Trigger warning: references to suicide
Nicole Januarie is a force to be reckoned with.
She’s been a producer and content director for some of the biggest brand names in the game (think Clorox, Colgate, Coca-Cola & Chevrolet) and most recently the founder of We Heart Our Lives, a platform dedicated to eliminating the stigma around suicide and mental health.
But even as a student at Montclair State University, she knew she was going to make waves.
From waitressing to finding one-off jobs through Craigslist – she didn’t care what the job was, she just wanted to get her foot in the door. Whether it was a video shoot at 2 a.m., being a production assistant for Pantene, or camera operating for Nike, she was there.
But before all that, Nicole started her promising production escapades creating music videos for the indie band, CharlieRED.
“It kind of helped me to create a voice for myself and learn on the job, and it made a great conversation starter,” Nicole shared with Adspire. “I kind of think back on it and think oh my god I really missed those times. It was long hours but it was fun.”
Right: One of CharlieRED's music videos directed and shot by Nicole.
And sometimes those long hours are what get you to where you need to be.
“Immerse yourself in the industry that you are passionate about and just be around people,” Nicole recommended to college students. “You don't have to ask for a mentor, you don't have to ask to get paid or do anything like that. Just say, ‘I can be as much help as you need me to be.’”
“I've learned [that] to just simply say, why not me, allows my authentic self to show up and silences my doubt most of the time.”
As Nicole rose from post-grad production assistant roles to positions such as production manager, coordinating producer and executive producer, she’s been able to oversee and contribute to a great number of meaningful creative projects.
Recently, Nicole worked with Ulta Beauty to create a campaign called Girls United: Beautiful Possibilities that focused around giving back to young women and to showcase the breadth of the beauty industry. Six young women were chosen to create their own beauty line.
“Ultimately I directed, sculpted and wrote the entire strategy around what the video content will look like around this campaign,” Nicole said. “It was such a cool campaign because I was so close to the girls and I was able to work with them for such a long period of time.”
Above: Nicole's digital production for Girls United. Watch all her inspiring episodes here.
Being the HBIC was a welcomed challenge when Nicole became the Executive Producer of Video for Essence Festival, which is one of the largest live events in the U.S. with an attendance of over 500,000 people each year.
“I was in charge of creating the content, pre-promotional strategies, capturing the content during the event, and then obviously recaps and things like that,” Nicole added. “So working for them [meant] being afforded the creative freedom to really shape how we promote artists.”
Below: Nicole's productions for Essence Festival.
Nicole has brought her boldness to companies including BET, AT&T, Toyota, Walmart and so many more. A lot of her widespread success has come from having a solid foundation in who she is and being confident she’ll succeed at whatever she sets out to accomplish.
“I would advise [students] to have a firm belief that you can rely on yourself in any situation, because that will get you through anything that you're going to be faced with,” Nicole said. “Female, doesn't matter what race, doesn't matter what industry you go into, if you know you have your own back, and you trust that – you’re good.
"It's like Mark Twain said: ‘a man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.’ That’s confidence. It’s growing and feeling okay within the process of growing."
“When you start to create for yourself and have a strong sense of your own, you get closer to feeling fulfilled.”
With a wide span of projects and campaigns under her belt, Nicole has learned how to know when it’s time to move on to a new venture.
“Trust your gut, listen to that nagging voice,” she shared. “Sometimes the highest level of confidence in making decisions come from, this just feels right or this just feels wrong. Listen to that.”
She recommends listening to your intuition and finding strength in the journey. That’s how she went from reporting to managers, to becoming her own.
Left: Another meaningful campaign Nicole used her ad skills for was by Persistent, who partners with companies to provide clean energy for underserved communities. Nicole’s brief was to create content to show how Persistent has improved the lives of people in rural areas.
“I think the biggest mistake I've made is listening to somebody else, because nobody else knows where you need to be,” Nicole said.
“You're the driver of your course. I think we're so keen to jump and ask for direction or ask, ‘what should I do?’ Nobody can give you directions... I read a quote the other day, nobody can give you directions to a place they’ve never seen or been – that's up to you. And that’s why you have to rely on your inner compass. [Ask yourself,] okay, where do I belong? What do I want out of my life? And if you don't know, it's okay too. Take one step at a time.”
Nicole doesn’t take steps, she leaps. From being a former managing partner and co-founder of 19th & Park to being the founder of her outstanding new company, We Heart Our Lives.
“I think this [We Heart Our Lives] is something so close to my heart because I just felt there was nowhere else to go where people were having these open and honest conversations.”
In 2014 when she was working as a producer in New York, Nicole mentally and emotionally hit a wall. She fell into hopelessness, depression, and anxiety.
“The more I isolated myself, the worse I was getting and I didn’t want to become a statistic...It's like the worst feeling to feel like, you don't want to die, but you don't want to live,” Nicole shared with Adspire.
She continues in her “Founder’s Story” on the platform: “I realized... that every time I’ve heard someone talking about their honest experience with mental health and suicide my own feelings became a little clearer and in turn a little easier to heal.”
“I began the search for someone to talk to my pain. I needed a fireside moment, yet all I could find were obnoxious motivational videos and evidence of everyone living their best lives with every post shared… I was so bothered by the lack of conversation around suicide and mental health that it inspired me to set out on my journey to create a platform dedicated to it.”
And in that moment her career path changed. She had to take everything she’d learned helping other companies to start her own company, We Heart Our Lives.
It started with the questions: How do we have open and honest conversations about this? How do we learn more about these emotions that are within us?
“It inspired me to use the things that I do naturally: create content, and then let's learn together and let's start having conversations about this.”
Below: An introduction to We Heart Our Lives and their pivotal purpose.
“In a nutshell, that took me to my next phase of like, I have to do this. [It] was that nagging case in my head for the past several years,” she reflected. “That voice just became too loud to ignore anymore, so that's where I am right now with We Heart Our Lives.”
Even in an entirely new space, this platform exemplifies the fundamental principle of what advertising aims for: connection. But this time, in Nicole’s own unique, intuitive and powerful way.
To see more cool shit from Nicole, check out nicolejanuarie.com.
After Ahmaud Arbery's murder and just prior to George Floyd's, Nicole interviewed three Black men about their mental health practices, fears and concerns. You can watch the session below, or check out snippets from the sessions on W.H.O.L.'s Insta page.