I was in a professional tailspin. This program helped pull me out - Technical.ly Philly

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Sep. 1, 2017 10:17 am

I was in a professional tailspin. This program helped pull me out

How At Media evolved into Cohere, an urbanism-focused creative agency.

Swag from the Cohere launch party.

(Courtesy photo)

This is a guest post by Cohere founder Antoinette Marie Johnson. It's part of a media partnership with the Arts + Business Council of Greater Philadelphia.

In April of 2014, I graduated from the Arts + Business Council’s Designing Leadership program. I was going through the beginning of the demise of At Media, a creative agency I cofounded in 2009. No one knew it, but our business was hanging on by a thread, and our employees later told me that they had their resumes ready, poised to leave the organization ASAP.

Change was more than necessary.

My decision to enroll in the program was the first action I took to improve my organization and myself. I wanted a better future for us. We deserved it. At Media was contributing to the region’s creative economy in a valuable way, and we were determined not to let it fail.

So in the fall of 2014 we started on the long journey of positive change. Together our team:

  • Re-configured our internal leadership
  • Drafted a new vision for our company
  • Owned a “mission-driven” purpose
  • Rebranded ourselves

What it taught me? Become the leader you strive to be.

As the team’s fear(less) leader, it was my job to come up with a direction that we felt confident in. Needless to say, this is not easy. Anyone who has desired a change in their career or their personal lives, knows how difficult it is to craft a plan and stick to it. Designing Leadership helped me gain the confidence to admit my desires and take action.

The very first day consisted of the question, “what type of leader do you want to be?” After that, Arts + Business Council faculty made you look in the mirror at how you were fulfilling that vision for yourself. It was clear that change needed to happen within me before it could ever sustain in our organization.

The plan for change in myself and in the organization didn’t happen overnight. It came with months of grueling effort to dig deep within our core values and interests. The goal was to build a new brand that had purpose and was true to who we are and the projects we loved most.

As a branding agency, it was even more difficult to undertake this process on ourselves than we had thought. The alumni I met at Designing Leadership were fantastic accountability partners who reminded me that tons of organizations change their name, their identity and their story on a regular basis. We were not the first. The alumni group helped boost my confidence as a thought leader in this space and to throw my imposter syndrome out the window. As much as the content of the program helped, the connections with fellow creative-economy leaders proved even more valuable.

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You’re the sum of the five people you spend the most time with, and Designing Leadership gave me the opportunity to be amongst a group of leaders who make up for more than $13 billion of impact in the Philadelphia region. To this day I am still in contact with people who hold leadership positions at the Science Center, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Delaware Valley Green Building Council and more.

These people and others recently came out to celebrate our rebrand, and we could not be more grateful. Thank you, Arts + Business Council, for being the catalyst to the rebirth of our company and for supporting organizations across the creative and business communities to invest in leaders as a catalyst for growth. We will forever be allies in growing the region’s creative economy, one leader at a time.

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Antoinette Marie Johnson

Antoinette Marie Johnson is the CEO of Cohere, a creative agency on a mission to build better cities through impactful brand experiences. Cohere collaborates with clients in real estate, economic development, tourism, and hospitality - partnering with organizations such as Urban Land Institute (ULI), the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, uCity Square, University of Pennsylvania, HipCityVeg, NextFab, Schulson Collective, Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and more. Antoinette has been recognized as one of Philadelphia Business Journal’s “30 Under 30 Entrepreneurs to Watch” in 2012, and a bronze International Stevie Award winner for “Female Entrepreneur of the Year” in 2013. She is currently a contributor to Forbes.com and other publications as a thought leader in branding and placemaking.

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