Today we’d like to introduce you to Chantal “CJ” Otto .
Chantal, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
To be honest, I’ve already been blinking at this screen for like five minutes just thinking about how to organize this answer. I’m probably going to swear a lot, so pardon my French in advance. Here goes…
I’m originally from way up north, where I got my degree at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. My core areas of study were Marketing, Advertising History, and how to milk college for as long as I could before deciding to give a shit and graduate. I made it to the five-year mark before my parents were like, “WTF we know you’re smart, so stop stalling the inevitable real world.”
After college, I wiggled my way into a marketing & advertising role for a local high-end retail chain, where the owner of the business was actually VP of a really prominent advertising firm for forty years before she decided to get into the fashion world. This was an interesting dynamic because it truly was a real life “The Devil Wears Prada” situation for me. I was like Anne Hathaway, cracking under pressure and sacrificing a lot of my early twenties (i.e., the years where your metabolism loves you, and you should be partying every night), all for this opportunity. But I also knew that I was under the wings of some major lady boss material, and I needed to soak it all in. It got better, but the job was strenuous. One day I would be scheduling model fittings, and the next day, I’d be juggling a quarter-of-a-million in media buys. We even had my little local TV segment and fashion column that I wrote for in a local publication! I met some really lovely people during that leg of the journey, and I will never forget what my Meryl-Streep-like boss always told me: “Work smarter, not harder.” So true.
Then I met a boy who asked me to move from Milwaukee to San Diego with him. Things got tricky because I had to leave my dream job and a beautiful apartment overlooking Lake Michigan… but what’s a little sacrifice when it’s real love, right? Oh, you know where this is going. Shit hit that fan so hard. After what was one of the most amazing moments of my life—meeting a man, moving to San Diego, landing a position at a PR Agency in Little Italy—things turned really dark. I’ll spare you the dramatic details but let’s just say I felt defeat through every angle of my life. My love life was in shambles. I had a huge health issue to take care of. I was looking for a new place to live on my own right before the holidays. My boss did not like me, and I thought any day now I could get let go. I look back at that version of me, and I’m honestly so proud of myself for all the pain I endured on a daily basis (cue violins).
As you can guess, things got better. It took some time to adjust, but finally, my department was thriving at the PR agency in Little Italy, and I was also asked to help pitch new business, so I felt like a real badass.
After my three year mark at the agency, one of my colleagues gave me a little nudge to apply for an amazing marketing and new media position with a dreamy company that was headquartered in La Jolla. This company shall remain nameless, but it was being compared to Apple for their customer experience at the time, and I felt like I was at the ground floor of something really hot. I applied through their website’s super non-personal online submission form. Crickets. Okay time for Plan B. I did some light stalking of their CMO to try and secure an interview—I found a common interest through our schooling background via LinkedIn and sent him one of the boldest “This is Why You Need Me” letters via DM. I’m not sure if I would recommend this method for everyone, but sometimes you just gotta’ go all in. It worked. My interview process was grueling, but I didn’t care because I knew that meant this position was important. I got the job.
Guess what? Time for shit to hit the fan again. About one week after I put in my notice and legit burned some real bridges at the PR agency. I got a call from my new amazing dream company saying that the CMO who hired me is no longer with the company. Cue freak out. They played it off as cool…saying they still want me on board, and that the company is just “going through some little changes.” K.
Day one at the new company: I’m surrounded by people who legit think they are going to get let go any day now and have no quips about telling me this. The company is clearly NOT as dreamy, or stable, as I was sold in the interview process. Things are not great, but I’m still pretty happy because HEY they still hired me, right?
It didn’t take me long to realize that this dream company was hemorrhaging money from their lavish ad campaigns and that this probably wasn’t going to work out like I planned. I felt like I was catfished… but like with work. I knew that even though I was just hired, my team didn’t have much time left. It was right before the holidays, and I really did not need this in my life. The whole situation ended with me legit staring down the new CEO in HQ’s parking lot (think: spaghetti western stand-off), and me giving him so many of my thoughts. I really stuck up for myself that day. He understood completely. And we actually still chat every now-and-then! After I left, the company went from over a dozen locations with a flagship in Soho NY to just two locations in SoCal. My intuition was right. You should always trust your intuition. Moving right along…
Cue one of the most amazing friends ever, who encouraged me to start my own business doing new media (that’s fancy talk for social media etc.), PR and random writing/editorial assignments. Okay so, to be honest, that friend I mentioned not only encouraged me to do this, but she also had clients for me… so it was a no brainer.
