Everyone has an outlet, a passion that keeps them grounded and balanced. For me, my outlet happens to be getting upside down. It started with a passion for diving," she said. "Now I get my upside-down fix as a trampoline and trapeze instructor at Trapeze School New York." Redscout is doing a trapeze school outing this month, and Ms. Krug is excited to introduce her colleagues to her passion, but she said it's also good for business. "It's important for us as strategists and designers to get out of our comfort zones."
Exec VP-project management and operations, Wunderman D.C.
Most people have dogs or cats; Mr. Greene has an alligator. His pet, named Blackbeard, lives with him and his family and even occasionally travels to the office to sit in on meetings. Mr. Greene said his passion for alligators started at a young age during a trip to Florida when he watched Seminole tribe members wrestle alligators on a reservation. As a teenager, Mr. Greene even hid an alligator in his basement, a secret he didn't expect his mother, who was working for the Clinton administration at the time, to find out. But she discovered the pet when she came home early one day from work. Later, in a meeting with the president, Mr. Greene's mother had to share a quirky fact, so she mentioned her son's alligator. That led to an introduction to the first lady. Ultimately, David's mother became Hillary Clinton's deputy chief of staff. "Apparently, having a gator pays off," said Mr. Greene.