Faculty Spotlight: Clayton Smith

Clayton Smith has a diverse background and set of talents: author, teacher, copywriter, and social media strategist just to name a few. He’s originally from the St. Louis area, but after deciding to move to Chicago in 2008 for his graduate education at Columbia he states, “…the city trapped me with its excellence.”

Clayton currently teaches Information Management, Accounting, and Finance. In this interview Clayton shares how he got started on his career path, where he finds inspiration, and advice for current students.


What is your story?

Clayton Smith: “I’ve had a pretty diverse professional track. I started out with a journalism degree from University of Missouri – Columbia and worked in journalism and copy writing for a couple of years. Then, sort of by accident, I ended up teaching English and journalism at the high school level for a couple of years before deciding to pursue my master’s in arts management at Columbia. With the help of one of my teachers, I landed an internship with Joffrey Ballet during grad school, and that helped launch me to jobs with Lyric Opera of Chicago and Goodman Theatre a little ways down the road.

Part of my job at Goodman was to manage the theatre’s social media strategy and messaging, and my work there caught the eye of the head of a social media management software company called Gremln. They were a new start-up, and I worked there for a time, until a recruiter at Live Nation found me on LinkedIn and brought me in to manage the social media for Ticketmaster’s resale partnerships, which include partners like NFL, NHL, NBA, and some MLB teams. I had the chance to work really closely with the sports leagues, and I was able to attend some pretty outstanding events, like Super Bowl XLVIII and a 2013 Blackhawks playoff game. But Ticketmaster started consolidating its offices and began shuffling people to Los Angeles, and when the opportunity to teach full-time at Columbia came up, it was a great time to make the change.

So, in short, pretty much everything about my path has been unexpected. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you should always keep yourself open to opportunity, regardless whether or not you’re actively looking for it. Also, I know it’s cliché, but it’s cliché for a reason: when it comes to professional life, nothing beats personal networking.”

How would you describe yourself in 3-5 words?

Clayton Smith: “A creative writer and entrepreneur. Either that, or ‘tall.'”

What projects have you been working on recently?

Clayton Smith: “I’ve published a few fictional works over the last 18 months, and my second novel, IF, is slated to be published in early 2015. I’m also working on a series of fairy tale novels, which will start rolling out in 2015 as well. But my biggest current project is Dapper Press, a self-publishing services company that I co-founded and launched in early November. It’s a company that helps self-publishing writers go from ‘Hey, I have a manuscript, what do I do now?’ to ‘Oh my goodness, I published an incredible, professional-grade book!'”

Why do you think it is important for our community?

Clayton Smith: “Self-publishing is just one example of how independent artist management is primed to explode over the next few years. It’s getting easier and easier for a person to create his own, finished, polished creative work, whether it’s a book or an album or an exhibit. As the practice of self-management becomes more and more prevalent, it’s important to have a framework in place for artists who aren’t necessarily historically good business managers to be able to make smart decisions about producing and marketing their work. Columbia’s Business & Entrepreneurship Department exists for that very reason, and I see Dapper Press as a natural extension of that idea.”

Where do you draw inspiration from?

Clayton Smith: “Chicago has an incredible network of writers and publishers, and I’ve been really lucky to meet a ton of people who help stimulate my own curiosity. From a business perspective, I draw a lot from that community, and from the other teachers at Columbia. In terms of my own creative writing, the ideas just fall out of my brainspace and splatter on the page. I have no earthly idea where they come from.”

How does your time outside the classroom influence your time in the classroom?

Clayton Smith: “Because Dapper Press is such a small company, and because I manage my own book publishing accounting, I have to do all my own financial reporting, and I’m able to draw on that for my classes. I think it’s great for the students to have someone like me teach Accounting and Finance, because I don’t have a traditional accounting background. I’m not a CPA, and I didn’t major in accounting, and frankly, the idea of math used to terrify me. But I had to figure it out in order to manage my own projects, and I worked hard to get to where I am in my understanding of the financial universe. I think students can really relate to that.”

What words of wisdom would you give to the current students?

Clayton Smith: “Never stop learning. If you don’t know how to do something, find the resources to help you, and learn it. Knowledge is incredibly powerful (and it tends to be quite useful).”