She doesn’t know it, but Tereasa Surratt changed my life. As an Executive Creative Director at powerhouse advertising house Ogilvy, she’s part of the team responsible for a number of award-winning campaigns, including the Dove Real Beauty commercials, which ran when I was in high school. I remember seeing women with scars and moles and stretch marks (read: me) celebrated and beautiful, and my deep-in-adolescence self felt understood and empowered.
It’s this brand of authenticity and passion for people that marks Tereasa’s work as a Creative Director, with her passion-project-turned-Instagram-wonderland Camp Wandawega, and, most importantly to her, as a mother to daughter Charlie. Whether it’s creating the perfect product for a client, refurbishing a 1920s summer camp, or changing her daughter in a parking lot (we all have that moment), all of Tereasa’s endeavors are brimming with love. Read on for how she keeps up that energy and the behind-the-scenes peek at Wandawega you’ve been dying for:
Name: Tereasa Surratt
Current Title/Company: Global Group Creative Director at Ogilvy & Owner of Camp Wandawega
Location: Chicago & Wisconsin
Education: Bachelor of Arts
Children: Charlie, 7
Where and how did you start your career and how has it changed along the way?
I started 18 years ago as a Senior Art Director at my day job, then moved onto Associate Creative Director, then up to Creative Director. Eventually Sr. Creative Director, Global Creative Director, SVP. It’s been a long journey, lots of ups and downs. It’s been rewarding but also a sacrifice. Advertising is a very competitive field.
For my ‘midnight oil’ job, we bought Camp Wandawega 15 years ago. Since then, we’ve expanded into books, product lines, and fully-immersive creative retreats. I’ve sort of grown up in both of them in a parallel path
What’s been one of the most special projects or campaigns you’ve been a part of at Ogilvy? Why is that impactful for you? What particular challenges did you encounter or process did you use?
The Mrs. Meyers compassion flower project is my favorite. The most rewarding part of this program is that we are working on extending the program to more schools — sharing the lessons of teaching compassion as a curriculum in grade schools across the country.
Where did the idea to create Camp Wandawega come from?
Camp Wandawega was my husband’s old childhood summer camp. It evolved organically – at first, we used to throw big parties for friends and family. Then, we started a few rentals after years of getting inquiries – and now we’ve returned it to the camp resort it was built to be in 1925.
What did it take to bring the concept from inspiration to reality?
We really wanted to create a space that fosters creativity, inspires women, and hopefully – most importantly – our daughter.
It took 15 years of hard work. We call it a labor of love (with an emphasis on labor). In the very beginning, our challenges ran the gamut from raccoons taking over abandoned cabins to missing roofs…to a Russian mobster on the run from Interpol who we had difficulty convincing to leave the property.
We really did buy a nearly-condemned property. It needed everything from roofs to foundation repair. We once lost 22 trees at once when a tornado came through.
When did you know you had something really special on your hands with Camp Wandawega?
It was a gradual process, really, not an overnight ‘lightbulb going off’ kind of thing. We were just fixing this place up, trying to save it from the wrecking ball, and little by little, our creative friends started coming out of the woodwork to come and help us. Eventually, we began hosting art camps, music camps, all sorts of camps to promote creative expression. I guess it ended up becoming a virtuous cycle of sorts…the more creative types that came to Camp, the more it attracted like-minded folks. The part that I think I appreciate the most now is that it gives me a creative outlet to host people and groups that I believe in and want to support: women’s groups. young entrepreneur groups, LGBTQ+ groups, etc. It’s good for the soul.
What lessons have you learned running your own business?
Too many to list. I’ve learned that it’s hard to grow big without going bad.
It’s also hard to be as hands-on as we were in the beginning (standing floors and taping drywall). But keeping my hands dirty is part of what keeps me grounded and keeps Camp true to its roots. It really is a labor of love.
When it comes to your career at Ogilvy and at Camp Wandawega, how do you continue to “go big without going bad”?
That’s the funny thing about camp — we can’t really go big. We’re a small mom-and-pop business. Literally. We aren’t going to chain it out, and if we did, it would probably lose what makes it special. When we are here on weekends, you’ll find us raking out the beach, emptying the trash, and asking guests to grab an end if we’re moving a picnic table. They’re always happy to help.
You juggle a lot of different side projects along with a career. How do you keep your work life and home life organized?
