An unconventional path to success in the creative industry


Photo courtesy of Greg Cotten. 

When Greg Cotten graduated with a degree in marketing from the University of Mississippi in 1999, he had no idea where he would end up. It would take several years, two jobs, and another round of schooling for the Nashville native to finally be able to do what he loved, and he hasn’t looked back since.   

Cotten is the Senior Copy Director for Starz Entertainment, a billion-dollar global media and entertainment company that provides television subscriptions to over 24.5 million customers. As the copy director at Starz, Cotten is responsible for overseeing the messaging used across the company’s marketing initiatives, including the concepting and writing of copy for the Starz, Starz Encore, and Starz Original Series’ marketing campaigns.

Cotten did not get to this place in his career without a lot of hard work and some sacrifice too. After a two-year stint as a medical sales rep, Cotten realized he was not a salesperson, but was instead meant to be in the creative side of marketing.

“The money was good [as a Sales Rep], but that wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life,” said Cotten.

Cotten went on to use his sales experience to nab a job as the Account Coordinator at Sawyer Riley Compton, a marketing agency in Atlanta, Georgia. It was there, where he was told by an account director that if he was serious about breaking into the creative marketing field, then he had to go to portfolio school.

Portfolio or ad schools are educational institutions that offer degrees in Art Direction, Copywriting, Graphic Design, and Photography. These schools usually offer two-year programs that help students work on the skills that will give them success in the creative industry.

“There is no better way to learn the business than going to ad [portfolio] school. If money is not an issue, it is a great way to learn about the industry,” Cotten explained.

After collecting his degree from the highly competitive Creative Circus Portfolio School in Atlanta, Cotten finally made the move to Denver to pursue his dream of becoming a creative advertiser.

Now, spending more than thirteen years in the creative advertising field, Cotten is a seasoned veteran, and it shows through his work. Names like ASICS, Blue Bunny Ice Cream, Winter Park, and Weight Watchers are just some of the brands Cotten has collaborated with throughout his time as a Copywriter. Over the years, Cotten has worked at several companies and ad agencies throughout the Denver area.

Taking a brief hiatus from the corporate side of creative advertising, Cotten worked in freelance for two years before returning to Starz. Cotten encourages all those new to the field to explore their options and find what works for them like he did.

“Freelance is one way to go, you have to be talented and patient. But if you put in the hard work you can make a ton of money that way.”

According to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Colorado is a good place to pursue a career as a copy director. Compared to the national average salary of $87,655, the average copy director in Denver makes around $95,480. The BLS also reported that job opportunities for advertising, promotions, and marketing managers were expected to increase by nine percent between the years 2014 to 2024.

“It’s a very competitive industry, but if you have the talent and the work ethic, you can be extremely successful,” Cotten mentioned.

According to, most copy directors start with a bachelor’s degree in a creative area of study and have years of experience in the creative field. Experience in copywriting, design, and other creative careers is important as well.

But its a background in the business side of advertising and marketing that can really give applicants a leg up on the competition when applying for a job Cotten asserted.

In the creative industry, people are expected to have something to show from their experience. Having a complete and impressive portfolio of past projects is essential in the field according to Cotten.

“Employers want to see how you think and create. Team up with other creative majors and combine your skills to make memorable portfolio pieces,” he said.

But all this hard work that goes into getting the job is still just the beginning. In the advertising industry, the usual nine to five workday is not always a given and creative projects often require work outside of the office too.

Those working in advertising agencies in particular must work long hours in order to meet project deadlines. It is not uncommon for those in the agency side of creative advertising to spend a night at the office Cotten explained.

But long hours aren’t the only challenge according to Cotten. Much of his time is spent going back and revising ideas or starting a project completely over.

“The most frustrating part about the job is that it is completely subjective, every person has a different opinion and there is no right answer like in other professions.”

“However,” Cotten added, “When those different ideas finally come together to create something amazing, there’s nothing like it.”









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