All Photos/Videos Courtesy of Project Girl Crush/Common Thread Creative/Genevieve Pierson
Jen Utley and Genevieve Pierson are friends and collaborators. For the last few years, their website Project Girl Crush has shown a spotlight on local women while engaging them in conversations about, and in celebration of, their perceived flaws.
Taking from their experience running the blog, these two recently started the digital marketing service Common Thread Creative which aims to brings PGC’s warmth and intellectual enthusiasm to the world of advertising.
We spoke with Jen and Genevieve (who created the custom video- like the ones they’ll be producing commercially- about themselves for us, below ) regarding both projects, their future, and the benefits of working with your bestie.
People may be familiar with your site, Project Girl Crush? For those who aren’t can you give them an idea of how it came to be and what it’s about?
Jen: Project Girl Crush began as a reaction to the way women judge each other. When my partner Genevieve Pierson and I met (too many years ago at age 21), we didn’t get along. Not because our personalities clashed, but because our insecurities did. She was talented and tall and pretty, so I did that petty thing we girls do and ignored her. The whole while, she was doing the same thing to me. Years later, as best friends and business partners, we reflected on how silly the whole thing was, and how much time and energy we had wasted being threatened by one another. So we decided to do something about it. We began to talk about that thing we women do to one another: to the stranger on the street, the new girlfriend of the ex, or the “Frenemy” we love to loathe, judgment and comparison are rampant, but no one talks about it. So we decided to make it a more common conversation. We started interviewing and documenting creative, incredible women and talk about them in a more real way. Not the ‘omgwhoareyourwearing’ kind of way that we typically see in interviews, but the deeper was that reveals both triumphs and failures. We dig into vulnerability, we look for beauty but also recognize flaw. Because that’s how women truly connect with each other.
How did that idea spring into digital marketing?
Jen: Project Girl Crush has always been a passion project (read: we don’t make money doing it). Though we wanted to invest more energy into it, we didn’t have the time or resources to do so. Ever so conveniently, I got laid off and Genevieve’s freelance work started to diminish (fun!!), and we both agreed that finding a 9-5 was not the answer (we both really, really hate those). So we founded Common Thread Creative when we realized that our complimentary talents could be applied to more than just PGC – that what we were doing for fun actually had a lot of value. So we began creating video portraits of individuals (practitioners like coaches or professionals like real estate agents) and small businesses, to tell their story in a more complete way. Everyone finds the services they need through Google, but that headshot and a poorly written bio really don’t distinguish people or businesses from one another. So we approach our pieces more personally, talking about the person behind the product or profession.
I enjoy working with people who I get along with – people who are a part of my tribe. I mean – if you don’t like puppies, I want nothing to do with you. And if I am choosing to pay someone for their services, it’s really important to me that we connect in some way. So Common Thread Creative makes videos that provide that connection – by showcasing the person and the business. Because the thing that often differentiates businesses is that individual – that’s what makes it unique. These days, it’s a challenge to respond to email, let alone sit down with everyone you may or may not work with and have a cup of coffee with them, and get to know who they really are. So we give people the opportunity to get to know each other a little bit more in a digital space.
Genevieve: Hearing someone’s voice and seeing them in the spaces where they feel most themselves is such a window into someone’s life that normally you wouldn’t get. But it’s what we all want- to know the deeper roots of who we all are.
Your partner is also a close friend, what are some the best and worst aspects of working with someone you have that kind of personal relationship with?
Jen: I find it really hard to give her critical feedback but recognize that’s it’s vital for our continued improvement. If I see something in her work that I want to tweak, I get nervous about sharing it with her. But ultimately, I get over that nervousness and just say what I am going to say because otherwise it would hold us both back.
Genevieve: I have the exact same feeling. It’s a delicate thing- to offer anything but stellar feedback- because we are both fairly sensitive people. But I think there’s a mutual underlying support and huge respect for one another’s work so that foundation makes it a thousand times easier to be honest and to push each other.
One of the best things though is zooming out of the day-to-day interaction, and ultimately feeling so lucky. I get to work so closely with someone who is such a part of my tribe… we know each other at our best and our worst and still inspire each other. We are at both our best when others push us and hold us accountable for our best work, and that’s exactly what we continue to do for one another. It’s kind of magical how well we compliment each other, and that comes from knowing each others (and ourselves!) strengths and weaknesses.
As entrepreneurs how will you define “success’ with this project. Where would you like to see it in 5 years?
Jen: Success for Project Girl Crush it all about building a community, and to do so, we have to continue to commit time and energy to the project. Naturally, we don’t have an operating budget, so we’re limited by time and location. So success would look like finding an individual or brand to underwrite or sponsor the project so we can keep doing what we’re doing, but full time. In five years, I hope to have an active an engaged community that supports us, and a talented staff that helps us do what we do.
Success is also very ambiguous because we’re aiming for social change here. Our message is an important one – but it’s also one that people don’t often discuss. And while we’re amidst a massive shift in the way women are viewed socially, the basis of that shift is how we relate to one another. How we support each other. How we honor each other. And largely, we’re not doing that. So success is spreading our message, about having that conversation and beginning to recognize those times when judgment is passed too quickly, rather than allowing the stereotype to manifest into something that’s potentially ugly.
Genevieve: I’m noticing that more and more women are supporting each other. I’m seeing it all the time. I think we’re all figuring this out- that we should be talking about all these insecurities and vulnerabilities that normally get swept under the rug… that we should all be more open. And I want to be a part of keeping that momentum going. Success with this project to me is building a voice that a misfit 16-year-old might hear and stop for a minute and think oh my god no one is perfect- these women I incessantly compare myself to aren’t perfect- I will never be perfect. OH HELL YES.
What advice would you give other women looking to start a business with a friend?
Jen: Don’t hold your tongue! You have to talk about shit, and sometimes it’s not pretty. But the worst thing you can do is not communicate about issues that are bubbling up. Fortunately and, unfortunately, relationships shift when business comes into play. So it’s important to nurture the friendship alongside the business. Genevieve and I used to talk about everything all the time, and in the recent months, our conversations have shifted to mostly involve work. So we’ve made a conscious effort to go on dates, and talk about sex and hair and life like we used to.
Can you talk about some other female entrepreneurs or business peeps who have inspired you?
Jen: Among the reasons I started Project Girl Crush was to help figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I had this opportunity to interview inspiring women and figure out how they do what they do, and a lot of my intrigue was around what they did professionally. So it’s guaranteed that anyone I have ever interviewed is inspiring professionally. But to be specific – April Pride Allison. She stuns me. I consider her a friend and she still intimidates me because I still don’t know how she does what she does. She is an amazing designer and mother, and one who decided – with two young boys at home – to sell her interior design business because it was no longer fulfilling her. She had this pipe dream – launching her line – and she went for it. And she wasn’t a wide-eyed 25-year-old whose monthly expenses amounted to $1,000. That’s fucking bravery. That’s risk. Women like her, who can make the difficult, uncomfortable choice, even when circumstances don’t demand it, are confounding to me, and they’re what keep me going.