So it’s 2016 now, and I’m open for biz. I have a lot of friends and family to thank for their support during this big leap. Word of advice to anyone who’s looking to go off on their own: The physical act of opening your own biz really isn’t difficult—you just fill out a little paperwork, and you’re done (thank another friend for that pep talk). The heavy lifting comes when you need clients, and emotional stamina because you are now the CEO, CFO, CMO, admin assistant, office bitch, and janitor. But that’s where your experience will make or break you, so respect the process of your career journey, even when it’s a cluster f*ck… especially when it’s a cluster f*ck because you’re gonna’ learn a lot.
Fast forward three years later and I’m like how did this actually happen? I have an office in Little Italy and happy clients in San Diego, Orange County, LA, and all over Texas. I love them all. Life is good. Thee end (for now).
PS. This is honestly the cliff notes version of it all.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I don’t even know what a smooth road feels like. To be honest, I would not trust a smooth road. Glad I get section to air my grievances.
I’ve always had to secure my own connections. Up until owning my own biz, every job I landed has come from me using ballsy methods to make myself stand out because I wanted to earn things on my own. I didn’t want to “owe” anyone.
I’ve had my share of mean boss moments. The kind where your boss constantly emails you at 3 am and doesn’t care that anxiety has you up to respond right away. The kind where your boss says you should enjoy the dynamic of agency life, but then immediately messages “WHERE ARE YOU??” when you decide to take an approved Friday off. I’ve gone months thinking that today may be the day I get let go.
I’ve had times in my life where I knew I was overworked and underpaid (haven’t we all?).
As I mentioned earlier, I was “catfished” into a legit dream job scenario, only to be told that the person who hired me a week ago is no longer with the company and oh yeah the company is probably going down. That was fun.
I’ve sacrificed a lot of my schedule and personal life for my career. A lot of people have partners and families at my age. I have a bulldog and financial independence.
I still consider my biz a small business and every day I wake up thankful for the opportunity because you just never know what will happen (cue anxiety that manages to creep up on me every once in a while).
We’d love to hear more about your business.
I like to describe my biz as a hybrid boutique consulting firm that uses traditional and new media to tell better stories and spread brand awareness like buttah’. I write a lot… from social media copy, to press releases, to ad campaigns. I’ve even done some ghostwriting for authors before…#HumbleBrag.
I plan out and manage social media strategies, and I occasionally work with local influencers, for better and for worse ha. My niche happens to be luxury multi-family communities (apartments); however, I’ve had clients from tech apps to fashion accessories, to everything in between. What I’m best known for, and what sets me apart, are my word vogueing capabilities…now that I’ve said that I’m sure you’ll find 10+ typos in this interview (note: there’s a difference between writing and proofing).
What were you like growing up?
My friend Carlee calls me a Functional Introvert and that about sums it up. It’s not a bad thing. It means that I keep my circle tight and selective, and those are the people that I’m not an introvert around.
I was definitely a black swan growing up… did not get noticed in school for anything; looks, sports, grades, etc. Just a normal kid constantly asking for a doctor’s excuse so I didn’t have to run the mile in gym class. Through all of this, the one thing I stuck to was dance… I did tap, jazz, and ballet until the end of high school and I thought one day I would be a Rockette until one of my instructors told me I’d never had the height (yes, there is a height criteria…damn). I was my parents’ little angel until about 14 yo, and then I went down a rabbit hole into jerk teenager mode. You name it; I did it (and probably more than once). I got the party monster out of my system at a fairly young age.
My interests varied through my different stages of youth. I went from library nerd phase to lavender-colored hair phase, to selling grilled cheeses at Phish concerts for a full summer phase, to rush chair of a sorority phase. I’ve learned it’s okay to change because that means you’re evolving. Some people will give you the “You’re different, you’ve changed” talk, but those are usually people that aren’t growing in the direction that they want, or at all.
- Address: 2308 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101
- Website: www.chantalotto.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @cjo_atelier
- Twitter: @cjo_atelier
Photo in Curbed article is by Adrien Tiemens Photography