I don’t. I’m finding that, more and more, the two are crossing over. “Home” life is Camp and “career” is Ogilvy but there is a cross-pollination that has been growing the past few years. I have agency clients that I host for creative offsite retreats at Ogilvy, and then Camp Wandawega brand partnerships who have tapped me through Ogilvy for work. It’s become kind of a “virtuous cycle”. So I now have one merged calendar and do my best to keep it sorted.
Tell us about transitioning to being a working mom. What surprised you?
I work at an agency that supports schedule flexibility, but I’ve found that I really never turn work off. It’s easier for me to keep juggling the constant flow than to segment it into 9-5 work hours. I’ve discovered how to prioritize. I have found it easier to see what is important. Now, I can let things that bothered me before go easier.
What does your support system look like? Especially when Charlie was young, how did you and your husband manage your careers, camp, and a toddler?
Two words: GRANDMA and GRANDPA. Really and truly, they are lifesavers. They are both retired now and love nothing more than spending time with their youngest (and now last to come) grandchild. And, as importantly, Charlie loves hanging out with them so much. It’s a special relationship, and we count our blessings every day. (As I type this, I’m sitting in a hotel in NY and it’s 1 a.m. – I’m here for work and it wouldn’t be possible if not for that support system.)
What are the greatest challenges and rewards of being a working mom, particularly while raising a daughter?
She gets the opportunity to see that you don’t have to choose between being a wife, a mother, having a career in the corporate world, or owning and running your own business. She can choose one or all. She’s surrounded by our friends who are powerful, independent, and inspiring women. I think that, by example, she’ll grow up to be anything she wants to be.
I’m not going to lie – it was really hard when I first had to go back to work. The field I am in can be pretty unforgiving and competitive, I felt the pressure of having to ‘prove’ more than I felt before I had her. I felt compelled to try to prove that I could do more at work, even if I had to leave at 5 p.m. every day to pick her up.
How do you handle work-life balance while also making time for self-care?
I try to keep it in perspective.
David Sedaris gave some great advice on this with his “four burners” example. Our lives are like a gas stove that have four burners. At any given time, not all burners can be at full capacity or they burn out. One represents family, one for career, one for friends, one for health.
Cut yourself a break. Don’t try to burn at full capacity on all four. It’s all about balance. At different times, different burners will blaze at different heights, and that’s okay.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned as you’ve built your business and grown your family?
Going to bed a couple of hours earlier gives you time the next morning. Also, book vacations early or you’ll never take them.
How has your view of motherhood changed since becoming a mom?
It’s true what they say: your whole world changes, and you never look back. The reason I decided to be a mom was the moment I tried to imagine life at 40, 50, 60 and beyond – although I wasn’t ready to be a mom, I also couldn’t imagine not being a mom, a grandmother. Thank god I listened to the voice of my ‘’future self” – our daughter is the single most important decision (and gift) in my life.
If you could only pick one, what has been your favorite memory from motherhood so far?
Our 7-year-old going to summer camp and writing home. She may have cheated a little, I stamped and self-addressed it for her, and made her a journal kit but she remembered to mail it from camp!
Tell us about your morning routine.
Wake up at 4 a.m. (get coffee). Make a list to knock out by 7 (more coffee). Charlie ready for school drop off by 8 (3rd cup). At office by 9.
Looking back at your life, what particular projects or accomplishments are you looking forward to sharing with Charlie?
I am proud of the book we created of the story of my father, the grandfather she will never get to meet. She’s just getting old enough now that she can read it to us.
It’s hard sometimes to remember to feel grateful, but I do feel pretty lucky to have the opportunity to create a space where people can come to get inspired and be creative.
In particular, I am looking forward to seeing her grow up here. I am so happy that she gets the chance to learn the meaning of equality and love. We have so many same-sex marriage ceremonies here and it’s very important to me that she gets to witness that.
Tereasa Surratt is The Everymom…
Favorite family tradition?
Building the ice rink on the lake and planting a Christmas tree on it with lights.
Easy, go-to family meal to prepare?
Would I be a terrible mom if I confessed that the easiest go-to family meal for us is to order in? #reality
Proudest career achievement?
Random House publishing my 3rd book (about Charlie and my dad), called The Forever Tree
Best mom advice you’ve been given?
Shelly Lazarus (former chairman of Ogilvy): “You have infinite capacity for the things you love. You don’t have to sacrifice, or choose.”